30 October 2015

Time

Another grey morning in Sheffield but at least it's mild outside with a breeze from the south. Tomorrow will be the last day of October and we still haven't  had a frost. Even so, putting the clocks back last weekend has made everyone very aware that winter is lurking just round the corner.

I have never been able to appreciate why we continue to mess about with time in this country. Spring forward, fall back and all that. What's the point of it? Very recently it was still broad daylight at 6.30pm but now it's pitch dark. I would rather ease gradually into winter's inevitable darkness than to have it foisted upon us so abruptly. It's so unnatural. Mr William Willett (1856-1915) has got a lot to answer for.

Time moving on. Day by day. Drip after drip. Till now those two spells I spent teaching in Thailand seem like history. They have lost their immediacy and my increasingly hazy memories could easily be from a film I once saw or from the story of someone else's life. But there is evidence in the form of digital pictures that I really was there and just now I spent a pleasant hour looking back through some of my photo folders from 2011.

Longterm visitors to this blog might recall that I spent a long weekend on a tiny island in the Andaman Sea. It  is called Koh Poda and you can only arrive there by longtail boat. I was the sole guest at the little resort - a complex of some thirty basic wooden bungalows and a restaurant. Occasional boats from the mainland would bring day visitors but mostly I had the island to myself. 

This is how it was:-
Resort bunglaows on Koh Poda
Andaman sunrise from Koh Poda
One day the American girls came - for a couple of hours
View from my beach towel
I don't know. Perhaps I need another faraway adventure before too long. Before I get old and cannot manage it any more. Maybe I should investigate the possibility of going out to see an Oxfam project as some shop volunteers have done. Mozambique...Guyana...The Philippines. I can feel the old hunger stirring and sometimes The Peak District will just not cut it.

29 October 2015

Confessions

There are a few things I want to confess this miserable grey morning. They have been preying on my mind but finally I have mustered the courage to share my confessions with you. They are probably the things that prevent me from being a fully contented human being and up until this moment they have been private - gnawing away at my very soul like rats upon a ship. So here goes...

1) I have never seen a James Bond film. The idea of sophisticated spies in dinner suits chasing ridiculous villains in fast cars before bedding a queue of glamorous women simply does not appeal to me in any way and the hype that precedes the launch of any Bond film makes me grimace with distaste. However, my lack of knowledge about Bond can be a genuine handicap in pub quizzes.
2) I have never seen a Starwars film. Science fiction has little appeal for me. I prefer films that are about real life - stories about believable human experience that are set in the here and now or back in time. I believe that Starwars has robots and aliens and laser sabres etcetera. To me this stuff would be totally boring and even if I bought a ticket for a Starwars film, I would probably fall asleep.

3) I was around twenty three years old when I learnt what toilet brushes were for. Nobody had ever explained their purpose to me and I guess I thought that the smelly things were left for cleaners to use when bleaching or scouring the lavatory bowl. After one particularly successful  evacuation, my then girlfriend complained about the gruesome pattern I had just  left behind on the porcelain. In the ensuing quarrel my ignorance re. toilet brushes was flushed away. It was what you call a Damascian moment.

4) I have been to nearly every big town or city in Great Britain but I have never been to Southampton, Wolverhampton or Northampton. I guess that "hampton" must mean "forbidden city". Do child emperors live in protected secrecy in these places I wonder? And is my cultural experience somehow diminished by not having visited these particular "hamptons"?

5) A few years ago I called in to a motorway service station on the M6. It was late evening. In the entrance area I spotted what seemed to be a bundle of banknotes on the floor. As quick as a bird  descending on a swimming pool, I scooped the bundle up and stuffed it in my pocket. A few minutes later as I sat down with a mug of tea and a sandwich, I slyly inspected my lucky find - £165! That's about $250 (US) or $350 (AUS). But here's the thing that has eaten away at me ever since - I did not take the money to the information desk to hand it in. I kept it for myself! If only I could go back in time to right that wrong!

Is there anything you would like to get off your chest? Why not take a deep breath and spill the beans to Father Pudding? 

28 October 2015

60th

Dot and Chubb last Saturday
On October 22nd 1955, a bride and a groom walked down the aisle of St Martin's Church in Owston Ferry on The Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire - the very same aisle that Shirley and I walked down in late October 1981. The bride was Dorothy or Dot - one of Shirley's many aunties and  the groom was Chubb - a young electrician from the nearby village of West Stockwith.

They held their reception in The Coronation Hall, hardly guessing that one day they would become the parents of three daughters and later grandparents to four grandchildren. Nor would they have guessed that sixty years later they would be gathering in the very same village hall with family and friends to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary.

That's where we were last Saturday afternoon on what co-incidentally was our own thirty fourth wedding anniversary. The three daughters had put on a fine buffet spread and of course there was a big iced cake that the happy couple cut as cameras clicked and everybody applauded.

Chubb and Dot have spent their entire lives in the same rural backwater, west of The River Trent. Though life is never entirely simple anywhere, they have lived happily, away from the hurly burly of city life, largely unaffected by the world's troubles. It was all about raising a family, earning a crust, getting along with others and laughing whenever the opportunity presented itself. A solid, decent life in which the demon dreams of "what if" and "if only" were kept very much in abeyance like dogs consigned to the outhouse.

Sixty years. To Dot and Chubb. Cheers!
At Epworth on route to Owston Ferry - The Old Rectory
Home of the Wesleys - founders of Methodism
Looking across The River Trent to East Ferry
Landscape by The Trent - south of Owston Ferry

26 October 2015

Autumn

I often find myself plodding along woodland paths. Such walks are especially pleasant at this time of year when the sun is out, illuminating autumn's dramatic progress. However, such scenes can be devilishly difficult to capture with a camera. It's because of the contrast between light and shade. The camera gets confused and is unable to make the kind of allowances that we naturally make with our eyes.

I have lost count of the number of pictures of woodland paths that I have snapped and then later deleted. Hundreds of them. But today, when walking in the southern extremities of Sheffield , along the Limb Valley and back to Whirlowdale Park, I finally snapped a woodland path picture that I am very happy with. The lighting is right, true to what I witnessed with my eyes and I also feel that the photograph speaks of the beautiful melancholy of this season. The summer has gone and winter is steadily approaching.

Autumn

In these shrinking days
The beechnuts drop
Burst husks
Unsheathing hope
In shiny
Seeds of Destiny.

Somewhere a bonfire
Smoulders
Its odour swirls
Like whirling
Sycamore keys
Or alder leaves
Falling in slow motion
To settle down
All around 
This quiet path.

With foliage
By Seurat
In gold and bronze
And forest green
No footprints
Will be left behind
To trace
Where we have been.

25 October 2015

Siblings

Above, my children on the occasion of Frances's twenty seventh birthday just  before she left Birmingham for the bright lights of London. Ian was thirty one this August. They are the best of friends and as far as I can recall, it was always that way. Raising them was, on the whole, plain-sailing. They brought so much joy into our lives and though they have fled our humble Yorkshire nest and become "grown ups", they continue to enrich us. We have been very fortunate. They are happy, healthy, caring and imaginative people who relish life and still love coming back to Sheffield, their grumpy old man and their doting mummy.

One day I will be dead and yet this blog will very likely remain as a testament to my years on Earth. If in some distant time you are reading this blogpost  Frances...Ian... I just want to say thank you for being you, my beloved son and darling daughter, for making my life better and far more worthwhile than it would otherwise have been.  Not "love actually" but love always.

24 October 2015

Suffragette

Emily Wilding Davison
English heroine
(1872-1913)
Why has the story of the British Suffragette movement never been properly told in film before? The long delay seems to me to be a signal that though votes for women were fully secured in 1928, the legacy of our patriarchy endures.

I walked into the city centre yesterday to watch "Suffragette" at The Showroom Cinema. Written by Abi Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron, the film seeks to dramatise the struggle for female suffrage in Great Britain. It begins in a steamy laundry in the east of London where women graft in oppressive conditions to earn a crust. It is here that we find the central character - Maud Watts played by Carey Mulligan.
Reluctantly, she is drawn into political activism championed by Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the women's suffrage movement. Maud ends up in prison and loses both her husband and her son who is put up for adoption. There is nothing that Maud can do about losing her beloved little George and in a moving farewell scene she clasps the bewildered child's face and says, "Never forget my name Georgie. I am Maud Watts - your mother. Maud Watts."

One of the activists is a quiet but determined young woman called Emily Davison. The Women's Social and Political Union is becoming frustrated because the government are effectively quelling press reports about their members' activities. Accompanied by Maud, Emily Davison attends the 1913 Epsom Derby where the king's horse Anmer is scheduled to run. As the horses gallop towards the finishing line, Emily bravely emerges from the crowd and stands in the path of the king's horse. She is violently knocked over and sustains injuries that kill her a couple of days later. The tragedy becomes worldwide news, like letting a cat out of a bag. It is a turning point in the quest for women's suffrage.

The film ends with a rolling list of countries and the years in which women around the world achieved the vote. The last country on the list is Saudi Arabia where women are still waiting.

The events that the film depicts happened relatively recently in the great span of history. Around our planet, many women are of course still treated like second class citizens and even in liberal western countries, there are still shadowy forces that continue to work against women. But we are surely getting there and we live in a time when there is a much  keener sense of equality than there used to be. In this we should give thanks to brave women like Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison and the fictional Maud Watts for they were prepared to raise their heads above the parapet, refusing to surrender for they knew that their cause was very righteous and true.
Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst

23 October 2015

Gripple

The "gripple" is a wire-tensioning device that was invented in Sheffield in 1986. Surprisingly, the little company that produce the "gripple" is also called "Gripple" The device is now exported worldwide and when we were in New Zealand in 2012, I saw hundreds of "gripples" on farm fencing. "Gripple" is a Sheffield success story.

Their works are in The Don Valley industrial area. I have driven by their headquarters hundreds of times, often promising myself that I would stop there one day to snap some pictures. And why? Because there's a great big stainless steel spider climbing up the side wall on a web that has been tensioned with dozens of "gripples".

Yesterday I kept that promise. October afternoon sunlight was illuminating the side wall very nicely and so I snapped a bunch of pictures which I am now ready to share with you. I bet you cannot wait to be so delighted:-
Also on the side of the "Gripple" works is this plaque that recalls the important role that Sheffield steelworks played in wartime during the twentieth century:-

21 October 2015

Cyclists

See "Golden Ten" Rule 9
Required new helmet design
for all cyclists.
Out on the roads, there's a new breed of cyclist. Their bicycles are hi-tech and their apparel has a space age character - cycling glasses that hug the face, fluorescent jerkins and lycra leggings, aerodynamic helmets - sometimes adorned with mini-cameras or flashing lights, headphones attached to smart phones.. But what is most alarming about many (not all) who belong to this strange new breed is their attitude. They seem to be of the opinion that the roads, and the pavements for that matter, belong to them and that all drivers of motor vehicles are dangerous idiots.

Yesterday in south London, an angry member of this alien two wheel  tribe smashed a car window with his bicycle lock, sending shattered glass over a baby who was asleep in the back of the car. It was apparently an act of road rage. The cyclist seems to have been of the opinion that cars should automatically give way to him when he is undertaking on the inside. Read about it here if you are interested.

In my mind I have a clear image of a fellow called Joe Grubham who lived in my village when I was a lad. He was the local road sweeper but often you would see him out and about on his sturdy old bicycle. It was built to last. When Joe was riding it he wore bicycle clips on the bottoms of his suit trousers to prevent them from catching in the chain or becoming oily. On his head he wore his flat cap and there'd frequently be a lit pipe in his mouth. If he saw me - or anybody else, he'd say "Morning!" or "Grand day!" before pedalling off on his merry way. How different today's new breed of cyclist seems.
I have drawn up a list of ten proposed rules for today's cyclists in order to bring back the civilised cycling friendliness that was once represented by people like Mr Grubham. Let's call them the "Golden Ten":-
1. Cycling on pavements is strictly forbidden.
2. Cyclists should keep to the side of the road, never straying more than one metre from the kerb unless turning right (left in USA, Canada and the rest of Europe). In addition, if turning right, a clear hand signal is required well in advance of the turn.
3. Cyclists are not allowed to jump traffic lights or pedestrian crossings. If the light says stop you must stop just like the driver of a motor vehicle.
4. If cycling at night, cyclists must have lights on their bicycles - both back and front.
5. Cyclists are only allowed to ride side by side when on very quiet country lanes. Otherwise, they must ride in single file.
6. If the driver of a motor vehicle uses his or her horn it is simply to warn a cyclist to get out of the way for safety reasons. The use of said horn must not be seen as a provocation or responded to in that manner.
7. In busy traffic it is illegal for cyclists to lean on, punch or even touch motor vehicles.
8. The wearing of lycra shorts and leggings is prohibited forthwith. Cyclists must observe a decent dress code. For men this will be known as "The Joe Grubham Code" and for women "The Nora Batty Code".
9. Though cycling helmets are sensible, current helmet fashions are not and cyclists will be required from now on to wear old-fashioned rounded helmets with peaks. (see photo above)
10.  Road taxes are paid by the drivers of motor vehicles and similar road taxes must now be paid by cyclists. The cheaper the bicycle, the lower the road tax. Owners of ludicrously expensive bikes must pay the  maximum road tax - presently £505 a year but if the bike you ride is like Joe Grubham's you will pay nothing.

Finally, a friendly message to cyclists:-

Hi there! We are all people out there on the roads and we should 
try to get along - drivers and cyclists alike. If cyclists 
follow the "golden ten" rules, everything should be tickety boo!
Have a nice day!
By order
A. Driver
(Ombudsman for Cycling Correction) 

19 October 2015

Poppies

Plodding along this autumnal track where South Yorkshire meets West Yorkshire. But where is it leading me?
To the poppies. The poppies. The same ceramic poppies that flooded out of The Tower of London last year. One poppy for every British and British Commonwealth soldier who lost his life in World War One. A sample of those poppies have come north to The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, like a wave flooding from one of the estate's old bridges. The position of the sun was a little awkward for photography but I tried my best:-
Through the trees, my camera at ground level and the wave of poppies appearing to flood over the bridge. In fact the installation is called "Wave":-
On the bridge I spotted two familiar figures - old friends Irene and John. She was a little reluctant to have her picture taken:-
 View to Bretton Hall from the bridge:-
To the side of the bridge I spotted a card with red roses on it. It was in remembrance of a young Yorkshire soldier who gave his life at Ypres on October 5th 1915. He was twenty two years old:-
I dedicate this post to Lance Corporal James Sykes for visitors to "Wave" must remind themselves that this isn't just another "sculpture" or art installation. Each poppy speaks of a life cut short in a sea of mud when the air was filled with choking gas and the endless booming and screaming of bombs, when the hapless leaders of Europe had led their people into a ghoulish nightmare, the like of which had never been seen before.

17 October 2015

Match

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Hull City 1

Just got back from the lunchtime match between the club I have always supported and one of my home city's clubs - Sheffield Wednesday - nicknamed The Owls.

We were in The Leppings Lane end where in 1989 ninety five Liverpool fans were crushed to death as latecomers supporting the same club pushed their way in at the back of the central section of fenced off terracing. It was an FA Cup semi-final match and the legal repercussions of that awful day continue to grind on through the years. The number of words written and spoken about The Hillsborough Disaster could stretch from here to the sun and back several times over.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce At Hillsborough today.
Today, The Tigers of Hull began brightly making Wednesday look quite ordinary but this is one of the things I have learnt about football through the years - if you don't put away early chances, it is likely that your opponents will come back and bite you. And that is precisely what happened in the twenty eighth minute when Fernando Forestieri clipped the ball into our net against the run of play.

We began the second half as brightly as we had started the game and in the fifty first minute, Uruguayan striker Abel HernĂ¡ndez brought us our deserved equaliser following a double save by Wednesday's keeper Westwood. High in The Leppings Lane end an idiot set off a smoke bomb during our supporters' wild celebrations. For a minute or two the air was filled with a choking fog.

I was watching the match with Shirley, my old friend Tony and his girlfriend or "partner" if you prefer such terminology. During the second half, three middle aged men stood three rows below us loudly bellowing out obscenities that were variously aimed at the referee, the linesman, Sheffield Wednesday's players and their fans - none of whom could hear their angry curses.

So I tapped the biggest one on the shoulder and said, "I say old chap. I am with two fillies up there and if you would be ever so kind we would like you and your chums to cease your swearing forthwith. Now there's a good chap!" The deranged and previously foul-mouthed fellow smiled and responded, "Oh, I'm awfully sorry old fruit. We didn't spot any fillies. Of course we will restrain our excitement henceforth. I hope you enjoy the rest of the match!"

The last paragraph was of course a blatant ****ing lie!

16 October 2015

Baby

Our Frances is twenty seven now but I just have to close my eyes and I can remember her as a baby, as a toddler, as a little schoolgirl and as a university student. The time flies by like images you see from an express train, thundering through the countryside. The baby girl is now an independent woman making her own way in the world. I blinked and almost missed the transformation.

Working in London now, her office are organising something called  a "baby shower" for a pregnant colleague. Part of this involves a display of baby pictures. She asked me to scan two or three for her and by the magic of the internet spirit them down to her desk in Victoria House, Holborn in the dark heart of our nation's capital city.

The photos were taken between 1988 and 1990 in a world where the internet was still just a boffin's dream. Nobody had smart phones or digital cameras. If you took photos they were on film and after you had clicked your thirty six pictures, you sent off the celluloid roll to "Bonus Print" or "Max Spielmann" for processing. Now all of  that seems like ancient history. The idea of cavemen making arrowheads springs to mind.
Baby Frances on Shirley's shoulder
At two in France, wearing her Snoopy sunglasses
Later that same year with the old  mischief in her eyes.
Blessed we are to have such a lovely daughter. In fact we are double-blessed to also have an equally lovely son. To be young these days is not easy. Work and the cost of living. Rent and bills. The pressure of targets and Facebook and trolls and customer satisfaction surveys. What to eat and what not to eat. Staying fit. Having fun. Jager bombs and e-mail scammers, Islamic extremists and child molesters. Where oh where is normality? Though it seems like yesterday when I snapped those photos, in many ways the world has become a different place.

15 October 2015

Gallery

Back to Monday and my day excursion to Lincoln. I took 166 pictures that day and they weren't all of the city's awesome cathedral. Especially for your edification and ocular pleasure, here's a little selection:-
At Sheffield's Midland Station before the 9.44 train arrived
By The Foss Dyke - a canal that has linked Lincoln with
The River Trent since Roman times
Royal Air Force Red Arrows training in the Lincolnshire skies
A swans' nest by Main Drain, South Carlton Fen
St John the Baptist Church in South Carlton
Honey fungus in St Vincent's churchyard, Burton-by-Lincoln
Birds on wires near Riseholme
Inquisitive cow on the Riseholme estate.
I forgot to mention that Shirley and I spent our wedding night in Lincoln thirty four years ago. Not for us a fortnight in the Maldives or a Caribbean beach holiday. We had just bought our first house and on the Sunday afternoon following our wedding and our one night honeymoon in Lincoln, I carried her over the threshold of 40 Leamington Street. My back has never been the same since! 

14 October 2015

Morning

Autumnal morning - rear view from Pudding Towers
Sir Humphrey Pudding is snoring in the bed chamber, dreaming of Sir Joseph Banks and how he wandered off from Cook's Cove in search of unknown plants or perhaps of the former weather girl and serial Swedish  bride - Ulrika Jonsson. Suddenly, bounding into the chamber comes Sir Humphrey's private nurse - Matron Shirley.

Is there a fire? Are there intruders on the estate? She is holding Sir Humphrey's keyhole camera. Matron then  flings open the curtains and the shadowy chamber is abruptly filled with morning light. Holding hands, Ulrika and Sir Joseph slink away to Neverland.

"Look! What a lovely morning!" announces Matron Shirley. "I've brought your camera up to get a couple of pictures!"

Wearing only his birthday suit, Sir Humphrey stumbles to the window. Matron's instructions must always be obeyed. Fortunately, there are no neighbours, maids or gardeners out and about in the gardens. The last thing Sir Humphrey wanted was yet another police charge for indecent exposure.
He snaps the pictures as instructed. It is a glorious morning indeed. Matron curtsies and soon  departs to the local health centre where on Wednesdays she administers care to the poor and needy.

Sir Humphrey draws the curtains and returns to his slumbers. Unfortunately, Joseph Banks and Ulrika Jonsson do not return. Instead he is driving a jeep across the dusty heartland of the Islamic State, wearing a black bandana with an Arabic slogan emblazoned in white across it. He has no idea what this means. He starts to hum Typically Tropical's hit song, "Barbados" and his fanatic passengers soon join in, waving their machine guns as they head off to the hills in a cloud of dust:-
Woah, I'm going to Barbados 
Woah, back to the palm trees 
Woah, I'm going to see my girlfriend 
Woah, in the sunny Caribbean sea.