Sunday, August 11, 2019

Going home 2

 The cenotaph in Middlesbrough and the gates to Albert park. My adventure playground as a child, we played football, tennis, cricket, we went roller skating, fishing and we rowed boats on the lake, We played in the playgrounds on the slides and swings,we climbed trees, we ran away from the parkie and we had ice creams and ice lollies, it was just perfect and only 5/10 minutes walk from home. I have been jogging around the park early on a morning and a million memories have come flooding back.
 This statue is new to me, it is a statue of Middlesbrough born Stan Hollis a Victoria Cross holder from D. Day.
I like it, he should be remembered.
 Another son of Middlesbrough, this statue is just inside the park. Brian Clough, 'old big head' as my dad used to call him. a prolific goal scorer bor the Boro, Sunderland and England. He went on to be one of the most successful managers in English football with Derby County and Nottingham Forest. without doubt should have been given a chance with England, but it didn't happen.
And the Dorman museum, a wonderful place, with wonderful memories, as a boy I was a member of the museum club on a Saturday morning for a while. I loved it and the displays and I always visit the museum when I can.


Skinningrove, a seaside town in East Cleveland. This place is hidden from the tourists and at first glance, I would imagine people would turn around and head for Runswick Bay or even Whitby further south on the Yorkshire coast.

Wild, the North Sea, this is something that I really miss. The waves beating in onto the beach and the cliffs of the Dinosaur coast as it is also know, this is due to the amount of fossils that turn up when the cliffs subside in the shale.
Skinningrove is still hanging on to its Steel industry, only just at the moment. on the wonderful Cleveland way, a walk down from the cliffs remind  you of its industrial past, I think it is a real treasure.
The fishing boats of North Yorkshire are called cobbles and there is a good stock of crabs and lobsters for the local fishermen. Even Spidercrabs are caught, but then they are sent on to the markets in Madrid and Paris. English restaurants don't know what to do with them and the price is probably better abroad anyway.

Going home

This photo was taken at Gisborough Priory, a landmark in the North Yorkshire market town of Guisborough. One of the few places in which I have lived.

Two images of my university . the University of Teesside. the campus now covers a large part of the centre of Middlesbrough. including the area where I was born and lived for 15 years. it is a wonderful addition to my town and we are very proud of it.

The University is on the site of the former Polytechnic and Constantine college, my mum was a former student.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019


 A picnic in Lealholm with the family today. Lealholm is a lovely little village in the Esk valley. Lealholm is in the North Yorkshire moors national park, in the North of England.  The river Esk runs through this tiny place which explodes with tourists in the summer. The Esk valley railway runs along the valley from Middlesbrough to Whitby and teems with people visiting the Steam railway at Grosmont and the seaside at Whitby. 

Lealholm is a tiny place with less than 1,000 inhabitants. typical of the Esk valley villages, the houses are made from local stone and there are 3 churches of 3 different denominations,including the Methodist chapel, roman catholic and Church of England.
The local pub, 'The Board Inn' is traditional in that there are darts teams, domino drives and even a quoits team. This making the pub a focal point for the community, which is good to see in this environment of pubs going out of business and closing every day in the UK.

Lealholm is very much a part of my life and many Teessiders who loved a' ride out in the country' as children.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A sacred, secret mission

The fly agaric or мухомор, beautiful and deadly.
As we set off on our journey to Kostroma Oblast in July, I was aware of many people getting on the bus carrying rolls of plastic bags, buckets, wearing wellies and camouflage. some were carrying fishing rods , so it was easy to guess what they were aiming to do. the bus stopped randomly along the road for a few miles out of the city, as the camouflaged army got off, they determindly headed of in one direction or another to their secret corners of the forests and rivers. Curious to an Englishman, that's for sure, I had this image of arguments, fights and worse, over a patch where the prize is among at least 15 edible mushrooms that an average Russian can identify.

Белые (porcini), подберезовики (birch bolete), подосиновики (red-capped bolete), маслята (slippery jack), лисички (chanterelle), рыжики (saffron milk cap), опята (honey mushroom), грузди (milk mushrooms), cыроежки (russule)

 So, I am looking forward to mushroom picking, I have had a little foray, hence the photos, all I could fine were the poisonous ones and a dead mole!  but I was too late, there had been mushroom pickers before us and they proudly held their basket for us to see as they walked past without a word of course!

The mole of Красное-на-Волге.

There's no f in eggs! My first poetry recital from my first Poetry collection

Kostroma Literary Festival, recital , Open mike appearance.
Never say never! Here I am on stage reciting from my first Poetry collection.

'There's no F in eggs!' 
This is only the second time in fact, that I have recited any of my poetry to the public. I don't get nervous, but on this occasion, yup, I was. 
However, I was received well and made a lot of new contacts and hopefully friends. I am on my way later today back to England to look at the publication details.

July just came and went!

July, A blink of an eye! Where did it go?

Well to start with my tour of Kostroma Oblast continued and I visited 'Bear Corner'.

I wrote a Children's book, completed my first collection of poetry.
I went through all of the necessary precedures to apply! for a work permit.
So I suppose it wasn't really a blink of an eye, rather a busy month.

And now?
Well I am preparing to visit home, which on its own is a seriously scary prospect and at the same time exciting.
I was thinking about what I have missed the most.
Well its clear that first and foremost it is my family.
My granddaughter has grown into a little girl in the last 7 months. My daughters! I miss them every single day, as I always have.
Lets move on before I reach for the Kleenex tissues.
My brothers and their families, My friends,

The Boro!

What else have I missed?  And what am I looking forward to?

 The Dorman's club, bingo! A pint of English beer.The craic with the lads! A walk on the beach, !
A game of darts, The Dudley!

Another walk on the beach, the sea, I miss the sea! Fish and chips, egg and chips, roast forerib of beef, Yorkshire puddings, but not mine, theyr'e shite! Meat!  I miss meat!  Sausages, good sausages.
Oh bloody hell its a lot isnt it!

But it isn't until you start thinking about it is it, that you realise what you miss. I miss Park Run, I miss the friendliness of the people in the North, the North East and in Yorkshire.

I have linked below to a video which I loved about a Northener in London.

A Northener terrifies Londoners by saying hello. Link here.

At the end of the day. Home is where the heart is. And a smile goes a long way!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Manturovo and the toilet police.

Manturovo and the toilet police. Strangely as it seemed later, we had stopped at this place on the way to Vokhma and I commented on the ridiculous fact that the toilet was locked in the station.
It rained and rained as we spent time with friends barbequeing in the rain, Shashlik.  A house full of children made the rain more bearable, fun with drawing. A real family visit to Babushka.
However the Russian love of forms, rules and regulations, meant that we had to wait for the next bus which was two hours later. We had tried to book our ticket the day before , but that is not possible in Russia. We were offered 1 seat and 1 standing in a mini bus on a 6 hour journey. I felt for the people on the way who had to sit on the floor or on their bags, but it seems to be accepted. so it goes, we were waiting at the Railway station for the bus, but of course if you are waiting for a bus, you can not use the toilet in the railway station without paying. Obvious is it not! Not knowing this and seeing the toilet key clearly labeled on the table I went for a pee, only to return to an armed policeman ranting about the rules, thank God I had help and although we asked to complain, it went on deaf ears!

The real Hinterland, Bear corner. Luptug.

Luptuk? Luptchook? Not sure how to spell it even. Now this is the Outback , the Hinterland, Bear Corner. Cousin Andrey is the local Gamekeeper, Bear, Elk, Wild Boar, to name but a few of the wild creatures in the massive forests of the area. Situated just to the north of the Wetluga river, the river where the Kostroma relic of the crocodile was found. It would not suprise me one iota if they still lived here, not at all. This land is wild, beautiful and somewhat eerie. 
Conversations about people doing deals for Elk meat in the forests in the 1990s, a time in Russia of change and of real poverty and problems. This story brought it all home to me, I may look upon a house with an outside toilet now as something from the dark ages, yet this is how people live, this is how it is. The people are welcoming and interested in you, if you show them the respect they deserve and not blank people out because of  P.C. bullshit.
The church in this tiny village [200 people] is probably the best rural church I have seen. A quick phone call meant that we could have access, The priest asked of I would like to make a confession, I politely declined , his English was suprisingly good and then I discovered that a group of American volunteers had been to the town fairly recently, I seem to be following a group of Americans in this area. More to be mentioned later when I have more information. The priest left me his card with his website. 
We were allowed to go up the tower, it was during a storm and the ascent was very scary, but we made our way up the tower. It was frightening, both the storm and the stairs up to the bell tower. There wouldn't be any possiblity in the UK that a member of the public would be allowed to climb this tower. Which made it all th emore exciting really.

 This town will long stay in my memory , we visited the town museum which is a house where a person lives alongside Soviet memorabilia, immaculately kept and cared for. It is not a place that many Westeners would find a lot to interest them, there is no MacDonalds, no fancy hotel, restaurant or for that matter Tourist office.
But this place is part of the real Kostroma Oblast, I have found part of the puzzle here. Part of the enigma, God only knows what it must be like to live here in the winter. Chatting to Andrey, I relaised that he only visits the city when required, a new gun, supplies, but otherwise , he is more than happy doing what he does as he has always done.


From the first time, I heard the name of this town and since I arrived in Russia, I have wanted to visit this town. If you look on the map it is in the far reaches of the Oblast and really into the last frontier!
 Like Vohkma, Bogorovo is a really important dairy area producing pretty decent cheese. I find most russian cheese 'ordinary' but I like the cheese from this area. I am spoilt of course by my experiences with French cheese!

The older of the two churches in Bogovarovo.

Like most country towns there is a cathedral or huge church. in this case the town has 2! With a population of less than 2,000 amd declining of course. To be fair one of the cathedrals is used for other activities and the working cathedral looks really smart.

The church and Chistianity in Russia has gone through very dark times and I am only beginning to see the legacy of the communist regime on the church.

Vokhma , the last post of civilisation

The title of this blog post is taken from an article I found about the Kostroma Oblast, A very interesting and yet sad article of the Kostroma region I am still searching and looking for, The disappearing villages and the declining amount of young talent leaving the area.

The link to the story is here. Rai or Paradise

I don't know the writer of this article or even if they really have visited this town or even Russia. What I do know is that we had a wonderful stay with family and the town and area is stunning,wild and for sure an outpost , but not a Hell town.

Perhaps the image here of a lone horseman could underline the statement , 'The last post of civilisation', but for me, it is what I was looking for. Not so long ago, horses would have been much more common to see in the area as working animals. this is a wild land, have no doubt! I somehow survived the bumpy 10 hour journey on a bus that somehow got us to our destination. The facilities for such a journey seemed to cater for smokers and not the general public with smoke breaks and very few toilet breaks. With  all of that shaking, I constantly wanted the loo!
The Vokhma museum was a complete jewel in the crown, it had these huge mammoth tusks,The curator gave us a guided tour and was delighted to have us as visitors, I loved her enthusiasm, even when describing simple artifacts, tools and utensils of a time gone by, not so long ago, in fact.
 A highlight of my visit to the Vokhma was a visit to the local apiary and the beekeeper. пчеловод
In the light of what our farmers in the west, including Britain are doing to the bees with pesticides and God knows what else. It was a delight to see an old fashioned set up with a lot of hives and the most beautiful honey you can imagine. however our trip was twofold. The main aim was to buy honey of course, but we then had another quest, Uncle Slava had a nagging back pain and he asked for a local cure. To which the Beekeeper gladly agreed and the next photo has Uncle Slava dropping his pants for a bee to sting the base of his spine. MMMMMM. not for me! He also got a sting on the eye for his pleasure!

 Photo has been removed! Thank God!
Considering Uncle Slava is a doctor, Something may be said for natural medicines?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Language learning, a few thoughts

I thought I would share a few thoughts about my recent experiences as a language learner. I am extremely proud to say that I have recently been successful in achieving my Russian language certificate as part of the process of applying for a work permit here in Russia.
No mean feat! I can tell you.
This exam consisted of 6 parts.
Reading, writing, listening, speaking, Russian history and Russian law.

I have just read a wonderful article from Stephen Fry, which has underlined everything I believe about language learning and this has inspired me to write this post.
He simply states that it is language that makes us human. Check it out on Facebook.
Language learning is not a gift, it is a right and recently I have witnessed so many emotions in the process of learning a new language.

'Don't be afraid of it', Stephen Fry says. Easily said, when you are constantly, either, not understood or in some cases, put down because of your poor pronunciation or even misunderstanding.
He is of course correct in saying that you shouldn't be afraid of making mistakes. this is fundamental in my opinion. However, it takes a lot  to accept this on a regular basis, perseverance is not taught and how can you learn confidence?
Stephen says that many English speakers do not enjoy language, frightened of making that dreadful error with grammar and that other people are haughty about any misuse of language.
People show off their superior knowledge of language and look down on those who are learning and trying their best.

Trudging through the ice and snow back in January to my Russian lessons, reminded me about the real reason for those of us who put ourselves through this torture of learning a language. It is because I want it! I need it , in my case it is essential in order to live, work and learn in another culture and country.

At first I was annoyed with 'the system', Why do I need to know about Russian history and law just to work here, I would mutter to myself. How could I forget the paths I have taken on my route to where I am now with French and Spanish. It is in fact genius!
Cultural transfer is an integral function of language learning and develops interest in the real language of the people. I have always stated that language learning helps you to open and even knock down doors or barriers, it is exactly that and helps to understand the language you are using on a daily basis.

Even, especially! as a native speaker, we never stop learning a language, particulary if you read anything by Stephen Fry. I had to check his use of the word, pedant.
'a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning.'

'Words are your birthright', he continues to say.
Don't be afraid of language and don't let anyone bully you, don't be humiliated because you can't spell this or that. It will come. It just takes time.
Oh and a lot of work!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

El Paso and Texas June 2019

Life is a strange thing sometimes. I seem to have moved to Russia in order to visit the U.S.A. Never in a million years did I expect to visit America, especially Texas and New Mexico.It was to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life and a trip I will never forget for many reasons.

The sunset over El Paso was a sight to hold in my memory forever, the colours of the sky above the desert and the mountains surrounding this fascinating city are probably not available in any painter's pallette.

El Paso is situated in the south of Texas right on the border with the neighbouring city of Ciadad Juarez. Which was at one time described as the most dangerous city on earth. The wall and border are unavoidable in EL Paso, driving to school on a morning we passed the border every day and drove alongside the wall looking over into a foreign country , that of Mexico. 
This was probably the biggest suprise to me , in that I realsied that the majority of inhabitants of El Paso were of Mexican descent. 
Texas for me, was in my mind the Texas of the cinema of my youth, John Wayne, cowboys and Indians, deserts. mountains and great rivers. The Lone star state. Cowboy hats and boots, stetsons, guns, ranches, steaks, loud people and horses tied up outside the saloon.
How naive I am!
And yet, I was not totally wrong, apart from the influence of Mexican culture and language in the town. This is easily explained by the description of the most amazing school I have ever had the pleasure to visit.

The Alicia R, Chacon International school of el Paso.
An amazing place with amazing people 
 In this school, first of all, all children will become bilingual with Spanish and English.
And yet, they will go on to study a third language chosen from Mandarin, Japanese, German or Russian.
It is just gobsmackingly bloody well fantastic! Not suprisingly , there is a waiting list to get into this school and the year 8 graduates are among the most successful students. always! when they get to high school and beyond. This is an American middle school , so the kids are often with their teachers from kinder to grade 8. From about 5/6 years old to 14/15.

The traditional iconic school bus that I have seen a thousand times in the cinema and on TV. I half expected the cast of Happy Days to get off, Potsy, Richie Cunningham and the Fonze!
A partnership with the city of Kostroma and El Paso has been active for more than 15 years. I was a volunteer teacher with Olga and group of 6 Russian students of English visiting El Paso. This is facilitated by Natalia who originates in the Rusian city of Kostroma. The american students will make a tour of russia in the Autumn as they did in 2018.
In the picture above I was delighted to help present an award to one of our Russian students for his participation on a poetry recital. reading in English, as the students of El Paso read in Russian and Spanish as well as in English.
The proud winners of the poetry recital awards.
Ruth is the Mandarin teacher at Alicia R. Chacon and we were treated on the last day of term with Chinese pancakes. 
A Tigua indian performing the buffalo dance.
This had to be one of the highlights of my trip to the U.S.A.
My boyhood fascination with the western. TV and films were totally unavoidable as a kid in the late 50s and 60s. To see and meet a native American and learn something about his culture was a real honour and humbling experience.
Right in the heart of the city of El Paso is Ysleta sur pueblo, which is a community for the Tigua tribe with cultural information and self governing facilities. 
We werer treated ot traditional dances and the group were invited to paint pots in Tigua style, I was however distracted buy the video explainging the history of this proud and intreging people and to be honest embarrased by my lack of knowledge of this ancient civilisation. 
This was underlied with another visit to New Mexico in which we were to pass through Apache lands on the way to Ruidoso.
Ruidoso is Spanish for noisy, and el rio ruidoso which runs through the town. As the famous rio grande runs through El Paso. Well I can confirm two things, the noisy river is not noisy and the big river is not big, well not in the city anyway.
Ruidoso is a fascinating town in New Mexico and the journey through the desert did not dissapoint.
A twister in the desert on the way to Ruidoso, New Mexico. A little further on the route we came across the American army on  maneuvers. Tanks and military vehicles kicking up a sandstorm.



On continuing my tour of Kostroma oblast I was invited to visit Судисла́вль  / Sudislavl with Pavel and his family.
We spent the day at Cendega, which is a holiday,fishing, hunting complex not far from Sudislavl. Having been eaten alive by mosquitos even with a total covering of spray, The only fish I saw, was a smoked fish provided for the soup. We had however a wonderful BBQ and fun playing volleyball and spending a lot of time watching the wildlife. The BBQ was definetly the best place to be away for the mosquitos!

A smoked fish provided by the fishing camp.

 The wildlife was magnificent and many buzzards were hovering along with snipe and beautiful butterflies, a real treat for a nature lover like myself. The fishing was not important after the discovery of such raw and beautiful countryside.
 Fields laden with wild Lupin were a wonder to behold, the colours are superb.
Судисла́вль is a suprisingly large town, yet spread over a wide area among which lakes and churches seem to be placed with lots of space and parks including a Health camp where a group of children from Moscow were resting.
Pavel was born here so naturally we had local knowledge and found a guy searching for wild strawberries. Among stories of children drowning in the lake and complaints about everyday life in Russia and how it was when Americans and Brits used to visit the town for the Health farm, days seemed better then, it was clearer.

Sweet as a nut!  I found a few wild strawberries myself, reminding me of my forraging back home in Yorkshire, Is there anything better than free, natural food? I doubt it!

 The day we went to Судисла́вль was June 12th. or Russia day.This is a national holiday which celebtrates the dissolution of the USSR and is treat only as a day off by Russians, I was expecting something more like the celebrations on 9th May or Victory day, but it was certainly nothing like what I expoerienced on that day in Kostroma. In fact, after meeting the local who was collecting wild strawberries, he seemed to be unhappy in the way in which older people are being treat in modern Rusia and it is certainly true to say that many Russians of my generation feel bitter about their experiences in contemporary Russia as opposed to that during life in the USSR.

Life is tough, there is no doubt if you are not among the few affluent Russians that are certainly far richer than the poorer teachers and ordinary folk .