Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Celestial beds, masters of the universe and urban myths

I've been reading an excellent debut collection of poetry over the last few days by Yorkshire poet, Gaia Holmes. It's superbly titled, Dr James Graham's celestial bed and it's a collection which finds magic in the mundane and the everday. It touches on subjects such as burger bars, catholic folk magic and the inerring intelligence of our canine friends. The language is rich and accesible and I really can't reccomend it enough. Go buy it, it's great and so is Gaia. She's one of my Myspace friends and she left me a poem on my page that she wrote about her old dog Wolfie for my own elderly dog Barney. For a flavour of what she's about I'll repost it on the end of this waffle.
According to today's Daily Express apparently political correctness has gone so stark raving bonkers that even the annual fumble at the Christmas office party is now under threat ! No more photocopying of bottoms, no more drunken stumbles to the birdie song with the keraazzzy guys from accounts, no more telling that obnoxious middle-manager exactly what you think of him after four bottles of Babycham and a large Baileys. I'm not sure what all the details of the story are but it has something to do with fear of litigation in case your employees don't get home safely at the end of the festivities. We live in a litigious society don't we ? Well actually, no we don't. The number of compensation claims both brought to court and found in favour of the person making the claim have stayed pretty consistent since the early 1960s in the UK. It's one of those "we're all going to the dogs" urban myths put about by people who like to think that everything has been rubbish since the nasty "liberal establishment" (who they ?) got put in charge of running things. Most of it is unsubstantiated bitterness from people who long ago lost the argument. Don't believe half of it, and take the other half with a large pinch of salt (low sodium of course). One of the funniest of these kind of stories I heard recently was that poppy sellers were not allowed to attach the poppy to the lapel of the person buying it for fear of pricking them. This story has all the hallmarks of the nutty fringe. Nice old veterans who just want to be polite cowed by political correctness and fear of litigation. What's wrong with the world (Foam, gnash, froth at the mouth, bring back Enoch etc) !?? So I thought I'd check this out for myself. I went straight to the British Legion and asked them what the policy was. It turned out there was no such policy. Sellers were entirely free to attach poppies to buyers, in fact they were positively encouraged to do so. With this joyous news I wandered down to Acomb shops and asked the nice old man in his beret and medals to put the poppy on my jacket lapel which he duly did after I'd dropped a few pound coins in his collecting box. We exchanged a few words had a chuckle about the urban myth, I thanked him for his efforts and we left each other smiling. What's more I got a couple of stories out of it as well. The fear of litigation and imaginary demons on every street corner makes us put self-imposed limitations on our lives and expectations. Always try and find out the facts and don't take tabloid screaming headlines at face value. They usually have an agenda to advance which frequently gets in the way of the truth. As for office parties, I fully intend to enjoy mine. I will be putting a party hat on the dog, whilst playing a self-compiled party mix CD and dancing around the back bedroom office on my own. I think I'll cook sausage rolls as well. If it all gets messy I will be suing myself for wilful neglect before lying down in a dark room to dream of the good old days of rickets, shared outside privvies and tuberculosis.
Continuing my weird period of actually getting on with stuff I've been talking about for years, I'm just about to start applying for a place on a MA course in Creative Writing to begin next October. I've been making excuses for not doing it for about three years now - lack of cash, lack of time etc, but they've all been dissolved. After a bit of nagging from relations over the weekend I've decided that there really are no excuses anymore and I've got to go for it. Stepping out of my comfort zone is never something I find particularly easy, but there are times when you just have to go for it. So that's what I'm doing. Wish me luck ;-)
Here's that poem I was telling you about :

LIVING WITH A GENIUS. (by Gaia Holmes)

My dog doesn't take drugs.
He can get high on the scent
of march tulips,
levitate above the park
pissing from the heavens
and trailing his toes
over the heads
of Greek gods.

He can read messages
in the wet maps
that stain the pavements,
check the weather on a lamp post,
scan the news on the leg of a bench.

My dog knows
how to chase a ball,
skin a rabbit,
catch a stick,
grout the tiles,
remove butter stains
from delicate fabrics,
spell his name backwards,
say 'thank you'
in 36 different languages
and change engine oil
without spilling a drop.

My dog reads Heidegger
and Wittgenstein
when I go to work,
studies cryogenics and metaphysics,
corrects my poems with red biro,
underlines punctuation errors,
suggests better line breaks.

My dog can catch ghosts,
snap the spines of evil spirits
and scare away burglars
with his intellectual wit.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Weekend in Suffolk

We spent the weekend down in Suffolk where Rach's folks live. We were there for our twice yearly get together of her side of the family. I know you're meant to roll your eyes and mutter darkly about your in-laws but I really like mine so I'm afraid I can't oblige. I feel quite lucky on that score having heard horror stories from friends. We all get along pretty well these days which makes life a lot easier and generally pleasant when you get together. In fact it was a splendid weekend of eating, drinking, catching up, playing with little ones and having a laugh. They're well sorted for top quality foodie pubs in that part of the world and we visited a couple, all on my cool dad-in-law who not only is very generous, but who is also a quality classical guitarist par excellence.
We're in the middle of a few busy weeks at the minute which makes a pleasant change. We're off on our travels again this week, more of which will be revealed later (don't get too excited, it's not that interesting) and following that it's my sister and brother-in-laws 25th wedding anniversary do, which for more reasons than just the obvious is something to celebrate this year.
I've had a lot of those sublime moments of insight of late into just how lucky I am really with the hand that fate has dealt me. I'm quite happy being me with the people I've got around me, living where I do and leading the life I do. I know it's not very cool to say so but I'm more than content with my lot. Which probably makes this blog not particularly interesting as I don't have much gossip to dish or cock-eyed rants to have, but I reckon I can live with that ;-)
We missed this years St.Nicholas Fayre here in York. We usually look forward to it, buy loads of rich food, prezzies and then decamp to the pub for the rest of the weekend to begin stoking up the festive spirit. I reckon the Suffolk weekend however more than made up for missing it this year. I've heard good reports and I wait to hear which minor celebs were spotted perusing the pork pies. You normally get one or two.
It's head down this week as I've got to try and get a weeks worth of work done in three days, so I probably shouldn't be wasting time writing this uninteresting nonsense on here. I'm still watching I'm a sleb, I'm still dancing round the kitchen to CSS and The Rapture. Have a dance today, it's good for the soul and burns off a few calories. As a former DJ I still like to see people having a groove.
In the post this morning was a flyer from Yorkshire County Cricket Club offering tickets for next May's test against the West Indies at Headingley. The leaflet was all sunny with stylised carnival scenes all over it. It's the weekend of Rach's birthday and my mind started wandering to sunny days sitting in the West Stand as the shadows lengthen across the ground, and the people around us start finding their voice. Two tickets have been duly ordered and I'm half way through winter already.

Friday, November 24, 2006

3 Xs and Rach's love interest

Apparently Lovefoxxx has 3 xs not 2. It make sense. Rach spotted that I'd been sighing over said lady yesterday and demanded I redress the balance by sticking a pic on here of her own celeb fella of choice...

So ladies, I give you....

Mr Noel Fielding, aka Vince Noir of The Mighty Boosh.

Every woman under 40 I come across on Myspace appears to have a thing for him. Damn him and his swinish good looks. Why I can't I look that good in cowboy boots and ridiculous hats ??

Have a good weekend whatever you're up to...

This is the aforementioned Mr Fielding in the video for the groovetastic Mint Royale's "Blue Song". I had a good boogie to this myself the other week...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Parents growing older, Brazilians 2 cool 4 school and Bergerac music

We had some sad news last night. A close friends dad passed away earlier in the week from cancer. He's been poorly for a while but went down hill quite suddenly over the last few weeks. Our friend was with him when he died at home, which is perhaps a very small mercy. We also had news that another friends dad is also not so good at the minute. It has brought it home to us that the time you have with your parents is limited and that we should perhaps make more of an effort. I'm guilty at times of getting too wrapped up in my own concerns and not being as attentive to them as I should be. None of us are getting any younger.
On a lighter and more trivial note I picked up a copy of the NME today. I don't buy it very often these days and whenever I do it reminds me why I don't. I used to get it every week when I was kid along with Melody Maker and Sounds (remember that one kids ? You used to get a badly printed free poster in the centre pages every week). The Maker was always the one which took itself more seriously, Sounds was just rubbish, and the NME was the one which poncey Sixth-Formers who listened to Pink Floyd would roll their eyes at. This weeks edition features the annual NME cool list of luminaries who they reckon have been the epitome of all things now this year. It's mostly Greek to me I'll be honest, but I did notice my current crush is featured. She's a Brazilian woman who goes by the name of Lovefoxx (not sure if that's what she was christened), who sings in a band called Cansei de ser sexy. That's Portugese for "I'm Tired Of Being Sexy". I wish I could say I knew the feeling. She is quite perfect as far as I'm concerned. She's stroppy, pretty in an interesting way and sings suggestive songs. The band are seriously cool and play a kind of guitar-disco-funk-noise thing. The name gets abbreviated to CSS. They're very good and this is her in action...

Stroppy indie girls are and always have been my thing *sigh*. Lovefoxx is the the polar opposite of those bland air-brushed MOR songstresses you get today like Norah Jones, Katie Melua and Nerina Pallot. Highly talented of course but so over produced and packaged as to become completely bland and lifeless. They have all perfected exactly the same look for their promo photos, and you can just see the hand of some bean counting record company exec behind everything they do. Pallot in particular is exceptionally bland. It's quite fitting that she comes from Jersey as what she's turning out is Bergerac music for the unimaginative. It's musical shorthand for dull people trying to affect sophistication. Resist, resist. Get into something daft and joyous instead, whatever the genre, rather than that kind of musical middle-of-the-road mogadon. It's processed cheese slice music in a world of exciting dairy products.
So three cheers for Lovefoxx and her like and three cheers for ageing parents everywhere. They made us what we are.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sleeping on the sofa, Sheriff Hutton luminaries, Tories eating their words ,golf bores and modern day Robin Hood's

I've spent the past couple of nights camped out on the sofa in the front room. I've not been a bad boy, it's just my late night coughing habits are a bit of a nuisance for Rach so I thought it would be best to ensure that one of us at least got a decent nights sleep. The cough is still hanging around and it's getting to the point where I'm considering a trip to see the Doc. I try and avoid GP surgeries as much as possible, they're full of ill people, but this cough is dead annoying. So my continued quiet life continues quietly only punctuated by a rattle and the occassional sandwich.
I've learnt this morning that current participant in "I'm A Celebrity", the catty designer, Scott Henshall is a local boy. He spent his formative years in Sheriff Hutton, a fact which has not been missed by the local paper who sent reporters out onto the streets of old York to gauge the opinions of the populace about his performance. Opinions were mixed, but one woman concluded that despite the fact she's never watched the programme she was sure that Scott was "doing fine". With such a strong local vote of confidence he can only go from strength to C-list strength. Village historians in Sheriff Hutton though are nonplussed. They maintain that the most famous son of the village is in fact Sgt Major William Sharrow who died at the Battle Of Little Big Horn. That may be the case but I doubt he's going to be appearing in Heat Magazine anytime in the near future ;-)
Another thing I have learnt is that donations to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance following the Hammond guy's big crash at Elvington have enabled it to purchase another ambulance and have secured the service for years. I'm no fan of Top Gear. The thought of a group of menopausal middle-aged men in bad demin frothing at the mouth over silly cars has never been a very attractive proposition for an evening's entertainment. I always have an image in my head of the kind of people who watch it sitting in some golf club bar in the midlands, saying things like ;

"That Clarkson, he talks a lot of sense..."
"You're not wrong my friend, you're not wrong"
"How's your Pauline ?
"Very well, how's your Pauline ?"

In co-ordinating club polo shirts and slacks. But I can't say anything , I watch "I'm a sleb." Nice one Hammond bloke and his generous fans.

Still it's not a good day for the gobby middle-aged bores of the right-wing blogosphere. Today we learn that their nemesis, Polly Toynbee is being suggested as the woman who should be providing the Tories with inspiration for their social justice policies. Anyone who has had the misfortune to read some of the hackneyed arcanites of the blogging world will know that they like to reserve a special place in leftie-hell for Polly and her opinions, now she's going to be advising their party. Laugh, I nearly fell off my platforms. You always get the impression with their attitudes to Polly that their ire is provoked in no small part because a) she's slightly left of centre b) she's smarter and better paid than them, but most of all c) she's female...

Now she's the person the Tory party are listening to and the marginalisation of the golf bore fraternity continues apace. Never mind, there's always Clarkson.
The Tories new spirit of taking from the rich to give to the poor could probably take the Modern Day Robin Hood's for their inspiration. This group from Yorkshire walked around New York on Saturday handing out free cash to the passerbys causing mayhem and much jollity. That's modern art for you folks. It leaves you better off and with a smile on your face...

Watch the vid :

Monday, November 20, 2006

Coughing for Europe, not sleeping, buying coats and Sunday in Leeds.

The infuriating cough is still hanging around. It waxes and wanes throughout the day, reaching a peak of annoyingness around about 11pm right through until about 3.30am. As a consequence I've not really slept much for about four days. Last night I decided I'd try a double measure of whisky, hot water, some honey and ginger in the hope it would just knock me out. It did the trick, but every hour until 5ish, I woke up to have a good old rattling rasp, then I'd fall back into fitful sleep again. Not good. That aside, I've had an enjoyable last few days pottering about. On Saturday I had a shopping mission to complete. I've been eyeing up a new coat for a few weeks attempting to try and justify laying out the cash for it. On Saturday I finally convinced myself that the time to purchase the thing had arrived. I'm very pleased with it I have to say and can been seen modelling the item on my Myspace Page . Aah vanity is a terrible thing ;-) . BTW if you're not already on Myspace I can certainly reccomend it. I've met some great people through it and you do get quite attached to your virtual friends on there. It's not just for the kids, I've got buddies on there ranging from their early 20s to their 60s. Sign up and send me a friend request and I'll be pleased to approve you.
Yesterday we headed off into Leeds. Thursday saw the start of the annual Christkindelmarkt in the city and we thought we'd pop along. Then we went and spent a large part of the afternoon in The Faversham, which is a Leeds indie institution up by the University. They do excellent sunday lunches and with it being a student haunt they're not that pricey. I noticed that fellow resident of this part of York, Rick Witter, former lead singer of Shed Seven is on there on the 16th December with his new band, The Dukes.
The Fav is co-managed by Ash Kollakowski who also runs Leeds indie label Bad Sneakers, and it's been instrumental in assisting the development of the current crop of exciting Leeds bands. With Sheffield down the road being as alive with music as it is at present there is a real positive cultural feeling abroad in these parts at present. It's all good.
Leeds is a great place these days. It always used to feel like a bit of a tired old provincial city living on former glories, with some great architecture but an overall feeling of greyness. That's really changed over the past decade and increasingly it feels like a coherent European city at the centre of a coherent region. There's less reference to London and the south, more to the continent. City centre living is now really popular with countless swish apartment blocks rising up around the old canals and wharfs. The financial sector is booming and it's having an effect on everything round about. Here in York we live in the so-called "Golden Triangle" which exists between Harrogate, York and Central/North East Leeds, in which house prices have spiralled and so too have expectations of what we can be about. It's good news of course if you own a house, damned frustrating if you're trying to get a toehold on the ladder. I did notice that in central Leeds lots of the developers are now offering so-called "crash pads", one bedroom studios in very neat blocks that come in at less than £100,000 to help young professionals get going. The hard task though is translating that success into parts of the region that have remained relatively untouched by over the past decade, something which in my opinion will require a greater local control over issues of economic development and planning. How that comes about though is anyones guess ? Anyone for city-regions.
After dinner we wandered down to the Corn Exchange for a bit more shopping before catching the train home. Speaking of the Corn Exchange, there are plans afoot to turn the empty Bonding Warehouse on the banks of the Ouse in York into something similar. It makes perfect sense to me. Small scale, alternative and bohemian-ish businesses operating out of a lovely, but currently deteriorating old building is just what York needs. It's slightly off the beaten track, but not really so and is well placed for the Scarcroft Road area, Bishophill and Fishergate, where exactly the kind of people who would shop there tend to live. With the University set to grow by 20% over the next few years as well the timing couldn't be better. Seem's like a no-brainer to me, but all is not as it seems. A rival developer is proposing an upmarket hotel, gym and fitness club for the site and is clearly rattled by the alternative plans. He's resorted to throwing accusations about the Corn Exchage style idea being "hippy nonsense" and "airy fairy", which are as splendidly archaic as they are laughable. It's shaping up into a classic battle of good versus evil and who can tell which side will win out eventually ? It's impossibe to predict with our dotty council who I hope retain enough of their quirky Liberal instincts to back the right horse.
This morning we went and had a furtive wander around the old Terry's factory site which is now part of the proposed Chocolate Works development. They're converting it into offices, apartments, an art gallery, shops and a hotel. We're keeping an eye out for news of the apartments as we both quite fancy the idea of living in a sweetie factory.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Martyn's videos of songs he's not heard for a while, and had almost forgotten about, but is quite pleased to rediscover, principally by Northern bands

Number 1# The Milltown Brothers - Here I Stand. I think they came from Oldham ? Which takes me back to the days when I used to skulk around in voluminous trousers, a long sleeve joe bloggs t-shirt and a beanie hat pretending to be on drugs, whilst saying things like "mad fer'it" . Happy days :-)

Trying not to have the man-flu

I've been off-colour since Sunday, hence the lack of any posts on here. Bit of a head cold with, stiff limbs, coughs, sneezes, headaches and a throat that feels like I've been gargling with razorblades. After several days of intraveneous Lemsip, compulsory "character-building" brisk walks, more oranges than a smallholding in Andalucia and plenty of bed rest I'm now feeling much brighter. I know it's almost compulsory for blokes to describe a bit of a cold as "the flu" but I have been resisting all week. Having had a couple of incidents of proper full-blown, "ohmigod there's dancing elephants in tutus in my bedroom" hallucination inspiring flu I know the difference. This cold, whilst not being the 7 stone weakling of the cold/flu world, wouldn't last 5 minutes in the ring with a proper pumped influenza with a grudge. Speaking of which, has anyone heard anything of the bird flu lately ?? I got quite paranoid for a few weeks last winter when every news report had us on the verge of social meltdown brought on the wing from Siberia.
So the cold has gone and I've just been left with one of those irritating coughs that hang around for a week or so after the main business is over. So I've not really been doing much other than partaking of some splendidly trashy TV. The return of the misnamed "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here", has been an unadulterated treat. Lauren Booth has just confirmed all my feelings about the Booth family. They really are quite mad aren't they ? Myleene is just beyond loveliness, everything about her is so close to perfect as to be slightly unreal *sigh*. Jason Donovan seems like quite a nice bloke really, and now I feel guilty for hating him as a teenager.
Other than that, did anyone see that "Dating The Enemy" thing that has been on after I'm A Sleb ? The idea behind it is they make a not easily pleased young woman go on a date with the kind of bloke she can't stand. Tuesday night a posh trainee barrister woman went for a weekend with a nice lad from Essex for a weekend of fish & chips, largeing it with the Basildon massive and being surprised. That went quite well, but the bloke to his credit tired of her constant snobbish references to his friends and family and told her to sling her hook. Then last night I was spitting at the TV as a sadly archetypal Essex girl spent a weekend in Leeds with a nightclub DJ. This woman didn't like northern accents at all, and was full of tons of old prejudices that you thought only really existed in crap old stand up routines. The lad was a good looking, friendly fella and they had quite a groovy weekend. Leeds these days is quite a happening place if you've not been for a while. I can recommend it, and without being mean probably has a bit more going for it than where she's from. Whilst he went out of his way to be nice to her, his mates, the girls in particular took right against her. They let her know in no uncertain terms that she hadn't made a good impression. The most noticeable thing about the whole exercise was that whilst the DJ and his mates didn't really fit any cliches about Yorkshire, she absolutely screamed "Essex" in flashing neon. Her frocks, her make-up, her attitudes. It was as if she'd been made in a factory to order. One of the funniest scenes was when she was insisting that "Pub" was pronounced "paab" and found it ridiculous that people in the north pronounced it "Pub". Nothing wrong with differences in pronunciation, in fact it's quite a good thing but don't go telling people that your way is the only way. I was shouting at the guy not to give a toss about the silly woman and tell her where to go but he was just too nice to do it.
After all that I felt quite exhausted, made myself another Lemsip and went to bed. It's all been happening.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The View from here

Just how good were The View on Jools Holland last night ? They're one of my favourite current bands at the minute. Still teenagers writing noisy three minute guitar pop songs about growing up in provincial towns with no mess or pretension. Perfect, joyous and a bit daft, just like all good pop music should be.

Amnesty : protecting trafficked women

John Baker has been blogging about a current Amnesty campaign that is helping to raise awareness of the growing illegal traffic in women from poor countries to the developed world. Most are essentially kept as slaves in the euphemistically titled 'sex industry', i.e brothels, and are encouraged to come here with offers of non-existent jobs.

It is a modern day slave trade that is terrifying in it's scale and the misery is causes.

Childhood depression, grasping the nettle and sex on the brain.

I read with interest this week all the stuff in the papers about the four year old girl from Sunderland who has been diagnosed as suffering from depression. Having spoken to different people about it some seem to have difficulty in accepting that it could be a real condition. Is it not just mood swings or a young child acting up ? I was surprised that it even reached the national news to be honest. Five years ago I wrote a series of articles about the subject of childhood depression for a number of different publications. In some cases I even encountered families who had 2 and 3 year olds who were exhibiting all the classical signs of depression. Speaking to specialists in the field I soon learnt that it wasn't that unusual a diagnosis. Not everyday by any means, but certainly not unheard of. There's nothing particularly remarkable about the Sunderland girl and I'm presuming the fact her condition developed partly in reaction to not getting into the school of her choice has made it more newsworthy.
Mental health issues do appear to be gaining more coverage of late which has to be healthy, although in attitudinal terms we still have a long way to go. In terms of public funding it remains something of a cinderella issue. Economically mental health problems cost us millions every year through lost days at work, social security benefits and more intangibly the underuse of talent. Considering that so large a percentage of the population will suffer at some time from a mental health problem the very ordinariness of mental health conditions can sometimes be lost. The chances are that on your street there may be a couple of people who have or who are struggling, perhaps quite secretly and anonymously to cope with a debilitating problem. Too often lack of therapeutic and counselling services have left GPs with little option but to prescribe drugs when perhaps they would like to be able to offer something a bit more holistic. In many cases drugs are vital and necessary, but with people suffering from milder, yet still limiting depression they can be something of a sticking plaster.
I've written quite a bit over the years about mental health issues and have in a bit of a scatter gun fashion got to learn about what's going on in the heads of people suffering from different conditions. The brain is just such an amazing and mysterious piece of kit. I find how it works absolutely fascinating and I've long harboured ideas about doing some more systematic study into its workings. I'm currently going through a period when I seem to be finally grasping the nettle with lots of different ideas that I've long had partially formed somewhere at the back of my head. So I've enrolled on a psychology course with the Open University which begins in February. It'll be good to stretch myself in an area that is outside of my comfort zone and will I'm sure equip me better in various aspects of my writing.
The web is full of personality type tests, some frivolous and a bit daft, others more detailed and based on proper psychological theory. One that you might find interesting is the BBC's Brain Sex test, it takes a while to complete but it's results can be quite enlightening (and surprising). The science that lies behind it essentially says that there are two types of brain. One largely possessed by women that is better at empathy and complex emotions, the other largely possessed by men which is better at systemizing , spatial awareness and planning. This is of course a vast simplification of a very complex area. There are countless shades of grey, subtleties and provisos, but for the sake of brevity I'm sure you get my general drift. Your brain sex does not necessarily match your biological sex but in the majority of cases it will. They also run in a spectrum with the pronounced male brain being one of the likely causes of autism, or that should be the complex of behaviours exhibited by someone with an extreme male brain get classified as a condition called autism. The extreme female brain would produce someone highly sensitive perhaps to the point of being unable to function in the world.
Have a go at the tests and see where you fit in, then I might tell you where I came on the spectrum ;-)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fire in the disco

Not much chance to blog today. Rach is off so that means I am as well. We're going to try and get most of our Christmas shopping done this afternoon. Rach's family now have a no present rule and my side have instituted a cash limit for the first time so it shouldn't be too painful ;-) We normally leave it until the last minute and try and ignore the whole thing for as long as possible. This time round we figure the sooner we get it done, the sooner we can forget about it.
Then to reward ourselves we're going to have a cheesy night of sipping sickly overpriced alcohol from designer bottles whilst throwing some shapes in one of York's less than salubrious 'nitespots' . Every now and again it just has to be done...
(The photo by the way is of me the last time I ventured into a nightclub. I think you can tell everyone was quite impressed. )

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I walk therefore I is

I've been watching "Too Big To Walk" over the last couple of nights on Channel 4. It follows 8 seriously obese people as they attempt to walk from the south coast of England all the way up to Edinburgh. In doing so they want to challenge themselves, begin to lose weight and hopefully kickstart a healthier life. It's been compelling viewing and I find myself willing all of them. As people have fallen by the wayside I've felt real disappointment for them that they've been unable to keep going. They're a nice bunch of people, all fairly thoughtful and articulate about the state they've got themselves in. We're hardwired to desire food, we're programmed for scarcity at a time when food is cheap and plentiful. Food becomes an addiction and a comfort and before you know it your weight is creeping up. The final stretch of their journey up through Yorkshire and the Lake District, then through the Borders and onto Edinburgh will be shown tonight at 9pm.
Walking is a great way to lose weight. Throughout my 20s I used to be quite a serious runner. I ran countless half-marathons and a good few marathons. I would dash off on a Sunday morning for a twelve mile plod down the cycle track and think nothing of it. This came to an end when I started developing really painful knee problems, at times it became really difficult to even bend my legs never mind run. My dad who has long suffered from knee-problems, due in no small part to the impact on his legs from jumping in and out of the cab of a lorry has had one knee replaced. It won't be too long before he's having the other one done as well. I've seen the scars, they're not pretty and the pain he was in is not something I'm in any particular hurry to experience myself. The other knee will be replaced as well as soon as my dad gives the signal. He's reluctant to go for it due to the fact that despite being in his 70s he still runs a gardening business and two false knees would restrict his ability to do his job. Time will eventually leave him with little choice. As an aside, what has been a positive experience for him is the fact that he's not been put on a waiting list to get either knee done as would have happened in the old days, instead his consultant has left the timing of the operation entirely in his own hands. As soon as he's ready he'll be given a date within three weeks when the operation will take place. When he was recuperating he had the benefit of a brand new state of the art physiotherapy suite which aided his recovery no end. As a result he's been a lot more empowered throughout. There is much that needs improving in the NHS but praise where it's due.
Not wanting to go down the same line as my dad some thirty years earlier than he did I took my doctors advice and put the running on hold. Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you, that one of the best aspects of the training is that you can pretty much eat what you want. My appetite was huge when I was running and I still managed to stay slim. Then when I stopped training I kept eating. It was a hard habit to shake. I was the pasta king, tons of the stuff I shovelled away as if I was still aiming to beat my marathon personal best. As a result my weight crept up and up until my I hit 13stones 7lbs as 2005 gave way to 2006. Not only was I now looking a bit chubby (I've always had chubby cheeks whatever my weight) , I was looking fat. I had to buy new clothes and I was in danger of accepting that this was the new thirty-something me so just get on with it.
New Year is always a great time for new starts so I resolved to do something about it. Rach and I started to have a regular evening walk. Starting out at 30mins a day, it increased week on week until we hit March and the return of the light nights and we were doing nearly 2 hours an evening. It was great. We saw the Spring slowly returning and the weight falling off. We modified our eating slightly, but not drastically. There was no talk of a diet, just cutting out the sugar in the coffee and tea and the snacks between meals. By the end of March I was under 11 and a half stone, roundabout where I should be for a bloke of 5' 9". That's pretty much where I've stayed, when a few pounds have crept back on a bit more walking and a bit less food has got me back where I should be.
I'v always enjoyed walking and I frequently document different country walks we've enjoyed on my blogs. North Yorkshire is walkers terrain so we've a lot on our doorstep to explore. Walking around the city streets of York though offers just as much interest and variety as well we've found, particularly if you're consistent. You notice subtle shifts and minor changes, places have moods and atmospheres that differ throughout the year. The light picks out some small detail that you've never noticed previously despite having passed it countless times. Walking roots you in your environment in a way that driving, and even cycling can never really do. It beats gym membership and requires only a decent pair of walking trainers and a determination to keep at it.
Today Natural England is launching a campaign to encourage people to walk in green spaces for the sake of their health. It's clearly not a panacea but it does contribute to your general sense of well-being. Another related website is the excellent York Stories which charts in photos and words one woman's journeys on foot around the City of York.
I'll sign off here as the dog is looking expectantly at me. We've got an appointment with the park to keep.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Early morning vegetables and catching up with the Wasses.

Tuesday morning is fruit and veg box delivery day at our house. Before about 7 every Tuesday a nice lady called Maddie leaves a big brown sack of locally grown organic seasonal produce on our doorstep. It's always exciting because you're never entirely sure what you're going to get. As well as the usual carrots and spuds, you always get one or two more unusual items like Jerusalem artichokes or bags of Swiss Chard. So you're not scratching your head wondering what to do with the less familiar things you also get a little sheet with a couple of recipes on them and a bit of information about where the produce was sourced. This week for instance some of our bag comes from Newfield Organics on the edge of the North York Moors at Fadmoor. The farm is run by Howard and Rosemary Wass who were green pioneers in the UK back in the early 1970s. Howard's belief that human activity and hyper-consumption is exacerbating global warming is now the scientific and political consensus. When even the leader of the Conservative Party agrees with the likes of Howard Wass you can be certain that something significant is going on. This year the Wasses developed a belated passion for folk music. Howard purchased 6 CDs by the Derbyshire acapella group Coope, Boyes & Simpson . They listen to them incessantly - in the bath, before going to sleep, whilst doing the chores. They've now learnt all the words off by heart and they provide a backdrop to their constant questioning about how we conduct ourselves and the purpose of our life on the planet. I'm grateful for people like Howard & Rosemary Wass who dare to think and challenge cosy assumptions. It's taken the rest of us 30 years to catch up with the Wasses.
We get our fruit and veg from Farmaround North which was founded by Isobel Davies when she relocated back to her North Yorkshire roots in 2003. Prior to that she was the founder of Farmaround London in 1994 which is a flourishing veg box service in the capital. The original remit of the Farmaround North was North Yorkshire and the North East, but I know for a fact that they now deliver as far afield as Carlisle, Leeds and Sheffield. There is also another local farm which has recently started offering a similar service - Paradise Farm at Howsham.
I wanted to finish this post with a Coope, Boyes & Simpson clip on YouTube but I couldn't find one. So bearing in mind their fascination with industrial songs and mining heritage, I thought Kate Rusby singing 'My Young Man' accompanied by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band would make a worthy substitute.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Reconstructing Peter Snow

The man pictured left is Peter Snow. No, not the one with the swingometer, but Fr Peter Snow a Catholic priest from the late sixteenth century. Originally from Ripon, Peter Snow was captured and tried for the crime of being a Roman Catholic. He was hung drawn and quartered on York knavesmire and his head was placed on a stake above Micklegate Bar as a warning to others. York was a city that always had a significant underground Catholic community, underground being the operative word with a number of secret passageways and tunnels often being used to hide priests and members of religious communities from the prying eyes of the Protestant authorities.
He was executed on the same day as another local Catholic called Ralph Grimston. Snow was in his early thirties, Grimston about 50. The heads were spirited away from the stakes by local Catholics who took them to Hazelwood Castle near Tadcaster for safe keeping. They were finally unearthed during renovations in the 19th century
Now they are about to be interred at Leeds RC Cathedral finally putting them to rest after over four centuries. Prior to their interment forensic experts from Dundee University have used computer software to reconstruct their faces. Using simulation software that utilises precise facial scans accurate pictures of what the men looked like have been created, hence the picture of Fr Snow.
I love these facial reconstruction things, brings you face to face with these characters from the past. What you get from that picture is the youth of the man and just how ordinary he looks. He wouldn't look out of place wandering around town today. BBC Yorkshire & Lincolnshire's Inside Out programme features the story of Snow and Grimston at 7.30pm tonight.

Foods of Britain

There's new book out which I've just asked Santa to arrange for me. It's called "The Taste Of Britain" and it co-authored by York food writer, Laura Mason.

It basically documents local and regional foods from across Britain, some well known , others less so. So you've got Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Yorkshire Parkin and Newcastle Brown Ale alongside dock pudding, wilfra tart and elder (cooked cow's udder).

It began as a project for the European Union to document our regionally specific dishes to see if they could be awarded protected status. This means that for it to qualify as the genuine article it has to be made in the place from which it derives, with local ingredients. A Yorkshire cheese maker who was selling Yorkshire Feta fell foul of this earlier in the year but as Laura Mason rightly points out how would we feel about Greek Wensleydale ?

The foreword is by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who gives the example of proper farmhouse made Yorkshire curd tart he tasted;

"It was wonderful...and a world away from any regular custard tart I'd tried before. What I learned from this experience is that regionality does matter. If that tart had been made in Dorset or the Highlands it wouldn't have tasted the same. And if it had not been made at all, the world - on that drizzly autumn day - and me would have been poorer for it."

I feel the same about some truly heavenly Welsh cakes I had whilst on my hols. We always like to seek out local stuff when we go away. It's something I picked up from my dad who has always gone out of his way to sample local fare when he's out on his travels. It was always an exciting part of childhood holidays for me.

Whilst I'm on a foodie theme I'll leave you with my very own York Rarebit which is like Welsh Rarebit but made by me in my kitchen in York, hence the name ;-)

I don't really do quantities so you'll have to feel your way.

You'll need :

*Mature Cheddar

*English Mustard

*Worcestershire Sauce

*Fromage Frais

* Black Pepper

* Baby leeks or an onion will do.

* Few slices of bread toasted, I use a few slices of my own farmhouse loaf.

Grate your cheese into a bowl, spoon in some fromage frais and mix together. Add a couple of teaspoons of English mustard, splash in a healthy amount of Worcestershire Sauce and the black pepper. Lightly fry your baby leeks in some olive oil and chuck them and the oil in your mixture. Lightly toast your bread and then spread the mixture on it. Stick it back under the grill until it's all bubbling and hot.

Posh cheese on toast if you like, but a great winter snack.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Surveying the damage

The extent of the Mischief Night damage down our street appeared to be an egg thrown at the neighbours window and every car on the street getting a wing mirror folded in towards the car. Seeing as all the cars they did it to have moveable wing mirrors in the first place this was hardly vandalism of the first order. It took a second and a knowing rolling of the eyes accompanied by "kids eh" with some of the neighbours to right the world again.
Mischief Night by the way is a great film. Quite edgy and intense in places but the grimness is always lightened by loads of sharp humour. I've got a foodie blog mulling in my head for tommorow but time doesn't allow me to write much today. Hope you're having a good weekend.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Jim Stringer - Railway Detective

My near neighbour Alex has been blogging today about The Lost Luggage Porter by Andrew Martin, the third book in his Edwardian railway detective series. His detective, Jim Stringer is a native of Robin Hood's Bay on the north Yorkshire coast, but now finds himself as part of the railway police in York after brief stays in London and Halifax in the previous two books.

Miggying, premature bonfires and a belated rapprochement

We're off to a bonfire tonight for a premature Guy Fawkes celebration. I'm a bit uneasy about going to a bonfire on anything other than the actual day. I don't like this holiday creep that seems to occur around dates in our traditional calendar. November 4th was always Mischief Night for me, an evening of licensed mayhem when as kids we could go out and wreak moderate havoc on the neighbours without fear of getting told off. Despite both my parents being quite strict in many ways, they had no problem with me going out on the evening of the 4th of November to chuck eggs at windows, lift garden gates off brackets and do a bit of knock door running. For one night only we could be beastly. They never wanted to know what we'd got up to but delighted in telling us about their own pranks as kids which were always much more inventive than anything me and my mates could come up with.
I've been reading Ronald Hutton's The Rise & Fall Of Merry England which explores the pattern of communal rituals in England and Wales in the period of 1400-1700, three centuries which saw dramatic religious and ideological change in the country. Lots of the older customs associated with the Catholic year and popular grassroots Christianity were attacked as irreligious by the coming Puritan establishment and as a consequence many died out. The degree to which that happened however can be overstated, many customs hung on or were transformed and given new meanings. The extent to which they survived was largely dependent on the degree of importance they fulfilled within the community.
Mischief Night or Miggy Night as it get's called in these parts, owes it's historical roots to the night when Guy Fawkes was plotting mischief below Parliament, prior to getting apprehended. But the principal of an evening of licensed community mayhem has much older roots and appears in cultures around the world. The charivaris and Lords Of Misrule of Medieval Europe were much more chaotic, threatening and sinister than any fifteen year old lurking around the streets of Yorkshire in his hoodie is today. But then the rules that governed the lives of our Medieval forebears were much stricter, the threat of communal censure much greater than it is in our more individualistic era. Licensed misbehaviour was a necessary safety valve in helping to prevent much more damaging unrest. So it makes sense that my ma and pa, now both in their 70s were able to push the miggy boat out further than we ever could. The daily strictures placed on their behaviour were greater than on mine.
A new British film opened last night from the makers of East is East and Shameless, called Mischief Night. Set in Leeds, it looks at the life in a run-down racially mixed neighbourhood as Mischief Night approaches. Whilst most people rumble along trying to make a future for themselves and their community, off in the background sits religious radicals on one hand and white extremists on the other who want to tear the whole thing apart. We're hoping to go see it tommorow evening, so we're back to front this year.
I heard an MP on the radio this morning questioning the environmental impact of Bonfire Night and asking if it was still right that we commemorated the "burning of Catholics". If that was what Bonfire Night was really about then he might have a point. In reality, the meaning of the festivities differ from place to place. We were always given quite a sympathetic portrayal of the plotters. They were responding to persecution in a foolhardy and dangerous way. There is something romantic about Fawkes, a York born adventurer and passionate believer in emancipation for his religious community. Speaking of which, the first member of the Royal Family to openly marry a Catholic since the Reformation is taking place today.
Enjoy your festivities whatever you're up to and check out the trailer for Mischief Night below. Like the boy in the trailer, my mum was also a dinner lady ;-)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Coast, the Mabinogion and keeping up with the Joneses.

We had a bit of a TV quandary in our house last night. There's very little on the box that either of us get that excited about but last night we had one of those nightmarish clashes that wreak havoc with your televisual enjoyment. Our old VCR died a while back and we've never bothered to replace it. We've got a DVD player for films so it didn't really seem that pressing. On evenings like last night however you realise the folly of discarding 80s technology so quickly.
Coast was on BBC 2 and the the new Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall series on Channel 4. Hugh was edging it, until we realised that Coast was going to be exploring the North Wales coast all the way to Liverpool, Rach's alma mater and a place where I spent a year dodging scallies whilst attempting find things to write about. I'm a committed Cambrophile these days and I'm finding anything Welsh really fascinating. I'd not really had much to do with Wales for absolutely ages, other than following the career of the best situationist rock band to come out of Blackwood ever. Then knowing that we were off there on our hols I thought I'd reacquaint myself with a bit of the history of the place. I read quite a few books on the country including the excellent Wales : Epic Views Of A Small Country by Jan Morris, which led me onto the Medieval Welsh canon parts of which I'm now working my way through in translation. This coincided with my annual Big Brother addiction which this year featured two Welsh speakers who frequently chatted with each other in their native tongue. This seemed like quite a cool thing to be able to do and in a sublime moment of unlikely neural fusion, low and high culture came together in giving birth to a new project. "I know" I thought, "I'll learn Welsh and then I'll be able to read the Mabinogion in the original language". Which is a nice idea.
This chimes in with an earlier idea of mine following a series of articles I wrote about the Russian voluntary sector : "Let's learn Russian so I can read Dostoyevsky in the original".
Sadly, I'd still be unable to read Janet & John in Russian, never mind Crime & Punishment. I stuck with Russian for all of three weeks but Welsh has been a bit more of a success. I've managed to force myself to sit down and work at it a few hours a week. Then last night when a couple of Welsh speakers spoke on Coast I knew what they were on about. I literally punched the air as a mark of my achievement.
"What ?" asked Rach.
"She said she works in the office at the nuclear power station !"
Onwards and upwards ;-)
During boring moments on Coast when they were doing unspeakable things to shellfish, we quickly turned over to check out what Hugh was up to. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is something of a spiritual icon in our house and we try to live by his teachings so not watching the start of his new series left us feeling a bit like a devout Catholic who'd missed Sunday Mass. Apparently he was attempting to wean chicken nugget addicts off their habit with some success. What I like about Hugh is that he's not puritanical and censorious where food is concerned. His food is rich in cream, cheese, red meat and alcohol and food for him is a sensual thing. He is the anti-McKeith. What he does argue though is that we have cheapened a lot of our food in the search ever lower prices, pushing family farms out of business in the process and ending up with over-processed crap as a result. To cap it all he's a bit mad, which is no bad thing in itself.
But back to the Welsh. I heard this morning that there is to be a world record attempt at the Millenium centre in Cardiff to try to assemble the largest gathering of people with the same surname. Joneses from across the globe are gathering to watch a variety concert by people with the surname. Grace Jones will be there as will Dame Gwyneth Jones the opera singer.
Earlier in the year I had a look at the 1901 census to try and find out who was living in our house at the time, just three years after it was built. It turned out it was a family and the lady of the house went by the name Mary-Anne. What really got me interested was the fact that she was born in Carmarthen. The town at the time was majority Welsh speaking, so it was likely that she at least had some knowledge of the language. There can't have been many Welsh speakers in Edwardian York and finding out that one once lived here seemed serendipitous.
I then had the idea that I'd trace the Carmarthen family of Mary-Anne for a feature article or two. I thought it might be a nice take on the "Who Do You Think You Are" fascination at present. Turning to the 1881 census I found the newlywed couple who would later find themselves living in our house. From that I was able to locate their wedding date and find Mary-Anne's maiden name. It was Jones.
1881 Census for Carmarthen turned up hundreds and hundreds of Joneses so my search got put on the backburner. I like to think that a Welsh speaking Jones from Carmarthenshire will be showing their passport to prove their surname at the Millenium Centre later today. I'm sure they have no idea that their great-great-great Auntie Mary-Anne once lived in my house and is providing inspiration in my crusade to get my head around those consonant mutations.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Writers Advice 1# - Dealing With Rejection

I posted this on my Myspace page a few days ago but thought I'd repost it here as I know I always used to be read by people who will surely relate to it's central thrust. It comes from esteemed book shop owner Bernard Black (aka Dylan Moran), who illustrates how the writer should handle the sensitive issue of rejection. I've always quite fancied the idea of having a small bookshop but Rach reckons it would be just like Black Books. In my worst moments I do exhibit Bernard tendencies it has to be said ;-)

Irrepressible Info

If you look on my sidebar you'll see a little box with the title "Irrepressible Info" which keeps flashing up little snippets of information. Various regimes around the world are going out of their way to attempt to censor the access of their citizens to information on the net. We're not talking crappy cartoons attacking peoples religion here, it's life and death stuff in a lot of cases. The code supplies a fragment of a story in a variety of languages and if you click on it you'll be taken to a place where you can read the story in full. It's a way of trying to circumvent the controls placed on information by repressive governments.

I picked up on this from Yorkshire Soul who is always on the ball where these kind of things are concerned.

Welcome to Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma

Welcome to Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma which is my new diary style blog. After a few months of not really having much to talk about due to the fact we've both been absorbed in house type stuff life once again looks more interesting. In the past when I've not had much to talk about I verged into the realms of opinion and have started spouting-off pub bore fashion about things I'm probably not qualified to talk about. Presently I'm busy with loads of different thing so it's probably safe to say this will stay fairly uncontroversial.

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is the name of the shortest street in York. It used to be the site of the former public pillory and the name consequently evolved from "Whitnourwhatnourgate" to it's present name. All the 'gates' we get in York derive from the Old Norse, 'gata' meaning street. I hope to include loads about this beautiful old city I'm lucky enough to live in and the surrounding area, so naming the blog after a local street seemed fitting.

The photography work has been going better than I could have expected. It's always satisfying to get nice comments from people who have bought my work. I get loads of satisfaction from knowing that my photos are framed and on peoples walls. In fact it gives me loads more pleasure than my writing has done over the past couple of years so increasingly I'm thinking in terms of images rather than words when I try and work out where I'm heading. Writing has been something I've done for as long as I've been able to so I doubt there'll ever be a time when it's not part of my life, but variety is good. Most of the time I just feel pretty privileged to be able to do what I do. It's hardly ever likely to make me my fortune, but it does allow me almost complete self-determination. Reading the blogs of people who seem to really despise their job I'm always reminded that enjoying what you do with your working day is not necessarily par for the course.

Finally got round to updating the photography blog with a few shots from over the past few weeks since we returned from our week in Wales. The weather is lovely and the light is perfect at present so I'm trying to make the most of it. I hope to get a whole load of new York shots tommorow whilst the cold clear weather continues.

This is one of my favourite times of year. Early spring as well is always nice, but late October/early November take some beating in my book. The smell of leaf rot and bonfires, crisp cold weather and thin piercing light. I spend loads of time out of doors at this time of year, before the nights really start drawing in and the Christmas onslaught really gathers pace.

Anyway, thanks for popping by and enjoy the blog.