Friday, 30 May 2008

Happy 90th Birthday Nana.

Happy 90th Birthday Nana

Wish I could bring you to see our garden again.

Miriam Richards
30:05:1918 - 16:02:2005

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

ABC Wednesday - S is for...

A Slideshow of Smiles
With a sly sneer from the cat too!!
(My first slideshow upload - not sure if it'll work properly!)
For more great ABC Wednesdays visit Mrs Nesbitt's Place

Monday, 26 May 2008

What has happened to the good old English Pub?

Since the smoking ban I have been to the pub three times. This is not unusual for me, I usually go three or four times in a year, I'm hardly what you would call a regular at my local.

Initially I was appalled at the fact that smoking had been banned in pubs, I thought it would be devastating for the trade. I thought that people would - given the choice of staying at home with cheaper, supermarket bought, beers and wines and being able to smoke to their lungs content - they'd steer well clear of the less than atmospheric public houses. Initially I was wrong. People persevered with the ban, went outside in all weathers to smoke their dreaded weed, but still enjoyed the social interaction of a visit to the pub.

Now, almost a year after the ban the situation has changed. The very people who demanded a ban, who moaned constantly about going home stinking of fags, who said they would only come back to pubs once the ban was in place - and who did return for a few occasions - now realise that pubs without smokers are not really very jolly places at all. And so they stay away - or visit even less frequently than they did before the ban.

The reason? Pubs have no atmosphere. Instead of reeking of old smoke, they now emit an air of stale beer and sweat. The goody two shoe brigade now miss the very people they hounded out. Let's face it, at least they could have a conversation with a smoker about how nasty it was, and how they hated them, and how they wish they'd ban it altogether - now the smokers are gone, or are outside, the anti smoking lobby have no one to moan at, the pub is empty, they sit in their 'clean air' snug and berate the fact that there's no one to talk to, that people just don't come in any more and that the drinks have got more expensive. I wonder why?

I visited one such pub yesterday afternoon. A year ago, on a sunny Sunday, this particular pub was a thriving centre for the village in which it is situated. Seats were filled with a mix of smokers and non-smokers, meals were being served, the football would be on a widescreen TV, the banter was good, you could barely hear the cash register ringing up massive takings above the conversation in the room. Yesterday afternoon, a beautifully warm and sunny Sunday, there were five people in the pub, two of which were family of the landlord, one was an old vagrant who was eventually ejected for forgetting himself and 'lighting up' and the other two were myself and my mate. The Guinness was £2.70 per pint - a year ago it was £2.37.

Depressing. We won't be going back. The smoking ban is yet another nail in the coffin of Britain's sense of 'Community'.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

It doesn't look good for the washing!!

But the daisies seem eager for a drink....
For other Skywatch pictures - visit Tom at Wiggers World

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

ABC Wednesday - 'R'

ABC Wednesday already? So many words to choose that begin with the letter 'R' - even more difficult than last week's 'Q'!!!
R is for....the ability to form........
In spite of my own very jaded, entirely dysfunctional, relationship with my mother, my primary concern with Emily was that she should be able to forge a very strong and healthy set of relationships within our family circle (Which comprises of Lesley's relatives, not mine.) My family life left me with a lot of baggage - very shy, very withdrawn, very difficult to get to know, very scarred by my early relationships - I could have quite easily drifted into a life of solitude had it not been for Lesley. Because of my upbringing I find forming friendships very difficult, relationships even more so.

I never knew my father, he was off the scene soon after we returned from Cyprus when he and mother divorced. I had a close bond with Peter, my mother's second husband, but he soon got sick of mother's ways and eventually he too was off the scene - I stayed in touch for a while but eventually he found himself a new life with children of his own.
Mother alienated herself further from us and married for a third time. After that she became a distant memory for a long time, then she was back after the birth of my daughter, briefly, and now she's gone again.
My strongest relationship from childhood was that with my Nana and Grandad- mother seemed keen for them to look after me (probably because she couldn't be bothered.) - and they took up the gauntlet with gusto. Sadly Grandad died in 1976 - three days before my eleventh birthday (I've still got the card he had already signed) After that Nana put most of her efforts into raising me. I became the son she never had and she was the only constant in my life until her death in 2005. (Well, almost - but that's a different story to be told some other time!)

We wanted Emily's family life to be so very different from my early experiences - and in the main I think we've succeeded - Lesley and Emily are the only people who see the true me and I hope that Emily will feel a thousand times more safe and secure and loved than I ever did as a child. She seems happy enough now - but only time will tell I suppose - but strong relationships can only be built over time, so there's a way to go yet.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Visitors, Mr & Mrs Pigeon.

This is Walter and his Missus (Wilomena) paying a visit to our garden in the late evening sunshine on Sunday night.
They've been regular visitors for the past couple of years, bless 'em. Occasionally one will visit on his / her own and somehow look lost without the other.
(The pictures were taken through glass - hence the cloudy appearance.)

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The best laid plans.....

I had intended to post a glorious photo of my new hair this morning. Unfortunately I didn't get to the barber's yesterday - well I did get there, but the queue was prohibitive so I didn't wait around - well I say prohibitive, there were two people in front of me, but the barber looked about twelve and kept dropping his scissors - well I say kept dropping his scissors, he dropped them once - oh, alright, I bottled it!!!

I'll go next week. To a different barber! (That's if I can find my way out of this fringe!)
The photo isn't me by the way - this is one of the artsy pics of styles the young barber was about to try out on my head!! (Is it any wonder I legged it??)

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Haircut 100 and a history lesson...

I'm getting quite nervous. Having only recently watched Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd" (The Demon Barber of London) and remembering his classic film "Edward Scissorhands" today I will allow myself to venture inside a barber's shop for the first time in eight (yes, eight) years.

I have preferred, in those eight years, to save funds by trimming my hair with some hair clippers I bought off ebay for about three pounds - number 3 setting all over my head - short, quick and more importantly free.

However, since I started losing weight through illness, just about Christmas time last year, my wife has lovingly convinced me that by trimming my own hair I really do look like a concentration camp victim. And so I've let it grow. But now I can stand it no longer, and off it must come. The treatment for my illness involves high doses of steroids - which have the added benefit of ballooning the face to moon proportions (the effect is actually called "Moonface Syndrome") - great when you looked as ill as I did at the start of the year, but with a mop of hair any self respecting hippie would want shortening - I look like a pillock!!
What concerns me more than the loss of hair - is the effect it might have on my new-found strength. Don't expect me to be be holding up any crumbling temples in the near future!
Now the history: (Copyrighted to and courtesy of Alex Barbershop.)
The barber's trade is an ancient one. Razors have been found among relics of the Bronze Age (circa 3500 B.C). Barbering is mentioned in the bible by Ezekiel who said "And Thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thine beard."
Barbering was introduced in Rome in 296 B.C. and barbers quickly became both popular and prosperous. Their shops were centres for daily news and gossip. All free men of Rome were clean-shaven, while slaves were forced to wear beards. It is from the Roman (Latin) word barba, meaning beard, that the word "barber" is derived - and hence 'barbarians' as the name used during that period to describe tribes who were bearded.
When Caesar landed in Britain in 54 B.C. he found that the Britons wore no facial hair at all, except on the upper lip. Similarly, at the time of the Norman Conquest, Harold and his men also had their chins 'reaped' as the Saxons termed it; an expression no longer in use except by the harvester. At a later period full beards came into fashion.
About 334 B.C. Alexander the Great made his soldiers shave regularly for the purpose of gaining an advantage in hand-to-hand combat so that his warriors were able to grasp an enemy by the beard, while themselves were safeguarded in this method of fighting. The barbers of early days were also the surgeons and dentists. Most early physicians disdained surgery and the barbers did surgery of wounds, blood-letting, cupping and leeching, enemas and extracting teeth. Since the barbers were involved not only with haircutting, hairdressing and shaving but also with surgery, they were called barber-surgeons. They formed their first organization in France in 1094.
In an effort to distinguish between academic surgeons and barber-surgeons, the College de Saint Come, founded in Paris about 1210, identified the former as surgeons of the long robe and the latter as surgeons of the short robe. French barbers and surgeons were organized as a guild in 1391, and barber-surgeons were admitted to the faculty of the University of Paris in 1505. Ambroise Pare (1510-1590), the father of modern surgery and the greatest surgeon of the Renaissance, began his career as an itinerant barber-surgeon. His brother was a barber-surgeon and his sister married a barber-surgeon. In England the barbers were chartered as a guild by Edward IV in 1462 as the Company of Barbers.
The surgeons formed a guild 30 years later and the two companies were united by the statute of Henry VIII in 1540 under the name of the United Barber Surgeon's Company. In actual practice, however, barbers who cut hair and gave shaves were forbidden to practice surgery except for bloodletting and pulling teeth and surgeons were prohibited from "the barbery of shaving." In France a decree by Louis XV in 1743 prohibited barbers from practicing surgery from the barbers by acts passed during the reign of George II. The surgeons with the title of "Masters, Governors and Commonalty of the Honourable Society of the Surgeons of London." This body was subsequently dissolved and later replaced by the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800 during the reign of George III.
The origin of the barber's pole appears to be associated with his service of bloodletting. The original pole has a brass basin at its top representing the vessel in which leeches were kept and also represented the basin which received the blood. The pole itself represented the staff which the patient held onto during the operation. The red and white stripes represented the bandages used during the procedure, red for the bandages stained with blood during the operation and white for the clean bandages. The bandages would be hung out to dry after washing on the pole and would blow and twist together forming the spiral pattern similar to the modern day barber pole.
The bloodstained bandages became recognized as the emblem of the barber-surgeon's profession. Later in time, the emblem was replaced by a wooden pole of white and red stripes. These colours are recognized as the true colours of the barber emblem. Red, white and blue are widely used in America due partly to the fact that the national flag has these colours. Another interpretation of these barber pole colours is that red represents arterial blood, blue is symbolic of venous blood and white depicts the bandage. After formation of the United Barber Surgeons Company in England, a statue required barbers to use a blue and white pole and surgeons to use a red pole. In France the surgeons of the long robe placed a red pole with a basin attached to identify their offices.

Friday, 16 May 2008

A View of The Hills

I'm new to this Skywatch Friday malarkey hosted by Tom at Wiggers World click on the link to join in.

When we first moved into our home ten years ago one of the things that attracted us to it was the panoramic view from our front of the Cleveland Hills - stretching from Eston 'Nab' right the way to Roseberry Topping.

In the winter months we were able to see the snow clouds building up on the other side of the range and then prepare ourselves, or watch the spectacle of the hills gradually disappearing behind the freshly falling snow. I used to love sitting in my chair watching the approaching storm rolling down the hills towards me.

In the summer the view was equally beautiful, and we've witnessed some pretty big grass-fires when it's been particularly hot and dry - always a frightening spectacle, especially at night when you get the illusion of a volcanic flow.

And then the town planners got to work....

and within a matter of a few months, a hideous carbuncle was constructed. To my mind it resembles a crash-landed spaceship, half embedded in the earth.
The New Unity City Academy is not only to blame for ruining our view, but we now have the added distraction of watching this particular carbuncle's contents spill out twice a day, creating havoc in ways only new teenagers can.

God bless those planners, eh?

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Recipe Request

Being a Yorkshireman I am always looking at ways to save a few quid here and there, but lately things have become so expensive, I'm having trouble making savings anywhere.
Having watched the Tonight programme on Monday I've realised that one of the ways we can make savings is by cutting back our weekly food bill - currently around £120 per week and made up of pre-packed 'ready meals', snacks and what I class as non-nuritious stodge.
Lesley is kitchen-o-phobic and so I do most of the cooking - I had a good mentor in that area as I grew up with my Nana and she passed on her home cooking tips, so I am quite able to make a good sunday roast, bread, pies etc - what I seem to have lost (or forgotten) is how to make a good soup from leftovers of a sunday roast or ham shank (Nana used to make it with yellow split peas etc.) and other simple, quick meals using fresh and traditional English ingredients. Cooking from scratch as opposed to buying ready made.
So, my request is for home cooking tips - quick nutritious meals from 'Ration Book' foods.
You can post them as comments or email me directly on
All help greatly appreciated.

ABC Wednesday - Q is for....

"But, I begin with a 'P'"

(Mrs Nesbitt) runs a networking blog, and one of the ways she gets people to exchange information and link their respective blogs is through ABC Wednesday - a weekly alphabetical photo posting. This week's letter is 'Q'.

I wracked my brain about Q, but eventually came up with....


She is, after all, the Queen of all she surveys. (Plus it makes up for the fact I didn't post a 'P' last week!)

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Is it any wonder we're fed up??

Britain's tax bill has increased by more than 50% in the past ten years under Labour, it has been claimed.
A report by the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) pressure group said that the total tax burden now stood at £517 billion a year - the equivalent of £20,700 per household.
That compared with a tax take of £294 billion in 1997-98 when Labour came to power, representing a 76% increase in cash terms over the decade or 51% if inflation is taken into account.
The TPA said much of the increase was accounted for by little-noticed "stealth taxes" or by "fiscal drag" - failing to raise tax thresholds in line with earnings - which the TPA now estimates accounts for £14 billion of the annual tax take.
The fastest growing tax was said to be stamp duty which now brings in £14.3 billion compared to a take of £3.5 billion ten years ago - an increase of more than 300%.
At the same time, the TPA said that fees and charges by local authorities and other public bodies had been "ratcheted up" and become much more widespread.
It said that school dinners charges had risen 50% over the decade to £1 billion a year, parking charges and fines had risen to over £1 billion, while charges for hospital car parks now raise now over £100 million in England alone.
The report's author, Mike Denham, a former Treasury economist, said that the Government had used "every trick in the book" to drive up the tax burden.
"People are increasingly beset by record levels of taxation and growing service charges, but there has been no improvement in services in return," he said.
"We find ourselves paying more and more for less and less. With rocky economic times ahead, this rate of taxation simply cannot be sustained."

Now I know why I'm becoming more like Victor Meldrew every day!!
Article courtesy of MSN News. Photo courtesy of The BBC.

Work Related Issues

I find it impossible to switch off.
My Wife finds me a constant source of befuddlement. I make promises I cannot keep when it comes to work related issues. Especially working from home.
Since the formation of the new (improved??) Business Link North East, we have been allowed to work from home, and have been provided with the necessary kit to enable this. This has proved a disaster for my relaxation as I now find myself at my desk at all hours working on things I know I should have done during 'office hours' but which, for varying reasons, were delayed or interrupted. I have been known to send emails at three in the morning in answer to client queries (admittedly this was whilst I was at the height of my steroid course when insomnia reigned supreme!) but the ability to do so was greatly appreciated at the time - otherwise I'd have been pacing the floor, or reading a book for the twentieth time.
Now it's becoming a source of conflict within the family. "Why don't you switch it off and come and sit with your family?" is the cry. "It's not work pet, it's my blog!" is my retort. "But you normally do that in the morning before work, don't you?" to which I respond "Ah, yes, but I had a few emails to send and a grant application to complete before work today, so I'm doing my blog now!" (Then I quickly log out of the Business Link site and into Blogger in case she walks into the study.)
Yesterday I had one client meeting and a half day training course up at Seaham. (our new publicly funded HQ resplendent in expensive LCD TV's and high tech employee monitoring equipment!) Because the client meeting was mid-morning I had no time to update our hideously slow CRM (1 x Client meeting = 4 x hours of admin) with the admin element for the client and will have to find time to do this later today, after two other client meetings, but then, when do I do their admin elements? It's a lot easier to do it on an evening without the pressures of other work related issues.
BUT when do I find time to live my life? I had intended on a trip to the gym tonight, mind you there's an internet cafe at the gym - I could do a bit less swimming and log on for an hour instead!! HELP ME, PLEASE!!!!!!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Book Update

Those who remember the original incarnation of Bodge's Bulletin may recall that I had co-written a book. An outlandish tale with comparisons to Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw - though far more lewd and perverse, and with historical inferences to the Hartlepool Crofters and their French spy, monkey hanging antics.

As a quick post tonight I thought I'd update you on the current state of play with this joint venture.

After many months of searching and self-agenting we finally managed to find someone daft enough to take it on, er, did I say daft enough? What I meant to say was "brave enough" to take it on and we've signed our publishing agreement for "The Baboon's Left Testicle (Part One of Two)"

I'm currently proof reading the first edit prior to resubmission (with amendments) to the publisher - hopefully this process will be completed within the next month or so and then we can full steam ahead with the marketing and promotion stuff.

That's my task for tonight - continue to go through the first edit and proof-read - I started last night but after page 23 my red marker pen ran out of ink - it doesn't bode well!!

Watch this space....

Sunday, 11 May 2008

authorblog: Weekend Wandering

authorblog: Weekend Wandering

The best decision I ever made was to leave the Police force. Sure I spent two years on benefits, but when I eventually got my act together I never looked back. I met my wife, settled down, got a good job (after many other experiences of employment) and finally found myself.My brother did not make the switch and remains a PC to this day - and very miserable he is about it too!

Me and my gym.

Like a lot of people, I play at being a gym member. I pay heavily for the luxury of being able to go at a time that suits me and that little bit of exclusivity that local authority run centres cannot provide. I aim to go three times a week. I'm lucky if manage three times a month!

And what do I do when I go? Usually I spend fifteen minutes getting changed, then showered before getting into the pool for a quick couple of lengths, then I'm off to the sauna or steam room for fifteen minutes, another quick swim, then fifteen minutes in the hydropool to relax.

The whole process from leaving car to getting back in it takes less than an hour. During which time I speak to no one, other than to ask reception what time they close pr some other feeble excuse to use my voice. I never do any weight training or fitness stuff as I find the whole process dull, repetitive and pointless - or possibly I find it too much like hard work!

I want to train, I want to improve my shape and overall fitness levels, but the thought of going into the training rooms is so intimidating - full of posing and sweating silverbacks aiming for Schwarzenneger status. Embarrassed? Yes. Envious? Yes.

Perhaps I think I'm past all of that. Perhaps I should just accept that I'm never going to be the strapping lad I once was (not that I was ever 'strapping' !) but at 42 you sort of get to thinking - should I give it one more go to make something out of my body before it all heads south and I'm beyond repair. It is possible. I could be a fit and healthy, even strapping, fifty year old.

It's just finding the time to fit it all in around family and work.

Perhaps I should make the effort a bit more - make it worth the forty quid a month?

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Flaming May.

Emily is particularly proud of her little flower garden
Lesley's hard work pays off!!
Digging for England - as a woman should!

"Cast ne'er a clout 'til May be Out!" my Nana used to say, and here we are at the tenth day and already we've got all the bedding plants in, lawns have been trimmed (more than once or twice) and all our non-frost hardy summer plants are in and doing well. It's been a beautiful two or three days, but has it lulled us in to a false sense of security?

Call me a miserable old pessimist, but I've convinced myself that my Nana's adage is about to come true and all our efforts have been in vain. Mind you the garden look glorious already and if I figure out how to mend my camera I may upload one or two for your delectation and delight.

True to form for the weekend the clouds have started to gather - it even rained for a wee while last night.
Bring on the frost!

Friday, 9 May 2008

Happy Birthday Mum!! (Yeah, right!)

The first 'Musing of a Misery' concerns my family. It'll give you an idea as to why I'm so bloody miserable - but fear not, for I do have a sense of humour too, and hopefully that will prevail over the miseries. I urge you, read on....... By the way, if you've just found me from The Old Crohn, you'll realise that we are one and the same - and that this post is a duplicate of one on there - just to kick things off!
If I had a picture of my Mother on this computer I'd post it here today. Today is her 64th birthday after all, so you'd expect some kind of recognition or even a bit of a celebration of her life so far. It's what normal families do, isn't it?

The fact that I haven't seen her since the summer of 2003, or spoken to her since March 2005, should be alien to most families. Not to mine.

Prior to the birth of my daughter in 2003, and for reasons best known to herself and her third husband, Mother had decided to exclude me (and my brother) from her life for nine years. It was not until six months after Emily was born that I plucked up the courage to write to her to advise her that she was a grandmother. Her response was that of a normal Mother - we visited her (once she'd told us where she was living) and for a few hours one day in 2003 we were a normal family. She was overwhelmed with Emily and seemed genuinely delighted that we should put the past behind us and move forward. I was wary. With good reason.

A few days after the visit I called her and she was cool again. I asked what was wrong but she didn't want to say (or couldn't, or wouldn't) and a few days later an email arrived from her husband Richard, who advised me that I should stay away or he would call the police. His reasons? Apparently I had not called Mother to thank her for the birthday card she'd sent me and he'd assumed that the reason I hadn't called her was because she'd not included any money with the card, and that I was a scrounger, a layabout, a liar and a cheat. He is quite mad and has driven my Mother, who was never quite the full shilling, to his mad ways. Alienating her from the entire family on her behalf, but I suspect secretly with her full approval.

In March 2005 I got a call from her, out of the blue, to advise me that she had been diagnosed with osteoporosis and that I should let Steven (my Brother) know "as it's hereditary." Why she couldn't call him herself I'll never know. At some point in the conversation I mentioned my Nana (her Mother), her response? "I don't want to talk about that woman!" I said "You do realise that she died last month - Richard did tell you, didn't he?" The phone fell silent for a brief moment and she repeated that she didn't want to talk about 'that woman!'. Clearly Richard had not passed on the news of her Mother's death. This explains the reason for her failure to attend the funeral.

I haven't spoken to her since. She married Richard in 1983 and quite quickly began to alienate herself from the rest of the family. Steven was first in 1986 when she 'boycotted' his wedding because of some minor disagreement over seating plans. Even the birth of her first grandchild in 1990 couldn't heal the rift - though Steven tried, and again with his second child in 1992 - to no avail. She boycotted my wedding in 1993 because I'd invited my brother. All in all, between 1983 and the present day, I have seen my Mother less than ten times.

The family had never been really close due to my Mother's ways, but after Richard came along it divided, sub-divided and sub-divided further to the point of no return.

For Mother, today will have no flowers, cards, presents, chocolates, tacky ornaments with "To the Best Mum In The World!" lovingly etched upon their surface, no visiting offspring, no dropping by sister, no high-pitched telephone calls from shy little grandchildren.

Today will be a day for Mother, with the eager support of her doting husband, to reflect on how badly she has been treated by her family, when really she should be looking closer to home, and within her own heart.

I'm sad for what could have been.