The Shame of Hillsborough

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I have never lost a loved one in a tragedy such as occurred to 96 Liverpool fans in the Hillsborough football ground in 1989,  during what should have been a happy event.

So I cannot even begin to contemplate the personal loss suffered by relatives, never mind the fact that it was part of a multiple tragedy. Add to this the failure of the ambulance and police services to handle the immediate situation satisfactorily with a lack of professional competence, and the anger was justifiably going to grow. Unjustified accusations of fan mis-behaviour did nothing to help the campaign in its quest for truth to be discovered.

But what must surely be considered a major factor to be carried into the future, was the continuing failure of professionals in the legal, political, and policing fields to allow the truth to come out. The eventual release of all the legal papers, just a few years ago, showed not just the failure of proper leadership, but even more worrying, some of the statements by police officers had been changed by superiors, to protect those who had made the wrong decisions. Despite the damning evidence, it has taken some years for the legal procedures to be completed. The decision reached today by the jury placed responsibility where it should be, and completely vindicated the efforts made by the relatives. It is good that they feel some closure, and that duty has been done to the memory of those who died.

Our relief that justice has been eventually achieved (after 27 long years) must be muted with the realisation that those responsible as up-holders of the legal area of our society have been shown to be capable of wrong decisions, and are not always whiter-than-white when it comes to admitting to their professional mistakes.

Professionals such as these take on an awesome responsibility when they assume the mantle of decision-making and leading men…….and when things go well they deserve the plaudits. But they must also know what will happen when their decisions are wrong, with subsequent dreadful results.

We have yet to see where the next turns of the wheels of justice will take us, and whilst we are all relieved with the result, we know that there will be problems of what, if anything can and will be done about those individuals and institutions now held reponsible. There is no doubt that any retribution or apologies will not bring back loved ones, or make up for the years during which the truth was distorted.

Were I one of those campaigning, I think would be at a loss how to feel. Can I therefore hope that there may yet be an element of forgiveness from the relatives for those professionals who, in retrospect, made the wrong decisions, and have to live with that knowledge all of their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wee Grey Fergie

Not a title which means much to many people of this generation, but to those of us baby-boomers, and those with a connection to the land, it engenders an era gone past.

But to go back to the beginning…….

Tom Monroe on tractor  undated.jpg

My father was born in 1918 (so a baby-boomer of the First World War) into a family which might have been called gentlemen farmers. They obviously had a lot of farm machinery, and accounts which I have, show that they did lots of contract work for the local farming community who could not, or did not want to, purchase equipment which they would only use for a short time.

I have no records of when they bought their first tractor, but the above updated photo shows my father driving what I believe to be a Wee Grey Fergie. Now, I may be wrong because his model had many variants. The formal model name was TE 20, (from Tractor, England, 20 horsepower) not a very inspiring name.

In 1916, Harry Ferguson started development on ‘The Ferguson System’ to make a plough and linkage become part of the tractor as a whole. He got a patent granted in 1926, and then worked further on the linkage in the early ’30s. Production of the pre-TE20 models began in Huddersfield in the David Brown Factory in 1936, and in 1939, Henry Ford in Detroit, in the States, took on production of some 300,000 Ford Ferguson units to 1947.

There were some problems between Ferguson and Ford about the production location, and by 1945 the Wee Grey Fergie TE20 was built by the Standard Motor Company, Coventry (who built the Standard car). In all, from May 1936 to July 1956, approx one million units were sold worldwide.

So why am I such a nerd about this tractor? Well, I never knew my paternal grandparents and their farming business, but I did know my maternal grandparents, also farmers, with a relatively-small-holding near Lisburn, Northern Ireland. An undated photo of my grandparents, shows the compicated kind of mechanical reaper which was used with horses.

Sarah and John Stewart at Ballymullan on reaper date unknown.jpg

This 1966 photo shows their Fergie with direct linkage from the tractor engine to the reaper blades…

Bobby Stewart ploughing Jul 1966.JPG

…..and this one of the same year shows a different mechanism attached to ‘turn-over’ hay to dry it off. Nice to see the evident equality with my aunt driving the tractor…..

Bobby and Agnes Stewart on 'wee grey Fergie' Ballymullan.jpg

…..and still manual labour was necessary until the farmer could afford another module  for their Fergie to do the job…

Agnes, Bobby Stewart, and mother Marg Crawford, Ballymullan.jpg

So I was regularly at the farm with my brother and eventually at about the age of 11 or 12, was allowed to briefly drive the Fergie. I can clearly remember the cold winter’s day in a field of kale, which was being cut by my uncle, and thrown into a trailer, and I was empowered to move the tractor and trailer forward. I don’t think my Grandmother or Mother were informed! It was not an easy vehicle to drive but eventually I believe I made some small contribution to local agriculture!

Hence my strange ‘attachment’ to this farming machine……

Move forward to a week ago when I received a birthday present which delighted me immensely. A little scale-model of the TE20, along with a lovely drawing of a rural scene by Trevor Mitchell showing a Fergie, ploughing, a postie on a bike,  a church clock-tower, and a flock of birds…..

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!

The reason for holidays

We’re having a few days away, trying, unsuccessfully, to get a little pre-Summer sun. The concept of  Holidays obviously derived from the phrase Holy Days, when labourers, apprentices, servants, etc would be released from their work, to travel home to the bosoms of their families, for a few days.

I wouldn’t imagine that they could contemplate being away from work for perhaps two weeks as we often have now, or what we do with our free time.

Looking back as a child,  I remember the summer hols especially,  being free from school clothes, and playing in the countryside where we lived, or walking out to our grandparents, who had a small Irish farm-holding near Lisburn.

I never remember being bored, as we had cows to chase, trees to climb, streams to cross, knees to graze, tents to sleep in, tomatoes to water, lettuces to gather, a black labrador to entertain, water to drink from a well, frogs to catch and return to a damp area, cricket and football to play with neighbouring school pals, as well as the children’s television programmes on the black and white TV.

No, life was busy, but we always looked-forward to the  trip on the train to the beaches of Bangor and Newcastle, for a day. It might have been on the organised Sunday School picnic, or just with the family. Mum always had a long flowing skirt, white sandals, and a cardigan (which she had probably knitted herself) ‘….in case it gets windy’. She carried a leather, or wicker, bag, containing the waterproofs,  towels, sandwiches,  and all the other essentials for a 1950’s day at the sea. Dad was photographed in a suit, and tie.

Staying at a boarding house, for a week (we always went to the same one in Newcastle, County Down) meant suitcases and games to keep us amused if the weather was bad, and the fact that it was at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne meant that there was always an element of risk of rain or cloud. Whatever happened we generally had a good time.

Into teenhood, and brother and I did Youth Hostelling around the Mournes. Carrying everything in our ruck-sacks, we endured rain and wind, unheated primitive premises, self-cooked food, basic sleeping conditions, but again we had good times.

Proper holidays were out of the questions during my late teens, due to father’s on-going health problems, but brief trips to Ireland, from Scotland (where I now lived) allowed me to keep in contact with friends and relations. But they were exactly that….not really ‘me-time’.

Marriage and then later, holidays with our children, meant that we started doing what had happened to us as children. Buckets and spades, hotels near a beach, in the South of England and the far North of Scotland, ice cream, wet swim suits, sand in the shoes and in the car, in-laws, etc were all part of very-happy times. Pleased to say that we were always proud of how our son and daughter behaved in public, and with other children. In comparison, scenes of screaming, ill-disciplined children would grate on the ear and must have caused embarrassment to many a parent.

As they grew to teenage-hood, and we took them abroad, they would meet with other children, and entertain themselves, with only the occasional return for some money. Again there were no problems, and cans of coke, and chattering with their new friends, allowed Lady and me to blether with other similar parents, with similar children. We began to feel independent adults again!

The time came when they organised their own holidays, and we did our own thing. We still had our own business, so breaks were fitted-in with the requirements of our staff and their school children. They were therefore limited, so we chose carefully, going on cruises, and to places we had dreamed-off, as we fortunately had more disposable income.

Then came retirement, in 2011, and the extra available time allowed longer and more distant times away from home. Also the knowledge that we did not have to go back to work, makes a big difference. We have spoken-to, and become friends with, people from other countries, stayed in the house of a Nethetlands family and they have stayed with us. This has given us a much-wider breadth of vision about life and politics from a European perspective.

We are quite happy, now, to sit in the bar in the evening, and chatter with complete strangers in a foreign language. So our holidays have changed from going to see things and places, to giving us the chance to meet new people……..

Our holidays, and what we expect to get from them,  have changed dramatically, but it is still nice to go away, and return home, in equal measure….however, the connection with different people and different cultures still holds the greatest attraction for me.

What about you?

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The reason for holidays

We’re having a few days away, trying, unsuccessfully, to get a lttle pre-Summer sun. The concept of  Holidays obviously derived from the phrase Holy Days, when labourers, apprentices, servants, etc would be released from their work, to travel home to the bosoms of their families, for a few days.

I wouldn’t imagine that they could contemplate being away from work for perhaps two weeks as we often have now, or what we do with our free time.

Looking back as a child,  I remember the summer hols especially,  being free from school clothes, and playing in the countryside where we lived, or walking out to our grandparents, who had a small Irish farm-holding near Lisburn.

I never remember being bored, as we had cows to chase, trees to climb, streams to cross, knees to graze, tents to sleep in, tomatoes to water, lettuces to gather, a black labrador to entertain, water to drink from a well, frogs to catch and return to a damp area, cricket and football to play with neighbouring school pals, as well as the children’s television programmes on the black and white TV.

No, life was busy, but we always looked-forward to the  trip on the train to the beaches of Bangor and Newcastle, for a day. It might have been on the organised Sunday School picnic, or just with the family. Mum always had a long flowing skirt, white sandals, and a cardigan (which she had probably knitted herself) ‘….in case it gets windy’. She carried a leather, or wicker, bag, containing the waterproofs,  towels, sandwiches,  and all the other essentials for a 1950’s day at the sea. Dad was photographed in a suit, and tie.

Staying at a boarding house, for a week (we always went to the same one in Newcastle, County Down) meant suitcases and games to keep us amused if the weather was bad, and the fact that it was at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne meant that there was always an element of risk of rain or cloud. Whatever happened we generally had a good time.

Into teenhood, and brother and I did Youth Hostelling around the Mournes. Carrying everything in our ruck-sacks, we endured rain and wind, unheated primitive premises, self-cooked food, basic sleeping conditions, but again we had good times.

Proper holidays were out of the questions during my late teens, due to father’s on-going health problems, but brief trips to Ireland, from Scotland (where I now lived) allowed me to keep in contact with friends and relations. But they were exactly that….not really ‘me-time’.

Marriage and then later, holidays with our children, meant that we started doing what had happened to us as children. Buckets and spades, hotels near a beach, in the South of England and the far North of Scotland, ice cream, wet swim suits, sand in the shoes and in the car, in-laws, etc were all part of very-happy times. Pleased to say that we were always proud of how our son and daughter behaved in public, and with other children. In comparison, scenes of screaming, ill-disciplined children would grate on the ear and must have caused embarrassment to many a parent.

As they grew to teenage-hood, and we took them abroad, they would meet with other children, and entertain themselves, with only the occasional return for some money. Again there were no problems, and cans of coke, and chattering with their new friends, allowed Lady and me to blether with other similar parents, with similar children. We began to feel independent adults again!

The time came when they organised their own holidays, and we did our own thing. We still had our own business, so breaks were fitted-in with the requirements of our staff and their school children. They were therefore limited, so we chose carefully, going on cruises, and to places we had dreamed-off, as we fortunately had more disposable income.

Then came retirement, in 2011, and the extra available time allowed longer and more distant times away from home. Also the knowledge that we did not have to go back to work, makes a big difference. We have spoken-to, and become friends with, people from other countries, stayed in the house of a Nethetlands family and they have stayed with us. This has given us a much-wider breadth of vision about life and politics from a European perspective.

We are quite happy, now, to sit in the bar in the evening, and chatter with complete strangers in a foreign language. So our holidays have changed from going to see things and places, to giving us the chance to meet new people……..

Our holidays, and what we expect to get from them,  have changed dramatically, but it is still nice to go away, and return home, in equal measure….however, the connection with different people and different cultures still holds the greatest attraction for me.

What about you?

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Two country towns….and a brewery

Coming north to the West of Scotland involves, after crossing the Border, simply changing from the M6 onto the M74. You would not even know you had crossed a Rubicon if it were not for the road signs. As you travel about 80 miles, from the Border, you start to drive through the County of Lanarkshire. It is a county of two halves…..the northern, industrial part (now mostly decimated by the changes in the steel economy), and the rural Southern farming community.

Lady of the House  headed out for the day towards a little town called Strathaven (pronounced Strave-in), which we know quite well. Over 50 years ago, I would get two buses on a Sunday to play the organ at Rankin Parish Church, and my wife-to be, and I, would have ‘tea’ in a local cafe, and had walks. But we didn’t get to know it well, as many of the shops were shut. We have passed through many times and had coffee etc, but this was to be an exploratory day. It was not a brilliantly-sunny day, but reasonable for photos.

As in many of our town/villages, the car takes a lot of space, but the good Burghers have provided ample parking in a large car park adjacent to the shops. So first, to the Strathaven Gift Shop in the Common Green (the town centre) for some items to go with us to the Netherlands (success accomplished), and the items were beautifully wrapped by the lovely lady who served us.P1050784

 

A few yards’ walk took us for lunch at the Tudor Coffee House. This is a lovely little eatery with only six or seven tables, so best to go outwith the busy times. YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY MISS IT!

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They offered a Senior’s lunch, which was excellent. A large glass of fruit juice, followed by steak pie, chips (I do like chips!) and peas, with a massive pot of tea (in china cups) satiated my hunger, whilst Lady of the House had chicken goujons, chips (she also likes chips!) and salad.

I went down into the kitchen, and was able to have a chat with the lady doing the cooking, to give her some compliments on the meal. She noted that we had been there before, with our Dutch friends last May! We must have made some impression! It is well recognised as one of the best local restaurants.

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We were also on the hunt for a local speciality….Strathaven Toffee. The little place where it had been made had disappeared from the main street, but we were told it was available up a side street, in a small sweetie shop, quaintly named Vintage Violet. It was a treasure trove of old sweeties, and was run by an enthusiastic lady, who was happy to pose for me.

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I asked about Jap Desserts, but she confirmed that the company who made it had discontinued them. …..Is there an business opportunity for someone here? It has a lovely view over a park and little burn  (for non-scots, this is a very small stream, sometimes only a trickle of water).

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The water in the burn was low, (although locally-placed sandbags were evident that there had been a spate.) A pleasant row of trees guarded it nicely, with lights for the evenings, and clumps of crocuses.

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An interesting piece of architecture can be seen from the park looking at the back of some of the houses. i would love o know which room is built in the rounded bit….or maybe it is a spiral staircase.

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A 5 minute walk took us past the Rankin Parish Church where I started playing the organ in 1963 when just 18, and then into the local park, for our daily perambulation. There were plenty of snowdrops and other flowers in evidence, and it is an extremely well-cared-for. The only jarring aspect was the ruined house which had been a Museum gifted at the same time as the park was gifted to the town. Seemingly it was being sold off and builders were doing unsafe removal of walls and the work was stopped. It now sits as a mess marring the lovely environment. Very sad!

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But the afternoon was moving on and we set off for Lanark by a spectacular rural B road. Suddenly Lady and I spied a notice announcing  something interesting, and which we did not know existed…..

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We drove into what looked like a farmyard, but had been a mill, with its wheel powered by the local river. As the notice said, we were made very welcome. It is a three-generation family business producing six speciality beers, presentation packs, and beer-flavoured fudge in conjunction with a local farm. You can also see some of their products on Aldi shelves. You will also find them on social media, including Trip Advisor, so they are moving with the times. We took away some of said products, and tasted them with the experience of my next-door neighbour…… lovely!

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We could not stay there for ever, so onward to the Burgh of Lanark, which is a busy county town, including the farmers’ market. It is also the birthplace of Lady of the House, so she feels attached to it. It would be a lovely place to retire to, were it not for the steep Main Street, and the possibility of being cut off in Winter with the approcah roads all being easily iced-up.

The most well-known building in the centre of the town is the  wonderful St Nicholas Parish Church at the lower end of the main street……..P1050788

…….and tucked- in to one side is the kind of marvellous hardware shop, which used to adorn every High Street, and is a dream for many a house-maker. And more interestingly for me, and something  which attaracts us for a day out……a little cafe……..

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So we had come to the end of our day out and this always has to be noted with a little bit of local baking……can life get any better? I will leave this for you to drool over…….

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The People Who Never Sang….

 

carol-singers

I think that I first became really interested in ‘singing’ when I was ‘just a wee boy’ in a Junior Choir at our church in Northern Ireland. I came from a family steeped in amateur music. My Mother ALWAYS sang, my Father sang in choirs in church and also in male voices, as well as conducting; cousins, and uncles were singers and an aunt was a piano teacher.

So it was probably not surprising that I would sing in choirs and also learn the piano and organ (reasonably successfully), and the clarinet (unsuccessfully). Junior and senior  church choirs, playing the organ at services, and choral and instrumental composing meant that I was in the thick of what was the great interest of my family, and this was no doubt a large part of their legacy to me.

I was probably about 18 when I was playing regularly at church services , and taking a choir of people old enough to be my parents, and perhaps grandparents! The bravado of youth obviously shaded me from my mistakes, but hopefully I did something right!

After Evensong Lochgilphead

The ‘formal’ Angelus Singers at Lochgilphead…

As you can imagine, many of these choirs required a rigid discipline in attendance and standard of singing to operate well, as we had Church-year timetables, and music, to perform. No good getting the Christmas anthems ready for mid-January!….or having half a choir turn up for the Easter Service!…..or someone hitting a bum note, or a wrong entry!

But there was  a sort of self-selection process going on, where people would not put themselves forward for membership if they felt they had no voice, or a poor one. And it obviously worked well, in that most of the choir-members I met, and dealt-with, had quite reasonable voices.

But, what about the folk who, despite our protests, thought they had a poor voice, or were TOLD by someone that they had a poor voice, or were embarrassed, or did not have the time, or were not tremendously motivated? We obviously never saw them, so there MUST have been a waste of natural talent out there.

Jump forward some decades to Gareth Malone on television, who parachuted-in to various places across the UK to form some type of choir, and obviously left it to underlings to get on with the practices. He would then appear again to conduct some item. It made good television, but not really practical in today’s hectic world!

Meanwhile I had given up full-time organ-playing and was happy to occasionally fill-in, and with there being fewer choirs, that door had been closed. Retirement had come, but I still longed for the heady days of choral music…..but surely that was all history, now, and I had better get used to it……but I was not to reckon on the  U3A, the University of the Third Age, which we only joined a few months ago!

I have blogged about it before, and the great motivation it engenders in people.  Someone had said in passing, in front of a crowded room at our first meeting, that there was a wish for a Singing Group, and that ‘Harry might be happy to start one!’ So there was a challenge! But where to begin?

Now, remember that the age-group range  of the Members probably centres on the early 70’s…..some are in their 90’s! You cannot start analysing and auditioning folk of this age, so the only two criteria would be, could they stand-up (even with help), and breathe?

MANY OF THOSE WERE IN THE CATEGORY OF ‘THE FOLK WHO NEVER SANG’

The interest was amazing! We had 22 with us today at one of the weekly practices, we have 13 pieces on the practice list, and we sing lustily for an hour after some warm-up vocal exercises. Not everyone can come every practice (retirement is busy, you know!) so we are never exactly sure who will be there, but some have been to every practice. No notice is taken of previous experience, musical skills, embarrassment levels, etc, and mistakes are very common. But we are now singing lots of old post-war favourites, and rounds, in parts, and very good they are, too.

I have been given loads of music to look through, by members, so that there is always a new piece every week, of THEIR favourites.

We laugh, we joke, we do little musical tricks, ask them to ‘volunteer’ as  soloists, and have a thoroughly-great relaxing time. Everyone goes away smiling, and making sure they know when the next practice is. And beside all this the voices are really very good!

Personally, I have had a new lease of life, back to helping people find the joy of singing, and this time with no constraints of any kind, on the music, or the musical ability; simply the idea of having fun as a group, and, of course…….they will never be able to say ‘WE NEVER SANG’

P1050874A few of our Singing Group who obviously enjoy themselves in a relaxed atmosphere

(can you spot the 90-year old?)

 

 

 

 

 

So what is this U3A?

One of the lovely things about retirement is that you are less restrained by the time restraints of working hours, and you have the opportunity of generally choosing how you will fill the many hours now available.

I have to admit, here, that following our retirement from our business in 2011, my wife and I had totally-different approaches………

….She loved it as she had looked-forward to it for years. She could do all her housework at her leisure and she could encourage me to take her out for coffees, or we could drive further afield, and even abroad…….

….On the other hand, I missed the day-to-day decision-making which I had enjoyed/dreaded in equal measure for nearly 40 years. Demands for lectures, training, and advice, from my professional colleagues, ceased , and there was a feeling of ‘I’m not needed any longer, and all my life-skills are redundant’, so I felt very sorry for myself !

We both needed an aim in life again, and this is where the U3 A came on to the scene. We had known of the Open University, but were not really interested, because of the fact that it is for those who may well live a relatively-solitary life.

We wanted something with people-contact, in the same kind of situation as us, and somehow we heard of a U3A meeting for old codgers at our local Golf Club (simply used as a suitable meeting place, so no golf clubs required!). We went along and immediately found ourselves amidst over 50 laughing, happy retired folk, who welcomed us with metaphorically-open arms. And it has been like this ever since.

U3A (University of the Third Age) is a long-established international group of self-organised, self-funded, self-motivated local groups who decide what activities they wish to have, and then one of the members takes responsibility for organising each activity. We have about 20 different activities including walking, table tennis, men’s lunch, speakers, poetry, travel, local history, Spanish, Singing Group…….the list goes on and on.

Now, from having empty days in  our calendar, we have to juggle our time to get even the mundane things of life done!

So if you are retired, and want to fill your later years to the full, why not Google  ‘U3A’ and then just go along……you know it makes sense…..