Saturday 21 February 2009

Colourful Neighbours

Another weekend, another blank blogger. So an excuse for a story I wrote some time ago , published in my book of short stories, 'There's Nowt so Strange as Folk'. (signed copies available sent anywhere in the world five pounds fifty including packaging, plus postage. A real bargain, cost me nearly that to have printed!)
The sun is shining (Saturday morning). Hope it amuses this promising springlike weekend.

“We can live without our friends, but not without our neighbours.”
J Kelly, Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs, 1721

“Every white hath its black, and every sweet its sour.”
18th century proverb

Colourful Neighbours

In a peaceful village, in a row of terraced cottages there lived two old men. Mr White in number seven with the black front door, and Mr Black at number eight with the white front door. One, a retired blacksmith with long white hair and his faithful companion, an affable black Labrador called Satan. The other, a retired white-collar worker with short black hair and a placid white Bull Terrier called Whitey.
Mr White had arrived, many years previous, from Blackheath in Suffolk, or was it Blackmoor in Somerset. Followed not so long afterwards by Mr Black, retired after a working career spent in Whitehaven in Cumbria, though he claimed to be a true Cockney, his birthplace, Whitechapel.
They settled into the village amicably enough, joining in the various activities so typical of village life, even to the extent of acting in the Christmas pantomimes. Mr Black was excellent as Grumpy in Snow White whilst Mr White’s Sinbad the Sailor was much admired.
But their real expertise lay in their love of the land, bringing to the village horticultural skills both admired and envied.
Perhaps here were sown, literally, the seeds of animosity. For it became evident that both men had in their nature’s a competitive streak that struck stone dead the idealistic viewpoint, ‘It’s not the winning that matters, but the taking part.’ Mr White and Mr Black were both of the considered opinion, “ What a load of old codswallop!”
Keen gardeners, both had allotments and greenhouses and were gifted with green fingers, so to speak; therefore ensuring both vied for top position at the flower, fruit and vegetable show, the annual highlight of the Allotment Association’s year.
Meticulous gardeners, greenfly had no place on the pair’s allotments, though it had to be said, Mr White constant battled with persistent blackfly, whilst Mr Black waged war consistently against the assiduous whitefly. Mr Black’s celery was the whitest ever seen, whilst Mr White’s aubergines were the colour of coal, and his blackcurrants had no equal. Plus beans, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, parsnips; potted plants, all were grown to perfection. Other locals could only envy their expertise. The dynamic duo were not as green as is cabbage looking.
The much- prized cup for ‘best in show’ see sawed between the two neighbours. In the early days of their arrival amicably enough, but as the years passed, the strain began to tell. Now in their seventies, both men showed early but distinct signs of paranoia, especially in the weeks leading up to the vegetable shows.
Each spied on the other, net curtains a-twitching, journeys to the allotments monitored and crops inspected. Carrots and leeks grown in chimney pots surreptitiously watered at dead of night. How you may well ask, but you don’t really want to know!
Until one Friday before the show was, for Mr White, the blackest of days. Inspection of his allotment revealed catastrophe. Languishing leeks and fading fuschias; poorly plants personified.
Black rage enveloped Mr White. His thoughts turned in one direction only. Who would benefit from his demise, surely one person and one person only?
Mr White hurried home, as fast as a seventy year old can. He knocked on Mr Black’s white front door, barely able to contain his rage. A dog within raged also, as the door opened to reveal a bemused Mr Black.
“You need a whack, Black.” Mr White’s enraged greeting took Mr Black by surprise.
“You’re a sight, White. You’re definitely not right, White.” Mr White was taken aback at such accusations, definitely, he thought, a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The two old men faced each other, years of frustration surfacing. Mr Black turned white with rage and temper, while Mr White’s black looks were intended to frighten his septuagenarian foe. The police were called, threatening both with a trip in a Black Maria.
Both were red in the face, though this matters little to the story. Neither for that matter is it important that the action took place in front of the village green. Or the fact that Mr White had yellow jaundice as a child and Mr Black once had scarlet fever! That the sky was blue, whilst grey smoke billowed from the terraced chimneys; or that grey doves sat on the red slates of the cottages and a blackbird sat in the cherry tree.
No, the important fact was that Mr White’s chance of success in the forthcoming show was no more. Equally important was the accusation that Mr Black was responsible.
The Allotment Committee called a meeting and discussed the issue in great detail. But there was no evidence that Mr Black was the culprit of so heinous a crime. Mr White of course thought their decision was a whitewash, but the committee could reach no other conclusion, the evidence was far from black and white.
The effect of the whole affair was catastrophic. Already somewhat unstable, the bizarre behaviour of the two old adversaries became the talk of the village. Mr Black painted his front door black, Mr White his front door white. Both gave up gardening, taking up other interests. Mr White studied accountancy at evening classes, learning how to stay in the black instead of the red. Mr Black studied the history of television, becoming an expert on The Black and White Minstrels.
Then a strange thing happened. Mr Green at number nine was taken ill, in fact very ill. He had been in hospital many years previously but had been given the green light regarding future health. Realising he had not long on this planet, he wrote a letter to the Allotment Committee admitting he was responsible for the destruction of Mr White’s crops prior to the show the previous year. Mr Black too was targeted, but Mr Green had lacked the opportunity of a second uninterrupted allotment visit. Mr Green had been a show winner prior to the arrival of the green-fingered duo, Mr Black and Mr White. Clearly a case of succumbing to the green-eyed monster, jealousy.
Shortly afterwards Mr Green retired to the allotment in the sky, where all the crops are prize winners and potato blight and the cabbage white butterfly are no more.
The two old men made up, after all those years of animosity. No more black looks or white lies. They visited each other, happy now in each other’s company in the twilight of their lives. Enjoying together Cilla Black on their black and white televisions, drinking White Horse Scotch Whisky, sharing black puddings and boxes of Black Magic and holidaying together in Blackpool or on the Isle of Wight.
Happiness at last, no longer in each others black books, two old men happy in each other’s company; an old white man and an old black man, Billy Black and Chalky White.

Monday 16 February 2009

Who's a Clever Boy

There's no denying it, I'm feeling pleased with myself. After months of frustration I've finally done it. I've put a moving picture onto a blog. Thanks blogging friends 'who have made it all possible.' My technical skills being what they are, without you it would not have been possible.
(Plus my wife has done the actual setting up bit. I am totally incapable. Mind you, there's nothing worse than people who are good at everything!)

I feel like John Logie Baird must have felt when he first sent that picture across the attic room on the 26th January 1926. Ok, ok, my efforts are hardly earth shattering (more like Yogi Bear than Logie Baird) but he, Baird was only thirty seven for goodness sake and had all of his brain. Plus my efforts are hopefully going across the world, not merely a room in the backstreets of London. Who would have believed it of this man! So, for my amusement, and hopefully yours, here goes.
We, my wife and I looked after an aunt in our home for eight years. (From the age of eighty six until she died in her bed aged ninety four.) She arrived at our house, scruffy, confused and hungry, clutching an equally dilapidated eighteen year old cat. They both eventually settled in until the cat inevitably died as old cats do, to leave a gap in the old ladies life. She missed her feline friend and we needed to find her another companion fast. Enter Happy, courtesy of the local Sunday fleamarket, a stopgap of low quality and even lower taste. Happy lived with my aunt for over four years and was still regarded with affection even when joined by another of the living, breathing variety. Well done Happy, you brought pleasure into an old ladies final years. The funny thing was, though he performed on a daily basis, my aunt never ever remembered what a miserable old devil he really was. Try him and see! (If anyone is as remotely bemused by technology as I am, this means clicking on the link, 'Enter Happy.')<

Milking My New Found Skills

They'll be no holding this new expert of the blogging world now I've mastered the moving picture lark. (Hush my mentors who are still sending me instructions, pretend you never existed.)
I do regular public speaking engagements for masses of money. (£20 a time is a lot of money to a near destitute pensioner. It seldom costs me more than ten pounds in diesel to get there!) Its good fun in the main except when the front row goes fast asleep, mouths open wide. (The worst bookings are early afternoon when some of the audience, mainly old gentleman have been for a pie and a pint prior to the 'happening.') Plus its sometimes off putting when you ask afterwards if your talk went okay.
'Was it alright then?'
'Yes, fine.'
'Only I wondered as they didn't seem to interact very much.'
'Oh, don't worry about it, mi' duck. Most of them are deaf and can't hear you!'
The other thing that can be a bit of a problem is how long. I like to give value but there's a limit. I once got mildly told off for finishing five minutes early. They like to get what they are paying for, especially in the north.
How many people reading this blog have been to a Ken Dodd performance. Now there's a genius, make no mistake. He is seldom on stage for less than three hours and often does over four. Plus the man will be eighty two this year! Now I can rabbit on but I'm not in Mr Dodd's class, never mind league. Which is where my little friend comes in. You can't stop Ken Dodd in full flow. Try my little friend for size. I always take him with me on my excursions. He too objects to being silenced when in full flow. So if you find me a booking, be warned. You might have to drag me off stage once I get going. What an awful thought! (Again for the less technical, picture one is on link labelled 'He too objects to being', link two labelled 'I get going.')
Perhaps never again. You have no idea how long these two blogs were in the making. Less effort went into the making of Gone With The Wind. I just hope they were worth it. Now please excuse me whilst I go for a lie down!

Friday 13 February 2009

Bigger is Best, Or is It?

I have enjoyed life as a part time public speaker for some time. My set spiel is entitled 'There's Nowt so Strange as Folk' for which I receive the princely sum of twenty pounds including travel. (As mentioned before Tony Blair got £164,000 for one fifty minute speech.) Unlike the blogging world, public speaking is not really a media dealing with the topical, it tends to deal with events that stand the test of time. At the same time new material is necessary for repeat performances. (Even geriatric audiences recognise a little of a speech they have heard before.) So the time came to add to my repertoire. So I hit on the idea of a talk entitled 'Is the Whole World going Mad or is it Me.' How fascinating this has proved to be. Seemingly the world is full of pompous fools, awkward customers, excruciatingly stupid rules and regulations and the daftest happenings imaginable, all mixed in with the most heart warming individuals on this or any other planet.
My collection of material has grown over time and I have become almost an authority on anything odd or stupid. Nothing sensible or mind stretching, just anything odd or stupid! Take the word bigger for instance.
In German there is a man, Karl Szmolinsky who breeds giant rabbits, and I mean giant. The size of a dog, some weighing over 10kg (22lb); you can't get much bigger than that! They are viewed with interest by some of the worlds leading nations, including China and the USA. Evidently one rabbit can supply up to 7kg (15lb) of meat. Such was the interest in North Korea that twelve were brought for a breeding programme. Unfortunately it coincided with the birthday of Kim Yong II, the North Korean's leader. There is the very strong suspicion that the rabbits were part of the banquet in his honour. Oh dear! Mind you, the appetite of these rabbits is massive; carrots, potatoes, anything that stops moving I imagine. Perhaps the Koreans decided that giant rabbits were not cost productive after all.
Quickly moving on lest the more sensitive amongst you dwell too long on those poor rabbits. do you remember Bao Xishun, the herdsman from Inner Mongolia. He was lonely, shy, sad and girl less. He is also 7ft 9in tall. He didn't have too much going for him.
Now the Royal Jidi Ocean World in the northeastern Liaoning province had two dolphins with a penchant for swallowing plastic dropped into their aquarium. Which proved immovable despite the best attempts of veterinary surgeons armed with surgical instruments. So who was sent for. Was it Batman and Robin or the inimitable Spiderman. Not likely, enter Bao, he of the 41in (106cm) arms. Arms down the throat and hey presto, (what's Mongolian for hey presto) job done. The dolphins made a complete recovery and Bao became an instant hero. So much so that he attracted the attention of the opposite sex. At the age of fifty six he married Xia Shujuan, a twenty eight year old, 5ft 6in saleswoman from his home town of Chifeng. All together now, all say ahhh!
So is big best I wonder. I leave you with this thought. Some time back health specialists suggested clothes made in larger sizes should carry a tag with an obesity helpline number. (I can't resist printing the sizes.) It refers to all clothes sold with a waist of more than 40in for men and 37in for boys, women's garments with a waist of more than 35in or size 16 or above, and more than 31in for girls. Me, I still think stories concerning rabbits and dolphins are more interesting. Now pardon me whilst I go and find a tapemeasure.

Monday 9 February 2009

Don't make a Hash, when disposing of Ash.

I'm not feeling morbid, honest but a family bereavement set me thinking. An old family friend died recently and his ashes were scattered at Filey. Evidently he spent much of his childhood there. Now I've nothing against Filey but it won't be my choice. Which begs the question, where would you choose.
I'm a lifelong Derby County fan and have a brick set in the floor outside the ground. It reads' The best of times, the worst of times.' (Dickens, Hard Times.) I have thought of Pride Park as a last resting place, somewhere near the penalty spot. Only the groundsmen go round at half time with garden forks and prod the ground. I don't fancy that one bit. How unsightly, bits of me on the end of a fork, on a windy day the possibilities are endless. I'm serious, honest.
The friend of a friend of mine died young. He had during his short life a love of Combe Martin in Devon. And what are friends for. His friends drove all the way down to Devon, urn between passengers feet for a last scattering of his ashes. Only Combe Martin beach is draughty at the best of times. A walk to the waves, lid off and whoosh, ash was everywhere. Mothers who had just bought their children ice creams were far from pleased, I can tell you. Funnily enough, Harry, the deceased would have found it hilarious. He was always one for a practical joke.
I was brought up a Moravian and attended a little chapel in the village of Ockbrook. In my school teaching days I once took a minibus of what was then called remedial children to the chapel in the hope of educating them. Several had never been out of the town, never mind inside a religious establishment. Only about fifteen minutes into a somewhat laid back trip one youngster presented me with a small quarter full container he had retrieved from under a seat at the back of the church come chapel. A container I doubt we would have ever seen again had it been of any value. It was of course an urn containing someones ashes, placed in a safe place, ready for a memorial service and scattering of ashes in a day or two's time. Only, as Jim Royal would say, 'safe place my a***.' Mind you, it didn't take us long to top up the urn. Remedial they might have been but never call the kids I taught daft. We had the urn topped up in minutes, no one ever realises how much dust there is in the world until you really look. Mixed well and full to the brim, the urn was hastily returned to its original resting place. Well done lads. It was only on the way home that it dawned on me perhaps the urn was never full in the first place! Thank heaven I was not there to see the urn retrieved.
Its a problem to be sure. How many urns plus ashes finish on the mantle piece. I know of at least one case where this is so because the relations cannot agree on a last resting place. But in this technological age there are possibilities not available to 'ash scatterers' of past eras.
Scotty (James Doohan) of Star Trek fame had his ashes sent up into space on Rocket Falcon 1 courtesy of Celestris Inc. (Along with 208 others.) Only nothing on earth, and seemingly in space is ever simple. The rocket failed and finished up in the ocean. As good a place as any, I suppose.
(Its not as if only ashes can be a problem if you don't keep an eye on them. The story goes that Thomas Hardy's heart was placed on a table prior to internment and his favourite cat, Cobby carted it off.)
If you want your ashes close to hand (or heart, or ear for that matter) there are some intriguing possibilities in this ultra modern age. Possibilities certainly not available to your great granny.
One enterprising firm suggests turning the ashes into a diamond. Remember, folks, 'A diamond is forever.' No, then how about a piece of jewellery 'to keep near to your heart.' ( a locket with space inside to keep a few ashes. With the bonus of 10% off orders of five or more. The mind boggles with possibilities we won't go into.) And if you're used to being useful in this world and don't fancy doing nothing in the next life, how about being turned into something decorative; a paper weight for instance. (Engraved on the base free of charge.) I kid you not. Who was it who said there's no peace for the wicked. My apologies to anyone my irreverence offends but honestly, if you didn't laugh you'd cry.
So there you have it, the choice is vast, the choice is yours. But words of advice. Whatever you do, get relations or friends to keep their eyes on any ashes prior to decision making. And don't under any circumstances place them in the care of any of the worlds airlines. Emirates Airlines had a case containing ashes stolen on a stopover in Dubai. (I would love to have seen the thieves faces when they opened it up.) Plus Ryanair also lost an urn plus ashes travelling from Australia to Ireland. No wonder when the world's airlines apparently lose 10,000 items of luggage a day. Perhaps I'll opt for burial after all.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Blast from the Past no 1. (See blog dated 23rd Jan.)

Reasons For Choice.
It was only the sixth blog I ever did. I have chosen it because it epitomises so much of my blogging 'career' to date. I came into blogging completely ignorant with no preconceived ideas, and little prior knowledge, just the desire to write; a lifetime ambition mainly on hold due to other commitments that life inevitably thrusts upon us. At sixty eight ( sixty nine now) years of age I realise time is no longer on my side.
I had no real idea as to what I was about. I have no desire to become a 'sage' or to show others how clever I am. I suppose in a way I see it as 'thinking out loud' and if it amuses or entertains, so be it.
I have few technical skills. Thus my early efforts were unparagraphed, until others put me right. Indeed I still find much of the technical side frustrating and virtually impossible to fathom. I am not helped by TGA (see blog 18th May, Hooray for the NHS) and I suspect increasing senility. I still do not know how attracting new readers really works. (This was yet another blog from my early days that gleaned no response whatsoever.) In other words I am still not too far removed from the clueless geriatric of nine months ago. All this I hope is reflected in this early blog. What is not reflected is the generosity of spirit, encouragement and kind help of many I meet along the way. I have plans for the future, God willing. The words that come to mind are long time favourites but drive my youngest daughter to the point of distraction. I shall still aspire to gradual mastery of this blogging phenomenon, but it's 'Softly, softly, catchee monkey'.
(By coincidence my last blog was my 100th blog.)
Sunday 27th April 2008
An OAP let loose in the 21st century
Like a weasel to a rabbit I am transfixed. Hours spent trying to master the technology, mainly unsucessfully yet the urge to continue is overpowering. What was it Albert Einstein said, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." My incomprehension is unsurprising when you consider I even find an Idiot's Guide impossible to understand. Please tell me I am not the only one, or am I uniquely stupid when it comes to modern technology. And how strange I find myself posing questions to a screen, a substitite for the real world. An unreal situation akin to making love to a blow up doll or our childhood habit of smoking rolled up walnut leaves in an oakcup pipe. Both unsatisfactory substitutes for the real thing but better than nothing. I hasten to add I am not speaking from experience on the former. Now I reckon my problems in the main stem from three sources. One, at my age I'm a bit long in the tooth to learn new technologies but I can but try. Two, I have recently been informed I am functioning on half a brain, maybe a bit more to be honest but some missing all the same. More of this at a later date but imagine what I could do if it was all there, so to speak. And three, I need my eyes testing. My ninety nine pence glasses from Home Bargains are good value but hardly the result of considered professional examination. But at least you get to try them out. Which is more than can be said for the local Lidl. A fierce gentleman, Croatian I think he is patrols the isles, and can spot from over twenty yards a customer opening the goods. As their glasses are packaged you therefore buy pot luck, so to speak. Their car park is full of wrecked cars or at least it deserves to be. Any day now they'll be selling white sticks. I've thought my eyes needed testing for some time but a family function in The Devonshire, a posh pub in Baslow, Derbyshire finally made the fact inescapable. After a pint or two, or three, or four the need for the toilet was dire. Not surprising but at least it would suggest the old prostate is still working, if nothing else. Panic over and a might bit relieved so to speak, and, educated by frequent notices exorting us to 'Now wash your hands' I did as ordered and visited the hot air hand blower. Only posh as the pub was, the machine was totally ineffective, pathetic in the extreme. No rush of air, hot or otherwise. As I pondered so useless an apparatus and contemplated my next move I noticed a young man quizzically eyeing me from the urinal. Fearing I was about to be propositioned, I hastily withdrew my still wet hands from the machines orifice. It was only then I made out the wording on the machine, blurred in my case but cringingly embarrassing. The immortal words read 'Contraceptives, all colours and shapes, two pounds for three.'