Monday, 23 December 2013

Almost Here

Christmas is all but upon us.  For those that celebrate it,  there is much to take us away from the routine of 'normal' living. 

The preparations can start many months in advance and inevitably come at a cost.  Yet for most,  the time,  cost and effort is worth every bit the doing on the basis of the positive time it can bring in the coming together of families and friends. Traditions vary from family to family,  town to town,  country to country,  so mine will be different to anyone else's. 

I guess my early memories of Christmas living in an old Victorian three storey house with frost on the inside of the windows in winter (no double glazing or central heating) are seen through rose tinted glasses. 

Christmas days were spent in the front room which wasn't used for the rest of the year.  A coal fire roared,  a real Christmas tree stood as tall as the 10 feet high ceiling,  toast was prepared on the fire using a toasting fork my dad made and Chestnuts on a pan under the red hot coals tasted gorgeous.  The extended family often visited,  Turkey was always the order of the day (more than once cooked upside down) and the Queen's speech always reigned after the meal. 

Evenings were taken up with games and special television treats like Morecambe and Wise with their brave celebrity guests appearing in Ernie's plays.  It sounds opulent and idyllic,  in truth,  both my parents had to work hard to maintain that draughty old house and support me and my grandparents who lived with us. 

I do understand why people are concerned about the commercialism of Christmas.  Every year I hear the awareness campaign by many to remember the true meaning of Christmas.  However it does seem that our younger children do get this education at school.  Nativities are done and  carols are still sung,  not just number one Christmas chart hits.  The secret is the balance between commercialism which helps maintain the expectations of a lot of people and the origins of Christmas and it's true meaning. 

What us it's true meaning? Although the time and date of Christ's birth is uncertain to say the least,  the celebration of his birth is a catalyst for something greater. 

Charles Docking wrote several different works around Christmas including the most famous Christmas Carol,  and the story's message is one of the best examples of what we should aspire to.  I've written many times about neighbourliness and good citizenship in thus blog.  I don't think it takes anything else to be honest.  The unsolicited good deed,  the kind thought,  the "thank you",  going the extra step for someone else's sake. 

On the television in the background while I write this is Oscar Wilde's Canterville Ghost.  I've never read the book,  but the kindness and sacrifice of the young girl to seek out the story of the restless haunting ghost and allow him to seek eternal rest by putting her own safety at risk is a human compassionate thing to do. 

So whatever he Christmas period holds for you,  I hope you enjoy the time whether working or not,  whether you are with your family or not,  I hope love and peace knocks on your door and benevolence shakes you by the hand.

Chat soon


Monday, 9 December 2013

All Change

I decided I needed to exercise,  so on my day off,  I used the morning to walk around my childhood village of Cottingham. 

The day was chilly but bright and calm,  but I got wrapped up and set off at a reasonable pace.  Cottingham is a pleasant and friendly place a couple of miles north of Hull and several people who I passed wished me a good morning. 
I walked along Priory Road,  a country road between Cottingham and Hull.  A single magpie flew across my path and I saluted it,  although I'm not sure what the motorists though as they passed me,  but at least I didn't spit and turn around like some do.  There were many horses busily grazing in the fields,  some with horse blankets,  some without. "Do not feed the horses,  they bite"  signs are abundant on the ranch fencing.  A bunch of pretty plastic red roses were tied to an elder tree,  in tribute to a loved one killed in a road traffic collision there some years back. 

My mobile phone exercise application informed me I'd walked a mile,  so I turned round and headed back and into the village centre.  A quick coffee and a couple of texts and I meandered through the east of the village.  Childhood memories came flooding back,  Hallgate where I lived looks familiar but in truth,  everything has changed. 

The old fashioned butchers which had sawdust on the floor and half cows hanging from the ceiling is now a deli.  Cottages are now a pub.  The long demolished vicarage is an old folks home.  I passed by St Marys church,  largely unchanged and along the snicket passed the tiny village hall,  the charity cottage bequeathed to the village in the 1700s and the even smaller church hall.  Another cottage along the snicket,  now restored and modernised was where I used to buy free range eggs as a child. The chickens no longer roam the area.

Continuing along Hallgate, I passed my childhood home  which now has a blue plaque to recognise Jacob Bronowski,  humanist,  scientist and broadcaster (The Ascent of Man) who lived there in 1942. Rounding the corner into Beck Bank,  the huge gothic and dark house called Cherry Garth has gone and now replaced by a modern set of flats with the same name.  The original house was so large,  it had a ballroom at the back which is where I used to rehearse when I belonged to the Cottingham Dramatic Society (CDS).

The large wide beck which carried water from Cottingham to Hull is all covered in and hides where we used to play as kids.  A tiny park at the end of the road which was really just a patch of grass and a few trees is still there.  My adventurous and country brought up dad used to climb to the top of the chestnut trees hunting for conkers for me. 

So,  2.5 miles walked,  fresh air and an enjoyable experience starts off what I hope will be a positive and pleasant week. 

Chat soon


Friday, 6 December 2013

"Dodged a Bullet"

Hornsea Mere, East Yorkshire just before sunset
I've posted three pictures I have taken this last week or so as the mellow late autumn weather gave us some lovely entertainment with its spectacular sunsets and early morning views across the countryside.

This is in stark contrast to the weather we have experienced in the UK on Thursday 5th December 2013 which brought devastating storm force winds and surge tides last night across most of the North Sea and parts of some other coasts.

A lovely sunset over West Hull, this scene attracted photos from all over the city on social media that night
Because I am on rising ground to the Wolds, the surge waters did not affect me and the high winds seemed to have caused little substantial damage, I was lucky. Others have not been so. In the village where I live, properties on the front of the Humber have been badly flooded by unprecedented high tides accompanied by a surge over and above the tide caused by storm winds and low pressure down the east coast of the country pushed water over barriers and embankments which would at any other time cope admirably.

Misty fields near where I work one chill morning last week.
Major roads into Hull which run parallel to the Humber were washed out, city centre streets in Hull were under water resulting in much disruption, traffic chaos and of course deep upsetment to individuals whose property has been devastated by muddy, foul water. Other areas around the Humber Basin in Lincolnshire too were badly affected with whole villages being evacuated.

Unlike the rains that affected most people in this area in 2007, this was different and more unsettling. This was mother nature at her most forceful and there was nothing anyone could do. The power of the sea is unrivalled.  In recent years, flood defences have improved in most places and without this, the effects would have been multiplied many times over.

But it could have been worse. The phrase "dodged a bullet" was coined by a local BBC radio Humberside presenter this morning who rightly observed that the effects were close to having been a  national disaster were it not for the work of the emergency services and local agencies and the public's good spirit. A second predicted damaging tide this morning did not produce any more flooding thank goodness.  BBC provided local information on the radio that was both useful and the reporting was powerful and frightening at the same time - but at least the public were informed.

Chat soon


Friday, 22 November 2013

Hull, City of Culture 2017 - Don't Miss the Boat

A rain shower just passes at sunset over the fields in West Hull. The bath to the right is for the horses to drink from

I hope you are getting used to the weather if you are in the UK, some regular ground frosts now appearing and icy windscreens to clear in a morning. On the flip side, it's certainly invigorating to go for a walk in this wintry sunshine.

There have been some interesting developments locally in so far as the neighbouring town of Kingston upon Hull is concerned, it's been chosen as the City of Culture 2017.

I am absolutely delighted for the city. The local use of social media to promote the City has been truly stunning when you look at the statistics compared to the other cities in the race. 

There have been, and are, so many detractors, whingers, moaners, bad mouthing ignorant miserable... people (for want of a better word) who delight in their own negativity.

And yet, they are so short sighted not to realise that the city is now going to start to develop a better feeling about itself and whilst Government does not put any cash into the initiative, inward investment and benefits through additional visitors and publicity through events for example will make the city feel much better about itself and enable it to lift itself out of the doldrums. Jobs and cash will come as a result.

Someone said Hull is a city, "coming out of the darkness," and that is possibly true. I would rather like to think it's been in a bit of a twilight. There are so many positives and yet so many negatives which has created that sense of stalemate for so long. I'm not going to make a case for the positives the city has nor discuss the negatives because no city is perfect, balanced and wholly positive. 

None the less - there is an opportunity now to move forward with grace and dignity and with a positive frame of mind. 

The armchair critics who sit on their backsides and moan all day long and use the anonymity of the net to be destructive either need to put up or shut up now. Contribute or bugger off, I don't want to hear you any more. Use your freedom of speech to talk to the mirror - you just love to hear yourself speak.

The City Council, in dire difficulties due to Government cuts in public spending now needs to be supportive and innovative to encourage its citizenry and visitors to make 2017 and the run up to it something to remember and leave a positive lasting legacy to move this city finally into the 21st century.

Over the few years I've been doing this blog, you will have hopefully seen some sense of balance about the place near where I live and where I have worked all my adult life barring four years. It is both an interesting place to live, work and to spend leisure time and it's been an interesting journey watching it slowly and painfully rise out of the rubble of the second World War.

When I started to work in the city in 1973, there were still bomb damaged building sites and gaps in streets where houses had been demolished. No more thank goodness. The strides forward made have been tremendous, but now the time has come to press the accelerator firmly to the floor and drive us all, neighbours, inhabitants and visitors toward greater things. Time and tide waits for no-man, start working at making life better for this wonderful old city now or miss the boat for ever.

Chat soon


Sunday, 17 November 2013

What the Papers Say

Rushes and reeds highlighted in the low autumnal sun
The first real signs of winter may be coming to the UK next week around Tuesday with more widespread snow. The Scottish highlands, as would be expected have already had some - the rest of us are getting some of our own. Oh joy and it's still only November; having said that, snow here at this time of the year is not as rare as people think.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to review the Sunday papers on BBC Radio Humberside this morning on Andy Comfort's Sunday Brunch from 10 am to midday. It's something I am invited to so occasionally and it's thoroughly enjoyable. Andy is a wonderful host and professional presenter who engenders a relaxed atmosphere mixed with great music and a bit of fun.

The secret to reviewing papers is picking a story about which you are interested - not necessarily knowledgeable about, and treat the whole thing like a chat with a mate over a cuppa. Pick a mix of serious and off beat stories of broad interest as possible. Give a precis of the story, give an opinion if you have one and don't swear! I always go fairly early to give myself plenty of time to read the eight or nine papers that are presented to me and I scan them all from front to back looking for headlines and stories that people may be interested in.
Local tree with leaves highlighted by the low powerful autumn sun
I have no idea what the demographics are of the audience to this station nowadays, but they are not at all young I guess, but they are knowledgeable about music and local issues and are very loyal listeners. The radio station recently won the Sony Radio Station of the Year (300K to 1M listeners) award. No mean feat.

My stories today were:

Sunday Telegraph - Children in Need

£31 million raised for good causes and although I never saw it, the writer comments that it was one of the best Children in Need BBC shows she had seen.

Independent on Sunday - Superbugs

This was a disturbing story based on a report in the Lancet that we as a race of people facing having infections which are resistant to antibiotics because we use them too much. An unnamed doctor is quoted as saying the public and doctors need educating - "...just because you're ill, do you need a pill?"

Sunday Times - Pricier Christmas menus in the home

Based on 15 items average price across four supermarkets, some items have gone up 125% over last years prices and the 15 items in total have gone up 17%. Higher animal feed and imports as well as a lack of supermarket promotions are blamed.

Mail on Sunday - Stamp of honour for literary giant Trollope

Anthony Trollope is to be honoured with a set of stamps to commemorate him. This literary giant also had local East Yorkshire connections because he worked for the Post Office in Hull for a short while and initiated a failed bid to become an MP in the 1860s for Beverley, when the campaign he fought in was riddled with corruption and it was investigated. He was also responsible for the introduction of the Post Box in the UK. 

Sunday People - Jimmy Greaves top 50 all time footballers

This famous footballer rated John Charles as his all time number one footballer who in 1957 was sold to Juventus by Leeds United, one of the first foreign transfers, for the princely and record sum of £62,000. George Best, Booby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Stanley Matthews also appeared in his top five. 

Sunday Express - Doctor Who's 50th anniversary

The paper listed all of the Doctors and a brief history of each although they forgot to name Peter Cushing as the Doctor in two films.

A bit of fun to lighten a Sunday followed by a lovely lunch with a friend. Christmas card writing  tonight and perhaps wrapping a couple of presents.

Chat soon


Sunday, 10 November 2013

Ladybird, Ladybird Fly Away Home

As part of a memorial weekend here in the UK, centred around Remembrance Sunday I had occasion to accompany a friend today to the cemetery where her family are buried. 

Chanterlands Avenue Cemetery in Hull also known as the Western Cemetery opened in 1889 and was privately run by the Hull General Cemetery Company until 1972 when it closed for burials and the council took over its maintenance. I understand burials still take place there but only in family graves where plots have been previously paid for.

The cemerary has one 'famous' burial there and being Remembrance Weekend it is very apt, John Cunningham who died in 1941 was a British Victoria Cross War Medal Recipient. He served as a Private in the 12th Battalion of The East Yorkshire Regiment. He was awarded his Medal for service at Hebuterne, Somme, France, on November 13, 1916.

The place is large, sprawling and quiet with huge trees and a little wildlife such as squirrels. It's maintenance can be best described as a little shabby, but acceptable as far as it goes for a Victorian cemetery. There is too much subsidence of graves and memorial stones and the pathways are unclear, being covered in leaf. But at least it's locked on a night and surrounded by a substantial fencing.

Imagine my surprise when getting back into the car to see this collection of ladybirds and their larva situated on the corner of a sandstone grave memorial.  Ladybirds are the family Coccinellidae - of small beetles. In the US, you like to call them ladybugs I understand.

Ladybirds and their larva on a Hull gravestone 10 November 2013, about 1.15 pm
Although today was bitterly cold, just 6 degrees Celsius at midday, the sun was bright and the sky clear, out of the breeze, it was quite warm. These ladybirds were sunning themselves.

As part of a series of popular songs about ladybirds, this traditional rhyme (and there are many variations) was penned in English in 1744, and to be honest, I never understood it as a kid, it seemed a little macabre to say the least:

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.

Well the explanations seems to go something like this: It's very unlucky to kill a ladybird. So, in order not to make a mistake and accidentally kill one, you were supposed to sing this verse to it and it would fly away home, presumably to look for survivors and check the insurance policy! But it would fly away, safe to continue its life for another day.

Another variation is if a ladybird lands on you, you sing the verse and when it flies away, you make a wish and it will come true, a reward for saving its life.

I hope if you are in the northern hemisphere, you are protecting yourself against the cold, winter is on its way.

Chat soon


Lest We Forget

Image courtesy Wikipedia

11th November, 11 am GMT - a couple of minutes silence is the least we can do to remember those fallen in war and conflict to protect the innocent, preserve democracy and create proper justice. Put the political arguements aside for just two minutes as a sign of respect.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Extract from The "Ode of Remembrance" taken from Laurence Binyon's poem, "For the Fallen," 1914

Chat soon


Monday, 28 October 2013

Patron Saint of the Impossible

Today is my 527th blog. I'm not sure why I mention it to be honest - it's an odd number (literally).

However, most importantly, severe European windstorm 'Jude' has come and gone through East Yorkshire with a bit of a whimper, dropping a lot of water but little if any wind at all. However, in the south of the UK tonight, a quarter of a million homes are without electricity and lives have been lost and my thoughts are with those deceased and their families and all those that have suffered and continue to suffer.

St Jude the Apostle by Anthonis Van Dyke, painted c1619/1621

Although no-one knows quite who named the storm, they don't normally have names here, St Jude's feast day is today, 28th October in the West, on the day the storm was predicted to land. Jude, not to be confused with Judas, alleged betrayer of Jesus was one of the 12 disciples. He is the patron saint of lost causes,  desperate situations and hospitals. Some say he might be the same Jude the brother of Jesus, but I wouldn't know not being a scholar of the Bible nor knowing much about it. How very apt that the storm be named after him.

According to Wikipedia, St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Bernard (not the dog) had visions from God asking each to accept St. Jude as 'The Patron Saint of the Impossible'. He is venerated across a number of different religions.

The year 527 was 527 in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars, the letter of which we still follow today for our western dating system. Apparently the Germanic tribes called the Saxons invaded a bit of the southern half of the UK just north of the River Thames and they founded the Kingdom of Essex, now just a county of Essex, under King Aescwine. Along with the Angles, other German peoples who occupied parts of England after the Romans lost power they and the Saxons were eventually to create Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms leading the the name 'England.'

So, quite an important year in the history of the UK although sadly virtually nothing is known about Aescwine, the guy at the top.

Another use of 527 (apart from being the result of 17 x 31) comes from the United States. A 527 group is created primarily to influence the selection, nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates to federal, state or local public office. All sounds a bit conspiratorial to me.

Interestingly 527 belongs as a trademark to Levi's Jeans and in the words of their marketing gurus: The perfect everyday boot cut, this jean sits low on the waist and runs straight through the leg.

I've never looked good in jeans!

Finally, United Airlines flight 527 from Hollywood International, California landed a short time ago at the time of writing at Newark Liberty International Airport (the countries oldest airport), which took the twin-jet A320 Airbus just 2 hours 22 minutes for an average fare of just $174.02 (£179.89 or €126.24). 

A United A320 Airbus. Courtesy of
This is a distance of 2,786 miles which would take you 40 hours to drive at state speed limits at a cost to an average sized car in fuel around $286 worked out at a fuel efficiency of 35.5 miles to a US gallon and costing just $3.65 per gallon on the West Coast. Therefore it's cheaper by plane by over £100 dollars and no overnight stop to pay for.

By the way - US petrol cost an equivalent of 50 pence a litre today, compared with today's UK cost of an average of £1.30 a litre around where I live.

Hey - for someone who is poor at maths, that's not bad but please don't check it - it's probably wrong although the research was fun.

Chat soon


Sunday, 27 October 2013

Day in the Museums

High Street, Hull in autumnal sunshine
The City of Kingston upon Hull (to use its Sunday name) has much in the way of history with activity going back for certain to the thirteenth century. Its connection with the sea through its exports and imports of salt, wine, wool, whaling and fishing amongst many other commodities make this a rich place for history to shine through with those influences into the modern city it is today.

I took advantage of a day off and took a friend Linda to just two of the many museums and exhibits in Hull - The Wilberforce Museum and the Street Life Museum, both on the historic High Street in Hull, one of the oldest and once the busiest part of the town. Sadly no longer does it have the kudos it once had when it had busy wharves, shipping and trading offices, homes of the wealthy and bustling inns and hostelries.

The entrance to Wilberforce House Museum, William's head can be seen poking over the wall to the right
The cobbled street remains and upon it is the Wilberforce Museum. This is the original birth place and home of William Wilberforce (1759 - 1833), to whom the world can be rightly proud to one of the movers of the abolition of slavery, although if you visit the museum in Liverpool Albert Dock, he hardly gets a mention.  

The grand staircase with beautiful mouldings
The house is in a good state of repair having been built in the 1600s and despite bomb damage during the war, the house retains much of the original features and includes a garden backing onto the River Hull in which the visitor can relax. The entry is free as with all the Hull museums but the visit was tinged with slight disappointment. If you are a first time visitor, the new style museum masks the house with dozens and dozens of information boards and precious few exhibits. You may like that and indeed it is very interesting and informative.
A beautifully restored fireplace with a placard in front of the focal point - the equipment used to hold the cooking pots! GET RID OF THE PLACARD Mr or Mrs Curator.
However as a child, I visited the museum and the artifacts of slavery, Wilberforce's office and bedroom were fully furnished and kitted out - all that has long gone and with it the atmosphere of what was once a family home. That's a real shame. Is it worth a visit? It certainly is, but get your reading glasses out and be careful not to miss many of the original features of the house, almost all overshadowed by the plethora of written information.

A street scene taken from the level crossing
Next door is the more modern Street Life Museum and this, ladies and gentlemen, is a gem. You don't have to come from Hull or the environs to appreciate this feast of old vehicles of every sort, trams, buses, cars, a bicycle workshop, mock ups of real life size shops that actually existed, a refurbished signal box from my home village of Cottingham, a railway crossing to name but a just few  of the exhibits, a lot of which you can get on and experience.
The old signal box from my home village of Cottingham.
This is a must see and again it is free entry with very helpful guides and members of staff. This isn't a squeaky clean - don't make a noise type of place - its fun and informative and its hands on.
A Corporation bus
So if you have a few hours to spare one wintry day now the nights are drawing in - go pay a visit and if you go by car, park in a multi-storey near by (on street parking is only two hours) and walk to the museums in just five minutes. There are plenty of cafes in the old town just a couple of hundred yards away.

Chat soon


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Change Available Here

The weather here in East Yorkshire has certainly turned autumnal these past couple of weeks and in the last few days, high winds from the north and east and quite a bit of rain has turned the days unpleasant to be out in. Even yesterday at 10.30 am, the street light was on it was that dull. It's hard to come to terms with after such a pleasant summer. 

Will the real me step forward?
But as the autumn comes, things change and it's not only the weather and nature that changes but the cycle of life in general provides changes for us all, some good, some not so good.

I have been looking back at some Facebook postings that someone puts on my timeline of products from the 1980s that you may have used and some of them have been toys that my kids certainly had. It's quite nostalgic. In general, I love nostalgia, looking back at pleasant events, things, some places and people for example. Memories are by the most part okay but there are some things I'd rather not remember - often because they are embarrassing, or not too pleasant or not very positive as a whole. 

One of my mantras is that you can't look back to the past with regrets because you can't change anything that happened back then. You can manipulate memories if you can get away with it,  but the past is a series of electrical impulses in your mind recorded for posterity or placed there for, as we sometimes think, the sole purpose of making you shiver and cringe. You can't change it and it forms the basis of who you are today. The collective experiences, physical, mental and spiritual is you. Your attitude today is coloured by it, your actions now are often determined by it and that may be good in a protectionist sort of way if you want to avoid falling into the same trap as an unpleasant past event. By the same token, you may have already learned from the lesson and you use the past to move you forward at a pace. 

I fully accept that experiences from the past can be debilitating in many, many ways.  

But you can't change the past. You can do something about not letting the past hurt you, affect you or colour your future. I admire, applaud and support those that want to understand the past, understand why it is hurting them or affecting them now in a negative way and give themselves tools for making the future whole and more comfortable personally. Good on you - go for it.

Have I looked to my past and tried to understand how it makes me the person I am today? Certainly because I wanted to understand why I am like I am and this helps to change things about who I am today and hopefully in the future. I also accept I could do more in this area of my life.

I have written on here in the past about the fact that we have supposedly free will and I think that is largely true within the constraints of the law of the land and it's also governed by your physical and mental abilities and your conscience. There is tonnes of philosophical writing on free will, lots of theories, scientific and personal and what it's based on, some of it I don't understand.

What I do understand is that you have the free will to change a lot of things - personal issues particularly but looking to the future, what changes can you make and agree in your own mind that it is okay to change? Looking after the 'me' factor is neither selfish nor is it unacceptable in the priorities of life. Do your children and family come first? Do you risk your life to save a drowning man despite your responsibilities? We would all like to say 'yes' to the first and the second question comes with qualifications for some of us - can you swim; is it highly dangerous; is there back up available to help you if you get into trouble; are you fit enough; do I care? I guess some people don't think twice about a rescue, their nature is one of love for a fellow suffering man - 'others come first'; others would consider their options first - they are not selfish, they are simply logical, pragmatic and realist. Neither option or attitude is right or wrong by the way, only you can judge when you are placed in that situation. It's too easy to judge others.

But you have the choice. The free will to decide and mainly at your own pace too.  

So what is it you want to change? I want to change a whole host of things - some are conditioned things, some are cultural things, some are beliefs, both personal and professional, some physical, some emotional.

I have decided to change something that doesn't exist: the future expected path of my life, which  is determined by a whole host of things: traditional family expectations for older life, again - culture, probable physical health, financial circumstances, mental health, happiness, destiny and the list goes on.

Why would I want to change what might be? That's a matter for me to know right now, it will become clear in time, but my past will not affect the future if I can help it. Why, just because certain things have happened in the past will it affect my future? I have likened this change to my expected path to having a clean piece of paper before me.
The question I have only recently asked myself (recent = past two or three years) is, do I want to be a different 'me' in the future from the 'me' of the past? 

I am fed up with having my present and probably my future coloured and adjusted by my past. My plans for the future are fairly clear in my head for some parts of it and less clear for others. Do I use my experience of the past to make judgements? 'Yes' but only because my past is who I am today, but I don't normally go back if I can help it to the past to justify it using specific examples of why I will or I won't do this or that.

Is change easy? No, it is one of the most unsettling thing for a human being, to be drawn outside of a comfort zone. In other words, the unknown, which is what the future is. There is absolutely no certainty in the future and as the old saying goes (attr. to Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke the elder): 'the plan of action never survives first contact with the enemy.' So, this indicates that nothing ever goes smoothly, even though you can put down the best of plans - expect the unexpected. The other certainties about the future are the tax man and death, a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. I'm not sure about those either to be honest (but that's a different debate).

I think we should all use our free will to change what we don't like about ourselves and other things around us if that's possible, to protect as best we can our uncertain future. Don't sit back and accept what isn't acceptable any more. Small steps perhaps, an objective a day or a week. 

I feel less inclined to be one of the flock of society's sheep any more. I want to be a different 'me'. When the time comes to make a decision or decisions, I will be a different person, already changed by my evolving thought patterns and attitudes, ready to be who I really am.    

Do what I've done - get a friend (in my case), or friends who you can trust to help you in your quest for change and self understanding and perhaps most important of all - self belief.

These are just personal thoughts, nothing academic and I guess that they can be easily criticised, but it's a point of view. What's yours?

Chat soon


Friday, 27 September 2013

Mist and Mellow Fruitfulness...

Autumn by Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1527 - 1593 - renown for painting portraits with elements consisting entirely of fruit - courtesy of Wikipedia

The last few days of September are drifting away - our autumn firmly upon us, "seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness..." as pointed out by John Keats Esq. He's so right, the berries once more this year in masses in our hedgerows and gardens, fruit being dropped on the ground there's so much and the first mists arrived last week.

The pictures below represent just seven of the different types of berries found in my back garden an hour ago.
Yew tree fruit (which turns into an aril)

I was minded to a conversation I had a week or so ago with a colleague at work about summer and when it starts and finishes.

Rowan berries - the leaves turn a gorgeous fiery orange in late autumn
Where we are on the northern hemisphere of this planet, the meteorological autumn starts on the 1st of September, whilst those on the 'bottom half' of the world, it's their start of spring and it goes right through until the end of November. Gaelic traditions often consider autumn as August through to October.

Honeysuckle berries
But back to autumn or 'fall' if you are in America or Canada, we're a third through it already.  Before the 16th century, this time of the year was known as 'harvest' until people started to learn to read and write and then we started to use the old French word autumpne which became autumn in due course.

Pyracantha (orange coloured pomes) - the birds favourite, also found in red and yellows
I always thought 'fall' was a quaint word for autumn and my logic thought that it simply meant that it's when things started to fall off the trees, fruit and leaves etc., and in truth, it looks like that may be right with old Norse and German phrases being the likeliest candidates. We used to use it in Britain too apparently, but it gradually went out of use here.
Hypericum (St John's Wort)  fruit, this bush developed from seed dropped by a bird!
I guess my memories of my youth, sights, smells, occasions define what autumn means to me. I've already stated that berries and mists contribute, as does going to church with loads of food to donate to the old and needy in the community, home baked ornately decorated breads gracing the altar. In this part of the world, Hull Fair, Europe's second largest travelling fair arrives in the second week of October, as nights draw in, the first frosty mists arrive and the leaves are on the ground. Horse-chestnuts, baked potatoes, warm stews.

Cotoneaster, another bird seeded bush - related to the Pyracantha but without thorns!
The freshness of the air, the oranges and browns of the few leaves left on the trees, the occasional sunny day, warm enough for just a jumper during the middle of the day and the steam of your breath on the fresh cool evenings.

Varigated Holly (Ilex) berries
Some of the sunsets are a highlight for me, but getting wrapped up is a must - perhaps that's an age thing. And again we used the phrase - in the 'autumn of your life' and the parallels are obvious.

As a colleague and friend is keen on reminding me, only 88 days to Christmas!

Chat soon


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Silence is... Overwhelming

A lovely door - the entrance to the complex
Taking into account the four geographical areas within Yorkshire (east, north, south and west), it's a huge county and there is always somewhere new to visit. I took the opportunity of accompanying my friend Linda recently to Ampleforth Abbey in high rural North Yorkshire, the first visit by either of us. The Abbey belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.
Ampleforth Abbey, this latest version of the church was consecrated in 1961

This beautiful location encompasses both a Benedictine Monastery and a college. In 1802, the original house that stood on the site was given by the Honourable Anne Fairfax from which the Monastery was founded and which subsequently became an Abbey in 1890. Over the years it has developed and grown and had three churches upon the site.

The high altar

The church that remains today is a magnificent edifice, not overly huge, but warm, plain and inviting. Its is a working church, used several times a day, 365 days a year. We managed to sit in silence in the Lady Chapel next to the nave, lit  candle of respect and spent 20 minutes in meditation there. What was amazing, truly amazing was the silence. I have heard quiet before, many times, but the silence was in fact overwhelming. Not a peep - no background noise - nothing. Bearing in mind this is in rural North Yorkshire, there are no main roads nearby and the college is not currently attended by students. A lady was preparing flower presentations at the other end of the church at the high altar for a wedding taking place shortly and apart for the occasional distant 'snip' of her secateurs, I couldn't hear anything. I'm not sure I could have stood it for too much longer, but I think I could get used to it!

A 14th century German carving of the Virgin and Child watches over the small Lady Chapel.

We lit a candle out of respect
We had a pleasant tea and a bun in the tea shop and a wander round the very pleasant gift shop which had, amongst other publications a couple of Dan Brown books!

The view out across the manicured grounds
The grounds were extensive and beautifully maintained and on good days I bet it is gorgeous to wander round. The college has six hundred students including boarders and the establishment of monks is currently around 70 although many are working in the community.

The visitors centre was very interesting and the lady guide was very informative, committed and helpful and a mine of information. This dispelled many myths about the life of a monk and the purpose of their work and what they achieve.  I scored 7 out of 10 in a quiz about life as a monk - Linda scored 8 - she'd make a better monk than I.

The history displayed wasn't just about the Abbey, but how the monks arrived and the persecution suffered by the Catholic faith over the centuries. This was presented factually and in a none judgemental way. We were given a free visitors pack full of information.

If I have a criticism at all and it's nothing to do with the Abbey or the college or the people there, it's more about the faith, I found the religious iconography a bit too graphic. Everywhere were carvings of Christ nailed to the cross - I understand its significance, perhaps I just question the need to have it displayed so widely and in such graphic detail. This is not meant to offensive at all, simply an observation.

The Abbey is free to visitors and donations are welcome, the disabled are well catered for, there are plenty of facilities and weekend retreats are available (and not just for men.) The roads are a bit rural and narrow at times and with several road closures in the area, even the sat nav struggled to get us there and back through the rural environment. But that aside, a great day out.

Chat soon


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Writer's Cramp

Moss on a dry stone wall in North Yorkshire
I love writing, but I'm hopeless at it and have little motivation most of the time. I guess life gets in the way. I've often wondered what makes a good writer; is it the 'can't put it down' factor, is it the riveting argument, the quaint prose, the subject matter, the satisfying beginning, middle and end?

I also suppose it's what you write too. Novels are hard for me, firstly because time is not easy to come by to sit down for a couple of hours a day and get my teeth into one. I read books at school age of course, Captain WE Johns Biggles books mostly, for pleasure and I read books for professional reasons, for education and advancement, but apart from the odd autobiography of my favourite stars, there it stopped for many years. 

I was working away from home in 1984 for two weeks and I was bored to tears and I asked a colleague in desperation if he had anything to read and he loaned me a Stephen King novel 'Christine.' Not only had I never heard of Stephen King, but a horror/thriller too? 

I was hooked, I couldn't put it down, a scrap car restoring itself and its odometer going backwards and taking revenge on people? What a load of rubbish, but it was in fact an extraordinary read full of emotion and atmosphere and I went on from there. 

Do novels inspire me to write, no not really, but along with writing press releases for a few years, penning strategic level reports at work now, I like to make my writing clear and easy to understand without being patronising. I used to tell colleagues that you should write to the audience or recipient as if they were an intelligent 14 year old and leave no ambiguities and you should be okay. It seemed to work.

Writing a blog is no less difficult and yet it caters for a wide audience, many of whom just click in randomly and it has to be interesting, varied and often writ. That is my downfall, my life is sufficiently unexciting that I can only find things to write about every now and then when something happens or I do something different or exciting.

My writing in my personal life is on esoteric subjects relating to my interests in spirituality and psychic study, so my development group get papers from me regularly on a wide variety of subject matter. This is itself difficult to write because it's researched based. How much do I put it, more importantly, what do I leave out? I can't write a novel, just a couple of pages maximum on each subject to whet the appetite, to encourage further research on the part of the reader. I think this is one of the keys. How do I make this sufficiently interesting to inspire further reading?

A lonely barge at low tide rests in the River Hull

The internet is an interesting subject in itself, but how much of this influences how we write? I can recall the days when the internet gurus said that every novel would only be read on the screen via the internet, the book is dead, long live the book. The truth is that writing for the book and magazine is as popular as ever and my local bookshop is always packed full of people browsing through the tens of thousands of book available on every conceivable subject. Much of what is written on the internet is interesting but some of it badly put and after a minute reading, it's easy just to switch to another site, or in some cases, better to go and make a cuppa.

There is a novel in everyone, but perhaps wisely, author, the late Christopher Hitchens also said, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay.”

So I am not minded to write a book - just yet. I do have an ambition to write a book, but it's not fiction, it's about life, my life and its journey. Who is it for? Anyone, no-one. So what is the point - it's a lot of effort for a cathartic exercise, but there will be men out there and perhaps a few women who might relate to a life story of an ordinary person who has faced some difficulties, still faces difficulties but where the light at the end of the tunnel has been finally spotted.

So I follow a couple of blogs of writers, Diane Parkin and Paula RC Readman, not necessarily just because they are writers, more for their personality and interesting blogs, but writing something substantial does hold that fascination and who knows - one day.

I hope you are thinking about keeping warm as the autumnal weather starts to take hold.

Chat soon


Sunday, 25 August 2013

What is Your Superstition?

Holy Trinity Church in Hull
Have you ever thrown salt over your shoulder after you've spilt some salt? Do you ever walk round a ladder leaned up against a wall rather than walk under it? Do you ever say "bless you" to someone who sneezes?

We do this more often than not without thinking, a natural response to a situation we are faced with and if you do these things, you are superstitious. Where do you get the habit from? Almost certainly as children from your parents.

I had a fascinating discussion with a friend's mother last night and as our common ancestors come from a fishing community in Hull called 'Hessle Road,' we started to exchange what we knew about fishermen's superstitions from the now defunct and once mighty trawler fleet.

Although superstitions include all manner of practises, rituals, cures, taboos, including working with charms, omens and signs, it touches virtually everyone today and yet some superstitions are many centuries if not millenia old.

Why do we have them, to ward off bad luck, or bring ourselves good luck? How often do you say "touch wood," or "crossed fingers" when you are making a decision or making a wish? We still laugh (some of us take it seriously) at Friday the thirteenth or putting up an umbrella in a house.

Local Yorkshire historian Dr. Alec Gill MBE has written extensively about fishermen's superstitions and many of those he writes about were subject of my discussions last night. 

Some of the popular ones were than the men did not wash on the day of sailing lest he should be washed overboard, or wave him goodbye in case a wave should wash him overboard or how about this one: the fishermen's women must not whistle because this would whistle up a storm 'A whistling woman and a crowing hen brings the Devil out of his den.'
Trawler memorial at a disused lock entrance in West Hull

The trawler itself was always referred to as a 'she' (more of a tradition than a superstition perhaps) and a brush was never left on deck in case the ship would be swept away. Green was never worn at sea - green is followed by black - widow's weeds. The salt was never passed at the ship's meal table, 'pass the salt, pass sorrow,' and the tea pot was never emptied once the ship set sail, it was always on the go.

Fishermen never took money to sea. If they went to sea skint, they would have a good and successful trip. I can recall my grandfather, who was born on Hessle Road talking about kids scrambling for money when the sailors threw their loose change into the air for the expectant and waiting children prior to setting sail.

Of course the Church (of England) thought superstitions were the inventions of the devil or steeped in heathenism. It is interesting that in an attempt to bring pagans into the fold of the church in the early days, the symbols of paganism could be found on church decorations such as Green Men, holy and ivy, the god of wine Baccuss and other heathen regalia.

A Green Man carving at the top of a column at Alkborough Church Lincolnshire Courtesy of Wikipedia and photographer SiGarb
Ironically, it was accepted practise endorsed by the Church for Bible's to be fanned in dying men's faces, communion wine should be used for whooping cough and women could bathe sore eyes in baptism water. In fact the use of rosaries and decking of houses in winter with holly and ivy were accepted by the Church yet were superstitions of course.

The list of superstitions is huge and endless including a whole raft around animals, but I would be interested if anyone has any modern superstitions that you use, for example, not shaving before playing a football match, or wearing a certain item of clothing as good luck?

What are your superstitions?

Chat soon


*Recommended reading: A Dictionary of Superstitions, Opie and Tatem by Oxford University Press; and Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Ed. Evans, by Cassell.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Riverside Walks

I hope the weekend has treated you well? We've had some lovely weather here with seasonal showers now and then during this summer of long overdue fine weather.

I've done two walks recently with my friend Linda in order to keep the fitness up, both near enough two miles, which in the scheme of things isn't far, but we're building up.

You've read many times of the Humber in my blogs, one of the countries busiest and most dangerous rivers and it tends to be pretty muddy water due to the clay nature of the land, but the land provides beautiful walks alongside it and vistas to make your mouth water.

Two recent walks were in total contrast, yet only a few yards apart, one pleasant and one not so bright. Let me explain.
Our first walk - highly recommended - Google Maps
The first walk took place from the Corporation Pier in Hull walking eastward. We did both these walks on warm balmy evenings with a view to seeing nice sunsets. This walk starts in one of the oldest places in Hull where ferries used to sail to New Holland in Lincolnshire, in latter years, paddle steamers. Now, nothing sails from the pier because the Humber bridge makes commercial passenger traffic by boat across the Humber superfluous. I have thought however that pleasure trips would make a bit of money to be honest.  

Disused Yorkshire Dry Dock (the Tidal Barrier across the River Hull in the background)
We cross the river Hull by a new footbridge next to the disused dry dock which someone wants to turn into an amphitheatre and round the Deep, a nationally recognised sea life centre. The walk then takes us along the Humber bank along a purpose built wide footway with the Victoria Dock estate on one side and the river separated by a barrier on the other side. This is frequented by residents and dog walkers, kids on bikes and families and is a lovely safe walk.
Walk alongside and round the Deep at a place locally known as Sammy's Point

The path then takes us across the old lock gate, now all concreted up which used to lead to the old timber dock. This dock is now just full of water and fish and three fountains with playing water, very attractive it is too. Houses and blocks of nice looking flats overlook the river and the old dock here and it has been lovingly restored and maintained making this a lovely atmosphere. 

The walk finishes at the end of the Victoria Dock estate when it is time to walk back and as we timed it right, you walk back westwards and see the sun setting across the river vista. 

At the far end of our first walk, we see the Pride of Rotterdam (mainly cars and passengers) leaving port for her overnight North Sea crossing
This is gentle, steady, plenty of seats although no loos, but its a mile one way and a mile back. Take a camera and  a flask and see lots of wildlife activity in the river and in the riverside flora as well as shipping which passes pretty close to the shore at this point. The Ferries to the European continent can be seen leaving on the evening tide every day (using deep channels.)

The skeletal remains of the front end of an old wooden barge, left abandoned donkey's years ago can be seen at the end of this walk on the waters edge.
There are regular signs too along this walk explaining the history of the area and modern day context.
A small flotilla of speed boats come in together making their way to Humber Dock for the night

Several speedboats were coming in to the Humber dock just as we finished our walk.

The last few yards of the walk near the Deep looking west, the lights twinkling as dusk sets in
The second walk, taken on another evening was just a continuation of the first route, but as the Victoria Dock estate finishes, as you continue to walk eastward, there are industrial units to the left and the open river with no barriers to separate you from the river on the other side. This is all so very different and isolated and less pleasant. The path is solid and wide enough but not recommended for children or dogs who like to roam. 

Our second walk, not really recommended unless in a party - Google Maps
No seats on this one and nothing to see of interest in the commercial premises on the land side of the path.

The walk takes you across a working lock gate which I think is always a twitchy experience, just flimsy looking chains separate you from the big drop into the lock or to the river and the footway is iron gridded, so it's like walking on air. I'm sure it's safe, but it feels not so much so. Having said that, there are ramps either side, so if you are in a wheel chair, you can get across.

The Amanda from Willemstad waiting patiently for the Pride of Hull to leave the dock entrance before coming into dock itself
There are some fascinating empty ruined riverside sheds and wooden piles in the Humber itself which once held wharves and railway lines still in evidence, memories for some older generations of long lost and almost forgotten dock side activity. Birds are the only occupants these days.  
Long abandoned wharf sheds, although difficult to see in the picture, there are old railway lines just this side of the shed used by trains to take away the good offloaded from ships
Eventually, the outward walk finally finishes at the King George Dock where the modern days ferries are berthed and which houses a very busy shipping dock (the walk is a dead end, you can't get onto the dock). 

The passenger and cargo ferry (60,000 tonnes), The Pride of Hull leaving port; the old wharf supports can be seen in the foreground

The walk back has nothing to commend it much other than the setting sun and river views.   We got stopped by the lock gates which opened to let a tug and a towed vessel into the dock which was interesting to watch, but completely isolated and trapped us on the path to the east. 
The Hull tug Beamer towing smaller tug Lashette toward the dock gate
 There were some wading birds on the mud flats and cormorants on riverside structures arising out of the water.

Water birds waiting for higher tides for their feeding

Don't do this one alone, watch for exceptionally high tides which face no barriers to the footpath and take a mobile phone.

Two entirely contrasting walks separated by a car park in the middle, but good exercise nonetheless.

Enjoy your week ahead.

Chat soon