31 March 2023


It was a delicious curry. Phoebe was tucked up in bed as the rest of us quaffed wine and "Cobra" beer along with the indian takeaway meal that Frances and I had picked up from the "Bilash" curry house on Sharrow Vale Road. Down in the valley, the lights of Sheffield city centre twinkled on the last night of March.

Regarding the quaffing of alcoholic drink, I must confess that I misled you. Two of our party - Sarah and Frances - opted for non-alcoholic beverages. This fact might cause the whiskers of worldly-wise female readers to twitch. When a woman who normally partakes of alcoholic drink refuses it, that might well mean that... they are pregnant?

Full marks ladies!

I have been waiting to share this wonderful news for a while and now, on the verge of the twelve weeks staging post, I think I can safely say that  both Frances and Sarah are pregnant. Their babies are due within a week of each other in October. Joy upon joy - we are very probably going to be grandparents once again - but this time twice over!

It's early days of course and one should not count one's babies before they are hatched. Things can go tragically wrong with any pregnancy but  if Nature follows its usual path, bouncing baby cousins will arrive in the autumn. As you might imagine, we are all thrilled and keeping our fingers crossed for their safe appearance.

As I say, the curry was delicious and to accompany it I drank two big bottles of "Cobra" beer. The last half bottle was difficult to glug down. What with the Indian breads and rice I was beginning to feel bloated. When I stood up to go, I felt rather queasy and all of a sudden I did something I hadn't done in twenty years or more - I vomited! Not the entire curry meal I hasten to add but a ladle-full mixture of beer, rice and chewed up peshwari naan bread. 

There was no time to get to the bathroom but it all landed neatly on the granite work surface in the kitchen where it could easily be cleaned up. The digestive explosion removed my queasiness immediately and it was of course utterly insignificant compared with our marvellous news about two grand babies that will no doubt throw up their fair share of sustenance - just like Grandpa!

30 March 2023


Ahead of my wedding in October 1981, I purchased a small but helpful guide book from a secondhand book shop. As far as I can deduce, the book first appeared in 1861 and was reprinted with very little alteration during the following two decades. Looking back, the book contains an accurate portrait of the attitudes and social mores of  middle class Victorian Britain. It is called "Etiquette - On The Perfect Lady and Gentleman".

Only 128 pages in length, the first thirty two pages address "ladies" and the following ninety six  pages address "gentlemen". There are sections that advise on manners to be shown at ballroom or dinner events, travelling on trains, "Street Salutations", "Morning Visits", relationships between the sexes and even how to carve a range of meats including a calf's head. Although the author is unknown, he was clearly a zealous man on a mission.

Being a rough, unpolished kind of fellow, I desperately needed guidance about etiquette ahead of my wedding speech. After all, I wanted to make a good impression upon Shirley's extended family. The little book provided me with useful directions and I even quoted directly from a chapter titled, "Domestic Etiquette". Here's a taste of it:-

"It is and ought to be the anxious wish and study of every wife to render her husband's home agreeable and happy; let her always consider this her first and paramount duty every time she beholds her wedding-ring, remember she has sworn on holy ground to "love, honour and obey," and let her regulate her conduct accordingly.

Never let your husband have just cause to complain that you are more frequently abroad than at home, or that you keep your smiles for company and your frowns for him; many a marriage has been rendered unhappy by such conduct...

...Never pry into your husband's secrets, if he has any; if he seems a little out of the way, do not annoy him by asking questions, be sure, if it is necessary you should know, he will tell you."

Throughout the book,  women (i.e. ladies) are referred to either as subservient appendages to the more  important lives of menfolk or as dainty goddesses to be cherished and treated with enormous respect but not really listened to.

Needless to say, there is no reference to homosexuality in "Etiquette - On The Perfect Lady and Gentleman" and come to think of it there isn't even any reference to rearing children or relationships with servants. I was also looking for guidance on riding horses or riding in horse-drawn carriages but there was none.

I think the book proves that in some ways life has changed for the better in the last 160 years - especially with regard to the place of women in British society. Now we know that there is no such thing as a "perfect lady" just as the idea of a "perfect gentleman" is quite absurd.

29 March 2023


Finally, my daughter Frances and son-in-law Stew - along with Little Phoebe - have been able to move house. They had been living in a rental property since September 2020 following their move back to Sheffield from London.

It was back in September of last year that their offer on a semi-detached house just a stone's throw from us was accepted. They were due to move in during the week before Christmas  but delays happened for one reason or another, including the death of a spouse higher up the buying chain. 

At one point it seemed as though the whole thing would collapse but this week they got the keys. Shirley and I had not seen the place before but we were pretty delighted with it when we got inside the house just two days ago. The previous occupants did a fine job of modernising the first two floors. The bedroom floor is a little tired but re-decoration and new carpets up there will work wonders. The attic looks ripe for conversion  into a fourth bedroom. We think they have chosen wisely.

The house cost £460,000 ($566,000US, $847,400AUS). That's the kind of price you have to pay these days for a modest but nice property in the south western sector of this great northern city.

We have all worked like mules today, trying to bring the home together. Putting up beds, assisting removals men, cleaning, emptying boxes etcetera. There was so much to do that by the end of the day it was decided that the little family would sleep at our house.

I made them a tasty chicken curry with aubergine (American: eggplant) , lentils and coconut milk and they are now snoring upstairs ready for another day of house moving activity. Hopefully, they will sleep there tomorrow night. 

The house enjoys great views to the east and north east right down into the bowl of Sheffield city centre. It is good to know that from now on their hard earned money will be going into their own property and not into the pockets of a greedy landlady and landlord who had put the monthly rent up to £950 just before Christmas ($1,169US, $1749AUS).

28 March 2023


"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. "
Second Amendment to the US Constitution (1791)

Back in 1791, those who agreed the wording of The Second Amendment never imagined that America would become the nation it is today. Back then, the population of America was around 2.5 million. Now it is 334 million.

They could not have foreseen how big American cities would become. They could not have imagined motor vehicles, air travel, supermarkets and high rise buildings  - let alone gun shops filled with an array of deadly weapons, including automatic rifles.

The way that the gun lobby have clung to The Second Amendment is disingenuous. Those folk want to ignore the fact that time has marched on and it is 230 years since well-meaning men drafted The Second Amendment. They could not have anticipated how their amendment would be so misused to justify gun ownership and the slaughter of innocent victims in shopping malls, schools, workplaces and housing estates.

There were 695 mass shootings in the USA last year in which 762 people were killed and 2,902 were wounded. I emphasise that these were mass shootings in which four or more people were killed or injured at each bloody event. Excluding suicides, 20,138 were killed in shootings in 2022. I repeat that - 20,138 people.

I may be a cleverdick limey who should keep his big nose out of American affairs but please don't shoot me!  Instead, listen to this plea. It's time to take stock. It is time to turn the tide on guns and gun ownership. The Second Amendment should be resigned to history where it belongs. It is time to reduce the death figures, the mass shootings figures, the widespread possession of guns that on January 1st 2022 augured 20,138 more killings - including hundreds of innocent children.

How Many More Must Die? Wake Up America!

27 March 2023


What is England? The blowing of a horn and red-jacketed men on horseback. A leather cricket ball struck by a wooden bat. Strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. "Order! Order!" in The House of Commons. Punting along The River Cam. A garden party at The Vicarage. Downton Abbey and Jane Eyre and plays by William Shakespeare. English muffins and scones with jam and clotted cream. Building sandcastles at the seaside.

Oldham in Greater Manchester
War heroes and monuments. The jet engine and the hovercraft. Pop groups and Andrew Lloyd Webber. David Niven and good manners. Billy Bunter and Mr Bean and Monty Python. And public footpaths that wind their way through farmland and over rickety footbridges where willows cascade. The cooing of doves. Tumbledown abbeys and schoolboys in straw boaters. Someone is singing "Greensleeves". "Bisto" gravy powder in the cupboard with "Oxo" cubes and H.P. sauce. A minaret  rising over the rooftops.
William Webb  Ellis and Sir Francis Drake. Elton John and John Lennon. Florence Nightingale and Emmeline Pankhurst. A murmuration of starlings in the dusk and a painting by J.M.W.Turner - "The Fighting Temaraire". February snowdops clustering by the churchyard path where an ancient yew tree grows. And Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile in Oxford. The white cliffs of Dover immortalised in song by Vera Lynn and Geoff Hurst's goals that summery afternoon in 1966 at Wembley.
Winston Churchill vowed, "We will never surrender". Queen Elizabeth on our coins and in our hearts. Horses thundering round The Grand National course and oarsmen on the river. Oxford and Cambridge. The lion on  Tate and Lyle's treacle tin. Pints of beer in glass tankards. "Drink to me only with thine eyes? And I will pledge with mine...". The aroma of bonfires in autumn. Cadbury's. Jaguar. Cheddar cheese. The Rolling Stones. Stonehenge. Jane Austen. Audrey Hepburn. Stirling Moss. David Attenborough. Roses curling around a cottage doorway and the humming of bees.
Is that what England is or is it the photo squares of often overlooked  northern places... Leeds, Oldham, Hull and Liverpool? And there could be others... Burnley, Rotherham, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Bradford, Rochdale, Newcastle, Doncaster. Perhaps it is in such places, such streets that the true answer to the question is waiting to be found.

26 March 2023


Lucy Beaumont with her husband, Jon Richardson

I don't speak English like Hugh Grant or Hugh Bonneville or Michael Caine or Prince Charles. I speak English with a distinctive Yorkshire accent. Not the Yorkshire accent but a Yorkshire accent. There are several Yorkshire accents ranging from The Yorkshire Dales to Middlesbrough and from South Yorkshire to Leeds.

My own accent which has hardly changed over the years is from East Yorkshire and it  is very different from the urban accent which you will hear in Kingston-upon-Hull which is East Yorkshire's only city.

I am proud of my accent. It is a big part of my identity and I have never sought to change it. The way I speak English is clear and easily  understandable.

When I was at university one of the English professors I was attached to was A.Norman Jeffares. He was a published expert in the poetry of W.B.Yeats. Once he told me that he admired my accent and urged me never to change it, saying that it had weight and sincerity and it would serve me well in my future life. I always remembered those words though I had no intention of changing my accent anyway.

Just the other day, I came across a poem by a comedienne from Hull called Lucy Beaumont. She is married to a well-known English  funny man called Jon Richardson.. In  her Instagram poem, Lucy displays an attitude to her accent which is very much  like my own. Proudly and stubbornly she refuses to change her manner of speaking.

Here it is:-

Have you got any thoughts to share about your own accent?

25 March 2023


Of course I often think of my oldest brother Paul who departed this life in June 2010. He went to bed and never woke up.

Paul knew his little granddaughter Cáit. She was born on March 26th 2008 - the only child of my niece Katie and her former husband Seamus. Cáit will be fifteen  tomorrow. I haven't seen her in years but today I sent three pictures of her to my niece. I took them in 2008, 2010 and 2011 respectively. She was a sweet little thing but now she is on the doorstep of adulthood. These were the pictures I sent:-
In the middle picture she is in the arms of her Uncle Kevin - Paul's second son who himself became a father in January of this year. I blogged about that happy event here. And just to remind you here's Kevin with Finn:-
Finn  is Paul's only grandson and though Paul will never hold him, a part of my brother will carry on  in the lives of both Finn and Cáit. It's an old story repeated through history. Some enter the stage as others exit.

24 March 2023


Bloggers live in an endless variety of places. Having shared the drone footage of my birthplace village, I wandered off looking at more drone imagery. 

Here's a drone video of the suburban area I live in nowadays.The film does not show our house but it takes you from the Banner Cross area right down Ecclesall Road to the Hunter's Bar roundabout. It is all very familiar territory to me and the footage reminds me just how many people live in this district and how tightly packed together many of the houses are. This is an overpopulated country and in our cities the majority of citizens don't get much space:-

Sherwood Park is a suburb of Edmonton, Alberta in Canada. It is where the author of "MyLifeSoFar" resides. She is Nurse Lily or LilyCedar but she has several other pen names. Bloggers may have different reasons for keeping their true identities partly hidden. Sherwood Park is modern and spacious - its growth hardly hindered by past developments. It's very different from my home suburb to the south of the city of Sheffield (pop.584,000). Edmonton is almost twice as big with a population of 981,000.
Finally, we come to the north side of The Sheep's Head Peninsula in south west Ireland. It is somewhere around here that Dave, the author of "Northsider", resides. Perhaps Dave will let us know in the comments that follow this blogpost. The location looks so beautiful but to live in such a place presents special challenges - including the business of accessing basic services such as public transport, healthcare and supermarkets.
If you have found the drone videos interesting, perhaps you might find drone footage of your own city, village or region by searching within YouTube. Why not give it a try?

23 March 2023


I stumbled across this drone footage within YouTube. There's no music or commentary. The imagery was collected on Easter Sunday 2019 by a drone user who is clearly experimenting with his new toy.

It caught my attention because the drone is looking down upon the very East Yorkshire village where I was born and raised.

Back in 1953, the village had less than four hundred inhabitants but its population nowadays is above 2500.

In the footage you see the church where I was christened and where the funeral services of my father, mother and brother Simon were held. You also see a tall house attached to the village school. That is where I was born and spent the first sixteen years of my life. At the crossroads you see a white building with a large car park. That is "The Hare and Hounds" public house.

The drone fails to show the canal that connected the village to The River Hull and the outlying farms and lanes that were such a part of my childhood. As you may imagine, it is kind of strange to see my birthplace from the perspective of a  slightly jittery mechanical bird in the sky.

22 March 2023


Here are two numbers to juggle with. They are 81 and 152. 81 is the number of  comments I found in my spam folder yesterday and 152 is the number of  comments I have found there today.

90% of the comments were originally posted by me in response to visitors' comments. They dated back to 2007. None of these comments were offensive  and none were written to promote dodgy businesses.

You can imagine how irritating and time-consuming it is to plough through a folder packed with alleged spam comments. You have to re-publish each comment individually and what I do not know is what tomorrow will bring. Will my spam folder be annoyingly refilled by mindless Blogger bots?

Although Blogger has been a pretty kind and efficient host through the years, there seems to be no way of complaining to the service or explaining user problems to them. It's the same with a lot of big businesses these days. They just don't want us talking to them or even finding ways and means of contacting them. It is very frustrating.

Still thinking about numbers. This old Beatles song contains a number which indicates precisely my wife Shirley's birthday age tomorrow. It is hard to believe that she was just twenty years old when we first met and fell in love over forty three years ago.  I was her Paul and she was my Linda.

21 March 2023


Lamb's Ears

My younger brother Simon would have been sixty seven years old tomorrow - March 22nd. For months I have been wrangling with the pensions company he entrusted with his savings. On his pensions plan I was named as the sole beneficiary in the event of his death. It was very clear and Simon had no dependents.

Almost on his death bed, he told me what he wanted me to do with his money and probably died believing implicitly that the well-known pensions/assurance company would do the right thing in a professional manner. For my part, I promised Simon that I would fulfil his wishes.

There have been regular phone calls, e-mails and most recently a strongly worded letter which I posted to the Customer Relations department of the pensions company at their head office in Edinburgh. I have found the whole experience to be both infuriating and stressful. The quality and efficiency of their communications have both been dreadful..

Now, eight months after Simon's death, it seems that the agony is about to end. They requested my bank details and though they say payouts are currently taking ten working days to process, I expect to receive the money before the end of April. Then I can distribute the funds as my brother instructed.

We should not speak ill of the dead but as I said in my eulogy last August, Simon had his demons and his difficulties as he travelled through life. I won't go into details but he caused both of my parents a lot of anguish and sleepless nights. 

Amongst his things, I discovered a letter I had sent to him in the summer of 1978 during a phase when things were pretty bad. I was crying out to him, tying to bring back the Simon we once knew:

"I don't hate you - nor will I ever do. I will always send you birthday cards and presents. Always love you, even if I am a thousand miles away. Always open up my arms for you if you need help. Always.....

...We have moved and grown in different  ways but you are still Simon and I am still Neil and I still want the best for you. I want to be sixty six with you my little brother at sixty four, still touching lamb's ears by the pond where we once played. And we'll be looking back upon our lives. Weathered and weary, still wondering but smiling all the same.

It is for all of this and more besides that I have shed tears for you. Tears which rolled down my cheeks, surprising me - tears for you. In the month of July 1978.  I am Neil - your brother and I am here for you."

I was twenty four years old and he was twenty two. At the time, he was detained in a mental hospital under what is called a police "section". It is true what some say about cannabis. It really can trigger psychotic episodes and utterly change someone's character.

20 March 2023


A rattail teaspoon

It is Mrs Pudding's birthday this week. I had a brilliant idea to buy her a voucher for the massage of her choice. However,  when I  asked if there was anything she wanted for her birthday she told me she would like some new teaspoons.

Several years ago and at some expense we bought a full set of Sheffield-made cutlery in the famous rattail design.  Only three of the original eight teaspoons have survived. Who knows what happened to the other five - probably accidentally tossed into the kitchen waste bin or taken out of the house in lunchboxes - never to return.

Anyway, over in the Hillsborough suburb of the city there's a business called The Sheffield Cutlery Shop. They have a website - see here. This morning I phoned them. Though they normally sell their goods through online orders, the respondent at the other end checked his spoon stock and said that they did have six rattail spoons in and I could come over to buy them directly.

As I drove over there in Clint, my luxury South Korean automobile, I expected to soon be standing at a shop counter, whipping my bank card out and simply paying for the six spoons. But it wasn't like that.

First of all, there was no actual shop. It was a workplace dedicated to cutlery with machines, lathes, boxes, polishing instruments and different types of cutlery at different stages of preparation all over the place. The owner was a man of around fifty called Lee. His father and grandfather had owned the business before him.

Lee made a very positive impression upon me. He was infectiously passionate about cutlery and very much a hands-on boss. In half an hour I learnt so much more about making and finishing cutlery as Lee whizzed me around the premises randomly pointing things out including packages containing knives and boxes of  cutlery that were about to be dispatched around the world.

He told me that he has recently taken an order to make six thousand serrated table knives to be sent to Irish embassies and consulates around the globe. He also showed me an antler bone handled carving set to be sent to a customer in Minneapolis. Wistfully, I told him that I had been there and thought of it as a beautiful city with its lakes and spacious suburbs. Maybe George Floyd saw it differently.

You might say that the work environment was chaotic but everything had its place. In one room, Lee showed me boxes of antlers - some from Scotland, some from the Woburn Abbey estate in Bedfordshire and some from Scandinavia. I wished I had taken my camera but the last thing I was expecting was a guided tour. It was utterly fascinating and I would have happily spent the rest of the day there.

One of the rattail spoons had not been "stamped" so Lee did it there and then using an amazing laser machine. I reminded him that I needed to pay for the teaspoons and he said I could do it online when I got home. He didn't even know my name  but he trusted me to do the honest thing which of course I did this very afternoon.

Oh and shhhh! Please don't tell Shirley that I have bought her spoons as requested. Being the perfect husband can be quite demanding I find.

Inside R&R Polishing Ltd premises at Jericho Works, Malin Bridge.
This was the only picture of the place I could find online.

19 March 2023


Earlier today on Mothering Sunday morn, we went out for breakfast at a popular cafe called "Made by Jonty" on Sharrowvale Road. There were three mothers there and one small girl who might well be a mother one day - Frances, Cheryl (Stewart's mama), Shirley and Little Phoebe.

Shirley has begun working at a charity shop that raises funds for for Age Concern. After the breakfast, she went off to work and I drove Clint to the southern edge of Sheffield for a bracing three mile walk that took me up to the moors above Totley.

At the top there's a panoramic picture of the view from Moss Road and just above there's the driftwood sculpture of a horse's head at Hallfield Farm. Who ever owns that lovely, secluded property is obviously obsessed with horses.

Below - whenever I take that particular walk, I always seem to spot  wild deer and  so it was today. I was circling  the pleasantly named Wimble Holme Hill and there in the woods below I spotted this doe. Of course, I wanted to shoot her but not with a shotgun containing lethal bullets like some guys. I just wanted to shoot her with my new Lumix pocket-sized camera. She was perfectly safe...

And here's another image shot from Moss Road which climbs up to Totley Moss. I snapped it before heading home to make the Sunday dinner - roasted chicken, roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, stuffing balls, tenderstem broccoli. succulent Yorkshire puddings, homemade gravy and cranberry sauce. All followed by lemon curd cupcakes  that Shirley made from a recipe issued by a company called "Bake In". It was a subscription gift I bought her for Christmas and it has been working out very nicely.


18 March 2023


Why has Trump declared that he expects to be arrested next week with regard to the Stormy Daniels scandal and the hush money he paid her before the Presidential election of 2016? Surely, most people who expect to be arrested by the police keep such information as secret as possible. The vast majority are remorseful but not Trump. Perhaps he's trying to wind up his base supporters and get them out on the streets just as he did in early January 2021.

Has Mr B.Johnson got no shame? First he successfully  makes his younger brother Jo Johnson a member of The House of Lords and then he nominates his father Stanley Johnson for a knighthood. Neither of these close family members have done anything to deserve such honours but it seems that Mr B. Johnson does not care a fig about such minor details. This blatant favouritism and misuse of the honours system is an utter disgrace but I guess not at all unexpected given Mr B.Johnson's track record.

Why is China's President Xi Jinping visiting Vladimir Putin next week? Doesn't he realise that a warrant is out for Putin's arrest - for countless crimes against humanity? Xi Jinping ought to appreciate that having a powwow with a tyrannical  criminal who kidnaps children and encourages the brutalisation  and killing of Ukrainian citizens is definitely not a way to improve your reputation in the eyes of the wider world.

17 March 2023


Time for a song I think. I confess that most songs that float around in my head are rather deep or heavy or poetic - call them what you will - but there are a handful that are just light, "feel good" songs. Such is the case with "Daydream" by John Sebastian.  Formerly of The Lovin' Spoonful, Sebastian wrote this song in 1966. He performed it at both Woodstock (1969) and The Isle of Wight Festival of 1970. It seems like a good song for a sunny afternoon and it was once I think accurately described in this manner: "an easy-going, funky blues-soaked happy-go-lucky item with a real infectious chorus portion."


John Sebastian was born in New York City in 1944 and as far as I can determine he still makes music. The tie die shirts and jeans have gone but the kindly smile remains as this post-pandemic photograph shows:-

16 March 2023


Not much of note has been happening in my life these past few days so I have nothing of any significance to report. I am desperate to undertake more long country  walks but recent weather has been uninviting - with greyness to the fore and vibrant colours back in the paint box.

For tonight's blogpost, rather than rabbiting on about nothing in particular I have decided to simply raid my past photo files and share with you three photographs from 2008 - fifteen years ago. We were in Olu Deniz, Turkey...

Lounging on sunbeds by our hotel pool, we kept seeing paragliders descending from the nearby mountain. Not only that, we noticed that they were tandem jumps - two for the price of one.

My scaredycat instinct was to mumble to myself, "I would never do that!" but Shirley was thinking different and near the end of the week we found ourselves in a battered all-terrain vehicle bumping up twisting pine forest tracks to the summit of Mount Babadag - the father mountain.

You received basic instruction from your allocated flying partner and then you were strapped to him. Taking deep breaths, we ran together down the gravelly slope above the trees  before the parachute "caught" upon the thermal breeze. Suddenly, my feet were lifted off the ground and we were flying. Up, up we soared and it was so quiet - no engine sounds or anything. You felt like an eagle.

Expertly, the flier controlled the gradual descent of the chute. We could look over the ridge to a deserted Greek village called Karakoy and then we seemed to circle above the lagoon with its defensive spit of sand. Eventually, we landed gently on a grassy lawn by the seafront promenade just outside the paragliding company's kiosk. There was no rolling over or anything like that - you just walked.

It was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience for both of us and even now Shirley and I can hardly believe that we really did do it. Here are my big size elevens above the lagoon at Olu Deniz:-

15 March 2023


I was looking back though the annals of this blog and stumbled across a true story from my professional life. The memories of that afternoon remain quite clear in my mind even to this day.  Back in 2011, twelve years ago, I tried to convey what had transpired in a blogpost titled "Gorillagram". By my calculations, the incident itself must have happened in the summer of 1990 or thereabouts and that was, rather astonishingly, nearly thirty three years ago. 

In 2011 only three visitors commented on the post. They were John Gray from the infamous "Going Gently" blog, a lady called Pat from Arkansas and Bob Brague from Canton, Georgia who is still the mastermind behind "Rhymes With Plague" - even though it is "off air" for a little while right now. Through the years, blog commenters come and go and so that's why I thought it would be perfectly acceptable to edit and recycle the old post....


This story from a summer's afternoon some twenty years back sticks in my mind. Listen...

All week I've been working in the Hicks Building of the University of Sheffield. I am part of a team of twenty five English teachers. We are Review Panel A and it is our job to scrutinise English coursework from two hundred plus secondary schools to ensure that examination standards have been accurately applied during internal assessments of candidates' coursework assignments.

It is laborious work. Piles and piles of students' scripts from all over the north of England. We beaver away all week in a large psychology lab where normally herds of psychology undergraduates would be accommodated. At the front is the formidable team leader, Tom Firkin, who cracks his whip intermittently to ensure we all maintain a good pace in our communal effort to erode this daunting mountain of writing. I work at the far side of the room near the window.

After lunch on Friday, we are all relieved to see that the mountain is now just a tiny hillock and the end is very close. Tom Firkin calls the assembled twenty five to order and conversation ceases. After all, this is the most important session of the week - we're discussing our expenses! Tom passes out copies of Expenses Form 17a (Yorkshire and Humberside Examinations Authority). No longer beavers but now gluttonous hogs, we see ££££ signs before our eyes.

Suddenly and without warning, the double doors in the far corner open and in barges a hefty six foot gorilla! Well it isn't really a gorilla, it's a man in a full length gorilla suit. I sit grinning broadly at the surreal incongruity of this moment. In those days kissograms, stripograms and yes - gorillagrams were fashionable at certain events - hen nights, stag dos, fortieth birthday parties etc.. So here is a gorillagram in a serious exam meeting. Bizarre! But who is he here to embarrass?

Other examiners are grinning too. Even Tom Firkin is smiling nervously, not knowing how to react. Meanwhile, the gorilla, swinging its arms and producing throaty noises like the sound of boxer Frank Bruno laughing, circumnavigates the lab and moves along the line of examiners by the window aisle. When he reaches me, he stops and looks down. Then in a moment which I have little opportunity to control, this damned gorilla picks me up and literally flings me over his shoulder in a version of the fireman's lift. Hell, I was almost as big a guy then as I am now - at least sixteen stones of pure Yorkshire Pudding.

Up there on the gorilla's shoulder, smiling stupidly at the other examiners who are now guffawing in unison, I puzzle as to what this is all about. It's not my birthday. Have I won a jackpot on the football pools? And where is he taking me?

Then the door opens again and in bursts a posse of examiners from Review Panel B who have been working in a different part of the building all week.

Their leader sees what's going on and yells to the gorilla: "No! Not him! Him!" pointing to an examiner of similar handsome appearance who was also wearing a blue shirt and was also stationed near to the window wall.

The gorilla dumps me and then descends on the quarry he had really been hired to humiliate. As I recall, it was indeed his birthday. But the intended funny scene has been distorted by the gorilla's poor hunting instinct. After all, gorillas are essentially vegetarian leaf munchers!

When the sweaty gorilla takes his head off, I compliment him on his sheer strength and he in turn is apologetic about my embarrassment. Two minutes later, the intruders, including King Kong have departed and Review Panel A returns to the important business of claiming expenses.

It was certainly one of the strangest incidents from my entire time in teaching and I remain eternally grateful that the gorilla did not drop me.

14 March 2023


I have terrible news to share with you this evening. It's hard to find the right words so I will just come right out and say it - Bob is Dead! Kapput! Deceased! Over! There. I have said it.

Perhaps there are snowmen that live forever - in Antarctica or by some hidden bay in northern Greenland - some place where ice and snow is everlasting - but here on the edge of western Europe in our changeable maritime climate, snowmen never last for long and that's the truth of the matter

One day they stand tall and proud with their eyes of coal or 2p pieces or small potatoes and four days later they are just slushy piles of the white stuff with their bits and pieces grounded on green lawns. That's how it was for Bob. He came into our lives last Friday morning and this Tuesday evening, as I look out into our night garden, all I can see is half  a bucketful of snow under the rotary clothes dryer. By the morning there'll be nothing left. Inevitably, Bob will just be a memory. That's all.

The last picture of Bob


I  took on the job
Of building Bob
Where the clothes dryer usually stands
I  rolled a big snowball down the slope
With gardening gloves on my hands.

Another ball for his thorax
And another for his big head.
For his arms, I sourced two twiggy sticks
From the pile round the back of the shed.

Phoebe brought me a carrot nose
And potatoes, not coal for his eyes
Then Shirley gave me a hat and a scarf
So Bob would appear in disguise.

He stood out there a  too short while
For by Tuesday night he'd departed
Gone to where all snowmen go -
The land of the broken-hearted...
It's what becomes of them Jimmy.
The good old days - last Friday afternoon

13 March 2023


I have always liked a good film - a film that tells a good story perhaps or a film in which you lose yourself - enchanted by the cinematic artefact that a team  of our fellow human beings have lovingly pulled together for us - creating a kind of on-screen magic. 

Last night at The Oscars in Hollywood,a film called "Everything Everywhere All at Once" won  several of the awards including "Best Picture". Knowing nothing about this film I thought I would give it a whirl this afternoon courtesy of Amazon Prime. 

I wanted to be enthralled and to appreciate why it had won so many plaudits. I settled down with a mug of tea and a cold pork sandwich hoping to be transported in the next two hours. However, it wasn't long before boredom began to set in and after an hour I dozed off for ten minutes. That did not make a ha'p'orth of difference and I didn't even bother with a rewind to catch up. The film was still churning along, failing to touch me in the slightest.

In cooking you get dishes called a bouillabaisse and a melange. They are similar in the sense that you throw just about everything into the pot and stir. To me, that is what  "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is like - a bouillabaisse of random imagery and sound in which time is elastic. It's all over the place and though you are sometimes at the Chinese laundry or the tax office, mostly you don't know where the hell you are. 

In the background to the action, sometimes leaking into everyday reality is a popular construction known as "the multiverse" - "a hypothetical space or realm consisting of a number of universes, of which our own universe is only one". I understand that this concept has been present in various action hero films that I of course avoid watching at all costs.

I did not care a jot about the characters in  "Everything Everywhere All at Once". "Best Actress" Michelle Yeoh played Evelyn Quan Wang, a dissatisfied and overwhelmed laundromat owner; and as several other versions of Evelyn in alternate universes. She was central to it all and within the constraints of the project she probably played her part quite well.

It was a kaleidoscope of imagery but what the hell was it all about? It did not seem to relate naturally to the world as I see it. I found it to be superficial, silly and frankly a load of trash complete with plenty of king fu style fighting.. I was relieved when the final credits came up but that was over two hours of my life that I will never get back. Needless to say I would not recommend this film to anybody apart from teenagers who are obsessed with superheroes and enjoy continuous action. Yes- as we say in England - not my cup of tea at all.


12 March 2023


What do you do when someone's head falls off?  In my opinion you don't try to re-affix the old head, you simply make a new head. Of course it is possible to recycle some of the features of the old head including eyes and nose. Creating a new mouth requires a screwdriver but why bother with ears? Hearing is an overrated sense in my opinion. Three regular visitors to this blog get by very well indeed even though they are essentially deaf.

The reason that Bob's head fell off  is that the temperature was rising outside. Water was dripping everywhere. Those of us with hearing listened to the drips as the previously crunchy snow began to turn to slush. Before Bob's head fell off he lost his nose and one of his potato eyes. He looked a right mess.

Little Phoebe was coming here in the middle of the afternoon and I was a little worried in case she suffered some kind of trauma upon seeing a now headless Bob. That's why I did the swift surgery - no anaesthetics or anything. I suspect you will agree with me when I say that a child's mind could be permanently scarred by the sight of a decapitated best friend.

Being a transplant surgeon is not as hard as it might appear. I have had zero training in the field and discovered that all I needed  was a modicum of common sense, a screwdriver, gloves and a garden spade.

As I was operating on Bob, I wondered why all snowmen are white. In this age of multi-culturalism and political correctness, it is surely time that we saw black and brown snow people in our midst. If there is to be a next time, I must investigate food colourings that I could spray onto the surface of the snow or would non-white people find that offensive?  It is so hard to do the right thing.

Finally, I have confession to make. My idea for a story based on Bob The Snowman and Little Phoebe was 99% plagiarised and based entirely on the comic book "The Snowman" by Raymond Briggs - first published in 1978 and later turned into a very popular Christmas film with a memorable theme song sung by Welsh choirboy, Aled Jones. Well done to Frances and I think Thelma for spotting this crudely attempted  deception!

11 March 2023


Gary Lineker is in limbo. He is or was the BBC's most highly paid presenter - anchoring the "Match of the Day" football highlights programme for twenty years but with what has transpired this week, his time at the BBC could very well be over.

Before I carry on, I would just like to explain that before his TV career began he was a professional footballer and a stalwart of England's national side - scoring forty eight goals for his country in eighty appearances. Famously, he was never booked or sent off in his entire career. He was and still remains football's Mr Nice Guy.

Earlier this week, the country's Home Secretary announced that rebooted plans were afoot to halt the flow of illegal immigrants arriving on our southern shores in inflatable dinghies. These dangerous voyages are invariably arranged by criminal gangs to which the desperate migrants have paid large sums of money. 

It is a very complicated problem involving international law, the huge cost of temporarily housing would-be asylum seekers, arrivals from peaceful countries like Albania, children arriving on their own, absence of documentation plus the long-winded legal processing of asylum applications complete with the possibility of appeals.

Referring to government plans in his  private Twitter account, Gary Lineker said this:-

Largely as a result of this tweet, Gary Lineker has been forced to "step back" from his "Match of the Day" role. This follows pressure from the Tory government and its agents such as Tim Davie - The Director General of the BBC who was an ardent member of The Conservative Party before taking up his current position in 2020.

This is meant to be a free country so why can't Gary Lineker express his opinions about evolving government policies in relation  to  illegal immigration?  He has in effect been censored. 

In support, several pundits and sports reporters have pulled out of their jobs this weekend showing sympathy with Gary Lineker and clearly the BBC under Tim Davie  have managed to get themselves into a very difficult situation with the way forward now appearing most uncertain.

Gary Lineker is fabulously rich but he has put a lot of his money where his mouth is. I understand that he has quietly given funds to several needy charities  and housed some refugees in his own home. At the age of sixty two he never needs to work again.

I don't entirely agree with all of his views on the asylum/migrant issue but as the famous quote often ascribed to Voltaire says: "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That notion is surely one of the hallmarks of freedom

10 March 2023


There was even more snow last night. It was knee-deep this morning. Possibly the deepest we have known in the thirty four years we have lived in this architect-designed bijou house. This of course proves that global warming is a lie created by woke lefties and layabouts like climatologists, the BBC and David Attenborough. 

Anyway, I built a snowman today - especially for Little Phoebe. I hadn't built one since our kids were little. As we didn't have any lumps of coal, I instead used small potatoes for the eyes - applying black marker pen for the eyeballs. He has, I believe,  the look of Marty Feldman about him but Phoebe wanted to call him Bob.

When my creation was finished, the idea of a children's story based upon a snowman came into my mind like a shaft of sunlight in a shadowy pond. Here goes...

After a night of heavy snowfall, a young girl named Phoebe wakes up and plays in the snow, eventually building a large snowman with her kindly grandpa. At the stroke of midnight, Phoebe sneaks downstairs to find the snowman has magically come to life. Phoebe shows the snowman around her grandparents'  house, playing with appliances, toys and other bric-a-brac, all while keeping quiet enough not to wake Phoebe's snoring grandparents. The two find a sheeted-down motorcycle in the house's garden and go for a ride on it through the woods. Its engine heat starts to melt the snowman and he cools off luxuriating in the garage freezer.

Seeing a picture of the Arctic region on a packet in the freezer, the snowman is agitated and takes the little girl  in hand, running through the garden until they take flight. They fly over the Yorkshire Wolds towards the coast, seeing Flamborough Head and Filey Bay, and north along the coast of Norway. They continue through an arctic landscape and into the aurora borealis. They land in a snow-covered forest where they join a party of snowmen. They eventually meet Father Christmas along with his reindeer; he gives the little girl a card and a scarf with a snowman pattern. The snowman returns home with Phoebe before the sun rises and the two bid farewell for the night.

The following morning, Phoebe wakes up to find that the snowman has melted, leaving only his hat, scarf, potato eyes, carrot nose, and stick arms in a pile of melted snow. Phoebe kneels down by the snowman's remains while holding his scarf, mourning the loss of her friend.

That is the core plot but I think that if the show was ever filmed it would require a theme song - sung by a choirboy with an angelic voice. It would begin something like this:-
We're striding through the air
We're floating in the starlit sky
The townsfolk far below are sleeping as we fly...

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