Friday 31 October 2008

Anyone seen my leg?

I regularly talk to groups, Women's Institutes, Senior Citizen groups and the like. It's a challenge in a way and keeps my brain in reasonable shape. My bread and butter talk, so to speak is entitled 'There's Nowt so Strange as Folk', based loosely around a book of short stories I wrote a year or two ago. It can't be all bad because on occasion I have been asked back. no mean feat. The last time I spoke I was greeted with the words, 'Pleased to meet you, I hope you are better than the one we had last week, she were terrible.' Not exactly designed to inspire confidence but not as bad as another speaker I know of. Five minutes into his spiel on the workings of computers some old lady stood up and spoke immortal words. 'We don't want this rubbish.' (Evidently the group had been expecting to be taught the basics of how to use a computer, not how the computer's innards function.) They don't mess about, pensioners groups, straight to the point and if they don't like you be prepared to run.
Because of return visits I've been working on a second talk entitled 'Is the whole world going mad or is it me.' Interesting to put together and based on every crackpot, unusual, sometimes simply bizarre individuals and situations in the word today. For instance, pensioners on ASBO's for thoroughly juvenile behaviour; how odd. Sat Nav ambulance crews who took a patient on a 400 mile ride from London to Manchester and back on what should have been a twenty minute transfer between Ilford, London and Brentford in Essex. Universities awarding a PhD. in darts and a dentist who used his surgical instruments to clean his finger nails. (and that was one of his better habits!)
The reason for this particular blog being the news that Alton Towers is dismantling a twenty eight year old, seventy five feet high rollercoaster. Interesting but made even more so when one considers what the dismantlers have found to date.
Now the eight hundred pieces of jewellery found is sad but understandable; anyone who has ever experienced the fast, furious terrifying ride on the Corkscrew as it was called will empathise immediately. Plus three hundred mobile phones. What sort of clown would try and use a mobile phone in such circumstances. (On second thoughts, the whole world seems incapable of walking down the street without phoning so perhaps it's not all that surprising.)
Fifty three odd shoes, an irritating loss but not unexpected, but then it really gets interesting.Ten pairs of underwear. I must be careful what I say here but the mind boggles. I daren't even guess but perhaps its best to leave it to the readers own imaginations!
The last two items found give real food for thought. Item one, a prosthetic ear. Which of course would surely stand little chance of staying put on such a high speed, wind buffeted manic ride as the Corkscrew. Embarrassing to say the least, a difficult ride home especially if you were a driver for how on earth do you keep your glasses on in such circumstances. (Sorry, not meant to offend but you have to smile.)
One final discovery, surely the strangest of them all being one prosthetic leg. I hope it was not the same man who lost the ear, For there would be an unfortunate double whammy. (Why am I assuming it was a man?) Imagine the problems this mishap would cause you, stuck at Alton Towers minus a leg. Its not funny really but if you didn't laugh you would probably cry. All the old jokes immediately spring to mind. You'd really need a leg up and then what do you do, hop down to the information desk? Do they have a set, practiced procedure for lost legs? Surely they don't have spares for such an emergency? 'No problem, sir, left or right?' You could sue them but you wouldn't have a leg to stand on. It would not exactly enhance your day and I've no doubt you wouldn't get a replacement on the NHS the next day. All in all a right bloody nuisance but what a story to tell at your next cocktail party when the conversation flags, the day you were legless at Alton Towers.

Monday 27 October 2008

Knowledge comes but Wisdom Lingers

The Mail on Sunday gave away a free interactive Pub Quiz CD this week. Not the world's most intellectual offering but what does one expect from the Mail. That said there has been interest in quizzes for as long as I can remember and the Mail reflects this fact.

The quiz itself, though no doubt harmless, is cringingly banal at times, no doubt reflecting the Mail readership or perhaps even the British psyche. 'Please choose your teams name.' Choice includes the Mushy Peas, the Bitter Shandies and the Pork Scratchings. Does that really reflect pub team names or is the Mail trying to be funny or merely patronising. (The pub teams I know either have names simple beyond belief, for example, Two by Two or Sisters in Crime, alternatively some chose obscure names, for instance The Last Dials. the latter hopefully suggesting a team of brainboxes with a strange nom de plume, the origin of which is known only to themselves.

The Mail's questions vary in intensity from simply inane to quite taxing but the appeal is there and no doubt provide an escape from television trivia pouring from our screens. Plus the pattern is modern; multi choice questions so loved by modern examinations set the pattern. (Do the public realise multi choice exams cut down a teachers marking massively, thus their popularity in the academic world, its tick, tick, tick and the jobs done, or as my favourite uncle used to say, 'Bobs your uncle.' He wasn't actually called Bob but for five points, where did the saying come from?)

Three examples from the Mails offering.
Robert De Nero directed which film.
a The Good Shepherd b About a Boy c Frankenstein d Backdraft.
Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world is situated where?
a Africa b Siberia c China d Turkey.
Patsi Kensits second husband is a member of which band?
a Oasis b Simple Minds c Petshop Boys d Tears for Fears.
(See what I mean about the banality of the Mails questions!)
The earliest form of quiz I personally remember was sitting the Eleven Plus. (Quiz-To test the knowledge of by posing questions.) I still remember two of the questions.
George Washington was born, married and died in the house he built himself. Which one is incorrect?
Yesterday, today was tomorrow. True or false?
What exactly did right answers prove? I suppose they had some merit, though you had a one in three chance of getting them right anyway. Plus knowledge for its own sake seems pretty pointless. Alfred Lord Tennyson was a cut above all of us and he put it so well. 'Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers.' There again I bet he was useless in pub quizzes. But I digress plus it wouldn't do for this blog to appear in any way intellectual!

In the non too distant past I was involved in setting quizzes to improve school moral. Teachers can be very competitive, sometimes to a questionable degree; they just love to win. I suppose that's why many become teachers, to be in charge and show how clever they are. Pub quiz teams have more than their fair share of teachers and it shows. Though they don't always win. Many pub quiz members 'swot up' all week prior to a quiz. How 'anoraky' is that!
For the less serious the easiest solution is a simple true or false format. At least you've got a fifty fifty chance of getting it right! Try the following for size. I set it many years ago when my brain powers were at their height!

Simply True or False
1 The 'Real McCoy' was a boxer in the 1890's and 1900's.
2 Turtles have no teeth.
3 Cat gut comes from cats.
4 If you were born on the 29th October, your star sign is Libra.
5 Persian soldiers were paid with donkeys in 1900
6 The Lily of the Valley is the National flower of Norway.
7 The Great Wall of China took 1700 years to build.
8 Aphrodite is the Roman goddess of love.
9 The first mechanical clock had no hands.
10 Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland at six months.
11 The clock above the leading article in The Times always shows 5.30.
12 Charlotte was the youngest of the Bronte sisters.
13 The average lead pencil will draw a line 35 miles long.
14 Originally the yo-yo was a Filipino jungle weapon.
15 Teddy bears were named after Theodore Roosevelt.
16 Dogs sweat through their paws.
17 Queen Elizabeth the Second was born at 17 bruton Street, London.
18 The wren is Britain's smallest bird.
19 "I shall hear in heaven" were the last words of Mozart.
20 A number of goats is called a tribe.
21 Bloomers are named after an American lady, a Mrs Bloomer.
22 And the Bowler Hat is named after an Englishman, Mr Bowler.
23 Roger Rabbit's wife is called Jessica.
24 And Andy Capp's wife is called Mo.
25 A walking camel lifts both feet on one side at the same time.

Finally I came across this quiz in an old book I bought in the Alnwick Railway Station bookshop. The quiz is at least eighty years old I suspect. Treat with care, they were just as clever as we are all those years ago. The only difference was, they didn't shout as loud.

A Very Simple Quiz for Very Clever People.
1 How long did the Hundred Years’ war Last?
2 In which month do the Russians celebrate the October Revolution?
3 In which country are Panama hats made?
4 From which country do we get Peruvian Balsam?
5 Which seabird has the zoological name Puffinus puffinus?
6 From which animal do we get catgut?
7 From which material are moleskin trousers made?
8 Where do Chinese gooseberries come from?
9 Louis the XVIII was the last one, but how many previous kings of France were called Louis?
10 What kind of creatures were the Canary Islands named after?
11 What was King George VI’s first name?
12 What colour is a purple finch?
13 In what season of the year does William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream take place?
14 What is a camel’s hair brush made of?
15 How long did the Thirty Year’s War last?

Anyone care for answers?

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Don't believe it, that's the Spirit!

Sometimes when I was a teacher I’d be stuck for a lesson or a lesson would finish early. In which case I’d only have to say, “What do you know about ghosts?” and we’d be away. (I know, I know lesson plans are important but nobody’s perfect!)
“My granny says the Old Post Office is haunted and she knows ‘cause she’s old.”
“My mum says she saw a girl in odd clothes and a funny hat in her bedroom when she were a girl.”
(How many times have I told you, Trixiebell, it’s ‘you were, she was,’ not ‘you was, she were.’)
“Granddad often sees strange things on his way home from the pub.”
(I’ll bet he does!)
There’s no doubt many people believe in the supernatural and motorhomers are no different to anyone else. Plus the fact that they, motorhomers have the capability to visit places most likely to foster an unearthly presence. And though most of our metaphysical experiences can be explained, sometimes, just sometimes experiences are not so easily resolved.
I remember camping near Cromer many years ago when our children were very young. We, adults and small children wandered in the severest of fogs from the campsite towards the town. I seem to remember the weather often being foul, howling gales, or dense fog being the norm. (Which accounts for a proliferation of holiday photos showing anorak clad families braving the elements year after year.) Suddenly the ghostly sound of galloping horses echoed through the mist, becoming louder and louder, ghostly yet terrifyingly real. And real they were indeed, a group of runaway horses appeared out of the mist and fled past us at high speed to we knew not where.
I remember too food mysteriously spirited away nightly from our awnings in a park in Southport. Very strange, except that ghosts and apparitions have no need of our pork pies and treacle tarts, whilst tramps forced to sleep rough on the seafront definitely rate such culinary delights.
In the selfsame park on a late night walk our English Bull Terrier Buster became very agitated, at the same time doing my already high blood pressure no favours. I continued our walk, alone in the eerie darkness, a spooky experience guaranteed to set the heart pounding. Suddenly a large boxlike object came into view. Some sort of electrical substation, it emitted a persistent buzzing noise which could be heard only when you were very close indeed. Yet Buster had picked up the noise from some considerable distance. No ghostly cause then, but food for thought.
We have stayed in our trailer tent days inside the RAF Museum at Cosford. It is reputed that one aircraft, the Avro Lincoln RF398 is haunted. In the evenings when the public has gone home the place has an eerie mystique not easily dismissed. Whilst we cannot claim to have even fleetingly glimpsed a ghost, we did meet a volunteer who adamantly claimed an unearthly presence regularly misplaced his cleaning clothes as he worked on the aircraft.
Often we associate history with haunting. My wife and I visited Culloden on a cold, miserable morning. Culloden of course is the site of the last battle to be fought on mainland Britain. The date, April 16th 1746 when the army of the Jacobites were defeated by British Government troops.
We found the site fascinating and informative yet one thing stood out. The place had a chilling presence not easily ignored. And, though it was early summer, surprisingly not a single wild bird’s song could be heard; the silence was shattering in the extreme. Coincidence, perhaps, a fluke situation, maybe, but if ever a place deserves to be haunted, it’s Culloden.
Similarly Hadrian’s Wall is awesome yet, on a dull day at least, foreboding. Built by the Romans between AD 122-30, it is a stone and turf fortification built to keep out the Pictish tribes. It takes no great imagination to picture Roman soldiers marching the wall tops, weapons at hand to deter the warring Pics. And when the wind howls and the snow falls, who can be blamed if they hear the sound of caligae (military sandals) tramping the wall or the shouts of those in command urging on wet, cold soldiers.
A visit to Naseby is somewhat disappointing. The site of the most important battle in England, its importance in English history is unsurpassed. Here on June 14th 1645 Royal troops led by Prince Rupert fought Parliamentary troops under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax. There has been little attempt to market, if that be the right word so important a place in our British heritage. Contrast the wonderful, informative modern displays at Culloden and Hadrian’s Wall. Staying in the area we visited the site of the battle, its presence almost grudgingly acknowledged by the local authority. A monument, open fields and that’s about it. Yet shut your eyes and the sound of battle can be heard by anyone with a feel for history. In the daytime just fields that could be any old fields. But at dusk an indefinable presence takes over and the sound of battle cries are never far away.
We have wild camped near Castleton in the Peak District, an area particularly steeped in murder and ghostly happenings. Particularly famous is the tale of the young couple on their way to be married, who were waylaid, robbed and their bodies flung unmercifully down a nearby mineshaft. We regularly park up overnight within a hundred yards or so of the site of the grisly deed. It’s not for the faint hearted of a stormy night yet we never seen sight of the merest apparition I’m sorry to say. My wife, by the way is not so sorry.
There you have it. Goulies and ghosties are for believers or those wanting to believe. Old sceptics like myself have little time for such silliness. I used to say, ‘think ghoul, think fool.’ That is until a strange experience challenged my entrenched beliefs.
Some years ago we visited Lindisfarne, a favourite haunt if you’ll forgive the pun. It was a bright summer’s day, not a cloud in the sky or ghosts in the air. We had by then a new, all white English bull terrier by the name of Sam. The churchyard contains several thought provoking graves and I was keen to see them.
We walked down the path and through the lynch gate. That is, my wife and I walked, Sam refused point blank to enter the churchyard despite being coaxed gently then pulled less gently on his lead. Bystanders thought it hilarious, I was somewhat embarrassed. The result being my wife and Sam sat on a seat at the lynch gate whilst I wandered alone round the churchyard and adjoining abbey ruins.
Holiday over we returned home and the holiday memories faded. Come Christmas and I was present hunting. I espied the Atlas of Magical Britain by Janet and Colin Bord; an inspired choice for a son in law interested in apparitions, phantoms, spooks and sprites.
I happened to read the book prior to it being gift wrapped (My wife says I’m a cheapskate, too mean to buy two copies) and there it was.
By tradition the ghost of St Aiden is said to still haunt the abbey and the Island. Plus the amazing statement that a ghostly white dog is also said to haunt the abbey ruins.
Coincidence, maybe; perhaps dogs are more perceptive than humans or merely one daft dog wanted a rest. Whatever the answer, this is one old cynic who’s not so sure about it all as he used to be. What do you think?

I wrote this article for Motorhome Monthly. I think in view of this weeks 'ghostly happenings' it is worth revisiting!

Is there anyone there

I recently moved from a house that was reputedly haunted. It is at least one hundred and fifty years old and was admittedly spooky at times. An old lady once knocked on my door (She lived in the house many years ago) and told me that as a child she saw a female apparition several times. We often had problems with weak water pressure. The joke was that it was due to the old farmer who lived there many moons ago running his bath. (The house, now one of two cottages was originally one large farmhouse.)
My youngest daughter, Alison lived in the house for a time before we took over and was often apprehensive concerning the place, not without reason. On one occasion a plate hanging on the wall leading to the third floor became detached and was found on the stairs below leading to the ground floor, having cleared several stairs and the landing below. (It is possible it could have fallen onto the stairs due to vehicle vibrations and rolled, edgewise down the stairs, across the small landing and partway down the next stairs. Possible though unlikely and very strange.)
On another occasion a mirror propped on a shelf was found, again unharmed on the floor, in this case a more sinister mystery. In order for the mirror to fall on the floor it had to clear the ornaments in front of it. Yet the ornaments were still in place when the mirror was discovered, an unnerving phenomenon not easily explained. Nevertheless eventually my daughter moved out, my wife and I moved in and we had eleven happy years in the place. We had two bull terriers in succession, Buster and Sam and we even moved in an elderly aunt, Ida. Ida lived with us for eight happy years until she died peacefully in her bed, aged ninety four.
Time moved on and I have become more and more rickety so when my oldest daughter Sarah and her family moved to run a business in the north west my wife and I decided to buy their bungalow; it seemed a logical thing to do, creaking bones are better suited to bungalows than three story houses.
A very pleasant bungalow, our new home, extended but originally built in the nineteen thirties was owned at one stage by an elderly widow. I did wonder if the old lady died at home but it's probably of no concern. Nineteen thirties houses don't have ghosts, or do they. We've lived here since the last week in August. And on a couple of occasions I swear I felt something large jump on the bed. I even felt the mattress momentarily dip. Surely imagination except that my daughter rang rather agitated. She used to also have a bull terrier by the name of Spike. Spike is buried in the garden and she has woken in a panic on more than one occasion, having dreamt I have have dug up poor old Spike. Not true, at least not yet. Anyway, you shouldn't let dogs sleep on beds though we all do it!
I was tidying, the garden in the week. Very secluded, no one can see in and you can't see out. It was a sombre, gloomy dark day, not exactly one to enlighten the spirits. Suddenly I became aware of a voice. "Is anyone there." A typical case of heard and not seen rather than the reverse. Startled and not a little apprehensive I surveyed the scene; nothing. "Is anyone there" again broke the silence; nothing. Then came the clincher, so to speak. "Is anyone there, it's Ida." The final proof of the afterlife, for how could anyone now doubt that the spirit lives on. For I heard it with my own ears. "Its me, Ken" I replied with bated breath. And the apparition's head appeared over the eight foot fence, for apparently apparitions can climb on whatevers handy when they so desire. "Its me, Ida, your neighbour. Can you cut back your brambles. They're coming through the fence."

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Bougon by name, Bougon by nature

Today's Times tells the story of the Bougon family in France who have reacted bitterly to the French Canadian fictional TV series 'Les Bougon', concerning a fictional family of scroungers, fraudsters and alcoholics. The problem is, bougon in French translates as 'grumpy' thus the Bougon families concern.
Now I chose the blog name Grumpy Old Ken. Some say its very apt and who am I to judge. I suffer from TGA which I am informed has caused a degree of brain damage. It can cause emotional/behavioural problems, I repeat 'can cause' because I reckon I never ever throw 'wobblies' but again who am I to judge. What I do know is that if I feel like a 'grump' its easy to blame it on the TGA, its as good an excuse as anything else. And who can deny a grumpy old man such license. So come on Bougons, don't be so sensitive. Have you never heard the saying, 'Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you weep alone.'

Money, Money, Money.

I am new to this blogging lark and still learning. I remember reading that one of the blogging crimes is committing 'cyber pollution' I think it was called; blogging for blogging's sake. The suggestion being, only blog when you have something to say. Daily newspapers blog ad nauseum, the result often self indulgent, banal and boring. Perhaps it is inevitable when you blog for money and have to do so to a daily deadline; I have no such pressure. Yet I fret if I cannot regularly blog, it has become part of my life at least for the time being and I reckon twice a week 'suits you, sir' as the gentleman in the advert implies.
I am not even sure why I blog. Nice thought if someone were to read my work when I am long since gone. Nice also to leave something in perpetuity, so to speak. Plus my children and my children's children might read my limited efforts and learn something of my life, though not wishing to sound self importance or arrogant. Each and every point relevant in a small way.
All week I've wondered what to write. The weathers been mixed, life acceptable if somewhat mundane. A week like a thousand others except that Monday October 13th was like no other; yesterday our world stood still, the day my wife and I became virtually insolvent.
We are in the middle of buying our present, much cherished, hopefully last residence. (The next move will be a pine box job, feet first.) Because of complications too boring and complex to think about, virtually every penny we have has been converted to a cheque to be exchanged on Thursday for one 'des res'. The premium bonds, the Isas, the shares, all gone. Yesterday the turn of the bank accounts which is why we stood in the queue at a branch of the Nat West.
We were well prepared, courtesy of my wife who is sole banker and main spender in our household. Our turn came, 'Window number two' and the next thirty minutes were entertaining and fairly pain free. My wife transferred virtually our entire savings; the inheritances, the redundancies, pensions, all now gone; every account now empty. Paulette did all the transfers with the aid of prepared scribbled notes passed furtively under the glass partition. Paulette did not wish all around us to know the details of our financial situation, hence the written communications. (It did occur to me to take it home in cash ready for Thursday. Imagine the stress involved!) No thanks, keep hold of it, Nat West. I'll trust you a day or two longer in spite of the world's financial meltdown this week. The young lady behind the counter was pleasant and efficient, even though she vanished at intervals. (I wouldn't have blamed her if she had gone for a lie down.)
To be truthful my wife is glad the money had gone. we both have had visions of being financially wiped out prior to the sale. Yesterday Britain subsidised our banks to the tune of thirty seven billion pounds. The FT index went up by over eight hundred points. Roll on Thursday!
We come into the world with nothing and if our previous house doesn't sell we may leave with nothing. I'm just going through my pockets for any small change. If I find enough I'm going for a pint and a plate of chips later today. By the way, all donations gratefully received!

Friday 10 October 2008


Friend: one with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; one who supports, sympathises with, or patronises a group, cause or movement; any associate or acquaintance.
I made a new friend in the week, in our local Lidl as a matter of fact, a shop of many cultures, languages and ethnic groups. We, my wife and I were just going through the checkout when a young boy, aged around nine or ten came through the exit doors, complete with bicycle; the bike was rough, the boy similar. He deposited the bike near the tills, looked in my direction and approached. I assumed I was to be 'chatted up' for a 'donation' towards his finances but I was wrong. 'You look after my bike' he pronounced with authority. Who was I to refuse such a request, nay, order. He vanished through the tills (the wrong way of course and was gone to do his shopping.) I hoped soap was on his list of requisites, for it was sorely needed. Every few seconds he reappeared in the isles and looked in my direction to be sure I was fulfilling my duties as 'guardian of the bike'. He was certainly not going to have his ramshackle bike 'pinched'. I did wonder if that is how he got the bike in the first place! Would that have made me an accessory?
Eventually he returned (It's a good job pensioners do not 'do' pressing engagements.) He had half a dozen items including a large bottle of Coca Cola (but no soap). The checkout lady rang in the items, he rummaged through his pockets. The money he produced was insufficient and he discarded one item. Money added up again and he was still thirty two pence short. I did consider giving him the difference (a lot of money, thirty two pence to a pensioner in these hard times) but was beaten to it by the next lady in the queue who 'donated' the difference by putting it on her bill. The boy then requested a bag (there is a charge for them but one was found free of charge) and he returned by my side to reclaim his prized bike. He was evidently Polish and I'm sure he was appreciative of my services; at least I hope so.
I returned to my vehicle; my wife had long since loaded our shopping and we made our way home. Around three hundred yards away we passed a young boy carefully parking his bike outside another smaller shop. The last I saw of him he was vanishing inside; I could have sworn he was down to his last penny not ten minutes earlier.
I have a good friend who is a fanatical 'twitcher'. He has seen over four hundred different species of birds in Britain which I suspect would put him in the top hundred or two in the country. (Where most middle aged men ogle pictures of semi clad young ladies my friend peruses pictures of Peregrine Falcons and Green Woodpeckers). Last week a bird turned up in Lands End. Even the twitching world seem unclear as to whether it was an Alder Flycatcher or a Willow flycatcher. No matter it was a first for Europe as they say, not to be missed. My friend and a friend (twitchers seemingly always travel in pairs and mate for life) made their way to Lands End after work on Tuesday. Now Lands End is three hundred and sixty five miles from Derby. A fact always remembered as its the same as the days in a year. The bird was duly sighted, presumably ticked and the intrepid pair returned the same day, mission accomplished. Dedication, devotion, mind boggling surely certifiable behaviour, take your pick. But a shared addiction nevertheless.
On a much more serious note my youngest daughter is expecting for the third time. A happy if anxious time, for my daughter never has easy pregnancies and we have already had one heart stopping week. My daughters friend is also pregnant but is not so lucky. Rushed into hospital this week, the signs are not good. My daughter is every ones friend. How someone with the adopted title 'Grumpy Old Ken' could have such a delightfully natured daughter is beyond comprehension. At the same time I am infinitely proud. (We are blessed in that both our children, though different have attributes of which we are immensely delighted.)
There was naturally concern from some that accompanying her friend to hospital would seriously affect Alison in her somewhat fragile state of mind. Alison insisted on going, her simple answer, 'She's my friend, I've got to go' says it all. Well done Alison.
Friend: a favoured companion; a person whom one knows, likes and trusts.

Saturday 4 October 2008

A City Shamed

It was with some trepidation I joined the blogging world with my first blog on the 16th April. I enjoy the fact that amongst other things it helps keep a sixty eight year old mind active. This is my sixty second blog and for the first time it a blog I did not really want to write.
Derby is a somewhat innocuous, nondescript city though it is famous in small ways for a variety of reasons. It is the home of Rolls Royce, one of the most prestigious companies of the world. Joseph Wright is a world renowned and greatly admired artist born in Derby in 1734. Herbert Spencer the Victorian philosopher was born in Derby in 1820. Dr Samuel Johnson, man of letters married in St Werberghs Derby in 1753. Samuel Plimsoll, Derby's Member of Parliament from 1868 to 1880 did much to enhance the safety of vessels at sea; so much so that he was known as 'the sailors friend'. Bess of Hardwick's tomb is in the cathedral and Derby County Football Club is internationally known though it has suffered of late.
A catalogue of events typical of the history of many a town and city in 21st century Britain. Events that I feel were overshadowed the day Derby's small claims to fame were replaced by a single act of hideous infamy.
On Saturday afternoon, the 27th September, around 2.30pm a young man climbed onto the railing at the edge of the Westfield Centre car park. At about 5.45pm the young man fell to his death; a sad event at anytime. What made this particular occurrence particularly horrifying was that it was witnessed by a crowd of onlookers whose reactions were, to say the least, mystifying.
That anyone by choice would witness the sad demise of a fellow human being defies any understanding. That some enjoyed the drama, to the extent of giving abuse and shouting encouragement to jump defies comprehension. Plus the amazing fact that some allowed children to witness the unfolding spectacle. Add the fact that some recorded events on mobile phones (in some cases later posted on internet sites) and you have a 'happening' that is mind bendingly beyond the understanding of normal people.
In the days of public hanging a mob mentality existed. It was a day out, an entertainment for all. The last public hanging in Derby took place in 1862. Have we not moved on from ignorant, uncaring times; seemingly not. For make no mistake, the actions of many bystanders was worse than those of long gone times. For we now live in the main in more civilised times. So what fuels these unthinking, uncaring fools? The word scum is an overused collective noun, but for once where these imbeciles are concerned I think it is justified.
One or two things come to mind then I will give these idiots no more of my time. Do these people now realise in the cold light of day that their behaviour was totally unreprehesible, totally unacceptable to the majority; I hope so. What causes such disregard for our fellow human beings, particularly towards those who find life difficult in the extreme. (Blame is usually directed towards too much alcohol or the fact that a diet of horror movies desensitises but no excuse carries any real weight.)
One further concern occupies my thoughts. In 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie marched on London. Arriving in Derby he changed his mind and returned home with his rag tag army. Now the fact that it was near Derby that he turned back was irrelevant at the time. He knew nothing of Derby so it was not personal. But at the back of mind is the fact that the whole world seems to have read of Saturdays sad events. How many will now view the good citizens of Derby with contemptuous disgust. No matter that the majority are caring, concerned individuals. Presumably these awful events could have happened elsewhere but it would be wrong to say I hope so. Shaun Dykes, aged seventeen, rest in peace; you deserved better of the world.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Christmas is Coming

Anyday now the first Christmas lights will appear on Harvey Road, part of Derby's ring road. It is as if there's a competition to be first. There is certainly a competition in my family to be 'the first spotter' so to speak! I am reminded of all this on Tuesday, the last day in September, the reason being, I had a haircut and beard trim. And yes, there is a connection as I will explain. Being short and bearded, the latter for many years, the former, forever, it is not unusual for people to look in my direction when a 'Santa' is required. (see blog dated 22 September) It is not true that in summer I am a model in a garden gnome factory. I am reasonably happy to oblige but parents insist on the real thing, so to speak, no false beards allowed; herein lies the problem.
I would never claim to be the worlds best dressed man, only the best kept man. But as beards go there is a limit. The limit is usually the time you find bits of left over meals, especially cereals in amongst the unkempt hair. It is also a sign when small children run to hide behind mother's skirt, wide eyed and often screaming profusely; the child that is, but occasionally both. You would be surprised how many small children are terrified of a 'Father Christmas.'
I used to regularly visit playgroups in my role as Community Service organiser at Noel Baker Comprehensive School. In the run up to Christmas I was viewed with awe by many three to four year olds. And this is where it became a little naughty. On occasion it would be suggested I was Santa's brother, a deception seldom queried by small children still innocent of the wicked adult world that lay ahead. The best behaved received the solomn promise that I would inform my brother as to their Christmas wish list. The worst behaved were informed that they needed to reform their wicked ways before 'Brother Santa' could even contemplate a visit. I know, I know, dreadfully non PC behaviour not acceptable today. (Is Father Christmas politically incorrect nowadays?) All this immature behaviour, but lets face it, I'd probably pretend to be Usama Bin Laden if I was wandering in and out of playgroups in the present climate of fear and uncertainty. Some of us never grow up! Strangely enough Bin Laden is left handed like myself and we both use a stick on occasion. Mind you, he is around six feet five to my five feet five. Do little children know all this!
I digress. The haircut and trim was hopefully timed to ensure I am reasonably tidy for the next few weeks but suitably long bearded for Christmas week. Discussion resulted in the use of a number three razor cut. The result is more suave (only kidding) than Santa. We have eleven weeks to go. Is our timing correct. Watch this space!