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Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Faded Page

The following may be of interest (with apologies to those already in the know). 

In putting together the next “New Month Old Post” post for Thursday, I came across a resource called Fadedpage ( ) which contains a growing number (currently 5659) of free, high-quality, public domain (in Canada) ebooks in PDF, Epub, Mobi (Kindle) and other formats. 

For example (from a fairly random look through), it has Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, novels by C. S. Lewis, Nevil Shute and Evelyn Waugh, Winston Churchill’s Second World War series, books by Albert Camus in French, lots by George Orwell such as Homage to Catalonia and The Road to Wigan Pier, the Biggles stories of W. E. Johns’s and seemingly everything by Enid Blyton (or if you prefer the American equivalent, books from the Stratemeyer series including a couple of Laura Lee Hope’s Bobbsey Twins stories which I enjoyed at Junior School). Too many to mention, really.

Many, of course, are also available from the Kindle store, but often at a cost, and I tend to find that the digitisation of free Kindle books is of variable quality. 

It is fairly straightforward to add books in Mobi format to a Kindle device, but if anyone is unsure I could append a few screen shots showing how to do it.  
Now, I wonder how Biggles broke the silence.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Ties Teens and Sells

Emptying the household waste baskets, I interrupted my son’s video call. He continues to work at home most days. He had put on a smart shirt and tie, and was talking to some important-looking blokes in suits. 

“Sorry,” I apologised when I went back later.

“We were in conference with coun-sel,” he explained. That’s how he said it: “coun-sel,” with too much emphasis on the ‘e’ of the second syllable.

He could see I was looking to mock him. “Just emptying the bas-kets,” I was about to say.

“I know it sounds pretentious,” he said. “I thought I would never say it like that, but we have to avoid confusing coun-sel with coun-cil. It wouldn’t do to be asked to phone the council and to phone the counsel instead, not at the rates they charge.”

“It’s like when I started work,” I said, dredging up a memory from the distant past as usual.  

I told him about two people checking over a set of accounts to make sure they had been typed correctly. The one reading out loud from the handwritten draft kept saying things like “thir-tie” and “for-tie” instead of thirty and forty. I thought it sounded silly until it was pointed out that if the typist had typed thirteen in place of thirty, or the other way round, it might be misheard and wrongly passed as correct. Soon, I was pronouncing all my -ties and -teens too. Some you didn’t really need to change, such as twenty because it would never be confused with twelve, but we changed it anyway: “Twen-tie pounds, fif-teen shillings and eleven pence.”

“That would be so easy to carry through into everyday life,” he said. “You don’t usually talk about barristers outside work, but we’re always talking numbers. You could end up saying it without thinking. We deal with about thir-tie or for-tie coun-sel and thirt-tie or for-tie coun-cils.”

“It’s so powerful,” I said, “that even when you tell someone about it, they start doing it themselves, even after fifty years.”

“Fif-tie,” he corrected me.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

North Yorks Walks

Map of the North York Moors

It was great to be out on the North York Moors again, although there was a time when I would not have said that. It is where my first proper walks were, with boots, cagoule and rucksack, fifty years ago. My friend Neville used to drive us up on Saturdays in his Ford Anglia and we would spend the day walking. Don’t ask me where: the names Helmsley and Chop Gate sound familiar. Neville had been walking for longer than me and knew all the routes. He persuaded me along and I just followed – literally. 

More often than not he would disappear off into the distance and leave me trailing behind in wretched misery, with swollen ankles, and feet blistered by badly fitting boots. That first pair was fine for a few miles but I could never get the right combination of thin and thick socks to avoid rubbing. Nowadays I wear just one thick pair and stick on a piece of micropore tape at the slightest hint of trouble, which is not very often. As for ankles, from quite an early age I was forever going over and spraining them. I once jumped half way down the stairs and went over with a crunch. The pain was unbelievable. I always went over at least once on Neville’s walks, and still do sometimes, but it doesn’t usually hurt now. Mrs. D. says I’ve got lax ligaments. People cringe when I put the soles of my feet and my knees together at the same time.

On one walk, on Fylingdales Moor near the strange radome “golf balls” (replaced in 1992), I was so far behind I took a wrong fork, and rather than backtrack two hundred yards took a short cut across an area signed “Ministry of Defence. Danger. Unexploded Mines”. I was past caring. Another time, Neville organised a group of us to attempt the Lyke Wake Walk – a 40-mile crossing of the moor from Osmotherly to Ravenscar – but I had to give up less than half-way with one ankle puffed-up like a balloon, and red-raw heels and toes. My heels had blisters upon blisters and my toes looked like they had been stripped with sandpaper. It showed the world for what it is: the beauty and the pain.

The beauty won: the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside. Somehow, I persisted, and my feet, ankles and even I toughened up. We walked in all weathers. I must have been very warm-blooded because, even in the coldest winds and wettest rain, I wore only a cagoule over t-shirt and jeans. I would even go out like that in ice and snow. Now, maybe ten pairs of better-fitting boots later and owner of warmer clothing, I wish I got out more often. So, on holiday last month, it was great to be out on the North York Moors again. One walk was around the enigmatically-named Hole of Horcum.

Panorama of the Hole of Horcum
Panorama of the Hole of Horcum, 2007 (Adam Jennison, Wikimedia Creative Commons)

The Hole of Horcum is a huge natural amphitheatre 400 feet deep and three-quarters of a mile across, just west of Fylingdales Moor. Legend has it as ‘The Devil’s Punchbowl’, formed when a giant threw a handful of earth at his wife. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Apart from the fact that no one would even dream of throwing a handful of earth at his wife, the giant was called Wade, not Horcum. I think Horcum must have been his dog, one of those enormous English Mastiffs, and the hole is where he buried a bone and then dug it up again. In any case, curmudgeonly geo-morphologists have to go and spoil things by telling us the Hole was formed by a process of water-erosion called spring-sapping? 

The Hole of Horcum
The Hole of Horcum, 17th August 2020

My own picture is from roughly the same viewpoint as the panorama, taken from the edge of the hole soon after we began circling anti-clockwise. The purple heather was putting on a better show this year. On reaching the far right-hand side we went off at a tangent along a path to a five-way junction at Dundale Rigg (what a name for a folk band!). From there you can divert to Skelton Tower (an 1830s shooting lodge) and marvel at the steam trains on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway far below. However, we continued on to the sleepy village of Levisham and then looped back East and North along the side of a wooded valley, picking our way through nettles to reach the footpath across the floor of the Hole, visible in the above photograph. In seven miles we had walked the whole of Horcum.

Levisham Village 2002 (Stephen Horncastle, Creative Commons)
Levisham Village

Entering the Hole of Horcum
Entering the Hole of Horcum, 17th August 2020

Another day we walked along the cliff top, along the track bed of the old Whitby to Middlesborough Middlesbrough railway, which closed in 1958. Some of the now-dismantled structures along the line, such as the Staithes Viaduct, were remarkable. At Staithes you can still make out the brick abutment on the hillside across the valley from the village car park that was once the site of Staithes railway station. The viaducts survived as potential Second World War targets only for unaffordable maintenance costs and declining passenger numbers to achieve what Hitler did not.

German WW2 photograph of Staithes Viaduct

We joined the track at Sandsend, following in the footsteps of the intrepid Mr. Yorkshire Pudding who was there last year, and also ourselves in 1997, with the same two people in the next photograph as above. Whereas Mr. Pudding’s group continued the six miles north to Runswick Bay, we turned inland towards the village of Lythe and returned to Sandsend by a higher path across fields, giving a bird’s eye view of the resort.

Sandsend 1997
The old railway track north from Sandsend, 19th September, 1997, looking towards Whitby Abbey

Sandsend 2020
Looking down on Sandsend from the higher cliff path, 16th August 2020

The final photograph is from the cliff tops south of Whitby near the Abbey, which gives fine views in the opposite direction, north towards Sandsend. You can see Sandsend and the wooded cliffs where we walked.

Whitby 2020
Looking north to Sandsend from near Whitby Abbey, 21st August 2020

From the Abbey you descend the famous 199 steps back into town.

For more photographs, this guy’s web site is a real treat:  
Sandsend to Runswick Bay
Hole of Horcum (he starts at Levisham). 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Review - J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye (5*)

Another book not picked up since I was a teenager at school, indeed, to be honest, the very same book in which roughness on the inside of the front cover betrays where the school label has been cunningly removed.

I was unable to finish it in those days. I went through several years of not being able to read anything much at all. I would begin earnestly enough but quickly find myself stepping mentally away and thinking good, I am now reading, really reading, which meant that I wasn’t, which is why I am having to catch up with all these books now.

That sounds almost like the kind of thing the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, would say. I can still, just about, identify with him. Holden has been kicked out of boarding school for failing in nearly everything. He wanders aimlessly around New York for a couple of days, avoiding home and parents and trying to pass for older than his sixteen years. He books into a hotel and goes out for drinks. The lift man fixes him up with a prostitute and then beats him up. He sees an old friend and falls out with a girl friend. He nearly freezes to death. Throughout, we hear his constant, drifting thoughts: hating everything, disliking everyone, moaning about all the superficiality and insincerity he sees; the original angst-filled teenager.

The thing he hates most is “phoneys”: the headmaster who will only talk with influential parents; his older brother for cashing in his talent to write for Hollywood; the lawyers in it for the money rather than to help people. Yet the biggest phoney of all is himself. He tells you the one thing he can’t stand is the movies and then a few pages later talks about going to see them. He pretends to like teachers who try to help him. He gets into conversation with the mother of a pupil he dislikes, and lies about what a popular and sensitive boy her son is, the complete opposite of what he really thinks. He then lies to her about why he is not in school:
‘No, everybody’s fine at home,’ I said. ‘It’s me. I have to have this operation.’
‘Oh! I’m so sorry,’ she said. She really was, too. I was right away sorry I’d said it, but it was too late.
‘It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumour on the brain.’
‘Oh, no!’ She put her hand up to her mouth and all.
‘Oh, I’ll be all right and everything! It’s right near the outside. And it’s a very tiny one. They can take it out in about two minutes.’
Then I started reading this time-table I had in my pocket. Just to stop lying. Once I get started, I can go on for hours if I feel like it. No kidding. Hours. (p62)
The only person Holden genuinely respects is his young sister Phoebe, and when he sneaks home to see her she accuses him of liking nothing and of not wanting to be anything. He says the only thing he wants to be is the catcher in the rye:
You know that song “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye”?  … I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye … And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff … That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye. (p179)

which shows how adrift he is. “It’s if a body meet a body,” says Phoebe. “It’s a poem by Robert Burns.”

Many will hate this book and find Holden Caulfield repugnant. I loved both. Holden is real and vivid enough, I imagine, still to ring true with teenagers today. I laughed out loud at some of his overstatements, such as when he meets “... one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you” (p91). Most of what he tells you is a façade: he is yet another unreliable narrator with a distinctive first-person voice. Beneath the resentment he is intelligent, perceptive and generous: he reads a lot, lends his jacket to a school friend and writes an English essay for him – the one subject he is good at. Only when his sister Phoebe trusts him unreservedly in her readiness to run away do we glimpse hope as he starts to accept responsibility. He catches her from going over the edge of the cliff. Which takes us back to the start of the novel when he is recovering in an institution and telling us “... about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.”

Only one scene has stayed with me from my attempted reading so long ago, which is when Holden looks out through the darkness from his hotel window into other illuminated, uncurtained rooms to see a couple at play and a man dressing up in women’s clothes. Funny what you remember.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

New Month Old Post: Jim Laker, Mr. Ellis and the Eagle Annual

(First posted 12th April, 2016)

 “You can bowl, Hunt.” Mr. Ellis threw the ball at me, hard, his superior smirk turning into a contemptuous sneer. 

He had mistaken me for Dave Hunt. It was easily done, we were both thin and feeble, but to correct him would have gained yet more of his unwanted attention. He was right though: I could bowl, except he didn’t know it yet.

We were in the school cricket nets. Mr. Ellis had decided to demonstrate some batting strokes and for once had invited one of the sport-averse, wimpy weaklings to participate: someone whose ineffectual bowling would be easy to deal with. What he was unaware of was that, coached by the Eagle Annual, I could put quite a spin on the ball.

Eagle Annual 7 (1958)
It might have been an aunt or uncle who bought me Eagle Annual 7 for Christmas in 1958. It was far too ‘old’ for someone who had not been reading long, and the stories, adventure strips, factual articles and activities were mostly beyond me. I just looked at the pictures.

The original disappeared long ago, but I won this scruffy replacement on ebay for little more than the cost of the postage.

The Laker Grip
And there, on page 98, is ‘The Laker grip’, the drawing that fuelled my imagination all that time ago. It shows a hand with a cricket ball wedged between the first and second fingers, the way Jim Laker held it.

Jim Laker (1922-1986) was a Yorkshireman who played for Surrey and England, but sadly, never Yorkshire. To cricket statisticians, he is notable as the first bowler to take all ten wickets in a single test match innings, playing against the Australians at Old Trafford in 1956.

Jim Laker 1956
Jim Laker after taking
19 for 90 in 1956
In that particular match he took nineteen wickets for the loss of only ninety runs, 9 for 37 in the first innings, and 10 for 53 in the second: an incredible achievement. It says this in the text, although I don’t remember reading anything of it in the nineteen-fifties. All I remember is the illustration. It caught my attention because we had recently started playing cricket in the street.

I have a thing about objects in flight. Even now I scare my family by spinning knives in the air and catching them by their handles. The sharper the better, two revolutions rather than one, sometimes three, but never four: last time I tried four I caught the wrong end.  

And so it was with a cricket ball. How satisfying to be able to bowl with a spin to make it bounce up at an angle. I practised for hours with a tennis ball, and by some semi-conscious combination of shoulder movement, wrist rotation and finger friction at the point of release I could choose to turn it quite viciously either to the right or to the left. When at a later point someone bought me a proper cricket ball, hard and heavy, with a seam to give traction, you could sometimes hear it buzz when I let it go.

I know nothing of technicalities such as off-spins and leg breaks, and it never occurred to me it might be possible to make a ball curve in flight. We only played across the street, with a lamp post for a wicket and occasional pauses to let the Council lorries go past on their way to and from the depot. After things became all homework and television we stopped playing cricket completely. I don’t think I bowled again until that day a year or so later when Mr. Ellis decided to show off his batting prowess.

It was a beauty. As it left my fingers it whistled clean as the wings of a Pontefract pigeon. It bounced in front of him and jumped aggressively off to the left, just clipping the edge of his bat as he came forward to meet it. Anyone behind in the slips position would have caught him out first ball. Mr. Ellis poked disparagingly at the ground with his bat as if to flatten some non-existent lump or divot, thinking unevenness must have caused the deviation. 

He threw the ball at me a second time, a little more thoughtfully than before, and told me to bowl again. This time I turned it to the right and hit Mr. Ellis on the pads. In a real match he would have been out leg before wicket. He looked up almost in admiration.

“Well done, Hunt! Excellent! I wish I could move it like that. I bet you can’t do three in a row.”

So I surprised him with a straight one, as fast and accurate as I could send it, and this time it did seem to catch some irregularity in the ground, causing it to squeeze past his bat into the stumps. 

And true to character, when a little bit of assertive self-promotion might have elevated me to the glory of a place in the school cricket team, I kept quiet about not being who Mr. Ellis thought I was, and when the names of the second eleven were revealed for our annual grudge match against Hemsworth, a bemused Dave Hunt was one of the bowlers.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Whitby, Staithes and Scarborough

Kite Flying, Raithwaite, Whitby, 1997
Kite Flying, Raithwaite, Whitby, 1997

I never visited Staithes or Whitby as a child, nor did we go to Scarborough much, probably because Bridlington and Filey (see previous posts) were nearer.

We have since been to all three quite often. In the nineteen-nineties we stayed twice in cottages in the grounds of Raithwaite Hall about two miles north of Whitby: not then the luxury hotel and spa complex it is now. The cottages were new, but the hall itself was the decaying former home of two Whitby shipping families. Pictures of the ships and their histories were displayed in an outhouse. When the last of these shipping magnates, William Headlam, died at the age of 81 in 1990, he cut his estranged wife out of his will and left his £7m fortune to a fifty-six year unmarried nurse who had cared for him for twenty years. Offers of marriage flowed in from all over the world, but she rejected them all.  

We also stayed a mile further north at Sandsend during a memorable week when the temperature soared and we spent most of the time playing in the warm pool that forms where East Row Beck crosses the beach to reach the sea. I towed the children round and round in an inflatable dinghy for hours. We flew kites in the longshore winds, one a stunt kite bought while rushing to catch a train, making me mangle my words in the shop. The Reverend Spooner would have been awestruck.

Another year, we stayed yet a further ten miles north at Staithes. There’s a place to get fit quick. You won’t find much of it on streetview. You have to leave your car at the top of the village and walk down the hill with your bags, or park briefly at the bottom and carry them up steps. You walk up and down to the car, and down and up to the harbour all week. Your leg muscles swell out like mooring buoys. 

Staithes: we rented the house top middle with three skylight windows, to the left of several white ones.

As for Scarborough, I went a couple of times with my parents when little, but have no photographs. My strongest memories are of Peasholm Park on the North Bay, where I learnt to row round and round the island in the boating lake – a skill later to impress my children. Several times a week there was a re-enactment of the Battle of the River Plate with miniature battleships, culminating in the scuttling of the Admiral Graf Spee, celebrating the days when Britain liked to think it could wup the Germans over and over again without really trying. The special effects – the smoke, the explosions, bombers dropping torpedoes as they whizzed across on a zipwire – were phenomenal. Most of the model boats were operated by people hiding inside and walking on the bottom of the lake. There’s a job for some people I might name.  

Peasholm Park, Scarborough

Peasholm Park, Scarborough

We saw all three places again last week while staying in Whitby. They were crowded. There were no rowing boats on Peasholm lake, only dragon pedaloes. Where is the skill in that?

Dragon Pedaloes, Peasholm Park
Dragon Pedaloes, Peasholm Park

And then there were the walks on the North York Moors …

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Trains and Boats

We are just back from a week in Whitby where we stayed in a third-floor riverside apartment watching the clockwork of the tides, Northern Rail and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR). It was not the usual kind of country cottage we stay in, but a wonderful location nevertheless, and an unexpected family holiday in a year when the offspring had planned things of their own. 

Here are some pictures of the NYMR post-lockdown ‘Optimist’ service arriving from and departing for Pickering:

D7628 ‘Sybilla’ arriving at Whitby 18 Aug 2020 11.00 a.m.
Arriving with heritage diesel-electric locomotive D7628 ‘Sybilla’ at 11.00 on 18th August

926 ‘Repton’ leaving Whitby 19 Aug 2020 at 16.30
Leaving with 4-4-0 steam locomotive 926 ‘Repton’at 16.30 on the 19th August

825 leaving Whitby 21 Aug 2020 at 16.30
Leaving with the unnamed 4-6-0 locomotive 825 at 16.30 on the 21st  August

I love the NYMR heritage railway. It runs for eighteen miles through the North York Moors National Park from Pickering to Grosmont. At the northern end, trains can then join Network Rail tracks to run the six miles from Grosmont through to Whitby. Regrettably, the eight miles of track connecting Pickering to Malton at the southern end was lifted after the Beeching cuts of the nineteen-sixties. If still in place, trains would be able to run all the way from York to Whitby without having to go round by Middlesbrough, which would be very popular. Hopefully, one day it will happen. 

In past years we have had many happy days out on the NYMR. We have driven to Pickering, caught the train to Grosmont, eaten in the pub, walked back to Goathland and returned on the train to Pickering. We have done a similar walk between Newton Dale Halt and Levisham station. We once used it to visit to Whitby. A lot of people like to visit Goathland as the location of Aidensfield in the television series ‘Heartbeat’ which is set in the nineteen-sixties, and its railway station appears in the ‘Harry Potter’ films as Hogsmeade station. 

You can do all of this, of course, by car, which costs a lot less, but that way you don’t get to ride on a steam train. Some love it so much they just travel back and forth along the line. We’ve done that too. I could spend all day just watching the wooden railway gates at Grosmont: proper swinging gates that make a satisfying clunk when they come to rest against their wedges. Here are some past pictures.

NYRM Deltic Weekend, Grosmont, 2002
Grosmont, August 2002

NYRM 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley Goathland 2014
Goathland, July 2014

NYRM Grosmont 2014
Grosmont, July 2014

NYRM 61264 Grosmont 2017
Grosmont, July 2017

Last week was the first time we have stayed in the area without visiting the railway. They have had to introduce COVID-safe restrictions, such as non-stop services and pre-booked seats only, making it difficult and inconvenient. I don’t know whether there is any more risk of catching the virus on a train than in walking the crowded streets of Whitby, Scarborough or Staithes, which we did. If, say, one in twenty thousand people is infectious, then you would be unlucky to encounter it at all, and even unluckier to catch it.

The trouble is that lots of small risks combine to make bigger risks, so that if an infectious person is around in the community they could easily infect someone, somewhere. You just have to hope it won’t be you. I suppose that one infected person on a train could infect several others, whereas in the street, provided you and most others are sensible, you would only be near that person for one brief moment in which you are unlikely to get it. I really do not want to catch it. Even those with so-called mild cases, such as the son of one of my cousins, a fit young man in his thirties, have had unpleasant and worrying symptoms persisting for months.

Anyway, I didn’t just think about trains. I thought about boats as well. Even Mrs. D. was fascinated by the activities on the river and in the boatyard:

“Look! There’s a gap now next to the greeny-yellow one. I wish we’d seen them lifting it back into the water. And there’s a chap with a hose pipe on top of that black and white one [see first picture]. And that couple are still on the white boat this morning. They must have been there all night.” 

What fun to have a little boat moored at Whitby to live on board whenever you fancy a few days away. 

I became especially interested in the boat resting on the mud bank in the first picture. She usually re-floated at high tide but not always. One morning she stayed on the bottom with water over the sides and spouted like a leaking kettle as the tide went out. But hoo-ray and up she rises come the next tide.

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 20th August 2020
06:00 a.m. 20th August

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 20th August 2020
Later the same morning - 09:30 a.m. 20th August

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 21st August 2020
The following day - 07:00 a.m. 21st August

Ignoring ridicule from my family (“Oh no! He’s obsessed with clapped out boats as well as clapped out trains!”), I walked round over Whitby swing bridge to take a closer look. The boat turned out to be Sunderland-registered trammel net trawler SD403 ‘Our Mellissa’, built in Denmark in 1979, previously named the Norlan and the Kraefrihed, which seems to have been active in Whitby until around 2016. Here she is with our ‘Whitehall Landing’ apartments across the river (on the site of a former shipyard, they were supposedly designed to look like traditional dockside warehouses), and in happier times in Whitby Harbour in 2010.

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 20th August 2020
SD403 Our Mellissa at Whitby, 20th August 2020

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 2010
SD403 Our Mellissa in Whitby Harbour 2010

I didn’t just think about boats either. The North York Moors around Whitby is wonderful walking country, but that’s another post.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020


Filey c1957
Dad with my brother, Primrose Valley, Filey, around 1957

Filey, like Bridlington, is another Yorkshire seaside resort with a long family association. There are pictures of my dad there with his parents in the nineteen-thirties and then with his own family including me in the nineteen-fifties. Later I took my family in the noughties. We had some good times there, and some not so good ones. 

Primrose Valley caravan site 1950s
Primrose Valley caravan site 1950s

My earliest memories are of Primrose Valley, the caravan site just south of Filey near the Butlins camp: not the modern fixed caravans there now but the old towable tin boxes with fold-away beds, sickly calor gas, a long walk to fetch water and cell-block toilets. We spent most days on the beach with proper metal buckets and spades, digging and building sand castles with paper flags and sea-water moats.

A fresh-water spring bubbles out of the sand near the cliffs and washes down the beach begging to be dammed before it flows away. No matter how much sand you pile up, the weight of water accumulates until it inevitably breaks through. You have to watch out nobody is sitting on a picnic rug lower down the beach.

And there is Filey Brigg, a long, low neck of sandstone and limestone sticking half a mile out into the sea, covered in shells, fossils and rock-pools. It makes for a breathtaking walk on a warm day at low tide, with gentle waves, seaweed smells and lazy seals, all at one with the enormity of the earth, sea and sky. On other days, at other times, it would be foolish to defy the power of the wind and tide.

Filey beach
On Filey beach with the long, low neck of Filey Brigg piercing the sea to the right

Filey Brigg
Filey Brigg

Filey Brigg
On Filey Brigg
At the end of Filey Brigg
At the end of Filey Brigg

We had two family holidays at Filey in the noughties, staying in the rented cottages that nestle in the dunes beyond the caravans. It was a wonderful time: our children, born in my forties, were still under ten. That first year we found the fresh-water spring and dammed it, or tried to, and walked out along the Brigg searching for life in the rock pools. From the cottage windows, through binoculars, we watched the Regal Lady from Scarborough sail by in the evening sun on a coastal cruise.

It was so good we booked again the following year in a different cottage. That was one of the not so good times. We nearly went straight home. It was the most disgusting holiday cottage I’ve ever stayed in.

I still have a copy of the letter we sent to the agent. The cottage had not been cleaned. There were stains and spots of blood on the bed sheets and one of the children’s beds smelled of urine. The drawers and cupboards stank and were filled with the owners’ dirty clothing and other personal items such as half-used bottles of mouthwash. There was very little room for our own things.

In the bathroom there were soiled footmats, hairs around the wash basin, the bath needed cleaning, and the lavatory smelled appalling and had a broken seat. There was a note from the cleaner to say the shower was not working and would be repaired during the week, but it wasn’t. Other things in the cottage were also broken.

In the kitchen was a vase of dead flowers, the bin had not been emptied, there was rotting food in the fridge, a smelly dishcloth on the draining board and a grill pan full of dirty fat that tainted the oven. There were crumbs everywhere.

The sitting room stank of stale cigarette smoke and prominent in the book case were Alex Comfort’s ‘The Joy of Sex’ and other visually explicit sex books, hardly appropriate in a seaside holiday cottage where young children such as ours would be staying. We encouraged our children to read and take an interest in books, but not those at that age.

The cleaner and owners could not be contacted, nor, it being Saturday evening, could the agent. Fortunately we found clean bedding to make the beds usable, did some cleaning ourselves, and survived the week by eating out more than planned.

It took two weeks to get an apology. The cottage had been unbooked the week before ours but someone had been there without booking. It had been cleaned after the previous legitimate occupants, and the cleaner had then gone away on holiday. The owners, a couple from Sheffield, were also on holiday.

We got a refund eventually. The owners sent flowers, which seemed patronising, and offered a further week’s stay for free, but, frankly, at the thought of them enjoying the joy of sex in their pissy underwear, we politely declined. 

We have been back to Filey for days out, but have not stayed.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Health Gadget

Boots Blood Pressure Monitor
Recently, I went to Leeds Infirmary for medical tests: some of my cousins have been diagnosed with a serious, intermittent heart arrhythmia of hereditary origin and I need checks to see whether it is in my line of the family. There is a further test to come, so other than to say all looks well so far I won’t write about that now.

However, during the tests my blood pressure was measured at 189/87 millimetres of mercury, with a pulse rate of 83. The diastolic reading of 87 is not too bad, but, bluntly, a systolic reading of 189 is extremely high. It is classed as Stage 3 hypertension, a potential medical emergency!

In my defence, I should say that the measurement was taken about five minutes after a brisk fifteen-minute walk uphill from the railway station followed by a climb up five floors of stairs, that it had gone down slightly after half an hour, that I was typically anxious about what was about to happen and that I was uncomfortable in a coronavirus face mask, but really, I thought it best to respond to the letter from the G.P. I had been ignoring for a month and go for a routine blood pressure test.

That reading was a bit better: at first 167/83 and then, as I calmed down, 154/78, with a pulse of 70, which the practice nurse said was still classed as hypertension, but not at a level that would normally be treated with drugs. The diastolic 78 was, in fact, normal. I wasn’t just relieved, I was elated.

But, I should not have high blood pressure. I am active, vegetarian, have a below average body mass index, don’t smoke and don’t drink excessively, so why is it elevated? Could that also be hereditary? My mother used to be on what (in polite company) she called “wind and water pills”. Or am I, as some would say I always have been, of a nervous disposition? 

The nurse said it might be worth getting a home blood pressure monitor, so for £20 from Boots I bought the one pictured. As the cuff and instructions show, it is a rebadged early model of the Omron monitor they have in the surgery.

It has been well worth it. At one time, doctors would not have let you anywhere near a gadget like this so as not to “worry the patient”. My readings are coming out even better at around 142/77, and just out of bed first thing in the morning I managed 124/71 with a pulse rate of 56. Phew! That’s absolutely in the normal range.

Except, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have now changed their definition of normal from below 140/90 to under 120/80 (see source article). Well, they can just piss off.

Mrs D., by the way, is gloating over her reading of 112/64 with a pulse rate of 59. I know it’s not a competition, but that makes it feel like it is, one I can never win.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

New Month Old Post - Partners and Seniors

(First posted 6th October, 2015. 1,050 words)

Andrew and I were speaking in hushed voices, trying to look as if we were working.

“You’ve hit Mr. Hawkwind.”

We were playing Partners and Seniors. It was based on Battleships, a pencil and paper game for two players.

In Battleships, each player draws two 10 x 10 grids for their own and their opponent’s fleets of warships, and positions their own fleet secretly in their own grid. Typically, they would have an aircraft carrier occupying five squares, a battleship occupying four, a destroyer and a submarine of three squares each, and a minesweeper occupying two. Neither player should be able to see the other’s grids.

The objective is to sink your opponent’s fleet before they sink yours. There are many variations but we played it as follows. Players take turns to shoot by naming a square in the opponent’s grid. If the square is occupied by one of the opponent’s ships then it is announced as a ‘hit’. If the square is adjacent to an opponent’s ship it is a ‘splash’. If the square is neither occupied nor adjacent it is a ‘miss’. A ship is sunk when all its squares have been hit. Players use their second 10 x 10 grid to record the results of their shots and to decide where to target subsequent shots.

Partners and Seniors

Except we weren’t playing Battleships. Our game had evolved into Partners and Seniors. In place of warships we had Chartered Accountants. Instead of aircraft carriers, destroyers and minesweepers, we had partners, seniors and articled clerks from the firm where we worked. Mr. Hawkwind was one of the partners. He occupied four squares.

We were working out of the office on the most mind-numbing of all the audits we did. You could be there for months putting ticks on ledger cards. It was like disappearing off the face of the earth.

The client was a cloth merchants, an old family firm. They bought rolls of cloth from the manufacturers in every weight, weave, colour, stripe and herringbone imaginable, and re-sold it in suit lengths – the amount needed to make men’s bespoke two-piece or three-piece suits, with or without extra pairs of trousers. The rolls of cloth were stored elsewhere in the building, away from the damaging effects of heat and light. The cool, shadowy stillness of the warehouse had a strange musty smell: a mixture of dyes, preservatives and the scent of the cloth itself.  

The firm supplied just about every tailor and outfitter in the country. In other words, they had a lot of customers: twenty trolleys full. For each customer there were one or more yellow sales ledger cards around eight by ten inches in size. The cards were arranged alphabetically in boxes on long-legged, wheeled trolleys like miniature babies’ prams. They referred to them as buses. “Have you seen the ‘B’ bus?” “Could I have the ‘QR’ bus when you’ve finished?”

Some of the office staff had been there for decades, from the days when most clerical jobs were done by men. They all still wore suits and ties, and kept their jackets on all day. Only the office manager, in the room next to ours, worked in his shirtsleeves. He was not an attractive sight: a fearsome, grossly overweight man who always left his unpleasant outdoor shoes, or in winter his stinking wellington boots, beside the radiator.

One of the clerks, in his mid-forties, all worry-lines, teeth and thick glasses, would have been tall had he stood upright, but was bent over from years at a desk. As he stooped to push the ledger buses, his jacket draped itself around the cards as if trying to consume them.

One Friday afternoon we listened, able to overhear the office manager tell the clerk, completely out of the blue, that he was no longer needed. “You realise this is absolutely no reflection on you in any way whatsoever,” he tried to reassure him, as if it made things better. The clerk seemed unable to reply. A week or two later his job was taken by a new girl straight from school.

The business was beginning to struggle and trying to cut costs. Demand for made-to-measure suits was falling because of changing fashions and cheaper, ready-made, ‘off-the-peg’ garments. One floor of the warehouse was now empty. Within not so many years the family owners would decide to give up the ghost and lease the building to the old adversary: the Inland Revenue.

But that was in the future and the firm still had a few years left to run. As auditors, we were required to check that every sale the firm had made during the year had been correctly recorded on the correct ledger card. So for several weeks each year, a couple of articled clerks would spend their days ticking off the cards against the order books and sales invoices. Then, to ensure they received an appropriate breadth of professional experience, they would go through all the incoming payments and tick those off against the ledger cards too. One year you would use a red pen, the following year a green, and then back to red again. The exhilaration was tangible. You really looked forward to getting up in a morning.

What made the task seem even more superfluous was that the ledger cards were partly computerised. They were printed by machine, and each yellow card carried three dark-brown, machine-readable, magnetic stripes to record all the transactions. It was an early, primitive system, but really, wouldn’t some kind of statistical sampling been sufficient to ensure the cards were reasonably accurate? Any mistakes that crept in could have been corrected as and when they were discovered. The firm must have wanted everything checked by the auditors. Articled clerks were paid a pittance so it didn’t cost a lot. Perhaps they needed to keep tabs on the inexperienced staff they were now taking on. 

I never did find an error. That is not to say there weren’t any, but the job was so soporific that any I came across would probably have got ticked correct anyway.

Is there any wonder we invented diversions such as Partners and Seniors and firing rubber bands at paper cups to brighten up the day? 

“You’ve just sunk Mr. Hawkwind.”

Mr. Hawkwind would have sunk us if we’d been caught. 

Monday, 20 July 2020

Review - Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro
The Remains of the Day (5*)

What a delightful book this is, both funny and sad, a story of an obsessively fastidious butler and unrequited love. I saw the 1993 Anthony Hopkins / Emma Thompson film when it came out but suspect the book will leave a much stronger impression.

Mr. James Stevens, an ageing, nineteen-fifties, top class, old fashioned English butler, embarks on a solitary motoring trip to the West Country, giving space to reflect upon his role in personal and public events during his lifetime. He recalls gatherings of naïve Nazi sympathisers and anecdotes of “great” butlers who could deal with tigers in the dining room without alarming the guests.

The first-person narrative is highly formal in keeping with the character, but it flows easily with both hilarious and heartbreaking effect. In thinking about the question of ‘what is a “great” butler?’, it occurs to him there is a dimension he has not fully considered. The way he says it is typical of his voice throughout the novel:
“I have never in all these years thought of the matter in quite this way; but then it is perhaps in the nature of coming away on a trip such as this that one is prompted towards such surprising new perspectives on topics one imagined one had long ago thought through thoroughly. I have also, no doubt, been prompted to think along such lines by the small event that occurred an hour or so ago – which has, I admit, unsettled me somewhat.” (p123)
which leads to quirky diversions about the surprising new perspective and the recent and significant “small event” which begins when he runs out of petrol on a remote road.

Stevens is the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, unable to see he has spent a lifetime turning himself into a robot: stiff, formal, handling unexpected events with aplomb but taking little notice of personal social cues. One thinks of Sheldon Cooper in the The Big Bang Theory. You want to hand him an Asperger questionnaire.  

Gradually, the mask peels away. Woven into the fabric of his reminiscences is a touching story of unrequited love. Memories of Miss Kenton, a former housekeeper, flood back during the journey, the real purpose of which is to visit her in the unspoken hope she will return. It becomes clear she would have married him had he only been able to set aside his mechanistic self-deception. Instead she had married someone else and moved away over two decades earlier. He begins to see the different path his life might have taken.

At the end, after leaving Miss Kenton, he meets a jovial man on the seafront at Weymouth and tells him about his career.
“… look mate, … if you ask me, your attitude’s all wrong, see? Don’t keep looking back all the time, you’re bound to get depressed … you’ve got to keep looking forward. … You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it.” (p256)
One hopes he can take the advice to be more positive and make the best of what remains of the day.
“After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?” (p256)
A warning for a memoir writer if ever there was one, although I believe my own motivation is celebration rather than regret.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Twelve Bar Blues

In 1965, Paul McCartney awoke with a lovely melody in his head. He hurried to the piano so as not to forget it, and came up with these words:
Scrambled eggs,
Oh my baby how I love your legs,
Not as much as I like scrambled eggs,
We should eat some scrambled eggs.
Like many dabblers with musical instruments, I too occasionally wake up with a tune in my head. Sometimes they might even be original. And sometimes there are words. Out of the fertile depths of my own imagination have emerged such timeless classics as: Sitting In Bed With A Cold, I Can’t Sing Very Well and She Was Only A Chartered Accountant’s Daughter. I contend they are every bit as good as Scrambled Eggs. If only Paul McCartney had left things as they were I might have been up there with the greatest songwriters in the world. Unfortunately he had to spoil it by waking up another morning with a completely new title and set of lyrics for his tune: Yesterday.

I am probably going to get into trouble for this, but I woke up one morning with a fully formed set of twelve-bar blues lyrics in my head. The idea seems so obvious it cannot be original, yet there appears to be nothing like it on the internet. Gender stereotyping it certainly is, possibly sexist as well, but if it is offensive then please re-educate me. Otherwise, could someone tell me where it came from? It is not autobiographical.

[hackneyed riff to begin:]

I’m in a house full of women, a house full of women and me
I’m in a house full of women, a house full of women and me
There’s her mother, my woman, three daughters, the maid and me 
[hackneyed riff]

I’m in a house full of women, where do you think that puts me?
I’m in a house full of women, a house with a hierarchy
There’s her mother, my woman, three daughters, the maid, the dog and me
[spoken: “don’t even beat the dog”]

Went down to the pub
Came home to my bed
The lights were out
The door was locked
Now I’m sleepin’ in the shed

I’m in a house full of women, a house where I always lose
I’m in a house full of women, a house where I don’t get to chose  
Can’t leave the seat up, drink whisky, smoke, fart, swear or play the blues.
[hackneyed end riff]

Thursday, 16 July 2020

July Hedgehogs

Following on from earlier posts of videos from the night camera, the hedgehogs have now returned. They are going into the home-made feeding box to eat the hedgehog biscuits which the mice have not found yet. One hedgehog is so fat it has a bit of a squeeze to get in. Here is a quick two-minute compilation of clips from the first half of July.

I don’t plan to post any more of these unless the camera picks up something really noteworthy, but here is a list of links to the previous compilations of videos and photographs.

Easter (12th April 2020)
Night Cats (5th May 2020)
Hedgehog Update (8th May 2020)
Snail Bogeys (12th June 2020)
More from the Night Camera (20th June 2020)

Friday, 10 July 2020

Cinema Paradiso

The death this week of Ennio Morricone prompted us to watch Cinema Paradiso again for the seventh or eighth time. Some dismiss it as sentimental claptrap but it isn’t, even though it makes me both laugh and cry. It is so good you hardly notice it is in Italian with subtitles.

It has been described as a love letter to the cinema. The plot is deceptively straightforward: Salvatore Di Vita, a wealthy, successful, middle aged film director, hears that Alfredo, a father-figure from his childhood, has died. His thoughts drift back to growing up just after the Second World War in Giancaldo, a small Sicilian town where Alfredo is the projectionist at the local cinema. Alfredo allows eight-year-old Salvatore to watch films from the projection booth and teaches him to operate the projector. Their roles then are partly reversed when Alfredo is blinded in an accident. Later, as a teenager, Salvatore falls in love with the classy Elena but they lose touch when he goes off for military service. Afterwards, Alfredo tells him to get away to follow his dreams, never to come back and not to write. Salvatore leaves to become a filmmaker.

It is far more than a simple coming-of-age story. It is as if Salvatore’s memories become our own. It parallels the lives of the boomer generation. For me, post-war Sicily has echoes in the ‘bomb buildings’, the piles of rubble that lined the streets of nineteen-fifties urban England. Giancaldo is like Catholic Belgium in 1965, glimpsed through faces attending church and cinema where, with language taken away, I had to watch and understand gestures and expressions. In fact, in both looks and passions, the teenage Salvatore is uncannily like my Belgian language-exchange pen-friend. You feel the passage of time, not just from child to young adult but at the end where forgotten faces, older and wiser, reappear at Alfredo’s funeral. In real life we now even call them Cinema Paradiso moments.

One of the characters in the audience at the Paradiso cinema knows the films so well he mouths along with the dialogue. That is me with Cinema Paradiso. I am Alfredo, a true sage, a man without pretension, entirely at home in his own skin. “I choose my friends for their looks, my enemies for their intelligence”. Except I can’t do it in Italian. 
Alfredo: You have to go away for a long time... many years... before you can come back and find your people. … Right now you're blinder than I am.

Salvatore: Who said that? Gary Cooper? James Stewart? Henry Fonda? Eh?

Alfredo: No, Toto. Nobody said it. This time it’s all me. Life isn’t like in the movies. Life... is much harder. … Get out of here! Go back to Rome. You’re young and the world is yours. I don’t want to hear you talk any more. I want to hear others talking about you. Don’t come back. Don’t think about us. Don’t look back. Don’t write. Don’t give in to nostalgia. Forget us all. If you do and you come back, don’t come see me. I won’t let you in my house. Understand? … Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt.
And underlying it all is Ennio and Andrea Morricone’s haunting, lilting score. Beautiful.

I watched the international version which runs for 124 minutes. There is also a fifty minutes longer “director’s cut” in which the middle-aged Salvatore goes in search of and finds Elena. Reviews say it is not as good but I’d still like to see it. The director is Guiseppe Tornatore. 

There are several other versions of the trailer on YouTube, some with an irritating voiceover giving the false impression that it is indeed sentimental claptrap.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Bike Gadget

Bicycles waiting at railway gates

In the town where I went to school, the roads belonged to bicycles. Everyone had one and nearly everyone used them. Four times a day, when the women rode to and from the clothing factory, or the children to and from school, or the men to and from the railways, docks and shipyard, they packed the roads three and four abreast. With no room to overtake, motor vehicles had to crawl along at bicycle speed. When the railway gates closed, cars, vans, lorries, buses, and even motor cycles had to wait patiently behind hoards of pedal cyclists who zig-zagged to the front of the queue. Who needed a motor car when you could ride everywhere on level roads for free? Pancake country. 

My brother had a speedometer on his bike. On windy days he could get up to 30. Pretty good with the heavy steel frames and Sturmey Archer three-speeds we had then. One day he rode up and down the street trying to go too fast through a police radar trap. They just laughed at him.

These last few sunny ‘lockdown’ weeks have seen me back on my bike more than in a long time. It is hilly where we live now, which has always put me off, but I’m getting used to it. I’ve worked out routes where the slopes are not too bad, and when they are I am not ashamed to stop for breath or even to get off and push. I keep my brakes on down hills and will need new brake blocks soon. I don’t care about the high-speed prats whizzing past on their carbon-fibre, disc-braked, thousand-pound machines as if only miles matter, or the bolt upright electric pootlers pedalling leisurely uphill with smug faces. Do your own thing! It doesn’t matter what they think. I am enjoying the clean air and quiet country lanes, all straight from the shed door. Glide like a bird with the wind in your feathers and sun on your wings. 

As John Denver said: Country roads take me home to the place I belong, West Yorkshire …  Here are a few pictures (click to enlarge):

White Ley Bank towards Fulstone, Yorkshire Fulstone, Yorkshire

Upper Snowgate Head, Yorkshire From Upper Snowgate Head towards New Mill, Yorkshire

Towards Browns Knoll, Thurstonland, Yorkshire Halstead Lane, Thurstonland, Yorkshire

Stones Wood, Shepley, Yorkshire Towards Row Gate, Shepley, Yorkshire

Now, after all these years, I’ve got a speedometer too, not an analogue one with a ‘speedo cable’ like my brother’s in the sixties, but a “bicycle computer”. It works by timing the rotations of a tiny magnet fixed to one of the spokes. It has to be set up for the correct wheel size, but once that’s done then speed, distance and other details are all there at the touch of a button. The other day I did 7.04 miles in 47.31 minutes (excluding stops) at an average speed of 8.9 mph, reaching a top speed of 19.4 m.p.h. and burning 114 calories. It is not a good idea to fiddle with the display too much while riding.

Cateye "bicycle computer"

My brother would have gone straight out and bought a better one. I wish he was still around to do so.