Sunday 26 April 2009

April Showers (Grumpy's Alternative News.)

In a month when politicians yet again disgraced themselves with their greed, lies and e-mail shenanigans, stories from the animal kingdom brought welcome respite. Animals are more interesting than politicians anyway.
Take the politician in Poland who criticised his local zoo for acquiring a gay elephant. 'We didn't pay 37 million zlotys building the largest elephant house in Europe to have a gay elephant live there' he is quoted as saying. There is so much you could say on this story, for once I am speechless!
Did you notice the building of three hundred houses in Bristol has been delayed by a colony of slowworms. (A protected legless lizard) A real go slow I reckon. Go slow, get it. Oh, please yourself!
I also noticed scientists in Dubai have created the first cloned camel. The obvious question is why? Named Injaz, evidently its mother was slaughtered for meat in 2005. Its enough to give you the hump! Mind you, not everyone has kind feelings towards our four legged friends. A French bus driver in Berlin, Christina Pommerel was suspended for stopping to save a frog from getting squashed by her double decker bus. Irate passengers said her actions made them late. What miserable people. I hope the next bus drives straight past their queue!
Luckier was a giant lobster in Oxford University named Don, (weight 7lbs 7ounces, almost the same as my new grandson, Ted, but not half as handsome.) He, Don, not Ted was rehoused in the Blue Reef Aquarium, Southsea after outgrowing his tank. Presumably after six years in Oxford he is now a PHD. (Perfectly Happy Don.) I know, I know, it gets worse!
Plus Peta, the animal rights group showed us its heart is in the right place. They urged the Pet Shop Boys to change their names to the Rescue Shelter Boys to help in the fight against animal cruelty. They, Peta suggested it might encourage fans to consider giving a home to an abandoned animal from an animal shelter. The Pet Shop Boys were not unsympathetic but suggested they leave them alone and go and bother the Artic Monkeys instead.
I noticed Courtney Love was in the news and I must confess I had to look up exactly who she is. Evidently removal men packing her belongings threw out a dead bird in a matchbox. Which was a pity as it was an £8,000 work by the artist Polly Morgan. A replacement had to be sent (presumably at the same price), good business for the artist.
Notice how the moment humans are involved things tend to go wrong. A life size statue of a reclining horse, value £200,000 by Dame Elizabeth Frink is an object of rare beauty. Unfortunately one has gone missing from a gated property in Surrey. Stolen almost certainly by men in a Land Rover, its scrap value will, alas, be far short of £200,000. The police spokesman's comments that the vehicle 'caused a substantial amount of damage to the lawn' suggests he was more of a gardener than an art connoisseur.
Finally a real treat. Richard Lavelle, aged eighty has trained visiting foxes to beg for food on their nightly visits. Well done Mr Lavelle, you brightened a somewhat dour month. The gentleman in question lives approximately half a mile from where I am typing this blog. I have no doubt his foxes visit my garden (there are at least seven foxes.) The RSPCA put a dampener on events, pontificating, 'They could easily become dependent on you, then what happens when you move away?' Oh for goodness sake, lighten up, RSPCA. I reckon if all else fails these foxes (video) will form a group and go busking in town.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

A Modern Education

I spent my formative years attending school. Often non too willingly and with mixed results. As far as I remember I had eight jobs in ten years on leaving school. I also taught in the state system for close on twenty years. In the main happy years, teaching children and learning from them in equal parts. I have been in full time education as an adult twice (Not I might add 'two times'. Wherever did that phrase come from!) But nothing quite compares with the education this old hasbeen is receiving courtesy of the internet and more precisely via the world of blogging. Let me explain.
Via my blog I now communicate with people, nay friends from all corners of the globe. The technology of it all is wasted on me, suffice to say I understand (only just) that machines sort of sweep the blogging world and some, purely by chance seize on my feeble efforts as of interest, however temporary. And therein lies part of my education.
Out of curiosity I often go to the web site or whatever of some of the 'hits'. And boy, are my ancient eyes truly opened.
I write a blog (dated 9th Feb 09 entitled Don't Make a Hash when disposing of Ash) ). I am directed to a site that instructs me as to how to make 'keif hash' real quick. (sweet potato with bacon and honey are the bits I remember.) So far so good for this boring old fart. (Very relevant as it happens. See the end of this blog.)
Then I read the next suggestion. 'How to make marijuana Nutella firecrackers.' (It entails a gram of weed, crackers, a butter knife and Natella chocolate spread (or peanut butter). Very interesting but no good to me. I haven't got a butter knife!
I write another blog (Every House should Have One dated Dec 8th 08) concerning our preoccupation with the price of gas and electricity. The machine that is central to my blog indicates as to the use of electricity to the nth degree. But why are we all so concerned. Save electricity, it's easy when you know how! My blog 'visitor' directs me to a site that has the answer. With a little know how, patience, skill and ingenuity you can wire into your telephone and draw electricity that will power you a reading lamp. A cost cutter extraordinaire! Nor need you spend on expensive telephone calls. Another 'visitor' shows how to make telephone calls via a Nintendo DS. ( Even my wife has a DS which she loves dearly. I am now third behind the new grandchild and the DS.) All amazing to me but I've only just got the hang of light switches. ( See the blog relating to my grandmother dated 23rd April 08)
Allowing myself to be sidetracked by visiting hits is very time consuming. I am offered instructions on 'How to make a smoking pipe out of a carrot.' A video on 'How to hack into a vending machin ' appeared to show a young man with his arm up the machines delivery orifice. Two young men very self consciously showed 'How to see through peoples clothes' It involved the use of night sights. It was the sort of thing we read about in comics when we were twelve. These two men were around twenty!
Many of the more dubious sites are American but non the less funny. 'How to make the traffic light always green on your approach' appeals. (Something to do with magnets). But motorists going the other way might not be amused. I thought 'How to determine whether she is a hooker or a cop' was illuminating (another shows how to distinguish if the person you have engaged in conversation 'is a real life street worker.')
The content of some sites seem dubious to say the least. Certainly 'How to pull the porn star toilet prank' is best forgotten. And the video showing 'how to plant a condom' was certainly outside my previous experience! (You don't really want to know. It involves baking powder and a 'planted' condom, funny or disgusting depending on the viewer and certainly, as Kenny Everett (video) used to say 'in the worst possible taste.' )
One of the talks I give to groups is entitled 'Is the Whole World going Mad or is it Me'. There is enough material on the internet for a dozen talks. Only I don't thing the geriatrics, Towns Women's Guilds and Women's Institutes who engage my limited talents would be amused!
But enough of frivolity. I'm just going back to look again at an interesting site that caught my eye. When you cease to show an enquiring mind you die. Plus 'How to make a fart machine' might well be to useful. You never know.

Have you ever been surprised whilst 'surfing' the internet?

Thursday 16 April 2009

Ted Arthur Roberts

Strange things we human beings.
We are so often self sufficient, blinkered, egotistical beings. With no need of an outside force, we are strong, capable, adaptable; masters of our own destiny. Hurrying and scurrying through life, often thoughtless and uncaring, intellectual masterminds, confident of our innate wisdom and inordinate power. We are supreme beings, or so we would believe.
Alison, my daughter, pregnant with her third child, several days overdue, waits anxiously. Having already experienced an ectopic pregnancy, a premature birth (Angelina) and a worrying time with her last child (Tommy) pregnancy is never easy for Alison, or for that matter, husband Simon and anyone else remotely connected by birth or friendship.
On red alert, the phone rings at three o'clock in the morning. My wife staggers out of bed, I continue my sojourn, as grandfathers do. Paulette journeys a hundred yards down the road to babysit Angelina, seven and Tommy, five. Alison and Simon travel to the Baby Unit of the City Hospital. I return to my interrupted slumbers. What is it they say nowadays, 'I wish'.
Sleep is impossible. My mind is full of doubt and negativity. How many things could go wrong, a massive collection of 'What ifs' swirl round my head. Anxious and fretful I am filled with an apprehension and foreboding bordering on the fearful. What if the baby has serious imperfections. What if it doesn't survive. What if anything happens to Alison. Always the question, 'What if'. The night is black and my mood is blacker. I feel powerless, and very mortal.
I drift in and out of troubled sleep and nightmarish images. I lift my eyes to the heavens in silent prayer. My invincibility is stripped bare, I do what I suspect most people do in the circumstances, look for outside help. And therein lies the truth of the matter. Whatever our outward show of bravado, dismissal of all things spiritual, stripped bare we are inadequate, unsure beings, in our own right simply nothing.
Dawn breaks, I arise bleary eyed and my wife arrives with Angelina and Tommy. On semblance we eye the phone. The morning passes slowly, oh so slowly. The pressure is excruciatingly uncomfortable. At twelve o'clock Angela asks 'Does it really take this long to get a baby out of 'there.'
At one fifteen the phone rings. My wife takes it to the silence of the bedroom. Five minutes later she tearfully returns. We have another grandson, Ted Arthur, weight seven pounds eight ounces. (Alison had steadfastly refused to be told the sex of the child before birth.) The relief is overwhelming, the joy immeasurable.
In this modern age Ted is home by the evening. He is examined and much admired and will be cherished forever. Life will, I presume, eventually once again return to some semblance of normality. But the experience has left a mark. I have not been instantly converted to religion, be it Christian, Muslim, Judaism or whatever. But I tell you this. Angelina's puzzlement had more than a ring of truth. I saw Ted in the hospital at seven hours old and I wondered. I wondered at the fact that this beautiful baby had, only hours earlier, been bent double in a completely different environment just waiting to enter a strange new world. And that strikes this old man as very clever. Very clever indeed. Whatever or whoever is behind it all, I suspect life and all the inherent ramifications are far too intricate to be a pointless, random exercise. I might consider myself clever, but blimey, not that clever!

Creating a blog, easy peasy, (It is exactly one year since my first hesitant blog.) Creating a universe, rather more difficult.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Diary of an Adolescent, 1953.

I recently rediscovered my diary of 1953. An exciting find for me as I am engaged in an autobiographical work concerning 1945 to 1959. (I hope to publish as a weekly blog from November, the month of my seventieth birthday, God willing.)
The diary is scruffy, mundane and contains information relevant to 1953. A dog licence cost 7/6d, car tax £12-10 shillings, a marriage licence 10/- and a wireless licence £1-0-0. Plus Kenneth Stevens was 4ft 6 inches tall and weighed 5st 3 lbs!
It contains a multitude of spelling mistakes. (Who would have thought I would go on to teach English.) It is not exactly Samuel Pepys, nevertheless it is an interesting insight into the life of a 1950's thirteen year old village boy.
My life seemed to focus around football, playing and football, watching. The watching being Derby County at the Baseball Ground, cost 6d to stand in the 'Boys Corner'. (Curiously never referred to as 'the Boys and Girls Corner'.) So keen was I that every Derby County result was faithfully recorded. I also played cricket and hockey at secondary school and attended Long Eaton open air swimming baths whatever the weather. The latter a hated occupation which taught me nothing. I left school at seventeen a non swimmer and learnt to swim within weeks in the local canal.
My existence was totally self centred, oblivious in the main to the world beyond, though there are in fact very occasional references to the outside world. I recorded on January 28th. 'Bentley was hanged at nine o'clock. Five hundred people booed and jeered outside the prison.' (For some reason I have had a lifelong fascination with murders and murderers.)
10th March simply records 'Mr Stalin was buried yesterday.' The 25th March entry informs 'Queen Mary died yesterday' whilst June 12th reveals 'Les Graham was killed'. (He was a famous rider in the TT Races in the Isle of Man.) An early indication of my future interest in motorbikes. Jan 27th reminds 'The Empress of Canada is still burning.'
Plus there are references to the wireless, television and very occasional trips to the local theatre, courtesy of Aunt Ida from Derby. Including mention of Carol Levis on the wireless and Henry Hall, Jack Watson and Jimmy Jewell on television; plus Wee Georgie Wood on stage at the Hippodrome. (We had no television at home neither would my mother have been able to afford theatre trips.)
But in the main thirteen year old interest was, in a way amazingly simplistic compared to today's computerised adolescent pursuits. Jan 'Ran out of stamp hinges.' Feb 'My bike mudguard rattled'; 'nearly finished an egg stand in woodwork.' 'Stuck photos in album.' April 'Made a caravan from Weetabix.' 'Football case split so played with dinkies.'
Times were austere. 'Mam has run out of sugar so we are using icing sugar' but we were not unhappy. Small things amused, the simplest of events gave pleasure. 'British Legion party. Had a biro as present.' At Easter 'Had some pontefracts from mam.'
The austerity of the times and in particular my families existence was reflected in periodic mention of food. Of the Sunday School party, no mention of activities, only that we had a 'Good tea.' And a highlight of the year was undoubtedly the Celanese Gala Day and free tickets from friend Eric's mum. (Eric's father was a Celanese employee.) The page entry triumphantly reads. 'Had free tea. (the word free was underlined) Mars Bar, chocolates, 2 chocolate wafers, ice cream and pop.' A feast indeed!
A love of animals is evident throughout the diary. January 'Saw a frog under the ice and rescued it.' (I wonder if it required rescuing) Jan 9 'Hope my tortoise is still hibernating' and April 'Found tortoise upside down. A broken back leg I think.' June tells us 'Cat caught it's tail in the door'. There are also references to 'poor old Benji' and later 'Grannie buried him.' (To this day I am not sure as to exactly who or what Benji was, presumably a family dog or cat.)
But probably the most revealing was the the entry for the 3rd January. 'Foxhunt at culvert. Fox went down hole. No terrier so they could not get fox. I was glad.' (But it always was a myth that the fox hunting debate was a country versus town issue. We village children may have followed the hunt but that is not to say we liked their arrogance and cruelty.)
Being country bred our pursuits reflected our rural existence. Never more so than our knowledge of bird life around us. We were avid egg collectors, but taught to take one egg only from a nest. 'Found starlings egg.' 'Found six birds nests.' 'Linnet in Rice's hedge. Three eggs.' ' Found new nest up Muddy Lane. Bird small. Black head. Hissed. What is it?'
I attended school though seldom with enthusiasm apart from a love of sport. 6th Jan 'New teacher with red hair. (Miss Lockwood) She is very strict. Personally I do not like her.' But oh for the fickleness of the young. 9th Jan 'I am beginning to like Miss Lockwood more than at the beginning.' Homework's were numerous and often completed on the bus journey to school. The finished articles were often joint efforts. 'Drewitt borrowed my English book.' And if school was tolerated rather than enjoyed there are memories that I cherish. It taught me a love of reading and instilled a thirst for knowledge. The diary faithfully records 'Went to the library and took out Biggles Flies South and Biggles in Borneo.' And a later entry, 'Have now read Biggles Breaks the Silence, Biggles in Spain, Biggles Goes to War and Biggles Flies the Swastika.' (Coupled with a penchant for fervently collecting Turf cigarette cards it is small wonder school studies so often took a back seat.)
School also provided only my second trip to the seaside to date, a camping holiday for underprivileged children in Mundesley, Norfolk, which I in my ignorance spelt Norfok. We visited Cromer and I faithfully recorded that 'Cromer is posh but not much of a place' and that 'I only spent one and sixpence today.' Not the most exciting of times. 'We had another sing song' and 'My turn to wash up' but the memories nevertheless will stay forever.
So the summer continued. I recorded visits to town (on one occasion walking there, a distance of over four miles), visiting the museum and buying stinking scent. Plus friend Bob 'Pinched Woolies egg but put it back.' How typical were we I wonder.
Life was for living. Occasionally I envied others but in the main I 'lived the life'. Thinking profound thoughts was for others. Perhaps thinking is an adult occupation.
An unimportant diary but an important part of my life. Even more so in that the diary finishes abruptly on Sunday the 30th 0f August. On the 8th of September I arrived home to be told that my mother had died. (see blog dated 12th December) My life would never be the same again.
What do you remember from the first of your teenage years?

Monday 6 April 2009

Mad as a March Hare weeks 3 and 4

In case the recession is getting you down here is Grumpy's alternative news you may have missed.
The Crime Scene
A two year old was sent an ASBO warning in Lincoln for kicking footballs at windows and abusing neighbours. What on earth will he be like when he learns to walk! Police apologised for sending the warning to the wrong address.
Staff at Rymans smashed a forgery ring after finding Boy George's image was on the watermark of the £20 notes. Again a case of mistaken identity, this time, wrong queen!
Two robbers leaving a Milwaukee jewellers with cash and jewellery were mugged. Even more unlucky was footballer Ashley Cole, fined a mere £80 for being drunk and disorderly but another £160,000 by his club, Chelsea. (two weeks wages!)
A single mother in South Wales was so fed up with her daughter's bickering (aged fourteen and eleven) that she filled the fridge, left £30 on the mantelpiece and cleared off to Spain. She shouldn't have done it but I know the feeling.
To deal with antisocial behaviour on an estate in Mansfield pink lights have been installed to deter teenagers gathering in groups. Evidently pink light highlights teenagers acne. I await the results with baited breath.
Finally, is it my imagination, or are crooks and not the police the sophisticated ones? Police officers on the beat in Falmouth have been issued with whistles for the first time in forty years, Evidently they make it easier to attract the attention of cyclists. Whilst a thief in Sutton, Surrey admitted using Google Earth to identify lead roofs. He admitted £100,000 of thefts. I assume he didn't go round on his bike to commit these crimes. (Incidentally the new Google service Street View is already causing concern. In the USA where it was launched two years ago it has shown people nude sunbathing, being arrested and urinating in the street.)
It's a strange old world
I try not to join the wingers who constantly carp on as to how bad life is today but occasionally they are fed information that is just up their street. The Chelsea Pensioners have at long last accepted the ladies into their ranks. Brilliant, but please don't 'ape' the females of Teignbridge Ladies Netball League in Devon. They have all been sent letters concerning the use of 'foul and abusive language'. Oh dear, definitely unladylike behaviour. Neither can the parents who booed the winners at the inter-school sports day at Worthing be proud of themselves. Not exactly behaviour designed to impress. Plus you do wonder when McDonald's new jobs drive includes training on skills such as 'how to report for work on time.'
There again maybe it isn't obvious to some as to exactly what a brain is for. A man from Doncaster evidently drove his car down a FOOTPATH, via sat-nav until a fence prevented him from going over a 100 foot cliff. Then he blamed the sat-nav!
But enough of being serious! Who noticed the discovery of a 2500 year old sauna at a site of a new park and ride close to the M5 near Taunton in Somerset. Plus twenty three skeletons. Now that must have been one hell of a hot sauna. They don't make them like that today!
Finally, very finally, many may find my slant on the month totally daft. But fancy being daft by name as well as nature. Evidently names that many find hilarious are in decline. Cock, Daft, Death, Smellie, Gotobed, Shufflebottom, Jelly, all reduced numerically. Cocks for instance has declined by 75% since the first census in 1881, Daft and Balls by more than 50%. And the fastest growing you may ask. Zhang, up from 123 in 1996 to 5804 in 2008. (Closely followed by Wang, Yang, Huang and Lin.) As Michael Caine was heard to retort, 'Not a lot of people know that!'
So there you have it, another month consigned to history. Hopefully there are many more to come.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Blast from the Past no 3 (see blog dated 1st March)

Reasons for Choice

I notice Gordon Brown recently lost a contact lense down the plughole. Like me he has one good eye. Like my wife he wears a contact lense. Unlike either of us, when he loses a contact lense someone else searches for it. Oh to be powerful and important. But let me show you the fun he misses!

'Eye, eye' dated Wednesday 18th June 2008. Yet another blog that elicited no respnse!

I had an uncle who had one of the earliest cataract operations in the country, not many years after the war. I only remember him having one contact lens. It was the size of a ten pence piece with one part raised and always reminded me of a sea shell. But best remembered was the fact that he used to clean it with Brasso, unbelievable but true. It must have surely affected the capability of the lens and how his eye never became infected is beyond comprehension. Though I do remember his eye was often bloodshot in the extreme.
I have one good eye, the left has very limited vision and has evidently been so probably since birth. Only I never realised until undergoing an army medical in the late fifties. (The proper army, honest, not the Salvation.) But it would explain why, having no three dimensional vision I was such a lousy batsman at cricket. The ball was often past me before I picked up its flight. (Plus being hit round the ribs frequently does little for your confidence; neither does a low pain threshold help.)
I was fitted, after tests involving space age equipment with a single (left eye)) contact lens by a knowledgeable optician. Eyes at the ready I thanked him profusely and marched out confidently, promptly colliding with the door frame, suffering mild concussion and one hell of an headache.
I persevered for many a month but eventually admitted defeat, having, I fear nearly put several cyclists on the nearside of my car into the nearest available ditches. What happened eventually to the lens I have no idea, it will probably turn up as the loft contents diminish.
Neither is my wife immune from eye problems. She was a young and attractive young lady when we first met, the owner of large round spectacles so befitting of the era. (In case she reads this, you are still attractive, my dear in spite of the passing years.) Self conscious, fashion conscious too, Paulette was talked into being fitted with contact lenses. Then the fun really started.
I often got the impression my wife peered into the distance rather than merely looked, like ordinary mortals. They, the lenses had to be found and inserted before any excursion, however small and even then you were never sure if they were in or out, so to speak. And if they ever did 'pop out' what followed could be stressful, pandemic and sometimes even entertaining.
The earliest search I remember was going on honeymoon. The car full of confetti, thousands of coloured pieces of paper versus one dropped lens. Result, confetti, five thousand; lens nil. One one eyed bride; one one eyed bridegroom.
One once went missing on a sand slide from the sand hills next to the beach near Cromer. "Stop, stand still" once again came the plaintive cry, "I've lost a lens." Again ten minutes of entertainment for all, including the children, bystanders and the dog. The latter incidentally particularly enjoyed the digging, spraying sand in all directions. I reckon he thought we were hiding it, not burying it. Result, ten million, million, million particles of sand, lens nil.
I did once recover a lens after yet another of my wife's mishaps. She lost it, in of all places the shower. At least we knew where it had gone, obviously down the plughole. From the drain outside I collected in the region of a dozen jam jars full of foul smelling, black, oozing, putrefying semi liquid filth. I patiently filtered the oozing substance. Every handful contained at least one beetle carcass that felt to the touch unbelievably like a contact lens. And, after an hours patient searching I got the little blighter. Triumphantly I returned my prize to my wife. Only she wouldn't reinsert it in her eye, not now, not ever. Rather a waste of my efforts, I thought, but in retrospect who could blame her after where it had been, though not in the same league as Brasso.
Contact lenses, at least the early ones often had the knack of adhering to clothes after they had fallen out. Walk around and you could redistribute them anywhere. The trick was to strip off completely, the wearer not the searcher and place your clothes in a neat pile. Then you could search diligently, the pile of clothes first and then the rest of the room. For under thirties it became a very interesting few minutes that could be stretched somewhat if you spotted the elusive lens but didn't let on, so to speak. If you happened to be in Woolworth's shopping definitely a good time was had by all.
We are older now and neither my wife nor I wear contact lenses. I normally make do, for reading at least, with pairs from Lidl, Aldi or Home Bargains, priced from ninety nine pence per pair. Prescription number 2.5 0r 3.0. You need to know this, Lidl's glasses are sealed and woe betide you if you open a packet to try them on. The Croation employee patrolling the isles of our nearest store has had lessons and can hear the rustle of a packet being opened from all of a hundred feet. I own never less than seven pairs at any one time and can nearly always find a pair when I need them. Strangely enough they are seldom less fragile than the ultra expensive pairs of driving glasses I buy from the opticians. For the arms fall off them all, they don't like you sitting on them and I seldom have both bridge pieces after a week or so.
So life goes on and we go along with it. But just occasionally I miss those searches for the elusive lens! There again we were young and foolish. Perhaps we had better stay with spectacles. What do you think.