"O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." - Hamlet Act II scene ii
31 March 2022
30 March 2022
Clint failed his annual M.O.T. test last Saturday afternoon. Because of that, I was not allowed to drive him away. He had to stay in the garage compound through the weekend and into Monday. The garage needed a special part - available only through the main Hyundai dealership. They couldn't provide that part until today - Wednesday afternoon - when the problem was finally solved.
Modern cars have washers for the front windscreen (American: windshield). Clint has two. The one on the passenger side was working fine but the one on the driver's side was either blocked or there was a pumping malfunction. I had previously tried to clear it with a needle but that had not worked. It never occurred to me that a washer refusal might take my vehicle off the road for five days.
And do you know how much that part and its fitting cost me on top of the M.O.T test? £10! Ten measly pounds - that's all (American $13). It's hard to believe. It doesn't seem so long ago that cars didn't even have windscreen washers.
When I left Clint in the compound last Saturday, he screamed plaintively, "Don't leaver me here Master! I am scared!"
He was sandwiched between two of those vulgar petrol-guzzling SUV's - the kind that yuppies like to drive or yummy mummies with Tarquin and Isabella in the rear child seats squabbling over slices of dried mango and Fair Trade chocolate peanuts.
I turned back to look at Clint's headlights. They looked so sad - like the eyes of a lost bloodhound - but what could I do? I had to steel myself and walk away. Like leaving a favoured son at a boarding school.
I need not have worried about Clint and what the big cars might do to him at night, locked in that compound next to the shady car wash business that seems to be manned by a succession of Albanian holidaymakers with plastic buckets and wash leathers.
As he watched me approach, he yelled "What are you doing here? Why don't you go home? I'm happy here!"
A red Ford Fiesta growled at me while a cute duck egg coloured Fiat 500 called Carol flashed her seductive headlights in Clint's direction.
It seems he had been having a grand old time down at the compound with the other stranded motor vehicles. The stand-in manager Kyle from Pontefract said he'd been watching their nocturnal behaviour on CCTV tapes and could not quite believe what they had been getting up to. They had partied like there was no tomorrow putting compressed air in their tyres and getting well-oiled. At the heart of it all there was Clint singing Clint Eastwood's greatest hits, including "Honky Tonk Man":-
29 March 2022
Because I have been feeling ropey the last two or three days, I did a test yesterday but the result was negative. However, seeing Shirley's little testing device made me think that I had better do another test. And sure enough it wasn't long before the second red line appeared - the kind of magic trick we would rather not witness.
And so after two long years of dodging COVID, it has finally caught up with me. Thankfully, I have had my three jabs so unlike all those misguided refuseniks and assorted anti-vaxxers, I am very unlikely to be hospitalised or to expire (American: die) which will no doubt be a great disappointment to the four unpleasant trolls who hang about this blog, leaving insidious remarks that are immediately deleted and never read. Actually two of those trolls are the same person!
That is my own test device at the top of this blogpost, not Shirley's. Having kept abreast of national and worldwide COVID stats throughout the pandemic, it occurred to me that I should report my positive result. Recently retired Nurse Shirley told me what to do even though I suspect that a great number of positive results are not reported and never have been. Yesterday 46,571 new cases were reported in Great Britain but what, I wonder, was the true figure?
There's a government website where positive results can and should be recorded. I put in my details including my NHS number and created a password that had to be of eight letters or more and include a capital too. Why are there so many different rules for passwords?
A few other things irritated me about this reporting website but the main annoyance was the broad assumption that every visitor would have a mobile phone. There wasn't even a "get out" option. Without a mobile phone number you couldn't report your positive test as the system would not let you through until you negotiated that particular hurdle.
I had to use Shirley's mobile number but that was most unsatisfactory as it could invite a breach of confidentiality in the future. I am not the only adult human being on this island who does not have a mobile phone. There are thousands of others. And why the simple reporting of a positive coronavirus test result should require ownership of a mobile phone is beyond my powers of comprehension. Personally, I blame Baroness "Dido" Harding, PM Johnson's university chum who was made the head of our very costly "Test and Trace" system that failed so woefully.
I have had a horrible ticklish cough that has woken me from my sleep several times though last night it was okay and I slept pretty well. Even though I have only just tested positive, I think I am already over the worst of the infection.
Meanwhile Clint remains in the garage because one of his window washers isn't working and that is the reason he failed his annual Ministry Of Transport test last Saturday. I need him to transport me to East Yorkshire on Friday to take my younger brother Simon to hospital where he will have an endoscopy under general anaesthetic. Driving after such a procedure is verboten. Of course, I will also have to test negative on Friday morning.
Finally, there is
absolutely probably no truth in the rumour - no doubt driven by anti-vaxxers and crazyman David Icke - that you can become infected with COVID by simply reading infected blogposts from those who have tested positive.
28 March 2022
I have just finished reading "The Gallows Pole" by Benjamin Myers. Set in The West Riding of Yorkshire, it is an historical novel that focuses upon a group of men known as The Cragg Vale Coiners.
Round about 1760, these men became notorious for clipping coins and using the resulting metal to create new coins in ingenious moulds. They created so much extra coinage that it affected the local economy around Halifax and The Calder Valley. By all accounts it was also used to make the lives of impoverished hill and valley dwellers more bearable.
The Coiners were led by a man called David Hartley whose grave can still be seen in the churchyard at Heptonstall - the same graveyard where the American writer Sylvia Plath is also buried. Hartley was hanged at York in April 1770. The landed gentry and the business community were not prepared to tolerate the continuation of his criminal activities so they decided to silence him forever.
Hartley was a tough, often ruthless man. He became known as King David Hartley. He knew little of the world beyond his valley and his lofty moorland home - Bell House. That was his kingdom. There are scenes of terrible but believable violence in the novel. They are not gratuitous. We are talking about rough men who are intent on secrecy and survival. They swear and they fight and they value loyalty as much as gold.
Throughout the novel there are italicised sections attributed to King David as he languishes in his hideous cell at York Castle. He is barely literate and his intermittent writing is littered with errors in spelling and grammar. It feels authentic:-
All yool hear is the choken sound of a man hoos life itself was liyved like a pome Hoos every thort and ackshun was poetry And who rose to graytnuss and his final ritten and his lassed dyn breath Well that was poetry too. (page 348)
"The Gallows Pole" might not be everyone's cup of tea but I loved it. It was earthy and simply real. My attention was wrapt throughout. Of course for me it probably helped that it was set in Yorkshire just forty miles north of this keyboard. It is not an area I know well but I know it all the same.
Thanks to blog visitors Christina and Thelma for alerting me to "The Gallows Pole" and to my friend Tony for lending me his copy.
27 March 2022
26 March 2022
The myth makers and their adherents suggest that it's all down to plant-based diets and the growth in veganism and vegetarianism. However, this is nonsense. Careful analysis by Oxford University demonstrates that the huge growth in soy production is mostly down to the worldwide meat industry. 77% of all soy produced is used in animal feeds. Less than 7% of the soy we harvest goes into human foodstuffs such as tofu, tempeh and soya milk.
Global meat production has tripled in the last fifty years and the acreage of land devoted to soya production has quadrupled. Hence, huge swathes of the Amazon rainforest are now being used for soya farming. It's all about keeping animals fed not about tofu in the supermarket.
Sometimes people believe what they want to believe in spite of the evidence in front of their eyes. We have seen it with COVID and we see it in relation to how so many gullible Russians interpret what is happening in Ukraine.
And it's the same with soya. By far, its principal use is in feeding animals but I know that those who do not wish to accept this incontrovertible truth will continue to point their fingers at plant-based diets.
By the way, in terms of land use, direct human consumption of soya in its different forms is a far more effective type of nutrition than garnering it from butchered animals raised on soya. In their short lives animals burn off calories and they defecate and parts of them are not suitable for human consumption anyway. If all soya was harvested exclusively and directly for humans, we would use up far fewer precious acres than when animals are placed in the equation.
There's lots more I could say about the amazing soya bean and the climate issues surrounding it but I am going to leave the subject there for now.
25 March 2022
Surprisingly, until today, I had never before in my life been to Castleford. It is a hardworking Yorkshire town south east of Leeds with a population of some 45,000. It is famous for rugby league - being the home of Castleford Tigers but once it was also famous for coal mining. Most of the nearby collieries went the way of many others in the 1980's but Kellingley hung on till 2016 - still feeding the big power station at Ferrybridge.
I rode up there by train once again on another sparkling spring day. My aim was not to mooch about the town itself but to strike out into the countryside north of Castleford. I was wishing I had caught the 10.02 train instead of the 11.02 in order to give myself more time. At times I was marching like a soldier just to keep up a good pace.
Only when I reached the charming village of Ledsham did I allow myself five minutes on a churchyard bench - drinking from my flask of water and munching on a chocolate and hazelnut croissant I bought from Lidl last night.
I marched on to Ledston and then across the fields to Allerton Bywater. However, at that point my watch said I needed to cancel a planned detour if I was going to make the 15.52 train back to Sheffield. After waiting five minutes for a timetabled bus that never came, I continued the march back to Castleford but as the little station came into view my train left without me. If only I hadn't waited for that elusive bus!
I went into "The Lamplighters" pub on Carlton Street and ordered myself a well-deserved pint of bitter shandy. I got chatting to Lucy - the pleasant young barmaid and she kindly allowed me to use her phone to ring Shirley and tell her I had missed my train and would be home an hour later than I had indicated. It was one of the very few times in recent months that I realised it might have been useful to have a phone of my own. After all, public phone booths that actually work have become as rare as hen's teeth.
And so I rode back to Sheffield still reading "The Gallows Pole". Here in my home city as evening approached, human life was buzzing and it felt like the end of a warm summer's day. Bars and cafes were filled at the end of the working week and in Endcliffe Park young people still sat on the grass socialising in groups as barbecue smoke rose heavenward. Surely Ukraine's current horror was just a nightmare we shared - wasn't it?
24 March 2022
This afternoon was the time to say goodbye to Marjorie or Marj as she was always known. I hadn't seen her in the past four years - during which time she spiralled deep down into the pit of dementia. She was eighty four years old.
Her best friend Thelma lives two doors away from us and it was through her that I first got to know Marj. Thelma also kept me informed about her decline. Marj had a wicked sense of humour and I had a nice chinwag with her whenever we met. We seemed to connect. Though she gave out commonsensical wisdom, there was also nonsensical silliness.
Marj never had children though she was married for almost thirty years - up until her divorce in the late eighties. She worked in the steel industry but not around furnaces and molten steel - safely behind the scenes in administration.
She loved to travel and had been to many far-flung places including Mexico, Australia and the Caribbean.
Round about 2010, I noticed that she had developed an involuntary tic and gradually it became more pronounced. She was still driving her little white car but Thelma was becoming worried about her safety. "She's losing it," Thelma confided.
One sunny afternoon - seven or eight years ago - Thelma came a-knocking on our door. Marj had fallen over and couldn't get up. Would I help?
There she was lying on the grass verge like a sack of potatoes. It was a struggle but with a big heave-ho I managed to get her up on her feet again. She really was losing it and the tic was worse than ever.
There weren't many standing on the proverbial quay to wave her off from Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium. Spring sunshine beamed through elongated windows and we were asked to sit quietly thinking of Marj as the sound system gave us "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss.
And in that moment it was as if the familiar classical tune became the soundtrack for any human life. Waltzing along merrily to the very last bars with ups and downs, lively sections and dips, speed and slowness and the same refrain echoing throughout. But no thunderous applause for Marj at the very end, just those velvet curtains closing quietly around her beech coffin and the remains of a glorious day waiting outside. See you Marj.
23 March 2022
I often have a look at the website of "The Hull Daily Mail" based in the city of my childhood - Kingston-upon-Hull in Yorkshire's East Riding. I never lived in Hull but it was my city. It was the commercial, cultural and sporting magnet for all outlying towns and villages. And of course it was the home of my beloved Hull City A.F.C..
At the age of eleven, I passed the critical Eleven Plus examination with flying colours. My score won me a free scholarship to a prestigious direct grant school in which 90% of the boys paid termly fees - well, their families did anyway.
That September I began travelling to and from Hull city centre by public bus. It was a journey of some forty minutes. Every morning I had to get from Paragon Station to the posh school which was a further mile. Along Ferensway and then all the way down Spring Bank, past "The Polar Bear" pub then over the railway crossing and left past the cemetery till Hymers Avenue came into view.
Many was the time I walked or jogged down Spring Bank. It was all low rise and flat and an inner city artery that had seen better days. In 1965 there was still evidence of World War II bomb damage. "The Polar Bear" was where I first bought a pint of bitter, dressed in school uniform. I must have been fifteen. Also on Spring Bank, in a seedy bookshop I bought my first soft porn magazine. It was second hand and called "Parade". I studied it with the kind of intense interest that I could never muster for Physics, Chemistry or Maths.
In "The Hull Daily Mail" today there was a special photo album showing old photos of Spring Bank. It brought back a number of memories but there was one particular photograph that caught my eye because it looked so odd. It was taken in 1982 in the "Gimmikz" hair salon. Hairdresser Simon is "beautifying" customer Andrea's hair but there's an optical illusion going on.
It is as if Simon has plunged his arm into the back of Andrea's head. The expression on his face is slightly menacing - like a magician who is about to saw a woman in half but Andrea seems perfectly happy with the arrangement:-
22 March 2022
With a heavy heart, I think about what is happening in Ukraine almost all the time. It's as much as I can do to force myself not to blog about it daily. For this blopost, I am taking a leaf out of Bob's book. Bob is the keeper of "I Should Be Laughing" out of Camden, South Carolina. Every week he posts an assemblage of recent political cartoons so I am just following suit tonight as Putin continues with his campaign of wickedness, butchery and deceit. He is surely the antithesis of Mr Pastry:-
21 March 2022
In its infancy and in my opinion, television output was pretty poor. Look how far it has come in seven decades. For some reason, a British TV character called Mr Pastry appeared in my mind today. I remember him vaguely from the last years of the fifties into the sixties. Played by Richard Hearne, Mr Pastry was a clownish figure whose act harked back to the antics of other clownish characters who appeared in silent films between the wars.
Mr Pastry was more about what he did than what he said. He was very popular and even appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in America. It is claimed that Hearne was once offered the role of Dr Who but that offer was withdrawn when he insisted that he would play the famous Time Lord like bumbling Mr Pastry. Richard Hearne was born in Norwich in 1908 and died in Bearsted, Kent in 1979. He also appeared in seventeen full length films. I guess the number of people who can recall his famous television show is dwindling with each passing year.
20 March 2022
We looked after Little Phoebe for the last three days. Her mama and papa were down in Devon in the south west of England to attend an old school friend's wedding.
Caring for our little granddaughter was not an onerous task. In fact, it was quite delightful - she is such a sweet child and she brings us much joy. I put her to bed both nights and she soon settled. After all, she was tired. I read her a book called "The Green Sheep" and helped her to imbibe a beaker full of cow's milk. After a little restlessness, she was soon settled and went off to slumberland like a yachtswoman sailing out of a sunlit harbour.
This weekend she laughed and clapped when she managed to walk without assistance between the two of us. Just three or four steps at a time. You see Phoebe - there's no need to hang on to us like a limpet - you can do it yourself girl!
And we read her books, bathed her, fed her, changed her nappy and wiped her mouth. That's something she hates with a vengeance, protesting madly whenever Shirley brings the warm flannel to bear upon her mucky chops. It's really quite funny.
When her mother and father returned at about 5pm on Sunday, the reunion was not as happy as we had expected. She had just woken up from a nap and was a little confused. "Who are these people Grandpa?" It took a little while to touch base once more and there were untypical tears but soon she was as right as rain and after Sunday dinner went home very happily.
19 March 2022
- "From Russia With Love" - originally sung by Matt Monro
- "King of the World" - by Jason Robert Brown
- "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley
- "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire
- and "Back in the USSR" by Lennon and McCartney:-
18 March 2022
I had pre-planned my long circular walk from Normanton railway station and all went to plan in what was a gorgeous blue sky spring day. A big slice of the walk was by the side of the Aire and Calder Navigation Canal - another impressive legacy from innovative canal engineers of the past.
On and on I walked for four solid hours - not stopping to eat or drink and as Normanton came back into view I realised I might just make the 14.57 train. This I did with just three minutes to spare.
I got stuck back into a historical novel I am reading. It's called "The Gallows Pole" by Ben Myers and you know what - it has really hooked me. Talking about "being hooked", I saw an experienced angler bring in a three pound chub he had fished from the canal and he kindly allowed me to take a picture of it before he popped it back into the water.
Meanwhile on the train, the guard confronted a young fare dodger standing in my vicinity. He had, I think, been to college in Barnsley and was heading home the five miles to Wombwell. He said he hadn't got a ticket and that he had no money but he was getting off at the next stop anyway.
There was no apology or apparent concern about his dishonesty. The ticket collector said it wasn't good enough but the lad got away with it. It made me wonder how many times he has done this. I suspect that if he had been searched he would have had money on him. As an honest fare-paying traveller I found the incident annoying for several reasons. I guess that with some things I ain't cool man!
I enjoyed my day out west of Normanton and hope you like the pictures I have chosen to share with you.
17 March 2022
- Mini shredded wheats with hot milk
- Crunchy nut cornflakes (not Kellogg's) with slices of banana.
- "Ready Brek"
- Muesli with some nutty granola and blueberries on top.
- Wholemeal or granary toast with peanut butter and strawberry jam
- Wholemeal or granary toast with marmalade
- Wholemeal or granary toast with honey
- Wholemeal or granary toast with "Marmite"
- Poached eggs on toast
- Boiled eggs with toast
- Bacon sandwich
- French toast with maple syrup
- Toasted teacake with treacle
- Toasted muffin with treacle
Of course it goes without saying that every one of these breakfast choices is accompanied by a pint mug of strong tea with added semi-skimmed milk and a spoonful of sugar.
What do you have for breakfast? And if you don't have breakfast, why not?
16 March 2022
15 March 2022
Tonight, I first of all chopped an onion and fried it gently in a mixture of rapeseed oil and salted butter. using out deepest frying pan. Then I tossed in a handful of sliced courgette (American: zucchini). Next the jug of leftover gravy from Sunday was added and next some sliced carrot that I had cooked in the microwave for six minutes. Then similar with a chopped leek.
tossed in skilfully introduced a can of chickpeas. Stirring and then tasting suggested how much seasoning the dish might need. I also added a little dried fenugreek - not too much.
I had cooked a large potato in the microwave - chopped into roughly one inch cubes. This was added along with the potato water. It is important to have enough liquid for the
stew mélange to swim in. Last of all came the chicken pieces from Sunday.
Very often I would put floured suet dumplings on top of the bubbling
stew mélange for the last fifteen minutes - with the lid on. However, on this occasion I remembered we had some nice multigrain bread in the pantry so I cut and buttered a couple of slices.
After I had spooned out the
stew mélange de coq, I sprinkled some garlic and herb nutritional yeast over the the surfaces of the two steaming bowls of that delicious goodness. Ian and Henry's "Bosh!" company now have three types of "nooch" in selected British supermarkets. It's especially good for vegans looking to quickly add B vitamins to their meat and dairy-free dishes.
I hope that this post and the accompanying photographs will boost your own ideas about quickly bashing out a
stew mélange using whatever comes to hand. Occasionally, it is fun to ad-lib and get creative in the kitchen. as our lovely son has discovered to his eternal benefit.
14 March 2022
There's a circular walking route that I have plodded countless times. It's on the southern edge of the city and it is where I go when I need an hour of solid walking - just a seven minute drive away from this keyboard. I have written about this particular walk before, for example here and here.
And I was on it again today. I met a married couple from the Derbyshire village of Holmesfield. The man said that it was the very first time that they had walked in the area. Then he asked me how often I had walked round there.
It was a bit of an exaggeration but I said, "Roughly once a month for the past thirty five years". But it wasn't far from the truth. I have seen many changes even though the walk stays exactly the same and of course, I have followed the route in different seasons and different weather conditions. I think of it as my personal walk for nobody else told me where I should go.
You pass Hallfield Farm, the country retreat of a successful dealer in precious metals. He has used some of his excess wealth to create wooden animal sculptures - both on his property and in the woods by Strawberry Lee Lane. Today I noted the addition of two rutting stags, apparently made from driftwood. They were impressive and are pictured at the top of this blogpost. And here they are from a different viewpoint, still locking horns:-
13 March 2022
I learnt about the business of teaching and made it through three terms - English, Geography and History as well as rugby and my weekly singing club. I ate luscious paw-paw and experienced a devastating hurricane that came down from The Gilbert and Ellice Islands. With Richard, I wandered in the eye of Hurricane Bebe when the calmness was surreal, pressing us into ourselves with invisible thumbs.
One of the best things was Mofmanu Beach. So white and so deserted. Many was the time I wandered down there after school to swim along the edge of the reef. And I drank grog with the village elders - not in a ceremonial way but just to get spaced out, listening to Pacific waves breaking on the reef. The elders sat quietly in the shadows like buddhas. Words were unnecessary. Sometimes I was the one who pounded those yanqona roots under that starry sky where shooting stars and satellites flew nightly.
There was no electricity and no airstrip. Rotuma was the entire world. My mother and father, my brothers and my girlfriend Pamela were just dreams - tricks of the mind. Young men carried machetes to cut the lush growth in the bush. Young boys shinned up coconut palms to collect green coconuts that contained sweet, sparkling milk. I kissed pretty Maria-Alisi one full moon night. And we listened to the news on Radio Fiji as if tuning in to voices from some distant planet.
Till it was time to leave. Time to go. Beyond that vast horizon was the rest of my life.
Some bloggers are very good about recounting their daily lives. In fact, for many it is their staple blogging fayre. I admit that I am not so good at this kind of blogging. I tend to branch out into poetry, photo walks, memories, current affairs, films and books etcetera. Making ordinariness a pleasure to read about is quite a talent in my view.
This evening I can't think of anything else to write about so let's go for the everyday- mundanity, ordinariness - call it what you will.
Shirley and I had to look after Little Phoebe for three days this week because she had contracted impetigo. She probably picked it up at the nursery school but because it is infectious they wouldn't allow her to attend her day sessions. The poor little mite was quite poorly with it and out of sorts with herself. She had an unpleasant rash above her chin but this has now largely cleared up thanks to antiseptic ointment.
She likes to sit on my knee as I show her YouTube videos of children's songs - often with cartoon characters. Through her I have encountered a children's TV clown called Mr Tumble who stars in plenty of BBC videos. At the moment Phoebe loves a counting song called "Ten Apples On My Head". It's American and until ten days ago I had never come across it. She rocks and claps her hands wrapt in concentration for a few minutes.
On Thursday night, Shirley was at her monthly Women's Institute meeting so I settled down to watch a really good film on BBC 4 - "If Beale Street Could Talk" based upon a novel of the same name by James Baldwin. It was a tender, well crafted piece of cinema which spoke with resignation about the insidious rhythms of racism experienced by urban blacks in America.. Though the driver's lash is no longer cracked and trembling girls no longer stand on auction blocks, there are plenty of other ways in which they can get you if you happen to be black. Above all, "If Beale Street Could Talk" is a love story with Tish played by KiKi Layne and "Fonny" played by Stephan James.
Yesterday a tree surgeon called Lee came to see us. Some time in the not too distant future, he is going to be taking down our forty foot horse chestnut tree. It is thirty five years old and was grown from a conker that my son picked up when he was a three year old boy. I plan to save some of the wood for carving and making cutting boards. Perhaps I should have planted it some place else all those years ago. It's amazing how it has grown.
Of course there has been grocery shopping to do and meals to make this week. Last night for example, it was sirloin steak with baked potatoes, green beans and broad beans, fried onions and mushrooms with grilled tomatoes. And there were rugby matches to watch - France beating Wales and England losing to Ireland but at least on the football front my team managed to pick up a point at Birmingham City on Saturday afternoon.
Well, that's me - attempting to capture a sense of my everyday life - domesticity. Clearly I need more practice in this sphere if I am going to develop a comfortable, conversational tone. I must try harder and maybe I will make another effort pretty soon. I am very sorry if you were bored.
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