Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

For my post this month I thought I’d share some pictures* of that most British of pastimes, the New Year Hunt. Traditionally, the hunting season runs from November to April, with Boxing Day or New Year being one of the calendar highlights.

Fox hunting has been illegal in the UK (but not in Northern Ireland) since an Act of Parliament in 2004. The Act has been hotly protested by the pro-hunt lobby—indeed, Otis Ferry, son of the Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry, wrote an article in the Sunday Times on the subject last week, while the anti-hunt lobby claims that, since the ban, more foxes are slaughtered by illegal hunting than ever before.

Hunts now follow a false scent trail (called drag hunting) and are (meant to be) strictly monitored. While I love foxes, I also love tradition, so for me at least it’s wonderful to be able to see a hunt, even a false one.

The arrival of the hounds, accompanied by the Whipper-In (on the white horse) and the Master of the Hounds (red coat, brown horse).



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By Geoff Nelder

I laughed the other day because I received a request from a baby naming site to link with my writing one. Initially, I thought this was a curious variation of a Nigerian bank scam, but once my stomach subsided I realized there was some sense here.


When I started writing fiction, characters’ names appeared from a mix of telephone directories, atlases and local newspapers. A snag with the directory method is repetition and so time consuming. As my fiction reached into more exotic parts I found a site with a name engine that gave me lists of real names from different continents.


Choosing the right name for a character is as important, if not more so, than choosing one for a newborn. You don’t want a tough gangster being called Cedric, or – I realize I may be upsetting real people here – an academic called Buster. It isn’t so simple. One of our aims is to have our main characters undergo change during the plot. The change is usually one gleaned from experience such as surviving a crisis, or it could be a coming of age. For such a character a name that can also ‘grow up’ is handy. That’s why many novels use Robert. Bobby as the kid, Rob as he matures, Robert as a gentleman then Bob as an ancient with dementia.


As my main genres are science fiction and fantasy I have great fun making up names. It was a voyage of discovery when I conjured up a name for a prehistoric man living in the Middle East. Twenty thousand years ago was before any established religion so Mohammed was out. However, I reasoned that since that region would likely have had a proto-language that led to early Arabic. I played around with Omar but although ancient was too new for my character. I felt I needed a Q in there since it is a feature of so many names in that region. Oqmar thus was born. If you google Oqmar 99% of the hits are for my ancient man in my recent book.


So what was the link I was asked to make from my website? It is Quick Baby Names. I gladly acceded because apart from having spent months trying to convince daughter that Ewan is a great name for her baby, the site gives the derivation and meanings. My daughter chose  Oliver, and he’s gorgeous.

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This is one of my favourite times of year, and I’m posting today, talking about Whitby.

What do I mean, Whitby?


1) A small seaside town and fishing port on the north east coast of Yorkshire, famous for it’s jet.

2) An important medieval abbey. See also St Hilda (Abbess)

3) “a gathering of as many goths as we possibly can get in one place for drinking, bands, partying on top of cliffs all night, posing for tourists, and generally living it up…”

The Abbey is beautiful, and the lovely town very much part of the thing, but when me and mine talk about ‘going to Whitby’, we’re talking about definition #3 – the Whitby Goth Weekend.

Way back in 1994, a bunch of net-goths decided they’d get together, basically to see how many goths they could get in a seaside pub. The answer was about 250, so the next autumn they decided to actually organise things … bands, the bizarre bazaar, club nights, auxiliary extra club nights, fashion shows, sandcastle competitions, art exhibitions, photo dates with the local photography clubs, history walks, charity football matches against the local newspaper….

Add in personal rituals (for me, that includes at least one afternoon’s raid on the Shepherd’s Purse, buying chocolate coffins in Justin’s, catching up with a lot of people who I don’t otherwise get to see, Getting Ready Together, Sexbat’s 80’s night at Laughton’s, a massed cafe breakfast on the final day for the saying of goodbyes, and the totally unofficial not-quite-legal bonfire) and you have a recipe for a very fun, very full, very customisable long weekend.

It’s a gig-come-convention. It’s a festival. It’s a holiday with like minded friends. It’s an invasion (if you squint – local businesses love us, and the crime rate tends to droop when we’re in town), it’s a party, it’s an opportunity to dress up, it’s – it’s a twice-yearly celebration of community.

I’ve not been able to take time off from my day job to go up to Whitby for three years now, and I miss it. I spent one night this week doing a friend’s hair for him – wielding my latch hook to tidy, tighten and adorn the dreads that were barely to his shoulder blades when I first help make them, and are now past his waist – and I’m glad I got to do that, to be at least that little tiny bit involved in this season’s bi-annual migration to the North.

I could probably ramble on for a few thousand words about Whitby, but, in an attempt not to, I’ll stop now, and just ask this: What do you want to know?

As I write this, my email is all aflutter with people doing last minute prep and posting their farewells, and by the time I post it, on Halloween, there will be a seasonal silence on those channels.

I’d raise a pint of snakebite and black to the departed, but mine’s an absinthe and lemonade ;p

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Lost In Austen

Last night I watched Lost in Austen, which I enjoyed, although it surprised me that I did. It’s fairly obviously a clever twist on the Life on Mars idea, someone thrown into an environment that they weren’t expecting.

Basically if you didn’t see it (and there’s bound to be a repeat, or you can catch up on some online player) it’s about a girl who is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice: she reads the book almost constantly and knows it intimately, almost line for line.

It was pretty good – ITV definitely seem to be stealing the crown when it comes to historical drama – the characters from P&P were pretty close to my imagining of them. I personally liked Darcy in this a lot, he very much fit into my image of him much more than Colin Firth ever did – but then I’m not a Darcy-phile (I’ll probably have my membership of many romance blogs rescinded as I admit this) and the only incarnation I’ve ever really liked was David Rintoul in the 1980 version. (see picture, right) This Darcy is very much like him, so that’s probably why I liked him. I was never convinced by Firth, he was FAR too soppy for my money.

Anyway, I did enjoy it and for the most part the 19th century characters kept in character and fitted the language nicely. There were a couple of slips that I noticed but nothing major. I don’t have the instant “eye” for period fashions so I can’t comment on that. What I majorly objected to though was that the main character, Miss Price, was set up to be the complete P&P geek, knew the book so intimately she says that the words almost spoke themselves when she was reading, and yet when she was thrown into the P&P world she seemed to behave like a complete ignoramus. I don’t mean not knowing how to dance a quadrille, but simply making the sort of blunders that you think she’d never make. Kissing Bingley, showing her pubes to Lydia (probably corrupting Lydia completely) that sort of thing. I realise that this is deliberate and set up for comic effect, but as the writers had tried so hard to convince us that she was the expert on the book it didn’t quite gel. It might have worked better if it was someone just coming to the book for the first time and loving it a great deal.

Anyway – if you didn’t see it, try and get hold of it, because it’s fun, and something interesting on the box for a change. I’m thinking I’ll probably put a post up after each episode to discuss.

And for a finisher: Which book would you love to be Lost In? And which would you really really NOT want to be?

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My fellow britwriters have covered many of the essential signs of a British summer already – Wimbledon, the seaside, steam fairs, celebrating the solstice, rain – but I have one more to add to the collage – village and church fetes!

These are community-run fund-raising days, and a chance for everyone to get together and have fun in the sun (or while huddling in tents and under umbrellas, depending on the weather) Church fetes are normally raising money for the church buildings, and village fetes may be fund-raising for a village hall, the local Brownie and Scout groups, or any other local or larger charity that’s been agreed on.

(I’ll leave school fetes, fairs and sportsdays to someone with more recent experience.)

Recipie for a church or village fete.

A medium-hot day is preferred, but temperature is not essential. With enough community spirit, your fete will rise, even in the rain.

Basic components:

– Space (outdoors preferred, but if you can’t get it, a church or village hall will also work)
– Sound system
– Marquees
– Folding tables
– Banners, posters, and signs
Bunting to taste.

Begin the day early with a generous serving of volunteers. Mix well with the basic ingredients to create your temporary fairground. Allow approximately four hours for this stage of the process.

Add at least one and preferably more element from each of the following categories:

Stalls, selling things donated by members of the church/village .

  • Cake stall – baked goods by the slice, or in the round from the best cooks- an essential component.
  • Plant stall – houseplants and bedding plants from the green fingered.
  • Gifts – candles, jewelry, cards, bath bombs, wood carvings, from the craftily inclined.
  • Book stall – books, dvds, videos, cds, records etc
  • Bric-a-brac or white-elephant stall selling random *stuff* – ornaments, jewellery, pictures, toys, if there’s not a separate toy stall. (NB – *not* clothes; this isn’t a jumble sale, after all!)

Games of chance.

  • The Raffle – an essential. It’s not a proper fete unless you’re presented with a table mounded with prizes and the opportunity to buy a strip of tickets when you arrive. You will need the sound system for the raffle calling at the end of the day, as well as the interim entertainment.
  • Tombola – another essential. Sometimes split into adult (mostly alcoholic) and children’ (mostly sweets) but the principle is the same. The stall will be filled with bottles and jars, each with a numbered ticket taped to them. The punter picks from the bucket of folded tickets, and if the numbers match, they have themselves a prize. Most of the time numbers ending in 5 or 0 are the winners
  • Wheel of fortune – like the tv show, but on a domestic scale.
  • Lucky dip – everyone gets a prize from the barrel full of sawdust or straw, but some of them are penny sweets, and some of them are pound coins.
  • Key dip – pick a key from the bucket and if it unlocks any of the locks on the test bar, you win a prize.
  • String pull – pick a string, and pull – if it’s tied to a prize, you win.

Games of skill.

  • Whack-a-rat – home made, with a length of drainpipe, and rats made out of newspaper stuffed tights, with something heavy at the nose. The volunteer drops the rat down the drainpipe, and the punter takes a swing with a bat or stick, with a prize for anyone who can pin a rat on the base-board.
  • Electric buzz – manouvering a metal ring along a bendy wire course without touching the wire and completeing the ‘buzz’ circuit.
  • Coconut shy – some would argue this should be in with the games of chance, but that’s just sour grapes ;p.
  • Beat-the-goalie – does what it says on the tin – the punter normally gets three attempts to get the ball in the net, like a penalty kick in football (soccer for the Americans).
  • Hoop toss – throw your hoop over the prize and it’s yours
  • Horseshoes – toss your horseshoe around a prize, or a prize-representing-stake and it’s yours
  • Beanbag toss – land your palm-sized beanbag on the prize spots to win
  • Skittles – like ten pin bowling, but not (this one’s a whole entry’s worth on it’s own.)
  • Guess the weight of the X / number of Y in the Z (weight of the cake / sweets in the jar etc)

Stuff for the kids.

Food, and drink.

  • The tea tent is essential – tea, squash, and scones with cream and jam at a minimum, a wider range of cakes, drinks, and sandwiches if you can muster enough volunteers willing to cook and serve it all.
  • Beer tent
  • BBQ
  • Hog roast
  • Icecream
  • Stawberries and cream

(getting a hot dog van or similar to show up is clearly *cheating*. Perfectly appropriate for a fairground, or showground, but not really cricket for the amateur-run fete. Similarly, candy-floss is an option, but is more traditional for a fairground or carnival. )


A harmonious mix from the lists above will ensure that there’s something for everyone, and that your fete will fill the temporary fairground base well. Allow time for the stalls and games to set before presenting your fete to the appreciative audience waiting at the gates.

As a final garnish, you may wish to add a local celebrity to declare the fete officially open.

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I’ve had this sent to me the other week by e-mail – I’ll let you read it before I comment.

We are hitting £108.9 a litre in some areas now, soon we will be faced with paying £1.10 a ltr. Philip Hollsworth offered this good idea:

This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the ‘don’t buy petrol on a certain day campaign that was going around last April or May! The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn’t
continue to hurt ourselves by refusing to buy petrol. It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them. BUT,whoever
thought of this idea, has come up with a plan that can really work.

Please read it and join in!

Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a litre is CHEAP, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the market place not sellers. With the price of petrol going up more each day, we consumers need to take action. The only way we are going to see the price of petrol come down is if we hit someone in the pocket by not purchasing their Petrol! And we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves. Here’s the idea:

For the rest of this year DON’T purchase ANY petrol from the two biggest oil companies (which now are one), ESSO and BP.

If they are not selling any petrol, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit. But to have an impact we need to reach literally millions of Esso and BP petrol buyers. It’s really simple to do!!

Now, don’t wimp out at this point…. keep reading and I’ll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people!!

I am sending this note to a lot of people. If each of you send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300)… and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000) … and so on, by the time the
message reaches the sixth generation of people, we will have reached
over THREE MILLION consumers! If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it… ..


Again, all You have to do is send this to 10 people. That’s all.(and not buy at ESSO/BP) How long would all that take? If each of us sends this email out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8days!!! Acting together we can make a difference . If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on.


It’s easy to make this happen. Just forward this email, and buy your petrol at Shell, Asda,Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons Jet etc. i.e. boycott BP and Esso

Okay, read it? Formed an opinion? Good. Here’s my take on this – WTF??? Okay, I can see why someone might think like this, and in some countries, say America, it might work. I mean, America is damn big and consumes a damn sight more oil than we do here in the UK. Do you really think that losing the British forecourt market would affect BP?

Let’s get a few things straight.

Number one, BP and the other large oil companies do not make huge profits at the petrol pumps. In fact, they make hardly any money there at all. BP and the others make their money from taking the oil out of the ground and processing it. The money they make from that dwarfs the money they take at the pumps. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that for someone like BP, small petrol stations are almost a loss-leader, a way to keep their name in the public consciousness.

Number two, all this organised protesting isn’t very British is it? Shouldn’t we all be forming an orderly queue, rolling our eyes and tutting? Okay, so a group of truckers went a bit mad in 2000 and blocked the depots but that’s not the point. We in Britain don’t protest – we make do and get on with it. Leave the protesting to our Gallic and Latin cousins – they’re so much better at it than us. I mean, have you ever seen a French strike? None of that standing around by a steel bin with a fire in it. So sir, they march on the town hall and dump a truck load of cow poo outside it.

Where was i? Oh, yes…

Number three, let’s say we do stop buying petrol at garages with the BP logo above them and instead go to the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s et al. Where do you think the supermarkets get their petrol from? They certainly don’t take it out of the ground themselves. The petrol is brought from the large oil companies – the likes of, yes, you guessed it, BP.

Number four, petrol and diesel are so expensive in the UK for one reason, and one reason only – TAX. We pay twice as much tax on our fuel as they do in Holland. Over half of the £1.20 we’re now paying (yes, it has gone up that fast) per litre is made up of tax. The Americans are hurting because they are paying $5 per gallon. We’re paying the equivalent of over $10 per gallon. Where does all that extra money go? Yep, the Treasury. It’s all tax. Fuel duty and VAT.

The government would like us to believe that petrol is so expensive because the cost of oil is high and would like us to forget that the more oil costs, the more they take in tax. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out that this ‘campaign’ e-mail originated in Downing Street.

This government could help out the “hard working families” they claim to represent quite easily – by cutting the tax on fuel. But they won’t. They will claim it will be too expensive, both in financial terms and for the planet. And yet they could afford to give us all an extra £120 in our pay packets by raising the personal allowance and borrowing billions to do so because their own MPs were angry. So, my final word on this – Gordon, Alistair, sort it out and stop trying to blame everyone else.

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We Brits have a strange relationship with the weather. Some would even call it intimate. We are obsessed by it. It occupies our thoughts daily. The weather forecasts on TV are among the most watched of programmes. When we have nothing to talk about, we talk about the weather. When we do have something to talk about, we still talk about the weather.

I guess that the reason for this national obsession is that the weather here is so interesting. It’s not exactly dangerous – I mean, we don’t get tornadoes or hurricanes or droughts – but it is varied and unpredictable. We can happily complain about the rain or the cold or the heat or the snow, while knowing that actually, it’s never going to be so extreme that we have to worry about it.

Yesterday (Sunday) the weather was glorious – hot and sunny all day. It’s the same again today and the lovely Carol Kirkwood on BBC Breakfast tells me it’s going to be the same again tomorrow. Still, it doesn’t stop some of the older girls in the office complaining that it’s too hot.

See, we Brits complain about the lousy weather, but actually, we quite like it – it gives us something to moan about. But we have a very, very odd relationship with hot weather.

The slightest hint of sun and the barbeques and shorts come out and the shirts and shoes come off. And that’s just the men! I won’t even describe what the women wear – I’d have a heart attack.

Actually, I’m the world’s youngest dirty old man, so I quite enjoy the show that hot weather brings. From my third floor office on the high street in a rural market town, I can look out of my window and see acres of lovely female flesh – I can see quite a lot of not so lovely female flesh, flabby man-boobs and beer bellies too but let’s not talk about that.

So, let’s celebrate these hot, hot days – we may not get that many. Let us rejoice that the sun sees fit to shine on us and do what we Brits do – strip half-naked and eat badly cooked sausages. Long live the Great British Summer.

Oh, and long live Carol Kirkwood too – what a way to wake up in the morning.

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