Raising The Spirits

7 Dec

A lot of people find this to be a difficult time of year. In the past, I never found it to be so. I always preferred Advent to the maelstrom of the big days themselves.  ‘Cause I like my anticipation, me I do.

But after losing certain very special people from my life at this time of year, there is something much more melancholic about December for me these days. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about decorating a tree with cheapo chocs from Lidl and fighting for the last Hatchimal in Toys R Us, when even the light – the blimmin’ LIGHT – at this time of year reminds you of the people who should have been here with you. Who should by rights be standing right next to you and calling you ‘a miserable old cow’ for insisting that the kid’s advent calendars MUST have pictures of the nativity and accompanying bible verses and MUST NOT contain chocolate or any other consumerist impulses.

And I know that I’m not alone in this; the mournfulness. But I also don’t believe in retreating into myself too much – and I’m not allowed to either. Because there’s my pal at the gym who constantly says ‘oh, just give yourself a good slapping, girl – and get on with it’. So I thought I would blog a few blogs this month that might spur on the strugglers amongst us at this time of year; to share a few ideas to raise a smile and to banish the blues.

First off – we have;

A fine little theatre. Lawrence Batley Theatre in wonderful Huddersfield

A fine little theatre. Lawrence Batley Theatre in wonderful Huddersfield

Take an Uncomplicated Person to the Theatre

At first, I was going to say ‘take a child’ – because being ‘uncomplicated’ usually applies to these small humans (yeah, right.) But then I thought of panto. And how I really, really hate the panto. But how I really, really love watching other people’s faces – esp. the kids – when (for the umpteenth time) they’re shrieking ‘He’s behind you!’ Yeah, uncomplicated sorts make for the ideal theatre-chum. So with mates like these, even *I* can even bear a bit of panto.

But panto aside, I would say that my happiest times of the year are when I’m ensconced in a theatre seat. There’s just something about live performance – the cast of characters, the trepidation of wondering whether anyone will fluff their lines, whether their trousers will split, maybe someone will set off a fire-alarm etc – that for me makes theatre worth every penny; far and above being pinned into some crap, chain cinema seat whilst your eardrums are blasted by the OTT sound effects.

This year, I’ve been dragging my beloveds to productions by Northern Broadsides and dear old Huddersfield Thespians. Not to mention the other am-dram societies. I certainly can’t moan about the quality and experience of any of the above (and oh… ‘the Broadsiders did a bazzin’ job of JB Priestley’s ‘When We Are Married’ – they really did) – but even if you do spend a few quid on something which is not completely top banana and you ain’t that impressed, why not swivel your head a bit and start noticing the faces of your fellow theatre go-ers? It really is a different experience to watching the gawpy expressions that people adopt when faced with a screen.

But of course, don’t take a cynic with you. Or a critic. Or someone who has any kind of literary pretensions. Take a straightforward, uncomplicated person who will just be grateful that you thrust a bag of sherbet lemons in their general direction. I took my husband to the last performance and he’s from Birmingham. So it worked out really well for everyone concerned.

Mind you – having said that, he also hates panto. About four years ago we happened to win a family ticket to a panto in Halifax. And the two of us felt this terrible, overriding compulsion to leave. Which we did – during the interval. We told the kids that;  “it’s finished now. Wasn’t that nice?”

The drive back to Huddersfield consisted of the older child saying to her little brother; “You know, Sleeping Beauty was supposed to wake up at some point. I hate it when they change the stories.”


Dream on, girl. We can't be arsed to stay for any more of this stuff.

Dream on, girl. We can’t be bothered to stay for any more of this stuff.



A Blanket Descends.

9 Nov

(Howling from the kitchen)

ME: (coming downstairs). Go on then. Is that happy howling?

12 yr old GIRL:  Noooo Nooooooo! He’s got in. Trump. It’s Trump! My God! What is WRONG with these people?

ME:                    (that’s dumbstruck silence)

8 yr old BOY: (coming downstairs) What? Trump got in? That’s a nightmare.

GIRL: You’re telling me! It’s a catastrophe!!

ME:                   (more dumbstruck silence)

BOY: Someone needs to tell Dad. (He scampers upstairs. Then comes down again)  Dad says ‘ha ha very funny and have I packed my PE shorts as he’s sick of being my servant or whatever.’  It’s a disaster! And Dad thinks we’re joking.


Thumbs down for Trump. Until it snowed.

GIRL: Oh Emm Gee – this is like, the worst thing ever ever ever. Like, 8 years ago, Mum – I was 4 – and *he* (jerks head at brother) was sat in his high chair there, slopping his food everywhere and generally being totally repulsive –  so *he* won’t remember it. But *you* were getting all … crying at Radio 4 …. ’cause Obama got in and you thought it was like, dead important because he was black and a dude and all of that. So what the hell has gone wrong??? Someone tell me!!!

ME:                  (even more dumbstruck silence. I had no idea she remembered that. Oh crap. What else can she remember?)

BOY: Yes it’s all a disaster. I’m so depressed. It’s gonna be World War Three. We’re all gonna die. But  … heyyyyy!!!!  (looking out the window.) Cool!!!  Look at the snow!! There’s snow everywhere! Ah, wow!  Cool!  Can I get my snow boots, Mum. Please please please!

GIRL: (flares up) What is WRONG with you? This is the worst thing EVER!  And all of a sudden you’re happy because IT SNOWED!! You are SO shallow! A bit of snow and you suddenly forget about Trump and the end of civilisation or like, whatever?!

ME: (finding voice) Well. You might as well let him enjoy the snow. Trump won’t be doing much about climate change. You may well not be seeing snow for much longer. But the world might well enjoy many more incidences of letchy old fellas getting away with groping young ladies.

GIRL: (in a wonderful impersonation of Trump’s voice) So that’s ok, then!



Skimmed? Or Devoured.

4 Nov

As a life-long bookworm, it came a bit of a shock to me when I noticed that my 6 year old daughter would do anything not to read. Indeed, we soon noticed that the kid was hiding her school reading books down the back of the settee (which in my household is a remarkably risky activity, unless you want your reading materials to be encrusted in marmite-toast and dead spiders.)

Initially, my reaction to this was; “blimey, what I crap parent I must be”, followed by “this is her dad’s fault – he’s always crowing that ‘I’ve seen the film, don’t need to read the book'” and then finally, I realised that something was indeed the matter.  That maybe the child had dyslexia.

A simulator which shows how *some* dyslexics experience the written word

A simulator which shows how *some* dyslexics experience the written word

Problem was though – that the school wouldn’t get her tested. Told us that she was ‘too young’ to be diagnosed. ‘Poppycock’ – we were later told by an expert. The *real reason* for lack of help was that our girl was beautifully behaved in lessons. It turned out that the kids who cause maximum classroom disruption were the only ones able to access local authority funded testing.

So, we took her off for a private test. The tests involved lots more than just looking for dyslexia. Full IQ analysis and all of that gubbins. And whilst the cost of it brought tears to my eyes at the time, it was the best thing that we ever did for her. Because – yup – it found that her literacy ability was presenting itself as what we commonly refer to as ‘dyslexia.’ But we were also told that she was naturally smart, she could easily make good this gap of hidden impairment, if she got the right amount of help.

Now one of the reasons that the girl didn’t want to read, was because (she said) all of the school reading books were ‘well dull.’ And at this point, I had to concede that she was right. Because I had to sit and read a lot of them with her. I’m sorry to say that they were the same old same old formulaic fripperies. The children seemed to have none of the golden oldies that I remembered had sparked my own imagination as a 6 year old (Flat Stanley, Bobby Brewster, Just William, Amelia Jane, etc). So I asked a friend in the publishing industry “Why are there such few reprints of the brilliant books of the past? Why do schools insist on trying to feed our kids such badly written modern tosh?”  After reminding me that this was a slightly unfair statement on my part, he went on to inform me that these days, schools only have access to the ‘bargain basement, cheap as chips’ stuff that the big publishing houses want to sell ASAP. And yeah, there are a few incredible ‘stand-outs’ that I don’t mind conceding to (Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, Annabel Pitcher) but in general…

Its more of a case of supply dictating demand. Of the big publishers force-feeding our kids the kind of genre/theme that worked last year. They don’t want to take risks on a new author with a different approach. Hence too many coloured fairies, young wizards and vampy-sorts wandering about. And amidst all of this, the parent of the dyslexic child (quite understandably) presumes that the school is providing sufficient stimulation for the kid who needs a bit more help to get into a book. But the school teachers lack the time to research which books work the best – and the schools – you guessed it – lack the money available to buy stuff that isn’t coming from the big booksellers.

My own personal answer to this dilemma was to hit charity shops, second hand book shops and eBay. To trawl them for the oldest, tattiest books that were deemed not to be ‘hot’ enough for a big publisher to want to do a new edition of.  But which were a superb, captivating, beautifully written read.  I don’t mind patting myself on the back for this one – the results paid off; but my girl also put the effort in (and oh yeah, banning the telly helped too. Evil? Moi?)

This one would live in a library if you let him.

This one would live in a library if you let him.

And child number two – my son – couldn’t have been any different. It’s the opposite story with him. It’s US having to HIDE books from HIM when we want him to get off his bum and to help around the house. He has been known to sit and read the instruction manuals for fridge-freezers when his favourites have been whipped away from him.

So I was fascinated to hear about the latest research from the University of Dundee which found a bit of a gender gap when it comes to kids and reading. You can read an interesting summary of it here – http://huntington.researchschool.org.uk/2016/10/29/what-are-our-children-reading/ but in short; lads tend to skim read more and choose less challenging books than girls. Of course, there could be a lot of reasons for this; perhaps boys are lazier and have a false confidence in their abilities, perhaps girls are more anxious at missing out on that all-important passage that could change their life and lead them to The Handsome Prince. I jest of course – but as a Governor of a high school, I’m also acutely aware that we are really struggling to treat our boys with fab and unusual reading material. And one of the problems with the research itself, is that it only focussed on the books that are included in the schools ‘Accelerated Reading Scheme’, which, if you have read the previous paragraphs, you will realise content-wise is dictated via the supply and ‘presumed demand market-monsters’ again.

So what do we do? How do we improve the literacy of kids who struggle to keep engaged and interested in reading? Those of you that know me already, will know that my first response will be ‘less of the e-devices for our kids, if you please; it’s a book for ’em or nowt!’  But I’m a realist and I know that this isn’t possible for a lot of us.

In an ideal world, I’d love to see classrooms stuffed with rich, high quality, old and new reading material. But I can’t see this happening right now, for the reasons above. In an ideal world, I’d like to say that there should be an effective partnership between parent and school; to spend time together nailing the specific problems that their child has in terms of literacy. But again…. it’s time. And it’s always money.

So I’m afraid, that this is one which will have to fall onto the shoulders of parents and relatives. One thing that many literacy studies over the years has shown us – and you might well be able to look at the reading habits of your own loved ones in order to bear this out – is that some of us prefer fiction and some of us prefer fact. And whilst I’d be chuffed to see all kids reading and enjoying my own book recommendations, that would be a bit… well. Stepford Wife-ish. And whilst I’d be thrilled to see all children reading every line on every page of every book; again. Where the hell would society be if we didn’t skim and scan and chuck the odd crappy book at the wall, every now and then?theweek

One of the things that I discovered about my dyslexic daughter is that her eyes/ brain want to work so fast, that she tend to ‘word skip,’ and this means that she sometimes skims a book. In fact, we soon realised that she was reading our newspapers. We can’t get her away from our ‘History’ magazines and she’s even been pondering ‘Private Eye’. So we did a bit of research and tried her out with her own – and ‘The Week Junior’ has proven to be a big hit. http://theweekjunior.co.uk/ She gets to keep abreast of current affairs and she gets a rare and magical occurrence these days – real time post, from Bob The Postie!

Personally, I would love to see schools taking out subscriptions to magazines for kids; to start buying more fact-based publications. To accept donations of previously loved, less shiny-new but top quality books. Yes! To get laminating those magazines in case of Irn-Bru spillage (those teachers and their unhealthy lifestyles, eh?) I mean, why should we be discriminating against young people who don’t have the desire to read the youthful version of the likes of ‘War and Peace’? Why should there be one rule for them and one rule for the adult world? private_eye

So with Christmas rapidly approaching, why don’t we treat the youngsters in our life to a magazine subscription? And why don’t we nudge our schools to raise money for the same – as opposed to the usual ‘we need ipads’. And apologies if I sound like an old fuddy-duddy but – we can’t sit here moaning about literacy levels when the nippers are bombarded by devices that actively discourage them from slowing down and perusing the paper.

And on that note, I shall go and go and take a hammer to those nasty powerloom thingies. Be the death of our society, those things will.




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!)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07z3zfy

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!) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Diamonds-Rise-English-Dynasty/dp/0141019239 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.