26 May 2017

Physiotherapy


Finally, on Tuesday, I got to see a physiotherapist about my knee. She was an attractive Asian lady called Rohini. She asked me to take my trousers off so I was mightily glad that I was wearing clean Marks and Spencers underpants.

She was efficient and focused. My knee has been a lot better in recent weeks but she accepted that I have had problems with it and she was surprised by the angle of my right knee when she asked me to lie flat on the couch. Instead of being flat it was resting at an angle of fifteen degrees.

She went through five or six simple exercises that I can do to strengthen the knee and combat discomfort. I was wishing I had had this advice back in early February when the pain and the limping began. After visiting my GP (doctor) seven weeks had elapsed before I got to see Rohini.

I will be seeing her again at the end of July. Already I am wondering which underpants to wear. Perhaps I shall go for the Homer Simpson boxer shorts that someone bought me three or four Christmases back. There's a word balloon emerging from his pursed mouth and in it the expression "Doh!" Undoubtedly, Rohini will be impressed by this stylish undergarment.

25 May 2017

Evening

Yesterday - May 24th - was such a warm and beautiful day here in the north of England. After our evening meal, enjoyed out on our decking, Shirley gathered her sewing materials together and went off to her pattern making class. 

After watching the TV news and weeping about the details of Monday night's innocent murder victims, I jumped in the car and headed out into the countryside - to Higger Tor. It's a rocky plateau that in ancient times was inhabited and used as a defensive position.

Looking east the evening light was warm like honey - colouring trees and rocks alike. Looking west there was a milky mistiness. All of the pictures in this blogpost were taken between 8.30pm and 9pm. In a month we will have reached the longest day.
I saw a group of BMX enthusiasts practising their techniques on the weathered rocks. I also saw a young man with his dog. He kept filming himself and I overheard him reflecting angrily on ISIS, terrorist outrages, the Manchester Arena murders and suchlike. Maybe he didn't realise I was observing him and listening to his animated outpourings. He was a British Muslim.

I just wanted him to shut up and enjoy the peace and the soothing warmth of the evening, instead of filling the air with his endless ill-considered ramblings. The dog looked on, wondering what the hell was happening. I usually feel the same about smartphone use.


24 May 2017

Manchester

Did you think that poetry was irrelevant? Did you think it was the preserve of ivory tower intellectuals? Did you think it had nothing to say to the people?  Did you think it was just clever words knitted together? Here's Longfella aka Tony Walsh in Albert Square, Manchester yesterday evening....
This is the place
In the north-west of England. It’s ace, it’s the best
And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands
Set the whole planet shaking.
Our inventions are legends. There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music
We make brilliant bands
We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands
And we make things from steel
And we make things from cotton
And we make people laugh, take the mick summat rotten
And we make you at home
And we make you feel welcome and we make summat happen
And we can’t seem to help it
And if you’re looking from history, then yeah we’ve a wealth
But the Manchester way is to make it yourself.
And make us a record, a new number one
And make us a brew while you’re up, love, go on
And make us feel proud that you’re winning the league
And make us sing louder and make us believe that this is the place that has helped shape the world
And this is the place where a Manchester girl named Emmeline Pankhurst from the streets of Moss Side led a suffragette city with sisterhood pride
And this is the place with appliance of science, we’re on it, atomic, we struck with defiance, and in the face of a challenge, we always stand tall, Mancunians, in union, delivered it all
Such as housing and libraries and health, education and unions and co-ops and first railway stations
So we’re sorry, bear with us, we invented commuters. But we hope you forgive us, we invented computers.
And this is the place Henry Royce strolled with Rolls, and we’ve rocked and we’ve rolled with our own northern soul
And so this is the place to do business then dance, where go-getters and goal-setters know they’ve a chance
And this is the place where we first played as kids. And me mum, lived and died here, she loved it, she did.
And this is the place where our folks came to work, where they struggled in puddles, they hurt in the dirt and they built us a city, they built us these towns and they coughed on the cobbles to the deafening sound to the steaming machines and the screaming of slaves, they were scheming for greatness, they dreamed to their graves.
And they left us a spirit. They left us a vibe. That Mancunian way to survive and to thrive and to work and to build, to connect, and create and Greater Manchester’s greatness is keeping it great.
And so this is the place now with kids of our own. Some are born here, some drawn here, but they all call it home.
And they’ve covered the cobbles, but they’ll never defeat, all the dreamers and schemers who still teem through these streets.
Because this is a place that has been through some hard times: oppressions, recessions, depressions, and dark times.
But we keep fighting back with Greater Manchester spirit. Northern grit, Northern wit, and Greater Manchester’s lyrics.
And these hard times again, in these streets of our city, but we won’t take defeat and we don’t want your pity.
Because this is a place where we stand strong together, with a smile on our face, greater Manchester forever.
And we’ve got this place where a team with a dream can get funding and something to help with a scheme.
Because this is a place that understands your grand plans. We don’t do “no can do” we just stress “yes we can”
Forever Manchester’s a charity for people round here, you can fundraise, donate, you can be a volunteer. You can live local, give local, we can honestly say, we do charity different, that Mancunian way.
And we fund local kids, and we fund local teams. We support local dreamers to work for their dreams. We support local groups and the great work they do. So can you help us. help local people like you?
Because this is the place in our hearts, in our homes, because this is the place that’s a part of our bones.
Because Greater Manchester gives us such strength from the fact that this is the place, we should give something back.
Always remember, never forget, forever Manchester.

23 May 2017

Why?

Georgina Callander (18) who was murdered last night. Seen here with
her pop heroine -  Ariana Grande
To devise a jerkin made from explosives and nuts and bolts with a detonator. To walk into the entrance lobby of a concert arena. To see the excited young concertgoers descending the staircase on their way home. To make the electrical connection that would activate the deadly suicide jerkin. To do all this.

Why?

What is the point of it? What can it possibly achieve? What does it say about the perpetrator's view of human life, of the world, of other people? Why did he fail to see the obvious truth that such actions are wicked and unforgivable? Why could he not see that if there was such a thing as an all-seeing God, he would massively disapprove of any such evil.

Why?

Until last night I had never even heard of Ariana Grande. She is an act that had completely passed me by. This morning  I looked at the lyrics of her songs, perhaps hoping to find a line or a verse that would somehow accidentally or prophetically reflect upon what happened in Manchester last night. Saying something of significance. But all I could find were the usual pop song themes of love lost, love enjoyed or love desired. Innocent shallow stuff. The sort of music that your average fun-seeking teenage girl seems to like.

In a sense that makes the bombing seem all the more cruel. More vile. This wasn't a pre-election political rally. It wasn't even a concert aimed at adults. It was aimed at young teenyboppers. Kids.

You don't need to worry about making me crazy
Cause I'm way past that
And so just call me, if you want me
Cause you got me, and I'll show you how much I want to be
On your Tattooed Heart

Why?
R.I.P. Saffie Roussos aged 8.

22 May 2017

Sunday

Yesterday, Shirley and I drove up to our local garden centre. It's a small business tucked behind the houses at Bents Green. We have been there many times and even though we could buy plants more cheaply elsewhere, we like to support this independent nursery albeit in a small way.

There was a lot of rain on Friday and a fair amount on Saturday too but the land needed it and now there's a feeling in the air that winter has entirely gone. No more frosts. Warm weather is predicted for the days ahead. You sense that this is  the right time for planting.

I have been growing runner beans from seeds in what we still call Frances's bedroom. Yesterday I planted them around their bamboo wigwam. At the garden centre we bought tomato plants, a tray of lollo rossa lettuces and a number of border plants for our flowerbeds.
Up in the vegetable patch, the potatoes are well through and the the pea and broad bean seeds we planted a couple of weeks ago are also starting to peep through the soil. I should have put some courgette seeds in pots a few days ago but only got round to this yesterday afternoon. Hopefully, in ten days time they will also be ready to go in the ground.

After the garden work I made a traditional Sunday dinner of roast beef, new potatoes, cabbage, roasted carrots, beef gravy and of course the piece-de-resistance - Yorkshire puddings. This was happily washed down with our customary glasses of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.

Just past 8pm I drove out into the countryside for a little walk and snapped the accompanying photographs near Bamford Edge as the sun sank over the Derbyshire hills.

21 May 2017

Gripping

Actresses: Ria Zmitrowicz, Molly Windsor and Liv Hill

In the middle of last week I was gripped by the BBC's mini-series: "Three Girls". This was very powerful drama built upon awful real life events in Rochdale, Lancashire. All involved in this series from the actors to the writer, director and production team deserve enormous credit for lifting the curtain on something so dark and terrible.. 

What am I talking about? The sexual exploitation of vulnerable white teenage girls by predatory British Asian men who purport to follow Islam. This was happening in the streets of Rochdale in 2008 and 2009 but it wasn't until 2012 that the main perpetrators were brought to justice.

The girls, and there were many of them, were plied with alcohol and cigarettes as the predators sought to cynically entangle them in an exploitative web of abuse that stretched way beyond Rochdale. The "three girls" in the drama were at the centre of the legal cases that were finally brought to court even though initial complaints had been squashed or ignored by the police and other authorities.

What happened in Rochdale was sickening and cruel but it has happened in other British towns including Oldham, Bradford, Rotherham, Oxford, Telford, Birmingham and Cardiff. Invariably, the paedophile criminals are older men with a Pakistani heritage and always the victims are vulnerable white working class girls. There can be little doubt that the grooming and sexual abuse continues to this day and in the future there will no doubt be yet more extremely tricky cases to unravel.

I cannot begin to imagine what sexual abuse in childhood does to people. The horrible  memories and the emotional scars must be terrible burdens to bear affecting all  future relationships, self-esteem and the very quest for happiness. 

I applaud the BBC for grasping this nettle. Hopefully, "Three Girls" will help in improving awareness of the issues. It goes without saying that the majority of British Asian Muslim men are decent, law-abiding citizens who would not dream of preying upon vulnerable teenage girls. Clearly, they have their part to play in bringing the predators in their communities to justice, demonstrating that there are better ways to live in a country that has given them a new home and the prospect of a better future. Kindness and respect for others and the rule of law are vital in any civilised society.

For fuller details about the Rochdale child sex abuse ring go here.

20 May 2017

Chapel

"The Bull's Head" but the pub does not exist any more
If you head westwards from The Hope Valley you will travel along the long straight road that clings to Rushup Edge and then after four miles you will arrive in a small Derbyshire town called Chapel-en-le-Frith - population circa 8,800.
The old stocks in Chapel marketplace
Chapel-en-le-Frith is a very odd name. It dates back to Norman times when that area of Derbyshire was a vast hunting ground owned by the Norman nobility. In the twelfth century, permission was given for a small chapel to be built within the forest in the very place where the little town now stands. In fact "en-le-Frith" means "in the Forest".
Thomas Becket church, Chapel-en-le-Frith. On this site
the original chapel once stood.
On Thursday, I mooched around the place and ate a small portion of fish and chips in the Chapel Chippy. As my right knee was feeling quite comfortable I walked out of the town along a lane for a mile and a half to Eccles Pike which overlooks both Chapel-en-le-Frith and nearby Chinley. Then I walked back. Sadly, on Friday my knee complained about the previous day's exercise and the limping returned.
I met a grizzled farmer on the road to Eccles Pike and we chatted for a while. He described his anger about local dogwalkers who have allowed their animals to defecate on his land. Their faeces have infected several of his cows with neosporosis triggering several spontaneous abortions and the associated loss of income. That's why he had bedecked one of his gateways with a warning banner - close to the point where a public footpath crosses his land.

19 May 2017

Theatre

It's Friday but I mustn't let Monday go. Gotta nail it before the memory dissolves and other things take over like the impeachment of Donald Trump and Theresa May's vicarage sex scandal..

Shirley and I went to the theatre. In fact we went to "The Lyceum" in the centre of our adopted city. It is a beautiful and typical old Victorian theatre that has been restored to its former glory - complete with dress circle, upper circle, boxes and plenty of gilded plaster adornment.

But surprisingly, we weren't there to study the architecture. We were there to see a performance of  "The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time" based on the novel by Mark Haddon.

The stage had been turned into a kind of giant black and white electronic cube and it was in this that we examined the tortured life of young Christopher Boone played brilliantly and empathetically by Scott Reid. Christopher suffers from Asperger's syndrome and attends a special school even though he is mathematically gifted.

When he discovers that it was his father who had killed next door's dog - Wellington - with a garden fork, he decides to travel from his home in Swindon to London to seek out his estranged mother. You can imagine how challenging that might be for an autistic teenager.

The electronic box set comes into its own and effectively conveys the confusion of this journey - the motion of the train, the thronging crowds, the underground stations flashing by. It is a kind of madness from which a breathless Christopher is ejected on to his mother's doorstep.

Christopher struggles to understand things because the people around him don't see the world his way but he does understand mathematics and when he discovers he has passed A level Maths with flying colours the possibility of a path through the jungle of the future appears clearly in his mind.

The performance was greatly entertaining and in spite of the subject matter often very funny. "The Derbyshire Times" said it was "an intelligent, dazzling, humorous, moving show" and Shirley and I would certainly endorse that summary.

17 May 2017

Flotsam

Me outside Bob Dylan's old house in Hibbing MN
Thanks to readers who have read and been entertained by my recent lengthy posts about working on an American summer camp. That made the writing effort worthwhile.

I tried to slot in and connect my most significant memories from the summers of 1976 and 1977 but there were other "moments" I omitted and as I put this interconnected sequence of posts to bed, I just want to pause for a while and detail five  of them. Then I will feel a certain contentment, knowing that  they have been captured like butterflies and pinned to this blog forever...

1)  The Amish Red Raider Camp was situated just west of Burton which lies in the heart of Amish country. At first it was an unexpected shock to see families or single farmers travelling along the road in horses and traps dressed in their very old-fashioned apparel. When my group of campers were timetabled for canoeing we drove them out to an Amish farm near Burton and used a lake there. Rather slightly, I got to know the Amish matriarch who at first just watched us from a verandah and from two hundred years back. She didn't even speak like an American. One day she made a jug of lemonade and poured me  a glass. It was like talking to someone from the eighteenth century - as if I'd travelled back in time.

2) The Fat Man. In Minneapolis, I went early to the Minnesota State Fair, so early in the day in fact that when I went into the tent to observe The Fattest Man in the World he was still having his lunch - several hamburgers and a massive bowl of  french fries. He was huge and blubbery. There was just me and him. He kept on eating and we didn't exchange a word. It was a very strange meeting. He didn't seem to be relishing his food, just masticating like a grazing bull.

3) White Water. One evening another counsellor called Jeff suggested it would be great fun to take a bunch of canoes to the Chagrin River near Chagrin Falls. I felt some trepidation but went along with the idea anyway. Jeff assured me it would be perfectly safe and besides we would be wearing lifebelts and helmets. Anyway, six canoes were duly launched even though the river was higher than expected. I swear that within two minutes all six canoes had been overturned by the white water and I found myself clinging to a rock, desperate to survive. Fortunately we all got out alive and hauled the battered canoes back to the trailer from a weir lower down the river.

4) A Special Visitor. In Minneapolis I met one of Richard's old school friends - a beautiful  divorced woman called Barbara. She said she was taking a few months off work and would be travelling around Europe that very autumn. I gave her my contact details, never expecting she would turn up at my university in Scotland but that October she appeared unannounced and quickly we fell into each other's arms - both of us with burdens of  pain that needed healing. She stayed for two sublime weeks.

5) The Jumper. To make a bit of extra money, I volunteered to be a "jumper" on one of the big yellow camp busses. This meant that every morning and evening I would accompany Steve the bus driver on a set route round Shaker Heights, picking the campers up or putting them down safely when camp was over for the day. One morning Holly, one of our little girls, wasn't outside her picket fence so I went up the path to her family's great mansion and rang the doorbell.

A black maid or housekeeper came to the door in her uniform and apologised that Holly wasn't yet ready. She asked me to wait inside for a while. Holly's father was reading "The Wall Street Journal in a wingbacked chair. I was standing behind him but he didn't acknowledge my presence - just kept on reading the financial  news. When Holly came skipping downstairs he didn't look up at her either, just muttered "Have a nice day baby" before turning another page.
_____________________________________________________

And so that's that. My Red Raider summers. When I search the internet, I find very little indeed to prove that Red Raider Camp once existed, east of Cleveland in Geauga County, north of the long, straight road that heads east to Newbury and Burton. But I swear that I didn't make all of this up. It was not a dream though it sometimes seemed that way even as those magical days unfolded. Besides, in my heart I have always been and will surely remain a red raider...
Me playing guitar on the deck at the Mehus family cabin, Rainy Lake MN

16 May 2017

Leisure

The Grand Union Flag of America (1775)
As I mentioned before, Red Raider was a day camp. That meant that counsellors were free to do their own thing every evening and at weekends too. There were many visits to Skip and Ray's bar where Skip affectionately  labelled me "that limey bastard". We also went to Chuck and Janine's bar by the road to Burton.

I went to see the Cleveland Indians play a couple of times. In case you didn't know they are one of America's top professional baseball teams. I also went to see big concerts including Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt and (please don't laugh) Barry Manilow.

Chris invited me back to his family home near Youngstown. Behind the house there was a kidney-shaped swimming pool complete with a diving board. I have an image in mind of his lovely mother Flo just floating round that pool on her back propelled by the current of the filtration system but the first weekend I went there Chris's sisters were sunbathing by that pool in their bikinis.

We got talking. They had never seen an ocean and they had never met an Englishman before. Becky said, "Say The Beadles Neil! Say Elton Jahn!" and both she and Mary-Beth laughed with delight to hear my cute English pronunciation. They were lovely optimistic girls, filled with mischief. They asked me if I could sing and brought out a guitar.

Then they phoned their friends and half an hour later in one of the most bizarre moments of my life, I found myself sitting on the diving board with a guitar, strumming along to "All I Have To Do Is Dream" by The Everly Brothers as twenty gorgeous American teenage girls in bikinis looked up at me with dreamy eyes:-
I can make you mine, 
Taste your lips of wine
Anytime, night or day
Only trouble is, gee whiz
I'm dreamin' my life away

I visited Poland, Ohio several times. One night Becky challenged me to a dancing competition in their den with its shagpile carpet. We had all consumed several cans of American beer and our spirits were high. Every time she sank down on the sofa I would laughingly declare that England had won and she'd get back up. Then when I flopped down she'd yell the opposite. We danced and danced till we could dance no more and both of us ended up collapsing on the carpet at 4am. It was a draw!

Perhaps I could have fallen in love with several young American women in the summer of 1976 but I was drawn to Donna Smith who was a pretty twenty one year old camp counsellor from Indianapolis. Though I had had girlfriends before, this was very different. We were walking on air. Suddenly life was coloured in. I met her parents in a country club and we visited her sisters. When camp finished that summer I went to stay with her in Bloomington where she was a physiotherapy student at Indiana University. It was a terrible wrench to leave her at the end of August but I had to get back to my own university studies  in Scotland. We both wept like babies at the Greyhound bus station.

She was the main reason I returned to Red Raider Camp in the summer of 1977. This time I was the lead counsellor for the Arapahos and having pined for Donna for nine months I expected that we would pick up where we had left off but something was amiss. In the intervening months she had found a new beau in Bloomington but had neglected to tell me. I was heartbroken and angry. At first I didn't know what to think.

I went for an audition in a bar in Chagrin Falls. They needed a singer every Thursday night. The bar owner liked me and I got the job. My pay was twenty bucks a night and as much beer as I could drink though drinking a bellyful of beer isn't really advisable when you are playing guitar and performing.

Business became busy in the bar on Thursday nights. Locals were curious to listen to the crazy English guy singing "All Along the Watchtower", "As I Went Out One Morning", "The Wild Rover", "Barbara Allen", "Summertime Blues" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" etcetera. One night Donna came along with some other female counsellors and her heart went out to me again like an electric current. She tried to get back with me and I wanted that too but it was difficult. We tried but just couldn't work it out.  The summer of 1977 was tinged with pain. Hell - that was forty years ago. I have no idea what happened to her.

Chris also returned to Red Raider in the summer of '77 and we shared the same red cabin together. He was and he is a great guy with a big heart. Very kindly, he frequently lent me his Ford Mustang - for example just to get to the bar in Chagrin Falls on Thursday nights. Looking back through this blog, I noticed that last year I told the tale of one particular Sunday morning when I was travelling eastwards in Chris's car but for your entertainment and interest I repeat it here:-

"It was when I was a camp counsellor in Ohio. My friend Chris who was the art counsellor had kindly lent me his Ford Mustang. It was a Sunday morning and I was heading east on Highway 87 though I can't remember where I was going. Anyway, just outside Russell I saw a young man at the side of the road. He was hitch-hiking so I pulled over to give him a lift.. He was obviously a biker with a worn black leather jacket, grimy jeans and lank hair. In fact he was on his way to a moto-cross meet the other side of the oddly named township of Mesopotamia.

There was little traffic around and as we followed the road through Burton we chatted away about this and that. A couple of miles before I was to drop him off, he said:-
"Hey man, you've got a funny accent."
"Yeah, that's because I'm from England," I said, smiling across at him.
He paused and thought for a minute.
"England? Ain't that somewhere over near Maine?"

Well, you could have hit me with a wet haddock. He was confusing England with New England! And before I dropped him off I had the humbling experience of explaining to him that there is a country called England on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I said, "You know. The place where The Beatles come from".

But as he closed the passenger door and thanked me for the lift, the expression on his face proved that he was none the wiser. In fact, he probably thought he had just had a ride with a deranged lunatic."

After camp closed in mid-August 1977, I travelled to Minneapolis to meet up with my old and now sadly departed friend Richard. We drove up north to stay in his parents' cabin by a remote lake on the Canadian border. A few days later, on the way back, we took a special detour into  the iron town of Hibbing and with some difficulty managed to locate Bob Dylan's childhood home.

Soon after this, I took a Greyhound bus to Chicago then a flight to New York City in good time for my journey home. And as I looked out of the porthole by my window seat observing Atlantic waves far below, I thought of my two wonderful Red Raider summers and all that had happened. I had really lived them and I had really been alive, soaking it all up, happy to wake up each morning and just get going. I had become an unashamed Americophile but because of what happened with Donna, it took me a long time to get back there.

15 May 2017

Camp

"I'm a Red Red Raider
A health crusader
March on boys and girls 
Follow me!"

Half the counsellors at Red Raider Camp lived in the local area. The other half lived on site. I found myself sleeping in a big red cabin in a clearing in the woods with just one other counsellor - Chris from Poland near Youngstown. He was the specialist art counsellor and he was pursuing an arts education degree at Kent State University. Our cabin could have accommodated six others but happily there was just me and him. It was very peaceful there with a toilet block and hot showers just a few yards away.

That first Saturday night we drove out to a local bar - Skip and Ray's - in Chris's Ford Mustang. We downed a couple of pitchers of draught beer and when I crawled into  bed back in the red cabin I believe I muttered, "God, I'm pissed!" A few days later Chris said he had stayed awake for a while that night wondering what had made me so angry ("pissed"), not realising that in Britain "pissed" simply means drunk. When we are angry or annoyed we say "pissed off".
Cheese!  In 1976 with The Wyandottes
On the Monday morning the campers arrived in big yellow school busses. The weather was lovely and warm as it seemed to be throughout that summer. Former US marine Roman and his wife Rosie got all the kids lined up in front of the outdoor stage above which a star spangled banner hung limply in the summer stillness.

He made a few logistical announcements and welcomed everyone back to camp. Then, much to my amazement, all assembled counsellors and campers put hands on hearts and uttered in unison The American Pledge  of Allegiance:-
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for 
which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
It all seemed very alien to me and again I wondered what the hell I was doing there. Such habitual declarations of national commitment are almost non-existent in Great Britain. It had been years since "God Save the Queen" marked the end of BBC television broadcasting each night.

With my co-counsellor Randy, we gathered The Wynadottes together and led them to their base in the woods. There were a lot of excited little boys - mostly happy to be at summer camp though one or two of them were quiet and anxious. Our base was an open-fronted wooden shelter with pegs where the boys could hang their coats and bags. When no specialist activities were timetabled we would always come back here.

In the weeks that followed I watched the boys swimming and horse-riding. They learnt to play tennis and went canoeing. Back at camp in our free time, we tidied up the clearing in front of our  shelter and brought in logs that would act as little stools. We built a tree house together with a ladder we bound with strips of bark. And we went off deep into the woods to play hide and seek. Behind the camp's buildings and lake there were many acres of natural woodland - hardly explored since Native Americans padded there in moccasins long ago.
Summer of 1977 - with The Arapahos
I don't remember the names of all the boys but there was CJ and Billy and Peter and Ricky and identical twins - one of whom was also called Chris. They were mostly good, healthy lads with nice manners - not spoilt American brats. We had lunch together each day in the camp's dining room - sloppy joes with cartons of milk and hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches followed by water melon or ice cream. Sometimes there were hamburgers or bowls of cheesy macaroni.

I found myself relaxing into the job and enjoying the rhythm of those summer days. It was great fun and at the end of every day the kids went home. However after a month or so, Roman told me that it was The Wyandottes' turn to camp out overnight in the back woods. We would take tents there and food for a cook out. It would be a great learning experience for the boys.

We set up our camp about a mile from Red Raider deep in the woods by a little stream and all was going well. Evening was approaching and Randy and I were in the middle of making corned beef hash over the campfire. The boys had been give a little free time and I could hear a few of them laughing and yelling down in the hollow where the little stream ran.

Then there was a sudden quietness followed by shouts of alarm. I sped down to the hollow and discovered that one of the identical twins in the group had been hit by a stone right in the middle of his forehead. A little stream of blood was gushing out like a jet of water from a tap. It was shocking. I pulled my handkerchief from my pocket and pressed it over the wound to staunch the bleeding.

Understandably the boy, Chris,  felt very faint. We didn't have a first aid box and in my panic I knew we had to get the lad back to the main camp as quickly as we could. Of course in those days nobody had mobile phones (American: cell phones) so it was impossible to call for help. I got two big straight branches and we tied coats and towels to them to make a stretcher. Then, leaving Randy in charge of the camp and the corned beef hash I carried little Chris back to the main camp buildings with John who was  our assigned teenage helper and a couple of volunteer Wynadottes.

My arms have never ached so much but we managed to stumble back to the camp telephone with our makeshift stretcher and our injured warrior. I phoned his parents and they sped out to camp to pick their son up. There was no blame, no legal recrimination. The parents were grateful about the way we had acted and accepted it had just been an unfortunate accident. Little Chris recovered and was back in camp the following week sporting a couple of stitches. This made it easier to tell him apart from his identical sibling.

Next instalment - "Leisure" in which I write about things that happened in my free time - when not in my counsellor role

14 May 2017

Counsellor

It was late in the month of May 1976 when I reached Cleveland, Ohio for the first time. I had travelled there from New York City by Greyhound bus and it was late. As I recall, The Cleveland Browns' Friday evening game had just finished and downtown Cleveland was snarled up with traffic. I phoned up my allocated summer camp and someone at the other end of the line told me I would have to get a room because nobody was available to drive into the city at that late hour to pick me up.

I asked a policeman where I might find a cheap room for the night and he directed me to the nearby YMCA. I crossed the threshold of this building around 10.30 and noticed that I was the only white man in the place. The other guests and the staff were all African-Americans and some of them seemed down on their luck with haunted eyes. Others appeared to have sampled alcoholic beverages.

Very tired after my long journey, I went straight up to my little room and looked down on the still thronging football traffic before clambering into  bed.

Dead to the world, I was awoken in the early hours by loud music and equally loud, drunken voices. Somebody hammered on my door but I just ignored it. Suddenly I felt a little frightened. It was as if I had entered something akin to a prison. The hammering continued as an angry someone yelled "You in there Mac?" I didn't want to reply in my non-American accent and soon the fellow outside went away chuntering madly. I jammed a chair against the door handle and pushed the table there too feeling apprehensive about going back to sleep.
The YMCA building, downtown Cleveland
In the morning a red mini-bus arrived from the summer camp and I was driven out into the nearby countryside. past Shaker Heights and Chagrin Falls, all the way to Novelty. It was the Saturday before camp opened for the summer and there were to be two days of training for counsellors. 

Soon after arriving, I dumped my bags and headed into the sunny woodland where strange Ohioan birds sang and to much excitement someone spotted a big black snake lurking in the undergrowth. I was surrounded by young Americans and at first just sat on a log wondering what the hell I was doing there. What had I let myself in for?

It was called "The Red Raider Summer Camp" and it catered for children from the wealthy eastern suburbs of Cleveland. I had struck lucky because it was a day camp. Children were bussed in in the morning and taken home at night. There was no camp at the weekends. This made it different from many American summer camps which are residential and operate 24/7 throughout the summer.

A time-served head counsellor called Roman led the training. He told me I'd be the counsellor for The Wyandottes - a twenty strong group of  seven and eight year old boys.

I received my timetable for the week and I was directed to The Wyandottes' base amidst the trees. The boys would experience a mixture of set activities and free-time which I could use as I wished. The set activities included canoeing, tennis, soccer, horse-riding, swimming, art and campcraft which all had specialist counsellors.

Red Raider was a well-established summer camp that had operated since the nineteen forties. They knew what they were doing because they had catered successfully for thousands of rich kids from some of Cleveland's most influential families and many happy times had been enjoyed there in those long Ohioan summers.

Oh dear, I seem to have said so much in this preamble that I shall call a halt to the current blogpost and continue with the story tomorrow. But before I go who on earth is that dude in the white T-shirt?

13 May 2017

Summertime

When I was a university student in the seventies, I had long summers to fill. Back then it was relatively easy to find vacation jobs.  In 1974, I spent a few weeks working at a small agricultural chemical factory back in the village of my birth. One of my tasks was to fill aerosols with sheep dye using a certain sealing machine but about every hundreth canister would explode showering me with indelible blue or red ink.

I went home for tea only to be greeted with unsympathetic familial laughter and sheep impressions. Getting that red or blue ink off my face and arms was nigh on impossible. The Incredible Hulk may have been green but I was the red and blue version.

After a month or so, I quit that awful job and bought a plane ticket from Leeds to Dublin. I had a massive rucksack filled with everything I might need and set off on a six week camping tour of Ireland, staying hither and thither and sometimes treating myself to a night in a youth hostel or a room above a pub. By the way, you can read about the drama that happened at Leeds-Bradford Airport in this post I wrote in 2009 - "Lard"

"The Troubles" were raging in Northern Ireland in 1974 but I was sticking to The Republic. The country attracted far fewer tourists than it does today. I have many memories of those six weeks, drifting around, meeting people, getting to know Ireland and The Irish.

They spoke English but they were not English. This was definitely another land, another culture. There was humour and openness and yet there were undercurrents too - of departure and loss. In Ireland they loved to tell a story and people had time to chew the fat. I drank Smithwick's bitter in smoky little pubs down in Cork and Dingle and Ennis and Baltimore and an old man rowed me out into the middle of Lough Ree where we caught fish and took them back to his two room cottage to fry over the turf fire.
Oh I could write a dozen blogposts about that six week tour. I haven't even touched upon any of the lifts I had while hitch-hiking round Ireland. None of them were ever straightforward. There was always a tale to be told. It was as if Ireland was simply a novel unfolding -  a page turner of interconnected chapters filled with laughter, love, tragedy and bizarre happenings all viewed against a beautiful backcloth of green fields, Atlantic sunsets, tumbledown cottages and ancient history.

In 1975 I worked at Butlins holiday camp near Filey on the Yorkshire coast. It doesn't exist any more. It was razed to the ground in the eighties. 

The holiday camp had fences and barbed wire round it. Holidaymakers stayed in basic chalets and within the complex there was everything they needed for a fun time. There were dining rooms, swimming pools, sports fields, a ball room, bars, snooker and table tennis halls and a permanent funfair containing all manner of rides.
Most of the visitors were working class folk from big northern cities like Leeds and Newcastle. You paid an upfront fee for your week's holiday then pretty much everything was free. On commercial British TV channels adverts for Butlins were very familiar - "You'll have a really wonderful time at Butlins by the sea".

In the daytime I worked in the catering stores, checking deliveries in and checking out orders to the different dining venues. At night I worked in an amusement arcade with a bunch of keys and a dirty great screwdriver. I was what was laughably called the "technician" - unjamming coins and bashing the various old machines to make them work again.

Butlins seasonal workers lived in their own separate encampment, sharing cramped chalets. There was a staff bar but I only went in there once. It was like a saloon in the Wild West. A fight broke out and chairs went flying. No wonder plenty of the workers seemed to sport scars. It was a rough place with rough people and I kept my head down, happy to escape  after two months with a nice wedge of cash and no injuries.

When 1976 arrived, I was determined to do something different that summer. No more sheep dye, no more turkeys on the turkey farm where I had also worked and no more detainment in a  Butlins prison camp. 

One day at university I saw a poster on a noticeboard  - BUNAC - British Universities North America Club. There were smiling faces in a forest. Perhaps I could be a camp counsellor on an American summer camp. Surely that would be better than the other things I had done. Free flights, free accommodation and food plus a small income.. But was it really me?  Well this will be the subject of my very next post - "Counsellor".

12 May 2017

Health

In the six and a bit decades of my life I have generally been blessed with robust good health. In my working days, years would pass by without me visiting a doctor. My body was a reliable vehicle in which I travelled in comfort and with utter confidence.

Fast forward to this week. On Monday evening I finally got round to seeing a doctor  about my chest infection. I had coughed till I could cough no more and several nights when I should have been sleeping I was instead in the bathroom barking like a guard dog. You will be pleased to note that I have self-censored any lurid description of the stuff this coughing produced. 
On Tuesday, I felt the first twinges of a new gout attack in  my left big toe. On Wednesday, I hobbled down to work at Oxfam  still feeling the knee pain I have endured for over two months with a physiotherapy appointment scheduled for later this month.. Yesterday I went for what was hopefully my final dental appointment for quite a while.

I am starting to feel like a wreck and I am just not used to this. I want to be striding miles across our lovely countryside singing "These Boots Are Made For Walking" and bending down to do garden jobs or sorting out our attic and the underhouse area. I keep telling myself - "Patience my lad! Patience! Everything will sort itself out and you'll be back to your usual self."
After the dental appointment I treated myself to a short drive in the Derbyshire countryside. It was a substitute for the invigorating ten mile walk I would have rather been doing. Out to Hathersage and Castleton then up Winnat's Pass and onward to Sparrowpit where I stopped to photograph a tumbledown farm building I first snapped in 2014.

In the upland village of Peak Forest I had a look round the graveyard of Charles, King and Martyr Church before travelling along Forest Lane near Little Hucklow where I stopped to take pictures of first cattle and then lambs. It was a lovely warm spring day and Nature was bright and alive. However, it remained frustrating not to be in tip-top good health to fully appreciate such a day. Oh woe is me!

11 May 2017

Afterwards

Sorry for this morbid thought but I am sure that many bloggers have died in the last few years. And, yet in most instances their blogs remain. One wonders how long these blogs will continue. Will they go on forever or will "Blogger" one day cull the blogs of the departed?

I think of Carol Harrison. It's nearly two years since she died of cancer. She was one of those bloggers I was naturally and habitually drawn to and we had fun commenting on each other's blogs. She was Molly Printemps and I was Yorkshire Pudding. Her blog is still live and accessible and I wonder will it still be there after five years, after ten years or will it simply outlive the rest of us?

This is an odd thing to think about - the very idea that one's blog will probably be around long after we have died. In time, a blog may become similar to a testament, the evidence of a life once lived - like a granite tombstone in a cemetery or an obituary in a newspaper.

If that is how it will be, I think I still have my work cut out to represent all that I am and all that I have been so that visitors in the future - family, friends and strangers -  might know me entirely. Twelve years of regular blogging has not been enough. There's a lot more to say about daily happenings, the world scene and memories of what occurred in the past. 

To anybody reading this particular post in the distant future, after I have shuffled off my mortal coil, I just want to say please leave your address in the comments and I shall come and haunt you for a couple of nights. There will be a tapping on your window and then you'll feel a sudden and very icy chill. Invisibly, I will be watching you squirm... WHOOOOOOO!

10 May 2017

Daisy

How now brown cow! She was  standing in a high meadow at Fulwood Head in Sheffield's southern suburbs. When you look closely at that snout with its nostrils, doesn't it look something like an alien creature? Perhaps that's just in my crazy imagination...

At first I just thought the brown cow with the misty green suburbs beyond would make a decent picture and then when I spotted the grass still in its mush, I thought, "Zoom in!" and the top picture is the result.

I'm rather pleased with it. Take me to your leader Daisy!

9 May 2017

Nightmare

On the left Linda Bolanos and on the right Richard Field. They were a couple and co-incidentally they were both hospital anaesthetists in Boston, Massachusetts. To be an anaesthetist is a great achievement. All that learning, all that training, all that responsibility. An anaesthetist is a vital cog in almost every hospital operation.

Naturally, anaesthetists are well-rewarded. In my view, they deserve to be well-paid. After all they are dealing directly with other human beings' lives. They are not property developers or insurance brokers. Anaesthetists are people who, in work terms, really matter..

I don't know about Richard and Linda's past history of love and life but they had found each other and were planning to get married. They shared a luxury apartment in Boston  and no doubt they had nice cars, nice holidays, nice friends. In short they were really starting to live "The American Dream". 

But last Friday the dream died. Instead, they experienced "The American Nightmare". A thirty year old fellow called Bampumim Teixeira, intent on robbery,  got into their apartment and killed them. Before the killing Richard was able to text a friend this message - "Gunman in the house".

But it appears that Richard and Linda did not die by shooting. They had been tied up and their throats had been cruelly slit. It is further reported that Teixeira had scrawled a message of retribution on a wall inside the apartment. What retribution? What had they done wrong? Perhaps Teixeira was inflamed with jealousy because he could see  with his own eyes how close his victims were to "The American Dream" and how far away he would always be. In his rage, he even tore up photos of the unfortunate couple.

May they rest in peace.

8 May 2017

Philip

Last week, Prince Philip, the Queen's husband and consort, announced that he was giving up his schedule of royal duties. After all, he is 95 years old so I don't think that anyone could possibly begrudge him stepping back from the limelight.

Here in England, he is as familiar to the populace as the rising sun. Nearly all of us  have "known" him all our lives.

Through the decades, he has variously attracted respect, ridicule, affection and laughter. He is famous for his gaffes. Many of them have been picked up accidentally on nearby microphones. The list is long and they point to a man who is to political correctness what hounds are to foxes. As I present a small selection of Prince Philip's most noteworthy gaffes, I must acknowledge that this post was largely inspired by yesterday morning's "Sunday Round-Up" over at "Shooting Parrots".  Thank you Ian!

Now, over to his royal highness:-

“You managed not to get eaten then?” To a British student who had trekked in Papua New Guinea, during an official visit in 1998.

“If you travel as much as we do you appreciate the improvements in aircraft design of less noise and more comfort – provided you don't travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly.” To the Aircraft Research Association in 2002.

“Do you still throw spears at each other?” Prince Philip shocks Aboriginal leader William Brin at the Aboriginal Cultural Park in Queensland, 2002.

“If it doesn't fart or eat hay, she isn't interested.” Of his daughter, Princess Anne.

“I thought it was against the law these days for a woman to solicit.” Said to a woman solicitor.

“What about Tom Jones? He's made a million and he's a bloody awful singer.” Response to a comment at a small-business lunch about how difficult it is in Britain to get rich.

“The problem with London is the tourists. They cause the congestion. If we could just stop the tourism, we could stop the congestion.” At the opening of City Hall in 2002.

“And what exotic part of the world do you come from?” Asked in 1999 of Tory politician Lord Taylor of Warwick, whose parents are Jamaican. He replied: “Birmingham.”

7 May 2017

Amy

Normally, I don't really do heroes and heroines. The cult of celebrity has become an obnoxious sideshow in modern life, so that things that really matter are often smothered by tittle tattle about nobodies like the Kardashians.

However, over the past year or so I have become quite  a fan of an American political reporter called Amy Goodman. She heads up a show called "Democracy Now!" which puts a very different slant on political, social and environmental happenings - principally though not exclusively in The United States. I find it very refreshing.

This show is the obverse of "Fox News". It investigates police shootings, environmental disasters and of course shadows the latest moves of the Trump administration. Interviewees are given time to explain themselves properly because "Democracy Now!" isn't looking to muster trite soundbites. Instead, it seeks to get at the truth.

Amy Goodman has a calm, pleasant and dignified manner but underneath that you detect someone who is passionate about social and environmental justice. In her questioning she can be like a dog with a bone but she is always respectful of those she quizzes. 

"Democracy Now!" has taught me a lot about ordinary American life behind the gloss, putting a different slant on things. I usually watch it on our local TV channel - "Sheffield Live" but it is also available to view over the internet. Go here. To see the latest show go to "Daily Shows" on  the top bar.

6 May 2017

Encore

Yesterday was a lovely day. Shirley was going shopping in Leeds with a friend so I  decided to drive out into Derbyshire specifically to take photographs of the bluebells in Lindop Wood. It is just south of the hamlet of Calton Lees on the Chatsworth Estate.

I discovered Lindop Wood's bluebells four or five years back when I was rambling in the area without a camera. Having very recently seen the bluebells in Sheffield's ancient Ecclesall Woods, I guessed correctly that they would also be out in Derbyshire.
You have to catch bluebells when they are blooming and that period of time doesn't last for long - two weeks at most. If you miss them you have to wait another year.

With my bad knee and a chest infection, I have not been feeling too well of late. But the walk to Lindop Wood and back to the car would be a under a mile. I could surely cope with that. 

I also took a few pictures of an old, open-sided barn and the cows that were loitering there waiting to be milked. And a few more pictures in Calton Lees itself. The blue paint indicates that the cottage belongs to Chatsworth House - ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire.

5 May 2017

Bluebells


In Bluebell Time

They came back.
A haze of indigo, purple and violet blue
Swirling across that secret glade
Like morning mist 
Drifting the mottled shadows
Under gnarled and timeworn trees
Where invisible thrushes carolled
In the heart of those fairy woods.
And it was lovely and it was blue.
Tumbling down to the brook 
And all along the margins of the path.
I bent and held a single stem against my palm
Silently pledging no hurt or harm
To see them dangling like drops of rain
To see the blueness once again.
Yet they made no ringing or jingling sound
As they reclaimed their ancient ground.
What joy and truth was thereby found
To see the bluebells all around.



Pictures of bluebells in Ecclesall Woods, Sheffield
May 4th 2017