20 September 2014

Tomato

This summer I failed to enter the Trelawnyd Flower Show photo competition for funny fruit and vegetables. However, the other day Shirley retrieved this funny tomato from our little greenhouse. He has an unusual appendage as you can see. I plonked him on top of the copper model of The Empire State Building that a junkshop owner gave us in Sultan, Washington State this June. Then being the creative fellow I am I stuck three pins in the yellow tomato man who I have now christened Bob.

Here's Bob sniffing flowers on our front room window sill:-
And here's Bob wondering what to do this afternoon. He is most pleased that I turned him into a yellow tomato man called Bob and not a model of male genitalia for medical students to investigate with scalpels. He looks a little like King Kong sitting atop the Empire State Building while roaring at the traffic far below. Scary huh?

19 September 2014

No

mir

On May 23rd 1976 when I was at university in Scotland, I was sitting in a campus  television room with about twenty male Scottish students watching a Bicentennial Trophy game between Brazil and England - beamed live from Los Angeles. It was a keenly fought match but no goals were scored until the very end when Roberto Dinamite cracked in a wonderful winning goal for the Brazilians.

Roberto Dinamite (Brazil)
It was at that point that the Scottish students - almost without thinking - revealed their deep-seated antipathy towards the English. They cheered and punched the air and one or two of them even leapt out of their seats. They had perhaps forgotten that a proud Yorkshireman ( and therefore Englishman) was sitting in their midst.

I got up, walked to the front, and standing in front of the television screen yelled "You're a bunch of Scottish bastards!" before exiting left. 

Though I lived in Scotland for four and a half years and enjoyed the company of numerous Scots - male and female, I never forgot that moment in the television room. If English students had been watching Scotland play Brazil in a parallel university south of the border they would undoubtedly have been rooting  for "the auld enemy" - Scotland.

Yesterday the Scots held their long-awaited referendum and this morning the result is very clear. 55% have said "No" to independence so the so-called United Kingdom will continue and the SNP political  fishmongers - Salmond and Sturgeon can retreat to their respective crofts to watch endless replays of "The White Heather Show" while chowing down on raw haggis and neaps.

In many ways this vote is a huge relief simply because the disentanglement of Scotland from the union would have been costly and disruptive to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish. We would have been paying a heavy price for their Braveheart fantasy. The tail would have been very much wagging the dog.

I thought that Cameron, Milliband and Gordon Brown arrived at the party far too late. They should have been making out the case for "No" much earlier and not just in economic terms. There is surely more to national unity than fiscal matters. What about shared history and identity? What about sport and entertainment, language and humour and what about the fact that many thousands of people of Scottish heritage live in England and vice versa? It's not all about the money.

Leading the "Better Together" campaign we saw the uninspirational London-born lawyer Alistair Darling caught in the headlights and out of his depth. Why was he chosen to lead the "No" campaign? It could have proved to be an extremely costly mistake.

In some ways I wouldn't have minded if Scotland had gone independent. It would have been interesting to see them struggling - no longer being handsomely underwritten by England. There were so many crucial questions left hanging in the air and Salmond and Sturgeon simply couldn't answer them. But I have got some basic questions of my own about Scotland.

How come our daughter Frances has a university tuition fees debt of £32,000 to pay back to the government when Scottish students pay nothing? How come, at the age of sixty, I  am not entitled to free bus travel but Scottish sixty year olds can claim free bus passes? How come members of my family have to pay doctors' prescription fees when poorly Scots pay nothing? These inequities make me feel some resentment towards Scotland. They are getting a damned good deal as far as I can see and even though the referendum vote has gone against the nationalists, they are likely to get yet more sweeteners from Westminster.

If there was a referendum in Yorkshire - "Should Yorkshire be an independent country?" then I have no doubt that the "Yes" vote would be overwhelming and I would then happily volunteer to be a border guard - keeping out jealous asylum seekers from Derbyshire and Lancashire. We'd also have to search trains passing through our socialist republic. Maybe I'd rip pearls from the necks of Scottish ladies and remove banknotes from their gentlemen's sporrans. These funds would help to pay for our border guards' smart khaki uniforms and machine guns from Catalonia or Chechnya... "White Rose of Yorkshire! When will we see your like again?"

17 September 2014

Adrianism

Once upon a time and long ago, a young English sea captain disembarked at Las Palmas in Gran Canaria in order to commission repairs to his mainsail and rigging and to replenish vital barrels of rum. During his sojourn, he mounted a donkey and trotted into the mountains where it is reputed that he had intimate relations with several local maidens who were smitten by his dashing good looks and sense of fun. Today there are hundreds of young Gran Canarians who refer to the sea captain as "Our Father".

Long after this young skipper had departed, tales about him were shared in inland cave dwellings during dark winter nights till his memory took on mythical status and he became something of a god-like figure. They built this statue to him and it is now the focus of a belief system known as Adrianism:-
My PhotoThis may sound surprising to those who visit his blog - "Adrian's Images" because the sea captain in question was none other than the author of that blog and the world renown photographer Cap'n Adrian (see right).

However, little did the Gran Canarians realise that secretly Cap'n Adrian was taking a short holiday on the island while I was there - no doubt observing his many offspring. He was under the assumed name of Randolph Sidebottom and I was able to snap him as he walked along the beach. I have included this picture specially for those swooning antipodean lady bloggers who also subscribe to the cult of Adrianism:-

16 September 2014

1927


Isn't it nice to lie on a holiday lounger reading a good book? Sunshine. Occasional dips in the pool and then between dozes you turn the pages. And because you're away from home and work and your usual everyday life, you can devote so much more mental and emotional energy to the reading process - giving the writer the attention his or her efforts truly deserve.

Over in Gran Canaria I read the Bill Bryson book illustrated left - "One Summer - America - 1927". 

I have read just about everything Bill Bryson has ever written. His style is comfortable and he is as inquisitive as a boy scout in a summer meadow armed with a magnifying glass and a guide to insects. And he can be drily funny and self-deprecating and unlike some writers I have known,  he is genuinely in love with words. He plays with them and knows where they came from.

"One Summer" is like a window into a special year in American history. You could say that it was the year in which America truly came of age. Perhaps that is why the crowds were so vast as Charles Lindbergh toured the country following his famous solo flight to Paris. And there were also huge crowds to see the incredible Babe Ruth in action and the boxing contest between slugger Jack Dempsey and erudite sportsman Gene Tunney. The Mississippi flooded thousands of acres. The film industry gave the world its first true "talkie" - "The Jazz Singer" starring Al Jolson and dwarfish Al Capone stomped around the streets of Chicago like a giant as the ludicrous Prohibition experiment truly kicked in.

It is a well-researched tome of over six hundred pages and it covers a time of peace and prosperity between the wars and before The Wall Street Crash of 1929. It's hard to think that in 1927 international air travel was very much in its infancy. Flying any aeroplane was an extremely dangerous pursuit. There was even a hare-brained scheme to build a series of "seadromes" so that Transatlantic flights would involve several hops - like frogs in a pond. And it was in 1927 that some visionaries began to see the possibilities of television in a distant future even though this was a time when radio played second fiddle to reading. Bryson says,"The 1920s was a great time for reading altogether - very possibly the peak decade for reading in American life. Soon it would be overtaken by the passive distractions of radio, but for the moment reading remained most people’s principal method for filling idle time.” 

The book is populated by flappers and gangsters, murderers and inventors and there's Henry Ford and Herbert Hoover and Clara Bow and the curious President Calvin T. Coolidge and Mount Rushmore is being carved in the wilds of South Dakota while the country's population is just nudging 120 million - compared with today's 317 million.

As I have admitted before in this febrile blog I am an unashamed Americophile so of course I was going to enjoy "One Summer". In a very readable way, it convinced me that 1927 was indeed a very interesting and significant year in the formation of today's America. Bryson's writing makes what might have been dull history truly come alive.

15 September 2014

Holiday

On the beach that curls round the dunes at Maspalomas you will see people walking. Dozens of them in all shapes and sizes. There are lots and lots of hotel rooms in the area and it seems that this is a southern Gran Canaria holiday tradition - simply strolling on the mile long strand. Infrequently, you will observe naked German naturists with folds of flesh or shockingly bony frames - as if they have just stepped out of information leaflets about anorexia nervosa. Walking along like the rest of us. They are not underwear models. That's for sure.

Away from the beach - in the volcanic rock mountains where occasional cacti flourish amidst lava geology, narrow roads wind themselves about the rugged landscape. There are small communities up here and houses built into rock faces so that you imagine the cooling caves within - sanctuaries from searing summer sunshine. It's like driving on Mars. So little sign of water or greenery - just those determined cacti and once in a while a concrete dam retaining a precious aquatic pool.
Inland
Small reservoir in the mountains
There were ancient people here two thousand years ago. It is said that they came from Africa. They made their homes in caves or shelters built from seaside rocks. They hunted birds and prised shellfish from the shoreline. This was long before Spanish mariners arrived to claim the island for the King of Spain. However, on a rugged wall in child-size sprayed letters I read "The Canaries are not Spain!" and elsewhere in Spanish there are graffiti pleas for independence and "liberty" - whatever that might be.
The Columbus House doorway in Las Palmas - carved from local volcanic rock. Christopher
Columbus rested here before continuing his famed voyage of 1492 to "discover" America.
One day we visit Las Palmas - the capital - with a population of over 300,000. We only stay an hour because of the parking police and there's only time to get a flavour of the historic centre before returning to our holiday complex via the dual carriageway that runs down the island's eastern flank.

Otherwise it's a lazy, uneventful holiday - basking in thirty degree sunshine, reading books, cooling ourselves in the pool, eating simple lunches on our little terrace, talking and being a family again before taking the Saturday evening flight back to Birmingham. Sometimes you need holidays like that.
The old lighthouse at Maspalomas

5 September 2014

Canaries

We have never been to Spain's Canary Islands before but tomorrow afternoon, all being well, we will be on our way there from Birmingham Airport. Specifically we are headed for Gran Canaria - to the very south of the island where the sand dunes shown above are located. They are, we believe,  a stone's throw from our two bedroom apartment.

I have so far used the third person plural "we" deliberately because I shall be visiting Gran Canaria not only with my lovely wife but also our "children" - Ian being thirty years old and Frances twenty five. At first it was just going to be me and Shirley but Frances said she had a spare week's holiday in September and no plans for how to use it so we asked her if she'd like to come along. Then I suggested we also ask Ian whose life in London - with rent, transport and everything means there's very little left over for such niceties as holidays. Of course he said yes. So having imagined that family holidays were over forever, we now find we have got another one on our hands and we are very much looking forward to it as the first signs of autumn are appearing in Merry Olde England.

When we get back to Birmingham we are planning to stay in Frances's new flat in The Jewellery Quarter. I helped to move her in yesterday, returning to Big Yellow Storage for the belongings we had placed there last Sunday. What a brilliant service Big Yellow Storage provide! Clean, professional and transparent and the little unit we reserved was just the job in the labyrinthine corridors of yellow doored units - it was like being in a modern day version of "Alice in Wonderland".

Now if you'll excuse me. Instead of sitting here tapping away I should be up and about, buying euros, packing suitcases, removing the dead rat from the middle of our lawn,  ironing clothes and tidying the garden. I am not sure when or if I will have chance to blog in Gran Canaria so there may be a little gap in this never ending avalanche of words and pictures.

HOUSEMAID'S KNEE UPDATE Thanks for all the cards, gifts and messages of goodwill I have received from bloggers and physicians around the world. I am truly touched but as there have been so many I cannot send out individual messages of gratitude. To Adrian - thanks for the baby osprey - so cute and fluffy but I have had to pass it to the RSPB so that it can be returned to its nest and to Meike thanks for the family sized tub of sauerkraut - very thoughtful. To Bob Brague in Georgia thanks for "Ku Klux Klan - Members Guide" - I shall read it on the beach. The knee is feeling a whole lot better now but I still have a slight involuntary limp and I am nervous about putting weight on it when I go up or down stairs but two weeks in to my physical torment the agony has certainly receded and I hope that before too long I will again be able to plod for miles. I have been missing those long walks and it has been impossible to burn off calories in my usual way so I am feeling rather bloated. Looking forward to plenty of swimming on holiday.
 

2 September 2014

Banners

When I heard that there was to be an exhibition of National Union of Mineworkers banners at Barnsley Civic Theatre, I was keen to go - even with my housemaid's knee. I feel a great affinity with the coal miners of South Yorkshire - partly because my mother came from a coal mining family and both her father and grandfather worked underground in the first three decades of the twentieth century. 

Furthermore, during the miners' strike of 1984-85 my allegiance was with them and not with Thatcher and the police force she utilised to achieve her spiteful decimation of our country's coal industry. It was in my heart - like a coal fire. I sent them money and tins of food and wore a "Coal Not Dole" badge on my lapel. I even wrote a song called "On Orgreave Field" about the famous Battle of Orgreave which saw the miners defeated by the massed ranks of the British police - many flown up to Yorkshire specially from London and the south east. They waved their pay slips at the penniless miners.

The memory of that industrial struggle remains vivid and raw in the South Yorkshire coalfield. Thirty years later it has not been forgotten and the banners at Barnsley Civic Theatre are testament to that struggle, that industrial heritage and the countless men who lost their lives for those black diamonds.