Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Writing from my sickbed

15st 12lb, 4.0 units. I have been in bed all day. I should be in London, having an agreeable supper with an old friend. But bed won the toss (no pun whatsoever intended). I have a bit of a cold, and a depressed sense of uselessness so complete that, when I made it into my office yesterday, I found myself staring at sheets of paper and the computer screen, completely unable to make sense of them or work out what, if anything, I wanted to say.

This morning I e-mailed the 100-odd people to whom I send a copy of my weekly newspaper column, informing them that I would no longer be doing so. Partly because I was depressed, but mainly because I am conscious that it must be an awful bore for the 80 or so recipients from whom I never, ever hear to have it pinging into their inboxes each Tuesday. Though probably not, on the whole, because they will presumably have set their spam filters to weed it out long ago. Which in turn means that I will never be able to catch their attention again, in the admittedly unlikely event that I have something interesting or important to say to them.

Life, as someone once observed, is a bitch.

Imagine my delight when, lying in my sickbed earlier this evening, I received an unexpected bill for £30 by e-mail from some photographic agency I had never heard of, for the unauthorised use of one of their images in my other blog. It was a nondescript and apparently amateur shot of a closed off licence, used to illustrate a point about the effects of supermarket competition, which I had thoughtlessly copied as the result of a Google search. Naturally I have now removed it. I have also wasted two hours of my life going through both my blogs and deleting any other images that look as though someone might claim them as their copyright. What a bore. Though what an even bigger bore to be the sad twat at the photographic agency whose job it presumably is to trawl through the ravings of all the sad obsessives on Blogger to see whether they have inadvertently copied an image they are not entitled to use.

I suppose I shall just have to use my own photographs in future. If I have to start paying £30 a go for illustrating them, the writing of newspaper columns, already hugely unprofitable, will quickly become a loss-maker. (I was going to put “loss-leader”, but after eight years of non-recognition by the wider world, where could it possibly lead?)

So here are a couple of photos I took on a walk with the family on Sunday afternoon, just to brighten things up.

I was going to caption the first with “Swishy, swashy” as it reminded Mrs H and me of the long grass in the classic children’s story Bear Hunt, but I suppose that is copyright and frankly I can’t afford to take the risk.

One bit of cheering news for those who sympathized with my column this morning on the subject of Coronation Street of Dreams. According to tomorrow’s Newcastle Journal the producers have decided to postpone the rest of its planned tour, even though they claimed it received “standing ovations” during its two performances in Manchester. In fairness, I suppose it is all too easy to confuse a standing ovation with people walking out.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The law of unintended consequences

I woke early this morning and raised the blind in the bedroom skylight to find myself looking straight at a Scottish saltire in the sky: quite enough to chill any Northumbrian’s blood.

Naturally the effect had faded a bit by the time that I had waddled to the other end of the house to find my camera, but you should still get the gist.

My fears of some supernatural portent were allayed when I spotted some twat in a fast jet happily at play creating similarly ephemeral artworks. No doubt some Jock in the RAF happily wasting my and other taxpayers’ money, but at least it made a decorative change from the usual waste of our money on Barnett Formula subsidies of Scottish roads, railways, welfare, education and health (both in the absence of prescription charges and paying for the consequences of a diet largely comprising deep-fried protein, potatoes and confectionery, washed down with Irn Bru). Not to mention building aircraft carriers that will almost certainly never carry a plane.

I must ask my friendly local MP whether this morning’s sort of thing is financed through the defence budget or the Arts Council.

Meanwhile, I am wondering whether the last two entries in this blog might have caused you a slight sense of déjà vu? If so, you are almost certainly one of my alleged “Friends” on Facebook. Or, rather, you WERE, as I have decided that Mr Zuckerberg can ram his new “Timeline” up his arse (that’s “ass” to you, Mr Zuckerberg) and have deactivated my account. It’s not what I signed up for, I don’t like it and I’m not having it.

What it is it with these geeks that they have to be endlessly “improving” things that their customers were perfectly happy with? Google has recently “improved” Blogger, with the result that posting blog entries is now around twice as hard as it used to be. But at least they haven’t yet arbitrarily changed the appearance and order of my blogs – though no doubt that will come. And, when it does, I fear that it will be “sayonara” from Bloke in the North, too.

Not that anyone is likely to notice, given the recent statistics on this blog’s reader numbers.

I had got into the habit of posting pictures on Facebook, partly because it is technically easier and quicker than posting them here, but mainly because I could control who looked at them, restricting the audience to my 70 or so alleged “Friends” rather than to the seven billion potential readers around the planet.

But I now realise that this is not really a risk at all, since no one reads my blogs anyway, so I have reposted my last couple of Facebook picture stories here, with some added verbiage.

I had been foolishly gratified by an apparent surge in readers of my other blog in recent months, until I drilled down the Sitemeter data to find how they had been referred to it. Around 80 per cent of them had come to it by searching Google Images for pictures, and around 90 per cent of those were looking for the picture of a lingerie model I used to make a point in one of my business columns.

So they are about as interested in my words as I pretended to be in the fascinating articles about cars in Men Only when I was a teenager.

I further noticed that a large majority of those seeking the picture of the lingerie model were doing so from countries in the Middle East. So it has come to this: I am running a blog in the no doubt vain hope of building an audience for my journalism outside the North East of England, and have instead created the nearest thing that Saudi Arabia will permit to Pornhub.

It is a prime example of the law of unintended consequences in operation. Plus a colossal waste of time that makes drawing vapour trail saltires in the sky seem positively Stakhanovite.

Having said that, here she is again, boys.

Because I may as well give a boost to Bloke in the North’s audience, too.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Bank Holiday in England

As if it wasn’t bad enough being in England on a Bank Holiday, when the weather is inevitably crap, we made the critical mistake of asking The Boy how he would like to spend the afternoon.

“Go to the park and feed the ducks,” he said, regardless of the fact that we don’t live anywhere near a park full stop, never mind a park containing a duck pond.

The irony is that we did, once upon a time, live quite near a duck pond. And we haven’t moved, either. And yet our circumstances have changed completely.

When The Boy was a babe in arms a couple of years ago, one of the incidental pleasures of life was putting him in his buggy and pushing him along the serviceable concrete track to the local gamekeeper’s centre of operations, which comprised some pheasant breeding pens and a fenced pond positively teeming with mallards. The purpose of which became all too clear when we wandered along one day to find the numbers of birds quacking in the water substantially diminished, and pairs of shot corpses hung along the fence.

But at least they had a life of sorts before they were blasted from the sky, rather than being raised in some hideous indoor intensive duck rearing operation. For years I customarily ordered duck in restaurants, under the delusion that they enjoyed a year or two on a nice pond being fattened up with stale bread by caring handlers before they met their fate. They went off my personal menu when someone put me right about that.

Other attractions at the terminus of our walk often included a Larsen trap with a crow bait that we always had to pass off to The Boy as the gamekeeper’s pet. Plus an implausibly large cockerel that was housed, for no obvious reason, in one of the pheasant pens, allowing me to crack ancient jokes about “Lord D********’s huge cock” that mercifully went straight over The Boy’s head.

Before Lord D moved in and the cock-killing Big Freeze: on our way to the duck pond, November 2010

Then Lord D******** moved in next door to us and the gates to the track leading to the duck pond were chained shut. Which was fair enough, I suppose, given that it was never a public right of way in the first place. Though the other evening I did find them standing ajar and took The Dog for a nostalgic stroll. The huge cock was long gone – it succumbed, I think, to the exceptionally harsh winter of 2010/11. What was more surprising was to find not a single duck. I could not work out whether this was because Lord D******** does not like duck shooting very much, or is inordinately fond of it. But at least it ruled out trying to palm The Boy off with a bit of local trespassing in response to his Bank Holiday request.

So we drove getting on for 15 miles to a village duck pond containing really remarkably few ducks (perhaps Lord D******** had recently paid it a visit?), and those few clearly so stuffed with bread that they could scarcely be bothered to paddle their engorged bodies in our direction. In fact, only one bird really showed any interest in us, and that sadly failed to meet The Boy’s feeding criteria.

“Don’t give any more bread to that duck, Mummy. It’s too TOO BIG,” he kept saying, despite my best efforts to teach him the essential facts that (a) it was a swan, and (b) it was therefore likely to break his arm as soon as look at him.

We finally managed to dump our bread on a little clutch of ungrateful ducks, which looked at it with a singular lack of interest until it sank.

Then The Boy and Mrs H had a little go on the adjoining playground while I stood outside with The Dog in case he disgraced himself by crapping on the play equipment.

All in all, a pretty typical English Bank Holiday, then. Thank the Lord we don’t have more of them.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The wacky world of Elfin Safety

16st 3lb, 4.6 units. Puffing up Dean Street after a most agreeable lunch with a friend at the excellent Broad Chare pub, I was finally moved to take a snap of what has long struck me as one of the more fantastic flights of Elfin Safety lunacy: the apparently obligatory “What to do if you see a vehicle strike this bridge” notice screwed to the side of the bridge that carries the East Coast Main Line over the valley of the former Lort Burn.

For those unfamiliar with Newcastle upon Tyne, I append the following picture of the Dean Street Railway Arch, originally constructed in 1849 and, I find to my disappointment, only listed as Grade II by English Heritage, the same category as my own humble house. (I have been misinforming visitors for years that the Arch is listed Grade I, but now find that this honour is reserved for Robert Stephenson’s adjoining High Level Bridge, of the same vintage.)

As you can judge from the single decker bus helpfully included in the photograph for scale purposes, it will require a vehicle of some spectacular scale to strike the bridge before it will imperil any passengers on the railway line above. A starship, perhaps.

But, hey, in the wacky world of Elfin Safety you can never be too careful, can you?