23 March 2017

London

Shirley and I are off to London this morning. We are going to see our children and to visit theatres in the West End. I have also bought tickets for the Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain. My mobility remains a problem because of my knee so I am somewhat anxious about  hobbling around. I will be looking to limit the amount of walking I have to do. Yesterday's visit to the doctor led to the collection of some heavy duty painkillers and the promise of an appointment with a physiotherapist.

But how could I tell you we are visiting London without reference to what happened yesterday?  As I sit here, the running BBC News programme is all about the Westminster attack by a wicked madman who no doubt saw himself as an Islamic martyr. May he rot in hell and may his name - soon to be revealed - be forever associated with evil. 

We go to our nation's capital, proud to be English and proud to be citizens of the free world. We shall not be cowed by vile nobodies like him or by others of his ilk. 

22 March 2017

Robocalls

Rrring-rrring! Rrring-rrring:! Rrring-rrring!

I pick up the phone.

"Hello,"

Nothing.

"Hello?"

Again nothing. Just an empty cave and the ghosts of electronic crackling.

There's nobody there because this is a typical robocall or what some people call a bot call.

I got one this morning at 8am and I received a similar call at a similar time on Monday morning. Generally speaking, I am a night owl. To use one of my late mother's expressions, you will often find me "raking around" in the early hours - painting foxes, watching "Democracy Now", reading books or blogs etc.. Consequently I often get up late  - around eight thirty or nine so you can imagine that  I am not at all happy about being disturbed by robocalls. After I have leapt out of bed to take the intrusive phone calls,, it is just about impossible to get back to sleep again. I wouldn't say such days are ruined but they certainly begin on a very unpleasant note having been deprived of my desired allotment of refreshing sleep.

It used to be that unsolicited phone calls and robocalls happened in the evening and it was rare to be hit by them in the morning but over the last few months I have noticed a growing incidence of morning calls. How long will it be before the scumbags who oversee these disrespectful systems start disturbing us in the middle of the night?

Please don't blame me. Like thousands of other people I am the innocent victim of robocalls. I have blocked several numbers and I signed up with the TPS (Telephone Preference Service) years ago. It's not my fault these calls keep coming.

You can't help wondering what on earth "they" are doing about robocalls. You know who I mean - telephone companies, governments, GCHQ, the FBI, The United Nations, the police, Interpol etc.. Surely in this day and age it should be possible to pursue the perpetrators of robocalls, rogue telemarketing outfits and other phone-line crooks - to stifle their unwarranted intrusions into law abiding citizens' lives.

21 March 2017

Vogue


People in high places with pressurised and important jobs need release valves if they are to stay sane. President Obama and the current occupant of The White House - whose name evades me - both like to play rounds of golf. Vladimir Putin lets off steam by wrestling bears or playing ice hockey. One former British prime minister, Edward Heath, liked to go yachting while another, Yorkshireman Harold Wilson liked to cheer on his beloved football team - Huddersfield Town or relax in his holiday home on The Isles of Scilly.

The late Colonel Gadaffi of Libya was interested in football, Beethoven and interior design while Adolf Hitler spent hours bouncing up and down on his pogo stick . (Pregnant pause)... Err, I must confess that I made the last bit up. The present political leader of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull likes to walk his dogs. Justin Trudeau of Canada likes a workout in the boxing ring or occasionally a visit to the local tattoo parlour

And so we come to Britain's current (unelected) leader - Theresa May. There she is in Westminster wrestling with the fallout from last year;s EU referendum and ostensibly trying to steer our country to the best deals she can. But of course, like all other leaders, she needs her escape activities. What does she pick? Perhaps a whist drive in the village hall or a game of bowls on the green?

Not on your nelly! Theresa chose to do a fashion shoot with "Vogue" magazine. Charitably, she was probably thinking - why should my husband Philip (a banker) be the only one to enjoy my modish fashion sense? As a British voter it warms the cockles of my heart to know we are now being led into the Brexit abyss by a fashion model. As  Madonna sang:-
Oooh, you've got to
Let your body move to the music
Oooh, you've got to just
Let your body go with the flow
Oooh, you've got to
Vogue
The delectable Theresa May posing for "Vogue"

20 March 2017

Lay-by


Please don't judge me but sometimes I like to drive out into the nearby countryside to find a quiet spot. There I will simply sit in my car for an hour or two and read which ever book I am on. I need silence and good light for reading - with no distraction. 


Yesterday afternoon, I was parked up in a remote lay-by under Stanage Edge reading "Shakespeare" by Bill Bryson. Finally, I finished it! Hurrah!  It was, after all, a fascinating, readable and well-informed look at The Bard's life, claims that have been  made about him and the very small amount of evidence for his existence that remains four hundred years after his death at the age of fifty two.

Bryson scorns ridiculous notions that Shakespeare was in fact someone else like Francis Bacon or Ben Jonson or even Queen Elizabeth I, pulling these self-indulgent and spurious arguments apart, like dandelion seeds. The book finishes with this sentence: "Only one man had the circumstances and gifts to give us such incomparable works, and William Shakespeare of Stratford was unquestionably that man - whoever he was."

As I as sitting in my lay-by, another car pulled up behind me. I looked in my rear view mirror and noticed that the front seat passenger had a huge red ball on his lap - either that or he was heavily pregnant. 

The occupants of the car - three men and a woman - clambered out with bags and coats etc.. Soon they were walking off along the drizzly country lane. It was then that I realised the red thing was actually a huge Angry Bird mask - you may have seen images of that popular computer game character.

They proceeded through a gateway and trudged three hundred yards or so across rough pasture to some rocks beneath Stanage Edge. As I had now finished "Shakespeare", I got out of my car and went over to the boundary wall with my camera. Using it's full zoom facility I snapped several pictures, including the two that follow this paragraph. What the hell was going on? Have you any idea?
P.S. I have at long last  made an appointment at the local health centre to see a doctor about my gammy knee and have stopped putting artificial sweeteners in my tea and coffee after reading that there may be a link between regular use of aspartame and the development of arthritic conditions.

19 March 2017

Masterpiece

Masterpiece? Well - it is to me. I have tried my best to produce passable pictures of foxes and this is the very summit of my ability. After all these foxes I shall move on to painting other subjects - like landscapes, human faces,  buildings or water. No more foxes. Actually, I have only been painting one fox - namely Fred Fox who was a regular visitor to our suburban garden as long time visitors may recall. I hope that this final picture has done him justice, capturing something of the plaintive, quizzical look he would often give me.

18 March 2017

Retrospective

Ten years ago on March 18th 2007, I published the following blogpost which I titled "Waiting". I was of course much younger then. Our son and daughter were still living at home. The term "Brexit" did not exist. I was still slaving away as Head of English in a secondary school - like a hamster on a treadmill. Hull City fans were still only dreaming of Premier League status - never thinking it would happen. My mother was still alive and so was Shirley's.

Times change. Things move on.

I rather like the punchline of this post. The idea that what truly matters in life is activity - the doing, not the waiting. I seem to do a lot of waiting these days. Perhaps we can't avoid it. Perhaps a life that was all doing and no waiting would lack contemplation or comprehension. Anyway, I hadn't looked at this post for ten years until this morning. Time to share...

____________________________________________________________
Waiting
Sunday afternoon – waiting for Shirley to come home from her trip out to Lincolnshire to see her mother on Mothering Sunday. Saturday night – waiting for the lottery results to tell me I’m free, waiting for a pint of ale at The St Patrick’s Night Party. What party? And why did Guinness boast that they’d produced three million green badges specially - along with one million of those dumb felt Guinness hats. Would St Patrick have admired such pointless waste of Mother Earth’s resources.? If put side by side in a line - those badges would reach from our house seventy five miles – right out into the North Sea.

Waiting for the years to pass. Counting the years on your mortgage, the years to retirement. Waiting for the weeks to pass – till the next holiday, the next birthday, the next anniversary. Waiting.

At the football waiting for the bus to come, waiting for the players to come out and at half time , waiting for them to return and waiting for the goal that sometimes never comes. Waiting for a season when we shine. Waiting.

Lying in bed listening to the wind, thoughts swirling in your head as you wait for sleep to come. And at work waiting for the clock to tick on to lunchtime or to the end of the day. Waiting for Easter. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for a parking place. And we have sayings – Guinness again – “Good things come to those who wait”, “Wait a minute”, “Wait a little bit longer”, “Waiting for Godot”. And we have waiters and waitresses, people who wait on us.

But the best of life is when we are not waiting but doing. Living the moment, happy in the here and now, not wishing our lives away and waiting for something else, something beyond this moment. I’m a waiter and that’s my tip of the day.

17 March 2017

Background

How nice that some of you enjoyed yesterday's poem - "Daffodils".  It was inspired by the sight of a border of daffodils in our garden - all sunny and bright yellow in the sharp spring light of Tuesday morning. I wanted to write a joyful, celebratory poem in honour of those familiar heralds of spring. They remind us about renewal.

Of course it has been done before. I think everyone is familiar with William Wordsworth's  "I wandered lonely as a cloud" which was inspired by a walk he took by Ullswater with his sister Dorothy in the springtime of 1802. It is a poem I have read and considered many times. There is a sense in which Wordsworth's poem was not really about daffodils at all but about humanity's relationship with Nature. In the last verse, Wordsworth looks "upon the inward eye" where he finds contentment in his memories of Nature. This was a recurring theme in his work.
Picture used to accompany yesterday's poem
In comparison, my poem was far less profound. All I wanted to do was applaud the daffodils and note their welcome return. I had gone out into the garden with a bowl of seeds for the garden birds when I was suddenly captivated by our little border of yellow trumpeters beneath the privet hedge. How healthy and proud they appeared. I went inside for my camera.

It was Shirley who planted the bulbs there a few years back, just behind a clump of ferns which of course remain dormant till the early summer. The daffodils like it there, sheltered from northern winds in a little suntrap and by the time the ferns are pushing through, the daffodils are dying off, their goodness being sucked back into their subterranean bulbs. I suppose it is a symbiotic relationship.

In the poem, I deliberately used the word "fluttering" as a nod to Wordsworth's "Fluttering and dancing in the breeze". Near the end, I echo a joyful line from "Get Happy" famously sung by Judy Garland in the 1950 musical film, "Summer Stock". Popular culture and poetry have an uneasy relationship and I like to play around with that tension by referencing modernity. After all, this isn't 1802.