Saturday, 24 December 2011


It’s been some weeks since I put a pen to a blog. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle.  The luxury of being retired, or as I like to think semi-retired, is to thank the lord there is no-one to kick the rear end.
Now in the festive season I feel I have to shift myself, if only to send Christmas cards and cruise round the shops in search of presents for the grandchildren. I’d planned to send something by snailmail to Christopher and Sarah in Oz but I see I’ve already missed the slot for final posting.  Sadly they will have to wait until the New Year. I did, however, manage to get my international greetings cards off in time. Well, I hope they got there for Christmas.
As for Hugh and Joseph here in Goostrey, that’s another tale. They are now of an age when Father Christmas is the real thing. This is the first year they have become aware of the whiskered old codger so it will be all systems go, I guess, on the 25th tomorrow. Hugh is anxious that we have carrots and milk to leave for FC’s reindeers. His Dad suggested he should also put out a tipple for the man himself!
I saw a report the other day that even toddlers are showing an interest in computers, and this year they are actually being manufactured for kids barely out of the crawling stage. All in the name of early learning, of course!
My nursery aged grandchild toddlers are no exception but their passion is for diggers and tractors. Young Hugh however managed to switch my system on the other day. He and his brother were well into a You Tube item about a giant digger climbing a tower in Germany when discovered.
 Since then You Tub diggers and tractors have become their favourite viewing. But you have to monitor what they watch – there are some very lurid things on You Tube, I’ve discovered! The mind boggles how some ladies dress to handle diggers !
The festive season is the time when the Christmas cracker comes into its own. I don’t know if I am an exception, I don't seem able to get the wretched things to crack. I was dining on turkey and Christmas pud with Richard and Sylvia at a little eatery in the Staffordshire moorlands earlier this month when I tried my first for the season. Yes, like it always does, it just went “phut” when it was pulled instead of a healthy crack. Same happened to two out of the three on the table.
I was delighted as a way of compensation to find a leaflet inside informing me that at least the cracker is a British invention, with a little input from the French.
It seems a gentleman called Tom Smith is credited with its invention following a trip to Paris in 1840 when he discovered locally produced sugared almonds wrapped in a twist of tissue paper.  It wasn’t long(  only seven years or so) before he hit on the idea of including a love motto in the tissues, then came the cracking mechanism and finally his son Walter added the gift. Just hope they were a bit better than the pointless plastic toys included these days!
Now all I have left to say is A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


A farmer  named Sid was overseeing his stock in a remote moorland pasture in  Peak District when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced toward  him out of a cloud of dust.        
The  driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses  and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the farmer, "If I tell  you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, Will you  give me a calf?"      Sid looks  at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully  grazing stock and calmly answers, "Sure, why not?"   The  yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects  it to his Cingular RAZR V3 mobile phone, and surfs to a NASApage on  the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix  on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that  scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.             
The  young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and  exports it to an image processing facility in HamburgGermany .             
Within  seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has  been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL  database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on  his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.     
   Finally,  he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech,  miniaturized HP LaserJet printer, turns to the farmer and says, "You  have exactly 1,586 cows and calves.   "That's right. Well, I guess you can take  one of my calves," says Sid.          He  watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on with  amusement as the young man stuffs it into the back of his car.                  
Then  Sid says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your  business is, will you give me back my calf?"          
        The  young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why  not?"        "You're  a Member of Parliament for our Government", says Sid.          "Wow!  That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"     "No guessing required." answered the  farmer. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want  to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never  asked. You used millions of pounds worth of equipment trying to  show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing  about how working people make a living - or about cows, for that  matter.  This is a herd of sheep. ... 
Now give me back my dog!


The windswept platform at Goostrey station is not exactly the place to begin a long train journey. Years ago when it was staffed by a railway ticket clerk-cum-porter it blossomed with flowers, and the waiting room was not bereft of its window glass. If you were lucky in winter a cheerful fire burned in the grate.
 That was how it was but I know in today’s age of bean counters such comfort and luxury for the simple traveller is a bygone dream. Yet there are still many benefits for the passenger. It takes less time to reach London and by and large the trains run always to time.I  often let the train  (as they used to say in the ad) take the strain– given I want value from my senior rail card – and I still marvel that despite our so-called crowded isle, the iron road threads its way via some of the most  inspiring countryside to be found. Even the great mass of the industrial midlands is hidden from view. It is as near a chocolate box picture of how we like to think of rural Britain glimpsed from great comfort at speeds of over 100 mph. In a little more than two hours you are in Euston.

I have no need or desire to be whisked away from my home village to be set down in the capital in less a time than now – perhaps within an hour. But that will happen if the political masters have their way with plans for a high-speed rail link to the midlands and north west and beyond. We are promised near virtual travel. Just think in the future of entering a capsule (by then coaches will be redundant) and minutes later you step out on the platform at Euston.
Of course all this comes at a cost. The new super track will carve its way through much of that land we now so much admire. No time given  to read the paper (or electronic device) fiddle with the mobile, listen to one of those banal one-sided phone conversations, or caress a large whisky or gin and tonic as the train glides along the track.  The adventure of travel will finally be put to rest. Only the captains of industry and commerce are said to be the beneficiaries of this new age in rail travel, and even then it will be of doubtful benefit.
 The National Trust and the Council for the Protection of Rural England are rightly alarmed at the prospect of another attack on our shrinking countryside. The damage that will be caused by the proposed line is bad enough, but it will create the potential for yet another explosion in speculative building as seen in the 19th century. When the Metropolitan railway was pushed further and further outwards from the centre of London, leafy villages and market towns were swallowed up to  become suburbs with a morass of houses and commercial properties virtually overnight. You think not? 
Well, the government wants to ease planning laws. Yes, most people think some relaxation is needed, but how many will agree the sacrifice makes it worthwhile?   To me it seems daft to spend billions on a project that will do so much irreparable damage. It would be better spent on maintaining and upgrading what we have now. I leave this blog (or ramblings of a SOF) with  email sent to me by a pal in Goostrey illustrating the high-speed world of communications in which we live.Some gremlin in the system stops me from adding it here but it can be found elsewhere on the site.. Enjoy!

Thursday, 8 September 2011


I came behind a Morris Minor the other day and, as it bounced like a buoyant bubble on the road surface in front of me, I got to thinking about all the cars I’d owned. I never actually had a MM but I remember it well. I don’t think its shape looks all that dated today. In fact it was probably designed for an age before its time.
My first memory of the Minor is as a young reporter on the  Wilmslow, Alderley and Knutsford Advertiser. Our Alderley correspondent who was then seventy years old, if not more, drove the vehicle as though demons were behind him. And as my mode of transport was a bike (and it is again but more of that later) I often accompanied him on press days to the head office and printers in Stockport.
The return journey was frequently a white knuckle ride as with his eyes glazed over like a latter day Toad of Toad Hall, he would floor the accelerator along the A34. I doubt if it would do more than 75 mph. Which is perhaps fortunate, since this dapper elderly scribe with a handsome tash that made him look for all the world like a WW1 fighter pilot, was a maniac behind the wheel of his Minor. We always got back in one piece but I’ve since wondered whether he was a driver who just liked speed, or if his manner of driving was connected to the faint peppermint smell mixed with the whiff of the odd tipple of sherry he was reputed to be rather partial!
 I bought my first car at this time, a 1933 Wolseley Hornet, for £15 (a lot in those days when I earned £5 a week) complete with bald tyres and a useless handbrake, but as the man said - it was a “good runner”. It was during the Suez crisis when fuel rationing made it possible to drive with just a provisional licence. I shudder at the thought of the trips I made in this venerable vehicle with little cash, no AA cover and only faith it would get me there and back. Its days ended when a village PC Plod of my acquaintance stopped me for “a chat”. He happened to put his broad shoulders across the rear and, having no handbrake, it took off down the slope. with both of us in full pursuit. I took his friendly advice to “get rid or mended” and swapped it and £40 for a Morris 10 (circa 1938). I guess if I could have kept and garaged the pair they might be worth a bob or two now. Then they were just two old vehicles fit for the scrap man. A Bedford van that had spent most of its life delivering bread, I think, was the next purchase. Well, actually I handed over £15 to my cousin Tony and his family (it had just cost that to insure) and it was mine. Now, if it didn’t have the bird-pulling power of, say, a Ferrari it certainly proved attractive in other ways: in the days when we flitted between flats (buying a house even then was beyond most newly-weds) it doubled as a removal vehicle for friends.
You will have gathered I’m not what you would call a petrol head. To me a car is wheels to get from A to B. (There have been times when I've owned cars and rarely peered under the bonnet).  Over a lifetime of motoring I’ve had a string of cars bought because, for the most part, they were cheap enough to run. Only once did a mid-life crisis override common sense. I became the owner of a Triumph TR7. However it was a short-lived relationship. One serious wheel wobble on ice and a spectacular skid that sent me whirling like a fairground ride on a narrow country lane and head-on into a hedge confirmed my suspicions that I was not cut out to be an oldie boy racer!  I changed it for a more sedate and safe Renault, I recall.
My first new vehicle was a green Autobianchi made by Fiat. It was really a van but popular because without its windows at the back, its appearance was more of a trendy mini car powered by 500 cc rear engine. And it would do in excess of 60 mpg. The petrol tank was under the bonnet and when a red warning light flashed it was easy to check what fuel remained! We called it the "Queen Bee" and drove it for thousands of miles in this country and France – and the only problem was a foot brake pedal that collapsed at a most awkward moment at a major crossing but I survived to tell the tale.
In a none-too-spectacular driving career I have destroyed two engines, attempted to motor on water and ripped away the underside from a Volkswagen as I went cross country in the saloon!  A Renault engine expired in clouds of searing steam after ignoring a flashing light in my anxiety to reach some dramatic incident in the Peak district. The second engine, also a Renault, was damaged beyond repair when  I plunged through a flooded road at speed, in the mistaken belief that it could take it.
My most exciting “escape” was from a Chrysler Alpine as I ventured to cross the ford at Swettenham, not appreciating it was several feet deep from torrential rain.. Late for a meeting at the village pub I took the short cut – and found the car sailing until it bottomed out, engine somehow still turning, lights on and radio playing. A rescue party of by then hysterical pals from the pub and a tractor rescued the car but it stank for months afterwards!
Now I’m between vehicles but I’m not without transport with two family cars in the stable, and of course my latest purchase - a trike. Since ops to replace two worn out knees, it is some six years or more since I’d had the courage to mount a bike. My first effort on a two wheeler ended in disaster when I stupidly fell off. So it was thought a three-wheeler could be the answer. Sure, with a power packing auxiliary electric motor to take some of the strain, my Batribike has opened new frontiers. It has been a bit of a learning curve. Especially since on my first outing I went A over T 100 yards from home as I was unceremoniously pitched from the saddle when I clipped the edge of the road and dumped in the gateway of the Old Forge !

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


  I thought I’d resist until now the temptation of writing about the English riots. Enough has been said by the chattering classes and TV worthies. But I don’t think the recent week of mindless mayhem can pass without a little reflection.
 Have you noted that today no-one will take responsibility as  the result of such actions? Like the mother of a so-called feral-rat nabbed for looting and wholesale damage. She said what he and his hooded mates had done was not their fault but that of the police…!  Wonder what she will say when the council knock on the door with an eviction order. She will be screeching between puffs of fag smoke about her human rights, I can guess. Then we had the case of the two Cheshire fellows who thought it was a joke to call on the street mob in Northwich and Warrington to join the violence via the social media. They got terribly upset to find themselves in the slammer for four years. They said what they did was a joke. But you have to ask what would have happened had their call been heeded?
 Now the blame game is a modern human disease not confined to the low life. It has spread like cancer from across the Atlantic, powered by websites and email. Have a car accident, however small, and you can guarantee that within weeks, nay days, you will be contacted by some seedy individual wanting to front up a claim for “your injuries”. Even if it was your fault and you were not really hurt. The result is that some rat-bag of a commission junky in an anonymous office will get richer by the day if you fall for the spiel. And soaring insurance rates for us poor motorists is the consequence.  
 Such commission chasing even impacts on charities. Some years ago I changed my will on discovery that should I go to that great newsroom-in-the-sky the sum I’d left to a charity would be grabbed from my nearest and dearest almost before I could ask my maker for a pint of bitter ! I am afraid (no happy to say) that charity must begin at home!
 Returning to the riots, common among the complaints of those desperately seeking to lay the blame for the trouble elsewhere was the gangs had nothing to do between collecting their benefit cheques via us working taxpayers. Just wreck the streets instead, then? Most will have noticed that those battering down windows, setting fires and nicking as much as they could to carry off, were not what you would call poor, dressed in their designer gear for the most part! It was bizarre during the same nights of rage that TV managed to squeeze between its endless coverage of the streets the real poverty of Africa and its starving peoples. I didn’t hear many protests about those images.
 However, I think that by and large today’s youngsters are among the best. Too often they are knocked but recent experience has shown me another side of a much criticised generation. Twice during a rail trip to London I was helped by a young man and then a woman as I climbed platform staircases struggling with a heavy suitcase. What more can I say.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


The internet is a wonderful invention and possibly the finest contribution to the human race in communication since Caxton’s first printed pages were taken from the press. I would disagree it will entirely replace the pleasure of dipping into the hard-copy pages of a newspaper, book or magazine. But then who can foretell what the future will bring. Let us pray it will not destroy the written record, otherwise much of day to day life as we know it now will be lost. Every home has a clutch of treasured photographs of family, friends, events, holidays and the like. Yet (answer honestly) how many have printed off the dozens, probably hundreds, if not thousands, of photos from “snapping” on digital cameras and increasingly highly sophisticated phones.  Even in a household of media professionals, I doubt if I can find more than several dozen pictures from recent times kept for the record. I still remember with horror the day I pitched a cup of tea over a laptop and wiped out an entire archive of photos!
 The happy note is that I’m long enough in the tooth to remember when the age of the paperless office was declared. Yes, it still doesn’t exist,   if my experience of the corporate world is anything to judge. Fortunately for future historians there is still within us something of a distrust of anything hi-tech coupled with the squirrel effect on our brain.
Where the internet poses the greatest threat is in the High Street. Even among those ranks of multiple giants that dominate centres, often in the smallest of country towns, some may depart as rapidly as they came to a website domain. God forbid towns will become the sole territory of the coffee society and swanky restaurants, but the most endangered species, the pub, might yet be saved for our continued pleasure and community spirit.
Ironically, individual shopkeepers brushed aside by a tide of must-look-alike-Britain may have their day again because of the internet. The trend is already out there as the wheel turns full circle. Without exception serious outlets have online services and now local shops have a chance to compete given a presence on the web. Something that came home this week when goods ordered online arrived the next day from a trader with a shop in a small town. And they cost less than the identical items from a major supplier with nationwide outlets and a massive website.
 I guess supermarkets will continue unabated. But even there who knows, in an era of  more leisure, food shopping for pleasure – if you can call it that – may fall to growing popularity for  door-to-door deliveries and higher fuel costs to reach fringe town sites.  In that there is nothing new – the railway and combustion engine brought the decline of the horse-drawn carrier leisurely travelling between towns and villages taking goods and passengers. Now the age of the carrier is back – simply at the touch of a mouse!

Monday, 1 August 2011


Updated version

I almost choked over my toast and marmalade this morning when I heard an item on Today about gooseberries – pronounced said the BBC 4 programme  like Dewsbury!
A lad from Egton Bridge sounded real downcast about the plight of the luscious berry.  Egton might have produced the biggest in the world by a whisker compared with our contestants a couple of years ago. But the real fruit of the crop is grown in the heart of the Cheshire plain where the world record has been taken several times, in recent years by Kelvin Archer at the Marton show, near Macclesfield.
I don't know if it has anything to do or not with the fact that  Goostrey and villages surrounding are within sight of the massive Jodrell Bank radio telescope. But just this past week-end and several weeks still to go they are pulling some of the biggest whoppers on the planet from their bushes.
You could say when it comes to producing this monster fruit the growers around these parts are no fools!
Mid-Cheshire’s eight active shows and Egton Bridge in Yorshire – plus a competition at the Bakewell Show in Derbyshire – are survivors of a  quaint custom that has been part of the horticultural sporting scene for several centuries at least.
At its peak during the 19th and early 20th century shows were held all over the country. They were not just confined to rural backwaters but big cities staged competitions. Even London  and Manchester apparently provided some of the best of the golf-ball sized berries from urban gardens.
Now real competition when the goosegogs are weighed in pennyweights every year is largely confined to this rural enclave of Cheshire. It is claimed a north facing wall is the most succesful spot to heel in new seedlings.
And among some of the highest value homes in the land it is an entirely classless pursuit. Griselda Garner, wife of Alan Garner, the internationally famous children’s author, who lives near Goostrey, is championing the cause of the Gooseberry.
The couple’s home is now part of the Blackden Trust and Griselda says she hopes to establish a centre for every variety of Goosberry before they are lost. I am grateful to a fellow blogger who tells me that a full collection already exists in the arboretum at the nearby telescope complex but I guess it doesn't contain some of the more recent varieties.
Since 2009. the trust has presented a pottery plate embossed with name of the  top winner in memory of arguably Goostrey's greatest grower, Frank Carter, who was aborist and head gardener at JB for many years.
Veteran villagers from families of rustic stock of generations pit their growing skill against well-heeled competitors ranging from judges and doctors and other professional types to pensioners.
 There was  a wild  rumour, I guess spurious, that footballer Wayne Rooney might have been persuaded to pitch in from his posh mansion in nearby Prestbury to enter the fray at one of the local shows.
At Goostrey’s show on Saturday some of the veterans regained the championship trophies after last year’s fright when a relatively new grower and a woman to boot (you will know who if you read my previous blog) took  the title for the first time and a lot of the silver.
It was a male-dominated domain until some years ago Julie Lockett, a noted biologist, took members into the 20th century and became Goostrey's first  woman grower in her own right and then secretary.
Julie now lives  with her family in Grand Island, New York State, where she has attempted with some success to grow the fruit.
No-one will say (or can) what  the secret  recipe is for growing such large gooseberries but one thing is certain the puny types sold in supermarkets are no match for the Men of Cheshire – or even Egton Bridge for that matter ! 
I don't want to rob the Sandbach and Congleton Chronicles (with whom I began my reporting days)  or the Knutsford Guardian of their circulation so I am  providing no results or pictures. Except to say that in Goostrey, David Heath a grower of some 40 years, won the first place for the premier berry with a weight of 31 pennyweights 15 grains (variety Newton Wonder) and Tom McCartney, another grower of many years standing, had the best set of twins in the show in the Crown Inn at 54 pennyweights 08grains. The rest of the  latest episode of the Battle of the Bushes you will have to read on Wednesday and Thursday ! 

Thursday, 14 July 2011


Given age and  a paupers pension and a few pence from producing  words in print, the thought of  winning thousands on the lotto robs me of a couple of pounds every week. But like millions of fellow lotto addicts the lure of striking it rich must be like our ancestors joining the Gold Rush out west. The vast majority of punters will not make a vast fortune but what the hell, we do it anyway.
This week’s Euro lottery is a case in point. After weeks of no big winner the pot finally stopped at £161 million. Now think of that. The winner would be the 430th  in the Sunday Times Rich List. And all for just picking the right set of numbers.
Now, I think I could cope with the odd million or so without going mad, buying a string of top of the range cars, and hopping off to some far flung sun-kissed beach to bask among a bevy of bouncing beauties!
But being a man with champagne tastes and beer money I’d be daft to say I wouldn’t want to win the Big One. Which brings me to my dream…The other night in the early hours as I slumbered, the bedside radio which is habitually switched on must have got through to my brain with a report about the £161 million going to a Brit. Not only that I was sure my regular numbers had come up. In a state of near panic – only in my dream of course – I began to be concerned about what to do with such a vast sum. Silly things. Like which bank could I trust? I’d better re-write my will. I certainly don’t want publicity. And who should share in my good fortune.
 Then reality struck as I pulled the cork from another bottle as the bubbly flowed (dreams are like that: in a flash switching from panic to party animal) I felt a sharp poke in the chest. There standing at the bedside was a three-year-old little person, my grandson demanding my presence in the kitchen for nothing stronger than a glass of milk. I was tempted, as I eyed the time was and still being in winning party mood, to say that he ought to have called the nanny instead.
Hours later I got one of those messages from the National Lottery sent to online punters that sets the heart racing and begins News about your ticket…Yes, I had won. I hadn’t been dreaming after all. I was THE winner! As I opened the email the first three numbers were mine. Sadly the rest let me down. But I shouldn’t be too sniffy at winning a paltry £5.80. Next time it could be me!
I think a lovely middle-aged couple had got it about right when they were interviewed about becoming members of the Lotto Millionaire’s Club a few weeks ago. They appeared totally unfazed by their £3 million windfall. Why hadn’t they cleared off to enjoy their riches? “We have had a few things to sort out at work,” said the wife…
And I suppose if we are really honest that is how many of us would react, even though we might think otherwise. So far however the latest rich lotto Brit has remained elusive and, as I write, has not come forward with the winning ticket. I guess the £13,673,97  interest he (or she) is losing a day could be said to be small change !

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


  I don’t think I can write my first blog without some mention of the way it really was in times gone by before the electronic age when to “hack” was to give someone the chop with an axe !  I remember as a raw-faced cub reporter being urged by my seniors never to take a bribe to keep a story OUT of the paper on the pain of the sack. With princely pay of £3.10s  on a Cheshire weekly I guess I could have been “bought” but the temptation was never there.
  Trading the secrets of Mrs Sparrow’s award winning apple pie with  a rival village WI  would hardly have got me a story in pre-Calendar girl days of who was having-it-off with whom. Even if a tip-off about a housewife and a randy vicar might have brought me riches from one of the more salacious national Sundays.
  Given the gift of a good news sense, I must confess to making a few bob in a lifetime as a newshound.  Not from hacking into computers and telephones or handing out large sums to bent coppers, but just good old fashioned journalism.
  Contacts have always been the lifeblood of the trade of newsgathering. So it was that every Tuesday I would mount the office bike in Wilmslow and cycle round my patch, stopping to chat in half a dozen outlying villages to my “regulars,” picking up handwritten reports from shops and post offices and – yes – even dropping in for a bite and  a (lemonade!) at one of the local pubs.
  Most of what I picked up to put in the paper was parish pump stuff by present standards. But just occasionally a real story happened and made a front page splash. Like the time I discovered a village school had been secretly closed by the authorities in the hope of covering up a mystery illness sweeping through the classrooms
 And before the discovery of Lindow man a tip off from a contact told me a skeleton had been found in a peat bog and was probably an ancient murder. Just in time to stop the press for that week’s paper.  The next edition told readers they were animal bones. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of a good story!
 Now all those weekly yarns seem light years away from tales in the late News of the World about alleged oversexed bed-hopping celebrities, Royals and mega-rich footballers, and yet I guess most  stories did  not the result from hacking into computers and mobile phones. Just large sums exchanged with contacts for information into their private lives which I guess most like to read, and speaking personally now as a freelance, who am I to cast the first stone…so long as the stories are true.
 Now did you know about the affair between…..?