Wednesday, 20 February 2019

A sea of blue

I was rather disconcerted on arriving at Sheffield Basin (nothing will induce me to call the place 'Victoria Quays') to find that the rebranders had been out in force.
I hasn't realised, to be honest, that CRT's 'sinking tyre' rebranding was going to be quite so blue.
Or quite so all-pervasive...
I'm not sure that Margi really understood my small cries of distress... 'But it should be black and white. It's always been black and white. Black and white is just what it is... What next, blue lock beams? (Ssshh - I wouldn't put it past them). I was going to paint my front garden railings black and white, because...

And not only has a rash of blue broken out around the basin.
They've clearly been out on a boat
And labelled up some bridges (although it stops before you get too far out of town)
But I'm pretty sure - though I'd have to go back and check - that they've labelled some of them wrong. For a start, that one above, labelled Supertram Bridge 7B is, I'm pretty sure, a footbridge. Put it this way, I never saw a tram go over it, but I saw at least three crossing the adjacent, far more robust-looking one.
Is Shirland Lane footbridge 7C or 9?
Or 8?
Is bridge 9 Shirland Lane Bridge, or Attercliffe Railway Bridge?

It's possibly just as well they gave up before they got much further.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

If only they'd known about silent discos in 1819

Two hundred years ago this Friday, Sheffield apparently saw the biggest party ever witnessed in the city, before or since. According to Simon Ogden's book on the subject, 60,000 people lined the streets and cavorted in the pubs to celebrate the opening of the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal on February 22nd 1819. This is an extraordinary figure, given that the City Council's website gives the population of the entire city as only just over 60,000 in 1801, and 161,500 in 1851. Even if it were nearer the latter figure by 1819, that would still represent a good half of the entire population.
They had boat trips, processions, brass bands and a cannon; 200 years later we get a giant igloo and a silent disco.

I shall be celebrating in my own way, with a week - at least - of posts on my local waterway; a waterway so unloved that it even has to share its friends with the (far more glamorous) Five Weirs Walk along the River Don.

Dragging along my neighbour Margi, I walked the canal on Sunday, from Basin to river - all four miles of it - and back again, accompanied by the aforementioned The Sheffield and Tinsley Canal - Sheffield East End History Trail guidebook No. 1, published in 1997 - which made for interesting historical context in its own right. I took the big camera, and lots of photos, so stand by for a virtual trip along just the sort of canal I like.

Monday, 18 February 2019

A hundred years or two

Next weekend I shall be celebrating a centenary,
and a bicentenary

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Clock(not)watching update

So, how did I get on with my attempt to escape the tyranny of the clock?

Well, in the end, my need for routine won out over my desire to rebel against chronological authority, and I didn't notice any particular benefits to allowing myself to be ruled by nature.

Partly this is because I've started really wanting to go for a run in the morning, and I like this to be early, before too many people are about - and also to allow time for a decent outing and to be back in time to do all the other stuff I need to before work. I want to be able to do this at least semi-regularly to get into a sort of routine, and relying on whether I woke up at the right time by chance isn't going to work - I was waking any time between 4:30 and 8:00 - but somehow the later mornings seemed to be working days. Naturally or not, I do like to be up bright and early, and I'm at my best then. I didn't notice I was feeling any better for not waking up with a regular alarm, and wasn't settling into any predictable pattern naturally.

It's really, really hard to avoid knowing what the time is, and thus subconsciously - or consciously - being influenced by it throughout the day and evening. And the more you try to avoid it, the more aware of it you become.

I have found, though, that I tend to spend less time lying awake worrying about the time without the radio alarm clock's display beaming out at me, so I won't be fetching that back down from the attic. I've been using the iPhone, but rather than just using the alarm, I've sussed out the 'bedtime' function. It's easier to see and change the time and days the alarm's set for, and it has much nicer sounds (I'm favouring 'Helios', which is a lovely gentle introduction to the day). I'm trying to resist the temptation to look at it still if I wake in the night.

So I'm back to regularly waking up at six - and actually getting up then now, rather than lying listening to the radio for twenty minutes - or five thirty if I'm having a run, and I think that regularity suits me better. The early morning is definitely my most productive time, and if it's one of those days when I do need to be in the office for a 9:30 meeting, I can be there at 7:30 and get more done in the hour and a half before everyone else arrives than the rest of the day put together. On the days I didn't get out of bed until eight, that felt very much a wasted opportunity - and I didn't feel any perkier for it.

So - with a few tweaks - it's back to the old routine. Which, I think, is definitely better than no routine.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Spring spotting

Can you see it?

Friday, 15 February 2019


Tuesday lunchtime, in the Red Deer. The nachos were particularly good.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Where did he go?

A couple of weeks ago, No.2 Son started his new job as a paralegal, the next step, after many years of hard work and studying, on the route to qualifying as a solicitor.
I'm immensely proud of him, of course.

But part of me misses this little chap

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

All a bit W1A

When I was writing yesterday's post, I realised that it's all a bit W1A sometimes when we talk about where we're timetabled to teach. The denizens of the parallel BBC meet in 'Frankie Howerd' (in fact, a bit of Googling suggests that the real BBC may do likewise), we meanwhile have conversations like 'I'm so sorry, I sent you to Henry Stephenson when you wanted Sir Robert Hadfield'; 'I'm in Pam Liversidge', and 'Ella Armitage used to be the Bioincubator'. There are dozens more. Mathematicians and chemists seem quite happy to just be known by their surnames (Hicks, Dainton) whilst baronet industrialists like Sir Frederick Mappin and the aforementioned Sir Robert get their full titles emblazened in TUOS Stephenson (yup, Henry, and his relatives) typeface across the front of their buildings. Not only do we have buildings named after worthies, but also of course rooms - and at least one person has a floor.

This is going to peter out a bit here, but while I'm on the subject of W1A can I just note how inappropriate it is that they used the theme music from Animal Magic which as any child of the seventies kno was never anywhere near W1A, but was BS8.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

On the nail

In researching this post, I have for the first time encountered the concept of a 'nail house' - originating in China, this is a property whose owners have refused to sell to a developer, forcing the development to be built around them.

The most famous example round here - at least as far as the University is concerned - must surely be the Henderson's Relish works, who for decades refused to sell up while shiny (and now not so shiny) university buildings mushroomed around them. Inevitably, a few years ago the University finally did purchase the site - but at least now the building has become so iconic they've promised not to knock it down. I took a couple of photos of it the other morning as I was struck by seeing the back of the site for the first time.
The surroundings have changed since I wrote about it  a couple of years ago, but nothing much seems to have happened to the building - nor to the University Arms...

However, what really prompted this post was another building, even more starkly surrounded by new build, and considerably more stubbornly untidy and working.
I've seen the big house on Broad Lane, of course, but it was only from floor E of the Pam Liversidge building, where I'd not been before, that I noticed McCague's garage behind it.
I love these stubborn relics, making the place untidy. I reckon there are probably a fair few more clinging on, so I'll be keeping an eye out for Sheffield's 'nail businesses'.

Monday, 11 February 2019

The terrifying countdown to Hebden Bridge

Ages ago, Blogger stopped supporting third party widgets, and I lost my pretty little Daisypath ticker that told me how long I've owned Chertsey. But I noticed that Nev on Percy has been counting off the days of his retirement, so I followed up his counter, created a new one there, and fingers crossed, it seems to work. I like the no-nonsense meter better than the pretty ticker anyway. We shall be celebrating my ten years of historic boat ownership in September.

In the meantime, though, I also made a countdown, to see how long we have, mentally, emotionally and practically to prepare for this year's HNBC expedition to Hebden Bridge. And it is - gulp - only a shade over three months. That is, frankly, terrifying. I can get only the barest minimum time necessary off work, meaning that we have to go out and back the same way (all those smug gits with their shortened boats and tugs are bragging about the Leeds Liverpool; my alternative would have been via Preston Brook (don't ask me any more just yet, it's all a bit vague) but as it stands it's Rochdale there and Rochdale back), and very little time to prepare the boat.

Jim is now full time managing Sebastian's shop while Sebastian takes the next step up the ladder towards qualifying as a solicitor, so he won't have much time to spare either. I have no ideal how we're going to manage Geoffrey, who has never been boating before and - the horror - likes swimming. I haven't even started the new strings yet; the engine's still smokier than Jim would like so in all probability I'll be steering through Harecastle. We've never done the Rochdale before but when people who have been boating for forty years did it two years ago and say it was the hardest thing they've ever done, you can't help feeling a bit nervous. At least I'm building up my fitness - though I think I might need to work on the upper body strength too from what I hear.

I was, frankly, shocked to see how little time there is before the event - and includes the time to get there. Give me a few days of blind panic, and then I'm sure I'll start to formulate a plan.

At least I'm writing about boating again.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

More light and shade

There are now only two rooms in the house with just a bare lightbulb. Not bad, after getting on for two years.
The latest room to be fully furnished with lighting is the dining room. I've waited a long time for this, because I knew exactly what I wanted, and thanks to Lampspares, and Ryan the very tall electrician from Barnsley, I now have it.
Oh, and thanks also to the two beautiful glass globes we bought for a pound each (or was it the pair?) at the South Heighton Bonfire jumble sale about twenty-five years ago. Fow many years they graced the hall of the house in Newhaven, but they have now found their true home and vocation.
Ryan supplied the galvanised conduit and did a brilliant job of these and a couple of other jobs (if he had a website, I'd link to it); the flex, hooks, chain and very-tricky-to-put-together lampholders were from Lampspares. And the idea of attaching the hook fitting direct to a junction box which inspired the whole set-up came from Pete Boyce's eclectic and eccentric premises.

As I've said before, I know pseudo-post-industrial is all a bit 2015 (up here, anyway), but this is actually pseudo-railway waiting room type vibe, so that's OK then.

Saturday, 9 February 2019


Sebastian and I had a little text exchange a few weeks ago.

I asked whether, if someone had an irrational fear of hot Vietmanese soup, they suffered from phophobia.

He wondered about the person who had an irrational fear that they were being fobbed off with fake hot Vietnamese soup: fauxphophobia.

Maybe you are afraid that you are being supplied inauthentic hot Vietnamese soup by your sworn enemy: foefauxphophobia

I thought, what about if you had an irrational fear that the counterfeit hot Vietnamese soup supplied by your sworn enemy might contain the blood of an Englishman, or be accompanied by bread made from ground bones: the diagnosis would then be

I think that's about as far as we can take that one - unless of course (in the immortal words of Glyn Worsnip), you know different.

Friday, 8 February 2019

What's the advantage?

I have a fair bit of brass at home, but no Brasso, which is all on the boat. I wanted to polish my GWR carriage lamps, and the only form of Brasso I could get in Tesco's was this:
Now, obviously I'd come across Duraglit wadding before, but I don't think I've ever tried to use it in my adult life. Having tried unsuccessfully to apply it to my lamps, and ended up with bits everywhere, I am left wondering, what's the good of it? What possible advantage does it offer over a bottle of Brasso and a rag?

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Running news

Two and a half years ago, I got very excited because I had run a mile for the first time in my life.

Yesterday morning, I ran a mile and a half: the furthest I have ever run, non-stop, in my life.

I haven't been completely idle inbetween. I ran that old mile, along the A57, a few more times; slipped out of the habit a bit in the summer when there was boating to be done, and in the winter when it was too cold and frosty, and in the autumn when it was too busy to think about anything... But it stood me in good stead; I found that I could trot along the towpath at a useful speed for useful distances, and I started to actually genuinely enjoy and look forward to an early morning run (I can't quite fancy it any other time).

Then I moved house. And spent the best part of nine months working on it (along with Jim). And once the dust had settled, what I quickly noticed was that there was nowhere I could set off for a run from my new house without tackling some serious hills.
So for another few months, I didn't.

Even without deliberately going out exercising, I've developed serious 'Sheffield legs' - calves like I wouldn't have believed - negotiating Blake Street on the way back from Tesco's, the library, and most days, work.

Then I thought, well, the hills aren't going to go away, so I might as well make a virtue of them. I worked out a one mile circuit that involved going up a fairly steep hill, down an more gradual one, then finally (in a fit of masochism) up Blake Street (which is the one in the photo if you hadn't guessed, and is, according to the BBC, the third steepest residential street in Britain. There was a Welsh one in the news the other week competing with New Zealand's steepest street, but I don't think it was residential...) Obviously I couldn't run the whole of that mile (yet) but I have managed about two thirds of the Blake Street section (yes, uphill), and all the downhill bit of course. So that's been good exercise, but I still missed the possibility of running consistently for a decent (for me) distance.

However, I think I've sussed that now too. If I go downhill a little bit (and am prepared to come back uphill on the way back) I can run along the Langsett/Middlewood Road which, while not completely flat, is certainly not hilly (as its status as a tram route attests). I tried it for the first time just before the weather got really cold (I'm not risking my neck if it's icy) and managed a mile and a quarter (including the first downhill bit from home) non-stop running before I turned around and came back.

Yesterday morning it was mild enough to have another go, and I needed to take Bluebird to Malin Bridge to be nursed through her MOT, so having arranged to drop her off really early, I ran back - all the way to the bottom of the final steep bit, which was a mile and a half mostly not downhill.

I'd better keep it up if I'm to be in shape for the Hebden Bridge foray.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Heritage pub 3: The Red Deer

My second favourite Sheffield pub is another which the book puts in the inventor of historic pub exteriors, 'for pubs where the historic interior has been entirely destroyed'.

So I have taken a photo of the exterior, which apparently is little changed since 1825 (except for the bloody great mural, of course), in which you can't really see the three original etched windows.
I like the Red Deer because it is reasonably near work, has decent beer and friendly staff, but above all because alone amongst my top three, it does food - and rather good food at that. Their nachos, in particular, are fabulous. Whereas many places would be happy to open a packet of Doritos and microwave a bit of cheese on the top, the Red Deer's tortilla pieces are freshly deep fried ... mmmm... They do other good stuff too, with some imaginative but not ridiculous vegan offerings. Nice spicy mini vegan haggises, battered halloumi, and, as I had on Monday, southern fried tofu with sweet potato chips. It used to have a reputation for being full of engineers, but since they've moved from nearby Mappin Street to the carbuncle manque that is the Diamond, maybe less so... They also have real fires in two of their three fireplaces. So it's a shame that those three fireplaces are now in one big room, which includes an extension, but I'm still always happy to visit the Red Deer.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Lost canals are turning up everywhere!

I haven't yet watched any of Captain Ahab's 'Canal Hunter' series of videos in which he tracks down sections of the 'lost sixty miles' of the BCN. I'm not great at sitting down to watch stuff (I find it a bit overwhelming); I always prefer to read about it, but ...

[ranty digression] It makes me quite annoyed now you can hardly get written instructions for anything, but have to sit through a video or screencast - the latest example being how to get my online feedback in my student persona. Had they written a few paragraphs, I could have quickly skimmed to the bit I needed, but with the screencast I had to sit through three and a half minutes of stuff I did already know how to do, and even then it wasn't as easy - for me - to understand.[ranty digression ends]

... I will, of course, make an exception for the Captain, and I can see how the use of a visual medium like video is really suited to this kind of project. But I haven't got round to it yet.

Now, it's no secret that Captain Ahab is a bit  of a fiend for the BCN, but imagine my excitement when Diamond Geezer followed up a post about CRT's lockage stats with what promises to be the beginning of a series on London's lost canals ... two posts, for starters, on the Grand Surrey Canal, all of which has been filled in (some as recently as 1980), and much of which has become road, leading to some surreal bridges and bollards, all beautifully photographed and written up in dg's inimitable style - plus links to loads more info (which I haven't followed up yet either). I hope it is the start of a series...

P.S. Just doing a quick search of dg's oeuvre, I found a 2010 post about the Croydon Canal from which I learn for the first time that I actually  spent the first year of my life living near the one remaining unlost bit of a lost canal.

Monday, 4 February 2019

On the run

Last week, Geoffrey ran away. It was around lunchtime on the Friday; he and Ricky were helping Jim in the shop, and a customer came in and left the door open. Faster than the eye could see, Geoffrey was out and away. (Ricky, being such a good boy these days, stayed put.)

Naturally consternation ensued. I was being kept apprised of events via text, and following the updates on Facebook (public pages, no I haven't joined!) but there was very little I could do from here.

The biggest worry was that he'd get run over; the next biggest - after he'd been at large for some hours without that happening - was that he'd get out onto the Downs and either catch a sheep (we have no idea whether Geoffrey goes for sheep, or even if he knows what one is, but it's a reasonable bet), or stay out there for weeks living off the land (as I'm sure he's perfectly capable of).

With the help of Sebastian and Fiona, all sorts of groups and mechanisms sprung into action, including a group of people who use their drones to search for lost pets. It was amazing the goodwill that poured forth from total strangers. There were many sightings, but no one got close enough to catch him. Night fell, and bedtime came, and still he was missing. At least that Friday night was mild, but colder weather was forecast imminently, which was an added worry.

However, on the Saturday morning, Jim got a phone call - Geoffrey was found, safe and well, and had successfully been detained. He'd got as far as the edge of the Downs, and leapt a very high fence to get into someone's garden. Once in, it seems he couldn't get the run up to get out again, so there he stayed. When the householders let their dog out in the morning, in strolled Geoffrey, none the worse for the experience.

He was very tired though....
Although he was found only about five miles from the shop, Jim plotted all the sightings on a map and calculated that he'd probably travelled about ten miles altogether.

I think he was sorry...
Ricky did do a runner from the shop once, but was apprehended three doors up the road eating a workman's sandwiches.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

... and other stories

The foolhardiness of trying to carry tea in your hat is one of the many things that remind me of a story I was told as a child, but of which I can now find no trace.

It concerns a small boy who is sent to market on consecutive days to make various purchases: a cow, a cat, a pat of butter, something valuable...

Every day he attempts to convey his purchase home according to the instructions he was given the day before.  Every day this goes horribly wrong and he gets into trouble. For example, when he's carrying something precious, he gets robbed, so his mother scolds him and tells him he should have hidden it under his hat. The next day he goes for butter, puts it under his hat, and by the time he gets back it's melted all over him and he gets another bollocking. But all the time he's really doing his best, and just trying to do as he's been instructed.

I felt for him then, and I feel for him now, because it strikes me that this is an autistic person's experience; trying so hard to get things right and never quite understanding why it doesn't work out, when you've done exactly as you were told. I often think of the story because I often feel like that even now. At the very workshop to which I took the tea, I failed to do what was intended because I took the instructions too literally, and missed out on the opportunity to contribute as a result. However, thanks to the Equalities Act 2010, at least I didn't get a beating.

If anyone knows or can help me track down the story, I'd be delighted.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Don't carry tea in your hat

One of the idiocies of the modern world with which I will have no truck is the 'reusable' cup which is designed to look like a disposable one, complete with Tommy Tippee lid. These are, apparently, made of compostible bamboo fibre, held together with 'resin'. Be that as it may, because they have no handle, they also have a silicone plastic sleeve, and the aforementioned lid, made of actual plastic. They - looking at my colleagues' - seem hard to keep clean, and not very durable. So much for being environmentally friendly.

I have a reusable cup. If I take care of it, it will last forever. It's a china mug. If it gets cracked, or chipped, or the handle breaks, I can use it to keep pencils in. If I do ever need to dispose of it, it is at least inert and non-polluting, and could be used as a very small amount of hardcore.

However, on Thursday, for the first time, I wanted to take a cup of tea from one building to another, as we were having an early meeting in the second building. As I hadn't yet got round to buying a lid for my mug  (I have just ordered one now), I found a paper cup which just about wedged in the top, and thought that that might serve the purpose of preventing it slopping over the sides.

It was very cold on Thursday morning, so I wrapped this arrangement of mug and paper cup (which I had stabbed in the bottom with a pencil to let the steam out) in my woolly hippy hat. This is a splendid hat, made of rainbow striped wool with a lovely fleece lining, which accompanied me on the epic 2010 icebreaking trip from Kings Bromley to Great Hayward, where we gave up and left the boat frozen in for six weeks. I am very fond of this hat.

To cut to the chase, it didn't work. By the time I'd crossed the road, the package felt distinctly damp; when I arrived at The Diamond (shortlisted for the 2016 Carbuncle Cup, and in my view it wuz robbed) it was actually dripping. So I stopped by a recycling bin and got rid of the paper cup, mopped myself down, and went off to brainstorm a whole department approach to the student journey for a couple of joyful hours. I still had about two thirds of a cup of tea, and it was still hot, so that could be counted as a partial success; however, my hat was in no state to be worn home.

I put it on top of the water boiler in the office in an attempt to dry it out. None of the radiators in the office is turned on, because the office mysteriously maintains a temperature of 29 degrees centigrade throughout the winter without them. We think the Careers Service on the ground floor has some sort of thermonuclear device. When you enter the office on a cold January day, you have approximately ten seconds to remove eighty percent of your clothes before you expire from heatstroke.

When I got home I ran a sinkful of warm water and Woolite, and washed my hat. My god, it was filthy. As filthy as I suppose you'd have every right to expect a hat that hadn't been washed since going boating in 2010 to be. And now it's all bright and sparkling, having dried on my patent woolly hat drying device, viz. a long-handled sieve wedged into the radiator. So all's well that ends well, but nonetheless the moral of this story is, don't carry tea in your hat.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Books I read in January

Back by popular demand (mine, because it fills a page), here is the first of 2019's monthly rundowns of my not-so-elevated reading habits:

Christobel Kent The Dead Season (local library)
I discovered Christobel Kent by accident when trawling the library (I found The Day She Disappeared) and found that what looked like a run of the mill women's thriller (because that is a thing, I think) was actually very well-written and engaging, with a good plot and plenty of suspense. So I got onto the Sheffield libraries website and tracked down as many as I could (because Sheffield Council, excellently, doesn't charge you to reserve books and have them delivered to your local library). The Dead Season is one of a series about an ex-police, private detective, in Florence. Yes, I know I don't usually do foreign-set stories, but the strength of the writing carried me through, and I have to admit the atmosphere of a stifling Florentine summer was excellent.

Jim Kelly Death's Door (local library)
I'd read Kelly's stories about journalist detective Philip Dryden, but hadn't come across his policemen, Shaw and Valentine. It might take a couple of books for the characters to develop fully three dimensionally, but the plot was good.

Christobel Kent The Killing Room (local library)
Another Sandro Cellini story. Again, good plot and writing, and the characters starting to really take shape.

Christobel Kent The Loving Husband (local library)
Good plot and characters, lots of suspense, another winner.

Christobel Kent What We Did (Kindle)
I downloaded this one to take to Southampton, because my one remaining unread library book was a large print hardback. This was less gripping, being not so much a whodunnit (or even a whydunnit) but a wedunnit (and are we going to get away with it).

Christobel Kent The Crooked House (local library)
Good characters, atmosphere and suspense, great writing and observation, but a plot that left me wondering why. Maybe the sort of book you have to read twice.

Sabine Durrant Take Me In (Tesco's)
Frustrating story of annoying people who do idiotic things because of pointless guilt, with a very unsatisfying ending which does nothing to resolve the main question and only reason for reading to the end. Nice detail of PR work though.

Patricia Gibney The Stolen Girls (local library)
Irish-set police thriller, average to OK, but with some leaden dialogue and excruciating prose in places.