29 April 2016


Long Tailed Tit

I'm looking in your window
Tapping at your door
There are things inside your house
That I've never seen before.

Up and down the glass
You watch me as I fly
On wings that lift me upwards
To the blueness of the sky.

I live in the moment
But you are bound by time
Struggling to find a word
To end this little rhyme.

28 April 2016


The trouble with blogging for years is that you sometimes forget about blogposts you created long ago. In that regard, the"Search" box in the top lefthand corner can be very useful. It is impossible to remember everything we write and after all, this is my eleventh year as a blogger.

With a cup of Italian coffee to hand and snooker players McManus and Ding on the television, I thought I might write down some thoughts about swearing. Unsurprisingly, I discovered that I had devoted two posts to the topic back in 2007. Go here and here if you're interested.

But what I would like to comment on today is the habitual use of swear words in blogging. Most blogs I enjoy tend not to include any swear words - blogs like "Eagleton Notes", "Kitchen Connection", "Shadows and Light", "Adrian's Images", "From My Mental Library" and "Shooting Parrots". However, there are some blogs I like to visit where swear words crop up frequently - either in the posts themselves or in the comments that follow. Whenever I encounter this bad language, I just think "Why?" The swear words tend to jar and distract. They stand out like sore thumbs and as our parents may have said long ago, such words are generally unnecessary.

I know that there are lots of bloggers out there who will agree with me about this matter but others who will no doubt carry on spouting expletives like oppressed industrial workers. I guess it is their right to use foul language if they want to and of course one of the lovely things about blogging is that we can write pretty much what we want with whatever words we choose to utilise. 

With that very freedom in mind, I am now raising my head above the parapet to say to the swearers - please don't do it! Generally speaking, swearing isn't nice and if you must use a swear word please make sure that it is essential to the argument, comment or account you are in the process of expressing. I thank you in anticipation of your kind forbearance and humbly request that you do not use swear words in any comments you wish to add to this post.

27 April 2016


Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield - April 15th 1989 - 96 Liverpool supporters crushed to death in the middle pen at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.

Warrington, Cheshire - April 26th 2016. After the two year long inquest, in a specially constructed courthouse, the jury finally reach their verdict - the 96 were "unlawfully killed".

This is what "The Liverpool Echo" has to say about the matter today:-

"The thousands of Liverpool fans who travelled to Hillsborough on April 15, 1989 played no role in causing the disaster".

But is that entirely true? There were  essentially two Liverpool cohorts in Sheffield that fateful day and in my judgement it is wrong to bracket them all together. That's happened before and it is still happening now.
One cohort of fans got to the ground early. They were in situ long before kick-off - either in their assigned seats in the upper section of the stand or down below in the fenced terracing where in those days supporters were allowed to stand. They were excited and eager for kick off.

Little did they know that the second cohort of fans was still entering the ground. Some were ticketless and many had been drinking. They arrived at the ground far too late and after the Leppings Lane gates had been opened, far too many made their way to the central pen in the middle of the  terraced area. It was that that created the awful crush that killed so many members of the first cohort - the early arrivers.

It is true that there were very significant failings by the police and the emergency services that terrible day and with better planning they could have averted the disaster. The police were grossly negligent and later they were guilty of trying to cover up their mistakes. It is right and proper that they should take their fair share of the blame but let us not forget who did the pushing.

As I say, there were two groups of Liverpool fans that day. All the dead and injured belonged to the first cohort and they were totally innocent of any wrongdoing. Their families deserve all the compensation and sympathy they receive after twenty seven years of hurt. Their fight for justice has been remarkable but I still don't think that the full truth has emerged - just a convenient form of the truth. A truth in which all Liverpool fans are exonerated - not just those who were crushed to death but also those who pushed in at the back of the central terrace,  just to get a better view of the match.

There was plenty of room available in the pens to the left and right of the goal but still they kept pushing and it seems that the police and ground stewards were powerless to do anything about it.

26 April 2016


Human brains work in different ways. For instance, I have never been very good with numbers but I have always been good with words. I can never remember phone or PIN numbers but I know how to spell "liaison", "antidisestablishmentarianism" and "psychiatrist" without even a slight pause for thought.

My late mother often related the story that when I was three years old, I came downstairs one evening in my striped pyjamas and simply announced, "I want to know how to read mummy".  Instead of smacking my bottom and sending me back to bed, mum sat me on her knee with a children's book and taught me the rudiments of reading. And that was really the only lesson in reading that I ever had. Within a few days I was reading simple books on my own and only occasionally asking, "What does this word say?". It came so easily to me.

Consequently, it is probably little wonder that later on I  became an English teacher.

As an English teacher, I worked with thousands of children - helping them to advance their literacy skills and to find pleasure in words. Many of those children really struggled with the written word and sometimes my job seemed rather like stirring thick porridge. What had come so easily to me was like climbing Mount Everest to many of my pupils.
Nobody's prefect
Twenty years ago, I remember a child saying to me, "Sir, you talk like a book!" His classmates concurred. They suggested that if my spoken English was transcribed it would sound just like the written English they found in books. This was meant partly as a simple observation and partly as a compliment but it took me aback. I had never thought of myself that way and later I considered how my articulation might impact on others - both my pupils and the folk I met in everyday life. I guessed it might not always prove to be an endearing trait. Who wants to get pally with a human dictionary?

Meaning is what matters in writing but that meaning may be thwarted or hindered by faulty expression. The purpose of accuracy in spelling, punctuation and syntax is to facilitate communication. Correctness means that your reader doesn't have to work so hard. In my opinion, this has nothing to do with supercilious pedantry even though people who champion grammatical accuracy may often endure that sort of accusation. Perhaps a few of them deserve it as some lose sight of the fact that it is meaning that matters above all.

How many miles of red ink must I have left in children's exercise books and upon written assignments through the years? So many late nights and lost weekends. Enough red words and markings to encircle the globe. Every mark I ever made was intended to help them but occasionally some of these children mistakenly saw amendments to their work as personal sleights upon them. I have come across bloggers who react in the same way. Writing, intelligence and human worth are frequently entangled in people's minds though in my book it should never be that way. As I said at the beginning, human brains work in different ways.

Being a good writer certainly does not mean that you are a better human being. Even the most literate of us will make mistakes from time to time and besides the psychology of language acquisition is very complicated. The important thing is to strive for clarity and correctness whenever we write, knowing that this habit will greatly aid our readers. At least that's what I think. What about you?

25 April 2016


Who's that tapping on our French windows? Why, it's Billy the long tailed tit!

Throughout the past week this little bird has often  been at our dining room windows, briefly resting on the door handles or flying up and repeatedly attacking the glass like a miniature kamikaze pilot. Then he flies off to the hedge or feeding station but soon returns. Over and over.

Research has thrown up a few possible explanations but I am mostly drawn to the idea that Billy thinks he is attacking a potential rival in the mating game. Of course what he sees as a competitor is only his reflection.

Long-tailed tits are characterful little birds. In the last few years we have often seen them in our garden but this is the first time we have observed the window tapping phenomenon. You would think that Billy might injure himself but the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) website reassures us that he will come to no harm before he moves on to frantic nest building activity and, fingers crossed, parenthood.

24 April 2016


Does this happen to you? You encounter a complete stranger and before you know what's going on they have started to bare their souls - pouring out torrents of private information. The thing about these strangers is that they appear to be focused wholly on themselves. When the encounter ends you realise that they never sought any information about you and didn't appear to be interested either. It was all just "Me. Me. Me."

Yesterday, I had just one hour to spend in Barton upon Humber before travelling over The Humber Bridge ahead of Hull City's match with Leeds United. I pulled into the car park on the river's southern forehore and went to get my camera from the boot (American: trunk) intending to bag some pictures of a magnificent structure that was once the longest suspension bridge in the world.

And then the stranger spoke to me. Steve was sitting in an old but very shiny black Ford Fiesta and was forty five and a half years old. I know that because Steve told me. It was amongst many things Steve said in the next fifteen minutes. I learnt about his sister's death and her recent funeral, I learnt about Steve's own health issues. Steve even lifted his sweater to reveal the surgery scars on his lower belly.

Steve showed me his disabled parking badge and he told me the details of the Ministry of Transport test recently carried out on his beloved vehicle. I got the story of a difficult meeting at The Job Centre just after he had come out of hospital and of course I learnt about his favourite pizza toppings.

And all the time I was nodding, attempting to show polite interest as Steve rambled on. He learnt nothing about me. It was as if my own life was of such very tiny significance that there would be little  point in even asking. 

My precious hour at Barton was disappearing like sand in an egg timer. Steve paused to take a breath and I leapt in to say that I'd love to hear more of what he had to say but I needed to get my photos now. Steve seemed a little downcast but I shook his hand and wished him good luck and went on my way.

When I got back to the car, I noticed that Steve had accosted another innocent visitor to the car park and he was now engaging her in one sided conversation. Perhaps Steve waits there all day, ensnaring folk with his everyday tales. I got into my car without Steve even noticing and drove on to Barton town centre.

Later, as I drove over the bridge, I reflected on how very many times I have found myself listening and nodding to people like Steve. I seem to attract them like a magnet when very often I just want to switch to "repel".
Former police station front door
Barton's high street

22 April 2016


At the early evening birthday gathering, I looked around and realised that everybody there was old. The two young waitresses at the wine table were observing a gang of people who appeared to be but a few years away from becoming permanent residents in old folks' residential homes - "The Willows", "Shangri-La". "The Knacker's Yard".

Silver hair and silver-framed spectacles. Faces creases and etched. Mostly retired people with investments. Home owners in comfortable shoes and decent apparel. People who could remember the sixties and "Look and Learn" and "Spangles". And I was one of them.
Like most cities, the city of Sheffield is a place with extremes. There's poverty here and citizens who wonder where their next meal is coming from or how they will pay the electricity bill. In contrast, there are fabulously rich people who live in secluded mansions with swimming pools and send their kids to private schools. And then  there are the in-between people - like those at the birthday gathering. People who reside comfortably in the south western suburbs. People like me.

I have never much enjoyed parties or large social gatherings. I would rather talk with one or two people than a milling crowd. But sometimes you just have to do it when duty calls.  Frankly, it would have been nicer to be back on top of Pike Lowe, sitting alone on an old rock, admiring the view and the silence. However, I got through it. I didn't spill my complimentary glass of wine, my flyhole was zipped up and my shirt was tucked in. Shirley was not embarrassed.

I even managed some polite small talk. I wonder if  there are evening classes you can attend in order to improve your polite small talk. Sign me up for the beginners' class! By the way I think I left one fellow quite gobsmacked when I asked if he was Peter Thompson's son. Peter was a geography teacher when I got a job in a south Sheffield school in 1980.Apparently, he is now eighty seven and still going strong but I had never met his sixty something son before. Talk about spitting images!

There was no food at the soirée so heading back up Ecclesall Road we ordered a takeaway curry meal from "Pippali" and had a beer in "The Banner Cross" before picking up our order. And very nice it was too - chicken bhuna, vegetable rice, ghobi aloo and chapattis. No time for polite small talk when scoffing such a feast.