Category Archives: Childhood

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These Are a Few of My Favourite Things…

Daisy in Bottle

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Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood and the Major Oak

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Although I lived for many years close to Nottingham in the neighbouring county of Derbyshire I never in all that time visited Sherwood Forest or the Major Oak.

I think it was because driving anywhere north of Derby and Nottingham was such a pain in the backside as it involved driving through one small town after another through a succession of bottlenecks. I always preferred to head north-west towards the Peak District attractions.

I thought it might be easier approaching it from the north but this turned out to be a false hope as this also involved driving through one small town after another through a succession of bottlenecks and the sixty mile journey from Grimsby took nearly two hours.

We were visiting Sherwood Forest upon the request of my grandson who has lately developed an interest in Robin Hood but the journey took so long that as we approached he declared himself bored and that he had changed his mind. I told him firmly that this wasn’t an option and when we eventually arrived we paid the £3 parking fee and followed a forest trail into the greenwood.

Sherwood Forest is now a small country park and National Nature Reserve but at the time of the Doomsday Book (1086) it is estimated to have covered a quarter of the county of Nottinghamshire and extended into Derbyshire to the west and Lincolnshire to the east. Over the years it was cut down for fire wood, building materials, land clearance for farming and to build the ships for the British Navy of Horatio Nelson but it was still big enough today to fill an afternoon of moderate activity.

Like most English boys I have always liked the stories of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, I grew up watching Richard Greene in the TV series ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ and at Saturday Morning Pictures watched Errol Flynn in the 1938 movie also called ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood.

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We made our way to the Major Oak which according to folklore was Robin Hood’s hideout where he and his merry men met and plotted against the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Hole in the Tree Gang perhaps? It weighs an estimated twenty-three tonnes, has a girth of more than thirty feet, a canopy of ninety feet and is about eight hundred to a thousand years old.  In a 2002 survey it was voted “Britain’s favourite tree” and in 2014 it was voted ‘England’s Tree of the Year’ in a public poll by the Woodland Trust.

This is the Major Oak:  on account of its great age it now needs an arboreal zimmer-frame and support to keep it standing and according to the information board it gets a health check every day.  If this thing dies it will be another Princess Diana moment in the history of our Nation.

Major Oak

Woodland people believe that spirits live in the Forest and as we walked we passed by several other impressive oak trees and if you look closely you might just see some of them.

Spirits of Sherwood

In 1971 Walt Disney made his own Robin Hood Film just called ‘Robin Hood’, Robin was portrayed as a fox and on the trunk of an ancient oak I found him being carried through the Forest by Darth Vader!. Look hard, it is there, take it from me!

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No one knows if there really was a Robin Hood, no compelling evidence has ever been found or presented. The traditional story line is that he was a sort of proto-socialist, a thirteenth century idealist who redistributed wealth in a popular campaign of ‘robbing the rich to feed the poor’. Even today most people seem to like this idea and hold him up as a hero of the people. Some things change however and today the leader of the Labour Party in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn who proposes similar egalitarian policies is mocked and hated by the rich and privileged.

If there was no such person as Robin Hood my favourite story then has to be that he was an incarnation of the English folklore character The Green Man, a mythical creature who symbolises optimism, regeneration and rebirth. Mabe this explains the legend of Robin Hood? A time when Saxon rule would reaffirm itself over the Norman oppressors, a time when King Richard would return to oversee the welfare of his own people, a time when their practical Pagan faith and beliefs would not be persecuted by an increasingly influential, and affluent Norman Church.

Three Cheers for Robin Hood! Actually this theory is central to another Robin Hood Film of 1991 starring Patrick Bergin unimaginatively called ‘Robin Hood’ and which (in my opinion) was vastly superior to the Kevin Costner film of the same year called ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’. Some people may probably disagree.

Patrick Bergin Robin Hood

Anyway, if you ever get to visit Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak, be sure to keep a look out for the spirits of the Forest. These are my three…

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Naples, Celebrating the Pizza

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“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

There was no debate or discussion about evening meal, we were in Naples and it had to be pizza, it had to be pizza because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.

Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the most famous pizza of all on a visit there in 1889.

Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas and she would chose her favourite.  Like a judge on a cookery TV programme she decided upon the patriotic version, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) and this became the Pizza Margherita.

Everyone in Naples eats pizza, I have never seen so many pizza restaurants in one place, I tried to work out how many pizzas might be eaten here in a single day but I found the number to be so big it was so incalculable that I feared my head might possibly explode.

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy has a National Pizza Day.  Maybe, and this is an interesting fact, because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   A lot of places outside of Naples are clearly bringing the numbers down.  Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

The USA has a National Pizza Day on February 9th.  Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.  Not one of my favourites I have to confess.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

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When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  Unless you live in Hawaii pineapple on a pizza is just plain wrong.  And, I am not the only one who thinks this way; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  In his words…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.”

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Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made only with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Pizza should be kept simple but it is not only pineapple that is used to spoil it.

Canada joins in on USA Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.

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If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit.”

On this occasion we stumbled upon an excellent pizzaria down a predictable untidy back street and went downstairs into the restaurant.  Good job we were early because within half an hour it was heaving with customers.  The food was cheap, the house wine was served in a jug and I would like to tell you that I had a classic Margherita but I can’t because I added ham, olives and artichokes to the topping.  It was wonderful.  So good we made an instant decision that we would return again the following evening.

We walked back through the grubby urban scarred back streets of Naples to our accommodation, our senses and stomachs overflowing full to busting after an excellent first day.

I liked it here.  I really liked it here!

What is your favourite pizza, do tell?

My Pizza in Naples

Northern France, Commonwealth War Graves

Commonwealth war Graves Boulogne

It was early, peaceful and eerily serene and apart from a gardener carefully tending the flowers and the occasional snipping of his secateurs around the graves we were the only people there and there was no sound and I was struck by the quiet solemness that seemed to lay heavily on this place. Each gravestone is the same regardless of rank and they line up in rows as though they were soldiers on a parade ground.

Most of these victims of war were obscenely young but what struck me the most was that many were buried here but simply marked in the words of Rudyard Kipling as ‘An unknown soldier of the Great War’.  I didn’t care to think about the horrific injuries that they must have endured that stripped away their identity.

Read the Full Story…

The Battlefield Site of Agincourt

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I visited the battle site that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time.  So unremarkable in fact that I may well have missed what is now a rather insignificant field in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

A few neighbouring wind farms apart, the terrain has barely changed in the six hundred intervening years and today the battlefield is exactly that – a field, with ploughed ridges a foot deep, flanked by trees on either side. Sixty miles west of Lille, the flat country is broken up by poplars dotted with mistletoe, red-roofed bungalows and small Gothic churches with broach spires.

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Special Day, Special Man

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March 27th is a very special day to me because in 1932 that was the day that my dad, Ivan Petcher was born.

He was the sort of man that you hope to be like when you grow up and then wish you had been like when you are old.

He is gone now but this is one of my stories about him…

Ivan Petcher

School Day Memories

Andrew age 10

When I first began blogging in 2006 I started with some posts about growing up.  This was on a bogging platform provided by AOL.  In 2007 they closed it down and I transferred my posts to Blogger.  I never really liked Blogger so I moved again to WordPress.

I have posted these ‘growing up’ posts three separate times but no one has ever read them so I thought I might tray again.

This is my story of Primary School days.

Read the Full Story Here…