Listen Up. BBC at Best.

17 Oct

Me n’ mine have been asked to feature in the BBC’s ‘Listening Project’ on a few occasions. Thanks largely, to the matters that involve my family’s background, experiences, international work, kids and views on consumerism – and of course, our proclivities for nude rambling across the Trans-Pennine Trail … ok, ok – I’m joshing about the latter.


*DO* Listen.

But even before I ended up getting roped into recordings, I have to say that this small-but-mighty stakeholder project born of The Beeb has captured my imagination over the last few years – simply as a mere radio fan. But it also, always seems to stoke-up the fires of many others than I know, who have the sense to prefer the radio to the telly.

And yup – I love listening to the conversations of others. What writer/ person with a half-baked intelligent brain *doesn’t*? This is what the entire series is about. Ear-wigging. Nosey Norman Neighbours.

But every single episode is always so beautifully edited – that we always come away with a little nugget of summat or t’other. And today’s little clip? Well.  If there was ever a justification for paying for the existence of the Beeb (licence fee… cough … splutter…) today’s episode was the flagship for the entire thing.  A ‘Ruddy Dobber’ of a programme (as we say in Manchester.)

So my own wee friendies from all over the world – have a listen to this snippet of today  –  entitled “We’re Still Friends”. This conversation could have taken place in my kitchen. With various friends and family members.  All about Brexit. Why some of us wanted to get the hell out. And others of us felt horrified at such a prospect.

And I’m proud of the fact that I have pals in my life who have completely different views to me on the entire issue. So yes, it doesn’t bother me too much that I hang about with gorgeously-warm folk whose views sometimes make me want to, er, er …  reach for the Fizzy Andrews. (Hey – do they make *that stuff* anymore? I always think of it as cocaine – for 6 year olds.)

So, whatever your thoughts on Brexit, Europe, refugees, feminism etc. Just make it a priority to listen to this one clip only. (And MORE please, if you enjoyed the link here  – just have a perusal of the main website. Treasures for all!)

For me the key word on this particular broadcast is that of ‘Listening’. Backed up by ‘Friendship’. Closely followed by ‘Show Don’t Tell’. Listen to the emotions and the clarity in the voices of these two women from Donny (Doncaster) and how the real ‘listening’ and tolerance seems to be pointing towards a new direction for them as friends.

They’re listening and learning to and from one another. No sanctimonious attitudes or smart-arse-isms going on there. (I keep expecting to hear that Quakers are running this entire project  – but apparently not. Still. I’m biased.)

And – ooh yeah – let’s give a high-five to certain BBC Radio producers and journalistic-sorts.  The skill of recording and archiving oral testimony, and editing it for both needy and discerning listeners, is alive and well at the Beeb and at its regional stations – and on this particular long-running project – is showing right here and right now – at its top-notch best.

Bless the BBC and Radio. Especially this here Sheffield studio

Bless the BBC and Radio. Especially this ‘ere Sheffield studio

It’s All In His Head

29 Sep

The other day, I happened to be feeling rather grateful to the wonderful Bill Bryson.

Well, I’ve always felt quite grateful to him actually. As the incredibly talented, witty, top-notch, best-selling author actually WROTE to me when I lived in Africa. In fact – the rather lovely fella has actually sent me TWO letters. It’s great to receive such fan mail, it really is!

Okay, okay – I’m lying about the latter, but neither did the comms from Bill contain a missive from his solicitor, demanding me to abstain from the stalking activities. And I’ve always loved Bill’s style of writing, would have read his stuff anyway – but the fact the chappie took time out to scribble a few lines to me – meant a hell of a lot to a budding writer.  Pure gold, that kind of thing.  So I always do my absolute best to read his books. Brilliant for a laugh and for pithy, social observation.  But this week, I was particularly glad that I’ve just finished reading one of his more recent books. Because I ended up having one of my usual –  rather strange and contorted – conversations with my 8 year old boy. And without Bill’s help, I wouldn’t have been able to interpret it.

I don't imagine that Bill wrote this as a parental self-help manual. But it sure as heck worked for me.

I don’t imagine that Bill wrote this as a parental self-help manual. But it sure as heck worked for me.

The chat with the lad centred on me relating events that took place in 1980.  To cut to the chase, the moral of the story of today’s parental lecture was all about me, trying to persuade the lad not to make ‘unwise’ swaps of toys. Because once you’ve swapsied, most kids don’t want to swap back, yeah? So I told the kid of a similar time in my childhood. That on seeing my flute teacher’s case for her instrument, I had envied it. Because hers had a handle. Mine didn’t. So she offered to swap it – and this was of mutual benefit to both parties.

And even though the handle came in handy (it was MUCH easier to smack my brother over the head with it) I almost instantly regretted the swap. Because just a couple of weeks later after the novelty of this had passed, I noticed that she had a brand new, sleek flute case. And me? I had a scruffy old one. With my brother’s skull-marks imprinted in it. Albeit with a handle, of course.

“Soooooo,” I told my son. “I still look at that flute case today and regret it. I wish I had kept the one I originally had.” He asked me, “So didn’t your teacher ever give it you back?” “No,” I replied.  He snarled and then yelled;”That’s MEAN!” And then? And then he grew suddenly quiet, with a strange and distant look on his face.  “Hang on, though,” I said. “I never asked for it back. I felt silly about asking for it back. I’m sure she would have given it to me, if I had. She didn’t do anything wrong. She was a really nice person!”

He suddenly looked guilty. “Uh-oh,” he said. He wouldn’t respond when I asked him what he meant. I began to wonder what was going on for him. And then – thanks to Mr Bill Bryson and ‘The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid’, I quickly realised why. “I know why you’re looking a bit worried,” I told him. “You’ve just killed my teacher haven’t you? Using your superhuman mind powers. Boys do things like that, don’t they?”

Bless him, he had the decency to look slightly abashed. “Yes,” he replied. “Well!” I answered, “You can just ruddy well bring her back then! If you’ve got the power to kill someone with your mind, you can at least resurrect them. You go to a Church of England school – you believe in that kind of stuff! C’mon! Bring her back!”

“Sorry …” he sang – as he wandered off to find some plastic superhero figure or another with which to entertain himself with; “…when I’ve killed someone with my supreme mind death-ray, they can’t come back. But don’t worry – your teacher would be well-old by now. So she’s probably dead anyway.”

And would you believe me if I told you that this lad has natural charm – in spades?

Nah. Probably not.

The Joy of Boys – Feminist Mamma now thinks twice about nurture vs nature


You’re So Vane

19 Sep

The other day I embarked on a blog, prior to opening my birthday presents of 2016. Well.  Yours truly was delighted with the fact that even more ‘needed’ and ‘odd’ gifts came her way. So here goes …

I’ll openly admit to anyone that I’ve never been reet-impressed with status symbols, brands, the latest in whatever consumerist tosh that far too many people in western society tend to be. But I’d be a filthy liar if I didn’t confess to you that when my birthday comes around, I do tend to ‘ask’ for a specific present (or three.) Not because I’m Ms Greedy Guts Materialist – honest – but because I simply think to myself, ‘weeeell, if they’re going to be daft enough to get me a pressie, they might as well get me something that I need.’

Little man chops wood! Cuckoo drives husband insane! What more could a girl want.

Little man chops wood! Cuckoo drives husband insane! What more could a girl want.

Do note here – the word ‘need’, as opposed to ‘like.’ It has proven to be the bane of my life and has turned me into the dullard Puritan that I am today. Sadly, my daughter seems to have taken on this very same attitude. A recent visit to her grandparents, ended up with Nan having to practically staple various purchases shop-buys to her grand-daughter’s forehead in order for them to be accepted (‘I’ve never known a child to say ‘no-thank-you-I-don’t-need-anything’, with every other breath!’)

But honestly, it’s not all just self-denial and flagellation here in our little household (for example, child number two is now turning out to be Mr Capitalist Commercial-Pants, as any self-respecting psychoanalyst would have warned me would have happened, years ago). But that blip aside, yeah – we may not chuck money around like some do on birthdays and anniversaries. But we do have FUN and we do BUY STUFF for each other. Still, it’s usually something er… well. To put it in the world of a close relative ‘Something completely weird and odd. Very much like you. You’re special!’

And I’ve only got myself to blame for such back-handed comments. Because I always make a point of remembering to ask my nearest/dearest for what I would most like to see, wrapped in the newspaper (I kid you not on the latter remark.) And the wee wish-list doesn’t usually contain what most women my age are hankering after (or ‘needing.’) In fact, the most bog-standard birthday present that I’ve ever requested was in response to a best friend asking me what I wanted. ‘Er, I just ran out of body moisturiser.’ I told her. ‘Good God, woman!’ she said, ‘That’s the most boring present ever! Are you sure? Last year you wanted me to get you a pair of purple tights. What is WRONG with you?’ ‘Look,’ I replied. ‘It’s what I NEED. Okay?’ She then proceeded to tell me that I was the easiest person ever to buy presents for. Because she also knew that I’ll happily accept second-hand moisturiser from any charity shop at the end of anyone’s street.

But it’s a bit of a different story for the other half and the kids. Because I subtly point out things that I NEED throughout the year. And then they forget. And then I try not to sulk about it. I mean, you’d think that I was the centre of their world wouldn’t you? I don’t ask for much in life. Well sadly, yet again I have run out of cotton wool buds, white knickers and Pears soap. Or perhaps they only tend to remember the much more whimsical stuff that I’ve taken a fancy to. So here – just to prove to you that I am entirely easy to buy for – is my top list of really ace pressies from my family.

1) Headlice Treatment
Purchased for me by Mother. At the time, I had no children, I had never suffered from headlice and I certainly hadn’t indicated in any way, shape or form – that I ‘needed’ the above. However, Mum being Mum – she figured that because I was living in sub-Saharan Africa and working with street children, there would come a time that the little giftie would be both welcome and useful. And yup – what can I say? Mums are ALWAYS right.

2) Ceramic sculpture of a milk bottle

We actually have old-fashioned pints delivered to us. But this artist re-creates both.

We actually have old-fashioned pints delivered to us. But this artist re-creates both.

In Slaithwaite, one of the villages next to us, there exists a little gem of a shop -‘The Emporium’- which displays the wares of talented local artists. One of my favourite shelves contains the work of a woman who studies old milk bottles and the more modern plastic versions. She then makes these incredible ceramic milk bottles, with labels that have very ‘local and political’ messages.

Mum makes the kid drink rancid milk. Allegedly.

Mum makes the kids drink rancid milk. Allegedly.

All about the decline of the local producers versus the scary supermarket stranglehold. My fella remembered how enamoured I had been with her efforts and presented me with one. They are so very realistic and of such good quality, that it has taken my little boy three years to be able to stop saying ‘You’ve left the milk on the book shelf again, Mum.’ And for me to suddenly realise why he always refuses to have milk on his cereal.

3) A Cuckoo Clock

There has always been a deep-yearning in my soul to have something/anything mounted on the wall with a small apparition that pops in and out of it, as if by magic. I would definitely have settled for an old-fashioned wooden weather house. But if I remember correctly, my other half accused them of being sexist inventions ‘because the man is the one who appears when it rains and when it’s sunny the woman appears in a frock. Plus it would be factually incorrect because no matter how warm the sunshine is, you’re always bloody complaining that you’re cold.’ Anyway, I’m equally intrigued by cuckoo clocks and after many years of lusting after the one at Buffers Cafe in Bolton Abbey, I finally got my own. Huzzah! (Although it’s more often ‘yah-boo’ – because my husband doesn’t like the disturbance of the cuckoo popping out every half an hour. It’s like living with a Brummie version of Victor Meldrew, I tell you.)
Still, the cuckoo clock has also provided a bit of inspiration for the title of my next book. More on that soon.

4) A Trip to Bradford Industrial Museum.

One of the best museums in the North. And free, my friends ... free!

One of the best museums in the North. And free, my friends … free!

What else can I add to this? Other than it’s ace. It’s free. And we didn’t take the kids. The only disappointment was that the Toby Inn just next to it was shut. But you can’t have the moon on a stick, can you?

5) A Tour of Wentworth Woodhouse
This year’s birthday pressie and one that was actually suggested to me by a nice chappie at the gym (and no no no … ‘A Tour of Wentworth Woodhouse’ is NOT some sort of Huddersfield double entendre!) Me and some of the gym bunnies in this part of west Yorkshire like to lend each other reading material that happens to stretch our brains beyond ‘Running Like a Loon Weekly’ and ‘Muscles For Brains Monthly.’

Great book. A Must-Read for anyone who cares about issues of rich vs poor.

Great book. A Must-Read for anyone who cares about the issues of rich vs poor.

So I was very grateful to be lent ‘Black Diamonds’. It turned out to be a great socio-economic perusal of the Fitzwilliams – the family who made their moolah out of the coal mines of south Yorkshire and of the poor sods who had to do the lumping and the dumping. It’s very rare that Wentworth Woodhouse throws it’s doors open for booked tours… the place is still all a bit cloaked in secrecy. And it’s only taken my other half two years and four reminders of just how much I ‘NEED’ this tour for my birthday present – i.e ‘for my mental wellbeing, dear! And yours – so I stop having to remind you…’ etc etc.

So in a few weeks time I may well be able to tell you a bit more about the experience. And whether or not the Brewer’s Fayre nearby is closed pre or post-tour (I swear that my husband fibs about these ‘closures’ – in order to save himself a bob or two.)

6) The Weather Vane

You have to *see* where I live in order to imagine the climatic conditions that we’re faced with at times here. Slap bang facing Saddleworth moors in the bosom between the ‘Two Valleys’ of west Yorkshire. So Mr and Mrs Wooden Old Weather House would really and truly have been able to stand up to the fast change and pace in the way that the wind direction and force changes here (and that’s before we’ve eaten the kidney beans). And oh, my heart’s desire! For years I’ve secretly been *needing* one of these. And 2016 finally brought me one. Thank you, thank you – one and all. The swankiest weather station that a young(ish) lady could ever have lusted after …

Cannot wait to see this erection in my garden.

Cannot wait to see this erection in my garden.

7) The Dead Pig

And last but by no means least, I was promised ‘A Dead Pig.’ The children cunningly employed an environmentally-friendly approach to present wrapping (a suit protector – now redundant- I mean, who wears suits these days?) And then they more or less convinced me that it was an en0rmous ham joint ‘you know – a dead wild Boar – like in ‘Asterix’.)  Interestingly however, it turned out to be a bulk-win of …. body moisturisers and soap.  The kids it seemed, had swept the boards at their primary school Summer Fair. Just what I always *needed.*

C'mon. It really DOES look like it contains a dead pig, doesn't it?

C’mon. It really DOES look like it contains a dead pig, doesn’t it?


Pokemon Goes … All Yorkshire

29 Jul

A little snippet of conversational life surrounding ‘Pokemon Go’.

Scene: the kitchen, west Yorkshire. Father of the house, daughter, her friend and me.

Young Friend: (Showing my daughter Pokemon Go on her new phone) See – this is what you do with Pokemon Go – and that’s where I am right now. I’m in your kitchen. And see over there, you can see a …

Father: (interrupting) Well – I can’t believe how fast they’re churning this stuff out – Nintendo, I mean – wish to God I’d bought shares in it a couple of years ago when no one wanted to touch them with a barge pole.

Young Friend: (ignoring him) Yeah. It’s well cool. We got stuck into a Pokegym today. It were right next to a bus stop what we thought were normally well-dull!

Father: So have there been plenty of benches to visit nearby in the new upgrade? They seem to like you kids visiting treasured local features such as ‘benches’ and ‘The Co-op’ don’t they?

This one is warning you not to walk in front of a coming train...

This one is warning you not to walk into the path of a coming train…

Young Friend: Well, yeah – with Pokemon Go you can see all kinds of interesting things. Petrol stations too.

Daughter: I dunno why the adults are well- freaked out about it. We even got a letter from school – well, it were a letter from the police actually.  Warnin’ us not be be total di…

Father:– Watch it …

Young Friend: Yeah, we got that letter at our school too. Warnin’ us not to be total luntics around it all. I mean – it’s not like it’s some app what Isis created is it? Like someone’s out there tryin’ to use Pokemon Go to make us all wanna blow up Meadowhall or the Trafford Centre or  …

Daughter: Or like.. Pikachu is tryin’ to brainwash you into killing your little brother, or summat?!  I mean – they wouldn’t encourage that sort of thing with Pokemon Go! Even though my brother is really … annoying.

Young Friend: Well, when you get your new phone, maybe your mum and dad will let you get Pokemon Go on it (looking sternly at us, mean-spirited parents, that we are)

Father: Well, I wouldn’t want her having the first version even – so she won’t be getting the upgrade of this new app that you’re both on about.

Young Friend: (to the Father) Don’t know why you’re thinking there’s a new version. (To daughter) But anyway –   I don’t get why they’re all bothered about it – on the news. So … right… there’s been a few kids in America who have fallen off the edges of the Rocky mountains, or whatever when they were doin’ a Pokestop. But come on…!

Daughter: Yeah! Come on! …And – weren’t there some lad what fell into a canal when he were looking at his phone? And didn’t drown – but he found a dead body instead of the Jigglypuff what he were lookin’ for.

Young Friend: Yeah, I think I heard about that. But… when you think about it. Pokemon Go is helping society isn’t it? ‘Cause he would have found a rotting body in the canal what the police would be looking for, for ages – and that would have been costing them a load of money.

The Big D: I agree. You kids are all helping society in many ways with all of this roaming around town and country rather than waiting for your parents to ferry you about in their 4 wheel drives like you normally do – but I’m still struggling to understand how different this new version of Pokemon is? What’s the deal with Pokemon Go?

Young Friend: Dunno what you mean – what new version are you on about? It’s just Pokemon Go. It’s just come out. There’s no new version.

Me: (to the girls) Listen to how he’s pronouncing this – ‘Pokemon Gohhrrr’.  You keep talking about ‘Pokemon Gohhrrr’.  He’s trying to make a prejudiced, anti-northern point about the way that you both speak. People in west Yorkshire say ‘gohhhrrr’ instead of ‘go.’

Father: And lots of other sloppy excuses for speech errors. Remember the Christmas cards at junior school addressed to ‘Alfeh’ and ‘Chloeh’?

Daughter: Well that’s all very hypocritical innit, Dad? (To friend) He’s from Birmingham and lost his accent on purpose when he was a teenager, ’cause he was so embarrassed. Shouldn’t be ashamed of how you’re born to talk.

Pokemon Go fans found Pikachu. Sadly they didn't tidy their bedroom en route...

Pokemon Go fans found Pikachu. Sadly they didn’t tidy their bedroom en route…

Young Friend: Don’t worry about it. Grown up’s do this sort of thing to you – to make themselves feel better. They criticise how we talk, how we game, what clothes we wear. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be young – and to have fun.

Father: Yes. Excuse me whilst I don’t have *fun*, stumbling under the 306 bus to Huddersfield and maiming myself for life – whilst trying to claim a Clefairy or whatever, during my latest game of Pokemon Gohhhrrr.

Me: Well, I think that the kids are right. We’ve got no room to talk. When we were their age, we used to get our laughs watching some man – with his hand up the bum of a green toy duck called Orville.  Times have moved on, dear.

Father:  Orville never caused any problems in society. Or warnings issued by the west Yorkshire police force. No, you can keep your Pokemon Gohhhhr.

Daughter: (to friend) It’s like he was born in the last century or summat!

Father: I was!

Me: Oooh – Get you! You just said ‘Oii worrss’! Your innate Brumminess refuses to be hidden when you get all stressed! Yam’s all het up now, in’t yam!  (girls erupt into laughter.)

Father:  …Bunch of Yorkshire snobs.

Champs, Tramps and Subversive Stories

3 Jul

Whilst sitting in the pouring rain, looking horribly like a smelly old tramp and trying not to laugh at the Umbrella-Wars developing between parents whose kids wanted to see the show and who were too tiny to see beyond the brollies, I got to wondering just *why* Danny The Champion Of The World has always been – by far – my favourite Roald Dahl book. And why I was grateful to the Grassington Festival for bringing David Wood’s adaptation to Yorkshire.

I first read it when I was 6 or 7. I’d read all of his other kiddy books before this one and I fell hook, line and sinker for Danny and his Pops. Why? At the time (the 70’s) it was rather unusual to hear the story of a little lad being brought up by a single parent. And even more rare for the parent to be a dad. A working class dad too – who loved his boy beyond belief, who fed him the most fantastic life as they lived in a gypsy caravan and existed on a diet of stories and experiments with nature and science.

Danny caravan

“Danny’s just like me. And he’s nicked my pyjamas.”

So as a child, the one thing that I wanted to remember for the rest of my life after first reading the book, is this particular truism of Roald’s/ Danny’s; “what a child wants and deserves is a parent who is sparky. NOT dear reader, “a stodgy parent.” And I also learned to beware those grown ups who smile with their mouths ‘but not with their eyes.’

But whilst pondering my soggy bottom and wondering why-oh-why had I signed myself up to review an open air theatre performance in the middle of so-called British ‘summer’, it finally dawned on me WHY I’ve always reckoned that this is by far the best book by Dahl. It’s because of its sheer, subversive nature.  Kids in the 1970’s – and now even more so – are nailed into their classroom seats, told what to do, what not to do, where to go and when and how and … generally speaking –  are tiny, confused little cogs in a huge machinery that is called ‘The Adult World.’

The thread behind the story of Danny is one of a continuous tale of insurrectionary behaviour. When Danny stumbles across his dad’s big secret – Dad is a Poacher – at first he experiences fear and shock. Dad could get arrested! Dad is breaking the law! And then we learn his father’s views. The main reason behind why his dad poaches on Victor Hazell’s land is because he totally, utterly, truly hates fat-cat landowners who blam-blam-blam the poor pheasants out of the skies (I mean, where’s the art-form in THAT?); who treat poorer local people like scum and who are angling to buy up the rest of the surrounding property and lord it over everyone else with their posh parties. Plus it’s thrilling isn’t it? To be breaking a law… and also believing that you are doing this in order to comply with a higher code of morality.

And yes, the fact that this little performance of Danny The Champion of the World was being held on the lands belong to the Duke of Devonshire which happens to be riddled with pheasants and come the autumn lots of shooting parties… didn’t entirely go over my head. But then that’s me for you. I like a bit of politics.

Audience may look washed-out but are gearing up for a bit of pheasant-smuggling

Audience may look washed-out but are gearing up for a bit of future pheasant-smuggling

The children watching the show however, were probably less interested in the socio-economic message than I was. They were held spellbound – despite the on-off pummeling of the rain. My 8 year old lad wanted to conduct a review of Illyria’s fine production for me and as the kid is easily bored by too much dialogue, I was surprised that such a wordy-based production completely kept his attention.  For him, the gypsy caravan, the quality of the acting and the nasty Victor Hazell (the kid led the booing – and actually rather embarrassed me – by shouting out above all voices “you’re an evil old murdering nincompoop!” at the actor) accurately represented the Danny tale.

I was incredibly impressed that the actors just carried on, regardless of the on-off downpours; their voices lifting far above the sound of the rain (“Why didn’t they have microphones, Mum?” the little lad asked me, “Or a loudspeaker thing. They’ll be so poorly with yelling tomorrow that they won’t be able to shout at their own kids. Actually, Mum – maybe you should become an open-air actor.”) We both loved the wonderful wee pedal cars that played a key part in the action of Danny grasping the mettle as he hopped into the family car and goes to rescue his dad (another childhood fantasy or all of ours, eh?) My son even managed to forgive the fact that his hero was played by an actual grown up, “rather than a kid like me. But it was okay in the end because the guy that played him was just dead excited and giddy about his ideas like I always am. So I could believe that he was a boy.”

All in all, you have to be a pretty special little theatre company to have adapted one of the best stories ever written, to deliver it to an audience ranging from 0 to 80 years, to do it in the middle of the driving rain and not to be fretting that one of the Duke’s henchmen would truck up in the middle of it and chuck you off his land for insurrectionary and not-so-subliminal messages. And Illyria more than pulled it off.

The final verdict comes from the kid himself who was chuckling away throughout the performance; “I’d tell anyone that I know to go and see it. You’ll wet your pants!”

And hopefully when you go to see it, this won’t be because of the rain.

greg at danny

Contemplating insurrectionary messages & subversive antics


News Of Doom

24 Jun

Is this a male/female thing? Or more about the fact that on awakening most mornings, I find it difficult to gather my thoughts. Okay, I’ve got a helluva lot tumbling around my head at the moment – but was there really any excuse for the little error that I made this morning?

My gentlemen friend got out of bed before me today. ‘That’s nice,’ I thought. ‘He’s gone down to make the kids’ breakfast. Perhaps it’s because I was so lovely to him yesterday.’

I got up myself, did the usual thing of tripping up whilst putting my knickers on and then heard a bit of manly chunnering drifting up the stairs. He then yelled to me;

“We’re out!”

“Of what? Cornflakes or Shreddies?” I shrieked back. (I knew that it couldn’t be milk, because the milkman came yesterday.) “Anyway,” I carried on, “If you’d just do as you were told and write down on the shopping list what we need – we wouldn’t have this problem!”

“EUROPE!” he yelled back.

The crazy thing is – that we’re all interested in politics in this family. I went to bed thinking about the referendum. But awoke, fretting about the contents of my cupboards.

Meanwhile, the kids had overheard the “News of Doom” as the 8 year old had decided to call it.  Then my 11 year old daughter entered the bathroom, kicked the washing basket and grumped; “I’m leaving this country, if I turn the telly on and Nigel ‘Kermit The Frog’ Farage is grinning all over his smug face.

(Oh – and we *were* out of corn flakes, by the way.)

Golcar Lily; Have Yer Potato An’ Eat it

20 May

To be honest with you, I didn’t fancy attending the Golcar Lily Day. Mainly because of the look that flickered across my other half’s face when he heard that there might be an appearance of Morris Dancers. I’ve no idea why, but as he’s gotten older he’s developed an aversion to anyone who wears straw boaters and jangles their bells and sticks at you.

Two of the nicest Morris Dancers in the world. Honest!

Two of the nicest Morris Dancers in the world. Honest! Even if the fella in the flat cap looks a bit dubious…

But hey, we’ve all recently developed a bit of a soft spot for Golcar (pronounced ‘Gow-kuh’ by the locals) which nestles in the Colne Valley of west Yorkshire. And what with the promise of ‘the best chips in the world’, he was prepared to put up and shut up.

So what’s the story behind Golcar Lily Day? Various theories propound as to why the area is associated with this particular flower. My personal favourite is the one that relates to that old firebrand Methodist missionary, John Wesley. Wesley was said to have been somewhat smitten by the ladies of Golcar when he visited the area in the 18th century. Indeed, he compared them with certain other villagers of Huddersfield – remarking that they were “as gentle as Lilies when compared with the uncouth & ignorant peoples of Bolster Moor & Scapegoat Hill.” And for sure, the lasses of Golcar certainly seem to have a way about them, because on Saturday I noticed an awful lot of heavily pregnant women.

If you’re into your history and your traditions and all of that, then there is information a-plenty thanks to Google. But you’d be mistaken to think that Golcar Lily Day is some sort of ancient tradition in the area. Dear me no. The festival was actually the inspiration of a local woman, only some ten years ago. One of those all-round good eggs who not only had a great idea, but who rolled up her sleeves and dragged the rest of the community along with it.

Tuggin' Me Tractor

Tuggin’ Me Tractor

It’s a decade later now and a certain west Yorkshire hillside village with the most gob-smacking panoramic views going, is now so popular on Golcar Lily Day that they have to provide a Park and Ride facility from Scapegoat Hill (which if you ask me, is somewhat foolish because if you believe what John Wesley said about those residents, they’d probably nick your car. Or be unable to drive the buses down the hill because they’re like, sooo ignorant.)

Once we’d braved the Morris Dancers (who were actually superb, even though my bloke had to hide behind the parish church wall for twenty minutes) we were on a roll for the rest of the day. Never had the phrase ‘Good Old Fashioned Family Fun’ been more appropriately used. We were treated to tractor pulling, flat cap throwing, cup of tea races, belly dancing, a coconut shie and Punch n’ Judy. We had a sneaky preview of the Colne Valley Museum before it re-opens after refurbishment and we ate the Golcar Lily Loaf that the ladies in their 19th century frocks were baking on the range for us. We necked a drinky at the dinky but delectable Golcar Brewery. We bought second-hand books, we scoffed the best-chips-in-the-world from The Duck and Spoon, we sampled pies, cheeses, hot dogs. We engaged in healthy activities such as archery and bouncy castles and we categorically LIED to the children about the fact that there was a massive fun fair just around the corner (“Mum – where’s all that loud music coming from?” “Ah, it’s from those uncouth neighbours up the road in Bolster Moor. They’ll be having an ASBO on them by tea time, no doubt.”)

My oldest n’ dearest bus-obsessed chum, the extraordinary and rather-famous Stuart Vallantine caught a total of 6 buses to and from East Manchester in order to attend the day-out. Between us, we all agreed that in fact, there was far too much going on in order to be able to experience all of the funsome activities in one day; a dearth of pop-up cafes, concerts, stalls and curiosities such as the Golcar Lily Ginnel Trail. Indeed, we were left feeling rather light-headed due to the fact that the entire event is free. Yup. Totally free. Brings tears to a Yorkshire-person’s eyes dunnit?

All this. And you paid nowt.

All this. And you paid nowt.

My favourite moment occurred during one of the many concerts on offer to the public. Colne Valley Boys Choir are the most wonderful troop of local lads. Aged from 6 to 18, the boys are trained by top-class musicians, fellas who – unusually – are not remotely interested in the airs and graces of your usual choirs. And the boys just love to sing; they love the fact that they get to choose their own songs and that no one teks the mick at school (because they’re allowed to sing cool songs, y’see?) Anyway, ten minutes into the performance the choir master explained to the audience that the next song was supposed to be led by a soloist. But the lad hadn’t turned up yet. The choir master wondered aloud whether anyone had seen him. A helpful member of the crowd shouted out; “I noor! Ee’s ‘avin’ a putaytuh outseed!” (translation for non-northerners: “I know! He’s eating a baked potato outside.”)

Anyway, a kind member of the public managed to locate the recalcitrant youth, who was soon ushered into the building sans nosh and yet who still managed to regale us with a beautiful solo.

Colne Valley Boys. And not a potato in sight.

Colne Valley Boys. And not a potato in sight.

No one batted an eyelid at this. Nor when another lad turned up late, having forgotten his uniform. He just took his place alongside the rest of the boys. And the performance was only enhanced by this down to earth, ‘we do it – just because we love it’ attitude. Perhaps this phrase marks the true spirit of the Golcar Lily Day – and of the place itself.

And whilst I think on, perhaps it could also apply as to why there seem to be so many pregnant ladies in the village….

West Yorkshire’s *real* Happy Valley?

Even Golcar ginnels have views...

Even Golcar ginnels have views...

Lilies in Wellies. Pure Golcar.

Lilies in Wellies. Pure Golcar.

Merry Wives (& Daughter)

12 May

Since falling out of love with Simon Le Bon in 1986, I’ve never considered myself to be much a ‘fan’ of anything or anyone. Joining a fan club, following an idol or developing a slavish devotion to something usually involves both financial outlay, travel or inconvenience. None of which I care for.

But … I’ve seen the light now. I’m a born again evangelical filled with missionary zeal. A fan – burning with desire to tell and sundry about the object of my affection.

Nope. Not a man, a band or even a footie team. It’s actually a theatre company. Northern Broadsides to be precise. Surely you’ve heard of them? (Call yourself a Northerner? Or an honorary one? Shame on you!)

‘Merry Wives’ as performed by NB at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield marked the fifth time that I’ve left one of their shows muttering; “Ruddy hell! I could have watched that some ten times over!” (which, from a woman with the attention span of a gnat’, is no mean feat.)

This particular Halifax-based theatre company have this knack of keeping you pinned to your seat. Even – and especially – when it comes to one of their Shakespeare performances. Because let’s face it, much as we’d all love to aspire to be a Bard-freak, the dude from Stratford isn’t always the most readily accessible of writers – especially to those of us who are more au fait with text-speak than with the iambic pentameter.

And this is why Northern Broadsides have proved themselves to be wonders of the world of words. You don’t need to have a degree, to be a Guardian reader, to be bessies with Boris Johnson, to have had an inordinately patient English O Level teacher (cheers though, Mrs Fidler) in order to be utterly spellbound; catapulted into the 17th century – because this theatre company do all of the legwork for you. Established in 1992 by artistic director Barrie Rutter OBE and aiming at ‘a distinctive northern voice’ the company tour the land with productions both classical and new – but always with one eye on making the patter of dialogue and complex storylines more accessible to those of us who are a bit shakier with the likes of Shakespeare.

Broadsides excel in adding a modern twist to the almost-ancient thanks to their designer, Lis Evans. In ‘Merry Wives’ for example, the backdrop is formed via a 1920’s style country club. And even if you were fretting about following the multi-layered twists and turns of a Shakespearean comedy-farce, every single member of the cast makes it easier for you, thanks to their formidable acting (for example – we all came away knowing the exact meaning behind the phrase ““I will find you twenty lascivious turtles ere one chaste man.”)merry wives flyer

Barry Rutter himself plays the greasy, ageing wannabe-philanderer Sir John Falstaff. And inevitably, he steals the show. Closely followed by a sparkling double act of the Merry Wives themselves, played by Becky Hindley and Nicola Sanderson. The duo beautifully brought to life the Bard’s quite feminist intention of celebrating middle-aged women as being the stars in society; capable of being warm, witty and wise.

My eleven year old daughter attended the production with me; her second Shakespeare at the hands of Broadsides and she was itching to contribute to this review. Her favourite performer turned out to be “the guy who played the French fella who was clearly in need of Ritalin” (otherwise known as Dr Caius played by Andy Cryer). She found it to be hilarious – Shakespeare writing a French accent so that the character pronounces the word ‘third’ as ‘turd’ (“I shall make a de turd!”) – meaning that a 21st century audience could unite with the Elizabethans in having a good old slapstick-chuckle at those annoying French-folk. She also admired John Gully who played “the welsh vicar-bloke” (Rev Evans). “But why was Shakespeare so horrible about the Welsh? What did they ever do to him?”

And this is the thing about Northern Broadsides. Without such down to earth but consummate professionalism and their desire to bring the entire audience along with them – someone who isn’t classics-savvy might miss the in-jokes and the social commentaries. Plus there’s another ingredient that they toss into the melting pot, with my girl describing it as; “And the best thing is, that they do it all in a proper, northern accent – like us. Without making us sound thick. Like what the media do, innit?”

In fact,” came her final conclusion post-performance; “I reckon that every kid in the country should have to go and watch Northern Broadside do Shakespeare and stuff like that. It’d be money well spent for the Government. We’d learn way-more. And it’d be way less stress for us – and for the teachers – than making us do SHATs.”

Excuse me!?”

Ha. I heard you saying to Dad that ‘SATs’ should be renamed SHAT’s. Take it, that ‘shat’ is a bad word?”

Yes. And quite northern too. So maybe I’ll let you off for once.”

Good. And I bet they’ll use it in the next Northern Broadsides show. You just wait and see, Mum. Have you bought the tickets yet? You’re like one of them groupies now aren’t cha…?”

***NB If you’re up north and want the chance to catch the Broadsiders before the tour ends – there are two more venues left – York and Liverpool. See for details ***

A Purple Genius

6 May

The man wore purple. He teased and joked with his audience. He was perhaps the most gifted musician that ever walked the face of this earth.

Nah, I’m not talking about that Prince fella (although I did quite like him too.) I’m talking about another chappie who happens to be linked to royalty. Well, only as a knight of the realm, you understand.

Sir James Galway has always been a bit of a dude, hasn’t he? The Man With The Golden Flute, they call him. Now, I think that I’ve blogged many times before about the kind of music that I’m into – or WAS into – when I was growing up (’cause these days I have no time for such selfish indulgences such as actually selecting and enjoying music of my own choice…) First came Shakin’ Stevens (haaahhhh! Seriously! Sorry.) Then I became was a Duranie, then a metal-head of many years standing and then… then I had children. Nuff said.

So how was I ever exposed to the music of Sir Jimmy? Well, any parent worth their salt does their best to impose their musical tastes upon their children don’t they? (And don’t worry – I’ve removed the death-metal CD’s from the 8 yr old’s bedroom recently. He’s beginning to sing along to some shockingly colourful profanities, you see…) Meaning that my dad got me and our kid into The Beatles and Elvis – and we frequently had Buddy Rich and various Jazz albums inflicted upon us. But my parents were never enormous classical music fans. UNTIL….

….They realised the soothing quality of such music on their offspring. I’ve got vivid memories of sharing a bedroom with my brother (I was probably 15, times were tough then y’see – and come to think of it, our bed was very hard and had two shiny taps at the end of it) and every night the sound of James Galway’s masterpieces would come floating up the stairs from my dad’s record player. (Accompanied by ‘Will you two GO-TO-BLOODY-SLEEP? Or you’re never staying up to watch ‘The Professionals’ again!‘)

And yet it wasn’t me who introduced my daughter to the magic of the maestro. My dad was to blame once more. I’ve blogged previously about the fact that my daughter is also learning to play the flute and I guess that Grandad must have been searching for something a bit more inspirational, in order to prevent a you-must-practise tantrum. So this is how my gal developed a huge interest in the work and in the life of Sir J.

To cut a long story short, she decided to write a ‘proper-old fashioned letter’ to the man himself. It managed to find its way to his abode in Switzerland. And we were then astonished to hear back from him. It turned out that Sir J is also a huge fan of The Beano too – and frequently can be seen chucking piles of horse manure over ‘softies’ who annoy him when he’s jetting to and from his swanky concert venues (ok, I made that last bit up.) flute

But seriously. What kind of a person – the best flute player in the entire universe – takes the time to write back to a little girl in Yorkshire? A *good* guy, that’s who. A true, golden-at-heart, down to earth fella.

So we decided to pay tribute to Sir J by battling the M6 and driving all the way to Birmingham to witness him in concert, along with his wife, the fantastical Lady Jeanne. We bought new shoes for the kid! We bagged front row seats! We saw Jimmy get awarded an honorary doctorate from the University! We laughed! We cried! (well, I did.) We chewed fruit pastilles! We said ‘hello’ to Julian Lloyd Webber and thrust coffee at him (‘Mother! Have you NO shame? Marketing your coffee at a Lloyd Webber!’) And we watched the most astonishing performance that any of us had ever seen. One man, managing to sound like two flutes were playing. Unbelievable. Truly spectacular.

Afterwards, the man in the purple suit welcomed our little lass on stage. She presented him with her very own precious Beano egg-cup (don’t worry folks, I managed to rub the egg yolk stains off it before we thrust it at him.) There was a group hug and a photo opp.

The nicest couple in the world of classical music. Plus some kid they're about to march to jail.

The nicest couple in the world of classical music. Plus some kid they’re about to march off to jail.

And then, the best thing that a parent can ever hear (especially after you’ve given up your day off in order to go head to head with the sodding-Bull Ring) rang in my ears; “Mum – thank you! This has been the best day of my life!” Followed by Grandad agreeing that it was the same for him too. And her replying; “But NO Grandad! That was supposed to have been your wedding day!”

We both noticed a pause at that point. Or perhaps Grandad’s hearing is failing. Who knows?

Anyway. Perhaps this isn’t one to repeat to Grandma.

The Gadgets of The Gods

14 Apr

And here’s where I reveal the secrets that keep our home ticking over smoothly … that ensure that life in our household makes the Werther’s Original advert look like an episode of Shameless.

Welcome to various items that I think on ever-so fondly as ‘My Precioussssss’. Forget ‘What Not To Buy’ – HERE is where you should be investing your coppers;

battery charger

Does what it says on the tin.

The Battery Tester
Nah – not the industrial sized car battery tester; rather, the itsy bitsy ‘check if your Duracell battery truly is as dead as a donut, or if it’s *actually* that your son has – yet again – broken an electronic item.’ I bought this over a decade ago and it’s never failed me yet. It’s easy to use, has a nice old-fashioned little meter on it and – ironically – you don’t even need a battery for it. Go buy!


Chops stuff. Lets off parental rage-steam too.

The Pampered Chef Chopper
A much better parent, cook, partner, friend and all round nicer person than me recommended that I purchase this some 8 years ago. I thought that she was taking the mickey. I mean – twenty quid for something that chops stuff up? Like I even have the *time* to make freshly prepared, healthy and nutritious food? Like I even have the will to stand in the kitchen a-cooking? Like I even have the kind of kids that would eat such stuff? But I stand corrected. It has served me well. It chops like a bugger and has ensured that my kids have eaten every vegetable under the sun (even if one of them still harbours the delusion that she only eats carrots and sweetcorn). Plus it beats the bottle bank every time for when you want to smash and pound and whack something really hard in order to get that pent up aggression out of yourself.

Crawling Insect Trap/ Flypaper/ Spider repellant

Yeah yeah yeah – generally I KNOW that it’s rotten to kill a spider – but you ain’t seen the size of the evil critters that live in 18th Century built homes. So I always *do* try and catch and then liberate them in the kids’ toothbrushing mugs BUT on the occasion where I fail, I like to know that the more sizeable sods will get nabbed by the insect trap.spider trap And come the warmer months, I do prefer to use good old fashioned flypaper as opposed to nasty chemical sprays. Plus, if you catch enough flies you can put a few of the strips together and create an interesting looking wallpaper for your 8 year old son’s room.
And most recently after the success with the sonic mouse repellant, I’ve invested in the same kind of gadget for the spiders. Seems kinder than the sticky old trap, somehow.

The Little Book Holder

book hol

Love this fella.

Another purchase that I felt dubious about – but these days I’m hooked on such implements. I’ve blogged before about the fact that until the day that I die, I’ll never abandon paperbacks in favour of the Kindle. And whether I’m sweating my bits off at the gym, or lazing around on a Caribbean beach (did you hear hollow laughter re. the latter?) – well, this little item is just a weensy piece of plastic marvel. Engineering design and precision at its best.

earplugs coloured

Drowning out irritating people since 1991.

I’ve been hooked on earplugs ever since University when – girly swot that I am – I couldn’t stand any longer to listen to those hedonistic cretins singing along to D-Ream down the corridor from me at 2am. Don’t tell the Smug-Parenting Lobby, but I’ve used these through nursing two babies (oh, the times that my partner has had to elbow me in the ribs and say; ‘it’s crying! It needs feeding!’) And now sadly, I cannot sleep without them. I even keep a spare pair in the car in case of ever having the opportunity to get an extra couple of minutes kip.

The Tangle Teezer

It might even work on dogs.

It might even work on dogs.

My mum claims that she can’t even remember buying this for me (‘Oh it was probably something I forgot to put into the shoebox appeal stuff and just gave you instead.’) And again – something I was very dubious about. I’ve got long, stupidly thick hair and it takes quite a bit to get the knots out. But don’t let the appearance of the Tangle Teezer deceive you. It may look like a cheap buy from a pound store, but it’s ruddy, ruddy GOOD. Of a morning in our bathroom, me and the daughter have been known to resort to fisticuffs over it.

The Spectacles

It was a long, hard adolescence for me.

It was a long, hard adolescence for me.

I’d be lost without my specs or my contact lenses. Literally. I’m borderline disabled with my myopia and I aim to blog a bit more about this later on. But for now, those spectacles rule! So,
don’t nick ’em, don’t tread on ’em and please don’t call me Speccy Four Eyes or Deirdre Barlow (oh the pain of being a spec-wearer in the 80s…it scarred me for life, I tell you.)

The Aloe Vera
Not so much a gadget, but I wouldn’t live in a home without one. Why? Because they are nature’s little way of helping us with minor burns and scalds. Sure, stick the afflicted area under the cold water tap, but you can always zap it with a bit of broken off aloe vera. Has never failed me yet.
(As for the gnomes. Well. They’re a bit useless aren’t they? But every home should have them too, methinks.)

It's all about the plant. The gnomes are my tasteful decorations.

It’s all about the plant. The gnomes are my tasteful decorations.