Archive for December, 2014

Eric Ravilious – December

December 31, 2014

I ought to be slightly disappointed by the December picture on my Eric Ravilious calendar for 2014. It portrays city life and I very much prefer the rural ways. I was a Londoner for three years – when I was a student and that’s probably a good time to be a Londoner.  But I couldn’t disagree more than I do with Samuel Johnson when he suggested that when a man is tired of London he is tired of life. My very different perspective is that a person who feels they need London to feel alive is leading a rather second rate life.

But I digress. And the truth is I love Eric’s portrayal of Piccadilly Circus which forms the picture for December.


This is one of the Ravilious images for Wedgwood. It is actually part of the ‘boat race’ series. Anyone who has read any of the P G Wodehouse books about Jeeves and Wooster will be aware that in times past the young bloods gathered in central London on boat race night and generally made whoopee, Our artist has given us a feel for this with his roof top and taxi top people, not to mention one chap sliding down the statue of Eros.

People are streaming on to the open topped bus, so perhaps the less inebriated are making their way home.

And so it becomes time to say farewell to the art works of Ravilious – except that I have one print permanently up and books full of others.


December 30, 2014

For most of my life there has been a cat (or more than one) who has been a member of my household. I don’t remember a time, as a child, when we didn’t share our house with a cat – apart from a gap when Puss died and before Blackett arrived.

My wife and I got two cats within a year of getting married and once again, apart from a short gap we have given a home to a cat ever since. For a short spell we had three cats with us, but usually it has been two. Now it is just one – this one.


We had arrived, some years ago, at a time when our last cat had died. We decided, that as we were approaching retirement age we wouldn’t have another cat. That, we decided, would enable trips away to be easier. But then I was prevailed upon to take this youngish kitten as a favour to a friend. His son had had the cat foisted upon him and with a baby imminently due they felt unable to have kitty and baby in the same space. So I helped out and we had the cat. She was already called Willow and it was a name we kept although we fairly rapidly changed its gender for Willow – we had no doubt – was a male. And ‘was’ is the right tense there. Tom cats are not well suited to life in a human house. They spray their scent liberally.

In many ways Willow is the worst cat we have ever had. Oh, he’s affectionate and we are sure he loves us as much as we love him but he is very demanding. At times we think he’s an educationally subnormal cat. Like any cat, he demands food. We may know he has some in his bowl but he won’t go and look. He requires one of his humans to lead the way and put a finger in the bowl before he realises the food is there.

His need for attention can extend to exceedingly bad manners. Maybe he thinks we are being stupid. If he decides we haven’t noticed he wants something he comes and bites an ankle. It isn’t a hard bite, but it is still unwelcome. And it gets him what he wants which is some attention.

In the evening, he often demands that we play with him. Toys are more fun if a human operates them for him to chase and catch. His favourite is an old, frayed bootlace which he chases all over the house.

I’m afraid Willow is also a furniture scratcher. In more than forty years of cats we never had such a thing. We probably made a mistake for Willow arrived with a purchased scratch post and we didn’t want it.

But despite it all he brings joy to us. He’s what we want to see when we have been away. We’d just like to improve a couple of bad habits.

Rural life V suburban life

December 29, 2014

This might be deemed to be a bit of personal writing. As a bit of a nerd I tend to concentrate on factual stuff. Here I open a door on some of my opinions about village and town life.

I have experienced life in a number of different environments. I started life, unremembered by me, in a remote cottage several miles from the nearest village. At less than a year old my family moved to a village home. The village had its very useful shop and its pubs (not used by us).  Near at hand – 20 yards or so, you could reach the open countryside and farmland.

As I grew up our village became subsumed into a new town but it remained on the edge and the farmland, near at hand, still remains although it all feels less open than it once did.

As a student I lived in the London suburbs.

After my student days I spent a year in a village and then we bought our first home on the edge of a market town.

In 1976 we bought our present house. Our village had also once been a market town, but poor transport links led to a decline to little more than village status.

There are, of course, disadvantages to the rural way of life. The fairly poor transport links remain. We can catch buses to the local market town or to the city of Salisbury. Dr Beeching had our station (which was a mile or so from the village) closed in 1966. Now, our nearest station is about 8 miles away on a little used line between Swindon and Salisbury. We have never used that service. But we do, occasionally, drive more like twenty miles to catch a train.

Now consider emergency services. A fire engine has to come from the market town which is six miles away. We have called it out once when neighbouring children, playing with matches set fire to very dry grassland that threatened our hen house and their dad’s oxy-acetylene cylinders. The time until the arrival of the brigade seemed endless and it has to be said we had the fire out with our own hoses by the time they arrived. They made the fire raising youngsters play our hoses on the area for hours, to damp it down. We all knew it was safely out, but of course those kids were very frightened.

Ambulances also have to make that journey and then decide between three hospitals – all about twenty miles away. Fortunately there is a helicopter ambulance which can be very quick.

Still on disadvantages – even using a car can be a problem. The nearest petrol station is now some 4 miles away, across the remote lands of Salisbury Plain. Amazingly, that most local garage, in a neighbouring village, is usually relatively cheap. Devizes, our market town usually sells petrol at least 4p a litre above the national average.

And local food tends to be more expensive. Our co-op shop can’t benefit from bulk buying. It has very limited space. But at least we have a local shop.

Back in my student days, in southeast London, buses were so frequent that a timetable wasn’t needed. It was a five minute walk to the rail station with a train each way every half hour. Emergency services were all nearby and food was cheap.

But I prefer the rural life. This was the rather uninspiring view from my student accommodation.


In fact, with trees and shrubs it wasn’t too bad at all, but there was no vista to enjoy. That contrasts with where I am now. On a frosty morning, I look out on this.


But the main difference is in people. For suburban life I am tempted to (and will) misquote the poet Coleridge. ‘People, people everywhere nor anyone to know’.

If I walk down to our village centre as I do frequently, I almost always meet people to chat with. And we can chat quite happily with people we don’t know as well. The whole place has a friendly feel to it. Nobody will tell you it’s perfect but I certainly find our village a very happy place to live.

The Tamworth One

December 28, 2014

A little Christmas present arrived – I believe from a lady my wife sometimes gives a lift to on their way to the Community Choir. It’s a gift that kindled a memory for me, being a coaster with a picture of a Tamworth sow.


Now some folks, particularly readers in our home country, the UK, will remember tales of the Tamworth Two. This duo of pretty porkies decided the slaughterhouse was not the place for them and they escaped and proved hard to recapture as they roamed an area on the Gloucestershire/Wiltshire border. After a fortnight or so they were recaptured, but by this time the rights to their story had been bought by a newspaper so they escaped the slaughterhouse. Instead of becoming sausages in 1998, they lived until 2010/2011 at a rare breeds centre.

We suffered from having the Tamworth One before this event.

I worked at a school that taught agriculture and had facilities for pigs. Our agriculture teacher was offered a Tamworth sow and I could see he was minded to accept but there was a snag. He had just been diagnosed with cancer and was about to have surgery. (For the record he is alive and kicking as I write this some twenty years on.)

Now I had pigsties at home and had kept pigs. So I said we could keep Tammy until he was fit and ready to take her on.

She was delivered to our pigsty and our troubles began.

Tammy was a high jumper and promptly leapt out of the sty. I added another row of concrete blocks on top of the wall. Tammy liked a challenge and soon learned how to clear this higher hurdle.

But Tammy wasn’t just interested in getting into the field. I don’t know if Tammy had met metal field gates before but if not she was a quick learner. Once out of the sty, Tammy could put her nose under the gate at the hinge end and lift it off said hinges so that it fell over. Tammy was free to explore our village.

We were soon used to the phone ringing – in fact we learned to dread it.

‘Your pig is in our garden!’
‘I’ve just been frightened by a pig on the stream path. I’m told it is probably yours!’
‘Your pig has been in my garden and eaten all my beetroots!’

These were some of the calls we had and on each occasion we had to head off with bucket of pig nuts and sheets of tin (they help to guide an escaped pig) so that we could lead Tammy back home.

We sought advice and were informed that an electric fence would keep her in so she moved quarters to a spot in the field where there was an old and quite immovable pig ark and we surrounded her with sheep netting and set the old ticker unit going.

Poor Tammy obviously took a shock and for quite a while she avoided going anywhere near the fence but she settled in and thoroughly ploughed up the patch she was on.

But I can tell you, we were mightily relieved when our agriculture teacher recovered and returned to work and Tammy could be transferred to the school facilities.



Ribblehead Viaduct

December 27, 2014

The Ribblehead Viaduct is one of many huge engineering structures on the railway between Settle and Carlisle. Let’s deal with history and facts first.

Construction started in 1870 and the viaduct was completed in 1874. 1000 navvies worked on it and three separate shanty towns were formed on Batty Moss which the viaduct crosses. The Ribblehead viaduct is fully a quarter of a mile long and 100 feet above the valley floor at its highest point. That’s roughly equivalent to the height of a 10 storey building. There are 24 arches made of the most readily available material which was the local limestone. The foundations are 25 feet deep. The viaduct is not level. The north end is 13 feet higher than the south end. At least 100 navvies were killed during the construction.

To give an idea of the terrain, travellers on the line pass over the viaduct and very soon plunge into Blea Moor Tunnel. This is a mile and a half long and in places 500 feet below the land’s surface.

But back to the viaduct.

We travelled over it by train and alighted at Ribblehead’s remote station before taking a look from ground level.


There is the viaduct with Blea Moor beyond. You need to remember this is a quarter of a mile long to get an idea of how huge it all is.


You get more idea of its enormity when you see just a part of it.


The youthful River Ribble


The post van approaches. The track leads under the viaduct and to some isolated farms.



The site of the shanty towns is a scheduled monument. It is hard to imagine that there was once an engine shed here as well.


Oh, and a brickworks for the tops of the arches.


My wife provides a bit of scale.


The stone pillars are enormous.

The workers who toiled to get the viaduct opened in 1875 are commemorated alongside those who saved it in 1991.



That’s me by the base of one of the arches.


Underneath the arches!


Trains still cross the viaduct.


I, of course, think this viaduct is magnificent. It is made of the moor it crosses and adds to the scene rather than being a violation. That it was built, back in the 1870s, was surely a mistake. But that it survives is surely even more wonderful.

Boxing Day – 2001

December 26, 2014

For a Boxing Day post I’m looking back to the Boxing Day of 2001. Back then our children were still single. We had no grandchildren and clearly we had no other visitors on December 26th. We went out for the day to enjoy some stunningly good weather at Hengistbury Head.


Just look at that amazing sky. What wonderful weather for the end of December.


Our children walking on the beach.


Thirteen years on – to today – and activities like this are not on the agenda. Son and daughter will be with us by lunchtime, bringing wife and husband respectively and three grandchildren – and can I be the proud grandfather and say they really are grand children.

I feel so lucky to have my descendants around me.

A Christmas gift

December 25, 2014

This year I am showing a gift I am giving this Christmas. It is a book and a second hand one at that. It’s even a bit foxed and, no doubt, when my son sees it he’ll sniff at it and say it has a ‘must factor’ and maybe he’ll add a number.

It’s always good if you can come across the right thing for a person and in my mind I can hear an adult niece chuckling over bits of this book and reading them out to anyone who’ll listen.

It is an early Denys Parsons book. He was an early collector of absurd misprints or just plain bad copy from newspapers etc. He invented a family, the Shrdlus to suffer the indignities that some of these cuttings portray. The book dates from 1952.


It’s a hardback small book and it still has a dustcover in pretty good order. We’ll note that illustrations are by the ever popular Ronald Searle.

Here’s an example.


Altogether I am giving about 300 silly sentences – up to 300 sniggers and giggles. Now that’s got to be good.

Oh, there is another sentimental reason for buying the book. My brother, who died close on 35 years ago at the absurdly young age of 33, was a Denys Parsons fan. Just buying the book allowed me to have thoughts of my much missed brother.


Carol Singers

December 24, 2014

Respect for the ways of others has always been a feature of my family. That includes now, but I’m referring to my childhood family.

I would not have called my childhood home a Christian religious one. We were not church goers although we kids were bundled off to a Sunday School at the very local Friends Meeting House. But music was enjoyed and that always included church and religious music. And certainly we enjoyed a visit from the carol singers as Christmas approached. My dad, who had a good bass voice, often took part for our local ‘Ifield Association’ went carolling to raise funds for the good of the local community. I believe my sister also sang sometimes.

This photo, another from 1954 so 60 years ago, shows the singers outside our house.


Sad to say, I don’t have the names of the members of this group but they look to be having a good time. Dad would have been the photographer for this one and he did well to capture a sharp image. I wonder if he had some kind of flare. Certainly he had no flash gun.

I did like Christmas when it was simpler, much less commercial and not dominated by ‘how to be perfect’ TV shows. But of course, I was a young child then and most young kids don’t notice the stress that events cause parents. Perhaps they were running around like headless chickens just like so many do today.

Back in 1954

December 23, 2014

Christmas has real poignancy for me this year. For the first time in my life I face a Christmas with none of the people I grew up with. When I look back to childhood Christmases I have nobody to share memories with – except that on rare occasions – and usually when I was a bit older, we might have spent a day with my cousins and grandparents. My cousins are still alive.

But the day to day memories that might be shared with a parent or a sibling – they have gone – as far as a topic of conversation is concerned. I find it seriously daunting to be the senior member of my family; the head of three generations and with nobody older or wiser to turn to.

I am aware, of course, that I am not the only person in this situation. I can now recall that my dad and my gran both reached this situation. But it is only now that I am in it that I realise what an impact it has.

But let’s be positive. I have a wife (and I have known her since I was little more than a kid), I have children. I have grandchildren. I have cousins, nephews, nieces and even half siblings. We all have wider circles of friends – and some of my friends I have known for nigh on 60 years. And then I have a lovely collection of blog readers. Many are people I don’t know at all, but they feel like friends.

And I have memories, aided by a wonderful collection of photographs and here is one of them – a photo of a family group of children who were all at the same school in December 1954 – 60 years ago.


I am the somewhat toothless person on the left. The photo was taken by the school photographer. My mum must have known he was coming. I have no memory of normally having to wear a tie to school back then. In the middle is my sister who died back in September this year. Christmas without Paula will be odd this year. Actually she went through quite a long spell of being a real grouch at Christmas. ‘I’m not doing Christmas’, she’d say. ‘We’re not doing presents’, she’d add. And on Christmas day she’d drag her husband out for a walk where she’d meet other grouches who weren’t doing Christmas and declare these folks were the ones who had seen the light and were truly sensible. Just after Christmas and before New Year she’d phone us up and invite them to come and see us. They’d arrive with boxes full of gifts. These were nearly all second hand because Paula traded in collectibles. I have zero objection to second hand goods and gifts. In fact I’m all for it. And Paula always managed to find such appropriate things.

In the last few years she got less grouchy and started doing Christmas again. But alas, 2013 was her last one.

Having said that, compared with my brother, Robin, who is on the right in the photo she did wonderfully well for age. Robin died back in 1980 leaving a wife and two young kids. Robin and I were too close in age to be good friends as kids. I only really learned to love him when he left home. But we still had to spend childhood together – fighting and arguing as siblings do. I still miss him amazingly often. He has a grandson, who of course he never knew, who looks just like him.

I’d better finish this post by saying I feel extremely fortunate with my life. I had loving caring parents, siblings who grew to love one another, and I have had a lovely wife for more than 40 years now and great children and delightful grandchildren. Who, actually, could ask for more?

More shove ha’penny

December 22, 2014

I made a mistake yesterday and published the post about the old game of shove ha’penny which I intended to publish today. So we’ll regard this as a shove ha’penny bonus with a bit of carpet croquet thrown in.

This is my sister having a go at pushing the coins. It is Christmas 2002.


Of course Paula, my sister, won’t be up for a game this year for she died in the summer.

We had a whole range of silly games that Christmas and here are members of the family engaged in carpet croquet.


This is half-sister shoving the ½ds.


And here we see her mum – my step mother. She is much more like my age than the age of a mother!


Happy Christmas past! We’ll certainly miss my sister this year but I’m sure we’ll still have a good time. And half sister, with her two youngsters and step mum will be part of it.