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Thursday, 28 September 2023

I Hate Hedgehog Biscuits!

Hello. Foxy here. Well, that’s not my real name, but everyone calls me Foxy because I am a fox. I am the only one that comes in the gardens. The others all stay in the woods and fields on their own. I live in a cosy tree root and like to meet others. I am very sociable.

There was an open window in Tasker’s garage. I was able to squeeze through and then get into the house and use his computer to write this. There used to be a pretty little cat called Phoebe here but she no longer seems to be around. She always ran away when I tried to be friendly.

Anyway, I am writing to complain. They left out some food for me. Would you believe what it was? Hedgehog biscuits! Biscuits for hedgehogs! Nasty flea-ridden spiny things. Do they really think I am going to eat hedgehog biscuits?  

They were on a plant pot tray on a brick in the middle of the path. I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a trap, so I gave it a very careful check. I was hoping it was going to be that nice vegan dog food that must remain nameless for legal reasons. But it wasn’t. It was hedgehog biscuits. Biscuits for hedgehogs!

I showed them what I thought of that. I picked up the plant pot tray and hurled it across the grass. The biscuits went everywhere. Then I picked up the tray again, put it back on the path, squirted it, and sauntered off in search of better things. I would rather eat worms.

And would you believe it? There, on Tasker’s computer, was a video of the whole episode. It was from that night camera thing they put out. Aren’t I handsome. Do you think I could start my own YouTube channel? 

Saturday, 23 September 2023

Hobgoblin, Nor Foul Fiend

One day each week, my wife goes happily off to her dementia group. For clarity, and to avoid the kind of misconceptions our children adopt deliberately in the mistaken belief they are being witty, I should add that she runs it. They have a different theme each week, around which they talk, play games, and have a cooked meal and lots of laughs.

Members engage to varying degrees. Some are very lively and on first acquaintance you would not think anything was wrong. You might mistake them for volunteers, but all have memory problems. Others, you wonder whether they get any benefit from attending at all. One elderly lady, I will call her Dolly, sits head down all day long in her wheelchair, saying very little.

Most grew up in England during the decades before, during and after the Second World War. Like me, they have no difficulty in joining in the hymns at church services or at those weddings and funerals that retain some semblance of religiosity. It was part of our shared culture. We had the words and tunes drilled into us daily at school assemblies, Sunday School and church. How inspiring they can be, especially when the organ chords, descants and harmonies reverberate round. We can reel them off: For Those In Peril, Jerusalem, The Day Thou Gavest, To Be A Grim Pill as we used to sing in assembly, and so many more. Younger people don’t know them. When my cousin’s daughter’s husband was on University Challenge, he was the only one to know that ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ is the 23rd psalm, and only after we had been yelling it at the television for 15 seconds. The young deride these things as small-minded and exclusive, although I don’t perceive many other creeds as much better.

Last week at the group, the theme was harvest. They talked about what they remembered of it. Some worked on the land, and one member is old enough to have been in the women’s Land Army. They talked about the old traditions, harvest festival services at church, and harvest festival hymns. They began to sing “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”. Incredibly, Dolly burst into life. She raised her head high and sang out in her trill warbly voice, leading the singing. The transformation was astonishing. After the “All good things around us” middle eight, she started on the next verse, “You only are the maker”, then the one after that, “We thank you then Creator”. No one else knew them.

When my wife later told me the story at home, she said this was the only harverst hymn they could think of. After a while, I said “Isn’t there one about all is safely gathered in?” It stirred a memory. “Yes,” she said, but neither of us could quite remember it. It was not one we sang very often, and not in the school hymnal. Not enough about God in it. A bit too Baptist. We had to look it up. It is ‘Come Ye Thankful People’.

What a descant (verse 4)! Even if it is over the top. And is that who I think it is at the front of the congregation (see verse 3)? Well, that’s all right. We are a broad church on this blog. She is well turned out as ever. 

This week, I was interested to hear whether Dolly also knew ‘Come Ye Thankful People’. She did, and sang it. 

Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend, can daunt the spirit.

Then she sang “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”, again. She could not remember having sung it the previous week.

Monday, 18 September 2023

Foxy is Back. Foxy is Better.

After a month without seeing him, Foxy reappeared in last night's mist and his leg seems better. He is no longer limping. Evidently, that BOSH! dog food that YP sent him helped enormously. It prolongs active life and is enriched with nourishing marrow jelly. BOSH! makes foxes bounce with health. Eight out of ten owners prefer it. It’s no meat: a real treat. It refreshes the parts. It is so good he is considering becoming vegan. He already has the pointy ears. Oh! Sorry, we might be confusing that with Vulcan.

Monday, 11 September 2023

Garden Birds

Lasts month’s post with the video of the sparrowhawk (Red in Beak and Talon) got us thinking about how many different kinds of birds have visited our garden. None are particularly rare, and many bloggers will have had more, but we were still surprised by the number. We counted 19.

It does not include birds simply passing over, such as migrating geese, or on one occasion a heron, nor have we counted birds in the nearby countryside but not seen in the garden, such as yellowhammers, only birds that have landed.

1) Seen just about every day: starling, blackbird, sparrow, wood pigeon, collared dove, magpie, crow. Some of the sparrows may be dunnock but I am only counting them once. Some days this summer there have been forty or fifty starlings on the lawn.

2) Seen often: robin, blue tit, great tit. 

3) Occasionally: wren, thrush, sparrowhawk, greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch. 

4) Once or twice only:

  • One winter brought us a beautiful flock of redwings which stayed for two days while they stripped the berries from the holly bush.
  • Another day, a racing pigeon with a ringed leg watched from the rooftops as I sawed wood. It must have liked me because it flew down and allowed me to pick it up. How warm and fluffy they are, and so light. Your fingers disappear into their feathers. I put it in a box with some bird seed and water, and phoned the local pigeon club who sent someone round to collect it. Later, they phoned to say it was from Hull. I should have known from its accent.
  • Swallow. Really? Landed? Not just flying over? Well, yes. On the morning of the 9th September, 2001, we opened the bedroom curtains to the wondrous sight of a family of swallows assembling on our telephone wire not six feet from the window. They were looking in, the cheeky little blighters, probably eyeing up softer options for the winter than an 8,000 mile flight to South Africa. Luckily, I had a film in the camera. We checked their travel documents for them, which were all in order, and wished them a safe trip. They said they would pass our regards to Nelson, and looked forward to seeing us again in the spring.

Monday, 4 September 2023

Working Class?

The Frost Report Class sketch. It is heavily copyrighted, but you might get it to play at:

I found it interesting that, according to his son, Michael Parkinson, who died recently, suffered from imposter syndrome. He doubted his abilities as a writer and television interviewer, and feared he was not as good as others. It seems he could be very short-tempered when an appearance or deadline was near. It is difficult to believe this of someone so accomplished. His son thought it came from having grown up in a council house at Cudworth near Barnsley, the son of a coal miner.

I said I could understand this because I was from a northern working-class background myself, and had often felt above my station. Could I have done more with a bit more self-belief? I don’t know, but I have known and worked with those who reached senior university management, one a Vice Chancellor, and seen what self-regarding mediocrity some can be.

One thing certain to get my wife and family worked up, is when I claim to be working-class. “You are not working-class,” they say. “Your father owned a business, and a house and car. You had books at home. You went to a grammar school and became a university academic.”   

I argue back that my father did not own a business until I was in my mid-teens, when he took over from his own father. Until then, his father was his employer and he was treated no differently from other employees. He spent three days a week travelling the country villages, often until after seven at night, with paperwork still to do. One day a week, he cycled to work in a boiler suit to maintain and clean the firm’s cars and vans. He worked a five-and-a-half day week, with two weeks annual holiday. We lived in a working-class area and rented a terraced house until I was six. My mother’s father worked in mills. Most of my friends lived in council or terraced housing, and their fathers worked in factories, on the railways, or on the docks. One drove lorries for the council. Another emptied gas meters. I had no sense of being different, except that we rarely mixed with children from professional families. It was a very working-class grammar school I attended, and did not do very well there. I only went to university late. I looked and sounded working-class. How the headmaster sneered in disbelief when I entered my father’s occupation on my leavers’ form as Company Director. Surely, the circumstances and circles in which you grow up, and how they make you behave, determine your class origins.

We are not going to agree. It is a complex subject that has changed over time. To say someone is working-class now might be seen as an insult. It makes than sound like public lavatory attendants or slaughter men. We all like to think of ourselves as middle-class now.

There is also a North-South element. Social and lifestyle changes occured much earlier in the South of England where my wife grew up. There were more professional jobs, and many people travelled into London each day. My own town had few middle class people, and certainly no upper-class. But it depends how you draw the line. I would say my teachers were working-class, as were bank clerks, and shop and office workers.

The English class system: is it possible to cover all angles of such a vast topic? Sociologists would consider unskilled and semi-skilled employment, white-collar and blue-collar jobs, salaried or waged, sources of income, asset ownership, education, lifestyle, interests and so much more. In some recent categorisations, I come out more like the upper classes.

It doesn’t change my view. Me and Parky: two northern working-class grammar school lads made good. Or am I making excuses and playing the victim?

Friday, 1 September 2023


New Month Old Post: First posted 15th April, 2018

VAXen. It’s the plural of VAX. It used to say so in the DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) computer manuals in the nineteen-eighties. VAX computers could be run as clusters of VAXen. Most universities had them.

A DEC 'dumb terminal'

So I was delighted to see some of these iconic machines again in Jim Austin’s Computer Collection at Fimber near Fridaythorpe in the East Riding. By “again” I really mean for the first time. Hardly anyone got near them in the nineteen-eighties. The privileged might be allowed to look through the glass of their air-conditioned rooms, but ‘users’ were never allowed in. Their only contact with the computers was through remote ‘dumb terminals’. At Fimber you can touch the machines and even open their cabinets and take the boards out. Of course, they are not switched on now.

He even has the first computer I used, the Elliott 903, not just any Elliott 903 but the very same one from the psychology department at Hull University. You really had to keep your fingers out of the way when the punched paper tape was flying through. What a sorry state it is in now. For a moment I imagined myself volunteering and getting it working again. 

The Elliott 903 from Hull University, a punched paper tape computer

I returned home fizzing with enthusiasm, thinking of the blog posts I could write. My wife was not impressed.

“Great! A barn full of old grey metal cabinets. Fascinating!”

“Well, some of them are black. And you can open the doors and look inside.”

I babbled on excitedly about all the machines I had known so well: the Elliott 903, IBMs, ICLs, PDP-8s and PDP-11s, SWTPC minis, LSI-11s, Sun microsystems, Silicon Graphics, VAXen …

"Vaxen!" My wife ran out of patience.

“Did they come in boxen? Ordered by Faxen? Is our fridge Electroluxen? Cooling the milk for your Weetabixen? Vaxen makes them sound like little animals, or the name of one of Santa’s reindeers.”


Now, there’s another plural to conjure with.

Monday, 28 August 2023

Garden Addenda

Updates to earlier posts: the Aaron's Rod, the fox, and the thing in the garden.

I'm Not A Foxglove

Two years ago I wrote about an unusual "foxglove" in the garden. It turned out to be Greater Mullein or Aaron's Rod. I have no idea where it came from. Steve Reed had one around the same time. Ours produced clouds of seeds but none grew last year. This year, we have three, two with multiple forks. I spotted two early on in the vegetable patch and moved then to where the foxgloves grow: I recognised them by their furry leaves (Beethoven's well-known piano piece) but the third hid and has grown next to the runner beans. They are now mostly in seed again.

Foxy Is Injured 

The fox that has been visiting the garden since Winter has an injured leg. We put hedgehog biscuits out, but as the fox did not appear for five nights we feared the worst. On the fifth night, magpies found the biscuits early in the morning, so we stopped putting them out. We are not feeding magpies. Of course, the fox reappeared the very next night, still nursing its paw, but not so badly. We put food out again in a 'magpie-proof' pot, but they still got it. If Foxy had come in the night he would have got it first. He has not been for three nights now.

Pumpkin? Gourd? Giant Puffball?

Thank you for the entertaining comments. The Mischief who put it there will be pleased, too. "What is THAT?" was exactly my reaction when I first saw it. Was it a paper bag, a partly deflated balloon, a beach ball, or had it grown there? I really did not want to touch it. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to poke it with the edge of a trowell and it rang out a clear C#. Ceramic.

Thursday, 24 August 2023

Pumpkin? Gourd? Giant Puffball?

The potentilla is looking particularly splendid this year. It has never had so many flowers. It must be all the rain we've had.

I went to take a picture, and looked down. What is THAT!? I am not going any nearer. I am certainly not going to touch it. Errgh! 

Thursday, 17 August 2023

Red In Beak And Talon

JayCee posted a picture of a sparrowhawk licking its chops at the thought of the small birds in their bird bath. It reminded me of a video I have from about fifteen years ago.

I always think sparrowhawks look as if they are wearing loose stripey pyjama trousers. 

A couple of times that summer, we had been puzzled by feathers scattered in circles on the lawn. One morning I came in from the garden and there was the answer. Looking back through the kitchen window, I saw a sparrowhawk with a starling or young blackbird. It must have caught it just as I came in. Fortunately, I had the video camera home from work, so was able to film it.  

Three magpies look on hoping to get some, threatening and making a lot of noise. They could so easily have become the dessert.

I've just spent a couple of hours editing the video down to 5 minutes, keeping the most gory bits of course. The full incident took around six or seven times that. My mother would have said to get a move on and eat it up while it was still warm.

Monday, 7 August 2023

Morbid Statistics and the NHS

I don’t know whether the numbers that follow are of any significance whatsoever, but it occurred to me recently that, in terms of years and months, I am now older than the age at which my longest-lived grandparent died. 

Of my parents and grandparents, only my father lived longer. He made it to 85, but as my mother died at 62, their average was 73.5. 

My father’s parents fared less well. They lived to 66 and 58. My mother’s parents lived to 73 and 56. So, my four grandparents’ average is only 63. Taking my parents and grandparents all together, the average is 67. By these statistics I am doing well. 

Adding my great-grandparents into the mix changes the overall average very little, although within each of the four pairs of great-grandparents, one lived to a good age, the eldest to 84, whilst their spouse died considerably younger, the youngest at 43. So, half of my great-grandparents did very well indeed, and half not. Three were still living when I was born.

I don’t know what weight to give to my aunts, uncles, cousins and brother, but some of them died very young. My brother only made it to 36. 

You think about these things far too much when you have a life-shortening illness. To be frank, when sowing my beans and tomatoes earlier this year, I wondered whether I would be around to eat them. It almost bemuses me I still am considering what I was told eighteen months ago and a crisis this January. As for next year’s crop, well, you never know. 

I am still here only because of the National Health Service. By any reckoning, I have had well over £100,000 worth of free treatment. Some of the pills I take cost £115 each, and I take two every day. That’s £80,000 a year for a start. To each according to their need, from each according to their means, is how the NHS is supposed to work. I would much rather have no need at all. I spit in the face of arguments that the NHS would be better run by private capital. There are too many examples of how badly that can turn out. The NHS does the best it can despite underfunding and underpaid staff. It needs more money. We spend less on health here than in most other comparable economies. The problem is that those with the means are not asked to contribute enough. The better off, like me, must be persuaded to put more into the system rather than fuelling climate change and ramping up asset values.

Tuesday, 1 August 2023

Jumped-Down Catholics

New Month Old Post: first posted 2nd January, 2016.
Apologies that this is a little long and contains Scots words and religious references, but
it is one of my favourite pieces. I was reminded of it by Haggertys comments on my last post.

“A canna mind fit tae dee,” (I can’t remember what to do) Iona had said, puzzling over some detail of the voluntary work we were doing. Attracted by her soft Banffshire accent, I dared suggest we might go see a film together, and we became friends.

Iona was studying theology with a view to becoming a Church of Scotland Minister. I tried to impress her by casually mentioning I had been brought up in the Church of England but was instantly written off as “just a jumped-down Catholic”. I had to creep off to the library to find out what she meant (there being no Google in those days). It was a reference to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s secession of the English Church from Rome in 1534. Jumped-down Catholic indeed!

If that seems dismissive, you should have heard what she had to say about the Roman Catholic Church and its attitude towards women’s ordination.

“Fit wye dae they insist ye hiv tae hae a penis tae be a Minister, and then nae allow ye tae use it? Except for peeing that is, and they wadnae een allow ye that if there wasna nae alternative.” She said this with a kind of forceful but gentle determination that told you she was going to be a brilliant Church of Scotland Minister.

One Sunday, Iona came with me on a visit home. She and my dad talked non-stop about Scottish history, Aberdeen, and all kinds of other things. My dad was a regular churchgoer, and as Iona had not been to Church that day she decided to go along with him to the evening service. I went too so as not to miss anything. So did my dad’s sister Dorothy and her husband Fred. They wondered why I was going to Church with the young lady I had brought home. They did not want to miss anything either.

It was a long time since I had been to a regular service at the Parish Church. In those days it was always well-attended. More recently, I had seen decent congregations at weddings, Christenings and funerals. But this evening when we arrived, we were the only five there. The vast building looked gloomy and uncared for.

Dorothy and Fred took one pew, and my dad, Iona and myself sat immediately behind. We waited for things to begin. I won’t say “waited patiently” because Fred never waited patiently for anything. He rarely sat still. He did everything at a frantic pace. Even so, I was still surprised when he jumped up, disappeared through a side door and re-emerged with a stepladder. Ignoring Dorothy’s exasperated protests, he rushed into the most sacred, chancel part of the church, set up the stepladder, moved the golden cross and candlestick holders out of the way, and climbed up and stood on the altar. Dorothy sighed and turned to Iona with her usual resigned apology: “My husband’s hyperactive.”

Fred then lifted his arms and reached up to the heavens. I thought for a moment he must have been overcome by revelations of everlasting splendour until he began to change the light bulbs hanging from above. Only one bulb was out but he explained it was good maintenance practice to replace them all at the same time. Not even God Himself would dare disagree with a qualified electrical engineer and safety consultant.

I have to admit to being somewhat relieved to realise that the only brilliance shining down from upon high that bothered him was the number of lumens illuminating the proceedings. I had wondered for a moment whether he might have been engaged in some newly-instigated aspect of worship, in which we now all went up in turn to stand on the altar to declare ourselves, only metaphorically I hoped, sacrificial lambs. I felt sure that when it was my turn I would be bound to get it all wrong and make a fool of myself in front of everyone. It is not easy to let go of your inhibitions in public.

Fred had just put the stepladder away when two further members of the congregation joined us. The first, a serious, shiny-faced man with a brylcreemed comb-over, checked jacket and non-matching striped tie, bid a curt “Good Evening”, went into the pew behind us, knelt down, closed his eyes tightly and began to pray. Then came an old lady dressed up in black hat, gloves and overcoat, with silver brooch and hat pin. She shuffled slowly up the aisle on a walking stick. Dorothy addressed her as Mrs. Fisher and pointed to the seat beside her. She sat down and observed loudly what a wonderfully large turn out we had this evening. Evidently some weeks it was just my dad and Mrs. Fisher.

The Minister entered through the transept from the front and began to light the candles. Fred put his hand to the side of his mouth and turned to Iona conspiratorially.

“This bloke’s a complete idiot,” he whispered none too quietly, disturbing the shiny-faced man from his communion with God.

The Minister, the Reverend Mundy, was a Church Army Evangelist who helped in the Parish by taking the Sunday evening service once a month. He was short, bald and round, but held himself stiffly upright in his surplice, like a little white budgerigar, in an effort to look more imposing than he actually did. Perhaps he imagined he was leading the grand and moving ceremony of Choral Evensong, but this was not Choral Evensong, it was Evening Prayer. There was no choir. In fact, there was no organist either: only the Minister and the seven members of the Congregation. We had to sing the hymns and psalms unaccompanied.

It was a total shambles. Our feeble voices evaporated self-consciously into the roof beams. As we mumbled our way through ‘The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended’ all in different keys, Mrs. Fisher rustled ineffectually through her hymn book trying to find the right page. She might have managed better if she had taken off her gloves. By the time Dorothy had helped her find the page, the hymn Thou gavest, Lord, had ended, and the rustling began all over again as Mrs. Fisher tried to find the Order of Service in her prayer book. 

The next hymn was even worse. It was one of those excessively cheerful, suspiciously Methodist hymns, known only to the Reverend and the shiny-faced man. They sang to completely different tunes, each trying to drown out the other as if to ensure God heard them first. Shiny-face was easily the loudest, but in any formal competition I would have called for him to be disqualified on the ground that his checked jacket and striped tie gave unfair advantage.

The psalms, prayers, responses, confession, absolution, creed, canticles and other spoken words of Evening Prayer are set out in the Book of Common Prayer. They go on forever, and the longer they go on, the more you could be forgiven for allowing your mind to wander. Fred’s mind clearly started to wander early on, but was snapped back into focus by the short prayer: “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord;” prompting him to examine the ceiling for further areas of darkness in need of lightening. He even stood up to survey the rear of the church, but the Reverend Mundy droned on without noticing.

I should have anticipated what happened next and prevented it. I failed to spot that my dad had been dying to tell Mundy that Iona was going to be a Church of Scotland Minister. The opportunity came as Mundy waited to shake our hands after the service. It was never going to work out well.

Mundy brightened up like one of Fred’s new bulbs and began to emit a long, one-sided homily about recognising one’s calling, changes to the liturgy and who should be the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Meanwhile, Fred re-appeared with a heavy wooden extendable ladder and began changing light bulbs high up the walls. Despite being a safety consultant, he did not look very safe to me. He rushed from bulb to bulb swinging the ends of his ladder so lethally he nearly knocked over the still-burning candles and set fire to the altar cloth.

And then, you knew it was coming, the topic Mundy had been wanting to talk about all along. Ingenuousness finally got the better of discretion and he homed in on the incendiary subject of women’s ordination. Iona listened solemnly as he declared it would be a mistake to admit women into the clergy, not, he forcibly emphasised, that he was personally against the idea, but because there would be a schism of two thousand Ministers leaving the Church, and he would not want that to happen. In any case, he continued, he thought a lot of women who wanted to be priests had been born with the wrong anatomy. He thought women should look like women.

Just when it seemed inevitable that Mundy would be obliterated by the “so ye hiv tae hae a penis” put down, the end of Uncle Fred’s ladder whizzed past, missing the side of his head by inches. It was like a portent of Divine Providence. Had he not just told us in one of the readings “... every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire”?

“He’s jist a bletherin’ fool,” Iona said afterwards echoing Uncle Fred. “He disna ken fit he’s spikkin’ aboot.”

*                   *                  *

In an odd sort of way, Iona’s speech reminded me of my grandparents’ Yorkshire dialect. You wondered about their common Anglo-Saxon roots. Even some of the words were the same. They talked about “bairns” and “be-asts” and t’ “watter”, and were amused when my brother had birthday cards “fra lasses”. They were words you wanted to use yourself because they felt like they meant; not clinical, educated English words that “slid so smooth from your throat you knew they could never say anything that was worth the saying at all.” (Lewis Grassic Gibbon: Sunset Song, 1932). For more about Buchan Doric as it is usually called, its origins and how it sounds, and to attempt to spik lik a teuchtar, you can do little better than to look on Google books at (or buy): Doric: The Dialect of North-East Scotland by J. Derrick McClure (2002). I especially like Chapter 4: Examples of Recorded Speech.

Tuesday, 25 July 2023

Accents and Subtitles

When my mother-in-law used to travel up from the South to visit us, and passed through Barnsley on the train, one of her worst fears was that her grandchildren would grow up to have accents like those she heard around her. The broad Barnsley accent can be quite difficult to follow, and unintelligible to many from the South.

Some of our children’s contemporaries did indeed speak like that, but not them. As I mentioned in the last two posts, our daughter was teased at school for sounding ‘posh’, and was embarrassed by her voice in the two stop-motion video stories we made when she was little. It was quite a surprise when she said recently it is now her Yorkshire accent that bothers her.

The rather impressive subtitling on YouTube has no problem with it. It transcribes almost all of it correctly. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure of the word “daydreaming” until I switched them on. 

I doubt it would have so little trouble with unmodified Barnsley. I also wonder what it would have made of my mother-in-law’s mixture of South London and “Snolbans”. I endlessly mimicked her pronunciation of “strawbrizz, raarzbrizz and guzzbrizz”? “They are raarzbrizz, not rasp berries,” she would strike back.

And what of my own unbroken childhood accent? It can be heard in an exchange 45 seconds into the compilation I made from the old take of my dad singing and reading poetry (Days of Wine and Roses, May 1st). It includes the following exchange:

        Dad: Right. I am now about to begin.
        Me: You
’ll ave all the laughing in.
        Brother: Yes, you will, won
t you.
        (more laughter)
        Me: Hey! When you
think about it what were all laughin at? It's a waste of tape.
        Dad: My tape.

Embarrassing as I now find it (and there is a good deal more on the full tape), the YouTube subtitling copes with it surprisingly well. And although it struggles in places, it even follows most of my then sixty-five year-old Grandma’s village accent, fashioned before the First World War, as heard playing with my baby cousin later in the extract.  

I also had a cassette tape of chatting with friends as teenagers. Listening again recently, I was appalled, not only by the accents, but also by the language used and what was being said. I rapidly abandoned my first idea of sending it to them and threw it away. Now, I wonder what the subtitling would of made of it. I can’t imagine. We don’t always like what we see or hear when we look back.

There is one further aspect of YouTube subtitling I find astonishing. It can automatically translate into any one of over a hundred and twenty other languages. For example, if you want it in French: 

Not always perfect, but it can only get better. It can even do Welsh, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic. Who knows, one day it might be able to do Manx and the Yorkshire dialect?

Monday, 17 July 2023

Molly’s Twin

The last post told how our then eight year-old daughter was able to make a stop-motion animation story, Molly’s Family, using her wooden dolls house and a video camera I’d borrowed from work. Our next attempt was more sophisticated, with sound effects and a few facial movements. It was also a better story.

For now forgotten reasons, she had two almost identical sets of figures for her dolls house. The story came from that. 

For so many years, she did not want these videos to be seen. She was embarrassed by her voice. At school she was called ‘posh’ because her accent was not as strongly Yorkshire as most of the others’. Now, her Yorkshire accent is all she hears.

Here is the second video, Molly’s Twin, with mums resting and drinking tea, and dads spending all their time playing on the computer.    


Monday, 10 July 2023

Molly’s Family

One of the perks of working in a university is that you get to play with the latest bits of kit.

I was asked to get involved in one of the new multimedia courses springing up around the U.K. in the mid nineteen-nineties. Surprisingly, many were in engineering departments. I believe the first was started by engineers at Bradford University around 1993.

One element of our new course was digital video. We were all encouraged to understand how it worked. As a result I was allowed to borrow one of our new hand-held video cameras and take it home. It was great fun filming our children when little, playing in an inflatable dinghy in the natural pool on the beach at Sandsend.

I know that sounds like a frivolous waste of taxpayers’ money, but we needed to know how to use these new technologies ourselves, and understand how they might relate to other parts of the course and what their possibilities might be. Silicon Valley technology companies often allow staff time to ‘play’ with new software and equipment because it generates innovative ideas. In our case, it led to course developments and research funding. 

Handling a video on a computer was not straightforward then. You had to run it through programs to digitise and ‘render’ it into a viewable form. You needed to be aware of the type of video coding (‘codec’) you were using. Only then could you begin to edit it or write programs to do state-of-the-art clever things such as spotting objects and faces. There would be a lot of ‘re-rendering’. Computers were so slow that every stage took ages. Nothing was automatic and effortless like now.

Back home, I realised that the camera made it easy to create stop-motion animation. With my then eight year-old daughter’s lovely wooden dolls’ house, the figures that went with it, and her enthusiasm and child’s take on family life around her, this, below, was one of our first attempts. Yet another example of something that would be much easier with today’s software. You wouldn’t even need a real dolls house. I know which I think the most fun.

She made up most of the story and moved the figures, while I mainly operated the camera. Surely, the story is not based on her own family, is it?

Sunday, 2 July 2023


New Month Old Post: first posted 12th November, 2016.

He was to be President of the United States, but across the North of England the word ‘trump’ remained an acceptable, almost polite substitute for the four letter word beginning with ‘f’ and ending with ‘t’ which to my mind is so coarse and common I can hardly bring myself to write it.

“Poo! Who’s trumped?” my mother would exclaim on walking into the room where my brother and I were playing. We might say that too, but if either of us had used the f-synonym we would have had our faces slapped as hard as if we had used that other f-word; not that we had ever heard either in those innocent times.

I was around eleven when I first heard the more common term for trumping. It came from an adult. We were on holiday near Southampton and had driven to London airport (not yet called Heathrow) to wave my aunt and cousins off to Aden. We waited inside a high glass-walled enclosure for their BOAC Britannia to take to the air, sheltered from the roar of the engines but not from the acrid smell of the fuel. It was close and stuffy, and the kerosene hung around us mixing with the pong from the clothes of a family friend who had been sick on the train travelling down with my aunt. To make matters worse my brother periodically kept discharging his own contribution into the atmosphere. We used to eat meat in those days.

I was mortified when another aero-watcher, a middle aged man, turned and forcefully told me to stop farting. I had no idea what he meant. The embarrassment stemmed not from what I had been wrongly accused of but from the fact that a complete stranger had spoken to me.

On another early nineteen-sixties holiday we drove to Devon in a hired Hillman Minx. It was a long journey from Yorkshire in those pre-motorway days, and as dusk fell we were still miles from our lodgings. My brother and I lay on the back seat comatose with headaches, trumping.

“Good God! It smells as if somebody’s babbered themselves,” complained Mum. I knew it was bad because she rarely blasphemed.

“Can we have a drink of water?”

“No. You’ll be widdling and piddling all the way. You’ll have pickled yersel’s before we get there.”

“I could do with a jimmy riddle myself,” said Dad from the driving seat.

Like most people from the South, my wife had never come across this usage of the word ‘trump’, but she soon picked it up, as of course have our children. It seems more humorous than offensive.

I am convinced it used to appear in a dictionary we had at Junior School. We used to look it up and giggle. “Trump”, it read, “a small explosion between the legs.” Perhaps I am mistaken because I cannot find it anywhere now. I am told, however, that the Oxford English has the definition: “to break wind audibly (slang or vulgar).”

But as for “President Trump”, to me it sounds more of a command than a title of high status.

Tuesday, 20 June 2023

The Canning Factory

My post in January, with the story of Donny and Josie at the canning factory (see Night Cleaner), set me thinking more about how the factory worked, and what the job involved.  

The place was terrifying: the heat, the humidity, the confusion, a Bosch hellscape where lads in vests, high on towering gantries, watched over enormous tanks of peas, and girls in dust coats and elasticated head coverings hunched over conveyors of moving strawberries. Women with huge arm muscles used belts to pick up twenty or more full cans at a time, to load and unload heavy tubs, which other lads strained to wheel across the factory floor. Empty cans clattered noisily along overhead rails, and everywhere there was noise, heat and steam. You could not escape the overpowering smell of hot brine and crushed strawberries.

But I knew from friends you could earn very good money there, especially cleaning the machinery on the night shift.

Around forty students sat in the factory canteen while the manager allocated jobs. He dealt first with those who had worked there previously and then turned to the rest of us. “I still need three for the sugar room,” he said, “two for the canning loft, six packers, four in the stores, six outside in the yard ...” People raised their hands eager to volunteer but I kept mine down. Numbers dwindled as groups were sent on their way until there were just five of us left. “… and three night cleaners,” the manager finally said and we all raised our hands. He drew lots. I was second out. The last two weren’t needed straight away, and had to wait for others to drop out, which did not take long.

I searched for images to remind me how the factory worked. As cleaners we had to know how to operate it all. The following describes pea processing.

Lorry loads of peagrain (shelled peas) arrived in the yard to be weighed and tested by tenderometer (I only know I like the word and that a reading of 98 was good and over 100 was bad). The peas then passed through a series of noisy cleaning machines that used air, vibration and water to remove any remaining chaff, pods, sticks and stones. Bucket conveyors then took the peas inside the factory to water-filled hopper tanks which fed the blanchers.

Blanchers were huge rotating horizontal drums which heated the peas to 95 degrees and then abruptly cooled them to halt the cooking process. The peas then travelled along flat conveyors where broken bits and any remaining impurities such as poppy heads were removed by hand, and then up into another hopper to be mixed with brine ready for canning.

The canning machines were known as 'seamers'. They were fed by empty cans which clattered across the factory ceiling from the canning loft, to be filled at a rate of two or three per second, and sealed with lids. The full cans were then loaded into tubs and hoisted into the autoclaves (pressure cookers). After cooking, they were lifted out and left to cool before being moved to the labelling and packing area. 

Images do not capture what seemed, until you made sense of it, the movement and energy, smell, noise, chaos and confusion. Or the mess, which our job was to clean up.

To clean it, we had to operate all the machines; every one. We went in at six in the evening and helped out with production until everyone else went home. At around nine or ten, we were left on our own.

We were up and down ladders with hosepipes flushing the hoppers, and running the bucket elevators, belt conveyors and seamers to blast off dregs and detritus. It was impossible to avoid getting soaked every night, but within a week you were super fit. The worst thing was chapped red rings around your legs under the tops of your wellington boots. You needed lots of Sudocrem.

You would not believe the number of corners, pockets and ledges where peas and strawberries could hide. They all had to be washed away. If any remained next day they could get into the cans and begin to ferment. After a few weeks, the sides would bulge and split. They loved that in the stores. It was a great trick to throw a bulging can just behind some unsuspecting victim, where it would explode like a hand grenade, spraying a rancid mess of decomposing contents.

The most dangerous machines were the seamers: powerful rotating cylinders which filled and sealed the cans. They quickly became covered with a sticky film of squashed peas or strawberries. You had to run them without safety guards to blast them clean. I once caught a hosepipe inside and it was instantly twisted round and shredded. It would have done the same to your arm. No one ever said much about health and safety.

We even played with them. By running a single can through at a time, you could seal a pound note inside a small can, then seal that inside a larger can, and so on, until you had three or four like Chinese dolls with a pound note in the middle. The finishing touch was to paste a vegetable label on the outside: the perfect gift!

Lastly we cleared the floor, rounding up flocks of peas with our hosepipes and shovelling them up for waste. We finished by flushing the floor and drains with sodium hypochlorite: not too much, we didn’t want to be told off for killing the bugs at the sewage works again.

Waste strawberries, however, did not go to waste, even if they had been on the floor. We shovelled them into barrels for the jam factory. It was enough to put you off strawberry jam for life.

After that there was just the outside yard to do. That needed daylight. We waited by sleeping in the ladies' toilets, which were clean and comfortable with carpeted benches. In no way would you want to sleep in the men's toilets.

Sometimes there would be boxes of strawberries waiting in the yard. Sweet, fragrant, firm and juicy, they were just too tempting to resist: an early breakfast so long as you evened out the contents to look untouched, and did not eat more than your constitution could handle.

The last week I was there, students were the only labour. The 'regulars' had been made redundant and the factory was to close. On my last night, I cleaned the whole place on my own, alone in the factory.

Outside was a hopper full of peas ready for the last day’s production. I knew they would be starting at six, and that there were no longer any early morning staff to start things up in readiness. So I used initiative. I started the cleaning machines in the yard, and peas began to flow into the hopper tanks inside the factory. I started the blancher to heat up to its operating temperature. When the factory managers arrived they seemed to assume someone must have been instructed to do all this. I didn’t mention that, but for me, the whole factory would have been idle for an hour. I simply clocked off and went home feeling very satisfied.

Friday, 9 June 2023

Pigeon For Breakfast?

Our next door neighbour’s garden is like an overgrown jungle. She is an enthusiastic birder, and it is good for the wild life. A couple of months ago she excitedly asked whether we had seen the wood pigeons nesting in her laurel “bush”. It is around twenty feet (6m) high.

Our cat Phoebe, when we still had her (see last post), also loved the neighbour’s garden. But, first thing one morning earlier in the year, Phoebe shot back in to the house absolutely terrified, and hid under a chair. She peered nervously round the corner as if expecting something to be following her, and would not go out again for a few days unless we were with her.

Then, in April, the night cam started to pick up this visitor, seen here on 13th May:  

There have been several mentions of foxes on blogs recently, it must be a good year for them, but here on the edge of open countryside, we rarely see them in gardens. They seem to stay mainly in the woods and fields. We have proper country foxes here, not pampered urban ones bloated up on take away leftovers and fast food full of trans-fats and corn syrup.

We picked it up again a few more times, but then it seemed to stop visiting. There were reports on the village grapevine of a dead fox on the main road a short distance away. But, not to worry. It has started coming again.

Here it is again on two nights during the past week. What is in its mouth in last night’s part of the video? Do you need to take the feathers off?

If I had not turned round the camera it might have captured the pigeon being caught at it mopped up the spillage from the bird feeder which it just above the bushes in the first shot. 

UPDATE - There is a later version (3 mins) of the video here:

Sunday, 4 June 2023


We had to say goodbye to our cat Phoebe last week. She had a large lesion in her gum, and although the vets could find no sign of anything malignant, they were unable to stop it from bleeding or clear it up. She gradually stopped eating and became weak and wobbly on her feet, and cried pitifully.

Here is her official passport photograph (no smiling or sunglasses).

Phoebe was a rescue cat from the RSPCA. She had being abandoned in a pub car park with kittens, all with severe cat flu. She was about five when we got her, and we had her for eight and a half years.

I think we might have had a cat sooner had it not been for Grandma. She hated cats, especially when they rubbed against her legs. The look or feel of any kind of fur made her shudder. As a volunteer in an Oxfam shop, she had great difficulty showing any clothing with fur to customers, and once had to hand over a fur stole at arm’s length. After she moved to live near us and no longer needed to stay, when our Son went off to university we replaced him with a cat. Daughter thought it a great improvement.

“They’ve got a CAT”, Grandma told everyone, disgust and venom in her voice. When here, if Phoebe passed too close and Grandma thought no one was watching, out would come her stick and Phoebe would receive a sharp poke and a “pshssst”.

You don’t realise how much you will miss them: Phoebe I mean. She was the gentlest, most trusting animal I have ever known. She no longer waits for her breakfast in the morning, or comes wanting to snuggle up or play. We look for her curled in the places she slept, in her bed or under her bush in the garden, or in the window watching the birds. We expect to see her zig-zagging crazily back and forth across the lawn with the wind up her tail, or her pretty face at the front window waiting to be let in, only to go straight out of the back to run round and miaow to be let in again. For a moment, we start to check where she is before we go to bed or go out. She is no longer here to talk to. Her presence is missing from the house.

Thursday, 1 June 2023

Brian Cant and Play Away

New Month Old Post: first posted 20th June, 2017

                                It really doesn’t matter if it’s raining or it’s fine
                                Just as long as you’ve got time
                                To P-L-A-Y playaway-play, playaway,
                                Play-a-play, playaway. 

It was sad to hear [in June, 2017] of the death of Brian Cant, once polled the most-loved voice on UK children’s television. I used to love Play Away. I would never miss it unless I had to, despite being in my twenties at the time.

Brian Cant in Play Away
Brian Cant, Tony Robinson, Toni Arthur and Julie Stevens in Play Away (click to play)

Luckily, Play Away was on a Saturday afternoon when I wasn’t at work. It was full of silly jokes and sketches, some of them Pythonesque, and very musical. Its talented presenters had a vivacious energy that was simply uplifting. Children’s television is sometimes much too good for children.

And shining through it all was the childlike spirit of Brian Cant. He had a mischievous screen presence – a way every now and then of glancing into the camera as if to let you into the secret that this was every bit as daft as it looked. You never quite knew what he was going to do next. Just when he had drawn you in, he would give you a naughty nip like a playful Yorkshire terrier.

So I’ve spent a nostalgic couple of hours watching clips of Play Away on YouTube. The one above represents everything in it that was wonderful. Brian Cant hamming it up, the beautiful voice of Toni Arthur, crazy Julie Stevens, and an implausibly youthful Tony Robinson in the Court of King Caractacus.

If you want to eulogize about a man who sang a song about the fascinating witches who put the scintillating stitches in the britches of the boys who put the powder on the noses on the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Caractacus …

... he’s just passed by.

Tuesday, 30 May 2023

For Northsider

Note with it: Ticket (£1.10) and promotional beer mat. Barclay James Harvest. Spring Tour 74. I went with Bob S- to see them at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday 25th June as he had a spare ticket. We were fairly near the front and I was pretty deaf for a day or two. The ticket has the top corner torn off on admission.

The drummer was very exuberant: arms all over the place.

See Northsider's post: 

Thursday, 25 May 2023

Unprincipled Spivs

Moving from the public to the private sector was something of an eye-opener. It was a very different culture. I had not expected to be working with such an unprincipled set of spivs.

Previously, I had only worked in the accountancy profession and universities where the main considerations were thoroughness and accuracy. In accountancy, we checked everything to the penny. There was no short-cut sampling and rounding as now. It was similar in universities. We aimed to review and understand all previous work in a field before attempting to extend it. Where I did have dealings with the private sector, it was either with audit clients wanting to demonstrate compliance, or with the research arms of large companies governed by quality procedures. You could say that things were done properly.

Then, along came nineteen-eighties ‘Thatcher’s Britain’, when competition and cost-cutting were king. You could say that standards began to drop.

Universities were driven to seek commercial partners. By then, I could bullshit pretty convincingly about ways to make computers easier to use, so when a systems company with problems came along, I was sent to talk to them. It was not supposed to be part of the plan for them to offer me a job on a lot more money. Feeling near to burnout with university work, I took it.

It was a medium-sized systems company driven by sales and profit, with an eye on what things cost and how long they took. The computer system they sold had been developed for an equipment maintenance business, but as the system expanded to handle more and more business functions, other companies wanted to use it too, and it became valuable in its own right. By the time I joined, there were around seventy computing staff, and the system was used by some of the biggest firms in Europe, from cash machine operators to telecoms companies. It had become immensely complicated and few fully understood it any more.

I identified problems, improved the information provided to customers, and began to take on consultancy roles, as they said I would. I can’t complain about that. But I disliked the prevailing ethos which was aggressive, competitive and sales-led rather than professional.

It oozed down from the owner. He had left school early and chanced upon the opportunity to lease and maintain office equipment, such as internal telephones and fax machines. He was a first-rate wheeler dealer and could spin a good yarn, and the business grew rapidly. He was also arrogant and ruthless. I cannot repeat all the sexist, racist, homophobic and explicit things I heard him say. In one meeting, he complimented a non-white staff member on his wonderful sun tan, and asked where he went on holiday to get it. In another, he likened a map of Scandinavia, “where our biggest customers are, Ladies”, to a “penis and testicles”. I suppose he thought it humorous; the sort of humour I had not heard in years. His attitude was that if customers were not complaining, we were giving them too much too cheaply.

This brand of arrogance pervaded company culture. Many of the staff, especially in sales, went along with it. They were paid ‘loadsamoney’ to drive around in company sports cars. There was pressure to go out drinking and socializing with customers. I did not feel ‘part of the team’. I don’t know if others felt uncomfortable too, but if so, they hid it well. The promise of more money and a company car tends to keep people in line, even when they never materialise.

The owner did not tolerate dissent. If you wanted to keep your job, you kept quiet. Those who crossed him were sacked, sued or both. One employee broke his leg playing football and was dismissed because “the injury was his own fault”. Another left to set up his own company and foolishly solicited business from his ex-employer’s customers. He was brought to the brink of bankruptcy.

The firm took on large numbers of new computing staff to redevelop and modernise the system. When they had served their purpose, 50% of the systems division were made redundant. I was tipped off by my manager that it was coming. He said that even if I survived I should get out as soon as I could. The phrase “unprinciples set of spivs” was his. I survive but he didn’t.

In all, I stuck it out for nearly four years. As I said, it was well-paid. The crunch came one Friday morning when I had to drop everything to go to Stockholm to sort out an urgent problem. I popped home to pack a bag and leave a note that I might not be back until Tuesday. It began to look as if more work like this would come my way. It might sound exciting, but it was all work. There was no free time to see the places you visited.

Newly married, with a family in mind, this was not the kind of life we wanted. It was a relief a few months later to find another university job. Although on a lower salary, I reasoned that the public service pension benefits compensated for that.

Monday, 22 May 2023

Windmills Of Our Minds

I always have a tune playing in my head. This week there have been two not thought about in over sixty years. Where do we keep these things and the associations that suddenly bring them back?

I had been enjoying, on Yorkshire Pudding's recommendation a few weeks ago, the three series of 'The Detectorists' on BBC iPlayer. It is indeed good, although it contains more and more soap opera elements as it progresses, which I found annoying. 'Dad's Army' never needed extended plot lines about wives, daughers and girl friends.

I thought the best bit was the last five minutes of Series 3 Episode 1, when one of the main characters detects a falconer's whistle. He cleans if and blows to see if it still works, and to the eerie harmonies of The Unthanks 'Magpie' we are transported back to the scene of an Anglo Saxon burial on exactly the same piece of earth several centuries ago.

"Devil, devil, I defy thee", they sing. And then: "Oh, the magpie brings us tidings, Of news both fair and foul, She's more cunning than the raven, More wise than any owl, For she brings us news of the harvest, Of the barley, wheat, and corn, And she knows when we'll go to our graves, And how we shall be born." I had tingles down my spine.

After hearing 'Magpie' for a day or so, trying to make sense of the harmonies, I was struck by its slight similarity to the theme tune of the nineteen-fifties television series 'Cannonball'. It came back out of nowhere and I had to 'listen' to it for a time. This was then replaced, by association, with the singer Freddy Cannon's awful nineteen-fifties hit, 'Way Down Yonder in New Orleans', one of the first commercial songs I knew all the words to because they were printed in a magazine. I can still 'see' it from more than sixty years ago.

At least I can play The Unthanks to get rid of these two tunes, but sometime, it would be nice just to be able to switch it off.

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Do Elephants Get Seasick?

Although not a mariner, I imagine that if you want to sail a ship across the North Sea from the Humber to the Elbe, from Hull to Hamburg, you set the satnav, and the autopilot and diesel engines do much of the rest.

It was not always so. Until maybe 50 years ago, you left the Humber on a compass bearing, made adjustments for the wind and tides, and hoped you ended up in the right place fifteen to twenty hours later. In winter, at night, in bad weather, it was not for the faint hearted. Lives were lost. What a risky venture it seemed.  

A while ago, in a post about family photograph albums, I showed a picture of my great grandfather as a newly qualified master mariner. He first went to sea on a ketch at the age of 13, carrying bathroom ware from Leeds to London and returning with broken glass. Later, he spent two years on a brigantine trading to South America, once sailing 900 miles up the Amazon to Manaus. But he always said that if a man can sail the North Sea, he can sail anywhere in the world. And sailing the North Sea is what he did for many years, as captain of ships from Goole in Yorkshire, Britain’s most inland port. Frequent destinations were Jersey, Ghent, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg.

We still have some of his log books. Here is an account of a voyage from Goole to Hamburg on the 1,116 tonnne steamship Aire during the nineteen-thirties. The ship had a total crew of around 25.  

They left Goole Victoria Lock at 8 p.m. on a Saturday evening, and sailed out into the River Ouse. It may seem a strange time to leave, but it depended on the tides. “We would be off to sea  while the ship owners were dressed up singing psalms at chapel.” The ship’s crew, even the officers, were expected to touch their caps to the local landowner, Colonel Saltmarshe, if he was out in his grounds near the river as they sailed past. If not, he would complain that the ship had been travelling too fast and washing away the river banks, and the captain would have to appear before the shipping company Directors like a naughty schoolboy.

In a strong Westerly wind, but with good visibility between showers, it took four hours to reach the Bull Sands lightship off Spurn Point at the mouth of the Humber. Two and a half hours later, they passed the Outer Dowsing light vessel, moored in the shallow waters off the Lincolnshire coast (today the site of a proposed offshore wind farm). It was now 2.30 in the morning, with a strong westerly gale and heavy following sea, and there would be no further navigation aids until the Frisian islands some fifteen hours away. They set a course almost due East, and sailed on.

At 7.30 on Sunday morning, they sighted sister-ship the S.S. Blyth returning from Hamburg in the opposite direction. There had originally been three sister-ships, the third being the Calder which had foundered in bad weather on the same route in 1931, with the loss of all 26 men.  

Nothing more is logged until Borkum island light house off the Frisian coast near the Dutch-German border, which they sighted at 5.30 in the afternoon. Sometimes they would miss it, and have to look for the next sightings at Norderney or even Cuxhaven, eight hours further on. At Cuxhaven, they took on a pilot to take them into the Elbe estuary. It was now 1.30 on Monday morning. At Brunsbittel the estuary pilot made way for a river pilot, and they proceeded up the Elbe to Hamburg, mooring at No. 9 berth just before 6 a.m.  

The main cargo is not recorded, other than that it was sent by Rafferty and Watson of Sheffield. It was probably coal from the Yorkshire coal fields, the export of coal being the reason the port of Goole and its adjoining canal were built.

Also on board were three saloon passengers, three deck passenders, a horse, a dog and four elephants. Do elephants get seasick?

Presumably, the passengers and animals disembarked on arrival, but it was not until 48 hours later, at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning, that the ship moved to the Altona wharf to discharge the final 675 tons, after which it moved back to berth No. 8. 

The return voyage began at 6.25 p.m. on Friday evening, carrying 275 tons of cargo and one alien passenger. They had a clear run down the river in good visibility, passing Borkum at 9.40 on Saturday morning and reaching the Bull lightship at 6.15 a.m. on Sunday. 

As usual, they moored briefly at Hull to discharge some of the cargo. Sometimes, my great grandmother or other family members would take the train to Hull and sail back up river on the ship. My dad did this a few times when young. My grandfather, as a boy, even went on trips overseas, on one occasion being gently pushed back into the cabin on becoming excited at the sight of foreign troops on the quayside at Rotterdam. “Look, Dad, Boers,” was not a sensible thing to shout in 1903.

On the current trip, vessels for Goole were held up at Hull by fog, and missed the tide, but they eventually arrived at 4.30 on the Monday morning, and docked three quarters of an hour later. They had been away for 9 days.

Click on maps to enlarge

Monday, 1 May 2023

Days of Wine and Roses

(New month old post: from “Reel-to-Reel Recordings” posted 24th December 2014)


Dad turns to the microphone on the mantlepiece, clears his throat, and adopts a suitable air of gravitas.

“I will now read some of my favourite poetry”.

The sound of muted giggling emanates from me and my brother sitting on the floor next to the tape recorder.

“Ernest Dowson’s Vitae Summa Brevis,” he announces.

The whispering in the background becomes audible.

“What’s he on about?”

“He says Ernest Dowson had some Ryvita for his breakfast.” More snorting and sniggering. Dad continues.

“They are not long, ...”

“What aren’t? Is our Sooty’s tail not long?”

“... the weeping and the laughter, love and desire and hate...”

The disruption intensifies as Mum bangs on the window and shouts something muffled from the yard outside. Dad struggles to keep going.

“I think they have no portion in us...”

The door curtain is swished back, and Mum enters the room and interrupts loudly.

“When I tell you your dinner’s ready, it’s ready, and you come straight away.”

The recording ends.

Would Ernest Dowson’s melancholy poetry and vivid phrases ever have emerged from out of his misty dream in such an unsupportive, philistine family?

Monday, 24 April 2023

Slide Projector

I always feel a little sad when a once treasured item becomes obsolete, such as this slide projector. Having digitised our colour slides, we realised how much easier and convenient it is to click through them on a computer. 

I switched on the projector for the first time in fifteen years and was reminded how noisy and temperamental it can be. The slide change motor started up and was difficult to stop. I then got out the screen and remembered how awkward it is to put up, and how smelly it is, a mix of plastic and chemicals. Never again do I want to sit in the dark, breathing it in, looking at not-quite-in-focus pictures covered in dust, having to stop all too often to reload the magazines only to find I've put the slides in upside down or the wrong way round. 

I bought the projector in Leeds in 1973 after passing an accountancy exam and getting a pay rise, the first time I had disposable income. Most people had Hanimex Rondettes, but for some reason I went for the Kindermann.


With it in the drawer was this, which came with a load of other stuff from an uncle: a nineteen-fifties Minolta slide projector. I've not examined it before. It is very solidly made and the lens folds neatly out of the case. Very clever! It is not an automatic projector; you have to insert one slide at a time. It works, but runs worryingly hot. Not worth much. Probably also for disposal.