Category Archives: United Kingdom

In The June Garden

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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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The Fishing Murals of Hull

5397489_adab349eFishing Mural Hull

The city of Hull was the 2017 UK Capital of Culture which came as rather a surprise to a lot of people but not to me as it was in competition with the city of Coventry which is a truly dreadful place!

As part of the celebrations the City came up with an idea to bring in tourists – wall paintings to commemorate the fishing heritage of Hull.

One day in May I crossed the River Humber and went to see them.

Fifty year ago the Hull trawler fleet was the biggest fishing fleet in the world (see footnote) and deep sea fishing in Arctic waters was amongst the most dangerous work anywhere. A trawlerman was seventeen times more likely to be killed at work than the average British industrial worker including coal mining.

At the beginning of 1968 some of the worst ever winter storms hit the Icelandic fishing grounds. In the space of three weeks three Hull trawlers were lost and a total of fifty-eight crew members died.

Hull Fishing Mural

The St Romanus sailed from Hull on January 10th 1968 without a full and experienced crew, most significantly without a properly qualified radio operator to work the ship’s main transmitter. This left communications to the relatively inexperienced skipper with his much less powerful bridge-mounted radio telephone. The last contact was a radio telephone call on the evening of the day they sailed. Despite hearing nothing the owners did not raise the alarm until January 26th.

A life raft found on January 13th had come from the St Romanus. A search began, but by January 30th the families were told that there was little hope for the vessel and her crew.

The second trawler the Kingston Peridot had also sailed from Hull on January 10th with a crew of twenty and by January 26th she was fishing off north-east Iceland in really bad weather.

The ship radioed another trawler that she was having difficulties with ice build-up and moved east to join them. No further contact was established and on January 29th one of her life rafts was washed ashore. News of her loss reached Hull on January 30th just as hope was fading for the crew of St Romanus.

The third lost trawler, the Ross Cleveland, sailed on January 20th, before the loss of the first two trawlers became known. She was bound for the north coast of Iceland.

Conditions were atrocious and on February 3rd she made for a relatively sheltered inlet on Iceland’s north-west coast. A number of other ships were gathered there to wait out the long and hurricane-force snowy storm. A dangerous amount of ice was forming on the vessels superstructure and radar masts. The captain attempted to move her to a safer position but the ship was overwhelmed by the wind and sea, capsized and sank.

News of the Ross Cleveland sinking reached Hull on February and at first it was believed all aboard had died, but on February 6th Harry Eddom, the mate, washed ashore in a life raft barely still alive, the other two men in the raft had died of exposure.

Lilian Bilocca Wall Mural

The news of the three lost trawlers devastated the whole of the Hull fishing community but a group of women fishermen’s family members decided to do something more than mourn – they would fight to make the industry safer.

Lillian Bilocca, Christine Jensen, Mary Denness and Yvonne Blenkinsop called a meeting which resulted in the formation of the Hessle Road Women’s Committee. The group became known as the Headscarf Revolutionaries. Bilocca and her women comrades led a direct action campaign to prevent undermanned trawlers from putting to sea, particularly when the ship had no properly qualified radio operator.

Bilocca was a working class woman of Hull. She married a Maltese sailor who worked as a trawlerman. Her father, husband and son all worked on the Hull fishing trawlers. She worked on-shore filleting the catch.

They gathered over ten thousand signatures on a petition (that was a lot pre internet and social media) for a fishermen’s charter and sent to the Minister for Fisheries in Harold Wilson’s government.

As well as radio operators the women had other demands including improved weather forecasts, better training for trainee crew, more safety equipment and a mother ship with medical facilities to accompany the fleet.

Eventually Prime Minister Harold Wilson met the women and subsequently government ministers granted all of their demands.

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Lillian received death threats from some of the trawler owners and letters telling her not to interfere in men’s work. She lost her job and was blacklisted and she never found work in the fishing industry again.

In 1990 Hull City Council unveiled a plaque inscribed: “In recognition of the contributions to the fishing industry by the women of Hessle Road, led by Lillian Bilocca, who successfully campaigned for better safety measures following the loss of three Hull trawlers in 1968.”

This brave woman should have been included in the One Hundred Greatest Britons but that was never going to happen, the list only included thirteen women anyway!

This is not Hull, it is a statue in the Portuguese city of Póvoa de Varzim …

Fishwives Pavoa de Varzim

Footnote: The port town of Grimsby on the south bank of the Humber makes a similar claim and they are probably both correct because they use different criteria.

This is my account of a day out in Grimsby

Grimsby Fishing Fleet

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

Memories of World War – Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiègne

Armistice 1918 1940

Close by to where we were staying in Vic-Sur-Aisne was a particular place that I was keen to visit so one morning after breakfast I set off alone towards Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice, a historic site where the armistice of 1918 brought the First-World-War to an end and where in 1940 Adolf Hitler dictated the terms of the surrender of France.

The site is deep in the Compiègne Forest about forty miles or so north-east of Paris at a railway junction that was quickly prepared in October/November 1918 to enable the German negotiators to meet with the soon to be victorious allies.

It is not a spectacular site, there is nothing grand about it, it is one of those places that you visit because of what happened there not for what you are going to see.  Two momentous moments in European history.

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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…

The Royal Garden Party

Buckingham Palace Garden Party Invitation

This is my story of the day that I went to Buckingham Palace to visit the Queen.  I first posted it in June 2009 and since then it has become my second most visited blog with almost 21,000 visits.

I have got a different following circle now so I thought it worth posting a link to the story just in case any one is interested…

Read the Full Story…