Stories on Whalls: what we call the beginning is often the end.

“What took you so long?”

A voice bounced around my head as I crossed the threshold of Thurning Village Hall in deepest Northamptonshire to look at the newspaper cuttings and memorabilia collected by the church warden and his family over the years commemorating one of the village’s most famous son, Christopher Whall: one of Britain’s leading stained glass artists from the turn of the last century.  His voice was on the irascible side; as if he’d been waiting in situ for the last century and was mightily impatient for someone from the family to turn up and genuflect at the altar of his birthplace.

What took me so long‘ I replied was that it had taken quite a while for my mum to tell me that the reason her first name was Veronica was because she was the God-child of Veronica Whall who happened to ‘do a bit of stained glass’.  Understatement doesn’t begin to describe that description.

Consequently,  it’s taken me some time to realise the extent to which both Veronica’s work – and her dad’s (that would be you Chris,  if you don’t mind me calling you that?) has had such an impact on stained glass across the world.

It then took me some time to find Thurning on the map, and even longer to realise that together with its nearest neighbour, Little Giddings, here was a geographical hotspot which would account for some of the world’s leading artistic creation.  T.S. Eliot for example composed the final part of the Four Quartets after he visited the area:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.

…seems an apt homage to how this mini-pilgrimage is developing.  Start at the end and work backwards to the beginning via the middle, Chris: that’s what I’ve been doing and what would account for how long it’s taken me.

It is funny how long it takes us to realise what’s on our genealogical door step so to speak.  TV programmes tap into that desire to find out who we think we are, who we really, really are and aren’t: and the questions of how on earth we got to be where we are, are never far away from those deliberations and which even Wikipedia is incapable of answering.

Some years ago, Talking Heads had a hit with their song, Once in a Lifetime: the opening  lines including ‘And you may ask yourself / Well, how did I get here?’  and the punch line eventually, over time , reveals itself as ‘And you may say to yourself, / My God What have I done?’

Chris, I’ll never know whether you and Veronica asked yourselves those questions, but rest assured your beings and doings,  comings and goings still live on, in the most surprising of places.  They just take some time to find.  As T.S. might have (and did) write:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

What kind of cheese is your organisation?

Organisations look pretty imposing from the outside: pictures of corporate serenity, coherent matching wall paper and carpet, an organism at one with itself and its surroundings. A well sorted business entity.

However, you’ll soon realise after working with organisations for a while, that this appearance of solidity and uniformity, is in actual fact a mirage and that all your average organisation actually is, is a large piece of cheese: smooth and daunting on the outside, but full of holes in the inside.

An organisations’ holes become apparent when messages get lost, staff don’t return calls, emails get unanswered and letters get returned to sender. Things fall down the cracks in the middle of departments, never to be seen again.

Apparently,, the cheese industry calls holes in cheese “eyes”. This is particularly ironic for those organisations whose infrastructure is so shot to pieces, they resemble slabs of Emmenthaler or Appenzell – the cheeses with the largest holes in them. If one thing a holey organisation doesn’t have, is eyes: or ears too for that matter.

And most times its digestive system doesn’t function properly either, from one end of the organisation to the other. the organisation which resembles a chunky piece of Emmenthaler tends to leak from both ends, often simultaneously.  You just have to look at the recent track record of the British Government to see a piece of Swiss Cheese in action and see integrity, intelligence, truth and vision draining away by the day.

Scientists say that the reason Swiss cheese is so holey is not due to hungry mice or over exuberant bacteria but due to the buckets being used when the milk is collected from the Swiss cow being contaminated with hay. Scientists are yet to establish why the UK government is leaking so profusely from all pores and both ends, but chances are it has very little to do with mice, bugs or hay.

Poetry on the Hoof: The (rail) road to Barra

ALL TOGETHER NOW LADS!

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you want from a
Wind farm blade.

We’re all going on a beer hunt lads!
From hanging town, brief encounters,
To Holke hang out, submariner sheds,
We’re getting our names up in those causeway lights!

HEYSHAM HIGH HOPES

Spot the jogging bishop with a mitre on a Sunday!
We’re talking rhubarb triangle with legs to spare,
A mammoth onion off the old green road.

They’ll split the atom here Bob in the years to come,
There’ll be lock downs, sirens,
Ever Ready for us, the pervasive threat.

Heysham 1, Heysham 2
It’ll be a football score Bob
In the years to come, when we get home.

One goes down, the other goes up
Two little boys Bob, that’s what they’re like,
Seismically protected to Gas Mark 7.

But there’s no more time for:
Haff netting salmon
in the skinny dipping Lune;

No more time for:
Sticking toffee pud
Up the old girls duff.

Cos we’re heading out to Barra,
Prepping for the Somme,
And all her sail in her.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you need from a
Wind farm blade.

ARNSIDE’S HUNTER GATHERERS

It’s a long way to Tipperary,
A very long way indeed Bob,
You’ll be needing your khaki trousers ,
and a hat to shield you from the blaze.

Hats with fascinators fascinating,
Travel hunters hunting and
Heath and safety instructing:
Don’t forget your shorts.

Don’t forget your sun cream.
Don’t forget to write son,
We’ve got your Grand-dad round at Christmas
He’ll want to see you standing

Arnsider,
Tamesider,
Wearsider,
Humbersider;

Bloody Merseysiders, Scouse not English?
(Always kicking off in their socks and shades,
A disgrace to king and country,
Just who are they trying to kid Brian?)

Scouse lads! Manx lads!
We’re all in this together lads
Cockney lads! Toon lads!
Even Maccam lads can walk on the Kents Bank waters!

Climbing over ledges,
Diving down in gorges,
Geo-physical, geo-logical,
Geo-temporal, neo-natal.

Head line shock,
Culture block.
Road up ahead,
Detour to the Humphrey Head.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you earn from a
Wind farm blade.

FURNESS FEARS

Grange over the sands,
Wind over the waters,
Steam over the causeway,
Fog on the time and we lose our way;
Lights up ahead and we shield our eyes
From the light on the horizon.

Don’t be daft Bob,
It’s just the moon on the river,
No need to stress, no need to sweat,
It’s just another brick in a wall.
No dark lions in the wardrobe,
No more air girls on the dole.

Ulverston oh Ulverston,
I still see your home fires burning,
I still see your water wheels turning,
I still hear your sea winds blowin’,
I still see the dark coal glowin’,
I was 21 when I left Ulverston.

Last wolf in England,
First turn on the left,
Water catches fire,
The air stops breathing,
But we dig deep down for leading lights
Tractors turning, gas flame burning, submarine yearning.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you covet ‘bout a
Wind farm blade.

BARROW IN FURNACE

Cor strike a light!
Blow me down!
If ever I cross this side of town
I’m dead, I’m gone,
A shadow of my former self.

The nuclear dump,
The ever present hump,
Of the guy in the trench,
Standing doubled over the stench
Of the lads in the earth
And the girls in the air,
Waving, waving farewell, adieu, auf wiedersehen,
To their boys on a train sliding into town.

Pink Shap granite, Pink Shap granite
Archaeological dig in bullet rich sand;
Turbine, turbine,
Slicing up the seas in a frenzied fit of
Fission, fusion,
Grasping the cushion of a nuclear safety net of
Caste iron furnace, caste iron furnace,
Grenades to launch ten thousand ships to pieces.

It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we’ll be shipbuilding,
Well I ask you
The boy said “Dad they’re going to take me to task, but I’ll be back by Christmas”
We’re all in this together Bob,
It was like this way back when Bob,
Digging our trenches into the heat of the night.

Guiding lights in Barrow lands.
Trig towers point to trig points in the ground.
Landing lights in the estuary guide boats by.
Staging posts act as half way stops mid river.
Help us navigate this wilderness.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade
Everything you ever loved ‘bout a
Wind farm blade.

Help me fight young people’s homelessness with the CEO Sleepout

Following on from my last ‘CEO Sleepout’ at Notts County FC 2 years ago, I’m repeating the experience on 11 October this year to raise funds for not only Emmanuel House and The Friary, but also now for The Mighty Creatives (TMC) too.

I’m doing it through JustGiving:  you can visit my page here.  

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

The Sleepout involves spending a night out on the football pitch of the club, armed with not much more than a sleeping bag, a pillow and a piece of cardboard.  Whilst it doesn’t come close to emulating what homeless people go through, the group I was in 2 years ago raised over £50,000 which went to Emmanuel House and The Friary and so had a direct impact on the services they could provide their service users.

Homelessness has also been an issue that I’ve been particularly exercised by in the last year or so too: this article in the Nottingham Post was a particular eye opening experience for me.

This year, CEO Sleepout – the organisation who run the sleepouts – have agreed to allocate 32% of my fundraising directly to TMC.   If you can help the cause, anything you can give would be hugely welcome. And if this isn’t possible for you now, please feel free to spread the word to your family, friends and colleagues too.

Thanks in advance for your help!

 

Confessions of an Ageing Football Player: I will be that Bolshevik!

You’re not going to believe this, but it’s true (enough). Me and the lads were out on the park tonight cheering and jeering each other as usual on a Monday night when what do you know but a postman rides up to us on his pre Second World War rickety rackety bike, rummages around in his sack and extracts what looks like a flea-bitten telegram. He looks around us all and our collection of muddy knees, torn shirts and scuffed boots and eventually his quizzical gaze focuses on me.

“It’s for you?” He’s adopted that annoying upturn of vocal intonation so beloved of soap stars from the Antipodes and I nod and reach out for his missive. I rapidly tear it open, wanting to get on with our park kick about but on reading its contents, slump to the ground in disbelief.

You OK.” states the postie, and I nod, partially dazed, semi confused and totally irritated by his inability to know the difference between asking question and making observations. More significantly,  it transpires that our national football team has, on its build up to this year’s World Cup, had to remove several of its lower ranked footballers from its squad due to some mysterious case of food poisoning they have mysteriously picked up from some mysterious source.

The management have been forced right at the last-minute to survey the stats of some our nation’s more modest talent from the league tables that yours truly fills in diligently every week in my capacity as team secretary and have concluded that the best player in our league – as defined by goals, assists, back passes and good intentions – is yours truly. I have consequently been called up to join the national squad to play for our beloved country in what is, let’s face it, the pinnacle of all sporting achievement. Ever.

There’s little time to hang around. My flight tickets are waiting for me at the airport; my bags have been packed by the team’s coach who has had to spend yet more time in the poisoned atmosphere that is the modern jet liner fuselage to collect me and my old socks and my diet from now on will be severely restricted to no less than 15,000 calories a day. It’s going to be difficult to be jettisoned into the stellar attention of international football stardom but I’m as ready for it as I always have been.

I have waited all my life for this moment: it won’t hurt my team to wait that little bit longer for me to arrive and collect what is rightfully mine: the lifting of the Jules Verne trophy on Saturday 15 July in Moscow.

Poetry on the Hoof: Hashtag Poems

In an age of shortening fuses, tempers, and attention spans not many of us have enough time or inclination to read much beyond the first few syllables of a poem, novel or academic treatise. See, I’ve lost you already.

The hashtag poem series acknowledges this poor state of affairs and instead of plying you with complicated verse structures or deep and meaningless syntax, offers you words or phrases which conjure up possibilities and useful generalities. The hashtag allows the reader to get the gist of something without having to work too hard to really get it. It also benefits the writer by allowing them not to have to work too hard at communicating something in a uniquely idiosyncratic way – so everyone’s a #winner.

Here’s a poem I stumbled into earlier. It’s about… well, it’s about whatever you want it to be about. That’s the beauty of the #poem. It’s called: #Backtowork

#Summer-haze
#Holiday-daze
#Where’sthepoolgone?
#Backontrack
#Yawn.

Confessions of an Ageing Football Player: Into the Heart of Darkness.

When I was ten I scored my first goal ever in a school football match. I was standing somewhere on the pitch facing in the right kind of direction peering into the mist which hovered over the mud and slowly, out of the king fisher blue of the sky looped this large leather ball towards me. I could see the panel stitching as if I was looking at it through a microscope – not the usual telescope I needed when it came to trying to navigate my way around the football pitch of life.

I stepped slowly towards it, stuck out my foot slowly and saw the ball ricochet off it slowly and sail back even more slowly from whence it came and through the space defined by the silhouetted goal posts and into the flaming autumnal sunset. I had scored a goal I found out later by a ‘half volley’.

All hell broke loose. I screamed, turned and ran down the opposite end of the pitch, my arms flailing in every direction. My team mates chased after me, screaming. The opposition looked on aghast at the unlikely spectacle of the boy who normally spent most of his football life engraving his name in the muddy pitch with his outsize boots celebrating scoring a goal. The whistle from the referee’s lips dropped into the mud. Even the sound of Amazonian drums could be heard in the distance, battling through the inertia of suburbia.

This was unbelievable, incredible, completely implausible as far as they were all concerned and the opposition’s captain, Johnson, showed then how to react the next time I got close to kicking the ball: ‘Get him, he’s dangerous!’ he yelled and to a boy they swooped down, ruthlessly depriving me of my next moment of glory by decking me, stealing the ball and running down the other end of the pitch in a frenzied horde to hammer the point home that they were the far superior side by scoring ten easy goals in the final five minutes of the game. We lost 15-1 that afternoon, and I knew how those guys felt last night when they were trounced by their opposition.

But that moment taught me all I needed to know about my future footballing destiny. I would be a permanent surprise to the opposition; they would constantly underestimate me; I would strike at the least likely moment in a manner which would leave everyone rooted to the ground, mouths fixed open in scarecrow gasps. I would be the guerilla in their midst.

Confessions of an Ageing Footballer: Russia 2,018: My Team 2,019

73 – nil! Those were the days: moments of glory on the school playing field on a foggy Wednesday afternoon when the final whistle went and your school mates would gather around you, beaming their small faces at you from every conceivable direction as they congratulated you fulsomely on the 23 hat tricks you have just completed in your team’s undeniable slaughter of the opposition.

The juniors from Mrs. Myrtle’s class were never going to stand up to the superior fire power of Mr. Thompsons 4th years and your part in their downfall was heralded as the natural climax of a long and muddy school football season.

In those days, England had won the World Cup for the first (and only?) time and the nation rejoiced rejoiced rejoiced. We became our football heroes overnight and in the course of that fateful autumn season when I moved primary schools seven times, I was able to become Roger Hunt, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, George Cohen, George Best and Jimmy Greaves in six short months -playing footie with mates in a school classroom, at the park, in the garage, in a potato field, down an anonymous dirt track, in the kitchen and even once on a proper football field.

We all became our own heroes overnight and never looked back, plotting our own way to football fame and fortune ever since. We have of course all gone our different ways: Roger disappeared into medical supplies, George Best into pub management and Jeff Hurst into the funerals business: but me, I stayed lean and mean, waiting for the next major football opportunity. World Cups have come and gone but I feel it in my bones: Russia 2018 may just be the one where I make my mark and relive the joy of 23 hat tricks against the juniors.

Neymar, Messi, Oxlade Chamberlain: you have all been warned. This year is my year.