Wednesday 12 March 2014

My Mother

Just a few days after my Mother died in January, I had the awful task of writing her eulogy.   Sometimes terrible jobs come along in life and you just have to get on with it.    Believe me, this was a toughie.   I do not know how relatives can speak at the funeral of a loved one.  I couldn't, so I wrote it for the man who conducted the service...

Nancy Daniels 18th August 1916 - 22nd January 2014

It is going to be very difficult to encapsulate the life of Nancy Daniels in the short time we have together, but I’ll try.
To put this long and busy life into perspective perhaps it would help if I told you that one of her brothers, already by then a man, died in 1926 when Nancy was 10 years old.   Bill, Nancy’s nephew, sent a card recently from Canada and he's 88.
Her life began in South Bank, a very industrialised town near Middlesbrough in the North East of England.    Surrounded by steel works and docks, the long rows of terrace houses were kept immaculate by the women whilst the men went out to the ‘werks!’     It was a time of zinc baths in front of the open fire, the water heated in a copper boiler.     In the winters there would be frost on the windows most mornings, and it would be on the inside.
One tale that Nancy used to tell of those days  was that she used to babysit Shirley Bassey.   Of course the family used to think it was fantasy stuff, knowing that Shirley came from Tiger Bay in Cardiff.    When the internet came along Paul meandered through the web and found out that Bassey’s mother came from South Bank and used to visit her mother in South Bank so Nancy had been telling the truth.
In her mid-teens Nancy got a job in Bradford working as a nurse in a fever hospital and survived when others didn’t.   She became the ‘downstairs’ part of Upstairs Downstairs when she worked, again in Bradford, for a family.   Ever since friends and family have been regaled with tales of Madame Tempest, her wealthy French boss.
By now she had met the love of her life and their courtship was astonishing.   Hughie, to whom she was married for over 50 years, was working in a cinema and every Saturday night, after work, would pedal a bicycle from Middlesbrough to Bradford.   Just getting up the hill out of the Tees valley would have finished off most men, especially as in those days bicycles were known as bone shakers and weighed a ton.   When he arrived in the middle of the night the Tempest family let him sleep in the greenhouse and Nancy and Hughie could have a few hours together before he had to set off back home.
Hughie and Nancy got married and Hughie got a job in a cinema in Mablethorpe on the East Coast, and settled into a bungalow called Lulworth.   Both of them loved bungalows from that moment on but the most amazing thing was that when they commuted to visit family in the North East they went by tandem.   Nancy was always on the back because the only time that ‘Dad’ let her onto the front she drove straight on at the first corner.  It turned out Nancy could pedal but not steer.
In 1938 Ted, now known as Paul, was born and Hughie made a sidecar for the tandem so that they could still make the journeys.
When war broke out they moved back to the North East because everyone believed Hitler was going to land on the beaches of Mablethorpe.       Early on their home in the north suffered a direct hit by a bomb.  Thankfully bombs were smaller then so they survived.     Hughie went off to the Royal Navy, came home for the birth of Trevor, and was then posted to India.
In the ensuing years Nancy’s contribution to the war effort was mixing concrete and wheelbarrowing it into moulds to make concrete barrier fences.   A tough job for such a tiny lady.   In the many letters of condolences that have poured in from all over the world one descriptive word comes up many times, ‘fiesty’, and she was certainly that.   During those long years of raising the two boys, she wrote to Hughie most days, always starting with a spelling mistake that meant she called him ‘Dear SWEATheart’… he never corrected her.
Times were hard and, as she was so good at knitting, crochet, sewing and suchlike Nancy organised the women in the street who came to her house and all sat on Saturday nights making things like Clippy mats on wooden frames from old clothing that had been cut up.  As they worked they would all sit listening to the radio, the big show being the Voice of The Man in Black… horror stories that would terrify the women.  So much so that tiny, but feisty, Nancy had to walk them all home in the dark.
Shortly after the war Nancy gave birth to a third brother, Keith, but so very sadly he only lived for a few weeks, having been born with a heart defect for which, even more sadly, shortly afterwards a cure was found.
For the most part, however, Hughie and Nancy had a happy life together, according to Hughie that was because he always gave in, although there was one memorable tiff when he had had enough, picked her up over his shoulder and walked down the street, around the corner to her Mother’s home, went in and sat her on the high Mantelpiece, telling her Mother he’d brought her back and he left her perched up there, too high for ‘Nance’ to get down.
Showing her fighting spirit someone told her that a young woman who was working at the cinema was making a play for Hughie.    Without any hesitation Paul was shoved into the pram, along with a pile of nappies and baby stuff and she pushed him round to the cinema, confronted the girl and told that if that girl wanted Hughie she’d best have the whole deal and handed over the pram complete with child.    The young lady left the cinema, no more trouble from that direction.
Nancy’s brother Eddie played the squeezebox and Trevor very quickly latched onto that and became a great accordion player and later became a top keyboard player.  Her eldest son wasted his time doing card tricks and Nancy was very proud of them both.  On any occasion she would insist that Trevor played the accordion and the then ‘Ted’ would be called upon to show a trick.   Both lads were greatly embarrassed by this and if there was a knock on the door the accordion and the cards would be hidden away…
Early education for the lads was conducted by the same teacher that had taught Nancy when she had been at Upper Princess Street school, a Miss Strickland.   From there Paul and Trevor went to completely different styles of school, Trevor eventually becoming a teacher himself.    One day Nancy asked Paul why had come home early and found out that he had sort of gone on strike because he wasn't going to have his backside tanned with a plimsoll shoe by one of the prefects.  That was the way it was in those days in old Grammar Schools.
Even though the school was a bus ride of quite a few miles the pinny came off, the coat went on and she half dragged a very reluctant Paul back to the school, storming into the Head Masters office and demanding to know what kind of institution did he think he was running.   Mr Barker, a big man, explained he had only recently come to the school and tried to calm the fireball down, a woman who was saying it was alright for him to give Paul the cane, but not the other pupils.    Paul didn’t think that this was such a good idea but Nancy went for the throat and amazingly, over the coming weeks, all the rules changed.   Fiesty.
The years went by, and her life changed too.   From the two up two down terrace house, via prefabs and nice houses, to going to West End shows and major music festivals where she would tell anyone within hearing distance ‘That’s my son’ pointing to whichever of them was performing at the time.
From streets with hardly any cars, that still had horses and carts, to flying to America on holiday… ‘Don’t pay for that hire car Paul, we are using Joan Collins stretch limo to get around’.. this to an astonished Paul who had never even met Joan Collins … ‘because we met her driver on the plane…’
From mooching around on Uncle Eddie’s allotment to having her own gardens and how she loved gardens.
From losing a child to enjoying her grandchildren, great grandchildren, nephews and nieces.
In later life, with her beloved Hughie gone, and settled into her final bungalow, still called Lulworth, and even though the hair went from fiery auburn to silvery grey, the feistiness was always there.    When a possibly charitable person handed Nancy one of those plastic bags to be collected the next day into which she could put anything they could use for the charity Nancy asked about the charity.    It turned out to help Single Mothers.      When the bag was collected the next day the collection lady was stunned when she looked into the bag.   For Single Mothers Nancy had contributed packets of condoms.                        Neither Paul nor Trevor dared to go into the local chemists after that in case they were asked what their Mother was up to.
Each person here will have their own memories of this woman who had her own style and such a long long life.   This great cook, I am told many of you will miss the rum icing on the mince pies at Christmas,  this Bingo loving, smoking, chocolate eating, fry up eater, defied all the odds to live a good long happy life.  
As for longevity, perhaps that was down to the magic in the never-to-be-washed teapot and the many tins of pilchards.   Certainly the famed Angela Lansbury has put her long life down to strong tea and pilchards, perhaps we should all take these up.    One of Nancy’s grandchildren, David, has suggested that the teapot should be donated to medical science.
The family have asked me if I would publicly share their immense gratitude to Nancy’s amazing neighbours and friends who have shown her such love and kindness for such a long time, with especial thanks to the late Brian, to Kenny of the Christmas Cards, to the Newsagents whose profits are now so diminished due to the fall in cigarette sales, and there are not enough words to thank Judy, the greatest of neighbours, or the absolute Queen of Carers, Tricia.  You are all so wonderful.
In closing perhaps the words of a long standing friend, now living in America, are most appropriate:  Nancy was a very strong lady and loved her life to the full. She was a beautiful girl that I have loved to bits for so many years...take heart that you are so lucky to have had her with you for so long

Sunday 2 March 2014

More about flooding

I had this sent to me today.  It is so frustrating...

Subject: Really wild excuses

What do voles, beetles, mussels, trout and the golden plover have in common? Believe it or not, they have all been used as excuses by the Environment Agency not to improve flood defences.

Travelling around the worst of the flooded areas last week, I met family after family who said their local rivers had been left to clog with debris — and always because of some critter or other. Somerset farmer David Gillard, for example, repeatedly begged the Environment Agency to dredge the River Parrett, which runs near his sheep farm just outside Burrowbridge. And last summer they did come and give it a go. But while they were at it they found a vole, so of course they packed up and left. The farm is now flooded.

And what are we to make of this letter from the Environment Agency to Robin Haigh, a landowner in Chertsey, which he received after his house had been surrounded by flood waters? ‘Dear resident, I am writing to let you know about a new initiative to improve the river habitat for wildlife in your area. The Environment Agency are working in partnership with the Wild Trout Trust and local landowners on a project that will breathe new life into the Abbey River which our records show passes close to your property. The project will bring considerable benefit to wildlife in the area encouraging more fish, birds and other water-dependent species to use the river as its ecological value grows…’

The letter was sent on 28 January, after major flooding. Last week, as the flood waters rose dangerously again and the area was in a state of full emergency, EA staff came out to visit. They met Mr Haigh’s wife, Mary, who told them, ‘Well, I expect you won’t be going ahead with that trout project now, will you?’ Au contraire, the EA people told her. The project was very much going ahead. They will be moving a sluice and creating a riffle.

Mr Haigh says the effect of this will be to dam up the water near his home and cause even worse flooding. ‘They’re morons! They’re cretins!’ said Mr Haigh, who has himself worked in conservation.

The river Thames, meanwhile, was left undredged to prevent the disturbance of a rare mollusc called the depressed river mussel. Seriously, this is not funny. It would only be funny if it were not happening. But it is. The species known as the depressed taxpayer doesn’t seem to be on any priority list.

In Somerset, the environmentalists have provided a really super habitat for birds. A few miles from flooded Burrowbridge is the RSPB sanctuary at Greylake, where the golden plover occasionally drops in for the winter season, along with many other interesting winged species — dunlins, ruffs, black-tailed godwits. Farmers in Somerset have been encouraged by the EA and the EU (hard to know which is worse) to leave their fields fallow to create wetlands like this. And if all you wanted Somerset to do was to make birds happy, then truly the strategy is a huge success — but what about the people?

We shouldn’t just single out the EA. The same perverse instinct is at play in local government. I once rang my local authority, Lambeth, to complain about foxes ripping bins apart and was sent a leaflet instructing me on how I should feed and care for them and generally turn my back garden into a place they would feel at home. They particularly like chicken, apparently.

The liberal chattering classes lap this stuff up. Walking my dog in Balham, I moaned to a neighbour about the lack of fox controls and she said: ‘Yes, but they were here first, weren’t they? I mean, we’re the imposters.’

‘Seriously,’ I said, ‘even if it were true that foxes are the indigenous inhabitants of south-west London, you’re telling me you want to move out of your million-pound house, and see the rest of civilisation as we know it vacate the metropolis in order to make way for vermin?’

‘They’re not vermin,’ she said. ‘They’re wild animals and this is their home.’

I told her I thought a tragedy was waiting to happen, as foxes had attacked babies in their cots. ‘Well, fancy leaving a baby in a dirty nappy near an open window,’ she said. ‘What sort of people are they?’

Clearly, she had been drinking the conservationist Kool-Aid. The conservationists on the Kool-Aid are different from your common or garden conservationists, the sort who like watching programmes with Bill Oddie and are pretty harmless. The Kool-Aid conservationists will not confront the truth about nature — that it is not very nice and, left unchecked, produces anarchy. They think nature is benevolent and wise. They say things like ‘nature knows best’.

Taken to the extreme, this attitude leads to the bizarre re-wilding project that was undertaken in Holland some years ago with horrific results. In an extraordinary experiment, 15,000 acres of reclaimed land 25 miles east of Amsterdam was turned into a ‘nature reserve’ called Oostvaardersplassen. The area saw no culling or wildlife management or human interference of any sort. Everything was left to live a ‘natural’ existence and fend for itself. The result was that only the birds flourished, because they could fly away to find more food during the harsh winter months. The herd animals like deer and horses within the enclosure starved or were savaged by predators.

Every winter, commuters into Amsterdam got to witness emaciated deer, cattle and horses packed against the perimeter fence in the desperate search for food, while foxes and corvids picked over the bones of the fallen.

No one is openly attempting a re-wilding project here — although George Monbiot speaks favourably of the idea and has published a manifesto to ‘re-wild the world’ — but in a way, a re-wilding of sorts has happened in Somerset and other flooded areas.As the birds have enjoyed the best of the wetlands, then flown away, the people have been trapped in an area where they can no longer thrive or make a living. And so the world watches as the human animals of the plains struggle in a desperate battle for survival.

You can just hear the voiceover by David Attenborough. I’m sure it will make a terrific Life on Earth special one day.

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Thursday 27 February 2014


In recent times there has been much ado in all the forms of media about flooding, and rightly so.   I feel so sorry for those who have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed, having been through serious flooding inside our home about 10 years ago.

Like the vast majority, if not all, of those who live by the rivers of the UK, I have been speaking out for the Government to dredge the riverbeds.   I'll go into detail as to why in a moment.

As I wrote on Twitter, flooding is not caused by rainfall, it is caused by bad planning, and now I firmly believe that to be true.

I wrote to our Member of Parliament and got a reply.   I no longer blame the Government.   It turns out that the Environment Agency (who, I hear, do not like me calling them the 'Environmental Agency' even thought I do think they must be a bit mental) are an advisory body.   They advise Parliament about such matters and then it is down to whichever Government we have to implement their advice.

That is understandable.  You cannot expect MPs to know everything.   The problem is that the advice they were given is totally wrong.  I do not say that lightly.  It is illogical nonsense.   I read the report that my MP got regarding this area and it simply does not make sense.

When I spouted about this on the social media networks of course I got a few people pointing out that I am not a hydrologist, that I do not have degrees in water management.  Perhaps if I had I would have been taught by professors who pass on the same mistakes and have believed them.    How many times, in whatever your profession, you have despaired of architects who never consult the workers within their 'environment' and so those workers have to adjust to fit the unsuitable working conditions.

It's the same with the rivers.  IF the EA had consulted those who have spent a lifetime by the waterways they would have heard that EVERY time dredging has ceased over the past hundred years, a few years later the water has overflowed the banks and caused havoc and destruction.

I demonstrated this as simply as I could by filling a bowl with water to the brim.  That water was put into a jug and then the bowl was half filled with mud.  When I put the water back into the bowl it overflowed.  That was not a surprise; it was to be expected.

FACT: if a river is deeper it holds more water.

There's more to it than that.  One of the current (not a pun) problems is that the water table, that hidden 'enemy' lying beneath the surface of the earth, is very high.  It has built up over the past months.  The reason is that had nowhere to go.   Because the river in the months leading up to December and January has not been dredged and has not been lowered, the surrounding fields had nowhere to drain into.

Dredging would have lowered the water table.  The EA workers on the ground could have used the lock and weir systems to get ready for the deluge that we always get in the winter months.  Perhaps the EA computer workers have not realised that is when we get rain.   Sarcastic?  Not at all and let me explain why.

A couple of years ago I needed permission to lay down a concrete pad in my garden and the EA sent round to people to check it.  They were young women from Australia who had been in the country three months, spotted a job advertised and had been employed to make such decisions.   Neither of them had any river knowledge whatsoever.

During the recent problems a woman neighbour phoned the EA 'helpline' (misnomer of the decade) and asked why she had not received any flood warnings.   From the accent she thought the 'helper' was either New Zealand or Australian and he told her that the phone/email system, on which she was registered, had not cut into action because 'you are not flooded'.   She told him that she was standing in water that was 18" deep.   'No you are not' he said, and when she argued he told her that she could not be in flood water because his computer said there wasn't any!   No action was taken by the EA.

In our home we received flood warnings five days after the house was surrounded.

When I am working at my job, I create special effects and magic routines.  When I have the routine worked out, I then give a lot of thought to where it can go wrong and I plan for such possibilities.

In the case of a river, I can see that it needs to be tended to keep it clean, without pollution, that any dangers must be minimised, and so on.   But now I think, what happens if we get extraordinary weather?  If the scientists are right, and weather patterns will change, the likelihood of increased rainfall is something that we need to plan for.    We WILL get a lot of rain.  We NEED to somehow STORE that water until the deluge passes and then release that water back into the system.

If we do not do this then, despite the EA saying that dredging the UK rivers will be expensive for THEM to carry out such works, then it is going to be far more expensive for US, not only on the one to one personal basis but also as taxpayers.     The cost of this last flood session must be immense.   In our tiny lane alone we had firemen and soldiers from other parts of the country checking to see if we were safe.   Multiply that across the South of England and do the sums.

Decades ago the Dutch decided that it was far cheaper to invest than to pay for the damage and the recovery.

What would I do?  Obviously I would immediately set up a nationwide dredging system to create more space for impending rainfall.   I would consult with riverside farmers, dwellers and workers and I would take their advice.    I would look at increasing the length of the rivers not by digging straight concrete canals through the country side (what a failure the Jubilee cut turned out to be) but by studying the topography and seeing where we could make the rivers meander more in their upper reaches.

All ditches and cuttings would be dredged and in the flood plain areas I may well be looking at creating low areas to take flood water in times of emergency without damaging surrounding areas of crops.

ALL development in flood plain areas to cease immediately.  It is madness.  The only possible exception to that rule would be to grant building permission provided that the developer created holding areas for water on the same site that had to be five times the capacity of the ground floor.   Have a look at what they built underneath Tokyo for what I am talking about.

That would only be the beginning.    Expensive?  Not in the long run.  We really should plan for the future.

Sunday 24 February 2013

The Beginning of Magic

I don't think that many people will read this blog because I confess I deserted the blog for the video camera and my regular readers will have drifted off.     Thoughts and tricks now turn up on my channel on YouTube rather than on here.     That is a terrible confession from someone who, when teaching magic, recommends reading rather than DVDs.    Times change, sometimes not for the better.

In real life terms I am afraid I haven't had much to blog about.  Most of my time has been taken up with plotting and planning and making sure my Mother is OK.   She is doing amazingly well considering what she has been through and had to put up with.  At 96 it can't be nice to be pestered by nurses and carers when all you want is peace and quiet and your independence.

As some of you know I have been hosting Magic Days (see elsewhere on this web site) and they have been wonderfully successful with great responses from those who have been to the sessions.   Yesterday, however, the Magic Day took a different turn.

After being pestered by so many people I said I would do a day for absolute beginners.   It was great, not just for those who attended but also for me.  I had to go back to my own beginnings and found that those so called 'basic' tricks not only worked but baffled and amazed and entertained.    OK, I am no longer the raw youth (except in my head) and the basic effects were embellished with knowledge of how to turn them into entertainment pieces but I was constantly so pleasantly surprised by the reactions.

Magicians, I think, tend to forget that stuff and the magic life gets more and more complicated as we seek so called better methods.     As an example, yesterday I did a very old mind-reading trick using what is technically known as the Centre Tear.   Simple.   Easy.   It blew their minds.   Stunned amazement was the reaction.

I did a Book Test that uses no technology or added gimmicks at all, just two straightforward books. Same reactions.

Magic is a great hobby and it is a pleasure to pass on the knowledge.

Blog?  It's nice to be back

Tuesday 29 January 2013

EU or not EU

The big political chat for the last couple of weeks is all about the Prime Minister’s in and out of the European Union speech.   Of course the Opposition said it was a terrible thing to talk about in that way.   Of course we all know that no matter what he had said the Opposition would have said it was a terrible thing, which makes a nonsense out of that attitude.    Non sense in the proper sense, of course, in that if Opposition NEVER agree with anything the Government says, it becomes meaningless.

What the politicians don’t seem to be aware of is that the vast majority of us outside the political world have no idea what the EU does, certainly not for this country, or why we ‘need’ to be in it at all, or why we went in to it in the first place.      I suspect it only exists to increase the number of jobs available to politicians, or am I being ingenuous?

Some might think it’s so that we can do business with Europe, and indeed we did vote for a Common Market so that all the countries of Europe could trade back and forth across borders.   I don’t know when we voted for anything else OR why we need anything else.

We trade with the rest of the world anyway, don’t we?   Nope, the more I think about it, it exists to keep politicians thinking they are doing something.

So I guess that IF I am going to vote for it, if ever that happens, they are going to tell me what good it does, what use it is… and at the moment that is going to take some doing.

As I write I am sitting in candlelight.  Romantic.   People in the old days must have had very good eyesight.   I have 14 candles around me and I am squinting.   We do take things for granted, don’t we?  Like electricity for example.

One night on a long drive home I focused on the number one purpose of government and came to the conclusion that way ahead of defence, education, and all that jazz, it came down to fresh water.   Without that absolutely everything else doesn’t exist.     We have plenty of that at the moment, a bit too much in fact, so the government must be doing a very good job in that department.   Forgive my laughter…

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Newtown and the Gun Laws

It has now been a couple of days since the horrors of adults and children being gunned down in a school in the USA.

Rational people, not just in the USA, but around the world, have been begging and discussing the need to change the gun laws of that nation and I have been listening to arguments against change that to me and many others are feeble and backward looking.

Thanks to a world in which new news comes at us so quickly and in such volume, the loss of life in such situations is quickly forgotten by the world in general, leaving only those who suffered a loss of a close relative to remember the horror.

What I am not hearing is any other argument FOR changing the gun laws.   I grow weary of 'it's part of our constitution - the right to bear arms.....'.     That constitution was written at a time when the world was a lot more primitive.   That constitution was written at a time when the majority of the populace had very little access to a good education.    That constitution was written at a time when there was no alternative in the defence of a home.   The gun, which KILLS, was the only way.

Nowadays science has provided us with weapons that do not kill.   Taser guns and other 'stunners' for example.    Why not change the law to allow such devices to be kept in a home or business but to make it illegal to keep/own weapons that KILL.

What about me?  I am a member of a gun club.   Fine, I say.  By all means have a well controlled gun club with a person RESPONSIBLE for seeing that all weapons are secured at the end of each day.

Perhaps it is simple that politicians who claim to care, are only truly afraid of losing some votes and not brave enough to find out if the people of America are happy with their children, husbands, wives and friends being gunned down in cold blood.

Guns are designed to KILL.  

Thursday 6 December 2012

The Coldest Journey on Earth

It's the 6th December 2012 and I am putting off going out into the frost to clear the driveway of mud and debris left behind by it being covered when the river water came over the garden.   That, by the way, is no big deal, it happens every few years and lasted less than a week.   The lawns in particular love it.

Anyway, it's freezing out there so I have put on two pairs of socks, the thermals, the shirt and a sweater in preparation for the cold.   Then I switch on the TV and the BBC morning news programme, after promoting an ITV prime time show (why do they do that?) had a reporter on a boat that is going to take Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his team down to the Antarctic where he and a co-nutter are going to walk on skis across that continent during the winter at temperatures down to MINUS 90 DEGREES.

Two things leapt off the screen and neither of them was discussed so once again I ponder upon TV journalists NOT asking the questions that I want answered.   I can't be alone in thinking 'Why?' and 'What's the point?' and 'Isn't this all a waste of money?' and 'How will the world benefit from this?'

The second thing that hit me, after what I thought was an obvious set of questions to ask was, 'Who the hell is daft enough to pay out the millions that this must be costing?'      It's not just the cost of the supplies, it's the total package of ship and crew, the special tractors and driver(s) that pull the supplies behind the two guys who are walking/skiing, the special sleds that take the three shipping containers in which they will live on the 'walk' across.

Surely the adventure is diminished by the knowledge that you can get into a container and be pulled to the other side?  

Sorry adventurers, I just don't get it.