31 July 2023
30 July 2023
Mick and I won the pub quiz up at "The Hammer and Pincers" tonight. Just the two of us. It's nice when things come together and hunches work out. In "guess the year" I knew that Cruise missiles first came to Greenham Common in England before our Ian was born. I drove down to Winchester to attend the wedding of my friend Jock and his lady - Sally. I stopped at Greenham Common to tie one of my father's old handkerchiefs to the wire fencing. I had drawn on it in permanent marker the "Ban the Bomb" peace symbol: ☮. The year was 1983.
Riding home on the Number 88 bus I heard the voice of Stevie Nicks playing in my head - a voice that was and remains very evocative. It speaks of vulnerability and tenderness and simply being human. I suspect we all hear old songs in our heads in idle moments. They rise to the surface like fish and we listen to them all over again. Sometimes they just play in the background - rather like radio music in a taxi cab.
29 July 2023
Remember my old chum Bert? He has been in hospital for three weeks now. I went to see him again this very afternoon.
He's quite confused and hardly thriving in the hospital environment. He doesn't seem to know what day it is and as for his treatment or any future plans, it is hardly worth asking him. You would get more sense out of a bowl of fruit.
With regard to his hip fracture he has been standing up and has made some steps with the aid of a walking frame and a physiotherapist. In addition to this issue, he has had a pacemaker fitted because, as I understand it, he may have collapsed in his kitchen because of an irregular heart rhythm.
Will Bert ever get back to his terraced house ten minutes down the road from me? There's a steep staircase and of course his bedroom and sole bathroom are both up those stairs. I understand that the hospital might put him in a residential home temporarily so that he can improve his mobility but I fear that he is on a downward slope and may never get back to independent living.
Not so long ago he was a sharp, well-built little fellow with his wits about him. Now he is looking frail and thin. He's also very forgetful. The rapidity of the decline has been astonishing. I am in contact with both his ex-wife and his youngest son now.
Today I took him a packet of McVities dark chocolate digestive biscuits, a can of Pepsi Cola, a carton of rice pudding and a colouring book for adults. I was going to say an adult colouring book but that might have suggested X-rated images. I also took him some pencil crayons but I very much doubt that he will tackle even one of those pictures.
At English hospitals, visitors have to pay to park their cars. I had to pay £2.80 for four hours even though I knew I would only be visiting Bert for around an hour. In the car park I saw a young driver heading for the pay machine...
ME Are you going to buy a parking ticket?
HIM Yes I am.
ME You can have my ticket if you like. It's got three hours left on it.
HIM (Pause) No you are all right buddy, I'll get my own.
ME Suit yourself then if you prefer to waste your money.
Perhaps I should also have said, "And don't call me buddy!" I hate being addressed that way. Like "mate" and "bro", the term "buddy" has crept into modern English usage in the last decade. Somebody who uses it doesn't really deserve a free parking ticket in my opinion. The young man may also be suspicious of acts of kindness from strangers. Stranger danger and all that.
28 July 2023
27 July 2023
In the first two thirds of my career in secondary or high school teaching, none of my pupils had mobile phones. However, in the last ten years that changed. Phones were creeping in. My school made a policy that if youngsters were caught using mobile phones in classrooms then teachers should confiscate them.
It was perhaps twenty five years ago when I was teaching a Year 8 class one morning. I was speaking to them from the front when I heard a mobile phone go off in somebody's bag. Of course this interrupted my talk and everybody's attention was diverted.
A girl in the middle of the room took the phone from her bag and began to answer the call. I stood in front of her and said, "Give me that phone now please!". The girl refused and said, "It might be important. It's my mum!" And I said, "I don't care who's calling just give me that phone now!" With great reluctance and with the eyes of her classmates watching, she handed over the phone and was soon blubbering in her seat.
Later the mother contacted the school to complain that I had confiscated the phone and her daughter had been upset by the incident.
In a senior staff meeting a few weeks later, I argued that mobile phones were insidious in classrooms and needed to be stopped. The way that one or two of the other participants responded made it clear that they did not share my opinion. Perhaps they thought I was becoming an old fuddy duddy and needed to catch up with modern times.
Since those early days, mobile phones and smartphones have caused many unwelcome incidents and concerns within schools, including:-
- deliberately winding up teachers in order to film them having angry outbursts
- messaging other pupils in threatening ways (i.e. bullying)
- calling unsavoury outside characters to enter the school with a view to meting out punishment
- up-skirting photography and making other imagery of a sexual nature
- cheating during tests and exams
- simple distraction - checking out social media etc. instead of paying attention to teaching and learning.
- losing expensive phones or having them snatched by other pupils
I am sure that my list is not exhaustive.
Of course the horse bolted long ago but I was delighted yesterday to read this headline:-
26 July 2023
Is it possible to "binge watch" a television drama that consists of just four episodes? I am not sure. Anyway if it is possible, I just binge-watched a gripping drama called "The Sixth Commandment" - courtesy of our wonderful BBC.
It was the dramatisation of a real life murder story. The victim was a retired English teacher called Peter Farquhar. He was murdered at his home in Buckinghamshire in 2015 by one of his students - Ben Field.
This wasn't a simple common or garden murder, it involved great cunning and planning and chilling psychological elements of control, exploitation and cruelty. It is also believed that Field murdered one of Peter Farquhar's neighbours - a retired primary school headteacher called Ann Moore-Martin. However, there was insufficient evidence of this to convince the trial jury in Oxford in 2019.
Of course I could easily rabbit on about the plot and bore you to tears but I would rather just say that "The Sixth Commandment" was probably the best show I have seen on television this year. Thoroughly entertaining and rather disturbing too.
It did not give in to sensationalism. The four episodes were subtly constructed and the characters were given depth. A real sense of place was developed. The police enquiry was not slated. It was shown to be thorough, sensitive and professional like the dedicated officers involved.
Dominating the drama is the charismatic figure of Ben Field played quite brilliantly by the Irish actor Éanna Hardwicke. I wouldn't wish to meet him down a dark alleyway - I can tell you. There were other outstanding performances by Timothy Spall as Peter Farquhar, Anne Reid as Ann Moore-Martin and Annabel Scholey as Anne-Marie - Miss Moore-Martin's beloved niece.
Directed by Saul Dibbs and based upon a book by Sarah Phelps, "The Sixth Commandment" shows what is possible in TV drama when talented teams of actors supported by dedicated film crews and support staff come together on suitably funded missions they believe in.
You will be pleased to know that Ben Field was sentenced to life imprisonment in October 2019 with a recommendation that he should serve at least thirty six years.
25 July 2023
24 July 2023
Some of you may recall that for quite a few years I have been contributing photographs to a British photo-mapping site called Geograph. In total, I have contributed over seventeen thousand five hundred pictures. The site itself has received 7.5 million images from 13,761 contributors. I am just a small fish in a large pond.
Now when you submit your photos to Geograph, you do so on the understanding that your images will be available for others to use as long as copyright is always acknowledged. Many organisations such as news services or publishers have come to view Geograph as an incredible free resource.
Let's say you need a picture of a particular village to illustrate a news report about a fire or a car accident. All you need to do is go to Geograph and press "Search". No need to send a photographer. Or maybe you are writing a book about English cathedrals and you need photo-illustrations. There's no need to drive up and down our motorways because you can find the pictures on Geograph. Free to use.
Several of my pictures have been used by others including the BBC News website. Though no payment is received, it gives me a bit of a buzz to find my images being used elsewhere. Here's just a small sample of my BBC pictures....
From January of this year, a picture I took of the island of Little Ross in South West Scotland - "Holiday homes plan for lighthouse murder island near Kirkcudbright":-From November 2022, a picture I took on The Isle of Man back in 2016 - "Onchan: Man dies in Mountain Road crash":-
23 July 2023
Simon was twenty three years old when he went off the rails and hastened my father's death. I am absolutely certain that his strange mental state was exacerbated by habitual cannabis use. Amongst the thing he left behind, I discovered six pages of writing he had drafted about that painful time in the summer of 1979. Those words have helped me to better understand both what happened and indeed Simon's mental health at that time. Here are four extracts...
Simon writing about his arrest in the Bridlington pub:-
"I may have been out of my mind. I still believe I was closer to myself than for a long time.I was happy but nervous which prevented me from sleeping..."
"My parents came in the evening and took me home. They were beside themselves. So many mixed up feelings. There was grave sadness, incomprehension, fear of me, disgust? And I was seemingly unconcerned about the whole business at all. I wanted my belongings to be left in that pub but my mother just wanted to get away from that town. The journey home brimmed with feeling. I insisted on being dropped off at the local for a drink. My father did this. They must have told Brian what had happened for he came and sat by me, drinking lager."
A few days later in Scarborough:-
"I wandered around the castle walls, a Bible under my coat and a black-tipped feather in my hair. The ancient temple. I was barefoot in that early morning. I smeared my face with the sandstone mud. My guts ached for I had yet another hangover. I came down the hill and had tea and a scone by the shore."
Before being sectioned under The Mental Health Act:-
"My brother said I should see the psychiatrist. He was wrong. They all were. I stormed off on a long hike to the river and back again. A social worker called Cherry came and she was very fair. I saw the psychiatrist. She had a young protege with her I became nervous when they came. The asked me: What do we mean when we say you shouldn't throw stones at a glass house? Like a fool I tried to answer and got muddled and anxious and that was that. They said - You've now got to go into hospital under a section. You are dangerous but I never really thought so. It was their thinking that I was crazy that really narked me."
In the mental hospital:-
"One day Nurse B called me in the foyer and said something like - "Your father has had to be taken into hospital - it isn't serious". I could have cried for I knew that my father's weak old heart would be under strain in those days. They let him out after two weeks and I was let out a week after that for the weekend."
There were more painful extracts I might have lifted from those pages but I decided to suppress them. Simon did not choose to become the man he was. It just happened - with the assistance of cannabis of course. Twenty eight years after my father's premature death, my mother died too and once again Simon had played a big part in her demise. She had become afraid of him and yet supported him to the end of her life. I don't think he ever really knew what hurt he had caused. He was a hard brother to love.
21 July 2023
The summer of 1979 was significant in the history of my immediate family. Things of consequence happened before my father died at the age of sixty five on September 14th. He had been retired for just one year.
He had suffered from angina for a couple of years and took prescribed blood thinning tablets but otherwise he enjoyed good health. The number one worry in his life was my brother Simon and how things were turning out for him. He was often nasty and aggressive to both of my parents and some of his behaviour was just plain weird.
In July, the day after my second teaching year finished in South Yorkshire, I headed home to East Yorkshire. My father kindly came to Paragon Station in Hull to pick me up. He was looking pasty and sad and he said he had something he wanted to talk to me about. We stopped at "The Duke of York" pub in the village of Skirlaugh and bought two beers.
Dad said that Simon had been arrested in a pub in Bridlington the night before and was still in police custody. Someone had seen him rolling up a joint at the bar and then smoking it. They had in effect shopped him. Dad was suffering from a range of conflicting emotions including increased worry about where Simon's life was leading and self-recrimination for somehow failing his youngest son. In truth, the arrest did not come as a surprise to any of us.
That night Dad suffered his first major heart attack and was whisked by ambulance to a hospital in Hull. Luckily he survived. The following Monday the magistrates court in Bridlington "sectioned" Simon - putting him in a local mental hospital for I believe two weeks for assessments.
I went to visit both of them in their separate hospitals.
Dad came home after a few days with more heavy duty medication while Simon still languished in an austere Victorian building that had once been called a lunatic asylum.
My other two brothers were now around to give practical support and so with my father's blessing I headed off to the island of Rhodes for a delayed two week holiday. I was supposed to go the day after the heart attack but had cancelled my flight.
One Sunday while I was away and Dad was recuperating, a bare-chested and wild-eyed Simon arrived back at the family home with his face and torso deliberately smeared with mud and bird feathers in his hair. He had been in touch with God and had visited places in North Yorkshire that he believed to be associated with family ancestors.
It was a very disturbing episode as witnessed by my mother and father, my older brother and his former wife and two of my parents' best friends who happened to be visiting that day.
Two weeks later we were into September and I received a phone message through my school to say that Dad had had another heart attack and was once again in hospital. It was a Friday and after arriving in Hull by train but before carrying on to the family home, I went to the hospital to see him. He was heavily medicated but it was clear that this second attack had taken a lot out of him. He just wasn't himself.
He died the following morning and I drove my mother to the hospital to see him. Behind the green hospital bed curtains she fell apart and I left her with him for a few minutes believing that my presence might be an intrusion. They had been through a lot together and were in love till the end.
20 July 2023
19 July 2023
It is exactly one year since my brother Simon died in Dove House Hospice, Hull. July 19th 2022 was the hottest day of the year in England but Simon was cool in the windowless Princess Diana Suite. He had been taken there by ambulance the previous Friday and whether or not it was caused naturally or by the administration of end-of-life medication, he very soon entered a nether state of apparent unconsciousness.
Shirley and I saw him the following day and he was more or less unresponsive but when I tried to ply him with water, his lips moved and he bared his teeth. He seemed to want it. Before we left I stroked his hair as I softly sang, "Are you going to Scarborough Fair?"
The following Tuesday, having never regained consciousness, he had gone off to Scarborough Fair. A lovely nurse phoned me and explained the minute details of his passing. It was so kind and her compassion and dedication came a-humming right down the telephone line. He had died in good hands.
At death, Simon was more or less a skeleton. He hadn't eaten properly in months. He just couldn't do it and the nutritional drinks he was prescribed made little difference. He had cancer in both his trachea and his oesophagus. It is unlikely that he will ever be recorded as yet another tragic victim of tobacco smoking but when all is said and done - that is what severely shortened his life. Fifty years of smoking.
In the days that followed, Shirley and I worked like Trojans to clear his humble rented cottage. We tried to be ruthless but in the end we brought some of his stuff home and as I sit in this study typing, I still look down to my left at two boxes of rescued remnants.
I have tried several times to deal with it but most of it ends up back in the boxes. I just can't bring myself to cast it out. It's not all about Simon - it's about the rest of my birth family too. Old Bibles that belonged to my father and to my maternal great grandfather. Fading photographs - some of them in frames. Sports badges, certificates, birthday cards, Paul's rowing cap, newspaper clippings, a baton, a brass crab and so on. It's like the flotsam that washed up on the shore after my family's boat had been wrecked in a storm. Only Robin - my brother in France - and I managed to swim to the the beach.
Amongst those rescued things, I found six untitled pages of Simon's handwriting - jotted down in the summer of 1979 - the year that our father died. There were periods of Simon's life that were very difficult and that was one of them. I am not in the mood for relating the contents of that writing just now. Maybe tomorrow or maybe another day.
I put in an order for his gravestone weeks ago - following his instructions. It will be very simple - a Norman shaped slab of Yorkshire sandstone with only his name and 1956-2022 carved upon it. It will be a hundred yards from where he was born and a hundred yards from his rented cottage. I am not expecting the stone to be in place until October.
18 July 2023
17 July 2023
In those days the term "gay" had everything to do with happy summer days, Enid Blyton adventures and light-heartedness. for it had not yet been adopted as an alternative name by the very well-hidden homosexual community. No television or radio programmes ever referred to gayness and as far as I knew there were no gay characters in the books I read.
Given this context, it was perhaps no surprise that later on I became somewhat homophobic. I was quite disgusted by it all and occasionally shared schoolboy tales of what we imagined gay men did together. Because of our ignorance there was much smutty laughter. Probably, the worst insults for other boys were "pufta" and "shirtlifter".
I loved girls and I loved women and I could not imagine any other kind of loving. I didn't have a single gay friend at university or through my teaching career and when I come to think about it, I don't believe I really got to properly know a gay man until I was in my sixties. That's when Steve became a regular at our local pub and I would often converse with him though interestingly the topic of his sexuality and LGBQT+ battles very rarely cropped up. We were more likely to talk about his singing or my country walks.
It's still a little strange to me that through blogging I have got to know several gay men. There's Andrew in Melbourne Australia, Bob in South Carolina, Travel Penguin in Washington D.C., John Gray in North Wales and Steve Reed in West London. For whatever reason, it seems that blogging is a medium that many gay men are drawn to.
The aforementioned men have taught me a few lessons - the first one being that each gay man is different from the next. They are not all the same. Another important lesson they have taught me is that private sexuality does not define someone. As in the heterosexual world, sex is just one facet of somebody's life. There's a lot more to be said - about gardens, dogs, holidays, books, trams, journeys, politics, the arts, childhood memories, food, friends, current affairs and so on and so on.
To those particular men and to the other gay people I have encountered through blogging, I just want to say a massive "Thank You". You have educated me and diminished my homophobia - like tackling a cancer with laser beams, reducing it to the size of a frozen pea. Other people's lives matter - black people's lives. women's lives, the lives of the disabled, African lives, the lives of those who live in poverty and now at last I recognise that this also applies to LGBTQ+ lives. I am just sorry that I took so long to get here.
16 July 2023
I came home to watch the Wimbledon men's singles final on TV, not imagining that I would spend five hours on our sofa but I enjoyed all of the twists and turns and ups and downs and in the end I was happy that the young Spaniard - Carlos Alcaraz had won. It was a fantastic battle.
15 July 2023
14 July 2023
13 July 2023
He was lying there by the window in a four bed bay on Huntsman 5 Ward at The Northern General Hospital. He was wearing hospital pyjamas with a small repeating word pattern: "Property of the NHS". I noticed that two of the other old men in the room were wearing the same. The fourth man was sitting up in a high chair next to his bed. He was wearing a white T-shirt and khaki coloured shorts. The fifth person in the room - apart from me - was an African nurse in a lilac coloured uniform.
I brought Bert a "Get Well Soon" card and a carton of seedless grapes that I had picked up at the local Co-op store. Isn't that what you are meant to bring hospital patients? Grapes. It always used to be the case.
At first all seemed fine - a continuation of our lunch conversation at the Hungry Horse pub last week but gradually I realised that something was amiss.
Above the bed were ceiling panels and several light boxes plus curtain runners.
"Can you see them?"
"Those clouds in them boxes. Can you see them moving?"
"No I can't see a thing Bert."
"You must be able to see them. Can you see them webs then?"
"No I'm afraid not."
"They can bring those things down you know? They can lower the roof to flood this place. They've just got to pull that red cord."
It was getting weird and it struck me that Bert's head was all over the place. He didn't know if he had had an operation or not. He thought he would be getting out of hospital tomorrow. He implied that the staff were conspiring against him. He didn't know what day or time it was. This was a different Bert from the one I saw last week.
He pulled his bed sheet across and tried to show me the site of his hip injury even though I had just told him that I didn't want to see it.
Though his eyesight is quite good for a man in his 87th year, he still needs to wear spectacles for everyday use but there were none on his bedside table nor in his locker. It struck me that he was lying there in a hazy world - still sometimes unsure of what he was doing there and lurching between clear-sightedness, confusion and fantasy.
After twenty minutes I wanted to get the hell out of there and I was saved by the arrival of Bert's youngest son and his ex-wife Pat.
"Right I'm off now Bert. I'll leave you with your family. I hope you are home again soon. Take care!"
"Thanks Neil. Thanks for coming."
And I drove Clint back across the city at the very time that schoolchildren were pouring out of their various schools causing a consequent growth in traffic. Crawling along, I felt sad to think that Bert will never get back to where he was before Christmas - thrice a week walking up to the pub he has visited regularly for sixty years and walking home again after four or five pints of Tetley's bitter. The wheel has turned and where he is at now, it feels like the beginning of the end. I hope I am wrong.
12 July 2023
I have had a bit of a cold this week and as well as not wanting to do much, I have been sleeping more than usual. However, I am over the worst of it now. It's not been too bad.
On Monday, I received a phone call from Bert's ex-wife Patricia. He had had a bad fall in his kitchen that very morning and had been rushed to hospital in an ambulance with blue lights flashing. He's still in hospital now and it seems that he has broken one of his hips.
I don't know the full details or how serious the fracture is but I worry for him. Assuming he does get back home, his confidence will be shot. He will struggle to get up the steep staircase in his terraced house to get to bed and to use the bathroom. I know from past experience that an accident like this can change an older person's life forever. Before you know it, your independence is history.
Naturally, I am happy that I took him out for lunch last week. What with painting the rendering on our house, visiting London and holidaying in Sicily, the gap since our previous lunch rendezvous had been too long. Right now I would be feeling very regretful indeed if I hadn't taken him out. He was in great form that day.
In other Yorkshire Pudding news, Little Phoebe and her parents are flying to southern Spain in the morning. Frances's old boss bought a five bedroom villa in Marbella earlier this year and he's letting them have a week in that villa for nothing along with friends and Ian and Sarah too. Shirley and I could have gone as well but we decided against it. Perhaps some other time.
Meanwhile here in Sheffield where the summer weather has become pretty unsettled, I should be taking delivery of thirty three brand new decking boards tomorrow. Each of them will be 4.2 metres long and with delivery charges they have cost me £400 (US $520). I may not start on the lower decking renovation straight away but at least I will have the boards here ready for the task ahead. It doesn't seem like twenty years since we had the decking professionally installed. Twenty years ahead and I will not be here.
11 July 2023
Almost fifty years ago I spent three weeks picking raspberries by The Cromarty Firth in Scotland . In a weedy field by the campsite I found potatoes growing so I picked some to boil on my camping stove. Ore day a Londoner asked me where I was getting the potatoes from. I said, "That field over there!" and he said, "Yes, but where are they?"
10 July 2023
Last night, we lay down on sunbeds and watched Mrs Moon rise like a tangerine over The Aegean Sea. To capture the beauty of the scene fa...
Chavs being chavvish. Just the other day, I spotted a male "chav" down by the local Methodist church. He was wearing a Burberrry ...
So there I was standing in the kitchen of our son's terraced house. Something caught my eye outside in his little urban garden. It was a...