Saturday, December 08, 2018

Spirit of the Aire

My reading of Ben Aaronovitch's latest Rivers of London title, Lies Sleeping coincided with a walk around Granary Wharf and the Dark Arches in Leeds last week. Watching a full and turbulent river Aire following its man-made course underneath the city's railway station, I wondered if rivers really do have spirits or deities of their own - and if so, how the Aire feels about the latest interruption to its flow. After all, the Aire's seen monks washing fleeces in its waters, powered textile mills, used its strength to forge iron - even make putty. And springs along its course have brewed beer in Kirkstall, the city centre and Woodlesford. Since 1816 it has been forced to share its valley with the Leeds Liverpool Canal. But the canal, with its stagnant, managed portions of water, that can only move through locks under human control, is not free like the Aire, whose unbridled rush and flow of water makes it a living thing, such that no-one can enter the same river twice. The Aire moves to its own rhythm and varigates its own depths. Even when forced underground, it has a raw power and strength. The city's life now travels over or around the river that even once gave landlocked Leeds a dock. In our sterile modern world where the only flow worth having is data, the Aire's spirit needs to connect again with the city it bisects.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Passata purchasing problems

I turned right at the end of an aisle in our local Sainsbury's yesterday to see my wife's unmistakable blue coat. It seemed odd that she was looking at passata; indeed, I breezed up to her, observing that: 'we don't need any of that, there's loads at home'. Unfortunately, I then looked down the row, to see my wife, resplendent in her dark turquoise parka and a yellow hat, staring back at me. The blue-coated imposter took it all rather in her stride, and asked me who I was looking for. Which was rather better than asking who was looking after me. We left the store soon after. I think it will be a while before I go back...

Monday, November 12, 2018

World War I Centenary: poppies and raincoats

'Poppy?' 'Must be on my other raincoat, mate.' My grandad Alf was in Muckydonia, go on, find it on the map. With the ASC he drove bully beef, bombs and bullets amid the horror there. So who the hell are you to tell me the sort of poppy I should wear? Grandad Jack was with the DLI at Wipers amid the mud and carnage there. So who the hell are you to tell me what raincoat I should wear? For more WWI family history, read Heirloom

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A dark mark on the CV

I suspect, like me, many people have a job with a particular company or organisation that they'd rather forget. A blot on their employment history that marks a wrong decision or an oversold set of promises that never quite lived up to recruitment hype or expectations. Mine happened several years ago and only lasted 7 months; fortunately a previous opportunity became live again and I was able to jump ship, but the painful memories remain. Fast forward, then, to last week when a 'recruitment partner' (what that?) contacted me to say that he'd like to 'source' me for a role. As an aside at this point, I suppose it's inevitable, but depressing nonetheless, that the monstrous regiments of the CIPD, having so thoroughly infected HR and recruitment with their mendacious spin and psychobabble should now turn their rapacious gaze on the English language as a whole. But it's worth stating, perhaps if only for the grammatical record, that source should remain a noun and not become a verb on their dodgy say so. Putting the aside to one side. The company name wasn't one I'd heard of before, but a quick Google showed the area of work - and geographic location - to be a rather uncomfortable match with the black hole in my CV, into which hopes and dreams vanished - if only for 7 months. I acted quickly, thanking for interest etc., but pointing out the match to the worst job I'd ever had, and closed wishing the partner every success in filling the vacancy. But the thought remained: no matter how good an HR professional is at weaving their 'magic' - not even they can beat the golden rule that you can't polish a turd. Though in my mind, he had at least tried to cover this one with glitter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Going down in the Subway

Probably an unintended marketing consequence, but hearing a burly builder asking for a 'six inch Italian' brought on a fit of the fnaar fnarrs while I was queuing in a well-known sandwich outlet yesterday.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Set course for Shetland: printing outside the box

Scotland's passed a law to stop Shetland being placed in a box on maps, which tend to show the islands being somewhere to the NE of Aberdeen, as opposed to their true location It seems the practice really annoys Shetlanders, which, given their liking for dressing as Vikings and brandishing swords and axes is something to be avoided at all costs. Even if it does mean that maps in the future will have to carry a lot of blue water: can't see the Scots being too pleased having to pay for all that extra, empty blue...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

September 1918

Those poor beggars. To us, they looked to be either young boys or old men. Dressed in rags, starving. They just threw their guns onto a pile at the side of the road and shuffled off into the distance. My Grandfather, then serving as a Driver in the Army Service Corps, remembered watching the Bulgarian surrender at the end of September 1918. War in a land without a name Southern Serbia, Alf called it where maps now place (Northern) Macedonia or FYROM from Salonika’s dubious attractions to a frontline where even water had to be delivered by mule or lorry train. His war was a sideshow to a sideshow: out of the birdcage, out of the garden. Where boredom and malaria took a greater toll than bullets and shells. Tiadatha’s braves moved out over Muckydonia to face the Bulgar and the Hun. Soil too shallow for trenches; in this land you froze in winter, baked in summer fought mosquitoes and ennui in between, watched all the while by an enemy from Crowns Big and Small and the Devil’s Eye.   Then from Dobra Polje to Doiran the line began to move – following Desperate Frankie’s urgent plan to capture the Vardar and Strumica. In the bloody aftermath, corpses packed standing in lorries the easier to transport, silent sentinels of death. So standing on that dusty road he watched that vanquished army walk away to a shattered land that had bleed so much but now could not bleed anymore. Bulgaria - the first Central Power to fall. An end forming the birth pang of fractious new nations: freedom’s allure mingled with nationalism’s latent dangers. There were no winners in that, Alf said. He was no military hero, never keen on the soldiering life. There because he had to be, yearning to go home: after going through that, I wouldn’t even join a library his response. I owe it to his memory to staunch centenary ‘celebrations’ because there were no winners in that. Nothing for idiot politicians to exploit, nothing to glory in, not after what he saw on the road from Doiran. For Alf and all those of the Entente or Central Powers who fought in 'Southern Serbia' and the Salonika Front. Serb, Greek, Bulgarian, Yugoslav, French, British, Irish, German. It was the beginning of the end and a century on, we still haven't lived up to your legacy, or honoured your suffering and loss.

Monday, September 24, 2018

A Pound for Every Time I've Heard That

Waiting for a bus in Heckmondwike the other day, I was fascinated by a conversation between two women of mature years, who were talking in the shelter at the town's bus hub (too small to qualify for a grown-up bus station, apparently...). Anyway, these two were discussing the merits of the town's several pound shops; that retailing phenomenon of post-industrial northern towns that blots many a once proud high street. The latest, housed in yet another former bank building (as the pound shops proliferate, so the banks seem to disappear in inverse proportions) caused a divergence of opinion: while one thought it was the best yet, the other announced she'd boycotted it as it was 'illegal'. The argument in support of this finding betrayed a fascinating mix of faux outrage and mangled consumer law. The proponent said that she refused to shop there, because they were selling 'loads of stuff for more than a pound' but it's name had pound in the title, therefore it was 'illegal'. Now, I always like a well-argued legal discourse, but there were a number of problems here. First, as with the bus analogy I used when teaching Law, the title doesn't mean you can buy exactly what it says on the sign. For example, buses sometimes have words like 'Mars' or 'Tetley's tea' on the side, but you can't demand either to be taken to the Red Planet or served a refreshing cuppa - because these are adverts, or in a glorious legal formulation 'mere puffs'. These don't constitute an 'offer' that is capable of 'acceptance' in the contractual law sense. So, unfortunately, our bus shelter advocate's boycott is 'wrong in law', to use a great judicial slapdown, because there's nothing on which the phrase can be used to base a valid contract on. I felt it would have been advisable to point this out, but she then rather destroyed her own argument by pointing to her shopping trolley, which she said she'd bought from a pound shop in Bradford for fifteen quid. I think that's called 'cognitive dissonance', but was constrained from taking up the issue as my bus to Dewsbury had just arrived, and time and Dewsbury wait for no-one, whether travelling with a shopping trolley or without.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fenella Fielding

Sad to read of the death at 90 of the Queen of Vamp Camp. A classical actor with a long list of stage drama to her name, she would be forever associated with the Carry on howler 'Do you mind if I smoke' from the 1966 film Carry on Screaming!. The BBC obituary takes the classical high ground approach to Fielding's work, emphasising how she turned down further Carry On roles. But there's a curious anomaly here: she is said to have refused the title role in Carry on Cleopatra - a mistaken reference to the 1964 film Carry on Cleo. The obituary clearly suggests that she was offered the title role in a film made two years before 'Screaming on the back of her smoking hot performance with Harry H Corbett. Interestingly, while Fielding got to deliver her knock out line in 'Screaming', her 'nemesis' (as her obituary has it), Kenneth Willams got his laugh-out loud howler in 'Cleo, 'infamy, infamy, they've all got it infamy'. The Carry Ons gave us some great performances and laughs that stand the test of time, but time travel wasn't one of the gifts shared by the performers. I would get out more, but I seem to have got a little plastered...

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sex toys that spy on you: a data protection leak too far?

Imagine, getting down and dirty with a vibrator, only for it's inbuilt sensors to pass every moan (or whatever happens when you're buzzing...) to the manufacturer, only so they can improve your experience, of course. The Daily Wail or Murdoch's grubby minions would be over this like a rash: being spied on by your smartphone's bad enough, but when your dildo does the dirty on you and tells the waiting cyber world, it's really time for what happens in the boudoir/dungeon/garden shed to bloody well stay there.

A well Settled afternoon

The town of Settle in North Yorkshire's Craven district has always held a fascination for me. Before the A65 bypassed the town, it was an unavoidable, but picturesque bottleneck on the way to the west coast or Lakes. My dad liked the place, and would always opine that it was 'just like Switzerland' when he drove under the railway viaduct. It turned out that his only experience of Switzerland had been a journey in a sealed train at the end of WWII, and the totality of Switzerland to him - as a thankful soon-to-be ex Sapper - was a peaceful land with big hills through which his train to freedom and home wended it's merry way. I remembered this yesterday when I returned to the town. Off the bypass at the Settle/Horton-in-Ribblesdale turning, past the Falcon Hotel and into the main square, with its Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe, the house where Edward Elgar stayed with his friend, the local doctor, and centre-piece stone shops with upper floor galleries. My purpose in going to Settle was to show off the town's railway station - the starting point for the Northern Rail's Settle-Carlisle line '72 miles of splendour' as the station sign unselfconsciously, and entirely truthfully, proclaims. If you're heading west from Skipton, turn off the A65; third exit from the roundabout just after the railway bridge. Follow the Settle/Horton-in-Ribblesdale, visit dad's Switzerland and a railway station that, if anything, rather downplays the wonders it plays host to.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia: 50th Anniversary

Fiftieth anniversary of Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia seems to be rather muted. Amongst Russians, there's widespread ignorance of the move by Brezhnev to end Dubček's limited programme of political reforms known as the Prague Spring. To paraphrase Václav Havel: this is no time for forgetting; Dubček's aims might be seen as minimal and non-threatening now, but the Soviet response reveals a lot about Russia's obsession with the 'near abroad' - those neighbouring states both Putin and the Soviets viewed as a special sphere where influence and control were, and still very much are, central to Russian power. Read Gnosis

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

When a sub-clause gets its claws into you.

BBC West Yorkshire local news headline begs the question, how many times can you crush a car? - "'Fly-tipping car' is crushed New powers have been used to crush a car, which was involved in fly-tipping in Barnsley, for the first time. Beware the sub-clause...

Monday, August 13, 2018

Pissed off or pensioned off?

I booked a Pension Wise appointment to discuss my future pension needs. Now, Pension Wise ask for details of your existing pension providers, which can amount to quite a list if you've worked for decades and changed employers. It also means you get to listen to a lot of Four Seasons and other hold muzak as - no matter what time of day you call - Aviva and NOW pensions always have high call volumes. In Aviva's case they also have an IT dept that can't seem to find its arse with both hands; over a year ago I queried why my policy wasn't on the customer website, and was told it soon would be. Well, the grunts in the 'turn it off and on again' cupboard obviously didn't get the message, because the policy (and I would hazard a guess mine's far from the only one) still hasn't made it online. The government wants us to save for retirement, and there's a lot of money sloshing around the pension pots managed by these companies; it would be nice if they invested some of their no-doubt hard earned bonuses/commissions on maintaining the close customer links and relationships they're blurb prattles on about.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Bradford's anti-Trump demo: a soft fart on a warm evening

Yesterday, full of anger at the visit and unable to get to London, I googled local planned protests against Trump's visit. The nearest was shown as Bradford, 17.00 in Centenary Square. Duly fired up, I was there in good time. Sure enough, there was a stage, chairs set out, food stalls and security stewards on hand - they seemed friendly, if decidedly under-employed. Then it dawned, the Trump protest seemed to have been tagged on as an afterthought to Bradford's 3 day city centre festival. A Souzaphone and Sax marching combo opened proceedings, with Daft Punk at the head of their running list. By now the anti-Trumpers seemed to be arriving: a couple in Corbyn T-shirts and a bloke in a suit with a Palestinian flag. Then the trickle stopped and I realised the fire in my belly wasn't going to be kindled by fine oratory or a march through the city. Deflated but not defeated, I made my way to the Kashmir, a wonderful Bradford institution, where the fire in my belly was replaced by fire of a different kind, that which can only be supplied by fish pakora, followed by spinach and daal balti. My initial disappointment at the lack of radicalism in contemporary Bradford politics, in the birthplace of the Independent Labour Party, and also one-time parliamentary seat of the radical Liberal politician William Forster; and, yes, the place that also gave us Eric Pickles, but atoned for that by producing the definitive account of his predictable rise to power, was replaced by a feeling that this city - with all its faults and failings - is still a fine testament to common humanity and tolerance. As I finished my curry, the realisation struck me that Bradford struggles against Trump and all his kind stands for every single day. Long may it continue to do so.

Monday, July 09, 2018

The moorhen and the splash

I saw this moorhen swimmning in the river Coquet at Warkworth a couple of days ago. Nothing too exciting, rather sedate at first. But after the first press of the shutter, the bird decided to cool down a bit, and I managed to capture the moment with a second click of the button. Enjoy - the moorhen certainly did.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Epic Sn(f)ail?

This mollusc spent last night climbing up a door. The top of the door is about as far as it can get from a source of food in my garden. After the door, its got a few metres of stone to go before it reaches the roof - where there might be a little moss to eat. Are we looking at a new form of super snail here, or is it rather a case of a lousy sense of direction giving it the worst possible start to a Monday?

Saturday, June 09, 2018


It seems that 14% of hits on my Linkedin site this week are from 'human resources specialists'.
A lower form of existence I've yet to encounter. Be gone, foul pests, be gone I say.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Learning to be anxious: how not to teach - a lesson from the 60s

It's strange, but if I consider whether the world is becoming a better place, on a subjective level, I always seem to default to my school years. I started school in September 1966 and the first school I attended was Beckett Park County Primary in Headingley, Leeds (near to cricket ground, if you're not familiar with the place). Probably fair to say, I didn't enjoy the school experience: the whole freedom thing of the mid-60s hadn't reached that far north yet and the bulk of my teachers had spent their careers managing failure from a position of largely unquestioned authority - which was bad for them, and for the children submitted to their often not-so-tender care. By the time I was eight, I was in Miss Tipping's second year junior class. Miss T was the epitome of 'old-school'; white hair cut to accentuate the severity of her face, tweed-suited and flat-brogued, she ruled with an iron fist (backed up liberally with flailing ruler or flying board rubber). Boys were always referred to by surname only, the girls had the privilege of being called by their first name, but this was so loaded with vitriol or sarcasm the privilege was highly questionable. Along with a fair few others in my class, I went home for lunch and this entailed catching a school bus that left at 12.05; the lunch bell went at 12.00, so there was always a scramble. On this fateful day, La Tipping employed her absent-minded 'is that really the time' trick, which she deployed if we hadn't met her expected work/attentiveness rate in the morning lessons. As the clocked ticked on past the bell and we waited for her dismissal, I began to panic. Missing the school bus meant a longer walk to the main road for the service bus; I'd have less time to eat or spend at home. The panic grew and before I knew it, 'Miss' had noticed. In an irony-loaded voice she asked 'Hyatt, what's the matter?' She then took my hesitant answer as her cue for a rabble-rousing comedy routine that reduced my class mates to nervous laughter. We were eventually released. I don't remember if I made the school bus, but I can still recall - all too vividly - the panicked fear her little routine caused. She belittled me - and my childish fears - in a way I would never have done in my time as a teacher. Because if I had, I would have been subject to a complaint and faced some form of sanction; we now know that anxiety is real and stalks the classes and corridors of schools in all year groups. So, yes, in this respect the world is a better place. But accessing the care and treatment needed to overcome anxiety and depression is another story altogether. 'Miss' taught me not to be late for busses and trains; she also taught me that panic is no laughing matter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sussex Police in Pork Sword Horror

Commenting on the resignation of a police officer after admitting he'd moonlighted as a prostitute while on sick leave and during off duty hours, Sussex Police Federation said that he had chosen to 'fall on his sword'. While it's good to see Plod Fed keeping close contact with their members, and acknowledging the blatant disregard of softer targets - such as references to shiny helmets or truncheons, the Federation's response still begs important questions: did those concerned come quietly? And was he a fair cop?

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Mark my words: when Harry met Sally and the puppy

The first session with the puppy trainer was a strictly no-dog, owners only affair, with some great advice and a couple of ground rules. First off, ahead of next week's first real lesson, he emphasised the need for all the pups to be trained to respond to a 'marker' word - something short, that you can add some 'zip' to was his recommendation. And the chosen word for added zip? 'Yes'. This has to be used to reinforce good behaviour or a task properly carried out - such as sit or stay, only puppies don't understand too many words, so a good zippy 'Yes' keeps them on task and on side. We take our pup out for an early morning toilet session around 4.00am; which is when I discovered that zipping a few 'Yeses' together makes the garden sound like the venue for an al fresco after dark orgy. Oh, yes, yes, yes...

Friday, March 30, 2018

Pandemonium at the puppy party

Quickly achieved pariah status yesterday evening by taking, what turned out to be, the largest yet youngest puppy along to our local vet's puppy party. Intended as a general information session and puppy socialisation opportunity, our pride and joy rapidly ensured it descended into yappy chaos, with a bit of 'strenuous' biting play on the side. First off, our boy managed to alienate a female dachsund pup, who obviously saw him as an uncouth bit of very rough from the get go. Next up was a playful spaniel; he was initially well-up for some rough house stuff, but became over-excited as what looked to be a budding bromance quickly descended into a bottom and privates sniffing free-for-all with a bit of strong arm stuff thrown in. This culminated in a fight or flight bowel evacuation of such epic proportions that his mortified owner pointedly went to sit as far from us as possible. Sensing a pressing further training need, I took discretion to be the better part of valour and so we were the first to leave, much to the general relief of puppies, owners and veterinary staff.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Going into care

At the end of last September, I made a quantum break from my immediate past forms of employment - freelance editing and teaching - and took a job in the care sector. Now, society at large has a strange relationship with the concept of working in care: we're either doing a job that no-one else wants; working for a pittance looking after those that society would rather not have to deal with; or much patronised by politicians as selfless angels who dedicate themselves to caring for others. Depending on your views and/or personal experience at the time, you can mix and match these responses to suit your taste. For instance, if you've been mildly inconvenienced or embarrassed by a person with a learning disability displaying 'challenging behaviour' in public, you might go for the two former; but if you've seen support workers with happy smiling residents enjoying even the most mundane of activities, for example buying chocolate or catching a bus, you can slide into the latter camp and maybe even feel something approaching a nice warm glow. The truth lies somewhere in between; I've had good days and bad days in my new role. I don't teach ideas or correct text anymore, but I am called on to use some of those skills, as well as being empathetic to the needs of residents who face a world they don't understand or feel frightened by; we make the best of their situation and help them to make the most of their lives, exercising as much independence as they can handle while maintaining their dignity when things go wrong, as they inevitably will. It would help, of course, if the patronising words of politicians were matched by pay rates that exceeded the legal minimum, or if care providers didn't have a perpetual eye on the 'bottom line' or the share price: privatised care is a cynical oxymoron at best, pure balance sheet driven at worst. And of course, far more care staff need union representation; join as soon as you can, the monthly subs give you a peace of mind and strength of purpose than merely relying on the bland pronouncements of managers and HR could ever do.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Tesco*: protecting you from chaos and civil unrest

The spooks at MI5 have long considered that the UK is only 4 mealtimes away from chaos, meaning that any catastrophic event that prevents access to food for the next 4 meals could lead to a breakdown in law n' order. While no-one would like to see this theory put to the test, a conversation with a Tesco employee on yesterday's evening shift showed that MI5 might not be too wide of the mark. His shelf stacking shift had been enlivened by conversations with customers who seemed to be in the grip of snow-induced paranoia regarding low stocks or empty shelves. The simple reason being that Tesco operates daily deliveries and stores don't stockpile large amounts across their entire product range. But this seemed to be beyond the grasp of some of yesterday's shoppers; one man even went to far as to say that he knew as a fact that Tesco weren't putting goods out on the shelves and demanded to speak to a manager about it. *other supermarkets will also be available when catastrophe or apocalypse beckon.