Friday, 15 June 2007

Refugee Springwatch 3

"I am just going outside and may be some time."

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Refugee Springwatch 2

We can’t claim to have seen hungry baby owls eating their siblings or hares copulating in fields or Bill Goodie being patronising to the lovely Kate at Refugee Towers, but……

……Our first 2 wren chicks have fledged their nest. Good luck to them. Where do they go? Probably not too far according to goodie old Bill. 2 gone, 4 to go.

……On Friday, the 4 blackbird eggs hatched to reveal 4 scrawny, featherless chicks with enormous gaping mouths and closed eyes. Unfortunately, by the time I snapped the brood this morning there were only 3 left. The mother remains attentive – keeping her brood warm when in the nest and returning regularly after feeding.

……Previously unmentioned is the vast sparrow colony living noisily in the ivy/Russian vine hedge and in a back wall in the cracks between the stones. We’ve added a bird-feeder and they have quickly adapted to feed from it, as well as making an almighty mess of the seed they drop on the ground beneath.

……It’s been difficult to discern just how many swallow chicks because we’re now not quite sure how many swallows have actually nested this year. IS and I spent an hour today checking out (and videoing) the swallows in the barn. As a result, we have to revise our swallow stats. There are 5 nests in the barn of which 3 are in use – 6 swallows fly in, out and around the inside of the barn at regular intervals. We have seen 4 chicks in one nest, 2 in another and we have heard 2 or 3 in a 3rd nest. Interestingly, the swallow chicks start to open their mouths when they hear their parents chirruping OUTSIDE the barn.
During our stay in the barn we discovered 3 chicks dead on the ground beneath one nest and 2 chicks dead on the ground beneath another nest. Once a chick falls from the 20 foot from the nest to the ground about 20+ feet below there is no way back. We were very sad to find the dead chicks and it may be that the nests were not constructed well enough or they may just have toppled out but perhaps the parents don’t seem to be unduly troubled – they still fly around happily – and they will soon produce a second summer brood.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

A llama in the cowpat

The Scene: The sofa. Refugee Towers
The Time: Last night.
The Players: All the Refugees
The Event: Watching the latest edition of Springwatch

The island of Isla and the presenter Simon is in a field of (gorgeous) highland cattle and choughs pecking at cowpats.

SIMON: …so here we have the symbiosis between these highland cattle and the chough. Let me just look at this cowpat (prodding the pat with a twig) and come back to me in 5 minutes.


SIMON: (turning over a handful of insects in the palm of his hand) This what I’ve removed from the pat…..a beetle…a worm…a pupa…2 stag beetles…a millipede…and a larva.

ES (from the sofa): A llama!?!

Laughter from all, especially an uncontrollable Mrs R, and then…

ALL REFUGEES: (to ES) Not a llama…a larva!!!!

LOGOrrhoea of Olympic proportions

Well, blistering athletes groin! What’s all this trash talk about our illustrious Olympic logo?
Take a migraine tablet, put on your 4-d specs and throw one more glance at the logo……

Though I have a hankering for this one in remembrance of soon-to-be lamented Emperor……

Good Lord this bloke needs a hug! Anyone?

Personally, I think he could have run this up with his Etch-a-Sketch and pocketed £399k......

And here’s one I would have been proud to design……

Cooool! Like a Roger Hilton painting.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

School is IN for the second half-term

After the busy half-term Home Educating break we have resumed school (at home). IS and ES continue to happily accede to our timetable of home schooling – we start promptly at 9.30, have a break for 30 minutes around 11 and then work on until 1.30. The afternoon is taken up with cycling, sibling rivalry and of course RefugeeSpringwatch.

In the barn this week, IS has been studying The Romans under the inexpert but enthusiastic tutelage of Mrs R. Today, IS completed an ‘aged’ scroll (tea infusion and matches) of a diary of her life as a girl in Rome. Her mother stays at home whilst her father, ME, is in charge of a Roman legion. Mr Refugee as Roman role model...ha!

In the kitchen, ES has been astounding me at Maths. For a 7½ year-old who had only learnt numbers at Steiner school up until April, ES can now regularly add 3 numbers together in her head…which even her 2 older sisters have trouble with. Fancy having a Maths star in the family!?

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Refugee Springwatch 1

Those damned miserable critters (TV critics) keep flogging the mantra that there’s no ‘family television’ these days. Well, guys…get your poisoned quills out and refill with cool green ink, because......

......Family Refugee have become entranced, entertained and mesmerised by Springwatch – mainly by the animals but also by the presenters..yes, even by Bill Goodie-Goodie. Our sofa is as squashed as a chough’s nest of 8 as all the refugees snuggle up to watch our hour of laughs, antics and sorrow.

Meanwhile, in the grounds of Refugee Towers, we have our very own RefugeeSpringWatch.
I’ve previously gabbled on about our glorious swallows –

4 nests in 3 locations: 2 nests in a derelict barn, 1 nest in a garage, 1 nest in a shed.
(Sorry, no pics so far as the nests are 20 foot above ground)
But yesterday, I saw a sight that I'd never seen before. A crow hovered at the window of the barn and then flew off....followed immediately by one of our swallows in demonic pursuit. The crow was clearly not prepared for a swallow (one-quarter its size) to duck and dive at the crow as it made its escape. For about 200 yards the swallow harried the crow relentlessly until it wheeled away and returned triumphantly and bravely home to its brood.

Last week the younger refugees have discovered a wren’s nest in the crack of a stone adjacent to a shed door – there are 6 young wren’s squeezed into the cosy nest. Whenever any refuge goes near the wrens there is a mass screeching for food. Meanwhile the parent wrens attend constantly with plenty of worms and grubs. and probably the odd peck on the cheek.

And a blackbird’s nest well camouflaged in a heavy rose bush beneath the wisteria – 4 eggs with a highly attentive but wary mother in Mona Lisa fashion.

Updates to follow as the action intensifies.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

"It was 40 years ago today......

....that Tyger Hutchings took the band to play",
(to paraphrase Lennon-McCartney)
in Golders Green.

On this very day back in 1967 – just days before Sgt Pepper’s release and the impending summer of love – a group of fellow North Londoners played their first ‘live’ gig.

It began with friends Ashley ‘Tyger’ Hutchings and Simon Nicol collecting together Richard Thompson and Shaun Frater for everyone to.....

“Become converted!!! FAIRPORT CONVENTION happen at St Michael’s Hall,
Golders Green, opp Woolworth’s.
Adv. Tickets 5s. 01-883-2505”.

It's extraordinary to think that that unprepossessing band of North London teenagers have burgeoned into the pantheon of the British folk-rock legends. Forty years on, it looks like Fairport may well be around in another 50-100 years…somehow.

I have pulled my original posting so that I can dredge up some more thoughts and repost a lengthened
version in a week or so

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Home schooling

We’re into our 3rd week of home schooling and it has been…..tiring, thought-provoking, exasperating but most of all very rewarding.

The GB HE school consists of the redoubtable Mrs R who has taken charge of English, Classics, Botany, Biology, Art and Languages (French and South London) whilst I am doing a fearsome impression of Mr Squeers, in charge of aggravated Mathematics, Cane-swishing and Toilet Duties.

In IS’s case, we tolerated far far too long her Steiner education which really began and ended with her very poor teacher. This was emphasised when
started home schooling and we realised that IS had trouble with 3 times table and very simple division - not good for a 10 year-old. At Steiner, it seems that the basics were not covered well - looking back there were cursory lessons on times tables and simple division whereas there was plenty of princes, water sprites and bears swapping bags of gold around in the name of maths. Call me old-fashioned, yes I'm burdened with having been born in the 50's, but the start should be writing letters/words/numbers, spelling and times tables by rote - there, I'm labelled forever. Anyway, for the past 3 weeks, IS has looked so different from the bored, listless girl that was suffering under the Steiner yoke; she is now brighter, more responsive, taking pride in her work and having more confidence and self-esteem. Whoopee!

I did 1½hours quite basic Maths with IS and then…..
…….Some English with ES. 4 weeks ago ES, 7½, could not read more than 20 words and was just learning her numbers from 1 to 20 – though she was damn hot on knowing how much pocket money she should receive. Now, ES knows up to her 4 times table by heart and is doing simple mental addition/subtraction and number ‘games’. On top of that, she is devouring Oxford Reading Tree books and knows 2 Ant and Bee cover-to-cover.

This isn’t to blow our own foghorns but there are 2 salient points to be made here. Firstly, the Steiner system is V E R Y S L O W, which is not a particularly bad system as it works out fine in other countries, but once the child reaches 7 the Steiner system can remain pedantic….unless there is a good teacher. Secondly, for the rest of this term, our girls are getting 1-to-1 tuition which, even with fumbling amateur efforts, is better than the 1-to-20+ state system.

My only regret is that there are some many FAB blogs out there and not enough time to read them at the moment. Que sera sera sera!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Want some sweets little girl

The phone range this afternoon and it was Mrs R from her mobile from town. The gist of her call was that there was a middle-aged man hanging around the Junior school looking furtive and supposedly “offering sweets”.

I walked up the garden to where ES, 7½, was riding her bike just to check that she knew not to go ‘too far’.
Me: I just wanted to make sure you don’t ride your bike past our lane.
ES: No, I’m just around here.
Me: Errm, sweetheart, what would you do if someone, a strange man, you didn’t know came along and offered you some sweets?
ES: (Eyes alight) Sweets!? (then a moment’s thought) Well, I‘d take them….but I would give him some money for them.

The lesson this afternoon was ‘Confectionery - and how it can damage your health’.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Fair game at the Game Fair

Well into our 7th year in God’s own county – a Yorkshire quote, not mine – and we took the plunge and handed over scores of dosh for our first entry into the annual Great Bickering Game Fair.

The fair is held just on the way out of town on a vast area of green land owned by the shaven-headed Simon - GB's own Branson. Simon tends to walk determinedly and moodily around town invariably followed by a couple of acolytes with antennae twitching. Up to now I had never said more than ‘Hello’, ‘Morning’ or ‘Hi’ to him but as we pulled up at the entrance ready to pay there was the taciturn Simon barking orders at his minions to get the cars moving towards the Car park in some order. Suddenly he came over and apologised to us for the chaos and his temper…and threw us a beamer of a SMILE. This is a man I could sit down with one day and have a happyccino and chew over life in Great Bickering.

The Fair was spread over 2 enormous fields encircled with perhaps 80 or so stalls and turned out to be a great success with our refugees for a number of reasons. We had never seen such a large number of dogs in one day…mainly labs, spaniels, greyhounds and border terriers but with a smattering of Jack Daniels, Scotties and lurchers – this is clearly the Dog Social of the Year around North Yorks. The early part of the day was spent walking 10 yards and then chatting with a dog, walking a further 15 yards and stroking a pair of collies and so it went on. The girls spent time on the obligatory bouncy castle/slide complex and then on the karting track but we as the cash flowed from my pocket we averred on the offer of a chopper ride around town (at £25 a head).

The food was typical Yorkshire fayre – roast anything with chips, baps and tea. The stalls were enticing….Cantabrian Rat Catcher, The Stolen Tool Company, The British Ferret League, Wetwang Cushions, Louise’s Dog Leads, Arnold Philpott, Daughter and Grandaughters etc etc. Of course, what the Fair is about is ostensibly animals and their co-relation with Yorkshire folk but for me what was most fascinating for me was people-watching. Market Day in Great Bickering is interesting enough – retired farmers standing around in huddles talking about…well, what retired farmers talk about - but the Fair threw ALL the varied locals into this arena. One thing that Yorkshire folk do not seem to have much of a care for and that is Fashion. Come on Stella McC or Donatella – open a Fashion House up here, pet.

The last event of any mention for us was the Derwent Hunt Beagles – 3
riders in pink galloping around the arena blowing their hunting horns with the beagles eagerly following and most of audience orgiastically watching….save for our quintet – unabashed, Mrs R, HS and ES were jeering them. With my quiet sensibility I just looked embarrassed, took pics and imagined they were a rogue branch of the Balham HuntSab.....time to leave and head back to our car stickered with ‘For Fox sake – Ban the Hunt’ - all 4 tyres were in tact so it was off home.

* I have been asked, quite correctly, by Mrs R to state that Mrs R did in no way on that day in that circumstance jeer the hunters, though the lovely Mrs may well have caterwalled on other days in other circumstances....but that's a topic for another day. The record is straight-er!

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Oh to be 10 again

Refugee Farm entertained a VIM – my mother – over the BH weekend; she came not to see her favourite son but because she thought her grand-daughters were on the borderline of not remembering who she was and one refugee grand-daughter was approaching a double-digit Birthday celebration. My mum’s visits are infrequent because she believes that the temperature north of Newport Pagnell rarely tops -20°C, so that limits us to the months July and August. Anyway, she chanced the weather and we switched on the heating again. Brrrrrrrrrr……

I spent one weekend morning mowing and strimming the lawns and surrounds: it’s not dissimilar in mind-numbing ability to painting walls, jogging or writing a sketch for Jimmy Cricket (the nadir of my sketch-writing days) except that I was sweaty and my forearms ached. It gave me time to reflect on our divorce from Steiner education.

I will blog a comprehensive review of not just our Steiner experience but also our schooling rollercoaster soon. Meanwhile, IS has now been home for week and she is a different girl. IS was bored with her lessons (and her teacher), she was listless (bordering on mildly depressed) and she stoically continued at school despite our suggestions that she leave. In retrospective, IS was just waiting for us to make a definitive decision. This past week IS has been livelier, more communicative, done some home-schoolwork with her sister ES and been HAPPIER.

And today IS is 10 years old. Ohh, to be 10 again – playing football with friends in Holland Park, regularly peering down Madame’s cleavage in French and listening to Bobby Vee, Brenda Lee and Adam Faith on Radio Luxembourg under the covers with the lights out. Happy Birthday, IS!

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Shaking and Moving

Yesterday, after months of mounting difficulties, we shook the Steiner schooling tree and we removed our 2 younger girls, IS and ES, from the school.
Today we move on...though we know not quite where. (Home schooling for the time being)

After a fairly extraordinary 2½ years at this Steiner school we eventually discovered revelatory details of the covert core of the Waldorf teaching system.

With lightened hearts, we are looking forward to the Bank Holiday weekend...and beyond.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Questions are easy....

....answers are damn elusive!

Today was the sort of day when I was....
a) Pleased not to be in London,
b) Pleased to be in Great Bickering,
c) Perplexed at some of the questions that the day threw in my face.....

1. After 6 years why suddenly are there about 3 times more Guardians than usual in Great Bickering's finest newsagent?

2. Can a barn swallow mate with a sand martin?

3. How can a pane in our bedroom window, 15ft above ground, be broken, scattering glass in an arc of about 10 foot inside, yet......there's no sign of any 'projectile' inside the room?

4. Is Steiner schooling run by....gnomes from Saturn, the men from Atlantis or the 3rd Reich?

5. Why I have to write my blog long-hand in PENCIL before typing it?

Sunday, 29 April 2007

A distracting, musical evening in York

Whilst Mrs Refugee stewed and fumed most of the weekend after receiving a patronising letter from school, the rest of the Refugees perked her up an evening of Italian cuisine, lovely company and fab music.

Back in the elegant 80’s, Mrs R was pally with Mister Loudon Wainwright the Third and they’ve kept in touch since. Last night, we met up with LW and his ex, Suzzy (of The Roches), and his daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche. Good to see LW again but the real delight was meeting Suzzy and being charmed by Lucy – a real pearl.

If you haven’t caught LW3 live I entreat you to sling a few quid his way for a show: his songs are a unique mix of personal, angsty, satirical, bitter, sweet and bitter-sweet (The tour de force ‘Half Fist’ is a stonker). His performance is evocative, witty and enthralling. What we weren’t prepared for was Lucy’s captivating opening show – all we can say is LOOK OUT for the third of the Wainwright offspring.

And Mrs Refugee went home very happy.

Friday, 27 April 2007

A Yorkshire fog

The strangest of experiences this afternoon, but first a prologue....

In my life I have a wife, the gorgeous Mrs R, and 3 girls who shine brightly in our firmament. In our homestead we also have the 4th sister, a rescue hound called Poppy, along with 5 female guinea-pigs and 4 schnickled male guinea-pigs - for all intents now eunuchs - a snake of indeterminate sex....and previously 2 rats, 2 gerbils and a hamster ALL female. Then, there is my mother and 2 sisters. There's something missing in my life.

Now to strangeness. I was due to collect IS from school this afternoon and it so happened that I was asked to collect a further 5 pilgrims for the journey home. I arrived at school and IS got in. 10 minutes later - detention had stalled them - these 5 strapping 13 year-olds threw themselves into the car...and almost turned the car on its side.

Off we went blithely homewards over the North York Moors. I chatted to IS about her day. SILENCE from the seats behind. Not being one to ignore the flower of Yorkshire youth I made the odd enquiry of a lad or two. Suddenly, I began to detect an odour. It was a recognisable odour but I couldn't quite place it. Another 5 more minutes and I began to feel myself suffocating along with the stolid silence behind.

AT LAST I cracked it - the overpowering fug of burgeoning, teenage testosterone, missing from my life for many years. A suffocating cloud enveloping my head and senses. I stopped the car and let 2 lads out. Fresh Yorkshire air - clear and cool.

Next time I do a similar journey I might need an oxygen tank!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Sky’s the very limit

After lunch....(of course, it’s ‘dinner’ in Yorkshire)...the phone rings....
Fiona (VERY nice Scots voice): Hello, is that Mr Refugee?
LR: Yes.
Fiona: Hello, I’m Fiona from Sky television and I just wanted to ask you-
LR: I cancelled my sub a couple of years ago and you keep phoning me every few months
Fiona: Why was that?
LR: ‘Cos Rupert Murdoch’s a scumbag.
Fiona: (taken aback) err-hum…James Murdoch is now in charge-
LR: He’s a scumbag too..
LR: And the whole family…
Fiona: Mr R-
LR: ...have far too much power and money. So, Fiona, you were about to ask me.
Fiona: I don’t think so. (PHONE DOWN)

A very early start

I must be dreaming……there’s laughter and chatter, which I can’t decipher – it’s me as a child, happy, maybe I’m rolling over and over down a hill……then a thump from above and the bed’s creaking through the ceiling and giggling and chatter. The clock reads 3.10a.m. I stumble upstairs and find IS (from her bedroom below) and ES under the duvet, bouncing on the bed and giggling. I ask what’s going on? No reply. Go to sleep!

Back to bed, back to zzzzzzz….. Double giggles, chatter and creaking beds again. The clock reads 3.45a.m. I haul myself upstairs. What is going on with you two? No reply. It’s school tomorrow (in fact, today). Go to sleep!!

Back to bed, back to zzz….. The giggle-in surfaces once again. The clock reads 4.20a.m. I storm upstairs. I’ve had it with you two, mum’s really annoyed…etc…etc…etc… GO TO SLEEP!!!

Back to bed. I sleep another half an hour. What now? I can’t sleep – the birds are singing so bloody loud! I get up and my quiet hour is now 2 hours.

Later, I ask IS why she was awake from 3. “Dunno”, giggling.

I ask ES why she was awake from 3. “Dunno”, with a smile.
“Well, it won’t happen again...WILL IT?!”

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

'ebaygum'...and a teardrop slowly trickles down

I’ve had a weekend of…..Bubble wrap, parcel tape, tippex, marker pen, scotch tape, brown paper, Handle With Care tape, Customs Declarations and Air Mail stickers – yes, I’ve been ebaying. This was a weekend of ebaying with a certain finality. After 28 years I sold ALL my photographic equipment. Back in 1979, fFor want of something else to pursue, and as Phil Collins said to me, "well, it keeps you off the streets", I started photographing music concerts. I finished 4 years later when I discovered something I DID want to pursue, I started writing.

I had the most beautiful camera (I think) ever made. A Nikon F2A, black body with a bevy of precision Nikon AI lenses – holding the camera you could be seduced by the weight, the balance and the smooth, precise action of the shutter. The F2A was pure scientific artistry!

I’ve started to recall some of the most memorable concerts I snapped……
CHRIS REA – my first at The Venue, Victoria (Branson’s short-lived venture into music venues). He leapt off stage and started jumping onto tables playing a mean guitar.
CHARLIE DORE – again at the Venue, very hot. And the lovely Charlie was blistering.

JUDIE TZUKE – Dominion Tottenham Court Road. I arrived and got my camera ready, except…that I could not get the cover off the camera body. Nothing would budge the cover - I had jammed it on at the previous gig. .I just stood in the pit and watched a great show…feeling a complete twat. Next week, I went out and bought a second camera body.
THIRD WORLD – Hammersmith Odeon, a thunderous performance and a sweeeet lingering atmosphere.
THE TOURISTS (later The Eurythmics) – Hammersmith Odeon. The best singers/musicians ‘give’ photographers great shots. Annie Lennox KEPT giving me terrific shots. I was the ONLY photographer that night – remember this was 1980 and they were not big then – and as I walked out the Stage Door, Annie came up to me and asked if I wanted to join them upstairs. Naively, I replied that I had to get the rolls to Melody Maker asap. What kind of fool was I? I TURNED DOWN ANNIE LENNOX!!!
AL STEWART – Hammersmith Odeon. Not the greatest Stewart fan but a man’s gotta earn a crust. I was snapping away when I realised that the bassist was throwing me glances. 2 or 3 more snaps and I realised that it was an old schoolfriend, Robin Lamble, brother of Fairport drummer, Martin.
JOHN SEBASTIAN – Dominion. Leader of the much-lamented Lovin’ Spoonful played a solo gig of wit and great songs. Wonderful!
SQUEEZE – Rainbow, Finsbury Park. Rock’n’roll at its best.
JOHN MARTYN - Apollo, Victoria. Crap venue… the pantheon of unique Brit singer-songwriter-performers. A guitarist of exquisite beauty and peerless invention. Phil Collins was on drums and invited me for a beer.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL – Dominion. In front of an adoring audience a rare and mesmerising performance. She 'gave' me some wonderful shots.
RICHARD AND LINDA THOMPSON – Dominion. The acrimonious last few months of their musical partnership. Thompson is Britain’s finest axeman – and that includes you too, EC.
FAIRPORT CONVENTION - Half Moon, Putney. I was the only photographer at the release of Patrick Humphries' biog of FC. After the obligatory glad-handing and self-congratulation, Fairport played for the invited audience - the ONLY performance with Linda Thompson as lead singer. A boozy lunchtime time was had by all.

Not many of my crummy hand-printed photos left but here are 3………

....perhaps I could ebay these now. Who'll start me at a tenner....okay then, I'll take a fiver....look, final offer - 3 quid and I'll sign the lot!

Monday, 23 April 2007

An ASBO for the swallows

Back to the school run today – with a vengeance. Do I hate the internal combustion engine? YES! When the oil has been sucked from this whacky planet and cars and planes rust en masse all will be….quiet! But I transgress…..

I returned from the first school run, got the valet to park the auto and….got buzzed by a large swallow. I turned to see it zoom through the open barn window when a following swallow buzzed 2 foot overhead. Another 3 swallows were swooping and swerving over the garden as the first swallow exited the barn again to join the frolics. I spent the next 20 minutes, when I should have been working, transfixed like a tennis spectator at a 50-stroke rally watching the antics of our swallow compliment.

One week after the first swallow I can now report the state of swallowness at Great Bickering Farm…..2 swallows in the shed, 2 swallows in the garage and 5 swallows in the barn – now, my imaginative feeling is that there is one very lucky swallow in the barn.

I think I’m also pretty close to cracking what goes down in the first week of the swallows returning. The scout swallow arrives to check out the old homestead, kicks out the noisy pigeon neighbours and then goes and gets some fresh straw and mud for a comfortable new bed. Then, it’s a couple of raucous days, without the impending missus, buzzing around town, chatting up a few different birds and gorging on some very tasty morsels.

(There are 2 swallows who are so aerially frisky with the most contorted courtship that I fear for their safety)

When the others arrive they all put on a series of aerial pyrotechnics, obviously for the sake of us poor disadvantaged mortals, and after dark it’s constant carousing and rampant nookey. I’m not sure I could get 100 foot in the air after a heavy night in a dark barn but these energetic blighters can. Some neighbours we have here.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Answer: Bush and Blair

Question: Who will ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven after the Iraq ‘war’ ends?

I was intending to break from my musings on the North-South divide and write a piece on anti-war songs but I was so appalled at the bloodbath in Iraq yesterday that I remain amazed at how quickly Iraq has fallen apart.

Recently, the UN produced a report stating that Bush and Cheney’s bright shining lie will have cost them $3trillion……so far it has cost us (the UK) £5+billion – contrast that with the NHS deficit of £500+million – but the mind-numbing figures are 2 million Iraqis that have fled their country, the 2 million who are displaced and the obscene (holocaust?) number of 600,000+ Iraqis who have died, let alone those maimed and traumatised.

Very soon, the neo-conservative Blair will depart and we’ll have no more of the messianic, money-grubbing zealot and we’ll welcome, errm….Gordie, his pathologically sulking, witless paymaster and fellow war criminal.

And now for a musical interlude. Anti-war protest songs have played a long and honourable part for centuries. As a teenager, I recall the scores of excellent and potent songs that accompanied those many anti-Vietnam war rallies.

Of all the Iraq anti-war songs – Neil Young, Billy Bragg, REM, Lenny Kravitz – the 2 clips that I’ve posted are the best......

Randy Newman is the finest writer of songs the past 45 years – arguably with Dylan.

I used to knock around with members of Fairport Convention in the late 60’s in North London and Richard Thompson, even at the age of 17-18, was a wizard guitarist. Richard tended to have a socio-political edge to many of his songs but ‘Dad’s gonna kill me’ is a stunning piece of writing and a wonderful song.

Monday, 16 April 2007

The BEST hot chocolate in the WORLD

When we were Londoners in London we would tend to visit SC’s parents 2, or sometimes 3, times a year – dutifully at Christmas and invariably summer. Now Scarborough would not be high on my list to visit in high summer but it certainly is for thousands who jam themselves into the hotels, b&bs and caravans and then spill out onto the streets and beaches and sea but, on one occasion in 1999 on our sojourn north we decided to experience Scarborough. (Now I know the time to happily visit Scarborough is the months from September to May)

To escape the Barbie-pink bodies, their overheated children, the fume-inducing traffic and the overpowering odour of fish’n’chips, we looked to take refuge from the teeming Foreshore Road and headed in the tram upwards to St Nicholas Cliff, exiting to…Caffe Italia. This unprepossessing caffe had crammed and limited seating and had a stop-still sign ‘NO PUSH-CHAIRS INSIDE THE CAFFE’: but we did spy a genuine Italian coffee machine on the side counter AND a free table for 4.

Somehow – perhaps we looked like desperate strangers and SC was heavily pregnant – the proprietress allowed us to prop our buggy against the wall INSIDE. We all enjoyed our toasties but, surprisingly, the cappuccinos and hot chocolates were as good as or better than any London café could concoct.

TODAY…we took advantage of the continuing school hols and a beautiful spring morning, and loaded everyone into the car including our 6 year-old rescue hound of dubious parentage, Poppy. We headed for Scarborough’s North Bay and had an exhilarating – sunny but cold - walk on a deserted beach throwing stones for the inexhaustible Poppy.

Then, into the car and directly to the South Bay and our obligatory visit to Caffe Italia. The Caffe reminds me of the sitcom
Cheers – a regular cast of great characters, a lot of topical and witty chat, great food and drink all held together by the lovely Jeanette.

Jeanette does not suffer unacceptable customers lightly and we feel privileged that, as outsiders, we have been accepted into this happy coterie. Jeanette’s home-made soups are superb, her filled and toasted foccaccias and ciabattas are terrific, her range of coffees (and dandelion tea) are as good as Bar Italia in Greek Street, Soho, BUT……trying to describe Jeanette’s dark, and white, hot chocolate (Ciobar) drink is nigh impossible except to say that it is undoubtedly the BEST hot chocolate in the WORLD.

Disbelieve me if you dare but the only way is to go to Caffe Italia - tell Jeanette that London Refugee recommended you.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

The return of our barn swallows

There are some times I wish I could instantly transport myself from the torpor of 'up north' back to London just to savour the many aspects that make it such a compelling metropolis. But on this day of this year I wouldn't be any other place in the damn world. Mark the time and day well – 11.10am on Sunday the 15th April: because today saw the return of the first barn swallow of the year - all the way from...well, who knows where - Morocco, The Nile Valley, the Sahara...covering up to 200 miles a day. One day the swallows are absent from our lives and the next day they return and their antics and life-cycle enhance our lives.

This year I was the first to spot that graceful swoop of the first (male) swallow into the open window of our derelict barn. And within 15 seconds the swallow had zoomed out again and was soaring away…probably to find some tasty morsels after many days on the wing. I mean, if you’d just flown hundreds of miles to reach home after 7 months away, what would you do – of course, pop down the corner shop and get a pinta milk and some chocolate digestives. So, this first swallow probably dashed off for some water from the beck and a few tasty flies and bluebottles.

In 7 years of seeing these remarkable birds at close quarters it never fails to amaze me, so I’ve been really told, that swallows’ homing instincts are so precise that the previous year’s broods invariably return to their same barn year after year. Maybe this swallow was one of the youngsters who hatched just 10-11 months ago.

Meanwhile, each early morning is now a symphony of birdsong. This tends to start around 5 (yes, in the morning) with the avian alarm clock of a droning pigeon on or around our roof. By the time I make my way downstairs to my workroom for my ‘quiet’ hour before the rest of the house wakes I can look out of the kitchen window and see a bevy of frisky, communal sparrows flitting in and out of the ivy/Russian vine hedge and making a chirrupy cacophony. Yesterday I heard a gorgeous, solitary song thrush slowly and methodically cracking away at a snail’s shell for its breakfast – later I heard its stunning song as it sat on the wall. There are plenty of blackbirds as the day progresses overriding the sparrows’ twitterings - the male singing to the female and the female returning a complex melody. And occasionally I may wake in the night and hear the sound of an owl in a nearby high roof or the church cross. (In the next week or two the swifts will arrive and their screeching swoops will be the new early morning alarm clock) But for me the finest sound and sight is the happy chatter and playful swooping and interplay of the swallow.

Strewth! Never did I think that I would behave like a man whose gone ga-ga watching and listening to birds. I make no apology for saying that I'll be waxing ad nauseam about our barn swallows over the next 6 months. So it flies.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

An everyday story of country folk

Last week SC and I were told a tale which left us open-mouthed and angry.

I remain incensed now so if you're sitting comfortably.....let me recount, as best I can, a tale of everyday Yorkshire country folk. And who can be more countrified and folkier than farming folk.

IS has a close and loyal friend, R, who is also 9, whose parents, D and J, have a farm 5 miles away. One evening last summer, D and J decided to venture far from their local pub and visit Great Bickering for a round of drinks at one of our fine hostelries.

After their drink they set off at a leisurely pace in their pick-up truck.....and they noticed a quartet of (drunken?) youths causing a commotion in the street by kicking cars as they stopped at lights. As D pulled up at the traffic lights, the lead youth came over and starting kicking D's pick-up. D is not a big man at all but he got out to remonstrate with the 6 ft youth whilst J, terrified, locked herself in the pick-up. The youth then punched and kicked D, who, in self-defence, grabbed a piece of timber from his pick-up and hit the youth twice over the shoulder and arm. The second youth then brandished a knife at D who bravely warned him off. Naturally shaken, D promptly got back in his truck and drove off home.

The next day, D and J were BOTH arrested and locked up for several hours. The police drove home a charge of assault on D, and a couple of very anxious months later, D appeared in court. In response to his solicitor's promptings, scared that he would be jailed and to expedite the entire sorry incident, D, in his naievety, pleaded guilty and he was fined over £2000. D and J had to fork out a further £6000 in fees etc. As a result, D now has a criminal record. D has now lost his shotgun and his licence, both crucial to a farmer. D and J can no longer foster children as they have for the past 5 years. And all this happened to a man who, we were told, had never incurred a parking ticket.

Some salient facts also came out. The lead youth, BJ, had had several brushes with the law in his 18 years. BJ was ‘asked to leave’ GB’s only Wine Bar prior to the assault and this was recorded on CCTV - yes, even Great Bickering has an array of technofangled equipment. The CCTV recording was suppressed by the police. The youth with the knife has since being arrested and is on bail. BJ was allegedly so drunk that day that he was unable to make any statement at all.

The irony is that D later heard that his solicitor and the presiding judge later went to a funeral and the judge expressed his surprise that D had pleaded guilty! Too right!

So ashamed and shocked were D and J that they did not tell us until now, for several months. Now, whilst we shouldn't get too sympathetic for the plight of D and J, let us not forget the poor drunken 'victim' who apparently now has a burgeoning career serving Her Majesty in Iraq (I’m sure other squaddies can deal with BJ but pity the poor Iraqis).

Oh, and one further fact – would this case have ANYTHING to do with the fact that BJ’s darling daddy has a very prominent position in the local police force.


Friday, 13 April 2007

Staying in the George Dubya Bush Suite

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light….we had a visitor – my very dear and (very) old friend Peter – eminent neurologist and humourist – staying for a couple of days. It was his first visit to Great Bickering so we gave him the refurbished George Dubya Suite.

The suite consists of the usual furniture but a few choice furnishings….
Double-bed with duvet imprinted with figures of Paul Wolfowitz and Karl Rove, with Scooter Libby bedpan,
By the bed, the Richard Perle alarm clock,
The Entire Collected Speeches of Dick Cheney comprising half a chapter,
An effigy of Ahmadinajad and several sharp pins,
A wall-to-wall mural of John Bolton – God Bless Him,
The Condi Rice medicine cabinet – full of pure opium,
Kneeling Bush and Blair Prayer Dolls (facing AWAY from Mecca),
A television with only ONE channel - Fox News,
The Donald Rumsfeld bidet – one hefty yank and everything gets flushed down to Iraq,
Charlton Heston singing “Maybe it’s because I’m a neocon…”

Peter lives in…the land of the free and the home of the brave.

NOTA MOLTO BENE: Peter is a GREAT American unlike any of those aforementioned.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Shock! Horror! Blitzen! Disaster!

We’ve just returned from our first Easter holiday out of England in a decade with a first visit to Majorca. Apart from suffering a good deal of….rain, thunderstorms, cold, no sea-swimming and Brit TV in the villa, the shock was just how delightful Majorca and the Mallorcans were.

There are 3 activities guaranteed to make our (essentially, our girls) holiday go swimmingly….
1. The Sea
2. The pool
3. Animals – anything from a stray kitten to a beached jellyfish.

As 1 and 2 were out of order, we trekked to ‘Safari-Zoo’ near Cala Millor. The reality didn’t quite match up to the glossy leaflet. Whilst the train ride through the Park allowed us to see various ‘wild’ animals roaming ‘wild’, the zoo section was distressing: in particular, a lone giraffe ploughing a furrow up from left to right to left to right…..tigers and lions looking scruffy in their respective 20foot square cages…worst of all, 2 lovely adult chimps who appeared to be stir-crazy. Amazingly, one German – probably about 40-ish and probably the CEO of Audi Deutschland – started to leap up and down in front of the chimps. As a result, the 2 chimps ran around their cage and threw themselves against the bars. This caused great mirth to most of the watching Germans, French, Spanish, Brits. Bloody astonishing and depressing!

If you visit Majorca you can’t fail to see and/or tangle with the wave-like hordes of German bikers. Germans of every size, sex and shape cycle and sweat and drink their holiday away in migraine-inducing coloured lycra over the Majorcan landscape. Pass me another plate of paella.

Returning from the airport we drove into our glorious township only to find Great Bickering had become….The Town With No Name. The town sign that read ….”GREAT BICKERING TWINNED WITH BADER-MEINHOF” and then a small German flag”…had disappeared! (see pic below)

What has happened to our town sign?
Has GB been merged with…Bader-Meinhof?
Am I the only concerned citizen in GB, er B-M?

I will investigate, write to that supersleuth Mr Blair and report back.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Alfred Wallis AND Margaret Mellis

Having written comedy sketch material and stand-up material for years, and then other writing projects, I decided to leave laughter behind. I completed a ‘script doctor’ job on a WW2 movie called The Edelweiss Pirates, which was finally released in 2005, but not in Britain! Then, in the 2 years before we left London I embarked on the most intensive piece of work of my career - a screenplay on the last years of the painter Alfred Wallis.

I carried out a series of interviews with people who knew of, or knew, Wallis, including the last 2 living painters who knew Wallis – Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Margaret Mellis.

Margaret Mellis gave me, and the Refugee family, a great deal of her time over 3 weekends over a year and some wonderful insights into life in the 1940’s with the remarkable Wallis. Margaret concluded that Wallis was the finest British painter because he was so ‘true’. In turn, I came to the conclusion that Margaret Mellis was the finest FEMALE British painter.

(Below is her self-portrait from 1935 when she was 21)

Talking with Margaret gave me the key to the denouement of any screenplay on Wallis and I saw her role in it. Despite my agent, Ian, declaiming that “painters don’t sell movies”. I’m now hoping that I might plough through the shelves of Wallis material and head towards a script: or perhaps even a radio play!?

Here is a portrait of Wallis and an example of his work.

Unfortunately, Margaret is now 93 years old and has been in failing health for some years but I trust that someday SOON someone will undertake a comprehensive exhibition of her extraordinary range of work.


Wednesday, 28 March 2007

5 hours on the road

Today was Numb Bum Day. It went something like this….

I took HS to school – 90 minutes in the car. Bum okay.
Back home, I went into town, made a cuppa and checked emails etc.
At midday I set off to collect ES from school – 60 minutes in the car. Bum a little numb.
We had lunch, I filled the car with petrol and headed back to York as HS had an early finish – 90 minutes in the car. Bum losing sensation.
With 15 minutes to contemplate the meaning of Yorkshire life and some gentle massage I then took IS to her violin lesson – 60 minutes in the car. Bum completely flabbed out!
Back to dinner, heavy buttock pummelling and I fell asleep before The Apprentice.

In Balham the school runs would have equivocated to 30 TOTAL minutes of walking, aerobic exercise and a teency effort towards planet-saving.


Monday, 26 March 2007

Bilsdale heaven….and hell

Through ES’s 2 years at the excellent Montessori Nursery in Wombleton, we met Djamilla and later her husband, Paul – both legal eagles. Like us, they boldly migrated north from London. Like us, they have 3 children. Unlike us constant townies, they live in the relative wilds of Bilsdale Moor – great in the summer, not so great in the winter.

Yesterday, we went for a wonderful lunch at their house – it was my first visit there. With bright weather and sparky company it was a perfect day and it was finalised with a visit from a neighbouring farmer delivering 2 chocolate(-coloured) sheep to join their menagerie.

Sadly, the day had a tragic aspect. 5 minutes down the road from their house we were stopped by the cops – due to a very recent accident we were detoured an hour out of our way. A couple of days later we discovered that the
infamous B1257 had claimed yet another biking victim.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Some like it cold

We woke up this morning to a warm house but we had had 24 cold, then freezing, hours after our boiler had gone on strike. Worse still, our very trusty heating engineer, Slim, was probably on his annual Scots retreat. And even worse still, we didn’t even have a trusty reserve.

So we did what you round here – go next door, go to other neighbours, go to the newsagent, go to the café….for a personal recommendation. By Saturday lunchtime we had 5 names and numbers of which 4 were unobtainable and 1 was on a job. So, a little desperate, we turned to good old Yellow Pages.

An hour later, an ex-pat Welshman, BI, rolled up and spent an hour dismantling various parts of our ancient boiler and blathering about Cardiff being like Beirut (!?). women were not to be trusted or married, dogs never let you down and how he sailed through his heating course. Meanwhile, SC kept glancing at me with that stroppy look that implied, ‘watch it’.

Needless to say BI finally extinguished his blow-torch and sighed, “You’re gonna need a new boiler. And I can’t do it on me own – I’m gonna get me mate Doddle, and we’re dead busy…and…and…about £3000.”

Result: Abject, cold misery.

SC said that she didn’t trust BI from the minute he walked and said that she phone the ‘man on the job’. MOTJ, Glyn said he would finish his dinner and 15 minutes later he was sitting by our ‘dead’ boiler and replacing the thermocouple. 10 minutes later our boiler was roaring and Glyn, Gawd bless his little fleecy socks, saved us £2960 and departed with profuse thanks ringing around Great Bickering.

Result: Warm happiness AND a very trusty reserve heating engineer.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Treading scholastic water

SC loaded her sharpshooters slung them in her holster and went to school for a showdown with IS’s teacher, GJ. Previous meetings with GJ had not gone well. In fact, previous meetings had gone badly, borderline terminal. Where calm and reason would have not only have reinforced our case but highlighted the deficiencies in GJ’s teaching ability. On the past 2 occasions, unfortunately but understandably, SC had lost her reasonable stance and became too emotional. And GJ clearly has no empathy with SC.

This meeting was predicated on the fact that IS has become bored with school and her work has suffered. The meeting went according to form. SC scrolled out a litany of our and IS’s educational woes: IS is not stimulated in class, her writing has deteriorated, her stories are flat, she feels that GJ doesn’t include her and, well, GJ just doesn’t like her. All SCgot back from GJ, in a mock-surprised, fake-anguished North-east accent was, “Oh really”, “That’s news to me”, “I am surprised” and a tilted, quizzical face.

The final repartee went along the lines of….
SC: When the whole of the class was writing this class poem why wasn’t IS involved?
GJ: I really don’t know. I think she was doing her own poem.
SC: But her poem is hardly started.
GJ: Well, all IS’s ideas were used up on the class poem.
SC: So, this is what’s happened to her writing?
GJ: Yes, I think she’s got writer’s block.

Hemingway had writer’s block, Pynchon had writer’s block but a 9 year-old girl…..!? Save me from the amateurs (GJ only has a NEST - North East Steiner Training – qualification: she previously ran a helath food store) who think are capable teachers.

IS is very bright. IS LOVES reading – she’s nearly finished Watership Down. IS has a gentle, imaginative way with words. IS is so quick-witted and witty – I tell her she’ll take up Dawn French’s mantle one day. So, having to deal with this teacher is frustrating, distressing and emotionally draining……..

Until the next educational hiatus….which I fear is not too far away!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Who do you think you are kidding Mr Wordsworth

We woke to great excitement from our household and particularly for our dog, Poppy – 3 to 5 inches of fresh snow! Enough snow for us concerned parents, and soft Southern drivers, to say, “School’s off today, girls”. SC and I might sometimes complain when the girls are home and eventually cry, “We’re bored”, but we can’t often say that they’re any nuisance when we’re trying to eke out a crumb. Today, they were a delight to have home.

Initially, we thought we might manage to go toboganning but by midday most of the snow had disappeared under a steady spring sun. As for the daffodils that should have flowered by now on the bank in front of our house, hail, sleet, snow and ice have put them into suspended florification.

On one of our visits before we moved up here, SC and I tried the Farndale Daffodil Walk. It’s one of the great walks around the North York Moors area. Try this - it does as good a job of advertising the walk as any and it ends in a welcome tea at The Daffy Caffy……Farndale Daffodil Walk.

It’s probably time for us all to try that walk once again.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Global freezing

Apart from irregular snow flurries the past couple of days, we’ve avoided the brunt of the arctic blast that has hit most of the rest of the country. When I took the two younger girls to school over the Moors we realised that the Moors had had quite a snow fall overnight.

Further snow flurries carried on during the morning and I decided to collect the girls from school early just in case…….. Many times during the year the Moors drive is stunning and my lunchtime drive was no exception - it started in dazzling sun, with dark clouds scudding around and then I plateaued to the amazing Blakey Ridge
in a hailstorm and the snow had drifted to a foot or so.

The day before SC had almost skidded off the road so I drove the girls home stealthily along this wild and treacherous landscape with extraordinary cloud formations. On the descent from the Moors the sun was shining fiercely again.

In Yorkshire, most drivers are not only experienced of driving in adverse conditions but have no fear of driving in snow. There’s a great attitude of getting on with it and bugger it. Up here you know that you’re going to have 1, 2, even 3 heavy snowfalls a winter so you just get on with it.

Whereas my recollections of snow in London were the shock and awe of inexperienced London drivers. Invariably, driving was hazardous because most drivers had little experience of driving in snow, and chaotic because of skidding in cramped conditions and minor accidents. Send a city-load of soft Southerners up here for a couple of winters – that’ll sort them out!

Monday, 19 March 2007

Seasons RIP

By the time I had finished the school run and returned to Great Bickering there were snow flurries; as the younger girls are schooled in the heart of the North York Moors snow always causes anxieties. Will the snow really dump on the Moors and make the road impassable? (2 years ago a helicopter had to rescue an RAC man trapped in a 12 foot snowdrift)

The snow soon stopped and I walked into town. Monday is Market Day in Great Bickering and I dropped in to our favourite shop, previously known as Seasons, for the latest gossip. Not only does it have a great range of deli products but Seasons has a top-notch bevy of staff but it came to a sticky end a few weeks ago – expanded over-ambitiously and the directors indulged in one too many Merc and…it went into liquidation. The previous owners (in the guise of a shining new company) bid to buy it back from the liquidator but they were beaten by a couple of local entrepreneurial businessmen.

So Seasons is being revamped as……well, no one quite knows what the new name is for certain.

Another space to watch.

The backbone of the store - Jenny and Mandy - was looking harassed and overworked but I dragged them outside for a pic in front of the newly-painted but unnamed shop. Then I noticed that a couple of very loyal staff have gone AWOL and I was led into a corner away from prying ears and my worst fears were confirmed – good staff were being sacked and not replaced. This does NOT augur well.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

À la recherche du temps Spitting


Yesterday I drove to Sheffield to see the Wednesday part of the city play Wolves. I had parked 2 streets from the ground and not enjoying the climax of the game – we were 2-1 down – I bounded down the stadium steps…..only to hear a mighty roar of Keee-ohhhh, Keee-ohhhh! Score 2-2. I do hate missing a crucial goal. Grrrr!

(Meanwhile, our local Great Bickering disUnited lost 14-0 to Wetwang Railway – our Manager blamed the pitch. We’ll score yet this season. Come'on you disUnited!)

Today is Mothering Sunday and SC’s folks came for lunch to share our roasted organic ox. Yummee! The beast came from our splendid organic butcher-farm shop. Am I allowed to advertise on a blog?! What the bejezzers! Everyone should shop at Mike and Pam's Farm Shop - no antibiotics, no growth hormones, fab service!

Late in the afternoon I caught up with my blog and decided to check out some other blogs. I noticed that some had video clips. neat!

I went off and rummaged ni the last of our packing boxes. 20 minutes later I emerged with just the thing – a videotape from June 1984 but…would it still play okay and could I transfer it? I called up SC and the girls and played them something they’d been longing to see for years……the first sketch I ever had on TV, for Spitting Image. We watched and laughed – actually the girls didn’t – at sketches almost 25 old.

Now comes the tricky job of transferring the video to computer. My first attempt with various multicoloured leads was an abject failure but I will not be beaten by technology. Watch this video space.

Friday, 16 March 2007

These Boots are made for privatising

How ironic that I publicise my beef against the flaky ABC pharmacy group when along comes the BIG financial story of the week.

Anyone who knows that I had a previous life as a pill-pusher will know that I have jaundiced and vocal views of many aspects of my first profession. My arrows of wrath are particularly directed at the retail sector, now known as the ‘community’ sector – that’s yer actual dear little local shops. And if you hadn’t noticed, the independent pharmacy, with its kindly white-coated pharmacist who has knowledge and time to help is more endangered than the polar bear. And why is that? Because the phalanx of cash-rich multiples, who I won’t deign to mention, just come along and buy up the NHS contract of the independent pharmacy and start to crunch numbers and targets for high-tech pharmacists to attain. The result is just a pleasant memory of a kindly white-coated pharmacist with knowledge and time to help.

Just 7 months ago two of these pharmacy giants, Alliance-Unichem and Boots, merged to form a multi-billion pound empire. The architect of that plan, Signor Pissonia, is now plotting with KKK, a private Equity group, to take this
fledgling behemoth into private hands.

So, on top of the £1.3bn Pissonia made from the previous merger he would now will make millions more through this leveraged buyout. And let’s not forget Pissonia’s fellow directors who are probably rushing around with stiffies and getting hypertensive at the thought of private equity riches for their already bulging pockets.

Oh, and let’s forget the ‘little’ people who work so hard for Alliance-Boots. Will they benefit from this privatisation? A few might, but most likely there would be store closures and land sell-offs, pensions would be affected and customer services reduced. AND if the company leaves the stock market all of this would carry on in private corners without any public scrutiny whatsoever. Perhaps, I’m being a tad cynical but didn’t this same thing just happen with the AA in 2004.

Thinking back, maybe that explains why I had to wait 7+ hours for the AA to get me home one winter’s night in 2005.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Druggist, medicate thyself and....Comic Relief

I'm not feeling sorry for myself...really...but I think I've got some mild symptoms of....pleurisy, or pneumonia, maybe beri-beri. I suppose it could be quarternary syphilis or even McWhirter's Disease or if I'm lucky yeast pharyngitis or, yes....Yorkshire sheepfondlers lung!

After about 10 days of perisitent and irritating coughing I'm feeling a bit weary. If only there was some Harry Lime figure down a Great Bickering mean street - a knowing smile in the shadows, I hand over a wad of notes and receive an unmarked box of bugbusters in return. I phoned the GP instead. A duty nurse phoned back and assured me that I didn't need to see a physician - it was just a pesky virus and just keep sucking good old
Hall's Mentholyptus lozenges. Damn good jollop for the hot tub, strolling round Lidl or on the terraces.


Just in case anyone in the rest of world doesn't's Comic Relief this week and this culminates in tomorrow's jamboree around Britain.

Richard Curtis has done wonders everywhichway.....which reminds me of a swish St John's Wood party in the mid-90's which we toddled along to. Amongst the glitterati was RC and his missus, Emma Freud, who, heavily pregnant, told me that my babe-in-arms HS was the cutest she'd seen. Meanwhile SC and Curtis got into a fond reminiscence as SC's dad had taught Curtis Latin at school.
(Later, we told my father-in-law about the meeting and he guffawed that, "I didn't think that boy would come to anything")

Which leads neatly to......
In our experience there are two types of local school.........
Unenlightened and worthy school where IS and ES school - they do NOT celebrate Red Nose Day. Boohoo!
Enlightened and fun school where HS schools - they most certainly celebrate Red Nose Day. Hooorray!
Back to the important case you ain't handed over some dosh, try this here link......Comic Relief!
Give! Loads! Now! Cos that would be ...nice!

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

A crowd of golden daffodils

I drew the car journey straw to take HS to school in York this morning. The day started with a heavy frost under a startling blue Yorkshire sky - something you'd never see in Balham - which made a very pleasant drive. And as you enter along the Northern artery into York you come upon a 600 yard avenue of daffodils. They were nearly all in full bloom and are so bright even on a sunny morning – like landing lights on an airport runway. We see more daffodils in one spring in Yorkshire than in my whole life in London - it is a lovely time to visit Yorkshire.

....First Week in Great Bickering - mid-April 2001

I always find it amusing, if not troubling, that you can spend as little as an hour or so on what is probably going to be the biggest purchase of your life – a house – and can then spend years agonising of it.

The first week living in our new new house was an undiluted shock – the house defied an estate agent’s finest prose:
The Kitchen. It probably hadn’t been DIY’d for 30 years – Mushroom-coloured walls were not from Sarah Beany’s catalogue. The cupboards were falling off their hinges and the oven was……aagghhhh! Then there was half-tiled, half-carpetted floor that smelt of old wet dog. Pass the clothes peg!
The Larder. We stayed out of it for weeks,
The Sitting-room. The mankiest carpet this side of Krakatoa.
SC’s studio. Walls of nauseous crimson and an odour of 10,000 dead ciggies,
The Bathroom. Steps up to the bath and a carpet smelling of cat pee. Pass the air freshener!
Different wallpaper in EACH room – goodness knows what was concealed.
The rambling garden. Completely overgrown with inappropriate plants, shrubs and trees. At least it must have been low maintenance.
The Barns. Uninhabited and delapidated.

As for the house, we knew that the survey had thrown up some issues that needed work and that equated to a reduction in the asking price but now we had to find builders who could carry out the work. So, here are the London Refugees with our 2 London guinea-pigs, Mango and Pebble, with 2 weeks until our first Yorkshire school experience and surrounded by some 70 packing boxes and no paid work in this wreck of a house and grounds.
What next?

We woke at the end of this week to a 3-hour blizzard…in mid-April! Is this what our life was destined to be?
Undaunted, SC had a bright vision of how our Great Bickering pile would be……within months.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Great Bickering on the national map

Now then, as they say in these parts, I was happening to read my Saturday rag when I leafed over to, "LET'S MOVE TO....Great Bickering, North Yorkshire" compiled by some Southern hack called Tom Dyckhoff. Well, I could have choked on my black pudding and lard breakfast butty!

Why didn't Tommy ask SC and I to pen this piece - I mean, we're just the folk who know all about 'moving to Great Bickering' and we could do with the £10 journalist fee.
Okay, Tommy, here are a few FAR more interesting things that Great Bickering has 'going for it':
.....our lovely old Castle Cinema has gone and soon to be forgotten - bought by some property developer. Philistine! Blub, blub. And what's become of the stuffed badger that stood in the foyer?
.....Scandal 1 - local councillor runs off with thousands in cash and a local schoolgirl,
.....There is a Conservative Club, a Liberal Club but no Labour Club, Green Club or UKIP Club,
.....The Star Inn has fallen from the pedestal of 'greatest restaurant in Britain',
.....Seasons has gone bust! We await the naming of the resurgent but now severely understaffed store,
.....Scandal 2 - the illegal parking in Market Place rivals Golders Green Road but without the BMWs, Mercs and blue rinses,
.....Try hanging out at Caffe Stop (rather than Concorde),
.....Tobogganing behind our house is the best in North Yorks,
.....Don't fret if you need a hair makeover - Great Bickering is overloaded with hair salons,
.....Market Day on Monday is a sociological treat - retired farmers gather in clumps and dressed as they have for 50 years and talk a language all of their own,
.....Scandal 3 - Hey Tom, why NO mention of North Yorkshire's finest Library in Great Bickering. A top place.
.....and lastly a royal mention of Great Bickering Castle - ruined but standing and in the fief of King William IV and Queen Kate.

So, Tommy, why not come to Great Bickering and do a proper 'outsider' literary makeover - you could stay in our pigbarn and we might even clear it out for you.

Friday, 9 March 2007

What to do with a pestle

Dear GP,

How kind of you to respond to my letter to your boss, KT, with your recent email – can I say how impressed I was by all the letters after your name and your title, ‘Clinical Governance’, eh? Heavy!
(I presume that KT didn’t reply to me personally as it was her night pole-dancing at Miroslav’s Club in Old Compton Street; I’m so glad it doesn’t clash with her pharmaceutical oath)

I have been searching in my Pharmacopoeial thesaurus for the precise description for the content of your email and I've settled on....Bollocks. In fact, Total bollocks!

But let’s not get emotional this early in our relationship so let me recap on my letter to ABC, the universe’s largest pharmacy group….”because we care…about our share price and not going private”. Essentially, GP, I regress to my erstwhile trade on a very occasional, emergency basis for ABC and, in return……I, and let’s not beat about bushes, ‘others’, do not get paid correctly. Then, after I scream and go red in the nose and flagellate myself, you DO pay me but you never say sorry which, as ES aged 7 says, is awfully bad manners.

As to the total bollocks of your letter I am switching back to my literary hat and suggesting that it was a masterpiece of denial, trivia, obscurantism, deflection and spin not to mention mis-spellings and lousy grammar. And I was so anticipating a reply to my 5 questions. My breath remains baited on the question of that implied, mittyish relationship between ABC and Her Majesty’s Revenue. And surely can it be true that one of your arrogant, officious, patronising, egotistical and incompetent Area Mangers had a spell at HM’s Pleasure!?

So, are we any further forward? I do hope so.
Except……you say you are handing me some of my cash from my hard work for your company, yet you’re redesignating it as a “goodwill gesture”. I have to say I’m struggling with that concept.

In closing, GP, let this toughened-up Southerner up North give a softened-up Northerner down South some advice. I worry about your psychological and professional well-being and I diagnose that you have a medical condition known as anal retention. So let me switch professional hats once again and suggest an ice-cold size 28 pestle shoved very solidly up your…CENSORED!!!

Comradely yours,
London Refugee

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Treading scholatic waters

Over the weekend we came to a decision about schooling – we are making no decision on schooling!We’ve decided against moving IS from her Steiner school to a local state Primary school or even to home-schooling. Despite the draining car journeys, her uninspiring teacher and her ambivalence about being at the school, IS is relatively content at the school. And we weren’t exactly knocked sideways by the local Primary - it’s something about devils and deep blues.

We also had to consider ES who has a wonderful new teacher, Louise, for almost half a term now. Louise has brought all the strengths of the state system to the ‘sensibilities’ of Steiner. ES not only really likes her teacher but ES is whizzing on this past 4 weeks.

So, the NO decision was a tentative positive decision……until the next hiatus.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

It all comes round again

I always thought that I would never write a blog.
And I always thought that I would never own an ipod.

HS received a black ipod from us for Christmas. It was the first time that I'd held an ipod. Hey, very sleek design - from California - but typically made in China, duhh! HS gave me her first CD to import onto her ipod - Hilary Duff. How interesting that HS put her favourite singer first on her ipod.

A couple of weeks ago it was my Birthday. After the home-made cards and usual preliminary presents - bars of white chocolate, phrenology bust and nodding Jesus - I opened my main prezzie. A video ipod! Hey, er...thanks girls...just what I umm, always wanted.

Stuff happens for a few days as I avoided the ipod for a few days. Finally I had a proper and intimate fondle with it. And then I had what could be a tough decision - what to ipod on first!? Instinctively I went to the shelf and took down the most influentional album from my teenage years -
Fairport Convention, 1st album. Halcyon days!

ipod, blog, what personal taboo should I break next? Let's have a about.......
Tantric sex?

...We’re In – 7th April 2001

Just before 8 o’clock on that fine spring Friday morning we turned into the private road that led to the back of Maison Nous in Great Bickerin Bickering. Astonished, we found the redoubtable John and Stuart already unloading our gear from the pantechnicon into the garden.

We entered the house through the back door that led in to the kitchen. The girls ran through the house investigating each room. We hadn’t seen the house for 3 or 4 weeks and now in its emptiness we began to appreciate the full extent of what we’d bought. What struck me was just how dull and grimy and smelly and old it was – well, it had been built at the time that Handel was writing his Oratorio. SC and I got involved with John and Stuart and each and every packing box and each piece of furniture that was unloaded.

Neither of them big men, John, a stocky Londoner of about 40, and Stuart, a wiry Kiwi in his middish 20’s, were amazing, even heroic. They had helped pack, driven the 250 miles north, been delayed a day and now they were turbocharged. We stopped for substantial sandwiches for lunch and regular drinks but they worked relentlessly through the day. They emptied the contents of the pantechnicon into the house and barn, assembled all beds and placed furniture in each room with great speed and care and always with good humour.

Strike 2 to the London crew.

Around about 8 in the evening the house was still and full. John and Stuart were invited to use the feeble shower and we ordered fish and chips from the shop opposite. After the Keystone Removals of yesterday we were full of gratitude and proud of ‘our’ guys; and we sent John and Stuart southwards with gratitude and a well-deserved tip.

Strike 3 to the London Crew!

Meanwhile 5 London Refugees collapsed in our newly-made beds and dreamt of what the future would bring.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Morning has broken

Most mornings I have my quiet hour to myself every morning. I let the dawg out, make a cuppa, go to my office and switch on to Radio 4 and go online and intimately commune with the news. Over the winter months my hour is invariably a deathly quiet hour.

This morning was suddenly lighter than the days before and also far noisier - the songbirds were out on the wing and signing chirpily. The snowdrops are still out, the crocuses are in full bloom and some daffodil heads are breaking through. The sky was a glorious blue at 7 this morning. This morning felt as if the spring was really about to burst forth.

Then, the sleepyheads are roused and the school day begins. Suddenly, IS asks me, "Dad, why did you marry Mum?" Whilst the others laugh and goad me I try to think of a smart or witty answer. Finally I reply, "Well, if you must know it's because I knew we'd have the best 3 girls ever".

Nice day.

.....Arrival - 6th April 2001

From London we headed to SC's parents (who lived 10 miles away from our new house) for the 48 hours before we took charge.

Friday came around and we and John and Stuart Removals turned up at 2 o'clock to bid farewell to the vacating D family. The scene that greeted us at the house could have been out of a slapstick movie. A number of sweaty, panicking removals men were desperately behind in their packing. In the grounds were 2 pantechnicons with men sweatily humping and arranging stuff inside. In the house, more men were busily packing and shifting and shouting in strong Yorkshire accents. 'Our' crew just looked gobsmacked at this tableau of madness. We went off for a coffee and...calm, and a preliminary look around our new town.

Nearly 3 hours later we returned and found a THIRD pantechnicon and more men - now totaling ELEVEN - even more sweaty, even more panicky and even more behind schedule. Pandemonium ruled!

Eventually, we spoke to one of the delightfully harrassed and apologetic D family who said they should only be another hour or two. We called an emergency London Crew Removals Meeting and decided to leave this Yorkshire mob to their unbridled incompetence and that we would keep in touch by phone. We returned to my parents-in-law whilst John and Stuart headed for the pleasures of who-knows-what.

We later found out that the D's vacated the house at 10.45pm.
Strike 1 to the London crew.