30 October 2014


People can be amazing. Take any film for example - even if it's a film that doesn't rock your boat. The coming together of a team. Networking. Phone calls. Emails. Months of planning. Arranging locations and costumes and film crews, make up artists. Discussions with scriptwriters. Selecting the actors. Picking the music. The money side of things. It is an enormously complicated process - like spinning a massive spider's web. And when the credits roll at the end of the film, it is as if you are seeing the mere tip of that iceberg of endeavour and communication which produced the preceding film.

I have two films to report. The one I saw last week was "71" and this morning it was "Jimi: All Is By My Side".
"71" is set in Belfast at the height of the so-called "Troubles". A young soldier from Derbyshire finds himself thrown into a cauldron of internecine hatred, fear and blood-letting. He may only be a hundred and fifty miles from home but it feels like a million. Injured and lost on patrol off The Falls Road he has to find his way back to the barracks and it turns out to be the most awful journey of his life.

Directed by Yann Demange and starring Jack O'Connel as Private Gary Hook  "71" is a low budget film sponsored by British Film Institute, Film4, Creative Scotland and Screen Yorkshire. It is tense, earthy and convincing as it exposes what it was sometimes like on the raw streets of Belfast back in the early seventies. It makes you think about man's inhumanity to man and where religious tribalism can lead.

Jimi Hendrix is one of my musical heroes. It often seemed as if his guitar was part of his body and he could play it with such natural dexterity that it might seem he was communing with the stars. In the second film -  a "biopic" which focuses on 1966-67 - just before his legendary breakthrough show at the Monterey Pop Festival. Jimi is played by AndrĂ© Benjamin who is physically remarkably  similar to the maestro guitarist and certainly showed some of Jimi's dreamy, vulnerable character.

Apparently the making of this film was subject to certain  legal complaints which resulted in a ban on any original Hendrix tracks. Imagine that - a film about Jimi Hendrix without the music he made - just cover versions. And there were other disappointments.
"All Is By My Side"
At one point, Jimi is in London walking down the street with his girlfriend Kathy played by Hayley Atwell and wearing one of his trademark military tunics. He is suddenly accosted by four policemen in ill-fitting helmets who intimidate him and demand that he removes his tunic. This scene was so unauthentic as to be cringeworthy.

I wanted "All Is By My Side" to be a moving portrait of Hendrix's journey to musical fame but I am afraid it doesn't do him justice. It has a shallow, cartoonish quality about it in my view and fails to capture a believable sense of the London music scene into which Hendrix arrived in the middle of the sixties. I wouldn't recommend it.

29 October 2014


Malibu? The Australian Gold Coast? Juan les Pins? Marbella? No my friends, if you want the real seaside you must travel to the jewel of the Lincolnshire coast, to the very mouth of the River Humber, to Cleethorpes. This is what South Yorkshire coal miners and Sheffield steelworkers did with their wives and families from the back end of the nineteenth century and that's what I did yesterday.

I caught a train from Sheffield - all the way to the seafront at Cleethorpes - one hour and forty minutes. I had never been there before though once long ago I was nearby when I watched Hull City beat Grimsby Town at Blundell Park. Grimsby and Cleethorpes are twin towns rather like Minneapolis and St Paul but at the edge of England. They are the sort of northern places that suffer unmerited jibes from ill-informed southerners. The same prejudicial humour that might surround Barnsley or Wigan, Darlington or Accrington.

I emerged from the railway station into bright sunshine. The tide was out and when the tide is out at Cleethorpes it goes out so far you would think that the oceans were running dry. A huge expanse of beach stretching out towards the lighthouse at Spurn which is on the East Yorkshire side of the entrance to the Humber Estuary.
View to Halle Sand Fort - erected during World War One
My planned walk took me down the coast to Humberston and then inland along Buck Beck where I turned north to Old Clee - the Saxon settlement that predated Victorian urban expansion and the growth of Grimsby's industrial fishing industry  by several centuries.

At the coast it was clear that we are in the schools half term holiday period as there were quite a lot of children around. I saw the Cleethorpes Light railway in operation, and families rowing on the boating lake but The Pleasure Island amusement park was already shut up for the winter. After eight miles of plodding, I got back to the seafront where I sat in Browns' Cafe with the seaside meal I had promised myself on the formica table in front of me - a jumbo haddock in golden batter with chips, mushy peas, a big mug of tea and a slice of bread and butter. A meal too good for a king.

And then I tried my hand in the "King Pin" amusement arcade, feeding 2p coins into one of those tipping point machines where coins push others from shelves but most seem to end up in the bowels of the machine for the owners' to later take to their bank in countless wheelbarrows.

By five fifteen it was already dark and I mounted the train back to Sheffield. At Grimsby Town station two men from East Timor sat close to me and I talked to one of them. As a refugee he had arrived in Portugal where after a few years he became a Portugese citizen and was issued with a Portugese passport. Of course this now entitled him to live and work in England. Humph! No comment on that but now some more coastal pictures from Cleethorpes where all your holiday dreams can come true...

27 October 2014


Every summer an interschool sports day was held in the grounds of Hornsea Primary Schoool. We got to see children from neighbouring villages - Long Riston, Brandesburton, Wawne, Beeford and Sigglesthorne for example. Many parents attended and the sun always shone. We rode the six miles to Hornsea on the same grey hired coach that would take us weekly to the swimming baths in Beverley.

We all wanted to do well for our school and dreamed of winning the great wooden shield with its engraved silver mini-shields around the edge. It was The Holderness Annual Schools Sports Day Trophy. More prized to us than The F.A. Cup, The Ashes or The Open's claret jug

The athletes gathered in their school pens with strict instructions to remain there until called to our events. Of course there were running races and relays, the long jump and the high jump but no pole vaulting or discus for example. Instead we had the three legged race, the egg and spoon race, bean bag throwing and my own specialism - the sack race.

This involved stepping into an old hessian potato sack and either jumping like a kangaroo or wiggling towards the finishing tape with toes pressed into the sack corners. That was my preferred method. I was a wiggler.

One warm evening in early July 1965. It was to be my primary school swansong. I was eleven years old and in September I would be off to the posh secondary school in Hull. The crowd were hushed. We waited in our sacks for the starter's pistol to fire - all East Riding boys - desperate to win for our schools and our villages.

We were off, proceeding between carefully whitewashed lines towards the finish. The key thing was not to fall over as that would result in a disastrous loss of time. The crowd was cheering and I knew that Jennifer Stevenson and Karen Fawcett were watching. Faint heart never won fair maiden. My wiggling run technique was working a treat. I was ahead by a couple of yards. In the next lane, the Brandesburton lad had just fallen over almost taking me out too but I dodged him and seconds later I was bursting through the tape well ahead of the field.

At this point, teachers with clipboards would descend on the finishing line to identify and record the winners. A white-haired didact from Hornsea School was responsible for recording our race. I recall he was wearing a charcoal pin-striped suit in  late Victorian style and had silver rimmed spectacles - like a snivelling clerk from a story by Charles Dickens.

As he began to fill in the sheet on his clipboard, I felt so proud to have been the winner of the sack race and must have been grinning like a lunatic but it was a joy that was very short lived because - in spite of my eleven year old kid protests - the stupid old fool placed the boy from Sigglesthorne in first place and put me down in  third place. "Shut up!" he snarled as I made my last, futile protest. The victory had been clear for all but the line judge to see. To him, eleven year old boys probably all looked the same.

Already the girls' sack race was underway and we had to return to our school pens. Amidst all the cheering and the excitement I tried to tell Miss Ford and Miss Readhead what had happened but they were now focussed on  hopping and wiggling girls and the moment of opportunity passed. 

I felt as miserable as sin as we mounted the coach to come home. Other boys were sympathetic and almost equally miffed by what had happened. It wasn't fair - it simply wasn't fair - though by then we had already discovered that there was much injustice in this world. It is strange that these are the sort of things I tend to remember - not so much the happiness of crossing the line first but the wrongfulness of what happened later.

25 October 2014



We’ve got a cat called Nobby
And he loves to roam around
With whiskers preened
And tail curled up
He hardly makes a sound

Sniffing at the dahlias
Or peering in the pond
Escaping through our
Privet hedge
To the perilous world beyond

In summer he likes sleeping
Stretched out in dappled shade
With dreams of mice
And tadpoles
And the birds on which he’s preyed

His instincts are deep seated
So killing's like a hobby
With claws unsheathed
And murderous teeth
That’s our darling Nobby.

To be truthful, Nobby isn't actually our cat. He just comes in our garden from time to time and often wanders into the house. We have even found him sleeping in Shirley's wardrobe. And to be yet more truthful - Nobby isn't even his name - I just gave him that. I like cats to have unusual names. Our last cat - a black and white stray - was called Boris and the previous one was called Blizzard because we collected him from a cat shelter during a wintry blizzard in 1981. Other good names for cats are Brian, Adrian, Helen, Carol and Jenny...and how about Rufus, Betty, Walter, Margaret or Steve? Much better than Tiddles, Ginger, Albert, Sooty or God forbid - Wesley!

24 October 2014


Our district has three city councillors. I decided to send them an email...
Dear Councillors,

I am writing to you as my council representatives in relation to a letter I received from Nobby Nobody on Sunday October 19th. As you very probably know, Mr Nobody is a council officer and an engineer who deals with Highway Regulations etc.. His letter was headed "Sticks Placed in The Highway Verge Outside Pudding Towers Mansion". (Ref HR/DW/Yellow Brick Road/JS)

In the letter, I was told to remove some little white sticks that I have been putting in the verge outside our house for twenty five years without any previous complaint. The reason I have always placed sticks there is to discourage drivers from parking on the verge and thereby ruining its appearance. It has been a constant battle for a quarter of a century. As well as making the sticks, painting them and hammering them into the verge I have also regularly cut the grass outside our house, removed litter and dog faeces and generally tried hard to maintain it. All that I believe I have done is to take pride in my neighbourhood and make it look a bit nicer.

I am attaching two photos to this email. Please look at them. One is of the scene outside my house and the other is from lower down the top section of Yellow Brick Road - showing the mess that results when vehicles are regularly parked on our grass verges.

I know that in a seemingly haphazard fashion, ugly squat wooden bollards have been placed by Sheffield City Council on some other verges in the area - presumably to discourage parking on those verges. I sincerely hope that as a result of the issues I am raising, we do not find a couple of these things outside our house in the coming months. They are themselves an eyesore and a mistaken experiment in my estimation.

Shouldn't Mr Nobody be applying his energy to tackling drivers who park on verges rather than to residents who are trying their best to maintain their environments? Threatening me with stick removal costs seems to represent a cockeyed outlook on the state of our grass verges. Section 149 of the Highways Act 1980 was surely never intended to penalise decent citizens like myself and my next door neighbours who have been similarly threatened by Mr Nobody.

Yours truly,
Sir Yorkshire Pudding
(Lord of the Manor)

STOP PRESS - I have already received an email response from Penny Baker - the middle one of the three councillors. She wants to talk to me about this matter.

23 October 2014


Damaged verge on our street
The verge in front of our house
For twenty five years I have tried to maintain the little grass verge outside our house. Elsewhere on our section of road thoughtlessly parked vehicles have more or less  destroyed the verges. So imagine my consternation when I received a letter from the local council last week - threatening me with legal action if I don't move the little white sticks I have placed in our verge. Our next door neighbours received an identical letter and so did Janet and Phil across the road. Apparently, we are in "contravention of Section 149 of The Highways Act 1980 and once reported the Council has an obligation to ensure that the sticks are removed". Later the jobsworthy official writes "if we do have to remove the sticks then we can charge our costs for doing this".

Clearly some miserable, cowardly and petty-minded nobody has reported our sticks to the council. All we are trying to do is preserve the nice appearance of our local environment. It makes my blood boil but it doesn't surprise me. What would you do?

22 October 2014


Both of my grandfathers fought in World War One. My parents were in the forces in World War Two. My extended family have paid their full dues to Great Britain in terms of taxation and labour. We paid for the NHS and the roads and the sea defences and the transport infrastructure and so on and so on. It is our country and we know its rituals, its history, its cultural and linguistic nuances, the subtleties of its class system. Yes its our country. Or at least I thought it was.

I don't recall ever being asked to give carte blanche to economic migrants from across the European Union and yet they have arrived in their thousands. They call it "free movement of labour". And any of us who question this phenomenon or raise objections are frequently dismissed as latent racists. If we were far-seeing and modern enough - like the chattering classes in London - we would be dancing in the streets, delighting in our beautiful multi-culturalism. Whoopie-doo!

All this free movement of labour is starting to impact on British identity and to dilute our shared sense of culture. Of course there has always been immigration but it has tended to be of a manageable slowly infused nature - drip by drip. In the last ten years those drips have turned into a mighty torrent which resists control or even calculation.

We now have thousands of eastern European criminals here, Roma gipsies begging or pick-pocketing on the London underground, NHS facilities being utilised by people who haven't paid for the service, urban schools being swamped by children who arrive with virtually no English, translators earning a mint from official coffers, young men seeking their fortunes while often abnegating family responsibilities back home in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania.
"Decisions taken by the most democratic institutions in the world
are very often wrong"
- Jose Manuel Barroso (Outgoing EU President)
And the traffic in this "free movement" seems pretty much one way. Where are the British emigrants off to work in those eastern European countries? You could fit them all in a couple of minibuses.

Okay we have a good number of British ex-pats living in France, Spain, Germany and Portugal. As you may recall one of my own brothers has lived in southern France for several years but regarding other member states of our so-called "European Union", it's the rarity of  British incomers that is noteworthy.

I have visited some eastern European countries - all very interesting trips but I feel a much stronger kinship with English speaking countries and countries that were once part of the British Empire. They are like our blood relations - Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, India, Kenya, Fiji, Sri Lanka and South Africa for example. Yet workers from these countries are being held back or demoted in favour of Europeans who dwell in lands with which our bonds are entirely new and purely economic - not rooted in culture or history.

I don't like what has been going on. I don't like it all and when I talk to my fellow host citizens, I find it virtually impossible to meet anyone who will speak up in favour of free movement of labour. It feels like something that has been imposed upon us by Eurocrats living the high life in Brussels and Strasbourg. And one sad and tragic thing about it all is that we cannot turn back the clock or shut the stable door for the European horse has already bolted.

Ahhhh! (sigh of relief) Rant over.