Olive gave us her long awaited Olympic gymnastics performance last night.
(The heavy breathing is that of the camerawoman, Gemma).
Now that the Olympics is underway, it's about time I posted our view of the torch as it was jogged passed the end of our street.
More recently, Diamond Geezer blogged about the torch heading through Bow. His account describes a similar scene to what we experienced, although he doesn't seem to have encountered some poor marshalling by the stewards and the police, which allowed our reasonable view to be blocked by latecomers.
For some reason, around five years ago, I accidentally started photographing all of the blue plaques in Leeds.
I remember having my interest ignited after spotting my first bright blue disc against the red walls of the Quebec Hotel in the city centre. It marked the building's original use as the Leeds and County Liberal Club. Once I'd captured a few, my slight tendency towards obsession informed me that I had no option but to complete the task I had unwittingly started.
I was of course aware of the concept of the blue plaque scheme, but previously had no idea that there were so many in Leeds. A little research quickly found more than sixty-five, and over the years this has increased to a little short of one hundred and fifty official Leeds Civic Trust, Wetherby Civic Society and Ilkley Civic Society blue plaques, plus a handful of others that fit the bill of being plaques that are blue. Or black. Or even red; to be honest, so long as they mark a building, person or even an event, they are round and they have an LS postcode, they are in my collection.
Or at least they are added to my list; a few are currently inaccessible. A mop-up trip was long overdue, and a week off work afforded the ideal opportunity to get out and bag some of the plaques missing from my collection.
A route was identified to allow me to get about town using only a FirstBus DayRider ticket (Gemma was at work so I was without the car). And in fact most of the day went to plan. Here are the results:
A walk into town the previous weekend allowed me to snap the new plaque at the Irish Centre, so my trip started on a bus. I hopped off at the BBC Studios at St Peter's Square, then headed to Commercial Street before going down to Holy Trinity Church. That was the first disappointment of the day - it was closed (as it had been on Sunday)*.
Never mind; onwards to Park Square. But where was the plaque? Upon checking my itinerary I realised that I'd made an inexplicable mistake - the Odd Fellows plaque was in fact in Queen's Square. What a fool! Never mind; I was able to quickly plan to swing by the correct location later in the day.
I boarded a bus to Pepper Road in Hunslet to pick up the accessible-daytime-only Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Company plaque, which is tucked away down an industrial side-street that I've had a look down before. But the plaque is further hidden by being behind some big gates that are normally locked on an evening and at weekends.
A possible lengthy detour on foot to the John Charles Sports Centre (buses go there in the evenings only) was avoided by a trip there in my car earlier in the week. Instead, my iPhone told me my bus to Bramley would arrive in two minutes. I thought if funny, then, when it immediately appeared. Only when I had boarded did I twig that this was the 86, not the 85. But a quick check of the WY Metro area map reassured me that in fact this service might even be quicker as it avoided the city centre.
At Bramley, I took my picture and straight away caught my connection towards Headingley. But as we pulled out of the bus station, I happened to glance to my left. I was shocked to see a blue plaque that had totally kept itself under my radar. What to do? Could I come back in my car one evening. I thought it a shame to have to do so given I was so close now. Back to the iPhone; the Next Bus app told me that I could meet with the bus back to Bramley at Kirkstall. So I did.
Back on the next 91, I had only lost half-an-hour. I had a little trouble finding the William Astbury plaque in Headingley, but that was again my fault for writing down the wrong house number. Then I walked to my location in Burley before having my longest wait for a bus - frustratingly this was for the 56, which supposedly has an eight-minute frequency.
I alighted at the old BBC Studios on Woodhouse Lane, where there were two plaques to be had, before picking up the Queen's Square plaque I missed in the morning. Finally, a quick journey to Roundhay Park to snap the blue plaque on The Mansion, before heading home.
Phew, what a long but successful day.
*Update - since drafting this post I chanced upon Holy Trinity Church being open, and seized the opportunity.
In the twisted words of the famous song, I pretty much like cricket, I wouldn't go as far as saying I love it. Certainly, I don't enthuse and lust after it as much as Andy Zaltzman, one of the halves of the mighty fine Bugle podcast.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading his twin-posts on his Confectionery Stall blog, which use naked statistics (another subject I like) to first prove why the England cricket team will win this year's Ashes tournament, then why they will lose.
My name is Tom Smith.
I love sports. I play rugby for Wales and (until recently) Northampton. I also dabble in basketball (past and present), and have tried my hand at major league baseball, ice hockey and american football. I was one of the runners who symbolically defied Hitler's Olympics. I trained horses.
I currently play cricket for Lancashire and Middlesex. I have played professional football for Tottenham Hotspur; Preston North End, Southampton and Queens Park Rangers; Northampton Town, Leicester City and Manchester United; Kilmarnock; Partick Thistle, Ayr United, Clydebank and Hibernian; and perhaps most famously for Liverpool. I now play for Ipswich Town and Portsmouth right now. I was a pioneer of Aussie rules football.
I like my politics: I have been the governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Carolina. I was a congressman in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, and Illinois. I have mayored in Jersey City and Philadelphia. In the UK, I've been a Labour MP.
I spend some of my time now writing (plays and novels). I paint, and I paint some more. I was the Bishop of Carlisle at the end of the 17th century, and I was a general in the American Civil War. I was a mountain-man who told 'tall tales'.
I found time in my hectic 17th century cloth-making life to found the first bank in England outside of London. I built lighthouses in Scotland. I have worked as a physician, a soldier, academic and barrister, and if you need any agricultural, engineering or hydraulic supplies, I can help you out with that. Or, do you need medical advice? I can help with that also.
That is who I am. Who are you?
Yesterday proved an excellent choice of day to go to the shops.
As a family who are not in the slightest bit interested in football, we are required to suffer this year (as we are every two years) without a football-free summer. So we have to turn the situation to our advantage whenever we can. Saturday evening's initial England game drained the streets and shops of people, and allowed us to get a few bits from Cross Gates without battling through the usual crowds.
We even deceided to risk a weekend afternoon trip to Ikea, a task normally impossible to bear. Not this weekend. The car parks were half full, and the shop was as deserted as a Tuesday evening. To celebrate our brave planning, we ordered a new mattress and ate a mini hotdog.
I would be very interested to know if anyone has done a study on the amount of fuel efficiency lost by the millions of St. George flags that adorn most (it seems) of the cars and vans and lorries driving around the country. And I'd also be fascinated by the reactions of those people upon being told that our patron saint is one we share with Georgia, Portugal, Russian, Palestine and Ethiopia.
Do First not think it a little hypocrical that their buses in Leeds all sport 'Good Luck England' stickers, given that they are a Scottish company? Finally, I'd appreciate it if people would stop asking me what I think 'our changes are in the game'. I don't know and I don't care (apart from if England win the World Cup, I get £20 in the sweep-stake at work).
Right, I'm off to test our new mattress.
Yesterday threw up some strange sights. I mean, after last week's mild temperatures, who would have thought that the weekend was to see country-wide snowfall?
Then, I tune in to the news, only to see TV's Konnie Huq, of off Blue Peter, wrestling with protesters, Chinese security officials and the police for custody of the Olympic flame. An image I never thought I'd see.
In the afternoon we went over to Gemma's Mums for our tea, and found ourselves watching a weeks worth of 'Come Dine With Me' back-to-back. And then Gemma wanted to watch the latest reality/musical job interview 'I'd Do Anything'. I could almost feel my brain cells leaking away, and consoled myself with the thought that the punishment that awaits the losing Nancy each week is being beaten to death by the actor who is to play Bill Sykes (in character of course).
thursday. the day on which five of our number were to face unprecedented levels of danger. we were rafting.
the river salzach was high, following two days of heavy rain. we (sans neil and deb) were picked up from the bus stop in a bright orange van, and taken to a yard in taxenbach where we put on damp wet-suits, and signed away our rights to sue if it all went wrong. i noted that the instructors were agitated, and it turned our that they had been expecting twelve passengers, an even six per raft plus one instructor. however, the only other people to show were a man who’s wife had to stay behind to look after their whiny child, and a skinny manc teen. a decision was taken to use only one boat, and the long haired instructor seemed to win the battle of which instructor would be going rafting today.
we loaded a suitable boat onto a trailer, and drove a short way downstream. we then negotiated what to my mind was the most dangerous part of this undertaking – we found ourselves carrying the boat alongside the main railway line. had a train come round the bend, half of us would surely had been goners. happily, we successfully overcame this obstacle, and moved on to the short but comprehensive segment of training, during which, a photographer appeared. as the instructor explained what instructions we would expect to hear and follow, and how not to drown, it came home to us; we were rafting.
slithering down a precarious natural slipway, we launched the boat into a debris-filled backwater, and boarded. after a quick photo, we were off. the instructor was excited – the river was more than one meter higher than usual, and he told me that he would normally have to go to norway to experience such conditions in august. he said that the river usually rose only in the spring, when the snows melted, and that this was a rare treat for us. you can see this with your eyes in the picture above - the river in the background is almost as tall as us (yet the foreground is a still as noodle soup).
within minutes, we were dipping and launching through boiling waters. this was scary and exciting and thrilling and fun. as soon as the first rapids started, they ended and we picked up a little speed on a flatter but fast flowing section. we came to a road bridge, where the photographer was stationed. i couldn’t spot him, as i wasn’t wearing my glasses. i also couldn't see the next set of rapids, until we were a few meters away. i actually think i heard them first, but we paddled into them head-on, and following the instructions that were being barked at us. we seemed to be coping well. then it happened.
‘lee’s fallen in’, someone shouted. the very moment was captured on film; if you look clearly at the picture above, you can make out lee's legs, pointing skywards. it's as if the river reached up and plucked him out of the boat. within seconds, he was some distance from the raft, and the instructor leapt into action - he didn’t panic, but moved confidently and urgently. he launched the life-rope towards the now distant red life-jacket, but it fell short. he cursed, auf deutsch, and corralled us to paddle against the current to slow us down, as we were travelling fasted than lee. my side of the boat managed ok, but the right side struggled. this was the side where lee had been sitting, so they were already one man down. this left gemma, christina, and the teenager. it seemed that he wasn’t enjoying himself too much, and he had kind of moved to the middle of the boat. his paddling was weak and ineffective, and he was also paddling the wrong way! this caused gemma and christina to bellow at him, thus raising the slight sense of panic amongst us. the instructor tossed the second (and final) rope at lee. it landed in a tree.
but it did not get caught, and fell perfectly into lees passing hands. seemingly as quickly as he had become a man overboard, he was being hauled into the raft by his life jacket. i never doubted we would get him back, but it was definitely a massive relief when lee, shaken but not dry, was back amongst us. the remainder of the boat times were thrilling, but not has exciting as the first ten minutes, and our rafting experience was over all too quickly. the instructor explained that due to the high waters, we travelled the course in just one hour, versus the standard ninety minutes. we debriefed in the steamy van on the way back to taxenbach, and after changing, crossed the road (illegally – jaywalking is not allowed in austria) to claim our free lunch of bread, ikea sausage and pale yellow sauce. we even got a lift home.
back at the ranch for early afternoon, we kicked about until it was time to start drinking. cards were played. towards the end of the evening, john remembered that he could speak fluent german, and we are very lucky to have a little footage of this. there is translation from neil, in case you’re having trouble deciphering – well, he is speaking in a regional dialect.
phew, i've had a pretty busy couple of weeks. ironically, this means that although i potentially have plenty to post about, i haven't had the time to do it. this is in part the fault of facebook, to which i am many of my friends have become thoroughly addicted. i think what i'll do is summarise the main events of the past two weeks.
firstly, but not leastly, a bunch of us went over to liverpool, to assist deb in the celebration of her birthday. she chose to stage a picnic, which we all agreed was a unique idea. on paper, the idea was a little reckless, scheduled to occur during the wettest start to a summer in england and wales on record. yet, the plentiful white fluffy clouds of the morning thinned out enough for the sun to shine. i would like to use this platform to lodge an official protest against the cheating ways of team michelle, who massively cheated at rounders. even after lying about the score (claiming they got 27), tripping, heckling, and even having the umpire in their collective pocket, they could only beat us by two points. hah, imagine the victory that would have been ours if we had had the foresight to cheat. a handful of pictures from the day can be seen here.
we also went to another wedding, the second of three this year. this time, we only went to the evening do, which was staged at barwick village hall. we arrived a little early, in time to witness the arrival of the wedding party on a big vintage open-top double-decker bus. special mention must be made of roadrunners taxis, who, after initially stating a cab would take '15 minutes', then '5 minutes' (half an hour later), then 'he's just coming down your road', managed to muster no less than five taxis. we jumping in the first, leaving the other four looking puzzled and muttering amongst themselves.
the bread in the above wedding sandwich was dean's birthday. we couldn't make the satuday barbecue (which didn't happen anyway, due to the wettest start to a summer in england and wales on record). but we went over to baildon and stayed over on friday night, and returned on the sunday morning in time for a rachel breakfast special. luckily, dean hadn't bought a copy of the latest municipal waste record. the boy in hmv mistook me for a fan, and started babbling on about how good the record was, and whether i liked his friend's band; i had to confess to severe musical differences to dean. on the way home on sunday, we made an impulse purchase of a rug, which has effectively completed our living room. boy, does furnishing a new house take forever? answer = yes, it does.
on tuesday this week, we had a 'community day' at work. this entailed us (management included) downing our keyboards and travelling to beeston, a suburb of leeds. here, we were to labour on behalf of groundwork, which is an environmental regeneration charity. our task was the tidying up of a small wood, no more than a tiny copse really. we were so successful in this, we had filled the two medium-sized skips shortly after lunchtime, and this led the organisers to let us off early. prior to the event, most of us had serious reservations; we all thought the idea of the community day was a good one, we just wondered about the location. in the event, we all had a good time, and only found half a syringe.
this weekend, my mum and dad and coming to stay, so we have been mainly cleaning the house, and planning suitable entertainment activities. it looks like the rain will stay away fro the next few days, so i'm keen to get out and about.