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Thursday 28 September 2023

I Hate Hedgehog Biscuits!

Hello. Foxy here. Well, that’s not my real name, but everyone calls me Foxy because I am a fox. I am the only one that comes in the gardens. The others all stay in the woods and fields on their own. I live in a cosy tree root and like to meet others. I am very sociable.

There was an open window in Tasker’s garage. I was able to squeeze through and then get into the house and use his computer to write this. There used to be a pretty little cat called Phoebe here but she no longer seems to be around. She always ran away when I tried to be friendly.

Anyway, I am writing to complain. They left out some food for me. Would you believe what it was? Hedgehog biscuits! Biscuits for hedgehogs! Nasty flea-ridden spiny things. Do they really think I am going to eat hedgehog biscuits?  

They were on a plant pot tray on a brick in the middle of the path. I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a trap, so I gave it a very careful check. I was hoping it was going to be that nice vegan dog food that must remain nameless for legal reasons. But it wasn’t. It was hedgehog biscuits. Biscuits for hedgehogs!

I showed them what I thought of that. I picked up the plant pot tray and hurled it across the grass. The biscuits went everywhere. Then I picked up the tray again, put it back on the path, squirted it, and sauntered off in search of better things. I would rather eat worms.

And would you believe it? There, on Tasker’s computer, was a video of the whole episode. It was from that night camera thing they put out. Aren’t I handsome. Do you think I could start my own YouTube channel? 

Saturday 23 September 2023

Hobgoblin, Nor Foul Fiend

One day each week, my wife goes happily off to her dementia group. For clarity, and to avoid the kind of misconceptions our children adopt deliberately in the mistaken belief they are being witty, I should add that she runs it. They have a different theme each week, around which they talk, play games, and have a cooked meal and lots of laughs.

Members engage to varying degrees. Some are very lively and on first acquaintance you would not think anything was wrong. You might mistake them for volunteers, but all have memory problems. Others, you wonder whether they get any benefit from attending at all. One elderly lady, I will call her Dolly, sits head down all day long in her wheelchair, saying very little.

Most grew up in England during the decades before, during and after the Second World War. Like me, they have no difficulty in joining in the hymns at church services or at those weddings and funerals that retain some semblance of religiosity. It was part of our shared culture. We had the words and tunes drilled into us daily at school assemblies, Sunday School and church. How inspiring they can be, especially when the organ chords, descants and harmonies reverberate round. We can reel them off: For Those In Peril, Jerusalem, The Day Thou Gavest, To Be A Grim Pill as we used to sing in assembly, and so many more. Younger people don’t know them. When my cousin’s daughter’s husband was on University Challenge, he was the only one to know that ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ is the 23rd psalm, and only after we had been yelling it at the television for 15 seconds. The young deride these things as small-minded and exclusive, although I don’t perceive many other creeds as much better.

Last week at the group, the theme was harvest. They talked about what they remembered of it. Some worked on the land, and one member is old enough to have been in the women’s Land Army. They talked about the old traditions, harvest festival services at church, and harvest festival hymns. They began to sing “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”. Incredibly, Dolly burst into life. She raised her head high and sang out in her trill warbly voice, leading the singing. The transformation was astonishing. After the “All good things around us” middle eight, she started on the next verse, “You only are the maker”, then the one after that, “We thank you then Creator”. No one else knew them.

When my wife later told me the story at home, she said this was the only harverst hymn they could think of. After a while, I said “Isn’t there one about all is safely gathered in?” It stirred a memory. “Yes,” she said, but neither of us could quite remember it. It was not one we sang very often, and not in the school hymnal. Not enough about God in it. A bit too Baptist. We had to look it up. It is ‘Come Ye Thankful People’.

What a descant (verse 4)! Even if it is over the top. And is that who I think it is at the front of the congregation (see verse 3)? Well, that’s all right. We are a broad church on this blog. She is well turned out as ever. 

This week, I was interested to hear whether Dolly also knew ‘Come Ye Thankful People’. She did, and sang it. 

Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend, can daunt the spirit.

Then she sang “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”, again. She could not remember having sung it the previous week.

Monday 18 September 2023

Foxy is Back. Foxy is Better.

After a month without seeing him, Foxy reappeared in last night's mist and his leg seems better. He is no longer limping. Evidently, that BOSH! dog food that YP sent him helped enormously. It prolongs active life and is enriched with nourishing marrow jelly. BOSH! makes foxes bounce with health. Eight out of ten owners prefer it. It’s no meat: a real treat. It refreshes the parts. It is so good he is considering becoming vegan. He already has the pointy ears. Oh! Sorry, we might be confusing that with Vulcan.

Monday 11 September 2023

Garden Birds

Lasts month’s post with the video of the sparrowhawk (Red in Beak and Talon) got us thinking about how many different kinds of birds have visited our garden. None are particularly rare, and many bloggers will have had more, but we were still surprised by the number. We counted 19.

It does not include birds simply passing over, such as migrating geese, or on one occasion a heron, nor have we counted birds in the nearby countryside but not seen in the garden, such as yellowhammers, only birds that have landed.

1) Seen just about every day: starling, blackbird, sparrow, wood pigeon, collared dove, magpie, crow. Some of the sparrows may be dunnock but I am only counting them once. Some days this summer there have been forty or fifty starlings on the lawn.

2) Seen often: robin, blue tit, great tit. 

3) Occasionally: wren, thrush, sparrowhawk, greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch. 

4) Once or twice only:

  • One winter brought us a beautiful flock of redwings which stayed for two days while they stripped the berries from the holly bush.
  • Another day, a racing pigeon with a ringed leg watched from the rooftops as I sawed wood. It must have liked me because it flew down and allowed me to pick it up. How warm and fluffy they are, and so light. Your fingers disappear into their feathers. I put it in a box with some bird seed and water, and phoned the local pigeon club who sent someone round to collect it. Later, they phoned to say it was from Hull. I should have known from its accent.
  • Swallow. Really? Landed? Not just flying over? Well, yes. On the morning of the 9th September, 2001, we opened the bedroom curtains to the wondrous sight of a family of swallows assembling on our telephone wire not six feet from the window. They were looking in, the cheeky little blighters, probably eyeing up softer options for the winter than an 8,000 mile flight to South Africa. Luckily, I had a film in the camera. We checked their travel documents for them, which were all in order, and wished them a safe trip. They said they would pass our regards to Nelson, and looked forward to seeing us again in the spring.

Monday 4 September 2023

Working Class?

The Frost Report Class sketch. It is heavily copyrighted, but you might get it to play at:

I found it interesting that, according to his son, Michael Parkinson, who died recently, suffered from imposter syndrome. He doubted his abilities as a writer and television interviewer, and feared he was not as good as others. It seems he could be very short-tempered when an appearance or deadline was near. It is difficult to believe this of someone so accomplished. His son thought it came from having grown up in a council house at Cudworth near Barnsley, the son of a coal miner.

I said I could understand this because I was from a northern working-class background myself, and had often felt above my station. Could I have done more with a bit more self-belief? I don’t know, but I have known and worked with those who reached senior university management, one a Vice Chancellor, and seen what self-regarding mediocrity some can be.

One thing certain to get my wife and family worked up, is when I claim to be working-class. “You are not working-class,” they say. “Your father owned a business, and a house and car. You had books at home. You went to a grammar school and became a university academic.”   

I argue back that my father did not own a business until I was in my mid-teens, when he took over from his own father. Until then, his father was his employer and he was treated no differently from other employees. He spent three days a week travelling the country villages, often until after seven at night, with paperwork still to do. One day a week, he cycled to work in a boiler suit to maintain and clean the firm’s cars and vans. He worked a five-and-a-half day week, with two weeks annual holiday. We lived in a working-class area and rented a terraced house until I was six. My mother’s father worked in mills. Most of my friends lived in council or terraced housing, and their fathers worked in factories, on the railways, or on the docks. One drove lorries for the council. Another emptied gas meters. I had no sense of being different, except that we rarely mixed with children from professional families. It was a very working-class grammar school I attended, and did not do very well there. I only went to university late. I looked and sounded working-class. How the headmaster sneered in disbelief when I entered my father’s occupation on my leavers’ form as Company Director. Surely, the circumstances and circles in which you grow up, and how they make you behave, determine your class origins.

We are not going to agree. It is a complex subject that has changed over time. To say someone is working-class now might be seen as an insult. It makes than sound like public lavatory attendants or slaughter men. We all like to think of ourselves as middle-class now.

There is also a North-South element. Social and lifestyle changes occured much earlier in the South of England where my wife grew up. There were more professional jobs, and many people travelled into London each day. My own town had few middle class people, and certainly no upper-class. But it depends how you draw the line. I would say my teachers were working-class, as were bank clerks, and shop and office workers.

The English class system: is it possible to cover all angles of such a vast topic? Sociologists would consider unskilled and semi-skilled employment, white-collar and blue-collar jobs, salaried or waged, sources of income, asset ownership, education, lifestyle, interests and so much more. In some recent categorisations, I come out more like the upper classes.

It doesn’t change my view. Me and Parky: two northern working-class grammar school lads made good. Or am I making excuses and playing the victim?

Friday 1 September 2023


New Month Old Post: First posted 15th April, 2018 

VAXen. It’s the plural of VAX. It used to say so in the DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) computer manuals in the nineteen-eighties. VAX computers could be run as clusters of VAXen. Most universities had them.

A DEC 'dumb terminal'

So I was delighted to see some of these iconic machines again in Jim Austin’s Computer Collection at Fimber near Fridaythorpe in the East Riding. By “again” I really mean for the first time. Hardly anyone got near them in the nineteen-eighties. The privileged might be allowed to look through the glass of their air-conditioned rooms, but ‘users’ were never allowed in. Their only contact with the computers was through remote ‘dumb terminals’. At Fimber you can touch the machines and even open their cabinets and take the boards out. Of course, they are not switched on now.

He even has the first computer I used, the Elliott 903, not just any Elliott 903 but the very same one from the psychology department at Hull University. You really had to keep your fingers out of the way when the punched paper tape was flying through. What a sorry state it is in now. For a moment I imagined myself volunteering and getting it working again. 

The Elliott 903 from Hull University, a punched paper tape computer

I returned home fizzing with enthusiasm, thinking of the blog posts I could write. My wife was not impressed.

“Great! A barn full of old grey metal cabinets. Fascinating!”

“Well, some of them are black. And you can open the doors and look inside.”

I babbled on excitedly about all the machines I had known so well: the Elliott 903, IBMs, ICLs, PDP-8s and PDP-11s, SWTPC minis, LSI-11s, Sun microsystems, Silicon Graphics, VAXen …

"Vaxen!" My wife ran out of patience.

“Did they come in boxen? Ordered by Faxen? Is our fridge Electroluxen? Cooling the milk for your Weetabixen? Vaxen makes them sound like little animals, or the name of one of Santa’s reindeers.”


Now, there’s another plural to conjure with.