Sunday, 31 May 2015

39000 Thanx!

Thanks again - 39000 times over.
I really am grateful because, unlike when I started this, I'm not in a condition to promote the Blog.
So I rely on every 'share' or facebook like or whatever that gets it known.
Obviously what started as a campaigning health Blog soon got diverted into 'Neil's fun Blog', because that's the person I am inside.
I hived off my more serious stuff to another Blog which I foolishly called 'My seriously boring blog' - where I reprint articles about today's NHS and try to highlight how the truth is a little different to what the politicians tell you....when you analyse it.
Here it is;
but it can be dull at times.
Then again, with the NHS under the greatest threat it has ever been under, it may get a bit more exciting soon.
Anyway, while it lasts, stick around.....things may get more fun!..
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Flag it up!

If you'd been down to the little villages around Heathrow Airport today, you'd have seen a different flag on every this one. 

It's for 'Flag it up!', an arts event put on for local children by 'Transition Heathrow', the environmental activists who set up 'Grow Heathrow' on an abandoned market garden 5 years ago.

The squat wasn't just to set up an eco camp but to occupy the proposed site of the planned new runway for the airport. That was going to flatten at least two of the villages, wipe out the medieval barn at Harmondsworth and require the exhumation of all the people buried in Cherry Lane Cemetary.

Those plans are now in doubt, and the camp remains although it is under threat of eviction. They've also been working with the local community to organise this arts event.

Then it just had to pour with rain!

But that couldn't deter these children from Harmondsworth who were setting off on the long walk to Sipson and then after lunch on to Harlington;

When I can, I always try to show solidarity with the next door villages and support them in our shared fight to try to stop the eternal expansion of Heathrow.
As you can see there were lots of bikes;

And some happy faces despite the rain;

Here's 'Transition Heathrow's' banner getting up to speed

It's been sunny all week - such a shame for the kids;

Here's one of the adverts for the day;

The third runway may now follow a different route or they may try to go back to the original scheme. Either way, the three villages are united in their opposition.

Here's Robyn holding up one of the flags for me;

I was there to support the eco camp and it's aims but I had another reason to come as well.
Back in 1968 I took part in something quite different but along the same lines. I was on holiday in Devon and the beach was taken over by a bizarre collection of artists, engineers and students who put on a series of weird events over a couple of days.
I was about 10 or 11 years old and was captivated by what I saw. I remember a huge bingo game on the beach - all free and very popular. There was a professional (I thought) Bingo caller and proper cards.
There were even prizes. They got a crowd together of about a hundred eager people.
We tried to mark our cards as best as we could with sand as the numbers were called out....the tension mounted. Then all of a sudden everybody yelled 'Bingo!' all at the same time.
All the cards were identical. 
I found it hilarious.
I also remember a buried man, deep under the sand who could only be spoken to down a pipe. Occasionally, food would be passed down to him. Later, when contact was lost he was dug up to reveal....a scarecrow.
It was all nonsense, of course, but I never forgot it and a few years ago I took some time out to find out who had been behind it all.
It was then that I found out all about the remarkable artist John Fox and his partner who had continued to take art into communities for over 40 years - many of which were spent developing an arts centre and their ideas in Ulverston, Cumbria.
If there's a street theatre, a carnival or a public celebration of some kind it's likely that at least some of the inspiration came from John Fox and his motley band of followers.
He then wrote a handbook 'Engineers of the Imagination' which covered how to organise festivals, create illuminated lanterns and how to excite and interest people who would never think of themselves as 'artists'.... to be just that.
Oh, and they had a chapter on making flags and holding that's where the idea came from! 
Here's their own history from their old website;
About Welfare State International

Founded in 1968 by John Fox and Sue Gill, Roger Coleman and others, Welfare State International was a loose association of freelance artists bought together by shared values and philosophy.
HoadWSI first became well known for large-scale outdoor spectacular events. When the company began, taking art out of theatres and galleries into the street was considered revolutionary. The company's name was originally 'The Welfare State' offering art for all on the same basis as education and health.
Under the Welfare State umbrella, a remarkable group of engineers, musicians, sculptors, performers, poets and pyrotechnicians invented and developed site-specific theatre in landscape, lantern processions, spectacular fireshows, community carnivals and participatory festivals. These creations were by turns beautiful, abrasive, didactic, provocative, disturbing, wondrous and even gently therapeutic.
Some big events such as "The Raising of the Titanic" (London International Festival of Theatre 1983), 'False Creek' in Expo '86, Vancouver, and the biggest lantern festival in Europe (Glasgow City of Culture 1990) have become touchstones balancing the aesthetic with the social.
Welfare State International also exported artists, ideas, prototypes and artworks nationally and internationally.
Nativity of the Beasts'Engineers of the Imagination', the WSI Handbook, spread ideas and techniques worldwide and is still essential reading for artists working in the community. Many artists and companies in Britain and abroad have been influenced by Welfare State's vision and practice.
From 1983 WSI championed local participation in lantern parades, street flag displays and carnival performance from its new base in Ulverston, Cumbria. Today Ulverston is known as a 'Festivals Town' where culture and economic regeneration go hand in hand.
Looking beyond public festival, the company also moved into inventing and leading ceremonies for rites of passage, creating installations, and working with children and their parents to explore imaginative play.
What was so revolutionary in 1968 is now the accepted language - of festivals, of the London Olympics, of schoolchildren's lives.
Here you can watch a 2006 documentary celebrating John Fox's success in bringing the arts to the people over the years. I rather like the foolishness of 'Raising the Titanic' in London's Dockland. I immediately recognised what I saw in 1968.
I rather wish I'd been there;
And now what they started has come to three of the Heathrow villages. I hope the kids remember this experience as long as I did mine.
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Friday, 29 May 2015

Back in time at Medmenham and Hambledon.

So, as I said yesterday, on Wednesday we went back in time.

To a place where they have strange road signs like this;

And yes, it was telling the truth, the road did disappear into the water;

It's Medmenham, a tiny village down by the River Thames, just past Marlow. I'd never been there before and it was only when we left that we realised a main road had been driven through the ancient village and we had probably missed the best bit.

We might go back.

Anyway, we walked past the little old cottages which are now homes to the super rich and were confronted by another sign;

Which seems to say that you can't carry a fish, you can't cook a fish and neither can you go spear fishing.

The way I see it, that means you can't even eat your fish and chips there.

Odd, very odd.

But we walked along the riverbank and all around us flew the 'fluffy stuff'.....the fluffy seeds which come floating from some willow trees in the Thames Valley and always say to me that summer has finally arrived.

And we saw a river boat - a real live paddlesteamer. It really was.

There was even a new Orleans Jazz band in bowler hats(can't stand that kind of traditional Jazz myself) and a party going on;

We were assaulted by a hungry group of ducks, angry that we hadn't brought any bread for them.

The male ducks were particularly nasty to the few lone females; Robyn is now planning to set up a Duck Rape Crisis Centre which is probably going to take up all our spare time from now on.

Then we drove up into the foothills of The Chiltern Hills and went to Hambledon. It's another ancient village that looks rather like a film set - actually it's been a film set many times. You can Wikipedia it if you're interested.

And while it is really ancient - the house is all timber frames and wattle, it's seems to me to be trapped in Edwardian England of about 1912. As you can see the church clock seems frozen forever at ten past four on a summer's afternoon.

There was an ancient church, a bakery with a very old 'Hovis' sign that I remember from when I was young. There was a pump in the middle of the village where everyone would have got their communal water.

There was a butchers shop and a little Post Office cum shop.

A Village Hall and a former Village School.

There was a little garage where a mechanic was working on cars - but it was like a garage from the 1950's. There was a 1960's MG parked outside rusting quietly and a Riley Mini by the centre of the village.

Very strange to see but nice too in a way.

Here's the Village Pub;

Cobbled pavements but the road you could imagine wasn't tarred over until the 1950's.
If you saw 'Band of Brother's', this was where they filmed the American troops training for D-Day. And in real life? This really was one of the villages where US soldiers did their training in 1944. What a culture clash that would have been.
All very different today - these villages are now very desirable and very exclusive.
This one has been saved because it's owned by an estate - there are serious controls on redevelopment too.
It's a time capsule.
Mind you, there were some nice cream teas on offer - we may make it back one day.
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Update time.

At the beginning of this week I laughed!

It's the first time in about 6 months.

I don't mean I haven't sniggered or chuckled because I have but oh, how it hurt.


I've had to avoid laughing because of my collapsed spine.

It really hurt.

There are lots of problems in having advanced osteoporosis but not being able to laugh was about the worst. It would send me into impossible muscle spasms of agony.

Not any more.

So now I'm 36 hours into cold turkey.

I was supposed to stop taking my high powered painkillers when I didn't need them. Slowly, slowly, gradually cutting back in stages.

I just stopped all at once and it's confirmed what I already knew - they worked against minor pain but they never worked with the really agonising pains.

Anyway I've stopped and it's going OK. I've got cravings but nothing serious.

And everything hurts more but hey! Life is OK.

Cancer? Well I've another appointment soon and because I was in hospital I haven't had a blood test for about two months, so we'll have to see how that goes next month.

At the moment?
I'm back on paracetamol and things are good.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about our trip back in time yesterday.

Neil Harris

(a don't stop till you drop production)
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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A real live DMC12!

Any idea what this is?

I'm being self indulgent; at The Denham fair there was a section for veteran cars.

How about this?

In front is an enormous 'Plymouth; behind is a 'Dodge'. The Plymouth is obviously waiting at a drive in burger bar;

While the Dodge has come straight out of WW2;

And what about this?
An immaculate 'Pontiac', but this is the car I want;
It's a DeLorean DMC 12! 

Probably the most elegant car ever made - John DeLorean was a controversial engineer who tried and failed to revolutionise the US car industry.
He then set up a company to build his own revolutionary car in Northern Ireland with the help of a huge public subsidy.
The money soon ran out and when DeLorean was arrested by the FBI attempting to raise money through a cocaine deal, the company went bankrupt.
DeLorean was to be found not guilty but it was too late. As he said when he left court; "Whose going to buy a used car from me?".
It doesn't matter; elegant lines, brushed stainless steel bodywork, gullwing doors...what other car would you chose for "Back to the future"?
I had to wait a long time for the crowd to part enough for me to get a picture of a DeLorean.
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Denham fair 2015

On Whitsun Bank Holiday (Memorial Day!) Robyn and me went To Denham fair. As you can see Denham is a very old village although London is beginning to creep around it a bit these days.

The charter to hold a fair was granted in the 15th century, so they've had some practise doing it;

These days the funds raised from the car park and renting out the stalls go to the parish church.
There were some rides to go on, lots of food and even a man on stilts;

There were big, big crowds. 

We caught a jazz band in the churchyard and we ate home made cakes while we listened to them play;

The local beekeepers had a stall and brought with them a glass sided hive to show the bees filling up their honeycomb.

The queen bee is a bit longer and bigger than the drones and here the beekeeper has put a spot of green paint on her back so that we can spot her;


There was an art exhibition from the local art society while among the commercial stalls this artist stood out;

He was painting Ayrton Senna's John Player Special Lotus at full speed in the rain; £3000 if you want it although prints are cheaper.

It looked really good close up and he'd also done Colin McRae's Subaru Rally car fighting through the mud. That looked as though it would crash through the canvas.

The Chiltern Hills Brass band were playing;

I do like a traditional Brass band;

While just behind them you could catch a train;

And inevitably, there was 'Morris Dancing', which is not really my thing;

I've always had the suspicion that it isn't as old as it looks but it was nice that Robyn got a chance to see what it's all about;

Anyway, I had a traditional 'Olde Englishe Paella' and I did enjoy that;

I also enjoyed the veteran cars but I think I'll post those pictures tomorrow.

We had a nice time but I was completely shattered by the time I got home. It was a long time to be on my feet and it was very crowded.

But I made it!

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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Monday, 25 May 2015

Cultural exchange.

We've been having a cultural exchange; I've been introducing Robyn to cricket on the village green.

It's been going very well....even if she's still talking about 'Pitcher's' and 'bases'.

The wicket looks very fresh - it was quite damp and cold so the bowlers (OK 'pitchers') were having a really tough time.

It's a long way away from high summer.

But it was nice!

Tomorrow's 'Memorial Day' and because I have no idea what that's about I asked Robyn to do me a piece to explain all about it.

Here's a piece by Robyn G. May;

So, last year I told you about Labor Day the unofficial end of summer. Well, today is Memorial Day – the unofficial start of summer.

Memorial Day – the last Monday of May – was originally called decoration day after the end of the Civil War. It is a Federal Holiday to honor soldiers who have died while serving in the Armed Forces. Over the years people have used Memorial to honor all their deceased loved ones; however in military cemeteries volunteers still decorate the graves of veterans with American flags. Cemeteries are packed with people taking flowers to gravesites. Vendors line cemetery entrances selling wreaths and bouquets to lay on the graves. As a teenager I spent several Memorial Day weekends at a cemetery with my Aunt selling flowers and refreshments to people who came to honor their loved ones. It may sound a bit opportunistic but trust me when you have to drive twenty miles or more to get to the cemetery you are happy there is a place to purchase flowers otherwise you’ll arrive empty handed and your loved one’s grave will be bare.

Memorial Day kicks off the unofficial start to summer, meaning summer activities start on Memorial Day. Even though there’s almost a month until the actual start of summer, seaside resort towns open their attractions, amusement parks open or extend their hours, kids are buzzing because school is almost over for the year and of course Barbeque season begins!

Just like Labor Day we fire up our grills and celebrate a welcomed day off with family and friends. If the weather is good we’ll have a day full of good food and drink, music, socializing, and games.

Memorial Day is also one of the busiest travel days of the year in America. It’s estimated (by AAA) that 37.2 million people (33 million by car) will travel this year over the Holiday weekend. The most popular destinations this year (according to Google research) include beach towns Myrtle Beach, SC and Ocean City, MD, National Parks Pisgah and Yellowstone and amusement parks Hershey Park (Pennsylvania) and Disney World.  
So, what will Neil and I be doing today? If I had my way we’d have a few friends over for a BBQ. Burgers, hot dogs, seafood salad (which I really did make for us yesterday), potato salad, deviled eggs, and tossed salad. We’d quench our thirst with iced tea or some kind of punch (preferably spiked). And after hours of relaxing, shooting the breeze and playing a game or two we’d finish with some fruit salad and maybe a slice of pound cake. Sounds like a good day to me!

I dunno....but the start of summer....that sounds good.

Neil Harris

(a don't stop till you drop production)


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Sunday, 24 May 2015

Dorchester on Thames.

This is the Abbey at Dorchester. It's near Oxford and is at least a thousand years old. It's a charming village; Robyn visited it last year, so we thought we'd take a look.

There are picture postcard thatched cottages;

While The George Inn has a horse drawn carriage on display;

It probably would have been used to take guests to and from the railway station, although it was certainly old enough to have been been there before the railway arrived.

The tyres were solid so it must have been quite a hard ride and it's always a shock to see how much smaller people used to be back then. I would have had trouble squeezing inside.

It's Oxfordshire, so the old buildings are made of this warm, orangey coloured stone;

We looked around the little museum which is in the tiny Grammer school next to the Abbey.

There are Roman relics; I was very interested by a coin/token with the head of Medusa on it which looked very similar to a carved head we saw at The Roman Baths in Bath last September.

They had a lovely pot made by 'The Beaker People' and an beautiful stone age flint axe head.

In the Abbey there was a choir rehearsing medieval sacred music for a show in the evening; you couldn't have picked a better time to have visited

We had a look at The Cloister Garden by the side of the Abbey, full of the kind of herbs the monks would have once grown for medicinal purposes.

This was the view from the back of the church, across the water meadows;

The far meadow is white with flowers of Cowslip, everywhere was a riot of wild flowers;

Back in the churchyard we saw this medieval cottage, a like a full size gingerbread house;

Of course, we'd gone there to enjoy the ancient architecture, the ecology of the water meadows and to soak up the glories of an expert choir singing ' ye olde Englishe musik'.

The fact that you can have a really nice tea at The Abbey Tearooms played no part at all in our decision to go there.

No part whatsoever.

We each had the strawberry cake and shared a slice of the Blackberry strudel as well.


On the way back we stopped off at Goring, down by the River Thames.

There are some nice stone cottages and a weir;

But if I'm honest about it, Goring was boring.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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Saturday, 23 May 2015

Consolation prize.

We went out looking for another invisible train - that's what Robyn calls them.

When I had a fortnight's respite last September, we went down to the south coast for the day and I tried to have a look at the steam trains on The Bluebell Railway. We were too late.

Then earlier this week I heard that a steam train was passing through Staines.

So I forced Robyn out as I thought we'd watch it go past - it was cancelled.

Another invisible train.

So today I heard there was another one due and in the last minute we headed down to the station, got there a bit too late and just as we got to the railway line it went through.

I would have taken a picture except in the rush I had my camera on 'movie' and took a film instead. Unfortunately, I don't have the software to convert it to windows, so I can't show you it.

It is something amazing, even though it was going fairly slowly through the station. People pay a lot of money to take these excursions; a long line of luxury Pullman cars, dining rooms and beautifully restored carriages.

At the front, pulling it all, a giant A1 class express steam locomotive. Robyn's photo caught the number and we looked  it up on the web.

The train was rescued from scrap by a group of enthusiasts who somehow raised the money to rebuild it, forming a preservation society to do it.

It's a huge achievement and now they rent out the engine for these trips.

It's just a shame that it's the third invisible steam engine we've seen so far.

The fish and chips? We were so irritated at another failure that we went to Jack's fish and chips shop and discovered that it's half price at lunchtime.

Who knew?

Then we made that an invisible meal.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)


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