Anna is booking a number of staycations and the latest adventure took me back to Scotland and to Dumfries & Galloway. I say ‘back to’ as it isn’t more than a few weeks ago that I was trundling a few miles to the east of here wending my way from Gretna to John O’Groats on my LEJOG trip.
She booked a house for four nights just outside Kirkcudbright, or as the natives pronounce it ‘Kirkcoobry’! The house’s location was fabulous on the banks of the River Dee estuary and could sleep six. It was therefore very spacious!
It’s a year since our Favourite Eldest Daughter got married to Matt in Manchester. The reception was lovely in bright sunshine at the top of a swanky city hotel but the numbers attending were limited due to Government Covid-19 restrictions. We wanted to correct this and say thank you to the wider family and friends who, not least, had been enormously generous with gifts and well wishes at the time.
So a date was put in the diary for 2021 and folk were invited to the House of Ives in Acaster Malbis. We were expecting rain and overcast conditions but the sun often appeared and it was warm despite the odd shower. Shelter could be found in a borrowed marquee but lunch was inside.
Guests came from Wales (Ann Marie & Pat), London (Helen, Laura & (Young) Dave, Georgia & Edward and James), North Yorkshire (Ellie & Chris and Ted), Manchester (Sophie & Harry and Cath & Jeff) and Gloucestershire (Tracey). A couple of speeches were made, with the best by far coming from young Matthew Gray, and after toasts luncheon was taken.
The food came from many places including a special patisserie in Garforth on the outskirts of Leeds called Dumouchel. How this authentic French run bakery ended up in the middle of a housing estate in suburban Leeds is a mystery. Scrumptious pork pies were brought over the Pennines by Cath and Jeff along with home made piccallilli; with this the father of the bride was enormously happy. Anna, Katrina and Sophie pulled it all together.
Some entertainment was devised and Screwfix provided the paint!
The egg and spoon race was a terrific success with 16 ‘runners’ with ages ranging from 75 to 8 years old. The final between Chris Reed (bride’s cousin) and Harry Fuoco (Favourite Youngest Daughter’s partner) ended up in a hilarious wrestling match. After VAR (as it was caught on video) Reed was disqualified!
Another party game was ‘pass the parcel’ with an epic prize that Cath will treasure for ever (we suspect).
A lovely day and thanks to all the helpers who tidied up! And Look who got the bride’s posie!
I imagine everyone is taking an interest in the Olympics. You’ve got to feel for the Japanese: they’ve spent all this money and even attendance at the events is prohibited or limited yet they’ll be paying for it all for decades. It seems the IOC and global television companies get the benefits. A mystery is the pleasure we all get from simply accumulating medals irrespective of what the sport is (and being ahead of the French and Germans in the league table.) It’s simply a competitive scrabble irrespective of what they’re competing for.
Many of the events are truly mystery: take taekwondo. As I write we have a chance of another medal. Our athlete who I’ve never heard of despite a lifetime of devotion (by her and her parents) to raising her feet above her head violently whilst standing. The sport is nearly unwatchable as clad in a helmet and wearing a padded mat around your middle you try and kick the opponent in the head or thump them in the stomach. The event also ‘enjoys’ several minute time outs whilst the competitor’s coach seeks to have points deducted off the opponent via a type of VAR scrutiny. The last bout I watched saw the British girl (sorry Katrina, woman) lose in the last second. How the hell do you cope with the disappointment?
Last time Beach Volleyball got ridiculed (apart from the kit!) I think Street Skateboarding is running it close. The sport involves jumping on your skate board and then propelling it whilst spinning so you can slide down a staircase handrail in outside spaces. We used to caution youngsters for doing this in town centres?
I have enjoyed all the cycling whether Tour de France or Olympic. The Olympic schedule has coincided with the mornings and I did sit riveted to the road races and the Otley lad, Tom Pidcock, who won the Mountain Bike Cross Country race. At Le Tour I was so delighted for Mark Cavendish, a real fairy tale slightly tarnished by not getting the 35th Tour stage victory. However, knowing what Eddie Merckx achieved, and how he did it, then maybe a tie is apposite.
Cavendish may have got the green jersey but an unexpected delightful prize dropped through the letterbox from Jude and Peter up in Edinburgh. A fitting medal for the Lands End to John O’Groats bike ride. Thank you.
Ann-Marie, my sister, has been reinforcing the bottom of her garden. It backs onto a stream that sadly becomes a brutal rushing river when there is heavy rain on the local Welsh hills. The result is the washing away of about five feet of an already small garden. I helped with the contractor selection and costings. I rushed down on Tuesday to be on site early for discussions.
In my haste I left without money. Not ideal if you need to fill up your car with diesel when nearly at her home near Conwy for the return trip. I have a payment solution on my Apple Watch and so no problem, that is, if I had chosen to wear it on the trip! So I then recollected I could install it on my iPhone and this I did. This isn’t an ideal emergency solution in case there is a problem.
The problem might be that if I filled up the car with £50 worth of fuel to find the App didn’t work? I had hoped to find a sympathetic cashier I could do a trial run with by buying something cheap that they could refund if the phone didn’t work. I entered the busty petrol station hoping for a young person who would understand the technology and help me establish if it worked. Brilliantly I found a teenager who calmly ran through the trial purchase: it worked! (I felt that I had also won a Gold Medal with this small technological triumph.)
If you haven’t watched Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime then you’re missing a treat. Clarkson’s not everyone’s cup of tea but he nicely gets out of his comfort zone as a farmer. We spend a season with the man, and his workers, managing the arable lands and livestock (sheep). It’s quite instructive about the rudimentary nature of farming and predictably there is considerable slapstick and hilarity. Check it out . Below are the local crops I see on my constitutional.
So I’m sat on a bench in Skirpenbeck, a small village just outside Stamford Bridge. I’ve been cycling in the Wolds when I stop to eat an energy bar and have a gel. As I cycle through the village toward the the bench I pass an old bloke walking his Jack Russell. He’s five foot nothing wearing a tweed sports jacket, a flat hat and has a small silver moustache. If I’d bothered to wonder how he’s spent his life it’d have been on the railways, in a factory or maybe on a farm.
Anyway he ambles up to me to comment on how chilly it is whilst his dog looks up to me awaiting a scratch on his head. He tells me that he used to ride a bike but the talent resides with his 45 year old son who was a Yorkshire champion. Impressed I ask if living out amongst the hills had helped him. “Oh no, we lived in Hull at the time, I’ve just moved here.” So engaged he regaled me with his moves and said that he’s lived for over 20 years in Turkey. Now this isn’t obvious! So I asked “if she was pretty?” “Oh no, the wife was English!” It transpires he’d made a few quid on a house sale and went travelling and obviously didn’t get past the Turkish coast. “So how did you make a living?” “I was a tattooist.” He was warming to recounting all this life story and was about to probably regale me with some derring do in Marmaris. However, in my lycra I was getting cold and had a large forecasted rain downpour to beat and made my apologies. I now wonder what else I missed in his life story.
The daughters came to York to celebrate their mother’s birthday and we went for Sunday lunch on the river. As we approached the restaurant it was cold but sunny. On sitting down we found ourselves under cover in something that British Cycling could use as a wind tunnel. In minutes the sun had gone, the nithering wind picked up and the rain started to lash down. Folk took cover literally as they worried about wearing their roast beef and trimmings and their table mats and coverings took flight. We sat tight clutching our drinks praying for our lunch to arrive shortly so we could bolt it down and return to some brick shelter. Welcome to spring.
Other adventures involve taking the Morgan to a garage down south in June to have much of the front suspension replaced. The ride is very harsh; thesaying goes that if you drive over a coin in a Morgan you can tell whether it’s heads or tails. I’m hoping this upgrade will make the car less bone jarring. When I first owned cars in the 1970s it was accepted that cars wore out and if you kept a car over 40,000 miles it was likely to be ultimately an expensive decision. Nowadays cars will happily continue over 100,000 if serviced and cared for. Sadly the design of the Morgan is such that there is a very short life for a number of components beneath the car.
Other activities include riding the iconic bike ride of Lands End to John O’Groats. This is planned and booked for the end of June until early July. Unusually I’ll be completing this with long time buddy, Peter. I’m looking forward to a cycle tour but I would want to warn you this two week ride will herald biblical rain and a downturn in temperatures. I shall write in greater detail nearer the departure date.
Lastly, I must be amongst a large number of men who are appalled at the opportunity to hug people as the pandemic recedes. I shall not be changing my arms length approach to affection. I would however like to add that I have been known to moderate this rule as regards the Favourite Youngest Daughter where we share a brisk and business-like handshake on meeting. (I kid you not.)
The Favourite Eldest and Youngest Daughters often get a mention in the blogs but their partners seldom do. T’other weekend in Manchester saw some time being spent with the chaps. Matt probably got the best value out of me with my helping to sand the dining room wooden floor. There were several coats of stain and varnish patchily covering a large area that needed to be removed. This took us a day and half of application and I was delighted with the results. Matt then varnished the planed floor. Katrina is still dealing with the dust.
(I’m holding a sander not a table tennis bat!)
Harry indulged me in something a bit more pleasurable. A fabulous spin just south of Manchester in the countryside and through the expensive satellite towns containing footballers’ multi million pound properties. We were even passed by a wonderful vintage (about 1928) supercharged Bentley… if only I could have got my phone out in time for a snap.
It looks like, that despite the partial relaxation of the lockdown, we’ll not be getting abroad quickly on holiday. However I can recommend a trip to Waitrose to partially satisfy your desire for sun and exotic places:
Truth be told then I’m happy that there are a lot of poor farm hands making a living planting and harvesting these vegetables and then packing them onto airfreight. But let’s be frank that these imports are stupid if we’re trying to save the planet. (All supermarkets import vegetable not just Waitrose.)
I was amassing 17,000 steps by delivering a leaflet for a candidate in the election for the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner around our sleepy village. You’ll be unsurprised to learn this imminent event hasn’t lit up the locality into an excited frenzy. I think most of the leaflets will probably make it into recycling fairly swiftly. A couple of folk engaged with me on the topic. One noticed that the candidate was committed to ‘targeting county lines drug dealers’ and observed that some of this pond life had been spotted in the local pub carpark. I expressed genuine astonishment. I commented that the village had too many old people to be interested in all this stuff. Another person quipped ‘that may be true but there’s lots of folk taking drugs in the village but mainly in tablet form on prescription!’
I was sorry to note the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh. He never had delusions about his importance but brought great authority, leadership and energy to his role of supporting the Queen and the various good causes he was the patron of. As I sign off I thought I’d repost, from an earlier blog, an episode concerning a letter he sent to my workplace…
“About 25 years ago I sat atop of a large department of employees at Moores Furniture Group who’s job was to deal with customers quotations and orders. It was an era before the internet and we lived in a sea of paper. I saw this daily forest after it’s opening and sorting. One morning as I’m perusing the letters and forms I came across a small letter on something like blue Basildon Bond. This was not the way most contractors, in Co Durham, communicated when seeking replacement hinges for a damaged wall cabinet. On closer scrutiny it was a personal letter to our former owner, George Moore, from Buckingham Palace.
Mr Moore following his disposal of the company for about £70 million had devoted himself to various activities including charitable ones. Such beneficiaries included one of the Duke of Edinburgh’s causes. The letter said little other than thank you and was simply signed ‘Philip’. This was how he signed all his letters!
I studied this letter and instructed it to be redirected to Mr Moore who resided elsewhere on the estate and did reflect that it was a little unfortunate that this letter, that he would no doubt be delighted to receive, had a date stamp, thanks to the mail room, plonked right across HRH’s moniker. If nothing else then Mr Moore could be confident in telling friends and family the date on which it was received.
The badger is back. Clearly not a cause for celebration but a cause for more expenditure. Additional fencing over tens of metres of up to three feet high, in places, has been erected. This solution was decided on after our garden lawn man said you can’t remove the bugs that entice the animal into the garden. In fact he demonstrated their prevalence by digging up the turf randomly and exposing these little blighters. Apparently we just have to wait for the bugs to go, it could be years.
In sharing this update with neighbours we heard that the male urine strategy is being widely pursued. One lady has been diluting her husband’s urine and pouring it copiously around the perimeter of their property. If we’d read about this activity in a remote African village we’d assume the women lived in a mud hut, ate missionaries and had a bone through her nose! Her husband was all for shooting the beasts (or was he taking the p***?). I could subscribe to this management technique but they’re are a protected species.
I completed the transposing and copy editor job with Eric’s life story and am missing it badly. It was an unfolding story of 20th Century history as well as a personal journey of an interesting life. He’s not yet finished the story and I await the next instalment with interest. I worry that my own life story would include too many long afternoons spent in dreary meetings talking about Y2K , computer upgrade improvements, the roll out of health and safety initiatives etc. Such was a corporate life.
Leeds United have been a lockdown tonic. Of course I am remorselessly pessimistic about every game but we have accumulated enough points to survive this season in the league and go into the next with hopefully a bigger squad of players and options off the bench. As LUFC flourish in the top league after 16 years of ‘hurt’ (as the song goes) then another former player has passed away. Peter Lorimer was a wonderful winger with a remarkable, hard shot. I well remember the crowd chant of ’90 miles an hour’. I noted with some pride that his loss was so profound that the national news headlines included this sad event and social media lit up with lots of footage of epic strikes from outside the penalty area.
I’m still fascinated by the local WW2 history which is so evident in the surrounding areas of where we live. The RAF had many airfields accommodating heavy bombers that flew nightly sorties to mainland Europe. I’m reading the following book pamphlet.
Amongst many things it covers it recalls the high jinx that went on on the bases to keep up morale. These cohorts were made up of young men who spent much of their time frightened, frozen, wrestling unreliable and dangerously unwieldy aircraft or probably or when on the ground, in a foreign country, far away from their homes, bored. An extract from the book truly astonished me. There was a camp donkey at RAF Pocklington which grazed in the corner of the airfield and was fed titbits from the cookhouse and NAAFI. The extract goes:
“Sadly one morning, one morning word got around that the donkey had died during the night. The problem now arose as how to dispose of it. It was finally decided that one of the crews would, that night, take the unusual additional payload and dispose of it over the Third Reich… ours was the lucky crew who drew the short straw. As I recall it was the navigator and engineer who, with much heaving and pushing, dispatched it as soon as we were over German territory. I’ve often wondered what were the thoughts and comments of those on the receiving end 16,000 feet below.”
Anna, when I read this out to her, worried that the falling carcass might have killed somebody. As the Halifax bomber was already carrying nearly 3 tons of bombs then the odd falling dead donkey was the least of the problems for the population I suspect.
Talking of yet more four legged creatures the lambs are back in the fields near us. I think I’ve said that I wasn’t aware of a lot of nature until, thanks to the lockdown, I started to walk around. These delightful gambolling creatures soon lose their fun and will follow their mothers around the grassy fields eating for a few months until they nearly get to their mother’s size and then we all know what happens next, especially to the male of the species. I don’t eat lamb, as it seldom comes up on a menu, or buy many woollen goods so I wonder who they’re being bred for? Answers on a postcard please.
Reading the weekend Yorkshire Post newspaper I came across a popular feature where they interview a local worthy and they pronounce on the following questions. Here’s my go…
What’s your first Yorkshire memory?
I suppose the first awareness I had of my surroundings, outside of the home in north Leeds, was going into town, down Scott Hall Road, with my mother on the bus. There we’d visit Leeds indoor market for meat and vegetables before going on to Lewis’s on the Headrow for other groceries. I remember the counters where things were sold by weight including broken biscuits. All this was the very early 1960s.
What’s your favourite part of the county and why?
Gosh, there are so many beautiful parts to choose but it’d probably be the Wolds (although an honourable mention goes to the sumptuous Dales and the coast). On the Wolds at Garrowby you can see endless farmland and when at the very top receive a brilliant view to the west. It’s breezy, open, free from traffic, undeveloped and the perfect place to escape on a bike ride.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire?
Taking the top down on the Morgan and heading over the rugged North York Moors to Whitby with Anna, or maybe to Saltburn-by-the-Sea where I spent a year away at boarding school in the year England won the World Cup.
In Whitby we’d have fish and chips and if we’re staying over maybe a pint at The Endeavour or The Elsinore. The contrast with the city of York and the salt air, squawking seagulls, small steep lanes and beaches is marked and only an hour’s drive from home. If I were lucky I’d slip off on the Sunday morning for a bike ride on the local 20% gradient climbs!
Do you have a favourite walk or view?
A walk on the beach at Sands End is always a treat, especially if you can find an ice cream van for a cornet. However we’re blessed around York with the rivers Foss and Ouse to walk along or a dip into the several woods to see deer, hares and a plethora of different birds.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what or where would it be?
There is a remarkable stately home in East Yorkshire called Sledmere House, between Norton and Driffield. It’s a beautiful period house with wonderful rooms and large landscaped estate. The history of the aristocratic owners over the centuries and their exciting lives is remarkable and captured brilliantly in one of the descendant’s books (Christopher Simon Sykes) The Big House.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?
Now I’m not a foodie and if it’s fresh, well cooked and presented nicely I’m happy but a trip to the Veggie in Ilkley works very well for Anna and myself with everything completely delicious. A pint of bitter in a pub is a treasure and without doubt The Blue Bell on Fossgate in York is my ‘go to’ boozer.
Do you have a favourite food shop?
I love bread and bakeries are my favourite shops. Little Arras on Goodramgate in York has exceptional sourdough bread and a wide selection of cakes to help you add to your waistline. As a simple man then I must doff my hat to that large Yorkshire, head quartered in Bradford, grocer Morrisons, what would life be like without their meat pies?
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?
I once heard Dame Judi Dench talk at my daughter’s speech day and she is a wonderful raconteur, however, Michael Palin is genuinely hilarious and has had a wonderful career in comedy and travel that would keep me engrossed. If he were busy then Bob Mortimer would be a terrific deputy.
Which Yorkshire sportsperson, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?
It’d be hard not to invite Geoff Boycott, Howard Wilkinson or Joe Root but I would have been honoured to sit down with Jane Tomlinson. After she was diagnosed with terminal cancer she embarked on many fund raising activities including running marathons and, lastly, riding a bike across the USA in 2004. That is Yorkshire grit. I would have a great time sharing our joint experiences of the route. Her charity today has now raised over £10m and that is a wonderful legacy for a very determined and brave woman who checked out at only 43 years old.
Do you follow sport in the county and if so, what?
From the age of 10 when I saw my first match sat on the shoulders of my future brother-in-law, Bill, in the Scratching Shed of Leeds United versus Blackpool (we lost!), I’ve been a lifelong Leeds fan having had a season ticket for several years and hiring a corporate box when I worked at Moores Furniture Group in Wetherby.
What do you think gives Yorkshire it’s unique identity?
I think the image is of self-contained dogged (bloody minded?) determination allied to an often no nonsense, no frills approach to life. The rugged, sweeping and hilly landscape with some hard weather surely is the reason for these characteristics.
How do you think Yorkshire has changed, for better or worse, in the time I’ve known it?
The whole world is now more global (not least thanks to Captain James Cook) and cultures mingle and dilute. Given that faith, ethnicity and economic circumstance can create ‘silos’ of separation then it’s a good thing that we can’t always retreat to where we were 50 years ago. So yes it has changed and hopefully with tolerance we can have the best of the ‘new’ and the best of the ‘old’.
Who is your favourite author/ book/ artist/CD/ performer?
My bag is music and I was delighted after thinking about this question to be back in my dormitory at Ashville College in Harrogate acquiring an LP by a Yorkshire legend that still sounds brilliant today. Arthur Brown’s 1968 The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown is a classic and he was born in Whitby. “I am the god of hellfire and I bring you fire”….
If a stranger to Yorkshire, only had time to visit one place. It would be?
Impossible! However, probably the largest cathedral north of the Alp: York Minster. It stands dominant and magnificent in the centre of York. It took 300 years to complete in the 15th Century; the structure is imposing and majestic. Apart from the awesome building it contains a book that lists the 18,000 men and women who died while serving in the Royal Air Force in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham during the Second World War. This includes many from the then British Empire and I can never fathom the bond that drew these people from thousands of miles away to fight and die in a war that must have seemed remote, say, on a sheep farm in New Zealand.
You’ll maybe not be surprised to learn that life hasn’t taken a dramatic turn from Boredom Boulevard to Liberation Lane, however, we are getting there I think. So stirring through the ashes of the last couple of weeks I thought I’d report as an alphabet..
For those who’ve stayed awake through my blogs you’ll remember I’ve been typing up the story of Eric Blackburn. His unique life started as a farmer’s boy in war ravaged Hull at the age of thirteen. We progressed from him becoming an orphan, through to firing steam trains, completing National Service and then back into the depressing clutches of post war British Railways. After 126,000 words I’m now writing up the adventure of his going to work for East African Railways in Tanganyika in 1954. There are some wonderful stories contained within. I shall be sorry when we get to the end of this remarkable journey
I’m a long time past celebrating but being surrounded by females means that cards and felicitations will abound. If there is anything of interest in this decrepitude then I am officially about to become and Old Age Pensioner. Rishi Sunak hwill cough up my State Pension at the age of 66. I promise not to spend it at the first shop (as they’re still all shut.)
The weather has been desperate, which has undoubtedly helped the R rate to fall but it has stopped me washing the cars, not least the Morgan. However after a long spell of zero degrees I was able to get out there and wash them. I even noted a woman on the street washing a car as Anna and I were walking past. I did remark to her that it was unusual to see a woman car washing to which I was quickly reminded that “you said that to her last time.” (Repetition holds no fear for me.)
It would be disloyal to point out that the present Mrs Ives is quite a fan of iPlayer and Netflix during daylight hours but I couldn’t possibly incriminate her. However, it is a sad option for lots of folk given the lack of alternatives. Instead I slip upstairs to compose this type of brilliant missive (cough).
This New Orleans resident’s latest album turned up in my inbox from Country Music People and it’s a a super record. You can check out my considered thoughts on this American Country confection by clicking the link.
After the departure of the last tenants our inspection revealed they had irretrievably damaged the carpets we installed only 20 months before. There were seven such separate marks and were impossible to remove (as I think the food was oily, which doesn’t work well with a wool carpet.)
Other parts of the property were in need of upgrade eg. heating, shower enclosure and hob. So we have been energetically spending horrific sums transforming the property to something superior. Not all the work was acceptable, see below! Can you believe you’d fit a radiator that would stop the door shutting? Needless to say after a discussion it was moved!
The market is quiet as a result of the time of year and lockdown. We hope it’ll not be too long before we get new, more considerate/careful, residents.
The Favourite Eldest Daughter is lucky to hold the prestigious (unpaid) job of being my sub-editor on my album reviews (that make it on line or into the Country Music People magazine.) Her grammar is first class and is an invaluable help. On one album this month I suggested that several plays made the album more familiar and all the better for that: it was a ‘grower’. At her insistence I was instructed to delete the word and Google the phrase. Apparently this colloquially now refers to men’s genitalia. And worse now that the internet algorithms have kicked in and I receive unwanted adverts for natural enhancing supplements!
The Favourite Eldest Daughter (her again) and husband (Matt) have got onto the ‘ladder’. After the haggling, surveys and compromises it’s theirs. Anna and I hope we’ve been helpful, albeit at a lockdown distance to Manchester, with some advice based on understanding properties and human nature. Frustratingly we’ll not be there to help them move in.
Yup, I got a text and took the first opportunity to receive a dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They are getting on with things very efficiently in York, the organisation for parking, queuing and then stabbing was exemplary, I even got a sticker, what more could you want? The only reaction was a sore arm the next day but otherwise great.
This time served Country chanteuse has paid her dues and eventually found a big record label and a top notch producer who’s fashioned a terrific contemporary Nashville Country album. I loved it and the link to my review is here.
A good question might be how come so many ‘Records Of the Week’ after none for so long Tony? I still keep getting quite a few albums and I may even write a review but they’re not good enough for my site. However like the others above this is a fabulous discovery of John Prine meets Boo Ray. The link is here.
As a news junkie then even I’ve had my fix for a long time to come. Coronavirus is the only story but what is there to left to tell? Vaccines, mental health implications, quarantine regimes, schools opening/shutting, illegal gatherings etc. on a never ending loop. A lot of folk are ‘incarcerated’ in their homes living in fear, I know some and a contributory factor to their mental state must be this diet of media misery. The real ‘story’ is that the vaccine is being brilliantly rolled out and that an end is sight. Of course we’ll have to live with the disease (forever?) and some will continue to be desperately vulnerable, but there again isn’t this something we knew all along?
‘Out Of Towners’
We have a daily exercise regime that saw yours truly jogging the other day plus we both like to get some steps in and stride out around the village. Being rural there was never a lot of folk to bump into. Now we have people driving out into the country in considerable numbers with push chairs and dogs. Of course they are entitled to do this but we’re finding car parking jams, dogs off leads chasing around and ‘private – no entry’ areas being entered and footpaths being turned into quagmires.
Dogs off their leads can be a threat to the local deer or hares. Let’s hope they forget our village when this is all over and they can stroll nearer their homes.
I’ve tidied up my digital photos on my computer, I had thousands of duplicates. However we’ve reached into the loft and Anna has been sorting through the older non-digital types of photo. There are some gems like the, grumpy, Favourite Youngest Daughter with her mother.
An old school friend, John Graeme Varley, dug out a couple of me from the late 1970s. I was quite good looking once wasn’t I! The bloke under the flat hat reading the broadsheet is the former Member of Parliament for Thurrock, Tim Janman. As I remember we’d attended a party in Camden then slept overnight outside the flat in my car before going back in for breakfast in the garden the next morning. Kids eh?
With our general forbearance during the pandemic we’ve got used to the protocols of social distancing that delay our everyday lives. Posting a parcel at the Post Office can see you on the pavement whilst limited numbers are only permissible inside the shop, the same for the Chinese takeaway in Copmanthorpe (but in the dark and cold), the artisan bakers in the centre of York with a line of, say, 15 folks in front of you where the millennials are out for a morning coffee and croissants, the central York household waste site where they seem to ‘come and go’ about enforcing social distancing so that you can either drive straight in or hang about for 20 minutes whilst someone empties a Luton van in front of you. The one queue I didn’t mind was the one at the vaccination centre.
Recycling a bike
The Favourite Youngest Daughter briefly worked at Decathlon at Surrey Docks in London about 10 years ago. She espied a discounted folding bike and rang to see if I wanted it. I did and she lugged this 15kg bike on the Tube and onto the train for me. How she carried this block of iron, and survived I will never know. Sadly, despite her heroism, it lurked in the garage for most of this time and I decided in a world of bike shortages to give it away to a shop in York that calls itself ‘Recycle’.
The snowdrops and daffodils are out and there are other buds starting to sprout, the days are getting noticeably longer and the weather occasionally hits double figures. Every bike ride, and there’s been a few, has been done on wet and muddy roads, this means you and the bike get filthy; warmer weather dries the road. This really uplifts my spirits and despite not trusting the fact that we are past the worst I’m starting to feel happier times are ahead.
There’s quite a debate on line about black footballers being racially abused. It’s awful. Twitter allows people to post vile abusive comments anonymously. I don’t think any footballer or politician is to be protected from criticism, cynicism or mockery, that’s life and free speech. However, steps to reveal these abusive people by preventing anonymity is the first step. From here they can be pursued for breaking the law eg. race hate speech.
I’ve taken one of Eric Blackburn’s anecdotes and created a blog about his exciting night in Withernsea with this veritable fireman and his dancing feet. It’s a great story and insight into 1950s Hull. Follow the link
Amazon Prime gave me ‘The Professor and The Madman’, a plot that involved an English language dictionary, a schizophrenic 19th Century US Army surgeon and Winston Churchill. Yes quite! It was an engaging two hours. Sadly Netfix’s ‘Call My Agent’ Season Four was only six episodes long and ended in a bit of a shambles but pencil me in for the spin off whenever it comes. ‘The Dig’ was based around the true story of finding some Viking treasure in Suffolk. The ‘true’ bit stopped at the relationships between the protagonists, the main female character’s age and, oh yes, the outdoor sex.
Yet another Record Of The Week. I was a bit unimpressed when the magazine sent me this children’s album. However quality will out and it’s a beautiful affair of tunes you’ll know and dreamily performed for your delectation and delight. The link is here.
Zoom (and me)
Winter involves going to York University to complete an evening class. Over the years I’ve done the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Irish history, creative writing etc. This winter I plumped for “Writing about the World: Contemporary Forms of Creative Non-Fiction”. Given my blogging and album reviews I thought it relevant. I only lasted two nights was, basically, reading up some passages of different types of non-fiction and then discussing them with other course members on Zoom and then reporting back. Every week a group would read out, in front of the whole class for a critique, something you’d written as homework. Oh dear, what a drag. The course members seemed homogeneous serial course attenders, some were bores who wouldn’t shut up and others were away with the fairies about what they hoped to do with a future project. In other words there was little or no meaningful instruction just a talk shop. I decided I’d wasted my money but I might as well not waste my time.
I am typing up Eric Blackburn’s hand written notes of his life. Eric lives in East Yorkshire with his wife, Shirley. Eric’s nicely into his 90s. He started work at the age of 13 as a farmers boy during WW2 in ravaged Hull. Pursuing a love affair with steam trains he managed to change job and start on the railways as a porter and eventually progressing to the footplate as a fireman and sometime driver. On this ‘journey’ he endured all that Hitler could rain on him in blitz bombing raids (and collecting the spent ordnance!), rationing, the loss of both of his parents, completing National Service before emigrating to East Africa to work on the railways in Kenya and Tanganiyka (Tanzania). His story is very much a joy for anyone interested in the detail of steam trains but some of the stories about American soldiers posted in Hull, his first day on the footplate experiencing a suicide on the rails, derailments and the odd wonderful insight into the everyday life on the railways is a delight. Here is an extract, enjoy.
“For many years after the war a popular Saturday evening entertainment was a dance held at Withernsea, for which a special train was provided, and to which many of East Hull’s young flocked. So as to not fall foul of strict Sunday entertainment laws, the dance ended at 11.55am. By which time many of the young men, fuelled by alcohol, had gained a reputation for some rowdy, but usually good natured, behaviour, often wishing to climb aboard and drive the engine. And whilst the train was in motion, for a bit of fun, frequently pulling the communication cord, bringing the train to a halt. A trick especially prevalent when arriving on the outskirts of Hull. This gave them the opportunity for a short cut home and extended the running time considerably.
One of the perks of the job was free entry to the dance, and whilst I have never learned the pleasure of dancing, I had no intention of missing an evening’s free entertainment. Also tell me, what else is there to do on a Saturday evening in post war Withernsea? To that end, by wearing a clean white shirt, clean blues, and a pair of polished leather shoes, I made myself presentable.
I had a trouble free run to Withernsea with an London Midland Scotland style 4MT and on arrival ran around the train and in preparation for our eventual departure, ran down to Withernsea’s solitary and rather distant water column and filled the tender tank. Whist this engaged I noticed the fireman’s injector water valve leaking half a pipe of water. Jiggling the valve handle failed to cure the defect, and this was to have serious consequences later that night. Returning and coupling to the train I settled the engine down for its long wait by screwing the hand brake hard on. Fixing the reverser in mid gear and opening the cylinder drain taps. At the same time I instructed my fireman, one Porky Upton (so called for his rotund figure) to let the front of the fire to die out, but build a substantial back end, ready to push down and spread before our departure. With our duties fulfilled, the dampers closed and the jet shut off, we left to sample the delights of the nearby dance venue.
Now Porky, unprepared for the dance floor, had come in his stout working boots. And before long was making his mark on the dainty feet of whoever dared to dance with him. Inevitably the supply of girls dried up, and Porky came and sat beside me, complaining of his boots and the damage they were inflicting. I cannot now remember now who’s idea it was, his or mine, but in next to no time he had expropriated my shoes, and though they were several sizes too large, was, not without some difficulty, but with gay abandon, happily steering them around the dance floor.
And so, lost in a world of music and jollification, the evening wore on until by 11pm my thoughts turned to preparing the engine for our return trip. With these thoughts came a memory of the leaking water valve and its drain on the tender tank. In particular I dwelt on the probable long delays inflicted by mischievous passengers on the way home. “Come on Porky”, I called. He was in possession of my own shoes remember, and without them I was helpless. Porky in the meantime, getting on famously with a bit of hot stuff, who in turn seemed to fancy a bit of rough, chose to ignore me, until in the end I had to turn nasty. By which time it was approaching train time. Swapping footwear we dashed to the engine to find it slumbering away with only a half a glass of water, and less than a 100 on the clock. A quick check showed a significant loss from the tender tank, and with the probability of a long delay looming, and a lack of water points between Withernsea and Hull, I decided to ‘lowse off’ and arrange a run down to the water column for a top up. In the meantime Porky, having pushed the back end down and spread it around the grate was, by taking advantage of a tender of good quality hard steam coal, busy shaping up a sound and serviceable fire.
Back on the train I found the Station Master in full uniform, as if to emphasise authority, demanding to know what the delay was about? I had a ready answer in the two delinquents wishing to climb aboard and drive the train. At the same time pointing out neither he nor I knew when we might finally arrive back in Hull, and in those circumstances, every drop was precious. In any case I had decided to leave before the Station Master made further enquiries. It was a bold, and on the face of it a mad insane decision which would put all the passengers at risk. For because a low steam pressure, when I blew the train brakes off, I could only raise three inches of vacuum against a working minimum of eighteen. Leaving me with little or no braking power. To work a train with less than 18 was against the rules, and might seem just about as foolhardy an action as was possible to undertake, and if discovered would surely cost me my job, if not a charge of serious criminal negligence. But as a young man made of stern stuff, I weighed things up with a cold calculating and confident eye. And without further preamble I left.
The return trip had only two booked stops. The first Marfleet, a small urban station on the eastern extremity of the city and then Southcoates Station serving the busy Holderness area. Except on the most congested lines, the most humble of freight trains could expect a clear run through, and I anticipated no less from the signalmen. Giving Porky and myself ample time to raise steam and water levels, and restore full braking power before our first booked stop. And if, as expected, we experienced out of course stops, these would give Porky more breathing space. Praying the brakes had improved during our stay, I opened the regulator. My luck held, and with a clean bright fire to raise steam quickly, I left Withernsea behind. Before long the fun and games commenced with some joker pulling the communication cord. This occurred several more times between Withernsea and Marfleet. To the accompaniment of raucous laughter and discordant singing, and though this was Sunday, they were definitely not hymns. I made a perilous journey in the dark each time, to identify which tell tale disk was turned, followed by an equally perilous climb to return it to its running position.
Between Marfleet and Southcoates Stations the railway skirted the eastern edge of the city. It was along this stretch that most of the communication cord applications occurred, when the east Hull worthies applied the brakes. Giving them a golden opportunity of a short cut home across the tracks. After a night of high drama, the curtain fell at Southcoates Station. Here a long delay took place, and whilst peering down the dimly lit platform for the ‘Right Away’. I became aware of a young lady, although I use that term with some reservations, being escorted along the platform draped in railway overcoat. It transpired later she had been discovered in a state of undress. Many of her outer garments being thrown willy-nilly out of the carriage window as the train progressed. Whether this was the result of that iconic game strip poker, heavy petting, or a hot flush, remains a mystery. She seemed to take it in good part, so all’s well that ends well.”
As my cycling pal, Tim, said ‘You’ve not posted a blog in a while?” “Well Tim, there’s not been a lot to blog about at the moment has there?”
In fact as my first wife commented in all sincerity this morning as she scuttled down the landing – “You’ve got a busy day ahead, there’s a light bulb that needs changing.”
Unavoidably we all have to agree that in the UK it is a dreary time being locked down in this wet and very cold weather (if it rains much more I’m going to start gathering animals in pairs.) Even if you do venture out for a walk then all the walkers and dogs have turned paths, over fields, into something resembling the Somme. Cycling is still very important to me but the weather has been treacherous let alone unpleasant. It’s either snow and ice or flooding. In fact it got so difficult to find a way across the various overflowing rivers in North Yorkshire that Anna was called to pick me up during one spin from Pocklington. However by this stage I’d cycled 60 miles and climbed 900m, bear in mind Snowdon is 1,085m high.
In fact, things have got that bad that I was even prepared to answer a long and pointless questionnaire from a Geordie on a dodgy phone line about the exciting (not) Pension Protection Fund. I nearly envied people who worked for a living but thankfully that quickly passed when I realised that now entailed going into your spare bedroom at 8.30am and firing up a computer and only emerging a limited number of times during the day to resolve the need of bodily functions.
Talking of Stupid O’Clock then the cricket is back on as England tour the sub continent. The Sky coverage remains immaculate but the BBC’s Test Match Special on the radio has degenerated into something as trivial as bored housewives chatting on WhatsAppwith an occasional mention of what’s happening in the middle. Banal chat includes UK weather (southerners were very excited about snow), various breakfast treats to sustain them through the early hours, had they walked the dog yet? And encouraging the public to Tweet in stupid questions for the scorer eg. when was there last an international century partnership with batsman with the least number of characters in their surnames? ‘Click’’… off.
Mrs Ives has various lockdown activities, one of which has necessitated me fitting a lock to the knife drawer: I’m worrying about Anna developing ideas. She’s binging on Scandi Noir from morning to night. Who knew they could make detective series in Iceland or Finland? The regular formula involves a dysfunctional policeman (existing on a secret diet of pharmaceuticals), lots of snow and ice, exclusively operating at night or dusk, clambering over a growing pile of mutilated bodies. All this is understood by subtitles. I breeze in to the lounge thinking it’s the Swedish chefs from The Muppets having a loud argument to find a Volvo driving at high speed toward an empty warehouse, in the dead of night, to rescue a child hostage, a Greta Thunberg lookalike with pigtails, being suspended from a beam just before an elderly lunatic, unsuspected, sub post office mistress intends to lower her into a vat of acid. I turn on my heels.
My search continues around the various TV streaming networks and terrestrial channels for something to watch. Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small is tremendous but was only seven episodes. These were quickly consumed. Call My Agent has had their fourth season uploaded onto Netflix and so not all is lost.
When Anna’s not doing this I am receiving her expert advice. This irritatingly extended to guitar tuning, who knew? To kill some time I dug out an old guitar to reaffirm how hopeless I am at playing it. The first task was to tune it. Despite changing a string I couldn’t tune the bottom E. My electronic tuner just couldn’t hack it and I contemplated buying a new device, to which the ‘font of all knowledge’ casually said ‘there must be an app for doing that’. Disappointingly she was right. Yet something else I can do with an iPhone.
If you’re house bound then it seems timely to get to those chores you’ve put off forever; I’ve been editing and slimming down my photo library on my PC hard disk. This ran to 23,000 photos and I’m down to just over 19,000 and falling. The library has documented my cycling trips but the size of the library reflects the benefits of digital photography. That is, you can take a picture of something five times to get the best shot knowing that all you are doing is ‘expending’ megabytes. A more worthy task has been the digging out of an old work laptop and sweeping it of documents and files. I plan to pass it across to a former co-worker who’s a teacher now. He worked in IT and spent some of last year restoring laptops for use schoolwork for children now at home. I know the government’s been chuckling lots of money into resolving this but there are apparently still children without.
Lastly, despite the weather I trust you’ve kept up your vigilance for men in shorts. They still abound in York, although I suspect they’re escaped Geordies breaking lockdown by migrating further south. This unnecessary shank exposure is usually explained by a desire to display a large tattoo they’ve had doodled down their calf and shins. Pray for them.
As a look back at the year I have extracted the highlights and low points of what will be a year many feel lost to the virus. In reality life went on but it was different. I suffered lockdown less than most mainly due to a bicycle, however, I yearn for the freedom to do more next year.
Anna’s Sight Restored
Lined up from the previous autumn was a trip to the east coast of Australia where I’d cycle from Melbourne to Cairns. A couple of thousand miles trundle in a country I’d never visited. A November 2019 holiday in South Africa enabled me to get fit in the winter and I’d worked closely with Leeds Beckett University on a nutrition regime to propel me more comfortably up the coast. Escaping the British winter was a complete bonus and after I completed the ride Anna would be in Cairns for us to see more of the country but a little more comfortably!
However, Anna whilst riding her bike near Hermanus in South Africa got double vision in one eye. All the medics, in South Africa or York, checked to see if there was anything terribly untoward, there wasn’t, and then said it’ll return to normal sometime in the next six months. In the meanwhile she couldn’t drive and would be ‘land locked’ in Acaster Malbis unless a chauffeur hung around. So goodbye Australia and my January flights.
Then on a frosty February morning she looked casually out of the window and not everything was double. A trip to the Eye Clinic followed and she was declared able to drive. The rescheduling of my trip was allowed but Anna chose not to follow me as Margaret, her mother, was scheduled for an operation and she wanted to be at hand. My adventure was back on albeit seven weeks later but now free of bush fire risks. I booked a flight for late February. What else could possibly go wrong?
I started my trip cycling up from Melbourne into the Victorian countryside. Melbourne was too cosmopolitan and diverse for my liking or my previous understanding of what Australia was like. I’d come to see the men wearing corks off their wide brimmed hats, drinking a ‘tinny’, obsessing about cricket, using the swear word ‘bloody’ and with a proud history of standing side by side with the Brits in whatever war we were fighting. Victoria was wide open, uninhabited and reminiscent of the US mid-west.
To get north the only option was to ride alongside a highway getting soaked by the spray from 18 wheelers dodging dead kangaroos on the hard shoulder as the skies opened. A bus ride saw me complete the journey to Sydney. This city was a complete treat with world class things to see and do.
So across the harbour bridge I headed north up the coast where adventures included losing my passport, getting stung on my butt maybe 20 times by mosquitos in an hour and seeing so many fabulous beaches that I became blasé. Disappointingly the Australians are a hardy and self contained bunch. A ‘pom’ on a bike is no big deal and conversations or engagement was limited although I did pick up one pearl of wisdom from a camper I approached, after I arrived at a campsite and Reception was shut. I was concerned that I would enrage the owners to set up my tent without their permission. He opined that it was ‘always easier to obtain forgiveness than permission’. Noted!
Brisbane was a sensational looking city on an ox bow river and here I found a friendly face and a enjoyed beer with Karl on St Patrick’s Day. He’s a pal we’d made from a wonderful earlier holiday in Sri Lanka. He proved the exception, as Australians went, and bought me a beer or two! After a brief rest it was continuing up the coast although the road was difficult to travel due to the level of traffic prohibiting bicycles. I was liking Queensland and relishing the next 1,000 miles. However, with Britain planning a pandemic lockdown and flights becoming scarce I was soon back in Brisbane trying to find a box to pack my bike in for the flight back to Blighty.
Such adventures throw up many memories many of which come back to you over time as little things remind you. Eg. I still would like to walk on the beach at Hawks Nest, NSW and then have another fabulous breakfast at The Benchmark on Booner restaurant again. Other moments will enter my head as I search for sleep one night. The full blog is available by clicking this link.
Brilliant Weather and DIY
So back in Britain and confined to barracks I discovered Zoom and Teams and also spent days on my knees repointing the patio. Walking and catching up (digitally) with old friends was a daily task as we endured the isolation. Strict alcohol consumption regimes were enforced as you can enjoy yourself too much. Supermarkets bemused me as they were ‘super spreader’ environments that undermined all the other actions taken to protect us.
Anna went into overdrive befriending folk who were afraid or discouraged from doing essential shopping. She was often collecting shopping lists, and probably more importantly, spending time on doorsteps talking to these elderly folk and giving them some much needed conversation and company. A true angel. Her mileage to and from my father -in-law’s care home must have and is stretching into thousands of miles and usually it was to talk through a window as below.
His other daughters were as attentive as they could be but living in either Manchester or London meant they were often prohibited from travelling. As her less capable assistant I was recruited to cook a few meals for one neighbour who gamely didn’t object to my chicken chasseur or bolognese sauce. He’s still alive! My other help was selling some stuff on eBay for one neighbour: I was surprised by how much his jigsaw and drill fetched. My other actions to obtain an MBE included two mornings in the lake extracting bullrushes out of thick mud in front of another neighbour’s house who needed some brawn.
The weather made everything tolerable but the virus was a mystery in terms of how it really spread and controlling it; after the Dunkirk spirit the whole pandemic went even more toxic as hounding the Government turned into a blood sport by the media. Literal questions ‘of how do feel about killing so many people Prime Minister?’ This hostility made me want to be abroad even more.
Plans were made to celebrate Anna’s ‘seventy less ten’ birthday (thank you Favourite Youngest Daughter, Sophie, for this gem) with fine dining and some time away as a family. The virus stopped not only the family decamping to somewhere but also the daughters appearing only by the screen on her iPhone. Rescheduling was made for the autumn (but that booking also got cancelled). Anyway she doesn’t look that old in any case!
If anyone celebrated Anna’s landmark it was me! This milestone kicked in a occupational pension and she kindly used some of the dosh for me to buy a new expensive bike, my first in 12 years. So a top of the range Cannondale with electronic gear change, 28mm wide tyres and disc brakes became my dream ride up and down the country lanes. That takes my collection back up to five bikes. Only five? I hear you say…
For the residents of care homes the virus was a danger and social disaster. They were rightly imprisoned and communication was through windows often shut to keep the bad weather out. Meanwhile you tried to eyeball your relatives as you talked to them on mobiles. It had to be thus, but what a regime. For my mother-in-law, the most social of ladies, this was a burden made worse by a delayed operation to alleviate excruciating pain caused by a hip. She had a few days of joy on the announcement that they were now scheduling a date for her to have that operation in late spring.
There were risks known to us all. Due to her other conditions it went wrong and she passed away; it was a terrible shock. For her daughters it was doubly distressing as they hadn’t been in her presence for over three months. The care and attention that would have been lavished on her by the family as she resided in hospital was not possible. It hailed on the day of her sparsely attended funeral. After having been her son-in-law for over 30 years even I was unable to attend the service due to the restriction on numbers attending. Left was a widowed husband not used to being apart from his lifelong companion.
Lockdown One was Over
Many things were relaxed. Trips to the household wastes sites was now possible. After all those weeks of sorting and throwing away I could now deposit it with City of York Council. Deep joy. Shops started to open and money could be spent with organisations other than Amazon. The threat of the second wave was known but in the meanwhile we enjoyed the changes.
Katrina (Favourite Eldest Daughter) was now tired of being cooped up all day and night in a Manchester city centre flat with only two rooms. This, during the lockdown restrictions and working from home, became a prison. So she tripped across the Pennines stayed with us for about a month disappearing into the dining room to don her headset and deal with the rest of Europe (as her job demanded) occasionally popping out for food and drink. However, after 5pm she was then frog marched around the village and the woods to get her daily exercise, pumped for information about her busy working day and then sent into the kitchen to create fine food for her father. It worked for us!
In fact with all this walking from March until today I became profoundly aware of the seasons. From damp, colourless and gloomy shuffles around the wood albeit with sightings of deer we progressed to lots of newborn lambs, carpets of bluebells, remarkable giant rose coloured flowering rhododendron bushes, hateful horse fly bites in the long grass and birdsong everywhere.
Slowly it changed as the lambs went to the dinner plates of Yorkshire, the flowers died, the heat disappeared and the verdant vegetation started to turn to the colours of autumn. The journey continues.
France and Leeds United
By July I was granted permission by Anna to use a flight that had been booked in February to go to Carcassone in the south of France. On an empty Ryanair flight I flew into the heat with my bicycle and a 1,000 mile ride home. It soon became clear that despite all the reporting in the UK that our handling of the pandemic was a disaster that the French had little or no meaningful control or protocols for social distancing or face masks. They just had a bigger country where there were less people packed together. My ride was hard, much more demanding than Australia, but it was great to be back out there doing what I love.
Even better was not being in England suffering the trauma of the final few games in the Championship following Leeds United’s attempt to get promoted. I was in Bar-le-Duc the night it happened. However I can also tell you where I was in the French wilds when we scraped past Barnsley or when Pablo Hernandez got the winning goal at Swansea. After a couple of weeks I was in Belgium and Holland as they went back into lockdown.
(Obviously I continued to cycle back in Yorkshire and clocked up over 6,000 miles for the year. That’s the equivalent of York to Beirut and back!) Click here for a trip to the link.
If I had frustrations then nothing compared to Katrina and Matt. They’d had written in the diary their wedding for months. It was to be held in Manchester, one of the worst places to be hit in the country. This meant the arrangements had to be changed and generous relatives disappointed by having their invitations revoked. However, on a sunny day in August it took place. A reception on the terrace roof of a multi storey city centre hotel was perfect; speeches were made, glasses raised and cake eaten. The day was a joy and the troths were pledged. One daughter gone.
Signs of Mortality
One of truly grim aspects to growing old is that the statistics kick in and people you know pass. They die much younger than is expected and usually with short illnesses. A long time school friend of Anna’s seemed the picture of health by running half marathons and seemed irrepressibly bouncy. From my recollection of Sally being sat on our sofa last Christmas to discussing her quickly failing health whilst sat on a bench whilst taking a break from a long day in the saddle in France. The cancer took her and on another sunny day we were at York Crematorium still wondering what had happened. With these events it always make you remember life is not a rehearsal.
Buying an affordable bicycle became a challenge as bike shops sold everything they had but simply couldn’t replenish. Anna fortuitously got sorted with a local shop and was now the owner of a racing bike. The world was now her oyster and a few nights away at Hadrian’s Wall and in the Borders saw her ride up and down a few difficult hills. This time in Norfolk it was flatter but she faced a greater distance. We stayed in Lavenham and saw some seaside towns on two wheels. After my overseas adventures then these were her only holidays.
Getting a Grip
Eventually it appeared the end might be in sight as vaccines are received and people start to get inoculated. The lockdowns had been partially successful as large groups of people continued to ignore the government’s instructions to wear a mask, keep a social distance and wash their hands. As we emerge from this time what damage has been done to jobs, retail, careers, other aspects of health etc? It will all unfold.
Full Steam Ahead
Anna chose to look up some of Margaret’s old friends. One such couple lived in east Yorkshire and I’d met them once before in 33 years of marriage! Eric is 92 years old and writing up his life story. It’s a hell of a life leaving school in Hull at 13 years old and going to work on a farm. It didn’t help that it was wartime and Hull was being blitzed. From here a career on the railway began in the glorious age of steam with Eric on the footplate where after National Service he found his way to East Africa and Tanganyika . Foolishly I offered to type it up not realising he’s already written 200,000 words! What a story, it’s a compelling journey told in bright technicolour through different times and attitudes when you can only but marvel at the deprivation, dangers and the simpler times. What a joy to stumble on this project.
So with the vaccine being rolled out we can contemplate a return to the new normal, whatever that is. A deal on Brexit was concluded that seems to offer few downsides that I can see for Anna and me. So here’s to 2021, with just the small matter of Premiership survival to trouble my sleep.
You’ll be relieved to learn I’ve got into the Christmas spirit. This is evidenced by adding my Crimbo tunes to my iPhone. This decision was taken whilst listening to Mariah Carey in a cafe, it came as a shock! Apparently I’m all she wants for Christmas. It will shortly be the time for lists and before you ask then my favourite Christmas record is “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon. It looks like both sprogs will join the Ives peloton on Christmas Day. However it would be an understatement to say things are a little uncertain at the moment. As regards the virus then the first vaccines have been administered to some folk on the street. I’m glad to say I’m a few age groups behind these octogenarians but I can hear the hooves of the arriving cavalry.
The badger has been back. We’ve hosted it four times now and an untidy chap/chapess it is. However in the spirit of Christmas I’ve given him a name. Picking up on names like ‘Frosty the Snowman’ or ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer ‘ I’ve called it Bastard – ‘Bastard the Badger’. His fourth trip to our garden resulted in considerable damage and over an hour of attempting to restore the lawn. It’s like a jigsaw of gaps and little pieces of turf.
Unfortunately the gaps and the turf don’t match. Bastard has ripped up the lawn in such a way that it’s impossible to repair it properly. I was prepared to forfeit all my Christmas presents to buy a contract for someone to shoot it. Apparently they are a protected species and you need a licence to kill one. Legislation was passed in 1992; clearly the MP’s didn’t have one visiting their gardens overnight as they trooped into the Lobby. I suspect ruining my lawn isn’t a good enough reason to despatch him to that giant sett in the sky. Our particular problem arises with their sense of smell, it’s 800 times more powerful than a human and it’s been detecting delicious chaff bugs beneath the turf. Ridding ourselves of this badger candy is impossible. Fencing or netting seemed the only solution. As a consequence we spent £60 at B&Q to slow his progress. After this investment one neighbour casually asked me how we were getting on with our nocturnal intruder? Repressing my nervous tic I reported the situation. At this point he casually commented he’d seen it departing our garden via the open gate on the drive. So maybe lawn covering strategies are unnecessary and shutting the gate might be an answer? Watch this space, I need to organise psychotherapy shortly.
In my transcribing of Eric’s epic life story (as reported in earlier blogs) I have regularly had to type up the phrase ‘bungy sandwiches’. This delicacy is a cheese sandwich, however, such was the quality of cheese that it led to constipation; hence the name. In researching this further then rationing meant that the production of most varieties of cheese was stopped until 1954. That’s nine years of ‘bungy’ cheddar being the only cheese you could buy. Can you imagine the riots and street protests today if this was the only cheese you could buy? The stoicism of the war generation and its fortitude with rationing was literally heroic. If there was a plus then waistlines were more trim and folk were healthier.
If there were problems today with cheese I would advocate various cheese Tiers. Tier 1 would be all cheeses banned other than Dairylea. I’ve always been suspicious that this and Babybel aren’t dairy products but petroleum derivatives. Tier 2 would allow production and consumption of all British cheeses. (Maybe not much of a concession I grant you). Tier 3, or ‘Tier Barnier,’ would allow all cheeses other than French or that rubbery smoked German stuff that comes in an orange plastic sheath. Clearly this can be relaxed when they move on the Brexit trade deal.
Talking of the war then I’ve been reading the regular articles in The Driffield and Wolds Weekly newspaper that has been carrying a ‘special feature’ week after week on air crashes during the war. In the area were many RAF airfields, all operational during the war. The loss of life was considerable through bombing raids over continental Europe but the loss of life on training flights over the county are frankly numerous and terrible. There are too many to report here but the inexperience of the crews seems to have been the reason. In November 1943 a Halifax took off for a test flight for an ‘air and gun test’. There were six crew on board plus a female civilian passenger. Miss Dorothy Robson was an expert on bombsights. She instructed crews on their use and worked across Bomber Command. In the test flight the aircraft flew into the ground in East Yorkshire. The crew’s ages were 20, 27, 20, 20, 25 and 25 with four from the UK and one each from Canada and Australia. Dorothy was 23 years old. The aircraft only had had five hours of flying time.
I then got to thinking about the financial cost, let alone the human one. Google tells me that a Halifax bomber cost about £45,000 in 1945. In today’s money that is £1.75m. (As a comparison a much more sophisticated, faster and heavier Boeing 747 costs £65m for the entry level model). Would you then let these raw young men with no real proper flying experience, by today’s standards, and without several years of examination and graduation (through types of aircraft) to fly a 25 ton Halifax plus over 5 tons of bombs on board (and enough fuel to get to Dresden and back)? It’s a considerable gamble and was a sign of the times and desperation to end a hateful war. Today can you imagine a news conference with some sanctimonious journalist, worried about their viewing figures, standing up to berate a politician about the lack of training, management involvement and astronomic cost in such tragedies? We’d have never got a bomber in the sky or defeated fascism.
In my last blog I reported on our every other day alcohol regime. This was to stop us boozing during the boring days of lockdown. Another regime change involves the burning of 300 to 400 calories a day. These are easy to lose calories and the solution is known to you all but I’ve only just quantified it. The plan is to walk 10,000 steps a day, which equates to 400 calories being burned. My ideal calorie intake per day is between 2,000 and 2,500 calories: you can see what a bit of a walk helps you burn. It’s not all great as I’ve found as after walk I like the odd biscuit or two and maybe a mince pie with a cup of tea on my return! In fairness I should put on my coat and do another lap after this snack break!
However I have been moving this year. I’m 111 miles short of 6,000 miles this year. That is a long way and probably a lot more than I’ve driven. The cycling has taken place in the most different of places: either down wet local muddy lanes in chilly drizzle, up gruelling mountain sides with a heavy touring bike in the Central Massif, France in 35℃ or riding in Victoria, Australia past endless fields seeing only the occasional pick up whilst avoiding stopping and being covered in flies. I’ve loved every mile.
Lastly, it has been a year of watching some TV and it may be interesting to share the highlights. Eurosport and ITV were fabulous on their coverage of the grand cycling tours – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta e España. I sat and watched hours of it. The countryside was sumptuous and often the racing was exciting. Even the present Mrs Ives was alongside me on the sofa. It’s only taken 26 years for her to catch the bug. Netflix threw up some gems. Call My Agent was a French language drama comedy set in a Parisian actor’s agency. Office politics and wacky actors with their hysterical ways and enormous egos were either calmed or massaged. The principle actors were compelling and over three seasons I got to love them. The Eddy was another Parisienne setting. This time at a jazz club with an American pianist owner who gets caught up in acres of malarky. The soundtrack was fantastic. A further season is in production, bring it on. The Queen’s Gambit was a very unlikely plot about a child genius and her ascent to the top of the chess world via an orphanage, lots of alcohol, pill dependency and shady Russians.
Predictably I watched the fly on the wall documentary about Leeds United. Take Us Home was wonderful as in season 2 we got promotion! (I couldn’t watch the series until I knew it had a happy ending). In addition I watched quite a few films on the streaming services. This also included inside my little tent before I fell into a deep slumber in a foreign field. Which is where you must be after all this. Hasta la vista (baby).
My Favourite Eldest daughter was instructing me how to prepare dan dan noodles when I, also thinking I was on a roll and might impress Ancoats’ answer to Nigella Lawson, added the weekend might also see me stretching to prepare chicken chasseur. The response started with her expressing incredulity at my developing culinary prowess and then recalling that she thought I survived on Birds Eye chicken pies and peas? (There is some truth in this). As an after thought she lamented that she personally hated chicken chasseur because it was always served at school. I’m now planning my next blog to be called ‘First World Problems with Private Education Menus’ with a foreword by Marcus Rashford.
The badger has returned with more lawn digging. Anna sought neighbourly advice and was advised that one villager had erected an electric fence around their lawn. This runs off a car battery, which I suspect nullifies the added benefit of converting the stout carnivore to a crisp. However, further solutions, literally, were promoted such as liberally covering the ground in male urine. This apparently isn’t Bertie the Badger’s favourite tipple. Given their nocturnal raids and my trips through the night this might not be an impractical arrangement.
I was discussing Sledmere House with Shirley. This stately home was out her way, eight miles north east of Driffield. It is a truly spectacular property not least for the first floor library that looks out on to magnificent sculptured grounds. The house and grounds and stables had a Downton Abbey feel. No sooner had I opened my big mouth than I was being handed across a c400 page book “that I might like to read”. Oh no! Anyway I thought, out of a basic courtesy I should have a look, not least so I could spout something from it (if not necessarily plough my way through it) when I handed it back. Well, what a page turner! The house was built, the first time in the 18th Century and the family and occupants led remarkable if not commendable lives. The family fortune came from originally being merchants in Hull and then it seems from being landlords over vast areas of East Yorkshire and the nice little earner of breeding champion race horses. Along the way we had periods in Parliament, illegitimate children, international travel, alcoholism, military service, prodigious production of children, a world class library, adultery, Spanish flu and entertaining Royals whether the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) or the last Queen Mother. Most of this before it burnt down. Not what I expected. You must go and see this palace, grounds and various buildings, including a chapel and stables, when the virus departs and maybe beg, borrow or preferably steal the book.
As a man with a PhD in procrastination then this gift can be balanced by suffering from that other male condition: hoarding. Lurking in the loft awaiting a day when I could be bothered to sort things out are a vast collection of old 16mm and 9mm cine films. These are mainly my grandfather’s from the late 1940s and early 1950s. The plan is to have them converted to a digital format for viewing.
There are also some Super 8 cine taken by my father that include hours of Valetta harbour wall from a boat trip when holidaying in Malta. Funnily enough he found it difficult to corral an audience to view his latest picture show after this epic. The intriguing/difficult part of viewing my grandfather’s cine film will be trying to recognise my long departed forebears. Hopefully my sister will have a clue; even Anna may be able to help. She’s been hard at work on ancestry.com putting together her (Pettersen) and the Ives family trees. Who knew I was able to trace Irish and Russian antecedents? I’m actually part Polish but the place they descended from was occupied by Russia at the time! (Old habits still die hard). On the cine boxes is the home address of my grandparents at this time in Leeds. How amazed they would be that I could sit at my desk and simply go to Google Street View and look at their old property today.
So more lockdown. We’ve cancelled exotic holidays, done the garden, spent £000’s on the house and even done some of those wearying chores that always remained on the ‘To Do List.’ Now excitement centres around trying to get to 10,000 steps or whether it’s ‘Alcohol Night’. The latter is a joyous event that comes around every other night in Acaster Malbis. We thought it unwise to allow a looser regime to help us through the incarceration. Fortunately I can ride my bike but the weather is increasingly wet, cold and dark. How long until spring and the vaccine? Pray for me.
I’ve accumulated 5,300 miles on my bike. This is the total distance I’ve cycled this year; it’s probably further than I’ve driven in a car. For a year blighted by the restrictions of Covid-19 it’s worth noting that my miles have been achieved in Yorkshire, East Anglia, Northumberland, Scotland, Australia, France, Belgium and Holland. As it’s October (just) then I’ve more tarmac to cover for the rest of the year but it won’t reach my biggest total, in 2014, of 6,775 miles.
One of the ‘new norms’ is talking to my father-in-law, Eric, through his room window. The care home does have a ‘pod’, which is a relatively recent new construction for meeting relatives, but that’s often booked up. So it’s back to talking to him through the window. In cold or wet weather the window is shut and the parties speak to each other on the phone whilst looking at each other, either side of the pane. With autumn here and winter coming then it will be the modus operandi for the next few months. The only hope of getting in the same room is a vaccine. Not easy for families is it?
Talking of inoculations then I’ve tried to spend a lifetime avoiding injections. It’s not natural to stick metal in your arm. My terror started when at lunch in the Ford canteen in the early 80s I was canvassed to see if I’d like to give blood? The very thought of it had me feeling faint and I ended up in the company sanatorium lying down. As you get older then the damn things are harder to avoid and two DVT’s meant a grim regime of daily blood taking etc. Despite my intensive period of being stabbed, I have never got over the phobia. So when the local doctor’s surgery emailed about a flu jab I ‘parked’ this opportunity for more metal to be stuck in my arm. At the same time one of Anna’s elderly gentlemen (yes, even older than me) accosted us as we walked down the street very agitated. He couldn’t get on the NHS website to let him book a flu jab appointment. So step forward ‘Mr IT’. Our friend came round and he was correct; the website link was awful with the necessity to click one calendar nearly 1,000 times for him to put in his date of birth: not easy on a smart phone.
As I’m sorting out the NHS website challenges it did seem timely/manly to book my own appointment. I did. You’ll note by this later communication that I did survive after the stabbing. At the drive-in centre I was asked if I was allergic to eggs? I replied in the negative and was then asked if I had any other allergies? “Only needles”, I honestly replied.
I must be a nice guy or have a Retail Fairy God Mother. I turned up at a cycle shop to try on and collect some cycle shoes. They’d had to order my size in and then forgot to do so, however, they did eventually arrive. (No wonder the internet is viewed as a cost effective place to buy stuff with few stock out issues and easy return procedures). Anyway, they fitted like the proverbial glove and I made my way to the counter to pay. “You’ve got £25 credit on your account”. This was news but in fairness this year I must have spent something toward £5,000 at this establishment. I was happy to forget this credit until another day and pay the required price (higher than the internet!). This couldn’t be done – ’the computer says no’. So instead of paying £74, I paid £25. I came away thinking I must return and pay something extras on another visit. The dentist had made me two mouth guards. This dentist I’ve been frequenting for, probably over 20 years. The guards came to £170. I was staggered and challenged the receptionist, on the phone, in a gentle way. In gentle Yorkshire I said “How much?” They are basically two pieces of moulded plastic I wear when sleeping. (I needed some new ones because I left my last good one in the washroom of a campsite outside Sedan in Northern France. How that discovery must have delighted the cleaners). So I turned up with my debit card to collect and pay. The dentist appeared anxious I was unhappy on the phone. I explained I had been a little shocked but after a long cry and a bottle of Scotch I’d moved on. “We don’t want to leave you unhappy and you’re a long time patient.” No, I was good, here’s the debit card, do your worst. “Well how about £150?” In my mind it costs what it costs but rather than risk an arm lock on needing his services to restore a broken incisor we agreed at £160.
As the lockdown continues then smaller matters are elevated to topics of conversation. The current ‘house rules’ are that we don’t drink everyday or night but alternate nights starting at 6pm earliest. This does mean you wake up with a childish delight realising that the day is ‘alcohol day’. Such are Anna’s cravings she did ponder aloud whether as October 25th would mean the clocks going forward then was 5pm the same as 6pm? We agreed it was.
Other wifely developments include watching the Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a España on TV. To the less aware these are the two major three week professional cycle road races. Coverage is daily either live or as ‘highlight’ programmes. In fairness she has seen the Tour de France in the UK and France but to find that we’re not fighting over the remote control goes to show I was right all along and she should have picked up on this great sport three decades ago (no, I haven’t said this to her). Rumours abound about her migration to clipless pedals: I’ll keep you posted.
In my September blog I mentioned my job of transcribing Eric’s journal. This is a work of many pages where he’s written up his life, it started in 1928. When I last wrote he was a schoolboy on the outskirts of Hull. As I’ve typed more he’s now had a stint as a farmhand working 15 hour days that seems literally barbaric for a young teenager. Now he’s working at the local railway station as a porter. This entails many jobs and in wartime it is quite exotic on occasions with the African American GI’s, ‘ladies of the night’ going about their work and assorted drunks on the track. It is a page turner. Here is an excerpt:
“At times the back shift provided more than its fair share of unwelcome frights and alarms. At ease, seated comfortably, one dark and gloomy night, we were startled by a woman running the length of the deserted platform in high heels, before hammering frantically on the office door. The sound of her hard to come by high heels alerting us to this being something out of the ordinary. In a refined and educated voice, she sobbed “there’s a man laid on the line”. The senior porter, having survived the horrors of WW1, appeared unmoved by this tearful announcement. “Whereabouts is he?” He cheerfully enquired. “Near the Station Master’s house” the woman whimpered. Turning to me, he ordered “get your lamp, we’ll go and see”. What for me had, until then been a quiet evening turned quickly into a nightmare. Dropping into the ‘four foot’, visions of a ghastly mangled body struck me with the force of thunderbolt. In the dark, frightened by what I had to face I hung back, as the senior porter, his headlamp flashing around, strode on purposefully, between the tracks. “Here he is” he announced. Petrified and shaking, not wanting be any part of it, I kept my distance as the body was examined and rolled over. “He’s dead alright.” I was solemnly informed “Dead drunk I reckon. Let’s get him up on to the platform before the next train hits him.” Between us we manoeuvred the man onto the platform and into the nearest waiting room, where we left him, in the tender care of the lady in the high heels.”
I have to advise that the household has increased to three. We have had two visits by a badger who has set (geddit?) about ripping chunks out of the lawn in search of larvae and insects. Frankly it would avoid a lot of damage if he or she laid out their demands in a note at our front door and I’d find a fishing tackle shop for maggots or some such delicacy. As the Favourite Youngest Daughter commented on a WhatsApp post about this problem – ”bastard”. Quite.
Lastly I leave you with an observation that you will now be struck by. Why are there a lot of men over 50 years old wandering around in shorts. If you go to a supermarket or busy town area there will be someone, usually, overweight disporting these trousers. I wonder whether the cold has disorientated them when selecting their clothes for the day? Sightings will abound now I’ve told you this. No, please don’t thank me.
I was musing with the Mighty Jessney about how we couldn’t drive anywhere nowadays without relying on Satellite Navigation. He countered about the astonishing emergence of the ‘miracle’ website back in the day where you could type in an address and get a route to it. From here you’d print it off as a map to help you. I think back to some of the car journeys I made shortly after learning to drive in the 70s, how the hell did I find places in Cornwall and London?
Similarly the resolution of small technical matters can now can be resolved easily. I was sat in Halford’s car park wondering about, the mystery liquid, AdBlue. I only took an interest in the stuff when the warning message came up on the dashboard. A quick Google answered all questions of what it is (a mix of urea and deionised water), what it does (reduces diesel engine nitrous oxide emissions), how much to buy, how to pour it in and a video providing advice on when the warning message would switch off. Frankly any hostile nation could bring the world to a grinding halt by switching off the internet: forget bombs, tanks or a virus.
On the subject of bringing the world to a grinding halt earlier this week I was out on an autumnal evening at a Chinese restaurant near Pocklington. I’d often driven past the Plough Inn but never realised it contained a delicious restaurant. The food and service were exceptional. This large establishment had many ‘covers’ but only five customers. I was glad to discover this place but I genuinely wonder whether I’ll go again. It surely cannot survive on such poor patronage? Its fate is simply a function of folk staying at home due to the pandemic.
Whenever I discuss Covid-19 then nobody’s complacent about the virus. They’re befuddled by what you can or cannot do but are all minded to respect the restrictions. However, like me they ruminate whether the tighter restrictions and the fatal damage to so many businesses, the elevation of mental health issues and the lack treatment for those with other chronic conditions is a price worth paying for the not inconsiderable risk of certain groups of people dying from the virus.
Maybe it’s easy for me to say that as I’m not ill with the virus or haven’t lost a loved one. But if I were to have any ‘skin in the game’ then I’d comment that I lost a hugely enjoyable job and impressive pay cheque when the 2008 Financial Crisis came around. Work wise my life never recovered. One might suggest that I was near enough to retirement and had so many other plans for the future that it didn’t work out too badly. That will not be the case with the many ‘casualties’ of closing down our economy again.
As a consolation it does provide moments of levity. BBC’s Charlie Stayt’s incredulity when interviewing Matt Hancock that the latest NHS App wouldn’t be available to people without smart phones! (No shit Charlie…) Also the ‘comedian’ who suggested that students wouldn’t be allowed to go home for Christmas.
With Anna we visited one of her ‘aunts’ in East Yorkshire. The lady and her husband are 87 and 92 years old respectively. Eric is writing up his life story by hand. Before I’d seen the hundreds of pages he’d already written I volunteered to type it all up. Maybe an error! However I’m currently engrossed in the life of a Cottingham schoolboy and his wartime experiences. During the war Hull experienced 1,200 deaths and around 3,000 casualties. On two nights alone in May 1941 around 400 perished. As a consequence 95% of the housing was damaged and 152,000 people made homeless. Obviously not a place for an eleven year old you’d think. In between the air raid terror he collected, during daylight, razor sharp shrapnel from all the bombs and shells that rained down on the city. These were taken to school for swapping purposes. Land mine craters became play areas and the procession of bomb disposal soldiers provided entertainment from the kerbside as they stacked unexploded ordnance near to his home. What’s clear is that today the government would be under immense pressure to pursue unconditional surrender from everyone on social media rather than experience one day of this hell.