Walking to the Match

Going to the Match

Scarves out and the van parked.

The corner turned and a grab of the arm leads the way to the the centre of the Universe.

Walking down Longshut Lane past Muslim men in robes who pray to their own Mecca.

Via the pub and the scent of an aromatic shrub.

Through the  estate where lines of loose jeans appear from every direction, following and leading,

all in uniformed kit and discussing what will evolve;

like an army under a self-imposed command to come together for an uncertain fate.

Mercian Way in sight and caught in the fast track bound for the pitch.

No looking behind, to the side, up or down – only in front.

Stepping carefully between the puddles,

following the orbit of club culture.

Reaching the point of no return where a seller of programmes and a leggy cheerleader

lurk to catch the crowd and call in the coins.

Down the dark diagonal, the unlit narrow path.

Through the car park, past the fast food and the fast boys,

to our Lady of the Turnstile, who gathers all in to her grassy fold.

More Perils with Pigeons.

Scoop!! Pigeon survives 3 days in the chimney and flies to freedom.

Scoop!! Pigeon survives 3 days in the chimney and flies to freedom.

This is a follow-up pigeon link recalling my forays with this bird.  During my time in Boscombe, I lived in a bedsit in what had been an old Edwardian hotel.  A pigeon fell down the chimney and was trapped behind the gas fire for three days. It was very cold weather and I was really worried about dislodging the fire to enable it to escape. I had three days of guilt and punishing myself for being scared to risk moving the loosely fixed fire from its place in the hearth. The ugly piece of primitive equipment had been sealed around three sides with insulation tape, which was half peeling off, and looked like it was an domestic accident in the making. Every night I tried to survive the cold without turning the fire on but gave in for brief interludes to warm my bones and check the bird was still alive. On the third day, I’d had enough and set my stall out. I opened wide one of the windows of the bay and grabbed a newspaper. In a fevered fit of determined panic, I pulled the insulation tape off the fire and tugged the fire away from the hearth.  The huge bird, responding to the light, squeezed out of the space and almost knocked me sideways. I wafted the bird desperately towards the open window and watched it fly to freedom.

I had saved the world!!!! Afterwards I did what we British always do in situations like this – I put the kettle on and made a cup of tea, feeling incredibly good to be alive. I’m sure the pigeon came back to sit on the verandah the next day. I can only think that after a night outside in the freezing cold, it had preferred to be bricked up, warm and cosy, behind the fire. It probably would have preferred food to freedom.

Cold Rook Eggs on a White Plate – an appreciation of ‘Corvus, A Life with Birds’ by Esther Woolfson.


Esther Woolfson’s wonderful book about her life with members of the Corvid family, informs and entertains us with evidence from her eccentric household of birds.

She was born in Glasgow and lived in a very cold house where her father cared more for the warmth of the family dogs than he did for that of his own children. He insisted that the dogs wore short-sleeved, striped sweaters indoors. Esther never objected to this favouritism and said, “What it definitely did was prevent me from gaining any false ideas of the superior place human beings occupy in the world.”

She studied Chinese at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Edinburgh University. Her literary output has included many short stories that have been broadcast on Radio 4. She currently lives in Aberdeen, ‘The Granite City’; sadly all the granite now used for building in Scotland comes from China.

Whilst travelling around Scotland with her family, she tells of a sign, somewhere near Montrose, that could be seen from the road and that  had been put up by a less than literate patriot. It read, “SCOTLAND, FREE OR A DESSERT.” Scottish Nationalists would, no doubt, consider the long term prospects of Scotland as a dessert but would prefer the ‘FREE’ option – less fattening and less washing up!! Most Scots would have gone for the street-wise fried Mars Bar image or the glens awash with Typsy Laird (yummy Scottish trifle served on Burns night). What’s not to like? A ‘FREE’ Scotland sounds pretty dull compared to the creamy, calorie-rich alternative. What better way to represent the sweet, persuasive  nature of Scottish breakaway politics. The sign was removed long ago but obviously tickled with its bizarre wordplay.

Esther Woolfson takes pains to research every aspect of the birds in her care, especially her beloved rook, Chicken, and her volatile Magpie, Spike. She quotes from many literary sources and delves into the feeding, the song, the habits, the many aspects of caring for a wild bird, even the extrovert personality traits that manifest themselves when a bird is kept in captivity. This book feeds the reader with morsels of her mature tolerance and her desire to attain as complete a picture of the birds as it is possible to absorb. All this is given with humour and poetry of style as well as scientific accuracy.

Her sensitivity cultivates a mental bond with Chicken which we feel strongly when the rook becomes broody later in life and lays several infertile eggs. She takes each pale turquoise egg, cold and fragile, and lays them one by one on a white plate in full view of the bird. The act of doing this becomes meaningful to both bird and human. Her act creates a ceremonial record and somehow justifies what is a pointless exercise.

Esther is also a massive fan of the magpie and stands up for the bird’s right to exist in a balanced British ornithological arrangement. It seems to me that the British are always looking for villains to eradicate in every aspect of life when a more rational approach would reveal that things are not always as they seem. Esther points out that magpies are often cruelly killed because they pinch the eggs of songbirds but studies have revealed that, in reality, magpies have little effect on the populations of these birds.  The domestic cat is far more culpable  for any reduction  in numbers of garden songbirds.


The book has educated me out of a few prejudices I had against certain birds. A particularly, charmless pigeon, as plump and pompous as the Beadle from ‘Oliver Twist’, has received many a lecture through the kitchen window about his greed and habit of throwing bread around the back yard in a jerky frenzy. He must be on steroids if his appetite is to be believed. He belligerently occupies the bird table in a Mexican stand-off with the far more threatening- looking rooks. Obviously pigeons rule!! The rooks seem to have created a little stash of my home-made lard, cheese, fruit and nut mix in the guttering so if Don Corleone pigeon decided to sit his ground, they would still have access to a food resource. They also show their superior intelligence by using forward thinking.

Very few of us have Esther’s ability to reach out, without ego, to wild creatures. This book makes me want to try a lot harder, even if it means condescending to  feed overweight, bossy pigeons with bad table manners and too much testosterone.

Corvid at night

CORVUS – A LIFE WITH BIRDS by Esther Woolfson is published by Granta Publications. ISBN 978 1 84708 029 5 (Hardback)

Taking liberties with the wheel.

Being from Doncaster, which had the cheapest bus fares in the country, I formed a deep and lasting relationship with public transport from a very early age. I recall the trolley buses that flashed in the frosty weather and have a faint memory of travelling on the Newcastle trams, the same trams that were responsible for my mother losing her front set of teeth. She rode her bike into the tram lines and cracked her teeth as she fell. False teeth were fitted whilst she was still a teenager. The second time she cracked them was down to me when I gave her olives with stones in with her dinner and forgot to mention it!!

Only one family down our street had a car and they always seemed removed from the community because of it. We wondered why they needed one. It seemed completely unnecessary to us kids. I was once tempted to move into the world of the automobile when I was in my early 20’s. I invested in a lock-up garage from the Council but never quite got as far as buying a car to put in it. A friend of my brother once asked me,”Did you go far in your garage?” I think the few driving lessons I had exposed me as an accident waiting to happen and a still, small voice inside me addressed the issue of driving with honesty. I quickly dispensed with the garage and any pretensions I had to take to the road.

I was a great hitch-hiker in the 80’s and once hitch-hiked with a heavy Singer sewing machine from Doncaster to Howden. Looking back now, I’m amazed anyone stopped for me but stop they did and I eventually got home tired and achy with the said sewing machine in tact. I like to think my success relied on the shock factor.

Amongst the oddest things I have ever been allowed to take on to a bus was a 2.5m length of pipe insulation bought for a specific use in my feltmaking business. When I sat down with the monster I was a bit concerned because it lay balanced on the seat in front and overhung the next two seats. As the bus proceeded, the bendy tube kept bobbing hysterically with the momentum of the bus. I watched nervously as the poor passengers who were sat on these overhung seats fixed their gaze on the oscillations of this lengthy, precariously poised piece of polystyrene, a spongy harmless sword of Damacles.

After hosting a workshop with a Canadian feltmaker who specialised in using super-saturated dyes, I was faced with the decision of either disposing of the dye that was left or transferring it to two large plastic buckets and taking them home on the bus. I chose the latter being aware of how expensive the dye was. Fortunately the driver allowed me on the bus with the buckets and I sat trying to steady the sloshing of the dye whilst trapping the buckets firmly between my legs. It was an anxious journey that thankfully ended successfully with a few stains on my trousers but no rivers of dye running down the bus aisle. All this was achieved before our lives were burdened with health and safety regulations. Maybe they were introduced to combat challenging creative travellers such as myself.

Food for thought.

A well-known local broadcaster recently announced, with tongue rather insincerely in cheek, that all vegetarians should be rounded up and shot. There was no place in football, according to him, for vegetarianism.

Strong views from a man who considers himself every inch a football fan, most of all a true blue County fan.

There are lots of “isms” that don’t have any place in football -such as racism, sexism, hooliganism…………………………………….but vegetarianism? Please, get a grip!!!!!

People have repeatedly said to me, “You don’t look like a football fan”. I also don’t look like a teacher but taught successfully for many years before my retirement. If I don’t look like a football fan then the question begs to be asked, “What does a typical football fan look like?” Is there a list of features and requirements necessary to be considered acceptable to the crowd? Maybe being a vegetarian is my big problem.

Even though I call myself a vegetarian, I am really a bit of a fraud in that department as well. I do eat fish so a really strict vegan would eject me from the fold of true vegetarianism. Roy Keane would also be rather sniffy with me because I admit to enjoying a prawn sandwich occasionally. Guess I don’t fit snugly anywhere.

I’d like to think that not looking like the sort of person who does the things I like to do presents more of a positive challenge for me and allows me the freedom to expose the ridiculous notion of being “typical”.

Last season, the local press delighted in finding any excuse to ridicule the club and its fans. They insultingly announced that, according to the results of a survey, Stockport County fans were the most overweight in the UK. I felt this was all part of kicking a club when it was down. County was, for every City and United fan, an easy target. As well as making bad jokes about the football, they could now make fun of the fans’ waistlines.

Too many pies and burgers, maybe? Possibly for some.

However, I would be the first to stand up for any fan’s right to enjoy traditional matchday cuisine if that’s what he or she chose to eat. What leaves me hot under the collar is the clannish attitude of some who stubbornly maintain that you can’t be a real football fan if you don’t eat the things we eat. Stubbornly hanging on to etched-in habits can go a bit too far sometimes. Nostalgia and pride in the history of your club is all very well but not when it seems to create a barrier to change.

Can any club afford attitudes of this type today? Certainly not. Survival depends upon getting more folk through the gates, more paying folk who don’t necessarily look or act like your traditional fan. That’s why I think the matchday experience at County should change to allow future fans more freedom to be “untypical”, including making choices on what food they eat. Money-bags clubs like City are already offering a diverse range of dishes on match days and have found that many fans are enjoying trying something new. The meat pie brigade are still a strong presence and long may they reign but new fans will emerge, hopefully, from every walk of life and our own club should be working towards the position of offering families and individuals a choice between both a traditional and an alternative menu with healthy options.

At the moment I am quite happy sitting in the Main Stand with my lentil pie amidst a sea of meat pies. I do look forward to the day when I will be able to buy my lentil pie from County catering but until then I will, no doubt, represent to some, vegetarianism rearing its ugly head at County!!!! Quel horreur!!!!!


The Old Farm

Marian walked me around the muddy grounds of her last employment, a farmhouse, mouldy with age and deep in mourning for its own demise. The person who had loved it the most had died some time past. There was little optimism left for bricks and mortar.

The old man had gone to his grave leaving Marian, his cleaner, to respect his memory by wiping away mould from the woodwork and damp walls once a week. She, now, was departing her duties, succumbing also to the effects of the damp air.

The son, who lived away, was rarely seen locally. He was left with little money or desire to restore the family home to its former glory. It was not for him to put pigs back in the stys and apples back in the orchard. Those memories from his childhood were best stored away in the photo albums.

The persistent subterranean streams will have their way with this memorial to village life, seeping through home and heritage, without so much as an eye being batted from this cricketing community of Hawk Green.

The Bitters’ Tale by Dave

Since quitting the nine-to-five gig a couple of years ago, I like to feel I’ve become a more self-sufficient person by making as many of my own necessities (mainly wines and spirits) as I possibly can. Partly because I have more time on my hands, but mainly because I’m a tight-fisted Yorkshireman, My main tool in this quest for self sufficiency is the internet and it’s limitless fount of “how to do it yourself” information.

The Bitters tale started not on a dark and stormy night, but last April, when my son’s wife’s father, treated me to a glass of Hungarian Unicum Bitters, after a particularly boozy “gathering of the clans” Saturday lunch at their home in Tel Aviv. Quite taken with the taste, I mentioned to the memsahib about it and she said she had a recipe for bitters on her Kindle in one of those “Why buy it when you can make it” cookbooks, so beloved of Guardian readers and their ilk.

As fired-up as a young pup for a bone, I started checking out what i needed in order to make bitters and save LOTS of money. Most of these were herbs and spices which I Googled for their Hebrew translation. So far so good.

A few days later the memsahib had her monthly date with her hairdresser in Tiberias, leaving me a couple of hours to troll the spice shops of the old market for the ingredients for my brew.

A short description of Tiberias would not go amiss at this point in order to add some colour to the story. This small town, situated on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, 70 metres below sea level is a hellishly hot place in the summer and was designated the dubious honour by Mark Twain, in his journey to the Middle East, as being the armpit of the world. The population, all swarthy Middle Eastern types seem to be descended from one distant ancestor and the place exudes a slightly honky feel only relieved by the magnificent views of the Sea of Galilee. With a little imagination one could picture Russian spies meeting their counterparts in grotty little coffee shops down alleys smelling of backed up drains.

First stop, a fragrant little hole in the wall called Eliza’s Spices. List in hand, I managed without too much difficulty to get cardomon, allspice and cloves. Then things started to get a little more complicated when I asked for fresh vanilla and Juniper berries (gargaray a’arah in Hebrew) As well as being extremely difficult for westerners to say in Hebrew due to the word being made up of many guttural middle and back-of-the-mouth sounds, nobody in the shop had any idea what I was talking about and I left the store with the vague feeling of being seen as slightly retarded. Deeper into the bowels of the market I strolled only to get the same response and wary-eyed look from the storeholders. I swear all the spice vendors in the town SMS’d each other ….. “Pale skinned foreigner on rampage for “gargaray a’arah”…. do not approach–he has a list!”

Finally as the sun was setting and I was sweating like a horse in the 40 degree heat I checked out one last store. Hallelujah!– he had fresh vanilla beans. All I needed now was the elusive Juniper berry. I summed up my best Hebrew accent and asked “Yaish lachem gargaray a’arah?” (Got any Juniper berries?) “gargaray mah?” (what beans?) the shop owner asked with that same tone you would use to a five year old. This scene repeated itself a few times until, noticing the vendor had an I-Pad on the counter (a Hi-tech spice shop wot!) I suggested to him we Google “gargaray a’arah” in Hebrew as I couldnt understand how I was mispronouncing the word. As is common among Israeli’s, after a few minutes about twenty people were gathered around the I-Pad, some saying “Sure! gargaray a’arah – every shop sells them” while others held the opinion that there was no such animal. I’m sure if we’d prolonged the web search any longer, a fist fight would have broken out between the two camps–the Juniper berry believers and the Juniper berry poo-poo’ers. I beat a hasty retreat under the legs of the mob but in the general confusion, my presence or lack of was not noticed.

Later on after picking up the freshly coiffured memsahib I Googled “Substitutes for Juniper berries” at home and sho’ nuff there they were –  Bay leaves, which grow profusely in our garden and Rosemary, which grows even more profusely in our garden!

As every tale needs a happy ending, I finally did make a very acceptable bitters which if you ever come to visit i will absolutely insist you taste.


Only when I larf

Today I visited “The Retirement Show” at Manchester Central Exhibition Centre with a bevy of friends who are all past or approaching retirement.

As we walked from the Metro station, around the side of the building to the Centre, an employee in a fluorescent orange jacket told us to turn right at the gate and carry on down the steps. We smiled and thanked him. 5 seconds later we all turned to each other and said, “Which way did he tell us to go?”

To cut a long story short, we walked round picking up brochures on all manner of things from solar heating to Manuka honey. We sat and ate our butties, relishing the smell of the toilets and nearly falling out over who should have a home estimate first from the dishy Irish solar panels rep.  We ended up attending a short workshop on laughter to cement the cracks in our relationship.

The guy who took the workshop used to be a high-power executive in IBM but suffered a breakdown and hauled himself out of it by adopting a laughter cure which he hoped to pass on to the rest of mankind. Sadly there were very few in the audience to listen to him but we had a lot of fun. He used these wobbly rubber toys which he tossed at us and encouraged us to toss at other members of the audience with a smile on our faces. The problem was when people turned their heads away and the toys caught them flat on the cheek. It almost became violent and I saw fear on his face. He had a box of funny objects like a foam ham sandwich and a Manchester United toothbrush where the brush was the footballer’s head and the belegged shorts became the handle end………….ha, ha, ha.

He was going to get us up on stage to play ‘laughter games’ but was waved off and told it was against Health and Safety Rules.

On train encounters

Don’t you know you’re in for a treat when the train door opens and a guy gets on, mobile in hand, and booms out, “Hello, Bob Shmeichel here”.

Should I have known this man?

As his conversation continues I find out he has just been on TV telling of his experiences and the public have gone potty over his tale. Unfortunately they got his name wrong and called him Schmickel but they were so amazed they have put him on to someone who will make a book of it.

“I’ve got no money”, says he.

“You will have when its published”, say they.

Just then the train goes through a tunnel and his signal is lost.

“Eh up!!!!”, says he. The signal comes back. “Eh up!!!”, says he.

“My experience was such a unique one”, says he.

“They left me alone over Xmas and all I remember is rushing out of the house shouting,”They’ve won, they’ve won!! Who knows, if my father had won, I might have had a happy childhood”.

Just then the train goes through another tunnel and his signal is lost.

“Eh up!!!!”, says he. The signal comes back. “Eh up!!!”, says he.

The caller rings off and our man of the moment gets off at Meadowhall.

Worthy of note is the fact that on the same train, getting off at Doncaster, was a man in an illustrated leather jacket, biker boots, a knuckle duster and eye make up carrying his shopping in a bin bag with handles. I recall thinking this must be the first time I’ve seen a man wearing eye make up at noon travelling standard class. Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life.

On the return journey I was sat next to a very sharp-suited gentleman who wanted to talk freely about his life. Maybe I should have worked for Samaritans because I always seem to be considered a good listener and find it easy to accept the role of mobile therapist.

He told me about how he had always been good at modelmaking and when he was in the Army they had offered him a position down in London for £70,000 per year making models alongside artists like John Piper. He was married at the time but his wife had turned schizophrenic after the birth of their child and the mother-in-law had plotted to try and thwart his success by hiding the Army letter inviting him to accept this post. He only found it years later and by this time he was making a living driving long-distance trucks around the country and getting more and more bitter.

Along came the British Legion and arranged for him to move into a new apartment and make a fresh start in life. He had recently bought himself a set of drums. The guy who lived downstairs from him suffered from night jitters and moaned and screamed in the night. He said he had threatened to start playing the drums if he was woken up again. Am I painting a picture here?

He finally showed me a photograph of the armoured car he owned, which he kept at the local Territorial Army base. Handing me his calling card, we parted like patients in a doctor’s waiting room and he left the train at Sheffield.

Some days you can watch the film of several lives without appearing in it yourself. You are just placed where you are as a passive observer but obviously have some healing effect on the life you have brushed against and they, in turn, open up caves of deep thought in your mind to be explored when circumstances provide the links.

A Good Meal

Its a lead grey day today and very dusty. When the wind comes from the South it blows all the dust from the desert and the air is a sort of yellowish grey. (a bit like the weather we had before Oodis wedding if you remember). We had a nice weekend. Oodi and Adi came up and Ariel brought her latest beau, Omree, who is a very nice guy apart from being about 6 foot 2 tall.

We had friday night meal and polished off a bottle of my homemade Merlot (officially still not of age but eminently drinkable) + a bottle of my hallucinagenic apricot and plum wine, a sneaky brew which creeps in through the back door. We had some very good steaks. Everyone chips in and makes something. Apart from the wine, I made the roast spuds, oodi did the steaks, harriet did the brocolli and Ariel made a mean Caesar salad. Everyone left with the feeling that eating well is the best revenge on life. i was left to wash the dishes!