Quite a number of you have suggested that I have a Facebook page for my Blog. So, if you look on the first page of the Blog there is now a button that you can click to effect this.
I will be happy to accept any reasonable requests but to all the Spammers out there, I am not interested in meeting Russian brides, car insurance, drugs, beauty products, ways to make money quick etc etc.
Looking forward to hearing from you
Archive for the ‘Other…’ Category
Quite a number of you have suggested that I have a Facebook page for my Blog. So, if you look on the first page of the Blog there is now a button that you can click to effect this.
“Mind your backs please. Mind your backs” was the cry I used to shout in Leeds market to part the busy crowds as I was struggling through, carrying 2 x 40lb cheeses. Health and Safety regulations would not allow a 14 year old boy to do that today but in the early 70′s we didn’t bother about that sort of thing. Besides I was desperate to earn the cash to supplement my meagre pocket money. My parents were of the view that if you wanted something in life you had to work for it. My Auntie managed to get me a Saturday job in Leeds market and that’s how I had the rare privilege to meet Elvis.
Now, it’s not the Elvis you’re thinking of but a Yorkshire one. His name was something like Tony Wesley (name changed to protect the innocent, although he was so accident prone I guess he’s long expired under the wheels of a bus). The owner of the market stall and the store that supplied it, nicknamed him Elvis on account of his looks. Nature had not been kind to the lad – he was buck-teethed, acne scarred and wore NHS glasses that were as thick as jam jar bottoms, invariably held together with the customary elastoplast. He was more akin to someone working on the bottling line of Pledge’s Pickle Factory than the swivel-hipped King of Rock n’ Roll.
In those days the school leaving age was 15 and Elvis was the sort who did not want any further education, unlike the rest of us, so he opted for a full time job at the cheese and bacon store to earn big bucks. I think he earned the princely sum of £7 a week.
I still remember that fateful Saturday when I arrived for work, donned my apron and my boss Michael, a champion bacon butcher for 7 consecutive years introduced me to Elvis Wesley.
“I know him” I said in that dour way that Yorkshiremen do “he was at my school.”
“You’re to show Elvis the ropes” my boss commanded “start him off with something easy then next Saturday when you come, we’ll show him how to use a knife.”
I was not impressed. Why, in life, do I always get the lame ducks? I must have MUG tattooed on my forehead. Elvis was not a big lad and you needed a lot of strength for what we did, there was a lot of manual work.
Our preparation room was the cellar. We prepared the bacon on the surface of old Victorian sideboards hewed out of stout oak and mahogany. Most of the bacon sides were hung on hooks in a darkened recess and I asked Elvis to help me lift some in preparation for the bacon boners, four cheery lads full of banter. Poor Elvis would be in for some stick from them, that’s for sure.
“Elvis, it’s really easy. Get yourself in position, bend your knees, hold the pig by the waist and then stand upright to unhook it. You put the pig on Floyd’s bench and I’ll put mine on Gary’s. Got that?”
My bespectacled friend nodded his assent and I expertly hoisted my pig and handed it to Gary. When I looked over my shoulder to see how Elvis was doing, he had disappeared. I blinked, looked some more and found him in a heap on the floor trying his best to wrestle the pig carcasse off his prostrate body. His spectacles were covered in grease and salt.
The bacon boner boys were in hysterics. I wasn’t laughing. He wasn’t going to be much use to me if he couldn’t lift heavy weights. The bulk of my work was hauling heavy loads of bacon and cheese up and down the cellar stairs.
Whilst I was on my coffee break the bacon boys had got Elvis to go into the far corner of the walk-in freezer, ostensibly to get a ham, and then locked him in there for 15 minutes. When he came out, he was covered in rime frost, his glasses were frozen over and he stood there, teeth chattering for a full 5 minutes before he could get any movement back into his limbs.
At the end of the working day, all surfaces had to be washed down, floors swept and everything tidied away. The boss did not think it was safe to leave Elvis down in the cellar so he brought him upstairs into the backroom where we kept the bacon slicers.
“Now Elvis” he said “these machines are dangerous so you have to listen and watch carefully.” He took a square piece of formica, dipped it into the bucket of hot, soapy water, took the safety guard off the blade and turned the machine on. The machine roared into life, the menacing circular blade whirring away. If you looked at it long enough it would mesmerise you.
“Now, place the formica, near the bottom of the blade, gently touch it and see how the fat gathers? Simply wash the formica in the bucket and repeat the process and keep on going until there is no more fat to gather on the blade. There are three machines. Have you got that? Can I leave you to it?”
Elvis nodded and seemed keen to get on with it. I dived back down into the cellar. I did not want to witness this.
When I came back up into daylight, Elvis was sat on a stool, with my bosses arm around him. “Keep it covered up lad, and that way, you will prevent any infection.” Elvis was sporting a big, bulbous bandage on his thumb, the centre of which was radiating blood. Apparently, he had decided he could do the job quicker without the formica and used his thumb instead. Now he had sliced the top off and it was me that had to finish his work off on the bacon slicers.
The next Saturday, he was wearing a leather protector on his left thumb and the boss said he could try his hand at boning a middle of bacon. He must either be very patient or barking mad I thought. The middle was the most expensive cut and removing the ribs was a skilled job.
“Ok, Elvis” I said grimly “This is what you do. Watch me. Score the ribs carefully down each side, make an incision at the bottom here, then gently slide the knife under, removing the rib with as little flesh on it as possible. This is a really expensive meat. When your remove the ribs, throw them into that sack and then come and see me. And always, ALWAYS, cut away from you, never towards your body. You got that?” The inevitable nod and my chum set to work.
Less than five minutes later he was bandaged round the forehead, a dark circle of blood in the centre and coupled with his thick glasses and buck teeth it made him look like a Japanese Kamikazee pilot.
My myopic friend had ignored my advice about cutting away from him, pulled the razor sharp boning knife towards him as he cut the rib and promptly sliced through his forehead. “Banzai” shouted the bacon boners when they saw his new apparel.
“We can’t give him anything else sharp” said the boss “I’ll get locked up by the Health and Safety bods. One more mistake and I’ll have to let him go. Get him working on the cheese. Surely he can’t hurt himself on that.”
We had a chute in the main store that we used to transport the big 40lb cheeses into the cellar. The cheeses were wrapped in cardboard and slipped down the chute a treat. We had just had our weekly delivery of 40 cheeses.
Standing at the bottom of the chute I gave Elvis his instruction. “Now I’m going to stand upstairs at the top of the chute. When I shout ready, you shout back yes and every 40 seconds I will send a cheese down. You MUST watch for the cheese coming down and place your hand at the base to slow it down on the chute before gathering it up at the bottom. The acceleration is quite fast you see and there’s no way you can stop it if you don’t try and slow it down. Put the cheese over there in the corner and wait for the next one. You got that?”
Elvis gave me the customary nod.
“Be careful, ok? Michael gets annoyed if even the corners get squashed so you have to handle them carefully. Ok?”
I leapt up the stairs, two at a time and shouted down to Elvis “You ready, you ready to rumble?” On receipt of a muffled yes I sent the first one down and then another, then another every 40 seconds. When the last one went down, I went down the cellar with my boss to see how Elvis was doing.
There was no sign of Elvis, only a lot of damaged cheese. All the colour went out of Michael’s cheeks. On closer inspection we saw a protruding limb and manhandled the cheeses out of the way to rescue a mangled Elvis. He was concussed. He had yet again ignored all sensible advice and stood at the bottom of the chute in the wicket-keepers position. The first cheese had gathered pace down the chute, smacked him square in the family jewels and propelled him backwards into the cellar wall and knocked him out cold. The remaining 39 cheeses had done their bit to make sure that their man stayed down.
As the ambulance came for him the bacon boys chorused “Elvis has left the building.”
That’s the last time I saw him.
I wonder where he is now.
These were the words sang by the choir at St. Oswald’s church in Kirk Sandall yesterday. St.Oswald’s does not operate as the community church in this sleepy Yorkshire hamlet anymore – it is now far from the beaten path of the modern village but stubbornly serves as an outpost and a reminder of what we have all but lost.
Luckily, there are a few public-spirited people that dedicate their time to preserving this beautiful old medieval church, and organise open days like the one I was invited to yesterday.
As part of their open day attraction, Towton Battlefield Society were asked to come along and participate. Our re-enactors provided some colour, Neil “the medieval surgeon” had his gruesome table of instruments and pots of unguents to cure all ills, on display and I had a table promoting The Shepherd Lord, with my YouTube trailer.
We had a busy old time of it and I sold quite a few books but the highlight of the day, for me at least, was when the choir came along and sang some medieval madrigals.
As you can divine by this Blog, The Silver Swan was the piece that captured my imagination. Here we were in this beautiful church, patronised for generations by the Rokeby family, venerated by the old villagers that had buried their dead there and someone had decided to breathe some life back into this majestic old fellow of a building by singing this heavenly music – more geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
How apposite, I thought, a beautiful church passed by because we are time-starved in this modern bustling world where we hang on to the words and actions of Girls Aloud, Wayne “Gobby” Rooney, Simon Cowell, the entire cast of East Enders and the foul-mouthed audience of the Jeremy Kyle show, in preference to our rich history, tapestried with heavenly music, breathtakingly beautiful architecture and one or two dedicated people who refuse to give in to the naysayers.
Apparently, Orlando Gibbons was making a protest about the demise of the Elizabethan madrigal with this song. Regular visitors to my Blog know I like to impart the odd pearls of wisdom on these pages, so here you go. (I’ll do my Michael Caine impression here). Did you know that the origin of the expression swansong comes from this? The mute swan was supposed to have been silent all of its life until, in the throes of death, it emitted one last but beautiful song. Obviously, a great inspiration for Orlando Gibbons Esquire. Not a lot of people know that
I was delighted to receive an invitation from a follower of my Blog to see him compete on the BBC’s Mastermind contest, hosted by John Humphrys. I am a big fan of Mr. Humphrys. For those of you that are not familiar with the show, it is the UK’s most high-brow quizz show – a bit like Millionaire for grown-ups. He comes across as quite an irascible character on the Today programme, but on the evening in question he was the epitomy of charm with the Manchester Studio audience.
His opening gambit was “I like doing these shows. Normally, I have to interview politicians who will do all they can to evade answering a simple question whereas tonight, the contestants will eagerly try and answer the most difficult questions we can think up!”
My host had arranged good seats for me and my wife right behind John Humphrys and I could clearly see my hands come into view on the monitor, everytime we applauded a contestant – fame for 15 minutes, indeed.
John was the consummate professional and got through the first round of specialist questions on the first take. I was impressed. My host was placed second after this round with a very creditable 16 points.
Whilst we were waiting to get the go-ahead for the second round on general knowledge, Mr. Humphrys entertained us with his store cupboard of stories, bloomers and gaffes from encounters with our politicians. My favouite was his rendition of John Prescott on his return home after an extended tour of arduous political duties overeas. “I’ve enjoyed me trip but just let me say how glad I am to be back on terracotta” announced Prezza (sorry, I suppose I should now say Lord Prescott).
My host got up to sit in the infamous chair for the second round but was stopped in his tracks as the heavens opened and dumped a torrent of rain on the studio roof which leaked through like a small waterfall onto camera 3. There was consternation for half an hour or so while the crew mopped up the leak and the poor contestant was left there in limbo. It must have been like being asked to take a penalty at the World Cup, then being stood down while the referee and linesman go off to eat what’s left of the half-time oranges.
Then, we’re on with the show. Mr Humphrys takes on the style of Peter O’Sullivan the racing commentator and peppers rapid-fire questions at my host “WhichofTolstoy’sheroine’sthrewherselfunderatrain - Anna Karenina; What’sthelengthofacricketpitch – 22 yards; WhichmonarchsucceededHenryVIII – Edward VI” and so on.
Bimey, I’ve seen it on TV a hundred times but I did not appreciate how pressurised the contestants are, sat there under the spotlight in the nation’s most notorious chair. They really have to get in the zone to focus on answering the questions.
My host finished a very credible third – there was not much in it between all the contestants. I would like to repeat my thanks on this Blog for a great evening.
I have taken a short respite from Rose Hunting and followed the trail of the 3 Peaks in the Yorkshire Dales, as I do every year at this time. We take a party of 10-11 year olds up a peak a day, Ingleborough, Whernside then Pen-y-Ghent.
My ears are still ringing from pre-pubescent voices crying “Mr. Algar”. Mr. Algar, I’m getting a blister. Mr. Algar, can you reach for my water. Mr. Algar, can you tie my shoelace. Mr. Algar, can you carry me.
Yes, carry me! The kids are great fun, well-mannered and generally in good spirits but what with the heat, the daunting view of the ascent and the blistering pace of some of their classmates, we do have a few laggards.
For safety reasons, it’s important to keep the group together. It was my job to bring up the rear and motivate and cajole them to keep up.
Carrying a ten year old up Pen-y-Ghent, along with your rucksack stuffed with medical supplies and water, young Antonia’s rucksack strapped to the front and more jerseys than a cricket umpire on a Test Match Day at Headingley, is not an ideal way to travel. So, I had this great idea of teaching them army marching songs, to get them going:
You’re in the army now,
You’re not behind the plough
You’ll never get rich
By digging a ditch,
You’re in the army now.
Go to your left
Your right, your left,
Go to your left
Your right, your left.
At the last refrain, you skip left to right to left, thus increasing your pace and catching up with the main body of children.
Ingenious, if you ignore the fact that the constant singing annoyed the hell out of Nigel, our Mountain Leader.
Well, so far so good. Until we took the ascent for Whernside, that is.
In the distance we saw the paratroopers, obviously on a training exercise, being beasted across the 3 peaks at double quick marching pace with full kit bag on. Perhaps they should each try it with a small child on their shoulders, I wryly thought to myself.
In fairness to the PT Instructors, running alongside them, they were given lots of positive encouragement. Not at all the screaming, snarling abuse my Dad received when he was training for his Normandy landing.
Well, the next events were out of my control. I was so busy gazing at and sympathising with the soldiers that I had not seen what my little troop of girls were up to behind my back.
They lined up on the fringe of the path, marched on the spot, saluting as they sang:
You’re in the army now,
You’re not behind the plough etc.
The military PT Instructor wet himself laughing and immediately acted up into a stereotypical Drill Sergeant character, shouting at his squaddies. “Come on you ‘orrible lot, these little girls are tougher than you!”
The poor squaddies, strained to the limit were not impressed. Red faced and squirting visible drops of perspiration, they scowled at me as they jogged past, their heavy bergens bouncing on their backs.
My humble apologies to Her Britannic Majesties Forces
I came across this YouTube recording of Jake Thackray. It is an extended version of the one published on CD and I think it is breathtaking. Those of you that have read my book will remember that I have used a few Jake Thackray lyrics at the start of some of the chapters. I chose to do this, and pay the copyright fee, because I think some of his lyrics are as good as the other poetry I have used from the likes of Wordsworth and the Brontës.
This guy can certainly paint a picture with words and this piece is really atmospheric. I remember Jake being on TV in the 70′s and thinking how original he was. He made a regular appearance on the Esther Rantzen show and this is what she had to say about him. “I first heard Jake singing his own lyrics on a radio programme one cold week-day morning, and I had to stop and listen to him. For one thing, he was obviously singing the truth – he painted a scene I could recognise. Even though I lived in a city street, I could feel the fresh air in his songs. For another thing, he was unsentimental and funny – and that’s a rare quality in a popular song. And for a third, every word was meticulously chosen, so I could share his pleasures in life, and in the poetry he used to express it.
But still I had a picture in my mind of Jake as a fat and jolly farmer. Until I first saw him on television. In fact he looks like Lord Byron. These gutsy songs are written by a poet as romantic looking as any nineteenth century heat-flutterer.”
He obviously made a big impression on Esther and I hope you enjoy this as much as I do
I was delighted to get my first two bits of fan mail through the post today. I have had some wonderful comments from cyberspace but getting stuff delivered by the postman was a great feeling. As well as receiving these, I got a nice signed picture and a note from Kate Humble as I sent her a copy of my book, following her brilliant performance on the BBC with Lambing Live. I thought the programme was brilliant and really conveyed the harsh realities of shepherding. I tried to convey this in my book and hope that this was achieved. Personally, I think lambing is not as hard as shearing. Try holding a 90kg struggling animal down to give it a haircut when it doesn’t want one and you’ll maybe begin to understand why. I don’t have a sheepdog to round up my little flock, so catching them is like playing rugby – only rougher. They instinctively know when it’s shearing time and deliberately head for the nettle patch!
The vet called recently to check the beasts out for Tuberculosis, EEC rules you see, although unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for me) I wasn’t there. He managed to test them all apart from my demonic looking black goat that is the self-appointed leader of both sheep and goats. That’s a job for me over Easter, catching the wily fleet-footed black goat. Last time I caught her she rewarded me with a backwards butt of her head that gave me a fat lip for a week. I’m wearing a gum shield this time
I was reminded today of the debt I owe the good people of Sheffield. I have to admit it has fostered some remarkable talent.
Firstly, a Sheffield lady was recommended to me to make a fantastic fruit cake, iced with the Bolling coat of arms for the book launch. It took months in preparation but as you can see from the photo it was worth the wait. Secondly, it turns out her daughter is a theatrical costumier and I employed her to make the Shepherd Lord costume – I literally threw two sheepskin rugs from Ikea through the door, said get on with that and look at what she did with them! Finally, I needed a banner making for World Book Day and was passed onto another friend of theirs. You can’t really see from the photo but the work is built up in applique stitching. It is so fine it looks like it has been sewn by the tiny mice tailors of Gloucester.
So, thanks once again Sheffield, I owe you one.
The Shepherd Lord will be making an appearance at the Battle of Towton memorial event this Palm Sunday – 28th March.
There will be another viewing of the book trailer and a book signing opportunity in the Barn, adjacent to the main event field.
Watch out for more details on: http://www.towton.org.uk/
I was really taken when I saw this depiction of Richard III by Finnish artist and Ricardian member – Riikka Liisa Kyllikki Nikko.
The picture really captures the archetypal Laurence Olivier image and is full of pent up energy.
You can see more of Riikka’s work on:
When he was Governor of the North, Richard intervened when the Lancastrian Robert Bolling filed his petition to Edward IV to plea for his lands back after his attainder. Richard endorsed the petition to his brother by signing the outside of the scroll. So, after fourteen years in the wilderness, the Bollings got their home back with no small thanks to Richard. My family are therefore indebted to him.