Sunday 29 August 2010

Anything and Everything.

I never know what to post about. Even my every five or six day efforts I find difficult. It is not impossible for this task to become a bind or chore rather than a pleasure. Yet when finished most of us are moderately pleased at our efforts and the responses we receive. I posted my last effort almost with a feeling of foreboding. I expected to receive from some comments that I should not interfere with man's supreme position in life, with an innate ability to rule, destroy, shoot, kill with impunity. I was exceedingly pleased to receive so many comments that suggest a love of animals and an intense dislike of cruelty is so prevalent in so many. Thanks, you made my day, indeed week.
I re-read my diary for 1985, lifesaver of many a post. It was a year to the day since the funeral of Peter, my father in law, my wife's father. I noted that 'life goes on, sometimes sadly, for some without apparent purpose, but life still goes on. We are all so vulnerable in our mortality.'
Written of course twenty five years ago. There is also a piece where I 'weeded' the garden under instruction from my seriously disabled Uncle Ron. Frustrated, he desired a lung transplant, having previously indicated that he had had a good life and was not afraid of death. In all of us the urge to live on is undoubtedly strong; less than four months later Ron died.
My original intention was to write a piece basically about our mortality. The 'tick, tick, tick' effect as time goes by and we can do 'sod all' about it. Oh to have religion. This afterlife business, is it a hope, a belief, a certainty, a type of insurance policy to some? My granny used to read the Bible in her nineties. We used to reckon she was studying for her finals. And I can't get my head round the idea of the world carrying on, existing without me, Ken Stevens, The bad weather, the constant rain and nearing the end of summer bought on these morbid, morose feelings. But to hell with it all, tomorrow's another day. The public speaking season is coming up and I enjoy that. (I remember one chap talking about computers. After five minutes one old girl stood up and shouted 'We don't want this rubbish.' They don't mess about, the 'old uns!) So instead of an intense debate on the meaning of life I leave you with a final extract from August 29th, 1985 concerning Buster the Bull terrier. Far less taxing and more fun.
'Buster furtively eats a jam tart belonging to Sarah's collection of treasures and curiosities. It's centre remains as proof of his guilt. Unfortunately it is the product of the joke factory rather than the bakery. One cannot but marvel at his digestion, for it is made of what seemed to be a mixture of Plaster of Paris, wood shavings and glue amongst other less recognisable material. We await the results with interest and a little apprehension.'

Monday 23 August 2010

Then I Grew Up.

At the end of The Second World War I was five years old. The war had a profound effect on all of us, young and old. There was no man in our household, no male role model. Plus we children were influenced by men returning from the war, and in some cases by men simply not returning. Presumably that is why some of us developed cruel tendencies that were perhaps awesome in their originality.
We would create hollow balls of mud using local clay. We would carefully insert insects, ants and the like inside these man made prisons and place them in the hot embers of bonfires we had created specifically for our foul endeavours.The animal kingdom we disregarded and disrespected. We were alas, infantile and immature, truly depressing. All manner of insects would be executed by inserting their heads through the holes in a clock face and decapitated by turning the clocks hands. Where we learnt such cruelty I know not. But what I do remember is that we made reference to 'the Boche, Hun or Jerries' and 'the Japs'. Those suffering our initial cruelty were always symbols of the enemies that had occupied my live seemingly forever. Childish behaviour, very childish; then I grew up.
No more ingenious torturing of insects. (Excepting a phase where we blew up frogs, literally, using a straw inserted up the rectum.) We were older now and left childish behaviour behind; or did we? We made dobbers, ghats, catapults, call them what you will, that fired stones (and steel ball bearings if you could find them.) Plus bows and arrows, the arrows preferably tipped with the pointed end of a discarded dart. The object, to 'down' any bird or wild animal within firing distance, lethal if successful, equally dangerous also to any of our 'gang' within firing range. We were village children, presumably some of our behaviour at this stage of our development was connected with a primeval urge to hunt and forage. Mercifully I don't remember one single occasion when any animal or bird was actually harmed on our expeditions; then I grew up.
In mid teenage I had a gun that fired nine millimetre cartridges. Small but still a dangerous weapon particularly at close quarters and in the hands of an untrained novice. I have no idea where I obtained this weapon or what eventually happened to it. What I do remember is hiding this weapon from adults and stalking the hedgerows of surrounding fields, reminiscent of Davy Crockett, a cult figure in my youth. (Again I do not remember a single instance of the gun being fired in anger. Perhaps a pattern was emerging); then I grew up.
It was in some ways an age of indifference to the pain and suffering inflicted on the animal kingdom. Animals were often disposed of without thought as to the suffering inflicted. I have seen kittens killed by hitting their heads against a farmyard wall. The drowning of kittens in a bucket of water was commonplace. Recently a man in Staffordshire's conviction for animal cruelty for similarly drowning a grey squirrel surprised many. Some suggested grey squirrels deserve little else. Can anyone with any sensitivity whatsoever imagine the abject terror inflicted on such animals in the last moments of their life.
If my aversion to blood sports loses me readers, so be it. But I loathed fox hunting, defended by some as a very British institution. Look how they slaughter my chickens some say. But they're an animal for goodness sake. Do you really need to defend the barbarous pursuit of foxes by howling dogs and demented bloodthirsty fools on horseback. Please spare me the 'It's very British' bit. I have a farmer friend who would not allow foxhunting on his land, so please don't tell me it's only 'townies' who object. I have no doubt I will be subjected to charges of sentimentality by some. But I watched the foxhunts as a child; then I grew up.
We lived in Lincolnshire when I first married. To see hares 'dancing and shadow boxing' in the adjoining fields was indeed a joy to behold. We hadn't been there very long when we awoke one morning to the sound of gunfire; lots of it. In front of our house (a forty plus acre field) a hare shoot was in progress. We will never forget it. Very reminiscent of the Alamo. Both my wife and I were distraught. And next came the pheasant shoots. Packs of ruddy faced individuals with nothing else in their empty lives than to blast away as hand raised pheasants flew overhead. Some birds fortunate to escape the barrage and settle not too far away. To be re-hunted in the near future; were they really the lucky ones. What clever men you were, and such bravery, such skill.
All these thoughts came rushing into my head as I viewed on the television a terrified bull running amok at a bullfight in Northern Spain. A hot, sunny family afternoon for mothers, fathers and children alike spoilt by an inconsiderate, albeit terrified bull. What a hell of a way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Evidently this was not the traditional bullfight but an event where participants go into the ring and goad, aggravate the animal. I read of this 'happening' also as a news item. It suggested bullfighting in general needs to be looked at 'As the lives and safety of the spectators and human participants should be of paramount importance at any sports event.' Amazing, no mention of the cruelty involved, no mention regarding the animals welfare. This absolutely says it all. I too went to bullfights in my late teens; then I grew up.
We read of horrific acts still perpetuated by children and grown ups in the world. I am not qualified to know the reasons, I can only suspect less than perfect instruction as to the rights of animals in particular. And whilst there are many in this twenty first century who are still indifferent towards animals, many fortunately care. Thankfully my wife, children, grandchildren treat the animal kingdom with the respect it deserves. Because whatever their ages, they have grown up.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

On Bad Hair Days.

I'm seldom sure what my next blog will be about. How some bloggers post daily is beyond me. I post every five or six days and struggle for subjects. I don't normally 'do' topical posts so that makes life doubly difficult. But every now and again a news item leaps from the pages that shouts for attention. Such a case was the airline steward who had 'a bad hair day'.
Steven Slater was formerly an air steward on Jet Blue. After years, twenty eight years in fact of putting up with the rude, abusive behaviour of some airline passengers Mr Slater's patience eventually gave out. The behaviour of one cursing, argumentative female passenger on arrival at New York was a step too far for Mr Slater. On landing he made a valedictory address on the intercom to passengers and staff on Flight 1052, picked up his hand luggage and two beers from the trolley, opened the door, activated the inflatable chute and slid out of the stationary plane onto the tarmac. Out of a job and into folklore.
Who has never had a bad hair day. Who has never reacted in a way that could only be described as 'inappropriate'. Or are all of Grumpy's readers possessors of supreme self control, the ultimate paragons of virtue!
In the late 1950's I worked in the stockroom of F W Woolworth's, a menial role enlivened by daily sessions of dinner hour snooker over the nearby premises of Burton the Tailors. Good fun, not to be taken seriously except that on this particular day stockroom man John lost, again, and was not amused. At which point John returned to the stockroom, in a huff to say the least, and proceeded to hurl large tins of paint at the stockroom walls. Inevitably, some burst open, leaving the stockroom floor a magical, multicoloured mess. At which 'Big John' ordered the nearest, extremely small, fearful stockroom junior to clean up. Reluctant to cooperate, the unfortunate junior was seized by the neck and rubbed, face downwards through the brightly coloured spillage. All of which resulted in a wild eyed John being escorted, with difficulty, off the premises and ordered to seek employment elsewhere. A bad hair day for all concerned but at least life was never dull at F W Woolworth's. My teaching career in later years was tame by comparison. Or was it?
No one volunteered to drive the school minibus with sixteen 'year nines' on board to nearby Melbourne on a routine Geography trip, surely not. Never a wise decision, and routine, Year Nine, who's kidding who! The day started to go downhill the moment the Year Nine 'would be trippers' got out of bed. But at least they arrived in Melbourne in one piece, an encouraging start. Perhaps the teachers should have stayed closer to Year Nine but nobody in their right minds kept too close to such miscreants. Twenty minutes into the visit and members of the public reported children throwing stones at the ducks on Melbourne Pool. Eton College, perhaps, on a day trip to Melbourne; no such luck. Teacher number one dispatched to investigate. (There was a full sized bus plus three teachers also involved on the trip.) Further minutes elapsed without incident. That is until an irate vicar appeared on the scene. Evidently there were children in his church doing strange things, apparently attempting to invoke spirits and involving a 'weejie' board; I kid you not! Another high profile school visit, yes, surely not children of less than average intelligence from a less than renowned comprehensive. (Though the teachers guessed it was their pupils who were definitely making their presence felt. And as teachers they also knew that Melbourne parents seldom chose their school as their number one choice of secondary education provider. Or second choice, or third, fourth or fifth for that matter.) Teacher number two dispatched. And as they pondered the foolishness of such parents came news of a spate of shoplifting involving children in a nearby shop!
They rounded up their pupils, eventually, many chewing sweets not previously apparent on their person, so to speak. Nerves a little shredded, temper a little frayed the minibus driver pointed the minibus towards Melbourne centre and off they went. Only Melbourne High Street has a parking problem, and thus can only take one line of traffic at a time. Which would have been fine had not some foolish, unobservant, dozy, diligent, dopey, almost certainly local geriatric car driver met the minibus two thirds of the way down the street. They halted, bonnet to bonnet and the car driver suggested orally and with accompanying gestures (which Year Nine should not have understood) that the minibus driver should gracefully recognise that age has precedence on British roads and the minibus should therefore reverse the length of the High Street. Now the minibus had had a lovely day so he did as he requested. Not! and those on the minibus spoke in awed tones for months afterwards of the teacher who pulled the keys out of the ignition, threw them on the floor and stormed off, swearing profusely in full view of shoppers in Melbourne High Street.
John at Woolworth's sought other employment. And the teacher in the minibus? He took early retirement, his blood pressure dropped dramatically and he lived happily ever after. I miss teaching, occasionally, very, very occasionally. And I don't get too many Bad Hair Days!

Wednesday 11 August 2010

On People and Places.

We've just been away in our motorhome for a few days. Our travels may not be in the same league as George Orwell's (Eric Arthur Blair) but I've enjoyed the change.
We called at a scrap yard near Preston on the way up. Don't let my wife ever tell you I don't take her anywhere interesting. I'm sure many a lady would like to be taken round a scrap yard! I bought two brass signs for my bar. Corny, yes, but they amuse me. Why ever grow up when you don't have to.
We stayed the week on the playing fields of King Edward VII and Queen Mary School, Lytham St Annes, courtesy of The Camping and Caravan Club (Lune Valley D A). Within sight of my daughter's home, literally across the road. An ideal situation, close but not under each other's feet, so to speak.
I hadn't realised how elderly many caravaners and motorhomers are. Smashing people in the main, many in their seventies and no small number eighty plus. Brilliant that so many ' oldies' are still active in this day and age. Though I doubt that all drivers following cars and caravans on our crowded roads would agree.
St Annes up the road (And Lytham for that matter) have a gentile, affluent feel about them.. My mother in law, well into her eighties loves them. She says they have a better class of charity shop than most. (I counted six at least in St Annes, charity shops that is, not mother in laws!)
Whereas Blackpool, not too far down the road has no pretensions of grandeur. Many people in Lytham and St Annes are rude about Blackpool. snobbery to a degree, but I can see why. I must admit I have seldom seen so much obesity, so many people smoking and so many tattoos for many a while. And that was only the ladies! (Only joking). I met a delightful man and his father who lived in Stoke on Trent, the son had had retired this week after thirty eight years in teaching and they always holidayed in Blackpool. Stoke, Blackpool and thirty eight years in teaching, the mind boggles! Nevertheless I like Blackpool.
Fleetwood is unique in its own way. A port, though perhaps somewhat in decline, not particularly attractive, certainly not pretty; it's biggest claim to fame appears to be its markets, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The numerous parked buses testament to the many day trippers who descend on the markets week after week. And I have never seen so many geriatrics, and geriatric aids for that matter in one place. The market heaves with ancient old dears intent on a bargain and woe betide anyone not quick on their feet who momentarily blocks their path in the search for the holy grail. If I have learnt nothing else from this short break, I have learnt that the average age of the British population is high in the extreme. Either that or they've all migrated to the north west.
I did meet one interesting young man by the name of Andrew. He wandered over to our motorhome on the seafront at Fleetwood. He insisted on telling me a large proportion of his life story. Andrew is twenty seven, married into a travelling family, with children and has recently moved from Rochdale, having run up several hundred pounds in debts owed to the council. (I was unclear as to whether the money is still owed.) He and his brother make a precarious 'living' collecting scrap metal with the aid of an old van. evidently 'scrap' is worth around £170 a ton but was £200 not long ago. Andrew had recently been arrested for 'stealing by finding'. Taking scrap without permission, even though it's been lying round for some considerable time. You learn something everyday if you're prepared to give a little of your time.
Andrew was waiting for a friend who was 'in front' of the magistrates in the nearby courts, (a favourite parking spot of mine) charged with numerous motoring offences. Ok, so Andrew was not 'the sharpest pencil in the box' and maybe he'd had a drink. But he was totally friendly, polite and civil and no, he didn't 'tap me up' for money; I am ashamed that I considered that might be his motive. We shook hands and parted, Andrew informing me that his ambition was to move his family up the coast to a quiet life in a nearby village. I hope his dreams come true. (Back home we are visited by three different groups collecting scrap metal on a regular basis. I have not seen this happen for many years; it must be a sign of austere times.)
One other memory. Life consists of millions of individuals seeking contentment, success, pleasure in their brief lives. The punk groups in Blackpool, there to attend concerts in the Winter Gardens were a joy to behold. A non conforming, colourful, good humoured presence, piercings and Mohican's to the fore, they were a joy to behold; thanks lads and lasses, you made my day.
And at the end of the week, what did we take home. Five books, second hand from a charity shop and a pair of shoes each, new, though in the sales from a 'proper' shop and a cardigan for the wife (that sounds a good swap to me). A watch (I never learn, can't get it to work yet but there's hope) plus some meat of all things, both from a car boot sale. (I hope the marks on the meat are not made by a saddle.) Plus a Colocasia Black Magic and a Musa Santa Morelli from a garden centre. Oh, and memories to savour on the dark nights ahead. Roll on Christmas!

Thursday 5 August 2010

Mothers Birthday

This day has special meaning for me and always will have. No explanation needed, just the excerpt from my diary of 1985.

'The birthday of Mary Elizabeth Stevens, my mother. An incredible, independent, stubborn, beautiful fighter. What do I remember thirty two years on?

I remember a little, busy woman, working, often, almost always working. preparing school meals, cleaning for the rich, cleaning our home for her pride. I remember shopping in Derby at Cheshires, an old family business, returning usually with 'yellow fish' or pyclets, two favourites that we could ill afford.

I remember a home maybe lacking in the trappings of wealth, but a happy home, scrupulously clean. We lived in three different houses until Mary died in 1953. Try as I might, only fleeting memories can be retrieved. A cherry lady ornament in a window, cherries held aloft invitingly but never consumed. a Westminster chimes clock, erratic in its timekeeping. A pot cat with amazing long neck and amusing expression. a black leaded dog, almost certainly a Scottie. Sweets lovingly made from flour, cocoa and other forgotten ingredients. Rather secretive visits to her nightwatchman friend, also named Stevens, the nearest Mary came to romance as a hardworking widow, mother of two. similarly secretive visits to Stockbrook Street, home of Ernest Steven's sister, Elsie. (An area rating lowly in most eyes, similarly rated in the eyes of the Hudstons.) Strange days, long ago days, but happy days nevertheless.'

I was of course only thirteen when my mother died. And this diary was written twenty five years ago; where do the years go. Some of this diary excerpt is no doubt unintelligible to 'outsiders'. But I bet few can claim an extended family devoid of problems or complications. We might think we are 'in control' of our little insignificant lives in the short term, but make no mistake, over a lifetime we are 'in the lap of the gods' so to speak. We are what we are, moulded by experiences often beyond our control.