In ancient Egypt's fifth dynasty the sun, in the form of the god Ra, was widely worshipped. Ra became a state deity and all manner of solar temples, pyramids and obelisks were built in his honour. In Aztec mythology Tonatiuh was the sun god. Up to twenty thousand people per year were sacrificed in his name. The Greeks, Romans, Saxons, Norsemen and Germanic tribes all had a day of the sun and it is from those languages that our own Sunday comes. In the early nineteenth century, Turner painted the astonishing Sun Rising Through Vapour. In 1930 DH Lawrence was inspired to write, "I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me".
On the 27th of July, 2009, the sun came out in York and a substantial proportion of its population, including myself, were inspired to go and stand in the Post Office. I don't know which emotion I feel more strongly, shame or despair.
Like most cities, York has a Freecycle scheme - a great way of cutting down waste and one I heartily applaud. It's an online list of items that members want to give away, and also items that members would like. No money must change hands for the items. It's a handy way to stop things getting thrown away unnecessarily. I subscribe to the Freecycle Digest too. I get a few emails a day with an updated list. It is split into three categories: Taken, Offered and Wanted. Here are some of the items from the past week. I have not made any of these up, only the comments in italics are mine.
Offered: Christmas wreath - Have you cancelled Christmas in your house?
Offered: Broken paving
Offered: Clothes hangers
Wanted: Dishwasher - There's nothing like ambition, I shall be requesting an Aston Martin soon.
Offered: Ja Ja Binks rucksack - Alternatively, stick a sign on your child's back that says "kick me".
Wanted: Round door handle
Offered: Blackout curtains - Put that bloody light out, don't you know there's a war on!
Wanted: All things Egyptian - I'm not sure that we have the space in York.
Wanted: Non-working Nokia 6500 slide - Why specify non-working? Can't you break one?
Offered: Candia long life milk (out of date) - Hmm, tempting.
Offered: Fire extinguisher, Minimax model 4a (1962) - One for the collectors out there.
Offered: Mens medium beige striped pyjama bottoms
Wanted: Blacksmith's anvil - Strangely, this was not requested by a Wile E. Coyote.
Offered: Arrid XX Womens spray on deodorant (only used twice)
Offered: Rubber fancy dress Roman tie-on armour breastplate - Just what I needed.
Wanted: Sega Megadrive and Sonic The Hedgehog game - Could anyone be more specific?
Wanted: UPVC opening window, 26"wide x 30" tall - Apparently they can.
Someone has written this on a wall near my house. I assume that they're trying to cock a snook at the forces of law and order. I don't think they've thought it through properly. Wouldn't the police rather enjoy that? Wouldn't that cause there to be more of them?
The word police is a little indistinct though, perhaps it says "Fuck The Polite"? Surely "Make love to the polite" would a more appropriate term.
It could say "Fuck The Pohu". My exhaustive research has revealed that Pohu are a Shanghai based hydraulics company. If it refers to them, it's in the wrong place and needs to be moved approximately 6000 miles to the right.
Come on graffitists of York. A little more thought and a little less ambiguity please.
It's sad to hear about the death of Walter Cronkite, the legendary news anchor. His broadcasts were professional, knowledgeable and authoritative, yet the essential decency and humanity of the man shone through. I studied a lot of his broadcasts at university, his treatment of the many momentous events in the turbulent period during which he anchored CBS news was exceptional. When you watch a history programme looking at the Kennedy assassination, the 1968 Democratic convention or the Vietnam war, you inevitably see footage of Cronkite - rather than other contemporary news anchors - such was his pre-eminence.
This information from the BBC website seems superfluous,
"In 1972, he was deemed by a poll of the US public to be, "the most trusted man in America", beating presidents, members of congress and other journalists."
"...beating presidents.."! Nixon was President in 1972. Who couldn't beat Nixon in a most trusted man contest? Show me that man!
I devised a mental exercise for myself, one that I thought it would aid both brevity and vocabulary. I decided to try to sum up the major, or more obvious, character traits or circumstances of people using a single adjective. I've been doing it for everyone I meet, but that doesn't really help anyone unfamiliar with the man at the cycle shop, my next door neighbour, my wife or my friend James. Here are a few celebrities I've done as an example.
I've read a good many blogs, and often I find that the comments section of blog posts are the most interesting part. Feel free to play along and post your examples here, I look forward to reading them.
This is the Eternal Moonwalk, a tribute to Michael Jackson. The link was sent to me by Sarah Ayub, who is presumably watching this between Wimbledon and the next series of Fighting Talk. It's a site devoted to user generated footage of themselves moonwalking, and people have contributed from all over the world.
I've been watching it for a while now. So far I've learned that many more people than you think live in apartments. I've discovered that everyone in the world, except for a man in Venezuela, lives somewhere nicer than me, that obesity is no hinderance to moonwalking prowess and that drunkenness is. I now know that the stereotypical image of all Brazilians as snake-hipped samba dancing gods couldn't be more false. I have learned that no Spaniard can moonwalk, and that middle aged Dutch housewives are surprisingly adept at moonwalking (presumably they practice when they're not making pornography). I've seen twenty eight dogs being pulled along backwards by their owners. I've seen a chicken moonwalk!
Some people take it seriously, moonwalking unflashily, their faces an expression of earnest concentration. Others are more extrovert, smiling as they moonwalk, waving, throwing the peace sign. One man runs at the camera half way through his moonwalk, maniacally kissing the badge on his football shirt before calmly returning to the task in hand. Some people add pirouettes, the splits and many dance moves that I don't know the names of. Some moonwalk quickly, some slowly, some alone, some with friends, many people wear one white glove, a good number wear sunglasses, lots wear suits, one man moonwalks in a pith helmet.
It's fantastic. The sheer diversity of people, locations and competence - all united by the moonwalk - make it compelling viewing.
A few years ago, my friend Andrew and I went to Verona for a few days. Sitting outside a cafe on the Piazza Bra one day, the discussion turned to the dress sense of the Italians. We agreed that Italians are wonderful, if flashy, dressers. I noted that occasionally you see Italian men wearing red trousers, and several birras later, a new game was born.
The rules of Red Trousers are simple. When you spot a man wearing red trousers, you call out "red trousers" and point. This only applies to men in red trousers. Women and children wear all manner of bizarrely hued garments and are no challenge, it is the scarcity of sightings of men in red trousers that makes the game fun. A duplicate sighting of a man in red trousers counts as a minus sighting. The winner of the game is the person who has the most sightings by the time you arrive at a bar. The loser buys the first round.
I've introduced my wife and many friends to this game and we've played it on several Italian holidays. Conversations on holiday tend to sound a bit like this:
"...and then I thought I'd wear the lilac necklace with the purple..."
"Red trousers! Over there."
"Oh, you and your stupid game. Grow up"....Some time later, "Red trousers! Ha! Beat that, husband".
I have even received pictures of red trousers from people holidaying in Italy. My friend Mal actually followed a man in red trousers around Rome surreptitiously photographing him for an afternoon.
This is purely a game to be played on holiday and in a country where English isn't the main language. On the occasion that I see a man in red trousers in England, I can't help myself, it's a reflex action. Pure instinct leads me to point and call "red trousers". Fortunately sightings of Englishmen in red trousers are very rare, and usually they're elderly men that I can outrun.
It's absolutely my favourite game. We have an Alan Partridge game we play when we're travelling in a car, every time you see a Lexus you shout - in an Alan Partridge voice - "Aha!". It's fun, but it's no Red Trousers.
I've just finished my evening cycle ride. Just a short one, only twelve miles, it's my regular route. It's part of National Cycle Route number 65, it takes me away from York city centre along the riverside and quickly out into the countryside, through fields full of cows, woods, past poppy fields, through the pretty village of Overton and over the York to Edinburgh railway line. The top of the railway bridge is the six mile point, so when I reach it, I turn round and head for home.
It's a quiet and mostly rural cycle ride, for the most part along a narrow cycle track. The mooing of cows, birdsong, and occasionally the distant sound of a shotgun are the soundtrack to my ride. So it came as little surprise this evening when I encountered a man, out walking with his young son and his dog, with a shotgun case slung over his shoulder. The son saw my approach, alerted his father, and they moved to the right of the track to let me pass. I slowed down, overtook them, thanked them and continued on my ride, reaching the halfway point a little under three miles later.
I turned around and rode hard along the homeward leg. My speed topped out at 26 mph this evening, not bad for someone on a hybrid cycle which has a very un-aerodynamic riding position. My speed was helped in part by my clip-less pedals, a system which locks your shoes into the pedals which is bad for low speed manoeuvrability, but good for propelling the bike along quickly and efficiently.
I soon found that I was approaching the man carrying the shotgun and his son again, coming up behind them at quite a pace. I decelerated and flicked down through the gears. The son heard this, and moved over to the right. The father also started moving over to the right, leaving a bike sized space to his left. I was going slowly by this point, not more than 8 mph, and began to coast along on the left side of the track. When I was about six feet behind the man he suddenly moved to the left, blocking the cycle lane. There was no time to brake so avoidance was my only option, I aimed my bike at the long grass to the left of the cycle lane. The front wheel hit the long grass and I soon discovered that the grass was covering a hole with a diameter large enough to accommodate a bicycle wheel to a depth of about seven inches. The front wheel plunged into the hole and I, with my weight transferred over to the right to try to regain the cycle lane, was pitched over the handlebars and to the right, still locked in to the pedals.
At this point the man with the shotgun became aware of my presence. He seemed surprised to discover an upside down man on his bicycle soaring toward him. He gasped, and then we collided. Somehow the back of my right shoulder hit him hard in the middle of his left arm, sending him sprawling to the floor, which is where my bicycle and I landed on him.
There was a bit of an awkward silence, as we both tried to determine whether our limbs were intact and while I wondered exactly what the etiquette of the situation was. I didn't feel any pain and the collision had wrenched my feet free of the pedals, so I rolled off the man with the shotgun, and put my bike to one side. I stood up and at the same time nervously enquired "are you okay?"
The man sat up, feeling his left arm, "Yes, I think so. Are you alright?"
"Fine", I replied, " I had a soft landing." (I know, I can't help it).
I helped the man to his feet. At this point the small boy burst into tears. This may have saved my life. To placate him, the man with the shotgun and I both made a great display of bonhomie, I was so affable that I even befriended the dog. We chatted for a bit, established that there were no injuries, and having cheered up his son, we continued on our respective journeys.
Only I could go to the middle of nowhere and ride my bicycle into with a man with a gun. I'm now considering fitting a bell.
It's a glorious day in York. This afternoon I strolled into the city centre to do a bit of shopping. Here are a few messages to some of the people I encountered there.
To the chubby, red skirted, woman in her mid forties who walked into me in Borders:
Why do you think it is a good idea, when browsing a bookshelf, to suddenly walk six feet backwards? Is walking backwards ever a good idea? What purpose does it serve? Can you see backwards? Did it cross your mind to apologise to me for thrusting your flabby bottom into my left leg? Does your bottom have so much padding to protect you from many backward walking accidents?
To the quite respectable looking middle aged man in Marks and Spencer, who failed to place the next customer baton onto the conveyor belt, and then stood between me and it, causing me to move him to retrieve it and put it down myself.
As you know, I also put a baton down behind my shopping for the lady following me and she thanked me. When I turned to you and said, "That's how the non-sociopathic customers interact with each other" you were not meant to laugh, you were meant to learn.
To the family of four astonishingly fat tourists who chose to walk four abreast along a narrow, crowded street:
You lumbering ninnies! Do you believe that everyone else in the world should veer out of your path so that you may trudge along unerringly? You may have the turning circle of an aircraft carrier and the agility of a sizable anvil but you could at least make an effort. Try walking in single file, you'll only take up two thirds of the width of the street then and less people will hate you. Also, why were you all wearing giant training shoes, who are you trying to kid?
To the girl in the pink t-shirt and denim skirt walking along Parliament Street with her arms folded:
Why? What's the point of walking like that? Do you have any idea how stupid it makes you look? You need your arms free to aid balance and to fend off other stupid pedestrians. How is it possible that you have reached your twenties and haven't learned to walk yet? I don't know what sort of animal has permanently folded arms but I'd like to know if you were raised by such a creature. No? Walk properly then.
I feel so much better now. I'm off to have a bath and daydream about becoming a hermit.
Generalist : Blogger, photographer, film-maker, lover, collector of Tabasco Sauce and vintage chronographs, guardian of Horatio Pyewackett Caractacus Fearns, cyclist, eccentric, husband, nuisance (amateur). 6'2". Consumer of Tiramisu. Co-founder and co-author of the internet humour site 7 Reasons .