26 July 2015

Bygone

Of course Shirley and I are really country bumpkins. Sheffield is only our adopted city but we have lived here a long time and feel committed to it, even proud of it. It is where both of our children were born. Did you know that it has two million trees giving it the highest ratio of trees to people of any city in Europe? It is certainly the greenest city in Great Britain in terms of its  parkland and those trees.

I found the following video curiosity on "You Tube". It is narrated by the brilliant local  radio presenter, comedian and folk musician Tony Capstick whose alcoholism tragically drove him to an early grave in 2003. Sadly, the video doesn't highlight the city's green credentials but it does speak interestingly of modern history and makes me realise more than ever how the times really are a-changin'...

25 July 2015

Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
German philosopher
(1770 - 1831)
If a loved one died, how would you remember them? Maybe you would cry for your loss. Maybe you would smile, recalling times you spent with him or her - affectionate remembrance. The essence of the departed person treasured.

Three years back, a friend of mine died and his brother crafted an epitaph a couple of days later. It disturbed me a little at the time and it still disturbs me now.  I won't paste the entire piece - it's too long. I am just going to give you a sample of it in the hope that you will give your reaction to it in the comments:-

"To understand my departed brother . . . is to understand the “Dialectic” of G. W. F. Hegel. My brother’s “Dialectic” involved taking his “Thesis” (his issues, concerns, needs, rights) and creating an “emptiness” in his “Consciousness, in his Awareness” to make room to allow the inclusion of your “Antithesis” (your alternative and additive issues, concerns, needs, rights) . . . engaging in associative reasoning . . . to relate your “Antithesis” with his “Thesis” . . . to arrive at a “Synthesis (what is commonly known as a “Win-Win”). His life was the life of the “Dialectic.” His life was as concerned . . . if not more concerned . . . with your win as it was with his win. It was his ability to find “Synthesis” through associative reasoning that gave him the ability to exercise compassion, empathy, insight and innovation."

Of course my own brother Paul died five years back but I never remembered him in those terms - nothing like them. A couple of days after his death, I could only remember him with a mixture of tears, disbelief and a very heavy heart. I never thought of Hegel - not even for a smidgeon of a moment.

24 July 2015

Yesterday

A glimpse of Hooton Pagnell Hall with its
fourteenth century inner gateway
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. I climbed into the jalopy and tootled off to a South Yorkshire village called Hooton Pagnell ready for another circular walk. It's a place I had never been to before. Once it sat in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and yet  through that hundred and fifty year industrial period it preserved its rural and historic charm. The pitheads and the spoil heaps were just out of sight - along with mining families in their tiny pit cottages - where no doubt they bred whippets and spoke in impenetrable Yorkshire accents.

Over in Hooton Pagnell, The Warde-Aldam family remodelled their rambling country estate with its vast hall and gardens. They rode horses and hosted dinner parties and spoke in the accents of the ruling elite. Perhaps because she was bored, Julia Warde-Aldam oversaw the renovation of two impressive old churches - both called All Saints. One was right next to Hooton Pagnell Hall and the other, sometimes called "the church in the fields" sits alone on the edge of some woods half a mile from Frickley Hall which was also owned by The Warde-Aldams. I ventured to that old church along a grass track. The original village of humble wooden homes that once surrounded the church was consumed by The Black  Death in the middle of the fourteenth century.
All Saints Church, Frickley with Clayton - "The church in the fields"
Like other "noble" land-owning families in South Yorkshire, The Warde-Aldams benefited enormously from the discovery of the rich coal seams beneath their rambling farmlands. Their main pit was Frickley Colliery on the edge of South Elmsall. It became the most profitable pit in South Yorkshire and at one time employed over 4000 men and boys. These workers probably had little realisation of how much profit their dangerous labours were contributing to the enormous wealth of The Warde-Adams and their fortunate progeny. And though Frickley Colliery is now gone, the legacy of family wealth continues.

Sadly, yesterday's light was not as conducive to photography as the weather people had predicted. But I enjoyed my ten mile hike, then headed back to the Meadowhall bus station for three fifteen to pick up our lovely son, Ian who has returned for a few days from the human antheap they call London. There's a big music festival on in Sheffield this weekend - it's called Tramlines and the headline act is of course The Urban Foxes! No doubt they will be playing their hits - "Foxy Lady", "Fox on the Run" and "For Fox Sake" while dancing the foxtrot.
Wink House Farm. Can you see the white horse?
Stotfold Farm near Thurnscoe
The lych gate at Hooton Pagnell Cemetery. Given to the people
of Hooton Pagnell by Julia Warde-Adam in 1903 and dedicated by
The Archbishop of York in May of that year.

22 July 2015

Foxfield

Like so many things, it happened gradually. It all began with distant sights of them - scurrying into passageways and people's drives - late at night. Or you would open the curtains in the morning to discover that they had toppled several rubbish bins in search of food. The poor things.

Then they became bolder. You would see them in the daytime. Their instinctive fear factor was diminishing. They came into our gardens. They lolled in the sunshine. They chased pigeons or gobbled up bird food, sniffing everywhere with their long and no doubt sensitive snouts,

I recall one evening in the summer of 2015 when there were three of them frolicking on our lawn. One of them saw me open our back door and instead of hurrying away for cover as they used to do, he strutted past the bird table and came right up the path as if he was planning to come into the kitchen. I said to him, "You're not coming in here mate!". And when I closed the glass door he simply remained standing there, two yards away, glowering at me. Totally unafraid. 

Perhaps we should have done something about it when we had the chance. But now it is too late.

They started to walk into shops - butchers and bakers and supermarkets. Though they couldn't talk, they still managed to convey the message that they needed feeding. And just to get rid of them, shopkeepers tossed them sausages and scotch eggs, ham rolls and frozen beefburgers. Old ladies became afraid of venturing out on their weekly shopping trips and sensible parents kept their children at home - especially the babies.

I knew that something very peculiar and unnerving was happening when I caught the number 88 bus into the city centre one morning in the spring of 2017. Down at Hunter's Bar three foxes got on, ignored the driver and rushed past me to the back seat. There they sat, scratching, yelping and whining as if engaged in some hideous vulpine conversation. A young woman with a baby hurried off the bus at Berkeley Precinct, nervously glancing over her shoulder at the back seat passengers as her baby yelled like a warning siren.

They came into our cinemas and our libraries. They drank beer in our pubs. Restaurants were besieged by them though for some reason they kept well away from Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. Primary school classes were often invaded - to such an extent that anxious parents began to keep their children off school. In a few months, the suburban streets of Sheffield were awash with "For Sale" signs. 

I was determined not to give in. There was no way I was going to submit to an army of marauding foxes but then one morning I looked out of our window to see a big removals lorry outside number 177, just across the street from us. It was where Catherine had lived with her two little girls before fleeing to her parents in St Albans. And as I watched the removals lorry being unloaded, it became clear to me that a family of foxes were moving in! I rubbed my eyes. Surely this could not be.

It was only a few years back that the invasion began. Stealthy and unperturbing at first. For heaven's sake, I even bought them dog food and threw out chicken carcasses. We had felt sorry for them. Some had looked scraggy and painfully thin. But now they are literally living in our houses. The foxes are taking over and last evening on the BBC News the London-based newscaster smirked as he jokingly renamed our city "Foxfield". There were moving images of the new market on The Moor - now a fox-only zone, foxes driving taxis and fox families strolling through our parks. Down at the town hall, newly elected councillors were arriving in shiny limousines and do you know what? Yes. They are all foxes. All of them.
Councillor Robert H. Fox
The new mayor of Sheffield Foxfield

20 July 2015

Parking


There was report on the BBC news last week about car parking:-
Shoppers in a mid Wales town have welcomed a temporary reprieve in parking charges after meters were damaged.
Some pay and display machines at locations across Cardigan, Ceredigion have been out of order since early June after they were smashed by vandals.
Traders claim business has boomed in their absence, with one business reporting a 30% rise.
I have listened to interviews with traders and car owners alike and it seems very clear that the temporary free parking situation has been a boon for the town - both in terms of business and in relation to the feel good factor experienced by car owners and shoppers And yet - the council are busily repairing or replacing their vandalised meters and pay stations. They obviously refuse to learn lessons from it all. Squeezing money from motorists has become an obsession with short-sighted and rather vindictive local councils.

Long term readers of this blog will recall that one of my flights of fancy was the development of a fiction about parking enforcement officers. Essentially, I kidnapped a dozen of them, kept them in our underhouse area and later had them shipped to Afghanistan where they were obliged to join The Taliban. Of course, it was a fiction that I played for laughs but underneath it all was a genuine animosity towards the whole business of paying hard-earned money to park cars. In my life I have visited over fifty countries and hundreds of cities and I swear that the most stringent, motorist-squeezing parking regimes are to be found here on the Island of Britain itself.

For those who missed my parking enforcement officer blogposts back in 2010, here they are in sequence:-
Chapter 1 - Stormtroopers
Chapter 2 - Success
Chapter 3 - "Star"
Chapter 4 - Stanage
Chapter 5 - Jackpot
Chapter 6 - Escape
Chapter 7 - Nine
Chapter 8 - Bingo
Chapter 9 - Deportation
Chapter 10 - Postcard
Chapter 11 - Update

19 July 2015

Commenters

As I said recently, this blog is ten years old. Out of curiosity, I have just been looking back at the people who would leave comments back in 2005. Almost the first was Alkelda the Gleeful - also known as Farida Dowler. She lives in Seattle and is a children's storyteller. We read each other's blogs regularly for a few years until Farida became a little tired of blogging and departed the blogosphere. If I wasn't so shy I would have looked her up in Seattle last year. Through blogging I learnt a lot about her, her husband and her little daughter. She was a great advertisement for American womanhood and she read my posts with thoughtful interest.

Another escapee from the blogopsphere was Brad the Gorilla. Also based in Seattle, he cleverly sustained the alter ego of a gorilla. He ate bananas and swung his arms as he mooched around the streets of Seattle. He had a wicked sense of humour and blogging with him became a kind of intellectual  jousting tournament which I very much enjoyed. It is a shame that Brad moved on or simply ran out of blogging steam.

Zandrea, Occidentally, Simon Langer and Andrea Sousa Tavares all left comments on this blog by the end of July 2005 but they disappeared long ago. One blogger who stuck around was By George. She was into art and online gaming and she had a problem with food in that she couldn't get enough of it but she was another nice American woman and we kept in blogging touch for many months until she also got fed up with the medium. I still wonder what happened to her.

By December 2005, Friday's Web was on board The Yorkshire Pudding bandwagon. She wasn't wealthy. She lived in the backwoods of North Carolina with her husband and kids and she wrote some fascinating posts. At times I feared that she was tiptoeing on the boundary between sanity and craziness for she was tormented by dreams of the better life she would never lead. It was just beyond her reach. We were close in the way we exchanged comments for maybe four years but she vanished back into the blogosphere's ether. Just like By George - I wonder what happened to Friday's Web. There were drugs and drink and tattoos and bills. It can't have been easy for her.
Friday's Web in January 2006
Five years ago, in July 2010, I wrote thirteen blogposts - some of them were connected with my brother's death. Looking at the commenters, I note that some familiar people were now on board. Lovely Kate from The Bay of Plenty in New Zealand - "The Last Visible Dog" and the equally lovely Helen from Brisbane - "Helsie's Happenings" and handsome Yorkshireman Brian ("Tannu Tuva") and equally handsome Georgian fellow Bob Brague whose name "Rhymes With Plague", Elizabeth from North Yorkshire and Jenny from Wrexham, Wales, Daphne Franks from Leeds and Michael from Sydney Australia., Libby from the English Midlands and Jan Blawat frm Sloughhouse, California.

Nowadays I interlink a  lot with Adrian from "Adrian's Images" and Meike from "From My Mental Library", John Gray from "Going Gently" and Graham from "Eagleton Notes". There's also Carol from "A Small Life", Lee from "Kitchen Connection", Red in "Hiawatha House" Canada and sometimes Tom Gowans from "A Hippo on the Lawn" in Angola. And how could I forget my blogging sister Mama Thyme in Colorado ("Peace Thyme Garden and Weather Station") or Hilly in the woods of Washington State ("Hilltop Homesteader")?

In ten years the players on my blogging field or stage have all changed. Comings and goings. Some people stick around for ages and others move on very quickly. Sometimes bloggers just get fed up with each other. Isn't that a bit like life itself? Nothing last forever. Everything changes.

18 July 2015

Presentation

Over the years, I have prepared thousands of meals. Whenever I plate up a meal, I take a little trouble over it because the savouring of good food is not just about the tastiness of what is is on the plate - but it is also about its appearance. I don't like to see the elements of a meal just dumped carelessly on a plate - say with vegetables on top of the meat or with the gravy idly dripped on the plate's edge. No - to me it should look nice.

Television is awash with cooking programmes. Nobodies like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have become well-known celebrities - on a par with rock stars or Olympic athletes. Viewers who are probably munching on pizzas and ready meals find these cookery shows spellbinding but I am utterly fed up with them and I would like to see nearly all of  them banned. Their relationship to real life cooking and the reality of ordinary people's lives is extremely tenuous.

One of the things that really irritates me about many of these cookery shows is their obsession with how dishes look. That plonker Heston Blumenthal is probably the worst exponent of this "food as art" cult with his swirls of red wine sauce, his globules of balsamic vinegar and his pomegranate foam. Herbs are often used for mere decoration and there are blow torches and piping bags. It is all too much.

In the suburbs of Mumbai, Sao Paulo and Kampala, children are scrabbling in the dirt, not knowing if there will be anything to eat back in their tin shack homes but if there is it won't be five star and it won't look as if it has come from some glossy coffee table book. The gulf between the diets of the world's poor and the plates shown on "Celebrity Master Chef" is outrageous and arguably an indictment of our times.

There's a big difference between making a little effort to present meals nicely and viewing the presentation of food as some kind of art form.

I'd like to see a whole new breed of cooking programmes - "How To Make Best Use of Your Microwave", "Saving Money by using Leftovers", "How to Use Your Freezer Better", "Good Meals from Cheap Ingredients", "Cooking When You Haven't Got Much Time", "Takeaway Food", "The Sandwich Show" etcetera. And we'd get rid of the celebrities. Instead there'd just be a rasping and anonymous northern voice narrating for the TV audience as ordinary mortals take centre stage, -showing us genuinely helpful cooking tips. So farewell Rick, Nigella, Chef ****ing Ramsey, Jamie and the odious Nigel Slater! We don't need you any more. In fact, we never did.