Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all my followers and to those in the 32 countries who have visited my blog in 2010.

As you look into the future, may all your wishes come true.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Just William

Today the BBC have shown the first of four episode of the new series of Just William. This reminded me of a piece I wrote for Yarm Writers Group recently.

Just Childhood

“I’ll thcream. I’ll thcream and thcream and thcream ‘till I’m thick,” was the threat of Violet Elizabeth Bott William’s spoilt neighbour.

Richmal Compton’s first book Just William was published in 1922, her last, William the Lawless, in 1970. Many of Compton’s best- selling books were written in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I remember reading some but can’t remember which.

Just William followed the exploits of 11-year-old William Brown and his band of ‘outlaws’ Douglas, Ginger and Henry on adventures in the local woods. The foursome, sometimes reluctantly allowing Violet Elizabeth to accompany them, got up to all sorts of scrapes.

Of course you could also listen to their escapades on the radio way before the series appeared on TV with a young Dennis Waterman as the first actor to play William on the box. The BBC are to broadcast a new series later this year, or early next, but you can be sure that the ‘pc’ police will water down some of the controversial stories lines featured in the books. The RSPCA has already criticised William’s cruelty towards animals for painting his dog blue to become a circus act. The short story ‘William and the Nasties’ was removed from the later editions of the 1935 book William The Detective in which William and the outlaws tried to imitate Nazi storm troopers driving a Jewish shopkeeper out of business.

Still on the outlaw theme I remember vividly my primary school headmaster reading BB’s Brendon Chase to the oldest class. Denys Watkins-Pitchford’s novel was based on the Hensman brothers, Robin, John and Harold who ran away from their Aunt Ellen to fend for themselves; they spent eight months living as outlaws in the forest of Brendon Chase. The rifle and ammunition they took with them gave them the means to survive in the wild. It was the illness of an eccentric old charcoal burner, Smokoe Joe, whom they had befriended that led to the boys being run to ground.

I suppose I read about Robin Hood and his outlaws in Lincoln green in Sherwood Forest but I must admit I remember the antics of Errol Flynn as Robin much better. I know I read about Hereward the Wake but cannot trace the actual stories. I’ve recently downloaded the e-book Hereward; The Last of the English by Charles Kingsley but there is no way I would have read that book as a boy; it’s far too heavy a read.

I’ve vague recollections of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five but not their names. We do have a collection of her stories in my wife’s 1947 Christmas gift of The Second Holiday Book. The nearest I came to Blyton though was at university in the 1950s playing bridge with Imogen her daughter.

In 1949 I must have been into the books of Arthur Ransome. I know I read Amazons and Swallows; a copy of his Coot Club still has a place on our bookshelves – a school prize from the Michaelmas term - which tells of the adventures on the Norfolk Broads of Dick, Dorothea, Joe and the twins nicknamed Port and Starboard. Strange, I’ve always hated boats.

I also boast a copy of the illustrated edition of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, which contains at least five ghost stories among which are The Bagman’s Story about the haunted chair and the Story of The Bagman’s Uncle and the ghosts of the Mail.

I don’t think I've ever read The Jungle Book but I do remember Kipling’s Just So Stories. These fascinating accounts of how various phenomena came about were first published in 1902. How the Whale got his Throat explains why the whale eats such small prey; and How the Camel Got His Hump tells how the idle camel was punished. I’ve discovered that the Just So Stories are available to download free from Project Gutenberg and that you may also obtain them in an audio-book and a version that may be listened to on any media player.

These days children’s books are available in a variety of forms. The Horrid Henry series appear as annuals, gift packs, activity books, joke books and in early reader formats. The books themselves usually contain four stories of Henry and his friends in the Purple Hand Gang, including Rude Ralph, the champion burper. His teacher is Miss Battle Axe and, harping back to Just William, there is a Lisping Lily and Vain Violet, a very rich vain girl.

I’m told that many adults have read the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling. I’ll confess that I never have. My grandsons have devoured every word. It’s murder if you ever have to watch a video or film of any of these in their company – they seem to know every word by heart and what’s coming next; they tell you before it does.

I know that Rowling has made millions from the Potter books and its spin-offs. Some may become worldwide favourites but one story always seems to top the list – the story of Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s one and only book. To Kill A Mocking Bird was ‘fifty’ this year. My daughter’s favourite book – she’s even named one of her dogs Scout – shame he’s not a girl.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Bird Strike - Snipe?

This afternoon as I sat down to write a blog post my thoughts were interrupted by a loud thump. I knew immediately that a bird had hit the front window of our bungalow. The splash mark left of the window showed that it was quite a large bird.

This fellow obviously had a headache as he lay on the snow amongst the shrubs. It had been raining for a time and he looked a bit bedraggled with his brown/black plumage. The pictures below have been shot through the glass of the window so are not as clear as they might be. Two of the pictures show its long bill - pointing to the left and at least 4 inches long.

I believe the bird was a snipe or jack snipe it certainly flew like one when I went out to check it out. If anyone out there can identify it for me, please leave me a message in the comments.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Boxing Day Birds

Our garden is alive with birds this morning. I have resorted to trying to photograph them through a double glazed window. Here's two to share with you at this holiday time.



Thursday, 23 December 2010

Sepia Saturday: Christmas Is Coming

Christmas is coming the geese are getting fat. But is there 'Anyone for Mock Goose?.

If you follow the link you can check out what life was like at  Christmas in 1940. As I was only 3 at the time I can't claim I remember it. Britain still had an Empire then so perhaps this gives a link to Sepia Saturday's Christmas.

More festive sepia at: Sepia Saturday 55: Seasonal Open House.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Sepia Saturday: Connexions - The Durham Ox to Daffodils

The Durham Ox was bred in 1796 by the pioneering shorthorn breeder, Charles Colling of Ketton Hall, Bafferton, Nr Darlington in the North East of England. The beast became know as the Ketton Ox when it was exhibited in Darlington in 1799. 

Colling Brothers

 The Colling brothers and a man named Thomas Bates, who farmed at Kirklevington, have been given much credit for the development of the Durham Shorthorn breed of cattle.

Thomas Bates
 The Kirklevington estate in what is now North Yorkshire has been owned over the centuries by such aristocratic and royal landowners as William the Conqueror, Robert de Brus, The Percys, Henry IV and Henry V. It was finally divided and sold by the Earl of Strathmore to two wealthy business men one of whom was Henry Hutchinson who was mayor of Stockton-on-Tees for a time. His nephew, John, bred shorthorns at Stockton and named one of his bulls “Kirklevington.”

In their childhood John and his brothers and sisters became wards of Henry Hutchinson. In their early childhood before they were orphaned the Hutchinsons had been friends and neighbours of the Wordsworth family at Penrith. Mary Hutchinson had been born at Stockton-on-Tees and went to school there when she was sent to live with her Uncle Henry.

At twenty-four Mary announced she was going to marry William Wordsworth. Her uncle did not approve; he considered Wordsworth had no profession – he had changed his mind by the time Wordsworth had become Poet Laureate.

William and Mary

 William and Mary were married in 1802. William wrote a poem about his wife in 1803.
‘She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;’

But it was Mary who is said to have composed the last two lines of Wordsworth’s often quoted poem; he may have ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ to see ‘A host of golden daffodils;’ but its Mary’s words at the end:
‘And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.’

So why is this my Sepia Saturday post?

I live in the village of Kirklevington less than a mile from the house which was once Thomas Bates farm and from the churchyard where his gravestone stands. 

 St Martin’s Church at Kirklevington also has a memorial window to him which incorporates a shorthorn beast.

Detail of memorial window

I happen to have been born in the village of Ketton in England’s smallest county of Rutland. Finally I may also be able to toast you all this Christmas in one of Yarm’s many pubs less than three miles away.

Which one?

The Ketton Ox, of course.

Monday, 13 December 2010

North Yorkshire Village Dogs - Duncan & Cameron

When you meet these two Irish Setters it’s difficult to tell which one is Cameron and which is Duncan. Stroke them and talk to them and you will find out that both are friendly, but it’s Duncan that will lean his full weight against your leg in the hope of more attention. Cameron meanwhile is watching what is going on around him.

What the Irish Setters are doing with Scottish names we will never know. Duncan and Cameron came to the village from the Irish Setter Rescue at Lavenham in Suffolk via kennels at Huntingford Grey in Cambridgeshire when they were 9 and 8 years old. One of the conditions in their loan for life was that they were homed together. Also their names could not be changed.
Details of their pedigree are not known. Their original lady owner died after which her working daughter looked after them for 2 to 3 years before they went to the Rescue centre. Cameron, now 9, and Duncan, 10, have made themselves at home in the village in a house ruled by five cats.
When they arrived it took a while to find a brand of biscuits they would eat. It took a year to get them to eat chews and biscuits; eventually they settled on the Purina Beta dried brand. However once they started they became quite good at it and now eat a selection of biscuits and chews every night. Duncan also likes apple cores.
Neither is greatly interested in toys and games, not even in balls. Cameron will throw his squeaky chicken around occasionally. Duncan is a digger and favours the back of the compost bin although no-one’s quite sure what he is digging for. Cameron, for ever the opportunist, takes every chance to sneak off and snuggle down on the bed of the daughter of the house.
There is no doubt that Duncan hates horses. He will stand at the gate and bark at the horses from a riding school that go up and down the lane outside. Cameron can tell the difference between petrol and diesel cars; he dislikes diesels. Nevertheless both are keen to get into the car for a ride.

In the house both like you to make a fuss of them and look very comfortable resting on the settee (protected by a blanket – that’s the settee not the dogs.) The cats are the leaders of the pack; they tolerate one another with Cleo even curling up to rest on Cameron’s back. Duncan will not let her near him.

They have duvets and vet beds which they drag around in the utility area. Cameron still wears an Elizabethan collar at night, Both had lick granulomas when they first arrived after 6 months in the kennels. The granulomas took a long time to treat. Cameron’s bad patch on his hock required two operations. Although it has cleared up he would still lick the area at night without the collar.
One advantage of homing the dogs was that they didn’t need training when they arrived. However because of their age pet insurance was out of the question. Duncan’s joints are creaky and you can see that Cameron walks with one stiff leg, They are taken for walks in the village and in the local park; usually they are kept on the lead – Duncan has a tendency to wander off if not. It doesn’t seem that they had ever been used to long walks in the past.
Neither dog has been neutered so Duncan and Cameron retained other things than their names. Being left intact, names unchanged were two of the conditions of their re-homing. It is unusual condition of ‘ownership’ that the dogs are being fostered. If there is a problem they have to be returned to the Irish Setter Rescue Centre. That’s most unlikely; Duncan and Cameron have found their home and stride out with pride, their reds coats streaming out as they go.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Festive Ghosts

Christmas and New Year’s Eve vie with Halloween for ghosts.

Local legend in Dorset concerns a phantom donkey standing on Newton Heath, near Studland. Its owner was robbed and killed while travelling across the heath; the donkey disappeared without trace. The animal returns each year on 22 December in the hope of finding its master.

 Rochester Castle
 (photo by Stephen -

Famous ghosts are those immortalised in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Dickens ghost walks through the gravestones in the graveyard at Rochester Castle on Christmas Eve. Dickens loved Rochester throughout his life and wanted to be buried there. In fact he lies in Westminster Abbey. His ghost is said to appear outside the Corn Exchange at midnight, winding the hands on his watch.

Hever Castle
(photo by Sarah Dawson -

On Christmas Eve a ghostly female, thought to be Anne Boleyn, glides across the bridge over the River Eden in the grounds of Hever Castle in Kent. She is also seen under the great oak where Henry VIII courted her.

December 24th is the time at which a ghost of a monk is to be seen wandering through the ruins of the old Cistercian abbey at Strata Florida, Ceredigion in the north-east of Tregaron.

There is more than one version of why the ghostly ringing of a sunken bell may be heard at Bomere Pool, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire on Christmas Eve. A village once existed where the pool is today.
One farmer persisted in cutting his corn on a Sunday; the whole village was punished for this infringement of the 10th Commandment by being sunk beneath the waves.
An alternative story says the people gave themselves to godless and riotous living; one year they refused to go to church on Christmas Eve. As a consequence the waters rose and drowned the village and its inhabitants.
Some people claim to hear the voices and cries of children and the church bells still toll in the watery world of Bomere Pool.

More bells but this time from the depths of a lake in Cheshire. Monks removed the bells from Combermere Abbey, near Nantwich when the original abbey was dissolved. The bells fell off the boat in which they were being transported. Now on 24th December the bells are sometimes heard, often accompanied by sightings of a ghostly monk.

The Tudor mansion, Madingley Hall in Cambridgeshire was built by Sir John Hynde in 1543. The ghost of Lady Ursula, his wife forever walks the Hall wringing her hands in despair. Lady Ursula was distressed at her son’s destruction of the local church of St Ethelreada in Histon to obtain building materials for the Hall. Each Christmas Eve she walks between the Hall and the church.

It was Prince Albert who introduced the Christmas tree to England when he had one set up at Windsor Castle. Albert bought Sandringham House for Queen Victoria and it remains a royal residence today.

Sandringham is known for its Christmas poltergeist. Noisy activity is seen and heard in the servants’ quarters on Christmas Eve and around the Christmas period. Cards are strewn around; footsteps heard and unpleasant presence felt. Staff have felt uneasy to be alone in the footman’s corridor.

Festive Ghosts will be continued with that of Thomas à Becket and the ghosts of New Year’s Eve in a later  post.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Lucky Dog

Two years ago Kathy, the oldest member of Yarm Writers Group, was ninety . One week she read us a story about her visit to see her latest great grandson.

She told us that in addition to the baby there was a new dog in the house. Kathy is quite small. The dog was big and it greeted her by putting its paws on her shoulder and licking her face.

That week the topic for our writing piece was ‘Lucky or Unlucky.’ This gave me the idea, I hesitate to say inspired me to write a piece called ‘Lucky Dog.’ I jotted it down and read it out at the end of the meeting. It read:

“I wish I was a lucky dog.
If I were a lucky dog.
I would get the chance,
To lick Kathy all over her face.”

At the next meeting Kathy was waiting for me to arrive. I was commanded to, “Sit!” If I did she said I would not have to beg. I did as I was told. From behind her back she pulled a small bag with some treats for a dog.
Since then I have been, not only talking to dogs in the village but also ‘treating’ them.

Some weeks later I used Microsoft Publisher to create a copy of my story to present to her. I even added a picture of one of my daughter’s dogs.

When I gave her it she said I had made her day.

The only thing that worried me was her last comment, “This deserves something more than treats”

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Match This: Sepia Saturday 53

It may be a coincidence but this is the inside of a Christmas card that I received today. 

 The lady in front of the shop is Doris Perley. Doris chairs the Yarm Writers’ Group of which I am a member. You may see more of Doris in later weeks, but today it’s the shop shown in the photo that provides this Sepia Saturday topic.

The shop John Walker Chemist & Druggist was established by John Walker in Stockton-on-Tees in 1819.

John Walker

 Walker invented the friction match using a mixture of potassium chlorate and antimony sulphide. He sold his first friction matches in April 1827. The  matches were made of cardboard but he soon switched  to  wooden splints. Walker never patented his matches despite being advised to do so by Michael Faraday. It was a Samuel Jones of London who copied his idea and marketed his “Lucifers” in 1829.

Doris is standing in front of the shop in the Victorian street of the Preston Hall Museum at Eaglescliffe. The ‘new’ shop was opened earlier this year to mark John Walker’s discovery of a process which changed history.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Drabble Day - Snow

 The Drabble Challenge here's how it works:
  • Read the prompt and find your angle.
  • Write a drabble (100 words story, give or take five words).
Today’s drabble prompt is : Snow!
Oh dear! It’s that time again. They’ve just taken me out of the box and removed the tissue paper. I suppose that means I have to be the Christmas Fairy once again.

It’s alright for that Barbie, she’s got all the fancy clothes. I can see her getting kitted up with boots and they’ve even waxed her skis. She’ll get to play out in the snow. I’d love to hit her with a snowball or stuff some down her neck.

It’s not fair! How would she like a prickly tree stuck up her skirt?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

St George's Float : Amy's Sepia Saturday 52

I defy those who said last week that Amy's husband Bob looked like Stan Laurel to say the same this week

Bob is the man on the right with the string hanging down from his belt.

This picture was taken at an event (date unknown) in Broad Street, Stamford, Lincolnshire. I have sent this picture to the editor of the Stamford Mercury in the hope that his staff can identify the event, its date, and the people in the picture. I would love to know the identity of the gentleman in the 'ceremonial' robe.

The Rutland & Stamford Mercury is a weekly tabloid newspaper based in Stamford and sold across South Lincolnshire and Rutland. It was established in 1695 and claims to be the oldest newspaper in Britain (although Berrows Worcester Herald claims to predate it by five years).
The Mercury appears in three editions: one for Stamford and the Deepings, one for Rutland, and one for Bourne. All of them come out on Fridays. When I left Stamford in 1960the Mercury was a broadsheet.

For more sepia/old pictures see: Sepia Saturday

Friday, 3 December 2010

Voices - an e-book by David Robinson


 Voices, an e-book by freelance writer and novelist David Robinson, is a tremendous read 

College lecturer Chris Deacon survives an attack, only to find his life plagued by demons and voices muttering in his head. To rid himself of them he follows a trail into the frightening world of a top secret military experiment from the Cold War, its malign progeny, a new breed of beings, still working for their freedom and their desire to dominate the world.

This e-book  is available from Smashwords

More about David and his writing may be seen at