Animal of the week – Nyala

NyalaWeek 1 – starting 31st January.
This week my animal of the week is the Nyala. Nyala are only found in South Africa although they are abundant in the parks and Game reserves. Male and female are easily distinguished with several major differences. Male Nyalas are almost twice as big as the females, they also carry large dangerous horn which the females do not possess and the biggest difference is the skin colour. Males are browny black whilst females are orange, they however both have white stripes across their body. They live in in medium sized herds of around 20 – 50 of which are around 10% male. Like most antelopes males which haven’t won a herd will form bachelor herds. Fights are minimal and the males territories overlap vastly. They are always willing to drink and to hang around with other herds. They can fall prey to Leopard, Lions and Hyenas but males will defend herds using their powerful horns.

Footballer of the week – Peter Crouch

peter crouchWeek 1 – starting 31st of January.
This week my footballer of the week is Peter Crouch who you may have heard scored the last gasp penalty in the F.A.Cup 4th round derby between Southampton and Portsmouth. Since the 6ft 6 striker joined saints for ‘2million pounds in July he has scored 7 goals in 9 starts and 9 sub appearances. After the departure of James Beattie to Everton on January the 4th Crouch has been given more of chance. He has started a superb partnership with Kevin Phillips which has produced a great amount of goals. But 2 weeks ago Kevin Phillips picked up a nasty injury. Manager Harry Redknapp experimented with a new 4-5-1 formation with Crouch playing up front on his own. So far that has worked amazingly, the Saints side are full of confidence after winning their last two games against Liverpool and Portsmouth, Crouch scored goals in both of those games and at this minute is a Saints legend to many fans.

Dangerous wild animal?

This is Sheeba, a brown-spotted Bengal, and one of the Jordan-Maynard cats. The Bengal is a rather new breed, created by hybridising the wild Asian Leopard Cat with domestic breeds including the Abyssinian and Burmese. It is regarded with some disdain by proponents of more established breeds, but is allegedly beloved by celebrities including Rolf Harris, Esther Rantzen, Mohammed al Fayed, and, umm, Jeffrey Archer.

Notwithstanding her exalted pedigree, Sheeba seems to enjoy life as domestic moggie and, aside from occasionally biting my ankles when supper is late, shows no tendency to terrorism. So we were rather surprised to read this article in the Hampshire Chronicle, 28th January 2005:

An American woman living in Winchester is having trouble being reunited with her cat because its breed has been classed as dangerous. Tina Hulme’s domesticated Bengal cat, Ava, is descended from the Asian Bengal leopard cat and the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs has classed it as a dangerous animal. Two-year-old Ava is still in the States, but Tina will have to apply for a special licence to bring her into the UK. Six months quarantine will follow, and then Tina’s home will have to be inspected by a Defra agent to ensure it is suitable to house a “wild animal”. Said Tina: “I just want my baby back.”

I’m all lost in the supermarket

shopping-list.jpgYou’re looking at a fragment of our weekly shopping list. Note the colour-coding for different sections of the store, the aisle numbers in the left-hand column, even the sub-aisles denoted by a proto Dewey decimal system of groceries. I know what you’re thinking. Hold fast those cries of “anal retentive”. Titter-ye-not at this most un J-M like behaviour. This is the work of my beloved and I am its beneficiary. Each week, Caroline studiously prepares this list, and I carry it to Sainsbury’s to perform a deft and streamlined weekly shop. I sleekly glide through the aisles like German engineering, picking items hither and thither without a care to furrow my brow.

I have been doing this on a weekly basis for many years. The routine doesn’t end with the list. Each week I meet Martin at Sainsbury’s and we share the same jokes, gossip about mutual friends, catch up on news of my former employer. Usually we meet in aisle 34, but just for grins we sometimes shake things up and give 33 a try.

Lately though, things have been sadly amiss at Sainsbury’s. Martin likened it to a Soviet winter. Gaping holes appear on shelves and the German machinery lurches and fails. Instead of a neat array of crosses, I return with a list scarred with circles; items that must be returned to next week’s list, or, worse, extraordinary shopping trips have to be undertaken.

This morning we decided to try something different. Circumstances found us Child-Free in Chandlers Ford (aside: Richard Curtis you may use this title in exchange for 1% of box-office takings). We felt the magnetic pull of the newish Waitrose store that has been drawing in people like us like moths to a flame.

“It’s a bit disorienting” I announce unsteadily.
“Never fear” says C. “It’ll be good for us; stretch us a bit”.
A few aisles later: “You have to keep your wits about you, on this mind-expanding trip around the supermarket”, I whimper. “I think we just missed Camomile tea”.

I’m discomfited by the massed shelves of Perfectly Balanced foods. A lifelong ectomorph, I distrust this stuff. I seek out Satisfyingly Saturated and Famously Filling. Still, the Bistro Tarts look tasty and Tom proclaimed the chocolate brownies a triumph. Small thrills cheer me: being able to self-scan The Guardian, rather than furtively declaring it a problem item, as if smuggling Das Kapital into Dallas-Fort Worth.

A last surprise in store (groan). Too many months working at BT have introduced me to the term “bill-shock”, but today I experienced it. Our case of Grolsch, regularly ‘11.99 at Sainsbury’s, even sometimes two for ’22, came in at ‘18.35.

A voice rings out from the service desk: “Customer about a lobster.”

I'm Tom

Hello to all viewers. My name is Tom and I’m 10. From now on I’ll regularly be posting articles towards the website. You may have read my description that Dad wrote a few months ago. If you have you will know that I enjoy football, music, and wildlife watching. I will try to post an animal or footballer of the week every week although they might not be so regular. Thank you for taking the time to visit and read all our articles. See you later.

Marshall Plan: What Plan?

If you squint your eyes a bit, you can blur out modern-day bourgeois Winchester, its preoccupation with property prices and the frequency of trains to Waterloo. What’s left is a vibrant medieval city, which often claims to be the historic capital of England. (As a native of Leofric’s Mercia, I suspect that claim is over-inflated, but I’m not one to pursue tribal disputes).

I took a walk up St. Giles Hill on a crisp, clear day. It sits just at the edge of the urban centre. It’s a short, steep climb, so the view from the top feels like that from a tall spire, rather than a distant hill-top. One could almost throw a stone through the Cathedral windows, or toss back a ball to the floppy-haired public-school boys at the College. The plateau of the hill was, during the 13th and 14th centuries, the site of St Giles Fair. Barbara Carpenter Turner’s History of Winchester explains the significance of the fair.

Merchants came from all over England, and even from Ireland, most of them trading in wool or cloth. … There were Frenchmen, Spaniards and men from the Low Countries. They brought in wine, spices, silks and other luxuries of medieval life, for this was one of the four most important fairs in England.

Gambian childrenSeveral years ago Caroline and I visited The Gambia. Our friend Jo took us up-country by Land Rover, stopping at the town of Farafenni. Farafenni sits at the crossroads of ancient trade routes, and is host to a market, one of the most important in West Africa. It attracts traders from all over the region: the lanky Wolof from Senegal, Fulani, Mandinka and the blue-hooded and cloaked Tuareg from the North. Stalls spread far into the distance, selling fabrics, spices, a few scrawny vegetables and some livestock. Diesel may have largely replaced the camel, indeed the nearby crossing of the Gambia river resembles Calais in a port strike, but otherwise the same scene must have existed for centuries.

What struck me as I climbed St Giles Hill was that Europe and Africa operated surprisingly similar economies a few hundred years ago, yet have drastically diverged. And that’s not meant pejoratively. I doubt the Africans are distraught that they lack the finer achievements of modern life: the M25, out-of-town shopping and Pot Noodles.

So, Gordon Brown has a mission to develop Africa, and a fine intent that is, but what is the model to which the continent should aspire’ Are African nations lining up to provide cheap manufacturing labour as the Asian tigers price themselves out of the market’ Or is there an alternative’

Martin Wolf, the FT columnist and author of Why Globalisation Works, is the toast of Threadneedle Street because (it’s claimed) he has comprehensively demolished the anti-globalisation argument. Naomi Klein (they say) is history.

I confess, I haven’t read Wolf’s book yet, but I have studied some of his data. Wolf’s seductive argument is that those countries that have embraced globalised industrial development — notably India, China and the South East Asian nations — have reduced poverty and decreased inequality. To his credit, Wolf measures wealth (or poverty) in terms of purchasing power parity, a more robust definition than those who ignore relative cost-of-living. I imagine one could live more lavishly on ‘5,000 a year in Kerala than ‘50,000 in Kew.

What makes me uncomfortable is Wolf’s premise that poverty can be monetarised so objectively. Who is richer, an African herdsman with sufficient cattle and bread to feed his family, or a Chinese factory worker, sweating for 16 hours a day in unhealthy conditions, but earning enough to make a one hour mobile phone call’ What evidence have we that a subsistence economy is poorer in real, human terms than an industrialised one’ How shall we quantify eradication of Malaria, or an end to famine’ What price freedom from genocide’

I wish I understood these things, and so Small Is Beautiful is on my reading list, along with Why Globalisation Works.

Spiers & Boden play Winchester

BellowLast Friday, the Tower Arts Centre treated us to a concert by the wonderful John Spiers and Jon Boden. This excellent booking was allegedly achieved through Boden calling John Tellett a bastard in Folk on Tap for not having booked them previously, despite Boden being a native son of Winchester, a stratagem clearly worth repeating.

Several times, Boden acknowledged his debt to the campfire singing of a “mysterious underground camping organisation” (how do you camp underground exactly’) called Forest School Camps. One of the songs he learnt there was Prickle Eye Bush, recognisable to the more mature members of the audience as Gallows Pole from Led Zeppelin III. (One of my earliest albums – the original gatefold sleeve with the rotating paper disc with weird little pictures on it.) Not having the benefit of the FSC, Zep had come to the song via Leadbelly and John and Alan Lomax, and perhaps didn’t even know of its English origins.

Through and ThroughCourting Too Slow could have been a letter from a timid software developer to a modern agony aunt, and brought out the Maynard school of counselling: just pull yourself together.

The packed Tower audience immediately warmed to the performers’ energy, and sung quite audibly. Tom, who had been dragged under protest to a boring old folk gig, and apparently had his suspicions confirmed by his first sight of the audience, was particularly enthusiastic (“why didn’t you tell me they were like this'”). And it was good to see some old friends again and come out as unapologetic folkies.

Finally, John Tellett please note, Spiers is a homonym for Spires, not for Spears.

Keeping up appearances

Someone visited the site using a Netscape 4.7 browser. I know this looks hideous; unusable actually. It feels like meeting a friend in Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning, when you’re unshaven and with greasy hair. Actually it’s worse than that. It’s like being unshaven, greasy, and incoherent from drink.

Should I work on a stylesheet that passes muster under NN4?

Then again, I still don’t shave on Saturday mornings.

One Morning

Before Christmas, Dervala and I discovered a shared relish for Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball album. It’s a quiet masterpiece, Daniel Lanois’ luminous production cradling a clutch of fine songs from a generation of great writers: Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams and more. Dervala kindly sent me a compilation featuring some of Emmylou’s influences—along with a challenge to write something about these performers.

Hell Among the YearlingsGillian Welch is an odd one. As a student in Santa Cruz in the 80s, she was a devotee of the alternative rock scene. Camper Van Beethoven and The Pixies held sway on her turntable. But bizarrely, she began to develop a passion for old-timey and bluegrass music. The Clinch Mountain Boys elbowed out The Breeders, and Gillian, together with her writing and performing partner David Rawlings, adopted this archaic medium as her own. She can share a stage with a veteran like Ralph Stanley, but the real marvel is that Welch and Rawlings are able to escape pastiche and tackle thoroughly modern topics. For heaven’s sake, Everything Is Free is about illegal music downloads!

But the song that left the deepest mark on me portrays a historical, yet timeless scene. It’s deeply cinematic, vividly conjuring weather and landscape. In performance, it’s spacious, the frailed banjo refrains providing pause to absorb each stanza. Yet, unusually, I think it retains some power as poetry.

One morning, one morning as work I begun,

What did I see riding out of the sun,

On the road from Lexington’

One rider, one rider beating the breeze,

Down on his saddle, low to his knees,

Coming through my willow trees.

Now closer the terrible work of the gun,

Was stiffened and black where his blood all had run,

But I knew my wayward son.

One morning, one morning the boy of my breast,

Came to my door unable to rest,

Even in the arms of death.

On Hyndford Street

Walking out, gloved and hatted against the chill January darkness, leaving behind the Golden Mile, Belfast’s cosmopolitan, Victorian-yet-modern commercial heart, still lit with Christmas decorations. Crossing the Albert Bridge by the Central Railway Station, heading east and turning right on Castlereagh Street. Now this is East Belfast. This is working people’s land, unimproved. Loyalist; tattered Ulster and Union Flags flap limply from poles. Windowless bookie shops, eyes averted in shame from the street-corner Christian Outreach Mission.

Left now on Beersbridge Road, Magee’s Corner Coffee House a scant concession to the Cappuccino generation. Otherwise the scene seems little changed in forty years. Small engineering workshops, Chinese and Chips. A wee boy speeds past in a Formula One pedal car, pristine, The Green Machine — a treasured Christmas present, no doubt — and hops into the paper shop proffering pennies. For what’ ‘Barnbracks, Wagon Wheels’‘ Passing the site of the Elmgrove Primary School on the right, now demolished, graffiti reinforces my anxiety: Muggins is not acceptable in East Belfast; is it a misspelling, or is Muggins me’

Now right, on Hyndford Street, hallowed ground. Narrow road, narrow pavements, the odd-numbered side crammed with squat, flat-fronted terraces, the even-numbered, first workshops, then terraces with a downstairs bay; no doubt an important status elevator in this humble place. Staring rudely at doorways on the odd-numbered side, finally here it is. 125 Hyndford Street, the brass plaque proudly polished. Singer Songwriter Van Morrison lived here 1945-1961. I pause, but only for seconds, not wishing to draw attention to myself, and consider how this simple landscape gave rise to the epic grandeur of Astral Weeks. Continuing, teenagers on the corner send a radio-controlled car shuttling in my direction ‘Walter and John, Katie and Ron used to hang out by the corner lamp light’. Left on Dunraven Avenue the flags are now of the UVF, reminding that the troubles, though dormant, are not ended, still less forgotten.

But we’re moving up-market now, crossing avenues, first Martinez, broader, tree-lined. Solid semis, drives housing Mondeo and Avensis. And then — passing the rectangular heft of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church — Cyprus Avenue. ‘The clicking-clacking of the high-heeled shoe’. Astral Weeks is playing continuously in my head, burned-in by innumerable repeats in my own teens. Pavements broader still, two men could lie end-to-end across these. The trees, pollarded, providing summer shade. These are Victorian merchants’ houses, the drives deep and curving, nestling today’s luxury carriages: SUV, Mercedes, BMW. Vermilion walls and picture rails glimpsed through broad double bays. This is where Van came to spy on his fourteen-year-old princess, ‘rainbow ribbons in her hair’. A bare half-mile from Hyndford Street. The avenue, lofty from the start, climbs steadily to the grandest of the grand houses, ‘way up on the avenue of trees’. Was it simply the verdant space that fired Van’s poetic imagination, or did he also dream of privilege and upward mobility’ Music was, no doubt, his inescapable passion, but it’s hard not to conclude it was also his one-way ticket from Hyndford Street.