Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Ilkley Moor - well, everyone knows about that. There's a man in a cave in a remote forest in Borneo who doesn't know the words to Ilkla Moor Bah't At (Ilkley Moor Without a Hat, in case you didn't know), but everyone else on Planet Earth can sing all the verses, especially when drunk.

Otley Chevin - ah, now then. What's a Chevin?

Here's the view from one:

And here's what one looks like:

And here's what wikipedia has to say about it:

The Chevin were bipedal pachydermoid sapients native to the planet Vinsoth that evolved from smaller relatives of the giant mammals who were wiped out when an asteroid collided with Vinsoth about 3,000,000 BBY. Adult Chevin stand 2-3 meters tall, and have massive bodies as wide as they are tall. Their heads consist of a long, wrinkled, tusk-filled snout set below heavily-lidded eyes.

Yes, the Chevin are one of the Star Wars races. And I haven't seen any of them shopping in Otley or wandering about on t'moors, either with or without hats, so I think it's probably unlikely that Otley Chevin was named after them.

All I managed to find is that the name is of Celtic origin, meaning a hill, or wooded escarpment. And there's one in Derbyshire too.

And it's a great place to spend a sunny winter's afternoon.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mars Barred

After a busy afternoon working with some medical students, I went to the supermarket.

I’m diabetic, Type 2, diagnosed about three years ago, but I think that I’d always had diabetic tendencies and certainly if I don’t eat and get low blood sugar I have always felt absolutely terrible. I don’t always feel hungry. Sometimes I just feel grumpy and totally lacking in energy – even the simplest task feels impossible.

So I always carry an emergency apple or an emergency banana. But today it was an emergency plum which I ate in the tea break in the afternoon and I hadn’t noticed that I was feeling hungry until I got to the supermarket checkout.

“Are you all right packing?” asked the woman on the checkout. I don’t like it when I have eight tons of shopping and they say that – all it means is “My job is shit and I don’t want to make it even more shit and I can’t be bothered packing your shopping.”

And it’s true it’s a shit job. So I opened my mouth to say “Actually I’m a diabetic with low blood sugar and I really need to eat something before I crash to the floor so please could you pack it?” and what came out was “Oh yes, I’m fine.”

So as I loaded the shopping onto the belt and then off it again I grabbed a Mars bar from the section labelled THINGS TO IMPULSE-BUY AT THE CHECKOUT THAT YOU’RE REALLY GOING TO REGRET LATER. You know the sort of thing. Cute fluffy toys. Donny Osmond’s Greatest Hits. Mars bars.

By the time I’d piled all the shopping into the car I could hardly move and I slumped into the driver’s seat and ate the Mars bar. It was the first Mars bar I’ve eaten for three years and it was fantastic. I may eat the occasional biscuit but actually, I’m pretty good at noticing the dropping blood sugar and eating the Healthy Apple before I get to the I Must Have a Mars Bar stage.

After I’d eaten it I felt very strange – not in a physical sense, but a sense of What Have I Done? I don’t think I ever used to eat Mars bars often – they really are a bit too sweet and gooey – but it reminded me of the chocolate bars that I did used to eat – about two a week probably. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk was my favourite, along with Snickers – then known as a Marathon. Crunchies were a great childhood favourite. Picnic! Milky Way! Aero! A Selection Box at Christmas! Chocolate Easter eggs! The only one I didn't really like was Topic - hazelnuts immersed in nougat, which is a vile, sticky substance akin to Coco Pops in its vileness. Sperm of Satan, is nougat. Remember the advertising slogan for Topic - "What has a hazelnut in every bite?" "Squirrel shit!" we used to chorus.

They’re all gone from me now, those chocolate bars, and probably a good thing too. These days when I see them on a shelf I simply don’t register them as something I might eat: they’re just a row of coloured wrappers. I don’t even know if they make Crunchies any more – certainly I haven’t noticed them if they do.

The Mars bar reminded me of a lost world of chocolate, which I don’t often miss. Perhaps in another three years I’ll eat another one.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain

"Daphne's bought a new duvet cover," was the announcement. "Guess what colour it is?"

"Green," they all chorused, without pausing for an instant.

So I like green, what's wrong with that? Here's one reason why:

Just a stone on Otley Chevin, surrounded by some moss and grass but that green tells me that it's going to be Spring. And it's a calm, relaxing colour. I like moss green and grass green and particularly willow green with some grey in it. "Vomit green" say my family, cruelly.

I like colours that know what they are and for that reason I tend not to like pastels so much. Read about indigo - now there's a proper shade of blue - here. And sky blue is always good. I like bright red - but not so much when it veers into orange. In general, I like natural colours.

The colours I don't like are pale pink and, especially, mauve. I don't like the sound of the word and I don't like the colour. Purple is fine - a good, rich, strong colour - so why dilute it?

Colours are very subjective, though. Sometimes I'm looking at something which is quite obviously orange and the person I'm with insists, entirely wrongly, that it's red.

Most people know the colours of the rainbow: Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain - in other words, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

So whoever made that one up thought that Blue and Indigo are different - and of course they can be different shades of blue. If you showed a hundred people a lot of slightly different shades of, say, red, and asked them to say where it slips over into orange, it would be interesting to see the results. Perhaps how I see the world is quite different from how other people see it.

What interests me is whether we see the colours differently - whether everyone's eyes have slightly different colour vision - or whether we simply name colours differently, because when we were very small we learned that THAT was yellow and THAT was orange. It's something that seems to me to be impossible to prove.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


"When the gorse is out of flower, then kissing's out of season" goes the old proverb.
Actually, I have a suspicion that this is the sanitised Victorian version of the old proverb and that there is an even older one involving Sexual Intercourse.

Here's some gorse on Otley Chevin yesterday doing its best to validate the proverb.

For gorse, of course, flowers all year round. I love it. To me it embodies the countryside - and the best, wild bits of the countryside too. Not much else is in flower at this time of year - though I expect that after another decade of global warming there'll be sunflowers blooming on the moors in January.

Gorse flowers make an excellent dye for eggs at Easter - you just boil them in water containing the flowers and the eggs come out an orangey-yellow, depending upon the original colour of the eggs.

Gorse flowers, cold wind and blue sky - it was great on the Chevin yesterday.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Last Snow of Leeds

Michael W, now living in Sydney, made a comment about my previous post about winter and snow:

I do remember the 45 bus from school [I went to Aquinas in Meanwood] struggling to get up Armley Ridge Road. If that doesn't happen any more then Global Warming is reality.

It doesn’t happen any more – or it hasn’t happened for over ten years or so.

The last time it happened was in about 1995.

On that day I had collected Emily, then aged six, from school and taken her back to the agency’s office with me for a little while.

It was a cold, grey day but there was no snow. The office we were in then had no windows, so I only found out that it had started to snow when my mother rang to tell me. But since she does tend to panic about any kind of weather, I didn’t pay her a lot of attention and carried on working for another twenty minutes or so whilst Emily drew pictures in felt-tipped pen.

Then Emily and I left to go home, leaving my colleague Lucia to carry on working: she was planning to get a bus back to Headingley later on.

The office was on the first floor and we went down the stairs and looked out of the front door. Outside was a howling blizzard in which I could see nothing. We fought our way to the car and then I rang Lucia from my first ever mobile to tell her to come out immediately.

She did, and we set off to take her to Headingley and then go home.

We inched our way along crowded roads – everyone, it seemed, had had the same idea at the same moment, so our progress was painstakingly slow. The snow had taken everyone by surprise and the roads had not been gritted. Every few yards there were abandoned cars by the side of the road and I remember one particularly icy patch where the two cars in front of me simply could not get across it and pulled to the side. I was determined to get through and my magnificent Micra skidded a bit but got over the ice and out the other side.

It was very hard to see where I was going and I was just concentrating very hard on not sliding into the car in front in the nose-to-tail traffic. I was really quite scared, mostly because I had Emily in the car. I thought that if all else failed I could have walked home, but she would not have been able to walk all that way.

Emily did seem to realise that I couldn’t try to entertain her as I usually tried to do when driving, and was very quiet. Then, fortunately, she fell asleep. We dropped off Lucia in Headingley and I had to make a quick decision as to whether to stay put with her or to carry on – I opted for carrying on since I realised that another half an hour and the roads would be totally impassable.

It took us about two and a half hours for what would normally be a twenty-minute journey, but we got home at last.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse became a place of sanctuary for hundreds of stranded people that night, and a friend of ours was trapped in his car on an isolated road – the battery simply ran down. Fortunately he was rescued by some people who lived nearby and they invited him in.

That was the last big snowfall in the city. Since then, there has been snow from time to time, but it has never lasted very long and has certainly never caused such chaos. I am beginning to think that I won’t see snow like that in Leeds again, and that is a strange thing to be thinking.

Friday, January 26, 2007


There was a time – about 1964 I think it was – when men were men and crisps were crisps. The crisps came in one flavour, and that was Potato. Yes, Potato Crisps, made by Smiths. In each bag was a little twist of blue paper containing salt, which you sprinkled on the crisps.

One day at about this time I was at Flamingo Park Zoo – now known as Flamingo Land – with a little friend of mine called Margaret Ball, having been taken out for the day by her parents. I was standing there being photographed with a parrot on my shoulder, as seemed to happen strangely often in those days. Suddenly when Margaret’s mum put a packet of crisps into my hand. Amazement! Cheese and Onion! This was a whole new world of crisps.

And from then on the Crisps phenomenon quickly spread. The twist of salt disappeared and soon came in all sorts of flavours – Salt and Vinegar, Prawn Cocktail, Smoky Bacon.

Potato was replaced by Ready Salted and remains so to this day. So indoctrinated are we on the crisp front that we never, ever pause to ask why Ready Salted is considered a flavour of anything.

And then of course, dozens of crisp-like creations flooded the market – Wotsits, Quavers, Skips and – Emily’s favourite and she isn’t even ashamed – Pickled Onion flavour Monster Munch, which is right down there with Coco Pops in the Fiery Pit of Food Hell.

The packet colours are part of our national consciousness. Try this exciting Crisp Test if you don’t believe me:

What colour are the packets of - -
Ready Salted?
Salt and Vinegar?
Cheese and Onion?
Prawn Cocktail?

You knew it, didn’t you? Against your will you thought Red, Blue, Green and That Vile Pink Colour.

But now crisps have fallen from favour. They are bad for you, full of fat and high in salt and the man formerly known as That Nice Gary Lineker is now That Evil Purveyor of Death in a Packet.

So some manufacturers, in the desperate hope that they will somehow manage to associate crisps with a modern healthy lifestyle, have tweaked crisps a bit to make them sound a bit more – well – middle-class. So now they are all hand-carved out of the rare King Charles potato and cooked in Polyunsaturated Fatless Oilfree Oil made from crushed carrots and broccoli juice. They have flavours such as Cracked Peppercorn.

What’s confusing is that they are the wrong colours. Last night in the pub David bought some hand-carved crisps and there was a blue bag containing Ready Salted. There was a red bag containing Cheese and Onion. And there was a yellow bag covered in strange black dots. I never found out what flavour it contained – Leopard, probably.

Ah! The future suddenly seems so exciting.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Snows Past

In reply to Michael W., who has lived away from the UK for twenty years and asks if we still get the kind of snow where we can go sledging, as he once did at Gotts Park in Armley: the answer is No. Well, hardly ever.

Snow was promised for yesterday and about three flakes of it fell in the South-East, so, of course, "Hundreds of trains were delayed and dozens cancelled as the rail network was blighted by frozen points." (The Times)

How do other countries manage? Doesn't it sometimes get a bit chilly in, say, Siberia? And yet there is a railway called the Trans-Siberian Railway and yet it isn't called the Trans-Siberian Railway - Open Only In August. Isn't there a railway right across Canada, in amongst the moose and fir trees and scary wolves? How come it doesn't break down every other day? How come there aren't weekly headlines "Three Hundred Stranded Passengers Devoured by Wolves"?

If you know, please tell me. Perhaps we in Britain just have the wrong kind of snow, permanently.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

DEAREST - Yours deafully

You'll all have seen the Nigerian Scam as it's often called. It comes in various versions but the basic plot is this:

You get an email which says something along the lines of: A relative of mine has died. He had squillions of pounds. I need a temporary bank account to put them in. For some reason I thought of you, yes YOU - amazing, of all the millions of people in the world! I sat there in Africa and thought hey, Fred Boggins of Heckmondwike, he's my man, I can trust him.

All you have to do, Fred, is send your bank details off to Africa with a bank transfer fee of only a few hundred pounds - nothing when you consider what your share of my relative's squillions is going to be.

And Fred sends off his few hundred quid and, unsurprisingly, hears no more. But there must be lots of Freds out there because the scam keeps on arriving and I particularly loved this version which I received yesterday, and which I am posting exactly as written for your edification and enjoyment.



I am the only Daughter of my late parents Mr.and Mrs.Sanogo. My father was a highly reputable business magnet who operated in the capital of cote d ivoire during his days. I am in cote d ivoire for presently now due to the urgent transfer.

It is sad to say that he passed away mysteriously in France during one of his business trips abroad year 12th.Febuary 2004.Though his sudden death was linked or rather suspected to have been masterminded by an uncle of his who travelled with him at that time. But God knows the truth!My mother died when I was just 6 years old,and since then my father took me so special. Before his death on Febuary 12 2004 he called the secretary who accompanied him to the hospital and told him that he has the sum of fifteen million,sevenhundred thousand United State Dollar(USD$15.700,000) left in fixed account in one of the leading banks in Africa. He further told him deposit that he deposited the money with my name,and finally issued a written instruction to his lawyer who he said is in possession of all the necessary but legal documents to this fund and the bank. I am just a university undergraduate and really don't know what to do now. I need an account oversea were I can transfer this funds and after the transaction i will come and live with .

This is because I have suffered alot of set backs as a result of incessant political crisis here in cote de ivoire.The death of my father actually brought sorrow to my life and i wished to invested under your care please.I am in a sincere desire of your humble this regards.Your suggestions and ideas will be highly regarded. Now permit me to ask this few questions:-
{1} Can you honestly help me .

{2} Can I completely trust ? .
{3}What percentage of the total amount in question will be good for you after the money is in your account while i finalies my education?
Please,Consider this a nd get back to me as soon as possible.

Yours deafuly, Miss Mariam Sanogo

The Pointlessness of Afternoons

Here I am, quarter past midnight, wide awake as I usually am at this time, but I have to go to bed because I have to get up fairly early in the morning.

If I could choose my own sleeping and waking times, I would go to bed at two in the morning, get up at about nine, work in the morning, sleep from two o'clock to three o'clock in the afternoon and then stay awake until two again.

But I can't do this. Because we are British we are expected to work in the afternoons. In hot countries they have a siesta - but we think that's a bit soft, a bit foreign. And yet it's a good idea - if I do sleep in the afternoon I am much better able to work later on. If you have a Really Really Important job title then you can call it a "power nap" - the rest of us afternoon-sleepers are just considered lazy.

In our office we never have a proper hour's lunch break - usually it's ten minutes. Longer than that feels indolent when there is so much work to do: and so I tend to just keep working through that sleepy two-till-three time.

I have always felt like this. The only point of being awake at all in the afternoon is to take yourself to a sunny summer meadow by a river to lie reading a good book until you fall asleep.

I bet most bad business decisions are made in the afternoons. I bet most wars are started in the afternoons when people are tired and grumpy. "Oh, sod it, I've had enough of this meeting, let's invade."

The whole nation should stop between two and three. We'd get much more done and be much happier, pleasanter people.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Four Conversations

Here are two conversations that you never hear:

A: So what’s your job then?

B: I’m an electronics engineer.

C: Oh, how lovely! So you just do electronics engineering all the time, then? You don’t have another job?

D: Yes, that’s right.

E: Fancy being able to spend all your time doing electronics engineering! Do you know, many people have said to me that I’m a natural at electronics engineering. Lots of people have seen the electronics engineering that I’ve done and said I’m brilliant, I ought to be a professional. Oh yes, I’ve often thought of it, but it would be self-indulgent really, when I’ve got a good job in the bank. Who knows, maybe one day - - - But you’re so lucky, being able to do electronics engineering all the time.


A: So what’s your job then?

B: I’m an orthopaedic surgeon

C: Oh, how lovely! So you just do orthopaedic surgery all the time, then?
You don’t have another job?

D: Yes, that’s right.

E: Fancy being able to spend all your time doing orthopaedic surgery! Do you know, many people have said to me that I’m a natural at orthopaedic surgery. Lots of people have seen the orthopaedic surgery that I’ve done and said I’m brilliant, I ought to be a professional. Oh yes, I’ve often thought of it, but it would be self-indulgent really, when I’ve got a good job in the bank. Who knows, maybe one day - - - But you’re so lucky, being able to do orthopaedic surgery all the time.

And here are two conversations that you hear surprisingly often:


A: So what’s your job then?

B: I’m an actor.

C: Oh, how lovely! So you just do acting all the time, then? You don’t have another job?

D: Yes, that’s right.

E: Fancy being able to spend all your time doing acting! Do you know, many people have said to me that I’m a natural at acting. Lots of people have seen the acting that I’ve done and said I’m brilliant, I ought to be a professional. Oh yes, I’ve often thought of it, but it would be self-indulgent really, when I’ve got a good job in the bank. Who knows, maybe one day - - - But you’re so lucky, being able to do acting all the time.


A: So what’s your job then?

B: I’m an artist.

C: Oh, how lovely! So you just do art all day, then? You don’t have another job?

D: Yes, that’s right.

E: Fancy being able to spend all your time doing art! Do you know, many people have said to me that I’m a natural at art. Lots of people have seen the art that I’ve done and said I’m brilliant, I ought to be a professional. Oh yes, I’ve often thought of it, but it would be self-indulgent really, when I’ve got a good job in the bank. Who knows, maybe one day - - - But you’re so lucky, being able to do art all day long.

History Explained

"So," enquired the Communist, "is Emily going to do just Archaeology, or is she going to do a joint degree - Archaeology and History?"

"I'm not sure yet," I said, "she has offers for both."

"Well, if she does both, then eventually she'll come to see History from a Marxist perspective," he said.

"Possibly not if she does Mediaeval History," I commented, just to be difficult.

"Ah, but that's not really history," explained the Communist.

"Er - What do you mean?"

"History started with Cromwell. The English Revolution. Then there was the French Revolution. Then the Russian Revolution."

"And before that? Before Cromwell?"

"Well, there wasn't any history before that. None worth mentioning, anyway. Before that it was the Dark Ages."

So, perhaps Sellars and Yeatman weren't quite correct in 1066 and All That when they said that "History is what you can remember". It's probably more along the lines of "History is what you choose to remember."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Happy Twenty-First Birthday, Gareth

It's Gareth's twenty-first birthday today and we all wish him a Happy Birthday and all the very best for the future.

It's over three years since we met Gareth - he's been going out with Emily since she was fourteen and he was eighteen. They met because Emily met Gareth's sister Jo on a course she was sent on from school, and went back to Gloucestershire to stay with Jo, and met Gareth - - - He's a lovely man and we've really enjoyed having him living with us over the past eighteen months.

Here's another photograph of Gareth and Emily from the session with John earlier this week:

Emily and Gareth chose it as it's one of their favourites.

Happy Birthday, Gareth!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Neither Dawn nor Dusk

My previous post seems to have resulted in a disgruntled chorus of “Eeew! Get that snake off my screen!” so, for those of you who are not keen herpetologists, here is one of my favourite photographs from the ones I took in 2006.

It is taken from the Cleveland Way, about a one and a half hour walk north from the Sutton Bank Visitor Centre, and I took it on June 3rd which was a glorious, glorious day in early summer, which is my favourite time of the year.

One of my most interesting Christmas presents was a book on photography, of which I’ll write more later, but one of the things it stresses very firmly is that landscape photographs must be taken either at dawn or at dusk and at no other time.

This one was taken right in the middle of the day, and I don’t care.

The reason the book suggests dawn and dusk is because then the light makes the countryside look most beautiful – and yes, it does, and if that’s what you are looking for – as many professional photographers are – then that’s fine.

But actually, that’s not quite what I want from a photograph of the countryside, when it’s a photograph that I have taken – I want to remember what that day was like, how I felt looking at that view.

It was a hot day of sunshine and clear blue skies, and when I took the photograph we’d been walking for a couple of hours, though stopping quite often to take photographs. The dark shadows on the photograph remind me of how bright it was and how hot it was. The path leading straight ahead into the distance makes me think of how much I enjoyed the day, and how I felt as though I could walk away into that scenery for ever.

So when I look at that photograph I think “aaaah, yes” and it’s lovely to see it on a dark, cold, wet January day. So, dawn and dusk for beauty, yes – but other times are fine for memories.

Kelloggs Sheds His Skin

Reading about Dr John Harvey Kellogg makes me quite glad we named our snake after him. We were having problems choosing a name and, since our snake is a Corn Snake, finally hit on Kelloggs Corn Snake – for anyone who thinks that puns are not the most hilarious form of language, then this is probably the proof you were seeking.

Our snake came to us when it was the size of a pencil, in 1999, and is now fully-grown at about four feet six inches long. It is extremely good-natured and spends its time thinking profound thoughts about the nature of the universe – well, probably - and eating two defrosted frozen mice about every two weeks. Just in case you think that doesn’t sound very often, I think I should point out that snakes, being cold-blooded, don’t need to make their own heat – we have a lamp and a heat mat for that – so they don’t tend to fancy hot soup or a nice cup of hot tea, and they don’t need to eat as much as we do, which is probably why they have never developed a taste for chocolate.

Today Kelloggs shed his skin. This happens every couple of months – the snake goes really dark in colour beforehand and looks very fed up: as, indeed, would we if our skin was too small. For once, we saw the skin-shedding happen and I took some photographs. The old skin, which is transparent, just peels back, leaving a bright shiny new one underneath.

Here’s the skin peeling back:

and here is Kelloggs, who didn’t seem to mind the camera at all.

If you can't work out what you're looking at, the long thin black stuff is for him to climb on - like a fake vine - and there's a log in the foreground. Kellogg's head is about three quarters of the way along the bottom and then a quarter of the way up, and then his body goes off to the left from his head.

I have often heard “he’s a real snake” used as a term of abuse, meant to encapsulate a snake’s perceived qualities of deceitfulness and sneaking-up-ness. Actually, snakes aren’t deceitful – they just haven’t the brains. It’s not really their fault that they tend to sneak up on things – what else can they do, so low down with no legs?

But, having read about Dr John Harvey Kellogg with his ridiculous and deeply stupid – and if there is such a thing as evil, then evil – opinions about perfectly natural human behaviour, I think “he’s a real Kellogg” would be a far better term of abuse than “he’s a real snake.”

Friday, January 19, 2007

This'll put you off your cornflakes

While you are eating your breakfast cereal you could do worse than read this article about Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, nineteenth-century American doctor and patron saint of cornflakes.

He appears to have been very much occupied with the twin evils of bowels and masturbation, advocating all sorts of terrible things to be done to one's genitals to prevent the latter, and the consumption of large quantities of cornflakes to improve the former.

The poor man was clearly obsessed and should have been taken off to a quiet room for a lie down. With his foreskin wired together at the tip, as he suggested, of course.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Emily and Gareth

At this time of year in 2005 and 2006, John took some photographs of Emily and Gareth: last night we had another photography session and he took some more. It was very relaxed, with many different outfits and looks, and we all really enjoyed it.

There are many great shots: this is Emily's favourite photo of the two of them.

It'll be Gareth's twenty-first birthday on Sunday and I'll put another of the photos on this blog then. Many thanks, John - we love them!


I don’t usually have a problem waking up on time. If it’s important, I set both the alarm clock and the alarm on my mobile phone and then I wake up two minutes before either of them goes off.

So it was strange, this morning, when I woke up at twenty past eight knowing full well that I had set both alarms for half past six. I had intended to set off for Huddersfield, where I was working, at quarter to eight to leave plenty of time.

Nobody seemed to be about so, cursing them all for not waking me, I rushed into the shower.

I turned the water on and it was only then that I noticed that I was wearing a pair of bright blue socks which I had no recollection of ever owning.

Aha! I thought. It all makes sense now. These are not my socks. This is not my reality. And this is because I am dreaming.

And that was when I woke up. It was half past five. I didn’t need to wake up for another hour. But I was now wide awake and of course could not get back to sleep because of the panic caused by thinking I had overslept. So I lay there miserably until half past six when I got up. I was wearing no blue socks.

As a result, this evening, I’m very tired. And the weather didn’t help. The force of the wind was amazing. This time I wasn’t dreaming.

As I left the tall old mill in Huddersfield a tile tried to fall on my head, finally missing me by about ten yards. As I drove back to Leeds, I found my usual route back was blocked so set off to find my way back via Wakefield. A large branch hurtled towards my windscreen and hit it with a loud bang – luckily the windscreen didn’t shatter.

On the motorway, because of the exceptionally strong winds, there were signs everywhere: HGVS LEAVE THE MOTORWAY.

The HGV drivers took this to mean HGVS PLEASE STAY ON THE MOTORWAY UNTIL YOU BLOW OVER. That’s what you took it to mean, wasn’t it, Mr. Kidds Transport of Lancaster? You just doggedly drove past every exit, wobbling all over the road and looking about to tip over at every moment, just to add to my excitement as I tried to stay a safe distance behind you all the way from Wakefield to Leeds.

Finally, as I neared home, a tree fell across the road about a hundred yards in front of me and I had to do a nifty little detour, bypassing yet another fallen tree, to get back.

It’s been a long day, very enjoyable in some ways, difficult in others. I am not putting blue socks on before I go to bed. It’s useful to be able to identify your dreams.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Remembering January

Remember January? Remember Winter?

When I was small, Winter was a season to be reckoned with.

At playtime we were all sent out into the freezing playground where we slid about on the ice and threw snowballs until we turned blue and then waited in piteously complaining lines until the bell clanged and the teachers let us in again.

At weekends when I woke and looked out of the window and there was snow and that strange, heavy silence that comes with it, I felt something very like joy. Sledging!

We took our sledge – a very solid one, built by the Communist and hence weighing about a ton – and slid down the steep slope at the start of Gledhow Woods. If the snow was good you could get all the way to the bottom and, if you were unlucky, straight out into the road.

At Roundhay Park there was superb sledging on the slopes surrounding the Arena. There would be hundreds of people, all clad in their Christmas jumpers, whizzing down and trailing back up and crashing into each other.

In the winter of 1962-1963 the snow went on for ever. It seemed to last until about July but perhaps it was only April. It melted a bit sometimes, turned brown and slushy – then more fell and it froze again.

The ducks in Roundhay Park all died: they were dots in the middle of the lake where they had swum round and round until they were frozen in the ice. Dozens of us walked across to see whether they could be rescued. Nobody worried about whether we would need rescuing – the ice was too thick.

And the clothes! The thick coats, the thick socks, the hand-knitted jumpers, the gloves on strings through your coat sleeves, and still it was cold, cold, cold.

But now we seem to have Spring, Summer, Autumn - - then Spring again. The blustery winds feel like Autumn. The catkins on the hazel tree in the garden say it’s Spring. No snow yet, and it’s halfway through January. I left my winter coat in a taxi, never found it again, and haven’t bothered to buy another.

I used to wonder, in winter, what it would be like if a new Ice Age came, if the snow, one year, didn’t melt. That was the feeling I had as a small child in 1963 – that the winter would never end. But that’s not the way it’s going, is it?

And yet, if the climate change should cause the Gulf Stream to move or cease – and it’s already weakening – Britain would have the climate of Canada. Then we’d have our winter back, and no mistake.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


It is the Communist and my mother’s wedding anniversary today, though neither of them knew it was January 14th today until I pointed it out to them. They were quite pleased, and glad that neither of them had remembered, or the other one would have felt bad.

So how many years have they been married? Well, fifty-something. What year were they married? – Er, not sure.

“So how old were you when you got married?”

“Well, twenty-five. Ish.”

We have this conversation every year. Once I worked it out that it was probably 1950 when they got married, in which case they have been married for fifty-six years, which is really rather a long time. They had their honeymoon in Brighton and I’ve always wanted to go there, but never have.

Anyway, fifty-six years (ish) of my father lecturing my mother about politics and shouting at her to shut the door, and my mother putting every vital piece of paperwork behind the clock and not dealing with it, and failing to make a decision about anything whether of trivial or major importance. They each get very worried if the other one’s ill, though, and there is a strong bond between them, albeit a rather strange one. They’re both remarkably open-minded about some things, and remarkably closed-minded about others. But, probably, we all are.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bran and Branding

In the beginning there was Porridge, and very good it was too. You could eat it with salt or with sugar (or with Golden Syrup if you were feeling decadent). These porridgey breakfasts went on for millions of years and nobody seemed to either notice or care that they weren’t very stylish and didn’t make any amazing claims for health-giving properties. Porridge. Stops you feeling hungry and keeps you alive was all it said on the box that Robert the Bruce tucked into.

Then, hundreds of years later, in fact thousands in some cases, Dr John Harvey Kellogg invented Kelloggs Corn Flakes and the world of cereals was turned upside-down.

By the time I discovered Cereal World, in the Sixties, there were all sorts of delights available – Shredded Wheat (hoorah!) Weetabix (yes!) Shreddies (yippee!) Ready Brek (Scrummy! - - yes, I know, apologies, I still like it) Rice Krispies (Quite Pleasant, though there are those in our family, who shall remain nameless, who never eat more than the top two-thirds of a box because they don’t like the bits at the bottom. Hence there are about fourteen boxes in the cupboard at any one time, all with two inches of squashed bits at the bottom of them).

Then there were Frosties, which no person of good taste would eat - - and then Coco Pops, which are the small brown droppings of Satan. On no account put them anywhere near your mouth, for they are vile. The only reason they have kept going for so long is that everyone on the planet has tried them once, though I have never met anyone who has bought a second packet.

Then things changed subtly with the arrival of Alpen, which was supposed to have vague connections with Switzerland and pass on its health-giving properties of alps, and mountain air. Those in the know could call it “muesli” and pretend they’d been to far-off lands where such things were normal.

And now we have this.

A whole section called Adult Cereals. I searched the packets in vain for pictures of post-coital couples enjoying a bowl of it, or for special offers of erotic underwear, or for free naked plastic figures inside the box, or for a condom in every pack.

No, Adult, in this context, seems to mean Bran. How very disappointing. They have called it Adult because no sensible child will touch the stuff, and the adults who buy it do so for one reason only – It Keeps You Regular, as they say euphemistically. Probably they think that Bowel-Opening Bran, For Big Brown Healthy Turds! wouldn’t sell quite so well.

Friday, January 12, 2007

In the Papers

No matter how unfamous we are, sooner or later there’s a piece in some newspaper about someone we know, or some event we know about

Whenever this has happened to me, which of the following is my reaction?

a) Oh, how interesting, that’s exactly what happened


b) No, that’s not right, it was a hedgehog not a kangaroo, the stockings were green not blue and he made ten pounds not ten thousand

Of course, it’s always along the lines of b. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story in the paper - one that I actually knew the facts of - that was totally accurate.

So, understanding that the stories that I know about are very small fry, it therefore follows that there are similar inaccuracies in much bigger stories. Only, because the stories are bigger, so are the inaccuracies. Take them all with a pinch of salt. Try reading every news item aloud and then laughing hysterically after it and then see if you still believe it. Usually, you won’t.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pit Ponies

As long ago as Long Ago, and as long ago again as that - which takes us back to about 1943 - the Communist was a Bevin Boy, working as a miner in the Yorkshire coalfield. His main claim to fame was the biggest pair of miners’ boots in Yorkshire – he was only 5’8” tall but has size eleven feet.

Some of the time, he used to work with pit ponies. These poor animals lived down below ground for fifty weeks of the year – the other two they came up to see sunlight and green fields before plunging down into the depths again.

Not being able to devote much time to normal pony activities such as grazing and looking at the view, they spent fifty weeks of the year trying to outwit the miners.on a day-to-day basis, and, thinking longer-term, devising cunning plans for the abolition of coal mining, which they finally managed to put into practice, mostly, but not until about 1985.

Meanwhile, their daily duties involved walking several miles in the pitch dark accompanied by a miner with a light round his waist – they didn’t have lamps on their helmets in those days – and then pulling trucks full of coal back again.

The ponies could count, and under Pony Union rules they were not prepared to pull more than two trucks of coal. They were perfectly able to pull three: they just didn’t want to, and who could blame them? Ponies, they reasoned, were not meant to live in caves and if they were forced to do so they would do the absolute minimum to get by.

So, the Communist would attach the first truck to the pony – CLINK - and the pony accepted this with reasonably good grace. The second one he accepted – CLINK! - with reasonably ill grace. But if he heard the clink of a third truck that was it, he wasn’t going anywhere. So the whole of the Yorkshire coalfield was full of miners attaching the first two trucks very noisily and then a third one in complete silence, so the pony wouldn’t know.

Also, if the pony reached a narrow part of the mine, with the miner walking ahead, he would simply stop in the narrow part secure in the knowledge that it was nearly impossible for the miner to reach him to get him to continue.

One time the Communist walked the three miles to the coal face with the pony and then tied him up for a short while. However, untying reins was one of the things the pony had been practising in the long hours when he wasn’t in a field, so when the Communist returned to the pony he had legged it back to the stable, where he was later discovered muttering to his companion about how the end of this coal mining lark was to be brought about.

Three miles, in pitch darkness, with ropes across the passage and many twists and turns. Clever animals, pit ponies.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Back to the Seventies

We’re back in the 1970s at the moment, food-wise, in this house, and it’s a comforting place to be.

I was brought up in the 1960s and 1970s and much of the food we ate then would be very much frowned on now.

At home, every main meal started with meat and two vegetables and finished with something like tinned fruit – in syrup of course – with evaporated milk. Many of the vegetables, though, were home-grown, apart from when my mother went through a for-mash-get-Smash phase which put me off mashed potato for years.

Oh yes, and Angel Delight – my parents still eat gallons of the stuff, though in the modern, sugar-free version. My favourite Sixties pudding was a tinned concoction called Sweetheart which you mixed with milk to make – well – red sugary milk, very probably, with just a tiny hint of fruit. My grandma – my mother’s mother, who lived with us then – used to make semolina pudding about four times a week. Before you go “errrrgh semolina, yuck, yuck” I must confess that I loved it, with a splodge of raspberry jam in the middle stirred mightily till it all went pink. As the years went by Grandma made it sweeter and sweeter until it was about nine-tenths sugar.

We always had lots of real fruit though – there were always apples and oranges and bananas and other fruits in season. I was – and still am – very partial to raw carrots and raw cabbage and raw turnips and even raw potato, which people keep telling me now is poisonous, but somehow I lived to tell the tale.

We had lots of stews and home-made chicken broth, which was delicious, and we grew raspberries and Grandma made them into jam, which was also delicious - more sugar! She was Sugar Queen of the North, my Grandma.

There was always cake, too – Madeira cake or chocolate cake or sponge cake or gingerbread.

So, in many ways, our Seventies diet would be totally disapproved of now, apart from its redeeming factor of lots of fruit and vegetables.

Emily and Gareth came back from visiting his family at New Year with The Dairy Book of Home Cookery, published initially in 1968 and reprinted in 1977. Lots of recipes with – as you’d expect – milk and butter and cheese and cream. Nobody would publish a book like this now.

However, the recipes are well-written and – unlike those in many cookery books – easy to follow, and Emily has been trying them.

Last night Emily, with the assistance of Commis Chef Gareth, cooked us all baked potatoes with a cheese and garlic filling, browned under the grill, and baked tomatoes to accompany them. Tonight it was proper traditional Cottage Pie, beautifully made and with carrots and peas as accompaniment.

Emily made desserts as well – last night Pots-au-Chocolat (oh yes, we were very cosmopolitan in the 1970s) and tonight Chocolate Truffles. She’s rather keen on chocolate.

Both meals were delicious. If this was the 1970s, Emily can take us back there as often as she likes. Though I think we’ll be having less of the sugar.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Goats and Wolves

I’m scared of goats. Well, not these goats, which live at Temple Newsam Farm and enjoyed the cup of Goat Food that you’re given as you enter the farm. These goats are very friendly and rather cute.

It’s the idea of goats that scares me. I think it goes back to the story The Three Billy Goats Gruff, where the goats try to cross the bridge, under which lives a troll which tries to eat them. The goats went trippety-trap, trippety-trap, over the rickety bridge – well, that’s how they went in Listen with Mother, which could be heard on the BBC Home Service at quarter to two every weekday in the late nineteen-fifties.

Under the bridge lived a troll and it went “I’m a troll, fol-de-rol” in a truly terrifying voice. The rest of the story is lost in clouds of fear and horror, until finally the third Billy Goat Gruff beat it up or something. I was scared of the whole story, of the goats as well as the troll, and it didn’t help that, for a while, when I was very small indeed, I thought that “goat” and “ghost” were the same thing.

I’m also scared of wolves. Again, not real wolves, they’re remarkably interesting. It’s fictitious wolves that howl in the night and which follow you and which you can’t quite see through the trees - - it gives me the shivers just to think of it, even now, and I can’t read any book with a picture of a wolf on the cover. Even the word scares me.

Once, on a long journey back from Scarborough, my grandfather decided to occupy little Daphne, who liked stories, by telling me this Welsh legend: the story of Llewelyn and his dog Gelert.

In brief, in the version I know – though there are several slightly different versions - this is what happens: Llewelyn goes off hunting and leaves his faithful dog Gelert to look after the baby, which is in its cradle. When he returns he finds the cradle overturned and the dog nearby. He assumes the worst and immediately stabs the dog with his sword. Then he finds that the baby is fine. Suddenly he sees the body of a large, dead wolf nearby. Oh no! The wolf had tried to attack the baby and the dog had defended the baby by killing the wolf. But it’s too late! The faithful dog is dead.

By the age of four I was already scared of wolves and this story was my first clear introduction to the hideous, brutish, irredeemable unfairness of the world. And I couldn’t bear it (still can’t). I started crying on the outskirts of Scarborough as Grandad finished the story and was still sobbing my heart out as we reached home in Leeds, sixty miles away, some time later. I bet the family were none too pleased with Grandad.

I’m not scared of spiders, or any kind of insects, or snakes, or most animals that make many people shudder. But, even now, the words “goat” or “wolf” make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


I came across a Broadcasting Machine the other day. You might, perhaps, expect to find such a thing in a studio, and expect a lot of wires and a few microphones to be involved. But no such thing. It was at Temple Newsam Farm, on the outskirts of Leeds, in an exhibition of farm machinery.

Here it is:

Of course! It was a machine designed to give a more even cover of seeds on the ground. If you wanted to sow grass or clover you would use a hand-operated one, and a horse-drawn one for corn. It didn’t look too complicated and I could picture the farmers marvelling at its efficiency.

So the original definition of broadcasting – firstly borrowed, then stolen, then completely superseded by the early days of radio - was “sowing seeds over a wide area” – as opposed to sowing them in neat rows.

Being interested in the way language changes, I had a look on which searches for your word in lots of dictionaries. Of the eighteen online dictionaries that it found, only three mentioned “broadcasting” in the “scattering seeds” sense and one pointed out that this was an archaic use of the word.

And so it is. How many times have I said the word “broadcasting” and never given a thought to where the word might come from originally?

How our language has changed! Even the earliest recordings that I have heard – such as George Bernard Shaw speaking – sound as though they come from a far-distant time, both in the use of words and in the pronunciation. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to hear a recording of how people really spoke in the past: to hear farmers talking about their new broadcasting machine?

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Back to the magic: here’s how to levitate someone into the air. Well, perhaps not exactly magic, but enough to bring amazement to anyone who hasn’t seen it before.

You get the person who is to be levitated to lie on a fairly narrow table. One person at their head, two people at each side, one at their feet: perhaps two more at the sides if they’re particularly tall or heavy.

It’s very important to concentrate and to take it very seriously or it won’t work: it helps if the room is slightly darkened.

The person at the head starts with the phrase, “She looks pale” and then everyone repeats it, in order, round the table.

Then the same with “She is pale”.

Then, all round the table with each of the following: “She looks ill”, “She is ill,” “She looks dead”, “She is dead”.

After this there are two alternatives: either the person at the head says “And she shall rise on a body of air”, or you just count round the table – One, two three, four, five six - -

Then, instantly, everyone puts just two fingers, the index finger and the middle finger, of each hand under the person lying down and just lifts them into the air.

When it works well the person seems almost weightless and rises to shoulder height.

I have done this many times with many different groups of people and it always works if everyone concentrates: we did it with several different-sized people at our friend Rebecca’s delightful birthday party on New Year’s Day. There, if we needed one (which I must say that particular group of people didn’t, as they already knew) was our metaphor for 2007. Many hands make light work. Let’s all pull together. Etc.

Why does it work? Because the concentration induced by the chanting round the circle means that you all lift at the same moment, thus spreading the weight out evenly. And you can lift considerable weights this way: David once used this method to get group of elderly people to lift a grand piano that had fallen over.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Transylvanian Naked Neck

I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never heard of a Transylvanian Naked Neck, otherwise known, though incorrectly, as a Turken. Here is one I saw pecking about Temple Newsam Farm recently.

Until this week I thought that the names of breeds of chickens were all kind of warm and cuddly and reassuring. Buff Orpington. Blue Orpington. Rhode Island Red. Light Sussex. White Leghorn. Scots Dumpy. Cream Legbar. Duckwing Welsumer. Yorkshire Pillow. Okay, I invented the Yorkshire Pillow but all the rest are real and just the thing to make you go aaaaah. This is a good place to find out more.

And then there are the noises they make. Prrrrrrrp is my favourite. And their perpetual look of slight bewilderment. Not to mention the eggs.

Good things, chickens, altogether. But then I came across the Transylvanian Naked Neck, and I just don’t like its long, naked neck. Not that I have a problem with nudity in general, you understand: I just don’t like it on hens.

It’s also known as a Turken because, thanks to its naked neck, people thought it was a cross between a chicken and a turkey. It isn’t. You can’t.

They seem particularly keen on them in Australia. Go on, look at this site and you will find out more than you will ever need to know.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Magic and Apples

Here's a fruity Happy New Year:

It's a red apple with the message grown into it. Very common in Holland, whence this one came, apparently (well, they've got to do something, since they can't go walking in the hills).

How do they do it? Well, I'm not sure of the details, but I confess that as a child I used to do a similar thing to apples myself. You find your apple on the tree, long before it's ripe but just as it's getting big, and stick a piece of black tape over it with the shape you want cut out of it. Then the light can't get at the black bit, so the shape ripens along with the apple, and there you are. Magic.

And while I'm on the subject of magic, go and see the excellent film The Prestige which is about two Victorian conjurers and works like a magic trick.

A trick is in three parts:

the pledge (where you are shown something ordinary, such as a dove)

the turn (where it does something extraordinary, such as disappearing)

the prestige (the climax that makes you applaud, such as bringing the dove back again).

Now then, since John kindly texted me and told me the above when I was on the way to the cinema, I was all prepared for a film with the title The Prestige, oh yes, I knew just what it was going to do: and I am, you know, the woman who guessed the twist in The Sixth Sense. (Mind you, I knew there was a twist, which helped).

So I sat back smugly to watch The Prestige and was completely taken by surprise. It's people like me who keep magicians in business.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, and apologies to anyone whom I texted. Although, believe me, I only sent each message once, I have heard from a couple of people to say they arrived several times. And I sent an individual message to each person, so it probably happened every time I sent a text. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

Why this should happen I know not. Perhaps the mobile phone technology had been drinking. Next year I won't be sending text messages in case it happens again so please accept HAPPY NEW YEAR in advance for 2008 too.