All the troubles of the world and sitting in a coffee shop.

Coffee shops have long been the place where issues are sorted. London had many coffee shops in the 1700 / 1800’s,  many of which were where shares were traded, deals were done and politicians held court.

Today, happenings in coffee shops are not quite as deep. Just coffee, a chat with friends, maybe a glance at the local or national papers, or perhaps just  plugging into the wifi to communicate with the world.

Thus it was I found myself in a coffee house in Lincoln recently, head stuck in my iPad. I happened to glance up to see a tiny young girl, perhaps  15 or so , and an older chap, maybe her brother of about 18 /20. They were sitting in front of me.

Let me explain the layout of this place. It has a large semi circular bay around which people sit looking into a couple of tables in the centre of the room.

I occupied one such table around the edge of the bay looking into the middle, as I’ve said. The couple sat there. She with hunched shoulders, elbows close to her body, pulling one hand through the other repeatedly. Occasionally she would take one hand and rub her thin leg slowly by pushing the hand down from thigh to knee with her thumb on one side of her leg and the fingers on the other. All the while weeping gently.

The tears came from eyes that were not contorted, running down her cheek to be mopped up with the tissue she had in her hand, scrunched, ragged and wet.

She was a picture of misery. Absolute misery. Her partner talked to her constantly; occasionally reaching over to her to rub her shoulder and upper arm in a conciliatory manner. All to no avail.

I was not the only one aware of the private drama being played out so publicly in front of us. Two elderly ladies cast glances from the window seats. Their brows knitted with concern; muttering to each other and looking. The Barista flicked glances at the couple as he exaggeratedly dried some cups with a tea town near by. He too was concerned.

I felt I wanted to say something. I resisted. It would have been interfering.

I sat there for perhaps 30 minutes. I could stand it no longer. I left.

It was like watching a puppy drown.  Unable to do anything but watch.


I don’t normally talk to them but today…

Today I was pounced upon by a Jehovahs witness. I normally pass on by but today I decided to talk. The conversation proved interesting.

Before he started on his prepared speech I quoted the Stephen Fry argumentBone cancer in children? What’s that about. Why should I respect a capricious, mean minded, stupid  God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?

That slowed him down a bit but he explained the bone cancer in children by quoting “The sins of the fathers is passed on to the children”

What…! So, not only, according to Mr Fry is this man’s God ‘capricious, mean minded and stupid’ but he is also vindictive and a torturer of innocents, willing to maim children because of their fathers “misdemeanours”. This is  a debased, medieval utter bastard of a deity. And thus truly not worthy of any respect or following.

But I went on… what about the ever forgiveness of the almighty? If he is so forgiving of the sinner why then is he not forgiving of the children of that sinner? No answer was forthcoming.

Such bollocks. It’s simply a device to keep the ‘religiously imprisoned’ in line and pacified, willing to accept anything and do anything lest they or their offspring are tortured by a creature of their own imaginings. Some beneficent religion this I thought.

But he went on to explain ‘there is proof of God because of all the millions of worlds there must be we are the only one with humanity. That can’t be a coincidence’ said he. It shows design and a  power of a deity.

So I asked how did he know there were no others? He replied ‘we have not seen them therefore they don’t exist’.  Hmmm Like God I said.

Not pleased with the direction this conversation was taking he returned to the argument of the sins of the father. Pointing to a pamphlet on the ‘messages in the cells of the human body’ he argued that like genetics sin is passed on from father to child.

So life is about nature and not nurture then I asked. Perplexed he asked why I said that.

Well if it’s about nature, as you argue,  and not nurture, that points to evolution which dispels your myth of creationism doesn’t it? And if not nurture then all your ministering is of no value surely.

We had touched on other things but his argument on those was about as profound. 

We shook hands and parted. Both unmoved and none the wiser.

Yes, another trip to India.

We are off to India soon. This will be the third (and maybe the last) time we visit this wonderful country. This time we are going to McLeod Ganj in Himachel Pradesh Via Delhi of course. and thence on to Southern and Eastern India. We haven’t decided where yet, or even where we are flying out of to come home. 

We travelled for 2 months in 2014 only making scant bookings before we left and we propose to do the same again; this time for just a month but only in India instead of the host of countries we visited last year. It will give us a bit more focus we think and although we intend to take some flights we wont be spending quite so much time in the air as we did during twenty or so flights we took last year.

India is breathtaking in so many ways; crowds, traffic, colour, beggars, amazing architecture, history, wonderful forts and palaces and of course the utter charm of its people.

The photograph below says it all for me. It was taken in a fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan. I have this as a screen saver. It’s not meant to be any sort of artistic picture it just captures the place, time and feel of India. The elephants. The colours of the dresses. The haphazardness of the country – a motorbike riding through the courtyard –  and if you take a look at the background… that’s the perimeter wall of the fort, stretching for miles up and down crazy inclines. And all the stone was hewn, dressed, carried and laid by hand. There are many, many such forts and palaces. Imagine the effort, the labour and wonder why India never ruled the world.  And to give you some idea of scale the top of the walls are large enough for a chariot pulled by 4 horses to pass along. As I say breathtaking.

Fort and palace. Jaipur, India.

Fort and palace. Jaipur, India. (Click image to enlarge)

If you haven’t been to India then go… it should be top of anybody’s  bucket list. It will change your perspective on life. It did mine. And of course the food is great.

Goodbye to Birmingham’s Brutalist Library.

I’m a Brummie. My Birmingham roots go back to the agricultural labourers and immigrants who came to build Birmingham, and thus the Empire, back in Victorian times.

When I left school in the early 60’s I did my bit too on building the city, working as I did on many structures in and around the city first as a novice Quantity Surveyor then as a site engineer. My claim to fame, if it can be said as such, is I was the engineer who set out the first metric houses in Great Britain on area 13 of Chelmsley Wood. There’s an irony. Those were the very woods I played in as a child. Ripped down for houses.

I left there many years ago. Nevertheless when I return, as I do on occasion, it still feels like home. The accent, and indeed the dialect, which grates on many people is the accent of my youth, my mother and father and all that went before them. It’s as familiar and beloved to me as it’s possible to be.

The city has undergone massive change. Some of it not for the good. And now it’s changing again with the alterations and improvements to New St Station, the relatively recent alterations to the Bull Ring  ( I remember the old Market Hall being there), the developments along Broad St., to name but a few and now the demolition of the Central Reference Library. I saw a good deal of the city razed to the ground during the 60’s. Such is the pace of change, and even re-change here that  one building I worked on during the great freeze of 1963, a depot for public works department, has since been ripped down itself as part of the development for the new science museum etc. One more irony ; whilst doing some family history research  I  discovered  my great grtandfather lived in one of the roads cleared for the new construction I worked on in Curzon St. Small world.

I shall miss the library, this piece of brutalist architecture which I have always referred to as the upside down ziggurat. I loved it. And I was often in there. My ex father in law, long since dead, was a Belgian, ex Foreign Legion soldier who became a security guard there. Some of his stories…

And now it’s going so this is my “Good Bye” to this old friend. Sometimes hated. Sometimes loved but always striking.



There’s no choice. They’re all the same.

The General Election’s coming. 7th May 2015.

Talking of your ability to choose I can hear you say “There’s no choice as they’re all the bloody same!”

Well in some ways yes. It’s a given. Politicians in general are shits. Local and national the story is the same. I think it was Connelly who said something along the lines of:-

“never trust anybody who puts themselves up for election. The very act of doing so should rule them out”.

If Connelly didn’t  say it then he should have.

So where do we place our mark in the coming elections as every party has screwed up or will screw up?  Every party will do something we don’t like. It just stands to reason.

Perhaps we have to look at the underlying ethos. Just who is it the party is working for? Not who they “say” they are working for but who is it that really benefits when they are in power?

When we identify the direction, the thrust, of their policies and establish  who it is that benefits from those polices we can make a balanced decision. Balanced in that; yes they may have a public school multi millionaire as a leader, yes that leader my be a muppet, yes that leader may look like a Wallace and Grommit puppet, yes some policies may seem extreme and not in line with what you, the individual, desire – but balanced, in that despite these out of kilter elements the general thrust of the party of your choice is they are going somewhere you want to go?

I consider myself to be the man on the Clapham Omnibus, Mr Average in my thinking. So where would I put my cross on the ballot sheet.

First, like many people, I’m sick of them all.

I’m sick of the rabid left.

I’m sick of any tiny minority inflicting it’s views on the overwhelming majority and I don’t want chickens to get the vote or something equally bizarre.

I’m sick of self seeking Tories and their W***er Banker chums. 

I’m sick of being one of the little people who buys these buggers out of the terrible mess they jointly landed us in. 

I’m sick of the privilege enjoyed by some politicians whilst inflicting painful cuts to deserving people, the old and infirm in particular. I’ve seen for myself that privilege operating whilst working with and watching the shenanigans of some local Cllrs at County level. And it’s time it stopped. b.t.w. it wasn’t just the Tory Cllrs. Other Cllrs of other political persuasions had similar attitudes.

I’m sick of the spin and generation of propaganda  by, and on behalf of, those in power. Take the Blair government at national level as example. And lets not forget our Current Prime Minister was employed as a spin doctor himself. The electorate are bamboozled into whatever direction the spinners wish us to move. In Blairs case into a war which benefitted only the warmongers. And he hasn’t done so badly out of it either.

The influence these spinners and propagandists have at national and local level  works entirely contrary to the benefit of the electorate.

These PR or Comms departments are there solely (despite what they may argue ) to protect those  who employ them. The politicians, usually the leader. These eminence grise, these familiars and greymalkins are employed by their masters, at our expense, to ensure we do not discover the reality. In effect WE pay them to keep us in the dark. And during all these savage cuts which departments are unaffected? Those which control what we are told. The PR and Comms departments.

So it’s all a sordid and bloody mess. But vote we must. We have to plump for some party or another or else, as Plato warns :-

“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

But have a care. Sometimes you vote in those evil men.

I have disagreed with just about every party manifesto and election babble I have ever seen or heard but this time I’m vote according to the thrust, the direction of travel, the underlying ethos of the founding fathers of the parties. But, more importantly, I’m voting in accordance with a peculiar and entirely personal method of appraisal.  If I were to go into segregated rooms full of members from  a single  party which room would I think of as being predominantly consisting of ‘up themselves’ w***ers? And it’s them I  wouldn’t vote for. I know it’s a coarse method of assessment but It’ll work for me.

You may like to read this…   I know it’s flawed and maybe even biased but it does make you think. Does it indicate an underlying ethos for each group? And do the cock ups along the way negate what’s been done? I don’t know but I intend to be better informed for this election than ones in the past. And this helps.

Temple of Relief

A ‘temple of relief’ pictured in Birmingham the 70’s. And a similar, though a more  grand affair, under the railway arches near to the Bull Ring. I think this has been bricked up now


I must put this down…

"M's" mother - Annie's  -Grave. Buried with her husband and some of his family.

“M’s” mother – Annie’s -Grave. Buried with her husband and some of his family.

I’ve been immersed of late in another search into the past. Sue’s aunt by marriage, “aunt M”, now 83, was adopted as a baby. All we knew was her mothers name and the fact that she had returned from Canada when aunt M was just 3 months old.

The ultimate, long stretch objective was to discover who aunt M’s father was. People in the family, particularly aunt M’s grandson, wanted to know where they came from.We started the search with just a name, Annie Martin, and a simple fact: ‘aunt M and her mother came back from Canada in 1930′ From that simple beginning we discovered a tale uncovering:-

  • a family of miners and domestics from North Wales some of whom moved to Durham,
  • relatives going back to the mid 1700’s,
  • a millionaire umbrella manufacturer from Manchester,
  • a 70+ man taking advantaged of his domestic servant and fathering 3 children with her, one of whom was aunt M’s mother,
  • disappearing money  and property equivalent to over a Million pounds today,
  • a peep behind the curtains of life in a Victorian seaside town,
  • family emigration to Canada,
  • the effects the great depression of the 30’s made on the family,
  • a widow who did well for herself and her family in Toronto, Canada,
  • the internal migration of a Cornish family to booming Manchester of the 1800’s,
  • love and loss in Lancashire,
  • aunt M’s mother marrying and having 2 children – aunt M’s half sisters,
  • lifelong spinster and bachelor-hood in Lancashire,
  • a brace or more of illegitimate children,
  • adoption out of the family and inwards too,
  • and finally, at the end of the line, bureaucratic difficulties surrounding aunt M’s mother’s grave .

We finally found aunt M’s mother, deceased of course but we also found aunt M had 2 half sisters both sadly dead. The last one, “J” , only passed away in November 2013. At the time she was looking into her family history too. It’s a tragedy we didn’t start this earlier.

Aunt M also had 2 uncles she knew nothing about. We revealed their lives in Canada and discovered one returning back in the UK and making a life in the Greater London area.

But best of all we discovered the best friend and end of life carer of aunt M’s half sister J. We travelled to the coast in Lancashire to meet her . We returned with a suitcase full of letters and pictures including some of aunt M’s mother. We also found aunt M’s mother’s grave.

Sadly we never found any sign of aunt M’s father; not even gossip. Perhaps we never will but the secret is out there in Canada somewhere. Maybe he will come to light.

We have a couple of research “hooks” dragging in the Canadian ancestry waters  hoping for a bite and we have a lead on a possible ‘living’ relative of one of aunt M’s newly discovered  uncles. So the search is not totally closed. It’s now more wait and see.

Update 9th Feb 2014.
We have now discovered a living cousin of aunt M. He lives alone in London. He has shone a light into the past showing stories of his dad, a jockey, riding horses and winning races in Canada, America and France. Stories of how a solicitor committed fraud against the family cheating them out of their inheritance and being jailed for it. And he has sent lots of pictures, some from Canada.

This research has been an adventure. One which has captivated, consumed even,  for over a month and one which must now be put down.