Friday 24 August 2012

Every Picture Tells a Story.

    I never cease to marvel at the photographic skills of my fellow bloggers. Many are of a professional standard, all are appreciated and much enjoyed; I cannot hope to compete. Nevertheless I always carry a camera, a Canon compact; I feel half dressed without it. If I used a SLR camera I would take far less pictures. The result is I have hundreds of photos haphazardly stored on my computer as my organisational skills are pathetic in the extreme. Many photos are duplicated, equally many are of no long time interest. But some are worthy of a second glance.
    Gardens are a popular photo opportunity. I am smugly proud of my Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise). Amazed that it grows in an English climate, despite my limited skills. It is so breathtaking a flower I confess my tendency to believe in nothing, 'religious-wise' is sorely tested. Surely such beauty can't be a fluke; is there nothing behind its beauty?
    The snail feeding off the flower caught my eye. And why shouldn't it, it has as much right to live and breath (do snails breath?) in my garden as I have. What gives me the right to destroy it, plus it might be one of my descendants, a long, long relation way down the line! 
   Two men, very different. When I was teaching, long, long ago, various pupils used to bring me pictures of the gentleman in the photo. (I have no idea who took the original.) He does, I admit bear a striking resemblance to myself in some respects. He evidently frequented Derby centre and some pupils were adament it was me and could not be persuaded otherwise; embarrassing, amusing, sad. As far as I know he was probably a local character who went by the name of 'Bocca' Wright. I would imagine he has long since departed this life; rest in peace if this is so.
    The red Bentley brought to an evening football match at Pride Park the vice-chairman and joint owner of West Ham Football Club, Derby County's opponents on that particular evening. (Either David Gold or David Sullivan, both own Bentleys, both are very rich men. One owns Ann Summers and Knickerbox; the other allegedly made his fortune by peddling what could only be described as pornography. After the match the car was driven to the foyer entrance; the walk to the car would be all of ten paces. Who was in the chauffeur driven Bentley that night is unimportant.) Life is strange. Did 'Bocca' Wright deserve his derelict situation I wonder. Did the Bentley owner deserve his apparent 'success' in life. And why did I feel the need to photograph such ostentation; so many questions, so few answers.
Two more photos from my collection.
    Long remembered, around sixty delightful ladies and gents, a 'Rock Choir' all shapes, sizes, ages, who entertained us one evening at Derby Theatre. (I do reviews for The Long Eaton Advertiser.) They were vibrant, mobile, upbeat, drawn from surrounding areas, amateurs but much rehearsed. Sometimes, you do not feel like turning out on a damp, dark night, a night by the fire, cocoa at hand beckons. But if you find a Rock Choir in your area, make the effort, you will be pleasantly surprised. And having done so, consider joining. They say life begins at forty; or is it fifty, sixty or even seventy!
    Finally one more picture, of all things a toilet. In a garden centre in the north west; very posh, very unusual, different! (Might have taken some explaining had I been caught with a camera in a toilet) Taken for no deep, serious psychological reason, It just amused me and made my day. (This geriatric is so easily amused nowadays; do you think the dementia's just around the corner!)

Just six photos from many. Any caught your eye. Have you a favourite photo that you are dying to show. A pity to have them hidden in the dark depths of a computer or album.


Saturday 18 August 2012

Smoking, who can resist it.

    I see smoking's in the news again. This time it's Australia, passing a law that will make all cigarettes sold only in plain packaging. I wonder if it will help. I smoked for many years, I remember it well. I must have been mad!
    An extract from 'A Childhood Revisited' amuses and horrifies me. How disgusting we were. And to pick up discarded 'nub ends' doesn't bear thinking about. How I ever got to seventy plus years I will never know.

In the years after the war the majority of adults smoked. Nor was the habit merely the prerogative of the workers at the bottom of the social order. It was not unknown for the local doctor to be puffing away at a Capstan Full Strength or similar whilst he attended to the coughing, wheezing unfortunates peering through the haze in his gloomy waiting room, which was of course provided with an ashtray. Will’s Woodbines, known universally as coffin nails, Players Weights, Park Drive Players Navy Cut, the choice was endless. Almost everyone seemed to smoke, and everywhere. Crowds at football matches, customers in shops, even teachers in schools, sometimes non-too secretly. No consideration was offered or given to the minority who were not addicted to the gruesome habit. This meant many children, some already fragile and often sickly were exposed to passive smoking, including in the home, though the term had not been invented until many years after the war. Smoking was the norm, smokers were role models for children, which in part explains our childish fascination in what we considered ‘a grown up’ pursuit. And so entrenched was the tobacco habit that many children, myself included received, in their Christmas stocking, white, sickly tasting sweet cigarettes, complete with red tip in imitation of the lighted real thing. Imitation cigarettes that we practiced inhaling and proudly held aloft, blowing imitation smoke rings for all to see. Is it surprising we yearned for adulthood and possession of the real thing? But adulthood was too far away and patience was a virtue beyond our experience. Thus our approach to such forbidden pursuits was ingenious beyond our years.
A disused stone cow trough provided privacy from prying adults. An iron bedstead on top, liberally covered with branches, leaves and all manner of debris meant a den that was indescribably cosy. A hole in one corner allowed entry to this most secret of places.
Here we enjoyed diverse delights, one of which was the art of smoking; smoking was adult, smoking was exciting. The dangers of smoking were naturally unknown to ignorant adolescents, not that it would have made any difference. Besides, death from suffocation and the risk of being burnt alive in so confined a space were at least as likely as the risk of contracting the dreaded ‘C’ word from inhaling tobacco. Not that tobacco was necessarily the only ingredient smoked.
First attempts involved an acorn, a straw and dried walnut leaves. The acorn was discarded and the acorn cup carefully drilled at the base. The straw, around four inches long, was inserted into the hole in the cup and hey presto, a pipe evolved. The next step was to carefully break up the collected dry walnut leaves, using thumb and first finger. The small, parchment like particles were inserted into the prepared pipe. Matches were produce; having been secreted one one’s person for days prior to the ‘happening’ and the smoking mixture was anxiously ignited. Long, experimental ‘draws’ on the straw produced clouds of smoke, much coughing and occasionally glowing leaves flying in all directions. A fearsome prospect in an area that measured no more than eight by four feet, containing at least two small boys and miscellaneous bedding of straw, grass or hay.
We nevertheless persevered, moving on to the delights of the elderberry bush, at first sight an unlikely smoking source. In spring the bush was much sought after as a provider of berries for wine making. As the seasons progressed, the bush died back, leaving dead, woody bark. We carried lengths to our hideaway. There we carefully stripped the external wood, exposing an internal pith surprisingly cigarette like in shape and appearance.
A piece of wire was pushed down the centre of the pith to make a hole and the operation was complete. We lit the makeshift cigarette, the results were almost indescribable. White or grey smoke abounded, flames sometimes singeing throat and tonsils. Whereon the offending incendiary would often be dropped, causing anguished cries in the semi darkness amongst the straw or hay carpet; wherein the smokers would search, panic stricken, eyes streaming, for the glowing butts, lest our secret camp became our tomb.
Because such tobacco substitutes were not even remotely in the Woodbine or Park Drive class, not surprisingly alternatives were sought. The alternatives usually took the form of nub ends procured by the dubious practice of walking along pavements and picking up any discarded cigarette ends. Several small boys could soon accumulate a small paper bagful. We would return triumphantly to our lair where the cigarette ends were stripped and the paper discarded, there being no filter tip in those days. Pipes would be produced, this time real pipes bought from local jumble sales or ‘borrowed’ from unsuspecting adults. The pipes were filled with the tobacco gleaned from the cigarette ends. Matches would be produced and a real ‘smoke’ would result. A ‘smoke’ fraught with both obvious and unimagined dangers, but enjoyed just the same, in part due to the illicit nature of the event itself. Eventually, as the years progressed, we moved on to the real thing, Woodbines, Park Drive and Turf, and, when funds allowed, the luxury of Passing Clouds. Happy days indeed! Though less than happy when on occasion a filter less cigarette unexpectedly welded to your top lip; careful detachment immediately became the order of the day, rushed removal of cigarette from mouth resulting at best in a portion of the lip itself being permanently attached to the cigarette. Even worse, burnt fingers and a red hot cigarette end flying through the air might suggest that the joys of cigarette smoking was a less than perfect pastime.
And, away from the prying eyes of adults, when the cigarettes were smoked, we secretly learned of the world of grown–ups. Illicit books and magazines spirited away from adults were produced and eagerly examined. The Adventures of Pompeii and the Woman of Rome were avidly devoured and mental notes taken. Naturalist magazines were ogled, naked breasts and pubic hair causing an uncomfortable yet exciting stirring in adolescent loins.

Saturday 11 August 2012


    I went to Ashover Show on Wednesday. Very good, loads of stalls, and animals, and plants, and people. And I got LOST! Shuffling along in the crowd, (shuffling, its an age thing), 'stalls to the left of me, stalls to the right of me'. And in the blink of an eye, my sister in law, my wife and I became just me and a thousand others; but not me, my wife, my sister in law and a thousand others. As Max Miller would have said, 'Now there's a funny thing'. A funny thing for several reasons I reckon.
   I wrote a short story, once, called Wherefore Art Thou. It's about an old man whose wife vanishes whilst they are both shopping in town. He tries to imagine what it would be like if she never turned up again. (Evidently similar things have happened in real life.) She does eventually turn up, plus my sister in law found me at the show, eventually, because I stayed on the same spot, guessing that she or my wife would look for me. And it's not the first time I've got LOST.
    Will I, or the family for that matter ever forget the 'LOST' episode in Westfield Shopping with my wife, sister in law (again) daughter. and grandchildren. Not wishing to 'traipse along with the whole family, I went to the nearby market to make a purchase and returned shortly. Only my arrangement where to meet in what is a large, two level shopping complex was decidedly naff and completely naively geriatric. Finding someone without specific arrangement was to be obviously, decidedly tricky. I sat on a large sofa amongst a multitude of shoppers and mused on my predicament. From whence events overtook me.
    My daughter, unknown to me in another part of the shopping complex had informed a security 'person' that 'dad' was missing and could an appeal to locate him be put out over loud speakers. Only to be informed that this could only be done if a child was involved. Evidently seventy year old 'children' don't count. But the security 'person' suggested a description of the missing geriatric (me) be circulated so that security 'people' could keep an eye out. To which my daughter suggested that dad looked like Lord Bath. The security 'person' being all of twenty years of age and probably not well read had no idea who the heck was Lord Bath. But in fact speaking to security did the trick. A young chap taking this security alert was in fact looking in my direction (me sitting bemused on the sofa), he came over and confirmed I was the subject of the walkie talkie message he was receiving. He then insisted on delivering me to my waiting family. Great stuff, only he proceeded to do so by talking me by the hand. As I protested, non too politely, that I was LOST, not senile. (You, dear readers, may suggest otherwise!) Family shopping in future, no thanks!
   Some time back I had a rough week incarserated in the Derby Royal Hospital. Dodgy at first but cured by one or two  very uplifting blood transfusions that equalled any of the many draught Bass beers that may well have put me in the Royal in the first place. So much so that round about night five and round about eleven at night I wandered out of the ward and down a corridor. (I was amazed how easy going hospital patient life is nowadays.) My intention was to find a window and look out. I had become disoriented over several days in the place. I did not even know on which floor of the hospital I was situated. The view was great, obviously floor three, or four, or five. Derby at night twinkled in a magical way I had never seen before. Entranced, I turned away from the window and retraced my footsteps. Only the corridor lights were poor, the place had an eerie silence about it and guess what, I hadn't taken note of what ward I was a patient. (I was going to say prisoner, but I was certainly no prisoner!) I wandered about for a while, peered into the gloom of one or two wards. All was quiet, no one was about for most people were fast asleep; at least most patients were! I was unsure what to do next; at least I had the presence of mind not to change floors! My problem was solved, not I hasten to add by my superb directional skills, for out of the gloom appeared security 'people', walkie talkies again at the ready, but not the same 'people' from my Westfield escapade. Presumably I had been reported missing from my temporary home, .Ward Whatever'. I was returned to the ward and so to bed. I received no lecture, though one was perhaps deserved and I returned home several days later, refreshed and happy; I quite enjoyed my stay!
   As far as I know I've not got dementia. The technical term is BHS. 'Bloody hopeless syndrome'. How hopeless do I have to be before my wife is appointed my carer and can get paid for looking after me? I'm only joking, or am I? (Retelling these two episodes smacks of Groundhog Days and dementia rolled onto one. What was it another of my favourites, Arthur English used to say, 'Play the music, open the Cage.'  
    Remember, I wrote the old man lost short story BEFORE these episodes ; are they 'lost' episodes or 'losing it' episodes' You tell me! Are you, like me, starting to lose it on occasion. Ladies, have you menfolk showing the signs! I'm not the only one surely who finds modern living very taxing!

A story told me, heaven knows why by an old man at Ashover Show.
Two decidedly drunk old men leave a village pub and realise, very quickly they are lost. They wander down the lane until one spots a post at a junction. 
'I know where we are' says one, peering at the writing on the post, 'we're in the churchyard.' 'And this old devil were one hundred and twenty years old. I wonder who he were.'
'Easy' says his drinking partner, 'It tells you, look, he were Miles from Birmingham.'

Sunday 5 August 2012

Very British but my, are Times A'Changing.

    My wife and I (doesn't that sound regal) attended a 'food hub' Saturday afternoon.(I had to look up what it meant for a start. I really am a dinosaur in this modern,super duper technological age. Evidently it was stalls 'n exhibits 'n 'thingies' connected with food. Plus some of the weirdest scarecrows I have ever seen.)) It was held at a local agricultural college called Broomfield Hall. Very pleasant, very British. Or was it, very British I mean. ( Notwithstanding that one person I spoke to was French and three were American.)
     I couldn't help thinking back to times long gone; it's an age thing I reckon. Don't get me wrong, it was all very enjoyable, masses of lovely people but, at what was mainly a food 'festival, 'food' for thought.
On offer for instance, delicious hot food, incredible choices exquisite and exotic ( : bison, kangaroo, crocodile, camel, llama and ostrich, honest,  to name but a few.)
A Grumpy type joke.
This man went into this high class, amazing restaurant.
He said to the waiter, 'My man I'm going to have the rarest thing on your menu. I'm going to have the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat's testicle's on toast.
The waiter replied Sir, you' re not having the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombats testicles on toast.'
'Why not my good man' said the waiter.
'Because sir,' said the waiter, 'We've run out out bread.'
    I digress; I remember life when I was young after the war. Food rationed, including meat. Exotic food, you must be joking unless you count the whale meat/blubber with which they tried to supplement the ration, not a success.Sales of horse meat high when available. (1948 the bacon/ham ration was 2oz per person fortnightly.)

Another stall belonged to a delightful, knowledgeable young couple selling a vast range of tea. Most of their products 'went over my head'. All I can say is, they had an enormous range of loose leafed teas that seemed to include everything from flowers to fruit, blended by themselves, they seem to provide a 'cuppa' to suit everyone and my wife bought one called 'Bonfire Toffee'. Too complex for me, so I'll include a photo instead! (Bluebird Tea.Co)
    As mentioned the hub wasn't concerned only with food. A young lady was extolling the virtues of a local playgroup based in Broomfield Hall. Called Littleexplorers much emphasis is on outside play, using the woodland areas of the site. Evidently some children are almost losing the ability to use outside the home as a natural provider of experiences in growing up; an interesting and surprising thought. Contrast my own countryside experiences, admittedly not at the infant stage, though certainly from junior school onwards. We often left home early in the day, bottle of pop to hand. We paddled in the brook and 'swam' in the canal and river (see A Childhood Revisited).
     The point is, there was never an adult in sight, we did not need to be 'taught to play' in the great outdoors. Sadly we often learn of the dangers the hard way, for life is sometimes a cruel teacher.
    One other group caught my eye; they were teenagers who were enthusiastically concerned with 'saving the planet'. These youngsters were promoting the use of 'the Eco-Greenhouse', basically a method of building a greenhouse simply by utilising plastic bottles. A simple idea that has many possibilities; particularly in third world situations. These youngsters had far more 'planet awareness' than I had at their age. There is hope for us all yet. And as Mr Cameron suggests 'We are all in it together'. The youngsters had far more idea of this concept than he ever will. A pleasant, educational sort of day. Yes,'Times they are A'changing', though not necessarily for the worse. What do you think?