Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Kind words are like a spring day

This is the first night I've had to myself (and the family) for a while and having spent nearly half an hour changing a headlamp bulb in my car and ripping my hands to shreds in the process, I am just about to go and watch the European Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Arsenal. I love football but I'm strictly a neutral, normally favouring the underdog. I'm not going to rush this blog and I suspect it may take a couple of hours at least to finish because I want to mention two things:

The first is another trip down Memory Lane to my childhood in the sixties and the old house and television and the second is to think about an extraordinary act of kindness shown by a particular work colleague and some other colleagues who were party to a real surprise for me yesterday; so much so I was lost for words.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London once said, "I don't see why people are so snooty about Channel 5. It has some respectable documentaries about the Second World War. It also devotes considerable airtime to investigations about lap dancing and other related and vital subjects."

Although my parents were not well off, far from it, they moved, after they were married and had me, into a Victorian house owned I think by my aunt and uncle and my grandparents lived with us too. I was prompted to think about the return trip to test the memory by a picture of an old fashioned television the other day and I began to think about ours. Black and white of course with a twelve inch screen and rented from Rediffusion. It was cable then and there was a switch on the wall through which you could tune in the radio - the light programme and one or two others, or one of the two television channels (BBC and ITV). The TV had to warm up because it had valves in the inside which you could see through the back panel, glowing in some cases. The entertainment I do recall was watching the little white dot slowly disappear over a number of minutes when the TV was switched off and the end of the day and programming finished around 10 pm-ish in those days.

Then of course revolution came and the move to colour and BBC 2 came about, but our black and white television had some difficulties in coping viewing the colour channel in black and white. So, for BBC 1 and ITV, they were still on the old 425 lines, a very grainy picture, badly defined. If you wanted to watch BBC 2, you had to press a huge button on the side of the television which converted the picture to 625 lines, clearer and for the day, pin sharp (but not against today's High Definition standards) albeit still black and white. I can recall kids coming to school and claiming to have seen colour on their black and white televisions!

The stupid thing is I can hardly remember any programmes from that early time and I'm not sure I understand why; since I have started to meditate some six years ago, my memory recall has been much better. I have a faint recollection of watching Perry Mason or something similar and perhaps even Tales from the Riverbank. The industrial strife of the early seventies meant that the big old house was devoid of electricity often as power strikes went on then and we couldn't watch the TV or listen to radio until my mother bought a battery operated radio and my parents listened to pirate radio - Radio Caroline. I've heard snippets from it since and it was hip for the day I suppose.

And this leads very nicely to another positive experience and that was the kindness of a colleague and all-round good man Bryan who, on his own initiative and without my knowledge decided to write something very positive about me to the management team. Other colleagues who he consulted, in private of course, gave their experiences of working with me and the outcome was that my work was recognised. Unusually, I was gobsmacked at the time I found out and I never thanked him other than jibbering some rubbish - I wrote an e-mail to him to thank him properly. This is a second and public thank-you.

Acts of kindness, they can be described as nothing else as this one was, is a clear recognition that there is much respect for our fellow human in our society today. The unselfish attitude, both caring and thoughtful takes such a small amount of our time and it generally gets repaid a thousand times in my belief system. Stopping to let a disabled person cross the crossing in front of us which we know will take more time than usual; holding the door for someone who is struggling with their shopping and the pram; saying 'thank-you' - all those things and believing that there is good in people is such a small price to pay for making others feel valued and not ignored. When that kindness is repaid, doesn't it make you feel good?

"A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble." Charles H. Spurgeon

Chat soon


Monday, 27 April 2009

Reformed Crispaholic

It's that time again, the second month anniversary since I started my diet. In the first four weeks I lost 19.8 pounds (9kg). In the second four weeks I lost... wait for it... 14 pounds (6.5kg) - just a stone. Boy do I feel slightly better for it and although I haven't started an exercise regime in earnest yet (walking) I am moving around quicker and I am starting to get some energy back.

A A Milne once said, "The proof that God had a weird sense of humour is that, having invented the sublime mystery of haute cuisine, He went and gave it to the French!"

What's just as amazing is that the taste buds seem to have come back - I hear the same story from reformed smokers. I've found food again and haven't had one single packet of crisps or a glass of milk or biscuits - all my favourites. 'Hi I'm Rarelesserspotted and I'm a crispaholic, milkaholic and biscuitaholic,' - applause and shouts of 'yeah... ride on... go for it." I never much liked a lot of chocolate so it hasn't been too difficult but thanks go to my wife for making sure that we stay in the routine of counting what we have at the end of the day in a little book and for planning better for the following days in so far as shopping and meals is concerned. She doesn't need to lose weight but as a benefit of us both following the diet, she's lost 5 pounds (2.25kg) although it helps her that she uses the 'Wii fit'.

So, here's a recipe for roast vegetables, just a little sweet tasting which has been the plank of all our roast and meat meals rather than having a load of roast potatoes.

Roast Vegetables (serves 4)

One sweet potato (peeled and diced into cubes);
One small butternut squash (peeled de-seeded and diced into cubes);
One large parsnip (scraped and diced into cubes);
Half a turnip or swede (diced into cubes);
One large red onion (quartered) or substitute an ordinary onion if preferred;
Two Courgettes (sliced);
Mushrooms (peeled and quartered);
Clove of garlic (crushed) - optional.

Ground pepper for seasoning.
2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Put aside:

8 cherry tomatoes left whole.


Prepare all your vegetables as described and except the tomatoes, place them in an ovenproof dish. Season with ground pepper and drizzle on the olive oil.

Place at the top of a preheated oven, uncovered at 220 degrees or a high gas setting and roast for around 45 minutes. Take out of the oven and stir and then add the cherry tomatoes. Put back in the oven for another 15 minutes. Serve piping hot and enjoy!

"I'm already two years ahead on my daily fat allowance. I'm looking for skinny people to see if I can borrow theirs."
Jo Brand, comedienne

Having rain here today for the first time in a long time, and just after I spend two days over the weekend with the sprinkler on the grass to water in the weed & feed!

Chat soon


Saturday, 25 April 2009

Twelve things you'd like to say but can't...

I discussed being politically correct the other day and whether it's right or wrong - I'm not convinced beyond some certain rules about sexism and racism, but doesn't it drive you crazy when you can't say what you really feel like saying to those around you who, frankly, are a sandwich short of a picnic.

So here's a list of things I'd love to say, but can't:

1. I can see your point, but I still think you're full of sh*t.
2. It sounds like English, but I can't understand a word you're saying.
3. I see you've set aside this special time to humiliate yourself in public.
4. Ah, I see the f*ck-up fairy has visited us again.
5. I don't know what you're problem is, but I bet it's hard to pronounce.
6. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.
7. I like you. You remind me of me when I was young and stupid.
8. What am I? Flypaper for freaks?
9. Thank you. We're all refreshed and challenged by your point of view.
10. Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.
11. You sound entirely reasonable... time to up my medication.
12. Some day, we'll look back at this, laugh nervously and change the subject.

Other famous insults are not so subtle; here are some of my favourites:

"You're about as much use as as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking competition."
Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder

"It's like being savaged by a dead sheep."
Dennis Healey on Geoffrey Howe's debating skill, 1978.

"Her face could launch a thousand dredgers."
Jack de Manio, radio broadcaster about Glenda Jackson.

Lord Sandwich, "Sir, you will either die of the pox or upon the gallows."
John Wilkes, "Depending on whether or not I embrace your mistress or your principles."

Nancy Astor addressing Winston Churchill in Parliament, "Winston, you're drunk!"
Churchill, "I am madam, and you are ugly, but in the morning, I will be sober."

"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."
Feminist slogan 1970.

"I wouldn't say my mother in law was ugly, but when she went to the cinema to see a monster movie, the monsters picketed the cinema."
Les Dawson

Hope you are enjoying the weekend.

Chat soon


Friday, 24 April 2009

Have you heard the one about...

Dear friends, the weekend is here again and most of us in central and Eastern England will see a little more sun before showers arrive during Saturday. What a fabulous week only spoiled perhaps as it often is in the Eastern fringes of England by a breeze from the still chilly North Sea.

Yorkshireman One meets his friend one autumn day, "Did thee have a good summer Amos?"
Yorkshireman Two, "Aye lad, we had a picnic that afternoon."

The picture above is the spectacular Dicentra Spectabilis, or 'bleeding heart' (click on the picture to enlarge it). I planted this about twelve years ago just after we moved to this house and it was a sickly little thing and in September in the first year it looked as if it died completely. But year after year with no care other than a bit of weeding around the base, it starts to shoot in March with tiny weak leaves from the ground and by mid April, it is a magnificent bush of tender red hearts with tiny white tips which indeed looks like a bleeding heart. Even before the first frost in Autumn, it is a shadow of its former self and it dies back to ground level to snooze and slumber until spring arrives once more.

I was told a non-PC (politically correct) joke today which was neither sexist nor racist, but not for polite conversation and frankly it was funny and tickled my sense of humour. We are frightened aren't we of being risque these days because no-one, certainly in the work place, knows where the boundaries truly are. Sexism and racism are clearly unacceptable in any form during our daily lives so those boundaries are straight forward. Other jokes that are cruel about individuals or a disability for example are cringing and to be avoided as being nasty and wholly unnecessary.

But we do laugh at the banana skin joke don't we, someone falls and hurts themselves and we have the urge to laugh out loud. Someone makes a fool of themselves and we giggle don't we and perhaps it's because it's relief it wasn't us; the TV programme You've Been Framed is a good example. Situational comedy - the ridiculous situation someone finds theselves in or the clever shaggy dog stories are what makes great jokes. Yet the late, great Dave Allen, born in Dublin before the second world war was a comedian who was able to laugh at his own race and its foibles and today we still laugh at the man's story-telling genius and his ability to spot the absurdities of his own religion (in his eyes) and weaknesses in his fellow man. But even he ironically was being PC when he always finished his shows with the phrase, "Goodnight, and may your God go with you."
Did we laugh and was it acceptable because he was laughing at himself?

Why then when we see tapes of Charlie Williams, a mixed race Yorkshire comedian who died in 2006 telling jokes about his race and origins are we now uncomfortable even though the public at the time found it hilarious judging by the audience reaction? And yet when Bernard Manning told racist jokes we were and are rightly outraged. Difficult one to answer and if anyone can enlighten me, please feel free. I am offended by racist jokes in particular but perhaps audiences of the 1960s and 1970s were simply laughing because making fun of the colour of one's skin was part of ordinary life then and now we understand how hurtful, harmful and destructive it is.

I was driving to a garden centre recently with my parents looking for early bedding plants. As I drove along an isolated country road I spotted someone lying on the grass verge by the side of the road. I immediately stopped the car and not without a little trepidation approached the individual who I saw was shabbily dressed and clearly down on his luck.

However to my astonishment, I saw he was eating the grass on the verge.
I asked if he was okay thinking he might be mentally ill and he looked at me mournfully and told me that he was destitute and had no money and hadn't eaten for some time and that he was hungry and saw no alternative but to eat the grass as a last resort. I went back to the car and got one of my cards out of the glove box and gave it to him and told him if he was so desperate he could come to my home and I would see him okay.

He was almost in tears, obviously very moved and clutched the card to his heart. He asked if he could bring his wife and family and I said, "Hang on pal, my lawn isn't that big!"

Have a great weekend! "May your God go with you."

Chat soon


Monday, 20 April 2009

A Friend in Need...

Isn't it amazing, you take a week off with cold damp weather and feel diabolical with a heavy cold and today, the first day back at work, it's 17 degrees, not a cloud in the sky and I feel on top of the world! I've taken my lad back to University in Nottingham tonight and got back around 10.30 pm and tomorrow I'm driving off to the depths of sunny Lancashire, to Preston on the other side of the Penines on business for a meeting to start at 10.00 am. It's a good job I love driving, something I've been used to and find it quite relaxing.

"People say I wasted my money. I say 90 percent went on women, fast cars and booze. The rest I wasted."
George Best, Footballer.

I have had a long chat with a very good friend today on the phone. Earlier in the day she hinted she wasn't feeling too grand and I texted her later and told her I was thinking about her, hoped that she was okay and that she should take care. She did the right thing and rang and we had a long conversation of mainly me listening and passing the odd opinion now and then because she likes to hear what others think. It is clear that she has had some knocks in her life and they have started to affect her more recently than ever before.

There's a lot of slushy guff around the Internet today particularly about friendship and some of it is too sugary to be palatable sometimes, but either way, there is a fundamental truth in the fact that friendships are hugely important whether we have friends or not.

I hope that I was a good listener for her and that she got out what she wanted to say. Even though she felt her confidence was being dented, something she has worked so hard to maintain in her adult life, she has had the courage to recognise that it was being detrimental to her health and general well being at home and at work but most importantly, she is doing something about it. She is going to see a couple of people to discuss how she is feeling about things and how the situation is affecting her.

This is a mentally strong woman, intelligent and motivated. I mention this to illustrate that a dent in confidence can happen to anyone, (it's happened to me in the past.) It's hard to admit that something is affecting you, curbing your natural abilities, making you feel potentially ill. It only takes a phone call to a friend, a chat over coffee, quality time spent just saying how you feel (the circumstances are irrelevant) and it's the first step to recovery. Sometimes it is impossible to confide in a loved one or a partner even if it doesn't involve them because it can be so difficult to open up your heart and soul and the worry of being a burden can be, in itself a worry.

My plea to you is if you are having some difficulties, use friends where you can. Use professionals if you don't have a friend you can trust, but whatever you do, do something. Make a difference to your own life and those who are touched by your presence who need you to be your 'normal' self.

It's hard for roughy-toughies and people of sound and solid constitution to admit there's a problem, because they think everyone else will think they've gone soft or they can't cope. You don't have to let the world know if you don't want to, but tell someone - an individual who can at least point you in the right direction - my friend did and her courage will see her through I have no doubt.

I've been watching some old footage on YouTube of Spike Milligan, one of my all time favourite writers and entertainers and isn't it ironic that he suffered from debilitating mental illnesses at various times in his life, blurring the gap between genius and madness. He wrote one of the funniest books I have ever read and which I go to sometimes for a giggle, 'The Bible According to Spike Milligan' (Penguin Books) and here's the opening paragraph:

And God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light, but the Electricity Board said he would have to wait until Thursday to be connected. And God saw the light and it was good; He saw the quarterly bill and that was not good.

Chat soon


Friday, 17 April 2009

Beverley Minster re-visited

Well I went and did it today, nearly gave myself a heart attack climbing to the top of Beverley Minster in East Yorkshire with a heavy chest cold - I must be bloomin' mad! Took me 10 minutes to get my breath back. But wow - was it worth it? - it certainly was and is thoroughly recommended providing you are reasonably fit.

You may remember in a previous blog that I had visited Beverley Minster earlier this year for the first time in my life and was enthralled by it but I mentioned that I had never been to the top in the roof to see what's behind the glorious front facing part of the Minster that everyone sees. I took two of my three lads, one who is in his final year as an archeology student at Nottingham and he is doing his dissertation on the defences of Hull. The other lad is hoping to go to Liverpool University this year to read classics with archaeology. Both are passionate about history, particularly that which is on their own doorstep.

We went on spec for something to do, neither of them had ever been and it was such a nice day and when we got there, tours of the roof were available but we had missed the last one of the day. However the ever so friendly staff got hold of the virger (which is spelt correctly in this instance) who took us for the tour and we were spell-bound by it. Neil Pickford is a 'virger' rather than a verger because he's a carrier of the long metal rod and the Latin name for rod is 'virga'. His role is based on what was, 500 years ago a church bouncer using the rod as a practical tool to get the vicar through the mad thronging crowd of people and animals to the altar. Today fortunately the people of Beverley behave at services and his role is ceremonial, although he does much more in the background to keep the day to day running of the building as smooth as possible.

The virger, Mr Pickford was a friendly intelligent man full of information and a thousand facts about the minster in his head all articulately delivered at just the right level. The answers to our many questions were thoughtful and a testament to his depth of knowledge. I suspect we were lucky in that Neil only had the three of us to guide and did a great job - thanks Neil. So what did we see after 113 steps worth of cardio-vascular exercise?
Wondrous vaults of roof space with some timbers nine hundred years old, some of them reused even at the time the Minster was built. There were different stages of construction which when pointed out are obvious.

There were the ornate windows with legalised graffiti etched upon them by workers and church staff responsible for the Minsters construction and maintenance. Not only were there names and dates, someone had etched the popular RAF planes (and a helicopter) that would have been seen around the Minster both in time of war and peace. The views through the spectacular windows were breathtaking looking both north toward Leconfield and the Wolds and also to the south and the Humber Bridge and much of the north and west of Hull.
The picture below shows St Mary's Church in Beverley though the north window.

Then there was the huge quarter of a ton boss in the roof that could be lifted to create a hole in the ceiling through which large and heavy objects could be lifted upward into the roof space. The mechanism - a huge wheel worked by a person walking in it still works today and he ably demonstrated it for us.

There was plenty of evidence of dangerous periods in the life of the building when walls started to partially collapse and the fascinating and often highly technical work that was done to save the building - over 250 years ago. The masons who constructed this beautiful Gothic inspiration were on peace work and their collective marks can be seen over most of the masonry, a mark of reaching a certain point when payment was due. The sad thing is that most of these men were probably illiterate and were only known by their mark even in the books which showed that they had been paid. I am looking forward to seeing the published research about these amazing men and their incredible achievements.

After an hour of looking at how the Minster was constructed and looking at the evidence, we were left to tour the ground floor which in itself is both awesome and calming.
Neil writes a blog for the Hull Daily Mail newspaper once a week on life at the Minster and you can catch an example of his witty repartee by clicking here.

I hope you may also one day have chance to see the history of centuries laid bare in the roof of this building.

Sorry for the length of the blog today - there was loads I had to miss out that I really wanted to tell you.

Chat soon


Thursday, 16 April 2009

Beam me up Scotty...

How do we end recession, how do we cure incurable diseases, why is the third world still in poverty, who was the best captain of the USS Enterprise?

The burning questions of the day to which I have no solution but plenty of opinions. I am a bit of a closet Trekkie; I don't dress up as a Klingon nor do I keep Tribbles as pets, but I do enjoy the escapism of zooming across the universe meeting friendly and not so friendly species. If you were to be able to do the same, who would your captain have been? I am really looking forward to the new film to be released in May which takes us back to the academy days of the now famous James T Kirk.

I think we should discount the badly disfigured Captain Pike who featured in the pilot of the opening series of Start Trek TOS - (The Original Series) and move swiftly on to the charismatic Captain James T Kirk. A macho man with some humour and one clearly for the ladies. His muscle bound bravery and his ability to bluff out most situations with the help of his intelligent and always logical side kick, science officer Mr Spock. Of course one of the enduring relationship in this series was with Dr Leonard McCoy and the diametrically opposed views they often held on reaching solutions. A great team and Kirk gets 8/10 from me.

We move on next to the great diplomat (and bald) Frenchman, Jean-Luc Picard played by an Englishman popped up in Star Trek TNG (The Next Generation). A controversial but inspired choice non-the-less by producer Gene Roddenberry. Here was a thinker, a strategist, humanist but uncomfortable in forming anything but professional relationships with women unlike his predecessor Kirk who would jump into bed at the slightest opportunity with any good looking alien woman! Picard had a great team behind him and produced not only humour of the funniest and most subtle kind but also great emotions that you might expect from a Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) trained actor. 10/10 for this compassionate great leader and manager of people.

Slightly out of sync came Captain Jonathon Archer who fills in the time before Kirk at the very start of stellar exploration. This series, Star Trek: Enterprise lacked the sophistication and humour seen in previous series with the atmosphere (as you perhaps would expect) usually tense and uncomfortable in these ground breaking days of early manned space travel. For me the character showed leadership in difficult situations but there was a militaristic edge to his adventures rather then the explorer and balancing positive experiences with the dangerous situations he usually ended up in. The series didn't last too long because I don't think it gave fans what they wanted. Not the fault of the actor so much as the scripts, but only 5/10 for me.

So there we have it - congratulations to Patrick Stewart - my favourite Captain of the United Federation of Planets Starship, USS Enterprise.

As was their habit, Spock and Kirk go camping in the famous Yellowstone National Park. One night, after retiring, Kirk woke the sleeping Spock and said, "Spock, when you look up, what do you see?"

Spock pondered for a few seconds and said, "Astronomically speaking Jim, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time-wise, it appears to be approximately twenty seven minutes past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow with light south, south westerly winds and 21 degrees Celsius. What does it tell you?"

"It tells me that someone has pinched the bl00dy tent!"

Chat soon


Monday, 13 April 2009

Blithe Spirit

Lord, from ghosties and ghoulies and long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, preserve us. That prayer, by an anonymous author was said many times at my junior school over forty years ago to conclude morning assembly. Although I may have hinted at it in my blog before, I have never had the opportunity to talk about 'spooky' things before but today there is a reason. Tuesday night is my 'circle' night - a psychic circle run by good friends Shirley Ann Summerwill ably supported by her partner Barry Chessman. This week due to the holidays and Barry and Shirley Ann moving house, we have a rare week off and I will miss it.

What do you call a ghost's mother and father? Transparents.

I was interested in a
BBC News online poll today which said that nearly one in four people believed in ghosts, a massive rise from one in ten in 1950. But here's the most fascinating result of all, 70% of respondents believe in the human soul. My own history as a child in Cottingham in the old Victorian three storey house identified many unexplained happenings that, looking back can only be explained by the presence of spirits. It was fashionable in the late 60s early 70s to do Ouija Boards (a very dangerous thing to do today unless you know exactly what you are doing) but back then, it was Sunday afternoon family and friends entertainment.

My Grandfather who lived with us was blind and had a walking stick and on a Sunday afternoon he would go upstairs for a nap and he would bang on the linoleum covered floor if he wanted anything. One summer Sunday afternoon, downstairs the Ouija Board session was in full flow with the curtains closed and a slim shaft of sunlight where the curtains just didn't meet showing the slowly swirling dust, but nothing much was happening. I belonged to the Cottingham Amateur Dramatic Society then and they had just done Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward. In a stupid voice mimicking Madame Arcati the medium in Blithe Spirit when she was conducting a seance, I wailed, "Is anybody there, give us one knock for no and two knocks for yes." You've guessed it, Grandfather knocked twice on the floor with impeccable timing with his stick and frankly frightened us all witless. We still laugh about it today - nervously!

My modest psychic abilities have over the years proved (to my satisfaction) that the human soul does indeed exist and it transcends time from one physical being to another in a series of lives. I've no scientific proof for this of course and sceptics and scientists quite rightly remain unconvinced. I admire Derren Brown for example for his 'outing' of the criminal practises of the Victorian mediums and for giving potential logical reasons for how some psychic and paranormal incidents can be explained. One thing Derren can't do is destroy my faith and belief in spirituality.

Although I haven't done one for a while I used to do psychic or paranormal investigations with a band of enthusiastic friends. Have I ever seen a ghost or spirit with my own eyes? Not that I am aware of. Have I felt one's presence? Certainly, on a large number of occasions and have communicated with many contacts from the spirit world with the assistance of my spirit helpers to give messages of meaning, love and compassion to friends containing proof of which only they are aware.

But what is most important to me is that we all take care of something nearly three-quarters of us believe in and that's our soul, the very essence of who we are, a combination of a life's experiences - the sum of all our parts, past and present (the future doesn't exist does it - ever - we all live in the 'now' with just memories or thoughts of what's passed before.)

We should take more time to meditate an essential plank of learning about yourself, and that is simply relaxing with our own thoughts, concentrating on our well being, and thinking about others and asking that their broken or damaged souls be mended. How do they get broken? Usually by negative emotions: the loss of a loved one, the loss of employment, a family upset or debilitating illness. A lot of bad people have badly damaged souls and some are probably beyond repair in this life.

But more meditation, being calmer, thinking more about our own health, physical and mental and caring for others in our thoughts can lead to a better and potentially less violent society. Whether that's achievable realistically I don't know, but I shall never stop praying or meditating for other's souls.
The spiritual aspect of meditation is perhaps for another blog in the future and certainly doesn't have to be part of your meditations if you simply want to relax, clear the busy mind and recharge the batteries.

Today's story, tongue in cheek of course, but maybe...

Two men were walking home after a party and decided to take a shortcut through the cemetery. Right in the middle of the cemetery they were startled by a tap-tap-tapping noise coming from the misty shadows. Trembling with fear, they found an old man with a hammer and chisel, chipping away at one of the headstones.

"For goodness sake, mister," one of them said after catching his breath, "You scared us half to death ... we thought you were a ghost! What are you doing working here so late at night?"

"Those fools!" the old man grumbled. "They misspelled my name!"

Ch-ch-chat soon!



I don't get irritated about much in life in general - I tend to let it flow over me and move on but I have been annoyed at the Labour party e-mail scandal perpetrated by (confirmed by his resignation) Damian McBride. This is not party political rant by the way, it didn't matter who had done it, simply that in this day and age the juvenile and pathetic strategy of smearing one's opponents with falsehood and innuendo is anachronistic and clearly belongs in a long gone age where propaganda only in time of war was considered as acceptable stratagem.

More than that it's what we think about and how we behave toward our fellow human beings and about knowing ourselves. I wonder what McBride thinks of himself today - at the very least he should be very ashamed. Ashamed that he has breached a trust of the electorate and ashamed that he would stoop so low as to believe that it was an acceptable practise in a modern accountable society, privately or publicly.

Although Prime Minister Brown has said there is no room in British politics for such material, he should say a simple 'sorry.' Accepting McBride's resignation doesn't absolve the Prime Minister of his own vicarious responsibilities. Showing strength through remorse rather than pig-headed refusal so to do does not show him in a good light and of course people are thinking what else is going on - something the media is capitalising on - don't we have enough worries?

This is a painful reminder of a former member of Labour Party's exclusive 'spin doctor' club Jo Moore, who on the most infamous day in world affairs, September 11th 2001, sent an e-mail to colleagues saying it was "a good day to bury bad news," something for which she apologised and incredibly kept her job for some time.

Government must move on, concentrating all their strength and effort into rebuilding the economy of the UK and assisting the rest of the world through trust and determination whilst continuing to provide a democratic stability that is both expected and required from the people of this great country.

Here endeth the sermon.

The late Dennis Thatcher, husband of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, "Better keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it, and remove all doubt."

Chat soon


Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Great Escape

Happy Easter!

After two solid days in the garden making it clean and ready for the late Spring I sat down and for the 47th time watched The Great Escape on Virgin 1 on Sky. A whole Sunday evening devoted to a film I've seen so many times I remember some of the script lines - "Next time you escape Squadron Leader Bartlett, you will not be so lucky, " said in a dangerous and threatening German accent.
It must have been hell sitting on uncomfortable cinema seats watching that when it first came out - the seats are so much more comfortable and luxurious now with tons of leg room and a holder for the Diet Coke.

My mother and grandmother took me to the pictures regularly when I was a kid in Hull and there were a number we went to. However the trip to the pictures, often during the day always stared with a fish and chip supper at Gainsboroughs 'restaurant' - an elaborate cafe really, in Carr Lane with plastic chequered table cloths and delicious bread and butter to go with the best fish and chips around. I cried at Bambi, one of my first ever films and have never watched it since. Lassie always got shot or injured during her missions and was always so sad and I've never seen one of those again either.

"If your wife and your lawyer were drowning and you had to choose, would you go to lunch or to the cinema?"

The most popular one in the city centre was the ABC or otherwise known as the Regal where there were live acts as well such as the Rolling Stones (
watch it on YouTube courtesy of British Pathe news) and the Beatles. I saw Morecambe and Wise there. This was the cinema that we paid 9d (in old money) the equivalent today of 4 pence for the Saturday morning matinee which was usually a Children's Film Foundation film, Pearl and Dean advertising, Pathe News and a cartoon.

The Cecil cinema just down the road from the ABC was the bee's knees with an organ that used to arise majestically through the floor playing the popular songs of the day. The decor was very art nouveau as you climbed the wide long red carpeted stairs to the theatre. The other two I remember was the Tower cinema, a flea pit, narrow, small and too intimate unless that's what you went for! I'm told they had unisex toilets there but I don't remember those and a cinema across the road of the same ilk.

Historically there were dozens of cinemas in Hull pre-war and tales from my late grandfather, a 'Hessle Road-er' told of paying for entry with jam jars and jam jar lids and other re-usables during the war. He recounted that if they were quick enough, someone who paid to get in would open the emergency exits for dozens of kids to rush in before the over zealous usherettes grabbed you sneaking in, took you by the collar and hoofed you out the way you came in.

There was a gap for many years when I never visited the cinema, probably in the late seventies, through the eighties and nineties unless for a very exceptional trip. Money and time, or lack of, (working shifts) made it harder and then bringing up kids changed it really. We started to take them to see the kids films and my love with the cinema (the pictures) took off again and I have not turned my back on it yet.

My top ten films
(but not necessarily in order):
  • The Shawshank Redemption;
  • Goodfellas;
  • Any Harry Potter film - HP and the Order of the Phoenix was the best;
  • Lord of the Rings - the Two Towers and Return of the King;
  • The Great Escape;
  • Star Wars (original - 1977);
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade;
  • The Departed;
  • Some Like it Hot;
  • Life of Brian.
Enjoy what remains of the holidays!

Chat soon


Thursday, 9 April 2009

DIY ineptitude & Easter

Easter is just around the corner and the weather conspires against the great British (and Irish) public by promising grey, damp and cool Spring weather. My 'holiday' starts today; in truth this is a week starting today I have always taken traditionally as a way of preparing the garden and life in general for the summer. A good spring clean, trips to the tip, central heating turned down or off, houseplants re-potted and conservatory windows open occasionally and we wait for the wires to go up but clearly the race for a decent spring has hardly begun.

I got home yesterday evening and my wife had prepared a list of small jobs: fix a net curtain hook, fix two light fittings and replace all the smoke alarms (they are nearly ten years old but still go off when I over-cook the lamb chops!) This morning I have already cleaned the fish tank and my other half is in a good mood, she's lost three and a half pounds on her diet - she might forget she's written me a list but I'm not holding my breath.

"I haven't spoken to the wife for over a month. We haven't had a row, I just daren't interrupt her!"
Les Dawson

I am, I have to confess, a DIY dummy. I sort of get by but I reckon I could have saved thousands of pounds during our near thirty years of marriage by being able to do the plumbing, the electrics and build useful and practical furniture. I once replaced some ceiling lights in my old house with brand new three bulb hanging lights. We had newly decorated and the room looked fabulous. I hooked the wires up firmly fixed the fitting back to the ceiling, switched the electricity on and the lights worked a treat. Trouble was they wouldn't switch off! Needless to say, red faced I had to ring a friend to ask what I had done and even to this day, whilst I did what was instructed, I still don't understand how they worked. I'm not a disaster zone mind, houses don't fall down or anything when I drill a hole in the wall and I've now learned that the right drill and the right plug have to be used with the right sized screw - hey presto it all works!

I don't eat Easter Eggs any more and my diet wouldn't allow it anyway and so apart from being a nice break, I wondered how many people really think about Easter and what it's all about. We could use the same question to ask about Christmas (the celebration of the birth of Jesus) or other religious based holidays such as Whitsuntide (the Holy Spirit approached the Apostles in the form of flames). Do we appreciate what it means and do we trouble to celebrate the origins and reasons of the occasion? Some people do of course, their faith leaves them in no doubt that the execution of Jesus and his Resurrection three days later is the whole basis of Christian religion - without this it seems to me there is no religion, no hope, nothing to look forward to.

The Easter bunny has its origins in folklore of course and some religions do not celebrate Easter at all thinking that some of the things we do are simply pagan. But if His death and Resurrection is so fundamental to our lives - after all it's given us the common thread through the modern western world for nearly 2000 years, then why not celebrate unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses who have a 'memorial' dirge or the Quakers who believe every day is the Lord's day and have no need for extra celebrations.

Whatever you believe (or not) have a great weekend, enjoy the chance to be with family or friends or doing something you really like.

Lord Byron described the English Winter - "...ending in July to recommence in August."

Chat soon


Monday, 6 April 2009

Delights of Compost and losing on the Grand National

Picture above, Pieris 'Forest Flame'

This weekend, which turned out better than expected after early rain on Saturday morning, was spent in the garden, in the shops, watching the occasional game of football on the
TV and mucking about with compost. Yes you heard it here - compost!

Television? Television is for being on dear boy, not watching.' Noel Coward.

Prior to our local authority providing a brown bin for compost, I used to make my own in a black bin in the garden made for the purpose. I emptied it on Sunday morning and got three barrow loads full of great looking stuff to spread onto the borders and to fork in among the sprouting
hostas and begonias as well as for the benefit of some perennials and bedding plants which will arrive later. I will still use the bin for the benefit of my own garden because I'm not sure I want compost from someone elses garden returned by the local authority from wherever it is they take it and compost it.

The success of good composting? I'm not an expert at all, but my personal success is simple: kitchen waste, uncooked of course - all the peelings and wasted green food or vegetables out of the fridge and cupboards that we don't use in time. On top of that, a layer of grass clippings (with no weed and feed in it) then more kitchen waste, then cardboard egg boxes and then a layer of barley that I buy in a bale. After a while, I turn it and mix it and then start again with the layers and believe me, despite all that rotting material, there's no smell other than that of fresh earth. There is enough moisture in the veg and grass so I don't water it.

I lift the lid and its full of insects and worms all doing their bit to compost the material down into a gorgeous friable brown 'stuff' which I simply fork in. I suppose the experts would say it should be forked in in November to winter over and let the frost get to it - but I just do it when I get round to it.

Following my dismal failure to pick the Grand National winners (one fell and other pulled up), I'll stick to losing my money on the National Lottery which again was a spectacular non event for me this weekend and after I specifically asked the assistant in Sainsburys to give me a winner.

Lord Amherst, an army officer as far back as the eighteenth century said, "There are three ways of losing money: racing is the quickest, women the most pleasant, and farming the most certain."

Chat soon


Friday, 3 April 2009

Dreaming of Holidays

The weekend is upon us folks and sadly the nice spring-like weather has deserted us for a few days with rain forecast on Saturday - oh joy! Never mind - I'm having a few days off over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend and beyond and it's now that my wife begins to plan what I can do with my time - oh joy!

Fortunately, I've never had to decorate during our marriage because my better half is certainly a superb decorator I'm just never around when she's decorating - she's like a bear with a sore head, so decorating isn't a worry. I once told her that she'd done a great job but when I noticed that she had put a piece of wallpaper upside down and gently pointed it out - well needless to say I keep my mouth shut now and keep well out of the way. There'll be handyman jobs in the house and in the garden, the tip to go to and other delightful domestic chores.

I was casting my mind back to childhood holidays which I adored. My earliest memory of a holiday was in a caravan on the East Yorkshire coast near Withernsea somewhere. I took a mate from school and that was fun. Other holidays included a week in Belgium. It was in Ostend by way of a twin prop plane from Luton Airport in an horrendous storm which I enjoyed but apparently my parents didn't. That was in 1966 when England beat West Germany 4 - 2 in the World Cup final and my father didn't have to pay for a drink all week courtesy of grateful Belgians. 'World Cup Willie' was the theme tune to the competition - a tune the local Belgian drinking hall concert pianist didn't know strangely enough.

Many years were spent in Butlin's camps at Skegness in Lincolnshire with free films and plenty of fresh air; Hi-de-hi!. We went to Majorca one year which was my first real taste of hot holidays abroad and that was great, just swimming and sunbathing. I was probably around 16 - my second trip abroad!

There were many years of not having holidays away through lack of cash or general interest in going anywhere. I remember taking the car across the ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg to Denmark for a week in Silkeborg one summer - a flat but beautiful country, sparsely populated.
When the kids were small we spent time in Penrith in the most gorgeous countryside of Cumbria in northern England in to-let cottages. We are lucky these days after years of struggle we have some capacity to travel a little and have been to America, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and France My wife managed to get a trip to South Africa with my eldest son and the kids have done European holidays through school.

The video below shows the view from our hotel room on International Drive, Orlando of one of the many almost daily rainstorms with severe thunder and lightening that normally accompanied them. This was the result of the passing tropical storm Ernesto in 2006 which later developed into a category 1 hurricane. Water was pouring off the roofs in torrents and the pools and theme parks closed whenever the afternoon storms appeared.

If I have any ambitions left for holidays, it's to visit Eire where my father went fishing every Whitsuntide for donkey's years, Canada for its scenery, New Zealand for the same thing perhaps and possibly Hong Kong just for the experience.

If I were twenty again, I would like to have experienced the spiritual nature of Vietnam or Thailand, the great railway journey across India or to walk on the Great Wall of China. I can dream and if Mr Camelot obliges, I may still travel with my family to such places.

Mind you, the last flight we took was very cheap. There was no in-flight movie, instead the pilot flew low over a drive-in theatre. The plane was so old, it had Amy Johnson's packing up on the co-pilots seat as well as an outside toilet. I knew it was a disaster when we had a whip-round for fuel over Wigan. I've no idea how we made it to our destination, the plane landed in a kneeling position.

Chat soon

Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, 1 April 2009

April Fool's day - have fun

Happy April Fool's day. Once upon a time the day was spent dishing out practical jokes prepared well in advance perhaps for weeks leading up to the day. I can recall that the tradition was you could only play a joke before midday, but I think that was just a ruse by the wary so as not to get caught too often.

There have been some classics. Aunty Beeb (BBC) as far back as 1957 and in black and white had the famous spaghetti trees, and for gullible anglers the loudspeaker next to the fish hook attached to the line to tempt fish by playing classical music. The BBC outfoxed a number of viewers back in the 1960s claiming to have invented smell-o-vision through the screen and many viewers rang up to confirm they could indeed smell the fragrances sent through! The ban on doing 'brass rubbings' on metal man-hole covers because it was wearing them down took a few in but most of all I have enjoyed the clever April Fool ideas on Wikipedia who devoted their whole front page to it today including:

NASA reporting a shower of diamonds; the introduction of an online tanning service; and on this day: – 1918 - The British Armed Forces started to grant personnel the power to fly; and best of all: 2006 - As mandated by a 2005 Act of Parliament, several British policing agencies joined together to become very serious.

Where does April Fool's day come from? Sadly the answer is obscure. There are some ideas that the traditional day for planting out was May the first and anyone who took a chance and planted out early in April was classed as the April Fool. An English newspaper article published on April 13th, 1789 said that the day had its origins when Noah sent the raven off too early, before the waters had receded. He did this on the first day of the Hebrew month that corresponds with April.

Thanks to Wikipedia for some of these gems.

A clown went to the vet because he thought his pet dog was getting overweight.

The vet told the clown, "Your dog needs exercise, play a game of fetch with him."

The clown replied, "Don't be daft, he can't throw balls."

Chat soon