Fire, Steam and Dynamite

eThe highs and lows, things that went well and loads that didn't

2007, Atlantic Books, 318p, £19.99

Enjoyable and informative, even for the committed rail enthusiast. It's easy to get lost in all the old railway companies - nearly 200 - and it's hard to see how else to do it. The going is less tough after 1922; the formation of the big four and British Rail. Then privatisation brings back a little chaos.

Some nice themes. The rivalry between and within companies. The dividend payments at the expense of customer service, safety and employee welfare. The uneasy, often hostile relations with government. The rise in power of the workforce, unions and the birth of the Labour Party. The role of rail and women during the two world wars.

So lots to go at.

My take on it is the waste. There doesn't appear to have been any planning and okay, there were economic downturns. But successive rail managers and governments missed opportunities. I was an avid trainspotter in the 1950s and revelled in those Pacific Locos at Crewe and York, but really - electrification and the diesel multiple units were always more economic and environmentally friendly. (Hm - diesel may not be as wonderful as it once was). And this extravagance occurred at the time of the expanding road network.

It reminds me of how large expensive organisations and all the personal agendas within them can be subject to relentless political and government meddling. It's a tribute to them that they work at all.


Ground coffee is a great alternative to grinding your own. Small amounts, quick turnover and chance to sample lots
We haven't been down to Slaithwaite for a while to get some Darkwood's beans, but there are perfectly decent alternative ground coffees. They come in small amounts and it's easy to try a few without breaking the bank. We find the best results err on the strong side and keep close to the gold standard - 60g per litre.

The Guatemala Fair Trade at the Coop was decent. There is a lovely little stall in Scarborough's refurbished market which is worth a visit in its own right. I didn't make a note of the coffee but we are going again soon. En Route in Holmfirth is on my list to visit when the snow goes. A cafe that encourages sampling.

Our latest was Hot Java Lava. Taylor's extra dark roast. You've got to try it, even if you return to a No 4. They style it as 'explosive' and 'dynamite'.


Latest of our sheep images
 Our sheep are surviving the snow. The last we saw of them on the blog, they were sheltering from the sun, in the shadow of the three trees.

Is Lent just the best time for the older person?

T-shirt for Christmas from the childbride

   Most of the my previous posts about doing well as an older person have concentrated on exercise. There's more in the press this week too, but we've done it. Broadly speaking it's a good thing as long as it's regular.

Is it now time to explore the mental as well as the physical? I must add quickly that I am no expert though I've worked with intellectual decline in older people which sadly is no way to go. Articles in the press, quoting scientific studies, suggest that when the decline follows soon after retirement good things to do are keep connected with others and commit to an interest, ideally not the same as work. I suspect these suggestions may be useful because they help our emotional lives. In my day,
depression used to be mixed up a lot with dementia.
  I'll keep an eye out for similar articles. Anything we can personally do can't be bad, but soduku and crosswords, whilst great, are not the whole answer.

Tom had a spiritual moment recently and was happy to share it
I know I'm not alone for wondering a lot, and wandering occasionally. Tom, a pal from choir, shared a wonder of his with me recently. Tenor Peter Kennedy was taken from us before his time and the choir were privileged to sing for him before he died and then at his funeral. Whilst singing Tom experienced the choir as something much more than performance, harmony and fellowship. He called it spiritual. He is a lapsed catholic and not prone to 'fanciness'. So a non-religious sense of wonder then. In the same vein, he recognised the church role in community. I agree, but was it more relevant in history? Tom is also an author of two World War books (a third soon we hope) and has applied to be a PhD student at our local university.

By accident Tom's personal experience resonated with Monsignor Roderick Strange - incidentally, a great name for a priest - writing about Lent in The Times. Whilst recognising penitence, he also asks us to explore prayer and service. Prayer as the appreciation of nature, music and art and service as generosity and thoughtfulness. Rod concludes that Lent gears us up for Easter, and so is a time to prepare for rebirth. Can we increase awareness of our own shortcomings and reach out to others?

What has all this to do with the life of a healthy older person? Guy Kelly, writing in The Telegraph, suggests Eric Idle's recipe - 'always look on the bright side of it'. He cites a Northwestern University of Chicago research paper which describes a sample of mentally well over-70s. It found that the common denominator was their personality profile - optimism, resilience, perseverance and an active lifestyle. The words tend to be abstract. Not enough doing words, like enjoying a drink. Guy uses practical examples of British still-working super-agers - writers, designers and artists. Continuing with something they've done all their lives. And super-agers are just that - busy, talented and highly motivated. Two great ones - Sir David Attenborough, in his 90s, and Don Manley, compiler of the Friday Telegraph crossword. In his 70s, he keeps young making them up rather than solving them. He also 'rambles, sings in a choir, reads to the blind, participates in school events and writes'. At least we can see what they are all doing.

What about the bricklayers and the piano-shifters and the rest of us? If we don't carry on working? We know about the exercise, but what else? There is a saying somewhere in the literature on change; what is going to stop, start or continue? It's a sort of guide to doing. But please don't use flip charts - they bring me out in a rash. For me it begins with personal stories, regularly retold in a book entitled What Went Well and a larger book on Areas for Improvement. Then a loose wish list followed by a reality check. I'd love to duet with Clapton in Over the Rainbow and Autumn Leaves on the Manchester Arena big stage. Well, me and Clive made do as guests wearing bowlers with Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in the bar at The Red Lea Hotel, Scarborough, to a rapturous audience of New Mill Choir members. For one night only.
  It's time I stopped being grumpy. Here's the reality checklist. I learned on my father's knee and during those horrid teenage years I think, that happy smiling people who never have a harsh word for anyone have missed the point. I have a lot of genes for grumpy. Whilst Mum was a good person, like the childbride, Dad was a grumpy atheist and I couldn't say in public what older brother is, but it's grumpy. And it's kind of expected, by my children and friends. I'm in character. But stand back for the childbride who will have none of it. She suggested smiling at someone every day. It was like a new year's resolution and I fell at the first hurdle. Thursday, I was stoney-faced with two ladies at pilates and Friday I had an argument with a rude driver at the petrol station.

We began with the spirit. Something of great value which does not cast a shadow. Stretching and feeling the fear, or not. Awe and joy and tears. 'In the zone'. We must all wonder in our own way.
  So I've not started anything, I've continued something and I'm slowing down on something else. I may be gradually getting the point that thoughtfulness, generosity and wonder are great ingredients for healthy ageing.

Like my exercise programme, it's work in progress. And it's not just for Lent.

Emily has joined us at last 5/3 oz

New Mill MVC's cycle team lunch at Huddersfield RUFC

New Mill's cycle team, plus three, enjoyed the pre-match lunch last Saturday

The choir cycle team were guests of Ibbo last Saturday at Huddersfield RUFC's pre-match lunch. Three non-cyclists were also invited, including me, which was nice. Thank you. I sat between Geoff and Tom. The conversation swung between "you what" and "eh" accompanied by leaning sideways in an attempt to engage a good ear.

Tom and I shared a dark truth. Reluctantly, after years of solidarity, neither of us support Labour. Both from working-class backgrounds - Tunstall, Stoke and Hillhouse. On election day 1970, in Liverpool, when I announced I was off to vote, my five indifferent flatmates followed and voted tory. Heath surprisingly beat Wilson. It would be too much to ask who I am voting for now, but after our confessional I feet relieved that I have finally 'come out'.

We sang Cwm Rhondda and most of the diners joined in the chorus. We agreed the choir 's informal 'afterglow' repertoire would benefit from five or six competent pieces sung as a choir, to complement excellent individual performances. We miss Ged. We were reminded that such a song-sheet exists, put together by Pete, who we also miss. Steve was pleased with a possible strap line for the sheet - 'Hand-picked and hand-pulled'. You read it here first.

The game was middling, between two middle-of-the-table teams with no trophies left in their seasons. Chester had a the better second half. Their kit man was an old friend from cricket and rugby days in Northallerton. Sadly I couldn't stop for the customary 'few beers'.

5.30 pm, the team decamped to New Mill Club to catch Town in the cup. I gave Derek and Andy a lift. We shared our concerns about Facebook. Much of it is banal. There is a lot of cringeworthy self-confessional rubbish - see above. Seriously, it opens up people to abuse. If you need to stay in touch, call or send a message. If you need to talk, find a real person and go for coffee. Both were complimentary about the blog. The difference is I'm writing for an audience about stuff I think they want to read.

The choir and its cycle team have more years behind than in front. Many of the lunchers were similar. Inspiring ageing is about keeping mentally and physically fit, like sharing interests and problems with guys who don't take you seriously. Growing old is simply the 'elephant in the room'.

Sunshine and snow: a variation on the shipping forecast

A casual glimpse out the back and the sun in several moods. Thin and ablaze were my two

One minute thin winter sun. Next minute a meteor.


Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast by Charlie Connelly

A great idea for a holiday and a book. Visit all the areas we listen to on the shipping forecast. Those names like Rockall, Malin, Fastnet and Cromarty are part of the rhythm of the radio listener, especially devotees of Test Match Special. The weather was rough and the pubs plentiful. Oil platforms, Whitby, Norwegian drunks, Sealand, Portland quarries, fiddle music in Lerwick, a bike ride on The Isle of man and the smell of coffee in Bilbao.
  They are not places I would rush off to, but if you were there anyway? Whitby is in that category and I'll certainly take another look at the Captain Cook museum. I didn't know Finnistere had been renamed Fitzroy, but appropriate, given he was a major meteorological pioneer. Shipping is safer as a result of his work. This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson is a great book about Fitzroy's voyage on The Beagle.

Outdoor weight training for the older person

two sessions of weights per weeknot heavy, not easy either if done well

Just to show that I actually do as I say.
The dark glasses are not compulsory and I agree not the best fit with the rest of the outfit.
It was a beautiful sunny moment however.
The trees over the back were cut down recently. We now have a panoramic view from Holmfirth to Hinchliffe Mill. Great for presses and curls.

Opera For All - Verdi to Wagner - a Mrs Sunderland/Thom Meredith workshop in Huddersfield

Verdi to Wagner - a Thom Meredith workshop

Opera for All, a day workshop for choristers, with Musica Youth Orchestra and soloists, Sarah Ogden and David Heathcote. The workshop was lead by Thom Meredith and pianist Christopher Pulleyn.
  The choral programme was a tad verdiginous,
  1. The Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana - Mascagni
  2. The Victory March from Aida - Verdi
  3. Speed Your Journey from Nabucco - Verdi
  4. The Anvil Chorus from – Il Trovatore - Verdi
  5. Brindisi from La Traviata - Verdi
  Thom and Chris were brilliant. Thom reminded us about breathing properly - for singing that is. I got into good habits about a year ago, but it's lapsed. Easy but, for me, requires conscious thought. I'll try and restart. The soloists were great. David has taught us at New Mill when Elizabeth was MD and Sarah is a regular guest. I can't think how to describe the orchestra - young, handsome, talented and superb as an ensemble. Thom again getting the best out of everyone. From Verdi to Wagner.
  The three double bass players are in the corner, front left. From our seats they were foreshortened and seemed to overlap. I asked one of them in the interval whether they were playing each other's. He was taller than me. One of the horn players was short and juvenile. He is second in the back line on the right, hair only. He was also bigger than his instrument, just. The bassist said the diminutive hornist could play. The pianist was super smooth. Shiny black shoes, good looking, laid back. When not playing, he stretched out almost horizontal on one of the red chairs at the side, busy with mobile in hand. David Talboys, sat next to me, suggested he was on the phone to his agent.
  The workshop must have been successful, as judged by our concert performance, because Thom and my childbride said so. Speed Your Journey, The Anvil Chorus and The Easter Hymn have all been part of New Mill's repertoire at one time or another. Speed Your Journey was introduced back in the Len Williams' days and became one of our favourites. It must have been because we performed it well, particularly when Len's wife, Catherine, got hold of the baton. 
  We actually got an anvil down at the university for a rendition of The Anvil Chorus. We also sang it, without accompaniment, on the stone-tiered seating surrounding the stage at the Roman amphitheatre in Verona, which doubles as the opera house. Unaccompanied, apart from the stage-set builders who played their version of the anvil with bars of scaffolding.
  We sang The Easter Hymn at a Worrall MVC anniversary in Sheffield Cathedral. What a wonderful place to sing and we took the roof off. We are there again with Worrall on the 29th June.
  So Brindisi and The Victory March were new to me and I didn't feel comfortable. You have to be the best you can be and I fell short on these two. Fortunately most of the choir were good enough, though the childbride did say the Aida was the weakest piece. I will download the words for the next workshop, so I'm not buried in the copy.

A Thom Meredith workshop - from Verdi to Wagner

  The afterglow was at Grappolo's.
  So an excellent well-organised workshop even for non-lovers of opera. A good follow-up to The Armed Man and Do You Hear the People Sing, two previous workshops.
  One last note. At the start of the workshop, I sat next to an elderly, older than me, tenor who was on pitch but wobbled a touch. "Thom's great," I said. "Yes, he's our MD," came the reply. "Who do you sing with?" "New Mill," I said. He turned and gave me the biggest smile. "That's great. You're going very well. Selwyn's a good singer." How about that, two compliments from a Colne Valley member.

Book review - Bryson and Mortimer

Inspiring ageing, coffee, book reviews, time away from home
So the old steps to achieve in a session are coming under attack, care of BBC's Michael Moseley. No need for the pedometer. It's now HIIT - high intensity exercise - short but breathless activity like a minute star jumps (x2), static sprinting and squats (x2). So 5 minutes, three times a week. Apparently as beneficial as a machine-type workout and no equipment required.

If you want to learn more, clic on the following link Hiit at home

It looks a bit of a stretch for the average oldie, but we are up to date with the latest thinking. A good walk seems to me the most acceptable way to get going. Fit and sociable, unless you walk alone, like my brother. We met at the weekend and despite illness and weight loss, he appeared well.


The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England - Ian Mortimer. It's the latest in a programme of more factual and historical books, written in accessible style. I've gone off crime fiction for the moment. It started with Longitude - David Sobel. Then This Thing of Darknesby Harry Thompson (who also wrote Penguins Stopped Play, a splendid cricket book).
  Just finished A Short History of Everything by Bill Bryson. An amazing book by a non-scientist. Incredible small numbers (sub-atomic particles) and unbelievable large ones (infinity and the universe). Geologists and fossil-hunters falling out in lumps. People discovering stuff they didn't realise they'd discovered, only to have their thunder stolen later by guys who did realise what they had discovered. Many were not believed by colleagues, again only to be vindicated many years later when their efforts were corroborated by others. It's quite a grumpy book.
 Life and the structure of matter is indescribably complex. Hard to take in as random and purposeless, but the other explanation isn't very helpful.
  Back to Ian Mortimer. Life in the 14th century. History as the experience of visiting a village, a monastery, a manor house and so on. Not a dusty tome off a library shelf and plenty of references. People were young, and took on responsible tasks, like commanding armies, in their teens. Hygiene was dodgy, crime common and food basic, except for the toffs, who as usual had all the best bits. The social hierarchy was strictly followed. You didn't dress, eat or behave above your station. Women were not highly regarded. The plague was massive, wiping out half the population.
  They did have manuscripts and plays and poems - and Chaucer. Carols were a popular form of entertainment. Like puppies, not just for Christmas. Gaudy and licentious, sung while dancing around in circles together.
  Ian has written in January's BBC History Magazine - Did Medieval Women Carry a Purse? Same issue as Medieval Sex Doctor by Katherine Harvey.
  Everyday life on the face of it has improved enormously since the 14th century. Discuss.

Upperthong has a good set of facilities, defib, pub and library in a box

      This was one of our weekly five yesterday afternoon. Upperthong has most things, like a pub, a defibrillator and a library in a telephone box. It's a set.
       I'm tired today. The break with 'flu can put you back a bit.