Tag Archives: manchester

…And a Font-Filled New Year

31 Dec

I can’t think of a nicer way to spread cheer and to end the year than mentioning an old chum from my childhood.

Every card of Stuart's topically features our local landscape. Here's the monstrous IKEA too!

Every card of Stuart’s topically features our local landscape. This year’s features the monstrous IKEA too!

Stuart Vallantine (can tell you himself) that he hasn’t always had an easy ride in life. A few years younger than me,  this wonderful lad first presented himself to the world as a bit of an unusual wee dude. Stuart lived around the corner from me and I spent many an hour in church, trying to keep a lid on the enthusiastic little boy’s outbursts during really dull sermons. He used to hook onto something said by the minister and then start reciting adverts from the telly that used the same word or terminology. Great fun to be around – as he really annoyed old ladies who took the Old Testament just a tad bit too seriously and who failed to appreciate the nuances of British Telecom commercials.stuart-2013-xmas-card

Anyway. The merry / melancholic season just isn’t the same unless I received a hand-drawn card by Stu (no pressure there, our kid.) So I wanted to nudge you towards his story and his website.  stuart-xmas1

Stuart hardly needs more followers; he is probably the most successful, proudly autistic-blogger in the UK. But if you *do* want to find out a bit more about Stuart, his life, his artwork, his politics, Stalybridge Celtic, 70’s and 80’s pop, his writing and poetry, plus the public transport history of the Mancunian area – then please, put your feet up and check out his blog.

A previous year's - worship of waterways too.

Oh. And the ‘font’ bit? Stuart is an expert on fonts. He really is a national treasure.

So where’s his ruddy OBE then? I’m sure Stuart would have an interesting political answer for that one.

Have a great 2017 and go see https://mancunian1001.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

More talent in this little finger than most of that lot on the Honours List. Really!

More talent in his little finger than most of that lot on the Honours List. Really!

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Go Ask Your Mother… Or Even Better -Grill Your Granny

7 Sep

Do you know what an ‘inter-generational’ project is? Sounds riveting, eh?

But before you expire of boredom in anticipation of today’s little bloggy-offering, please let me reassure you that this whole ‘inter-generational project’ malarky truly IS something to write home about. That it genuinely IS something that should tickle all of our fancies.

You too - can find out about an older relatives smoking habits. (Although in this photo, our kid possesses a chocolate cigar.)

See below. You too – can find out about an older relatives smoking habits. (Although in this photo, our kid possesses a chocolate cigar.)

In the days of yore, we simply used to refer to such projects as ‘Hey – I have a grandparent. Aren’t they BRILLIANT!!!??!!!’ (Ref: ‘The Fast Show’. Go Google.)

But I don’t want to get too sarky about this side of things, because lots of us (for whatever reasons) have lacked older relatives in our lives. For instance, the folk whom we could rightly claim as our own grandparents and older aunties and uncles, could have passed away when we were just wee nippers. Or maybe family breakdown meant that through no fault of our own, we were estranged from our parent’s parents.

Or perhaps even, those so-called Elders n’ Betters actually turned out to be drunken old lushes who had buggered off with a toy boy named Gazza to the Costa Del Sol (and that was just your Grandad…)

Inter-generational learning about growing up to be a Fag Ash Lil...

Inter-generational learning about growing up to become ‘a Fag Ash Lil’…

Anyways. In recognition of this – and of the fact that so many kids and young people today lack older role models in their lives, I’ve always loved creating and getting involved with such inter-generational projects. The first one that I ever heard about was run by a local community group in Gorton, Manchester. Teens who were having a tough time in life were taught how to do ‘hand-massage’ and were partnered with elderly folk in the area. As yon teen massaged the hand of an older buddy, they both got to know one another better, they traded experiences of dwelling in a (sometimes tough-to-live-in and to-grow-up-in area) and yup… you can just imagine. The youth received some great pearls of wisdom in life, made new ‘mates’… and the older ones who had lent their hands (and their heads) said that the whole project made them feel ‘less lonely’ and ‘more useful to the young people in our area.’

One of my all-time favourite inter-generational projects took place a few years ago, when I lived and worked in the Kalahari in Namibia. Whilst out there,  I trained San Bushmen youth to interview and record the words and lives of their elders. Not only did the kids find out startling new information in relation to how their ancestors used to live – before these amazing indigenous folk were kicked off their homelands – but the project also led to much improved relationships between old and young, heralding a revival in bushmen culture (the youth learning the traditional dances, the methods of hunting and gathering, the history etc. of their elders.)

The book I produced as a result of the San inter-generational project.

A wee book I produced as a result of the San inter-generational project.

It was startling that the San bushmen youth and elders often lived in the same one-roomed shack, but still knew very little about the histories of the elders. And yet… isn’t this something that we’re all guilty of?

I consider myself to be fortunate. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that my family are an unusual blend of working-class white and Pakistani-British muslim origin. Over the last two decades – collectively – we have had to overcome plenty of prejudice and bigotry (and I’m not even referring to the poor, discriminated-against Brummie contingent.) So we talk a lot. More than most families, probably.

But even then, we haven’t spent enough ‘getting to know you’ time together. And there has been a huge element of taking the grandpees (as we call them) for granted. Just ask my own Ma about the fact that she and I rarely get time to have a proper natter – because when we do speak to each other, it’s all about the littlies – the dates, the change of dates (yeh-soz Mum), the music lessons, the allergies, the tantrums, the sleeping arrangements, the bargain buys at Boyes in Ilkley and the Panto-tickets. It seems that the generation above us – and us grown-up parents, never get round to simply passing the time of day, talking about the past, mulling over not-so small matters such as Life n’ Death.

Sure, if you’re into your history as I am, you can take all of this ‘missed info’ stuff rather seriously. Urged on by the best Professor of History in the world (Carl Chinn) back in my university days, I actually recorded an interview with my own Granny. I unearthed some fascinating stuff (Gran was once wooed by a certain young Mr Cadbury, whilst she happened to be on her hols in Llandudno…) but you don’t have to be as organised as I, weirdy, nerdy-teen,  clearly happened to be.

Granny in the beret on Llandudno pier. Legging it from multi-millionaire choco-magnate. Like you do.

My Granny (in the beret) on Llandudno pier. Legging it from the advances of a multi-millionaire choco-magnate. As you do.

Because this is where the informal inter-generational project perhaps needs to be considered a bit more by all of us. I was reminded of this the other day when my ten year old informed me of a startling new nugget of information;

GIRL: Mum, did you know how you came to be called ‘Christina’?

ME: Well – yeah. I think Grandma just liked the sound of it.

GIRL: Oh no. It wasn’t like that. You weren’t given your name straight away. Grandad told me.

ME: Well… I know that I wasn’t ‘Christina’ straight away. I know that my hospital tag only had my surname on it. And I do remember seeing a few ‘arrival of new baby’ cards that referred to me as ‘Baby Jennifer.’ So they obviously changed their minds about plumping for that one.

GIRL: Well I know why and how it all happened. About two days after they brought you home from the hospital and thought you would probably be called ‘Jennifer’, the phone rang and Grandad answered it. A drunken man asked for ‘Christina.’  Grandad told the bloke that no one called that name lived there.

ME: Oh.

GIRL: Yes – then – the next night, at exactly the same time – the drunken man rang again and asked for ‘Christina.’ Again. And Grandad said the same thing. No one here called that.  And then when he hung up he said to Grandma ‘Actually – that’s a nice name isn’t it?’ And so they decided finally on your name and registered you with that name – and all of that.

ME: Great. So I was named as the result of a drunken, telephone mis-dialling phenomenon?

GIRL: Yeah! Cool eh?

nana and us babies

My Nana nurses me. My brother was probably hankering after Nana’s pink turban. Ah…the days when hats really *were* hats eh?

But this daft ‘your namesake’ new little revelation of mine reminded me of another ‘inter-generational’ discovery. Sadly, my own Nana died as a result of suffering with terrible dementia. For the last year or so of her life, her conversation made very little sense to most people. But as her granddaughter – it was perhaps easier for me than for others – to listen to her words and to try and find the meaning behind them.

But for Nana’s own daughters it must have been terribly too painful and too frustrating for them to listen to. (And if you’ve ever been through this, you’ll know that nursing a relative or friend through dementia is one of the most heartbreaking experiences in the world. This is truly a case in point where a generation-removed is sometimes a ‘balm for the soul.’)

A year or so after Nana had died – thanks to my dad’s renewed interest in family history – my mother informed me that she had just discovered that her Grandad had died in the Great War. Mum hadn’t known about this at all (because Nana’s mother had remarried when she was only small, so my mother had grown up only hearing about the stepfather in the family.)

AND YET – GOBBY GIRL HERE – already knew about this.

Seriously.

“But I already knew this, Mum,” I said when she told me about the fact that my dad had even discovered Great-Grandad’s war grave.  “Nana told me a few months before she died. An entire tale about how she met him when she was tiny and he was just back home on leave from the war. Wearing his uniform.”

Samuel Hight's grave 1 sml

When she finally knew where her Grandad was buried, mum left a photo of his family next on top of his war grave in Flanders.

This this little case study of course, marked a far more emotional inter-generational revelation than my recent discovery of the drunken phone conversation. And it also culminated in my parents going to visit my Great Grandad’s war grave in Flanders. Serious, heart-rending and important stuff can be uncovered – if we just listen to each other a bit more, between the generations. If I had thought to have mentioned this to my own mum before Nana died… perhaps we could have mentioned it to her more in her last few weeks and…

But no point in dwelling on it.

And on a lighter note,  as well as being the recipients of previously unheard-of information, the younger generations can also inform their elders of stuff that they might not be aware of. Or ‘grass us parents up,’ if you like. My daughter told me last week; “Grandad had no idea that you once chucked a tin of baked beans at Uncle Steven’s head. And that you always tried to get *your own brother into trouble* all of the time –  by sneaking into his room and turning the dial up on his stereo and leaving empty crisp packets filled with water on his floor.”

kung fu fighting

Thanks to my kids, my own folks are more aware of the Kung Fu fighting that went on when *their* backs were turned.

And then the titbits that you feed your own kids about what the grandpees revealed to you about their childhoods, can come back and bite the grandparent’s bums… (“Mum – Grandad tried to tell me off for punching my brother but then I said that he had no right to, because back in the 1950s he once hit another kid over the head with a shovel-handle.”)

So the moral of the tale is to keep that dialogue flowing between the budding youth and the oldies. Between ALL of us really. Or you can do as my mother-in-law has done, write down your life story and self-publish it – ensuring that your nearest and dearest find out about the bits that you may never have gotten round to sharing (although a very elderly friend of mine has done the same but has a lot more scandal to share and has therefore neatly typed out her life story and it remains under lock and key until she shuffles off this mortal coil.)

Go on Grandpa. Dish the dirt on what a miserable little swine our Dad was...

Go on Grandpa. Dish the dirt on what a miserable little swine our Dad was…

Inter-generational questioning of one another however,  can cause a bit of embarrassment. It might be pertinent for example, to advise the younger generation that it ain’t clever to grill your grandparents about their sex life (as a slap round the chops can often offend.) So diplomacy should always rule the day when interviewing your elders, my dears…

But if anyone- ANYONE – out there happens to know of a chappy who used to be rather sozzled during the 1970’s and who had a lady-friend called ‘Christina’ – you will give me a tinkle, won’t you?

Because it could be the last piece of my own inter-generational puzzle…

Teddy Boy-Dad. Apparently he had 'come to bed eyes'. But these days Mum says its in order to test the new electric blanket he got from Aldi.

My Teddy Boy-Dad once told me that “the girls always said that I had ‘come to bed eyes.'” And I’m all for trading stories Pops, but let’s leave it at that. Eh?

A Killer? Minus The Caffeine.

14 Jul
Post 3 – for ReadKirklees

Occasionally I do chuck a book title or two into this blog as ‘recommended reading’ for like-minded folk. And last year I flagged up a book named ‘King Crow,’ by Michael Stewart. Mr Stewart happens to hail from the same side of the hills as I do (that dreadful Manchester place) and like me, he also did the defector thing – now happily living in west Yorkshire, hanging out in Kirklees and no doubt feeling as confused as I do, in terms of whether he’s more of a red, than a white rose.

Purchased in 1989 from Afflecks Palace. One of my many relics...

Purchased in 1989 from Afflecks Palace. One of my many relics from days of yore..

Now, ‘King Crow’ was a darned fine book. So much so that it won The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ award. So much so that I’ll be honest here; I didn’t really want to read Michael Stewart’s next offering. Because I don’t know about you, but these days, I rarely find a writer who manages to pack the same kind of punch with that ‘difficult second novel.’

But ‘Cafe Assassin’ has more than managed to pull this off. For me, the acid test of a damned good read is this; that you find yourself flicking back and forth in the book – checking facts and circumstances; reminding yourself of the vaguely sketched but now important, details of the story. Smiling to yourself ‘ah yes….that fits. I like that.’ And the proof of the pudding lies in the fact that you find yourself thinking of the story a few weeks later – pondering the characters, their motivations. And finally – when you find yourself trying to lend your copy to your mother (even though there are snippets in there that she might not fully approve of – and I’m not talking about the way the author disses The Cramps) well. Then you know that you really *should* flag the book up to all and sundry.

Be afraid. Especially if you're a posh QC who screwed your one-time best buddy over...

Be afraid. Especially if you’re a posh QC who screwed your one-time best buddy over…

Michael Stewart doesn’t just write books. He’s a bit of a scripter too. And his work always touches on the kind of themes that fascinate me the most; working class origins, poverty versus privilege, justice, people struggling to find their own unique voice in a world that seeks to sink the undesirables and the impoverished as fast as it damned well can.  And what I love most about his writing style is that it isn’t exclusive – anyone – of practically any reading ability – can pick up his work and engage with excellent prose, ultra-realistic discourse, canny social observations and humour – whilst actually educating themselves at the same time (i.e. I’m off to read some Baudelaire and a dab of Gerard de Nerval now.)

Neither does ‘Cafe Assassin’ lack on the storyline. Regular readers of this blog know that for nigh on 15 years, I’ve been involved in support to prisoners at home and abroad – so the blurb on the back of the book was a clincher for me; “Nick Smith went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, after twenty-two years inside, he is looking for the man who put him there…Nick wants everything that Andrew has. He wants it all and he will do anything to get it.”

To kick off with, we don’t know what Nick has done – whether he *has* indeed committed a crime at all – but we know for sure that he’s out and about these days and that he’s mega naffed-off.  In between the thrill of the chase – the desire for house, life, wife – I love the way that Michael Stewart deftly weaves in the colours of the North; I found myself hankering back to the days of mooching around Afflecks Palace in my monkey boots with the Rasta shoelaces, hanging out at The Dry and at The Night and Day Cafe, laughing at the ‘student-types’ at the Hacienda … (and will the lad who approached me on the dance floor there in ’91, informing me “Hey Girl – I’m digging your rave!” please email me? Because you are categorically the only man who has ever complimented me on my dancing prowess. And I would personally like to thank you. You were twisting my melon, man.)

Baggy jeans, maybe. But was there EVER an real excuse for me wearing these things?

Baggy jeans, maybe. But was there EVER an real excuse for me wearing these things down the Hacienda?

So from the dropping of E’s down at the Hac (not me, Mum!) to the violence of Cat A-Wing HMP Wakefield… right over to the triple-garaged homes of well-heeled Ilkley; our protagonist continues to lurk and plots the utmost in revenge. Yup – Cafe Assassin has all of the bases covered for me.

But I’m not going to spoil any of the suspense for those of you who want to read it (and believe me – there’s bags of the stuff in there) but I will say that for me, at any rate – the ending was rather unexpected.

dockers

Another one of my MADchester antiques

But certainly not a let-down.

So if you are after a rollocking good read for the summer; if you trust me on my previous choices and words of wisdom and if you want to support one of the best indie publishers in the UK (those Bluemoose people) then do snaffle this book up ASAP.

ms on cimbali

The only missing ingredient in the book? The caffeine.

In fact, my only criticism of the novel is that there was a distinct lack of caffeine involved.  But then, none of us are perfect.

 

 

Don’t Be A Bird Brain

16 Oct

Followers will know that I like to blog about all kinds of stuff, but that I can become the gobbiest when it comes to the issue of ‘outsiders’. Yes, I get all crabby about those who are on the fringes of society (because of lack of income or birth right or connections) but I also get my knickers in a twist in relation to the way that people who are deemed to be a bit ‘different’, ‘quirky,’ ‘eccentric’ or who seem to be singing from a completely different song-sheet from the rest of us ‘normals,’ are treated.

Elvis falls into one of these categories.  Not only is his name un-cool (because most families don’t listen to Elvis obsessively as we do) but he also happens to be a budgie. And after Father Christmas delivered him to us last year I have lost count of the number of times people have exclaimed “Ha-ha! You have a budgie! Aren’t they a little old ladies’ pet? How bizarre!”

He was a loving little companion. Until he shat on my copy holder.

He was a loving little companion. Until he shat on my copy holder.

So even though our Elvis is one un-cool dude – he has clearly has a feathery little soul of his own. So he gets treated like royalty (better than royalty actually, if Prince Harry trucked up to our house – I certainly wouldn’t be cleaning his turds up with a wadge of Kleenex). During the daytime if the house is empty, Radio 4 is switched on so that he doesn’t get too lonely (he is a huge fan of Women’s Hour and has a bit of a thing for Jenni Murray). And if I’m working from home he accompanies me to the office (he’s sitting on the printer right now chirruping away – and yeah, it’s yours truly who has to leave the room if the phone rings. Not all professional callers are as understanding of a budgie’s need to squawk along to The Archers as you’d hope that they might be.)

Yesterday, I was in the middle of reading an excellent guide  for employers on how to create an autie-friendly workplace when my daughter (who was trying – and failing –  to train Elvis to sing a Beatles song) interrupted me with “Hey Mum, why do we use ‘Bird Brain’ as an insult? ‘Cause Elvis – and all birds – are way cleverer than my brother…” and this reminded me of a fantastic book that I recently read.

‘King Crow’ by Michael Stewart had me all fired up. Indeed, chuffed to bits. Because the action takes place in a very foreign, an oh-so exotic and distant place. Far-flung shores which are all too often overlooked by the UK south-eastern dominated publishers. Yeah folks, this venture into alien territory involves all of us suspending those LondonCentric belief systems and assimilating a superb tale that centres on a general geographical area known as ‘the North of England.’  And then focuses further on an even smaller microscopic part of the landscape which happens to possess a very un-Kensington and Chelsea place name. That of ‘Salford.’ Or pronounced ‘Sol-fud.’ (In case you somehow thought that it should be uttered as ‘SORL-FORRD’)

So yeah, thank God for people like Michael Stewart who are proud of their roots and who enjoy writing for the literati – as well as for plebs like me n’ mine. Folk who get all giddy because we used to wander through those exact same tower blocks which he touches upon.  People who know precisely what the terraced houses he mentions still look like (or indeed,  taste like … I used to have a thing for licking red brick work when I was a nipper. But let’s not go there.)

And my interest in reading this book was piqued further when I realised that the story is told through the eyes of a school boy who is autistic. Although the ‘A’ word is never used. It doesn’t need to be. Michael S  simply shows that his protagonist Paul Cooper, operates on a different plane to most others. And that Paul’s obsessive traits are focussed on birds (and unlike most teenage boys, this kid’s fixation is with on the ornithological – the feathery, rather than the female form.)

Who's The Daddy?

Who’s The Daddy?

Now, you might already be familiar with the ‘Rainman’/ Dustin Hoffman version of what being autistic might entail – but ‘King Crow’ is a beautiful reminder of how autism can take both stark and subtle shapes within a personality. And it also nudges the reader into realising that obsessions – which might at first hold no interest for the reader whatsoever, when so cleverly woven into a story with such a fascinating character – can leave your fingers itching to find out more via Google. Or cause you to fall into petulant arguments with your six year old as to whether “it IS a sodding Crow in the back garden. Or a raven.  Or…let’s get the damned field book out, eh our kid?”

I don’t normally blether on about books that you MUST read – but if you tend to care about the sort of things that I get all het-up about, then this is a book for you. And I won’t say anymore about it for fear of spoiling the storyline…

And for those of you who have already read this book and who have enjoyed other stuff delivered by Mr Stewart. you will be pleased to hear that his next book will be launced in the new year. (Although sadly, the guy cannot guarantee any budgie cameos.)

But hey.  Back to the report that I mentioned earlier*. And an excellent quote from it. Courtesy of a fella named Stephen Shore. Who offers some very sage advice.  Which I reckon, should be applied not only to autism but to many other hidden impairments. And to the overall issue of ‘intelligence’ itself.

“If you’ve met one person with autism. You have met one person with autism.” (Stephen Shore.)

 

Never mind your bloody bird-brain! Sherlock's latest cerebral rival...

Never mind your bloody bird-brain! Going pipe to claw.  Sherlock’s latest cerebral rival… (and never mind my northern bias – check out Museum of London’s ace new exhib on our Sherlock and his incredible legacy)

 

* ‘Making Employment a Positive Experience for People in Calderdale’ By Matthew Lowe – for Calderdale Council and National Autistic Society

 

 

The Boris Test…

7 Aug

Love him? Or hate him. I am enjoying the Marmite analogy…

I have my own views on Boris’ politics. But the power of the charisma, the affability mixed with the sharp mind…means that even those who are ultra-cynical about the fella, even those who consider themselves to be committed Commies can be fallable.

A few months ago me and mine were hanging out in the Kalahari – the African bush. No phone, no TV, no internet access. All good fun – once we had gotten over the initial shock of being back there again. We managed to convey the lack of telecommunications to our nearest and dearest back in Blighty and every now and then – when we hit a town – we were able to pick up the odd message.

And a so-called friend of ours had sent us a gabbled email. Something along the lines of “Hope you’re having a great time! Must be weird not having access to outside world news etc. Bet you haven’t heard about Boris Johnson! He’s been a tragic accident and things are looking v bad for him.”

End of quick message.

We didn’t have a strong enough signal to find out more about Boris. Instead, we spent the next few days saying things to each other along the lines of;

HIM: I wonder what happened?  I wonder if he fell off his bicycle and went under a London bus or something.

ME: Either way, it’s awful. I mean – I don’t agree with his politics and all of that….

HIM: And the acting like a total twonk thing – that was always SO transparent…

ME: But even so – it’s just dreadful. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I quite like him. In a sort of….

HIM: … Perverse kind of way?

ME: Yeah. That. I hope he pulls through. From – whatever happened.

HIM: Let’s try and ring your dad when we can get a phone signal or something.

We spent the next few days begging African friends to try and find out the info on this ‘London Mayor with Yellow Hair’. Whom they had never heard of. But the Namibian papers were either not interested in Boris J. Or they also thought that he was a bit of a twonk.

And then we managed to get a phone signal and I called up my dad.

Phonecall to Manchester:

ME: Hi dad! Gotta be quick – costs a fortune from here!

DAD: Hello back. What time is it there? What’s the weather like there? It’s spitting here! Spitting, I tell you!

ME: Never mind the Peter Kay jokes, Dad. What’s happened to Boris Johson?

DAD: No idea what you’re on about. He’s still as bloody annoying as ever.

ME: So he… hasn’t been fatally wounded in an accident with a pigeon in Trafalgar Square, or anything?

DAD: Not what I know of. Anyway. What do I care about London? They can do what they want down there. Nowt to do with me.

So that was it. End of Big Filthy Lie about Boris Johnson, which our ‘hilarious friend’ decided to spin for us whilst we were On Incommunicado.

It certainly taught me a thing or two:

1) Rumour can be a powerful thing

2) You think that you dislike a politician but when push comes to shove – you discover that you may have a secret soft spot for them (Durr…! I *do* mention the guy in my book…go figure!)

3) You think that you’re trying to raise your kids not to be too partisan, but even your kids catch on (‘I never like the bad blue party – but the jolly mayor wasn’t so bad. I’m sorry that he drowned on the Underground thing.’)

To conclude. Boris Johnson is clever, clever. And capable of shrugging off the amiable buffon image.

Watch this space.

Don't look now! But is Boris about to fall foul of a London Bus?

Don’t look now! But is Boris about to fall foul of a London Bus?

 

 

 

Bicycles … Yorkshire … Africa?

19 May

Me. Fresh as a daisy! Yeah, right.

Back from sub-saharan Africa … a houseswap … a work-related project … and a ‘holiday’ (employing inverted commas here because is it *ever* a holiday when accompanied by humans under the age of 21 who happen to be your own, delightful offspring?)

So much to report on  and to ruminate over after our little jaunt to The Motherland. To begin with – how we dealt with such an enormous lack of internet, cell phones, a TV, doorbells and immediate neighbours (none within a mile …)

All of this was utterly weird at first. And then it became incredibly wonderful.  And I am missing it already. After the first few hours of adjustment, we began to see it all as a bit like a gift from the big guy upstairs (NB – apologies to my Brit next-door neighbour, Lisa  – who really shouldn’t take offence at the above paragraph. Our Lisa is welcome anytime of the day at our slum – especially if the cuppas are accompanied by our usual bitch-fest with regards to certain Kirklees household refuse collectors!)

But one thing that I am really noticing since we got back is the sheer volume of giddiness with regards to Le Tour Yorkshire here in The Valleys.

Don’t get me wrong – I am chuffed to mintballs about the fact that Le Tour is going to be wheeling it’s way through God’s Own Country. Many of our local writer-sorts worked their batties off in order to get a teensy bit of grant-funding so that we could mix n’ mash writing and the arts and expose the usual wheely-obsessed sorts to our local scribbling talent (YOU GO Holme village and the Yurt and our postcard project!)

But having had many conversations with desperately poor people in southern Africa as to the the tiny things that would improve their lives, I cannot help but have a slightly different perspective on things on my return home.  Apart from food, healthcare and education – one of the things that cropped up time and again was ‘transport’.

“Just a bicycle to share between our families, would really make such a difference,” was something that we heard an awful lot…

Owning a bicycle would mean that those people in Namibia, in rural Botswana, Zambia, Zim or South Africa – those who might live out in the former townships and who are the fortunate ones to have jobs out in the towns – don’t have to spend one-fifth of their meagre wages on transport. Owning a bicycle would mean access to emergency help when problems arise. Owning a bicycle would mean true independence – a foothold on the ladder to dignity. Owning a bicycle would mean having enough food in order to stop your children from dying of malnutrition.

And really, I am not exaggerating this last point. I’ve just arrived back home to the UK. I witnessed a deterioration in circumstances for the poorest people in Namibia since only a few years ago, when I lived there myself. I saw what a difference just a few pennies a week can make. In terms of life and death amongst the bairns in the Kalahari…

But more on that, later.

So. for now.  Let’s celebrate our marvellous chance to show the world how Yorkshire Rocks in terms of our hills and valleys – but let’s also have a serious think about how we can turn some of the media spotlight and the inevitable money involved in Le Tour – into something that will actually benefit the world’s poor.

And yeah. I am inviting Answers and Ideas On A Postcard. Please!

Le Tour Yorkshire – and indeed Holmfirth – came with us. But we would have loved to have left a permanent legacy in a land that so desperately needs two-wheelers…

 

Mr Benn, Bob Geldof and an annoying African Drummer

14 Mar

Politicians eh? You can’t trust ’em, can you? They’re all in it for themselves. Well, most of us have said that at one time or another. But it simply isn’t true.

One of the reasons that I wrote ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ was to try and tackle this question. What would happen if a posh-boy politician ended up stranded on a northern sink council-estate…faced with the rather sticky situation of a demented pensioner, a flooded home, victims of domestic violence and psycho wife-beaters? Would the guy be able to hack it? What kind of stuff ARE our politicians made of? (Note – you have to peruse the book to find out what next, dear reader…)

Tony Benn would have been able to deal with it. Tony Benn would have won over the women, the E-numbered up ASBO kids and would have talked down nutter smack-head wife-thumper. Tony Benn would have…Yes, by now – you will have gathered that I am a bit of a Tony Benn fan. So, I was gutted at hearing of his death today.  I’ve heard him speak, I’ve met ‘his people’ and I’ve always admired his words and his work. In fact, I adored the chap so much that I simply *had* to mention him in one of my chapters (Ch 15 where the female victims of domestic violence discuss politicians and where dear old Tony Benn gets mistaken for Tony Blair -‘Well Tony whoever…they’re all a  bunch of rich, lyin’ bastards.’)

So Tony Benn is a leading light for me. But he isn’t the only one. I was going to produce a little list here of ‘the good guys n gals.’ But that would be far too toadying of me, eh?

Still, I am going to make one exception to my rule and tell you how and why the spirit of Tony Benn hasn’t left the building. One of his sons, Hilary Benn happens to be an MP (and former Minister for International Development) and this fella embodies the principles, the style and the devotion to making the world a fairer place that we all surely hanker after. He’s also an MP for the Leeds area (so the northern-prejudice boxes are ticked there.)

Now here is where I get to do a bit of name-dropping. A few years ago I was in London at some United Nations related affair. I was introduced by (another one of the *nameless* good guys) to Hilary Benn. He was wonderful to talk to – a real listener.  Super-duper smart. Knew his onions. ***(((But I kept wanting to say ‘Hilary. I think that your dad is just amazing!’)))***

Unfortunately we were standing right in front of some African drumming – which was all very atsmospheric but a little too high up on the decibal scale of things. I managed to catch Hilary saying something about  ‘Come and meet Bob’ and he turned to hug another bloke.Who turned out to be Bob Geldof. (NB for those of you who are curious – Bob was wearing A SUIT and he is, I have to say a very handsome chappie in the flesh….I had to stop myself from wondering why I had always had a thing for John Travolota back in the 70s when Bob and the Boomtowns were available as pin-ups…well, okay. I was only 7 or something.)

So Bob and I chatted away. Or rather, tried to. The conversation went something like this;

Me: Yeah, we’re just working on shortening the supply chains and business education for the farmers so….

Bob:That sounds…..nmmmfff….mffff……

Me: Pardon?

Bob: I dunno it’s this…..mfffnnn….mnfffff……millenium development goals are…..mffhfh…mhfhhhfff

Me: Sorry? I can’t hear you with these drums. They’re driving me nuts!

Bob: Can’t hear you… I tink it’s the Manchester accent…..mfff……mmffff……..drums…..mrmrffffff

Me: Don’t you go blaming MY accent – I can understand Hilary here – you’re the one with the Irish accent!”

So I had a nice little – somewhat muffled – chat with Bob. ***((((But even then I wanted to say to him – to Sir Bob himself – ‘Don’t you think that Hilary’s dad is… just ace?’))))***

But I managed to stop myself.

A few minutes later a rather drunken Labour party hack trundled over. He clearly hadn’t met Hilary before and was soon regaling him with tales of elections won (and lost) and just before I moved away in order to hear Bob’s speech, I caught the tipsy fella saying ‘But Hilary – I have to say…your dad is like, SO cool!’

I was kind of relieved that the words hadn’t come from my mouth. And I’m sure that Hilary must have heard it a thousand times before.

But he was.  Super cool.

benn and wife

The Book Has Left The Building…

5 Mar

It’s finally up there for people to buy.  My first fiction book. You can find it on Amazon here.

I allowed myself a small, self-indulgent moment when the first dribblings of tweets and publicity trails arrived.

I felt good about the fact that I’m honestly not out to make money from this book. It’s always been  about the process of creation for me. About the fact that I finally listened to my inner voice …. that I simply had a story that I wanted to tell and to share with others.

I smiled and I pondered as I looked out upon our beautiful valley here. It really has been a mammoth task – but so satisfying and so uplifting an experience.

So, I got ready to go out, to meet my fellow writers and to bask in the warm glow of their support and artistic inspiration.

And then my husband said; “I hope you’re not going out like that. The budgie shat in your hair and you never even noticed.”

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course...)

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course…)