It began as a blog about completing a thesis, it became a blog about everything but completing a thesis, it ended with a complete thesis.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


A couple of months ago I was in another place writing about having made initial online moves towards searching for the whereabouts of Pa Wexford's younger brother - Thomas - 9 years the junior. Older Other Brother - Len - is 9 years older than Pa Wex' and is thus 18 years older than Thomas. Last contact between Pa Wex' and Thomas was about 25 years ago. Contact with Thomas ended after Len and he had had some kind of bust-up - the details of which seem not to be known to my father. The deal was that Thomas simply packed his bags and fucked off from the house that he'd been sharing with his oldest brother (their ages would have been about 19 and 37 at the time). Their parents had died young. ANYWAY, that's the background.

Last weekend I gently introduced Pa Wex' to some printouts that I'd taken related to just one of a few Thomas Wexfords (pseud.) that I'd found information on. This included a picture. Pa Wex' studied the image and as he did this I could see that he was thinking hard. It was a bit odd to think that he might not actually recognise his younger brother should he be presented with him. We soon established that the chap in the image bore some similarities to the younger Thomas but that it wasn't him as the date of birth (that I'd also fluked upon) was out by about two years. Now, Pa Wex' is not a man who is in any way hinternet-savvy, but he is a man who rather oddly occasionally drops an unnecessary 'h' in front of some words that begin with vowel sounds... happle, horange, hand so hon. I think he does this to irritate self and sister, though he merely comes across as an innocent lunatic. Anyway, beyond glancing over the afore-mentioned printout there was no greatly demonstrative indication of further interest in the missing Thomas. To my father it's a story that ended a long time ago I reasoned. Odd that he'd have totally dropped it though. So, last weekend passed and I thought at the end of it 'Oh well, there was an opportunity to show an interest and it passed'. Don't get me wrong, I was quite comfortable with this.

Then. In midweek I'm on the phone to Ma and she says just before I go 'Oh - hold on, your Dad wants a word'. This was unusual. So pa takes the phone, coughs into it and then speaks:

Pa Wex': Shane!
Shane: Hello.
Pa Wex': Y' know you showed us that stuff from the computer about that Thomas?
Shane: Yeah.
Pa Wex': Well you said there was another Thomas who was a bird-watcher...
Shane: Yeah - in either RuralCounty or ReallyRuralCounty.
Pa Wex': Yeah. Well d' y' think y' could find anything else out about him for us?
Shane: I can certainly try. It might take a little while though.
Pa Wex': That's alright - y' know - just when you've got time, see what y' can find out for us.
Shane: Ok. Will do.

And so it came to pass that after what has been a great many years Pa Wex' has volunteered an interest on Thomas. This pleased me though it carries an edge of unease. An interest has been spiked and an interest shall be pursued. It feels like a very interesting story in progress, which is a very good thing - from where I'm sitting, standing and poking my nez in where it might not be wanted.

Today, I love my father. [ - SPACE FOR YOU TO WEEP/VOMIT INTO - ]

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


It’s a strange old time – with much of London still reeling and the rest of us feeling the aftershocks, even life in the provincial English Midlands seems unsettled. For Shane, this is compounded by such matters as having to call upon unpleasantness in order to ensure that monies owed to him become monies paid to him, matters such as grandma Elspeth feigning Telephone-Alzheimer’s in order to be left alone to watch the cricket, and matters such as a steady rise in the number of unprovoked kitten attacks – CharlieDimmock is no longer a cute and cuddly wee thing, she's a big bounding brute of a she-kitten, and I caught her snapping branches on the cheese plant the other day. However, wallowing aside – a very difficult aside, it is true that in amongst all of this there are gleaming twenty pence pieces - accidentally swallowed but never forgotten. Let us march together and spend:-

1. Earlier today, our elderly near neighbour Harry knocked at the door. Marie recognised him immediately and soon we were formally introduced. His effusively helpful manner had been prefaced with an unhurried 'Well you see, I was trimming the hedge earlier and I had a bit of an accident...' At this I thought we were about to hear about how he'd accidentally lopped off his wife's left arm and that such an event was 'a bit of a shame really' and that 'If it's not too much to ask - I can see you're both working - would it be possible for one of you to run us to the hospital, it's just that I think she might be about to run out of blood...' - so mild and gentle was he. Anyway, the dear old boy had merely broken his garden sheers and was seeking a replacement pair. By way of returning what favours were offered he was particularly keen that Marie should 'Take my number - it's just that you never know when you might need me, in the night or something - for some help, y' know - anything at all - always happy to help'. Dirty old rogue. But despite that, the sort of chap who adds warmth and charm and horticultural injuries to a townscape. Gorgeous. [20p]

2. Today, I very nearly accidentally bought a pair of young Herefords. It's not often that I think "I think I'll pop down to the cattle market for a bit of a wander" but today I did. Having got in amongst the farmers and done my best to feel part of it (and not stick out as the only one who could smell the cow shit), I took a near front position as a pen of cattle were being filtered through the bidding area. With my fascinated eyes darting between bidders and auctioneer, at one point as the price charged up the auctioneer interpreted my overly-interested eye-contact as a bid, thus, for a fleeting moment in his 10 words per second tirade - 'One twenny one twenny one twenny AND thirdy an' thirdy an' thirdy AND fordy AND fiffy an' fify an' fiffy an' fi' and fi' and fi' FIVE AND sold one fifty five the TWO Hereford Bull' - I was the buyer of the Herefords. Driving back to the chateau I thought to myself, 'Fuck me - just what if! Pete and Marie would have been well pissed off to find that I'd brought home a couple of young Herefords... without first consulting'. [40p]

3. Received the following email from Country Bumpkin Pal (Shelly): 'Shaney old boy, I am at Michigan Uni feeling like a fish very much out of water. None of the familiar signs of agriculture, just a load of yanks and very large portions of everything (I thought I had a big appetite til I got here). First (and quite possibly last) trip to the states and 2 weeks to get through - am already planning my escape to a ranch or Canada. Feel like an extra in a bad US college 'movie'... News from reality please?' The thought of Shelly at any overseas university other than Yeeha University amused me greatly. [60p]

There you have it, 60 pence worth of blog, now go on - naff off or I'll clip y' round the lug hole.

I do love the Holland football shirt, but I'm yet to be convinced by this old Charlton Athletic horror.

NEWS UPDATE I: Have just returned from town. Was horrified to note the headline on the local 'paper was 'Pensioner in Wheelie Bin Row'. I do hope it wasn't Harry. [Thursday 1:32pm]

NEWS UPDATE II: Relief, dear reader. It wasn't Harry. He tells me that he remains entirely happy with his relationship with the town's wheelie bins. [Thursday 2:47pm]

Monday, July 25, 2005


Recently, a commenter to a post of Deanne mentioned 'love bite'. This is a term that has bamboozled and amused me in equal measure ever since the age of 13 years, 4 months and 26 days.

Please, let me explain.

A temporary red mark on a person's skin resulting from kissing or sucking by their lover (def.) is a straight forward enough thing in terms of how it's produced and what it looks like. Some are purpley, some reddish, some deep dark blue, some 'dotty', some more solid-looking, and some will go through phases featuring each of these appearances. Some will last for days, others will be gone in hours. Now, in the throes of pash - when the juices are flowing and general trouser- and skirt-forms tell of zealous anticipation, a spot of devouring seems quite acceptable to me*. However. 'Love bite' - no, this is not an acceptable term. 'We-were-getting-down-to-rudies-and-we-got-a-bit-carried-away-and-now-m'-neck-looks-like-it-was-struck-by-a-speeding-golf-ball bite' - yes, that's more like it - it's more of a 'does exactly what it says on the tin' kind of a label. To ascribe 'love' to the bite is a bit much, I reckon. And as for suggesting the word 'love' is derived of the expression 'love-making bite', I say 'Oh pleeeeaaase, passez la sick bucketez'.

My first experience of being purple-patched was as a drunk teenager coming under the bicuspidy molaric spell of a girl called Maggie who'd been in my Maths class. I later presumed that she'd not eaten for a while. Anyway, having departed Maggie and returned to the parental home at some middle-of-the-night hour I sat down to play the video recording of the Chris Eubank boxing contest that Ma Wexford had recorded for me. As I sat on the big settee, wondering why the television set was orbiting right before me I heard mother plodding down the stairs. She entered the room and let out a cry of great amusement. Until this moment, I hadn't realised that I'd been savaged about the neck. It was all very embarrassing. Two days later there was some awkward shuffling in Maths, and through the icy quiet that followed my old pal Kevin commented 'Did you get up to much this weekend Maggie?'. 'Ask Shane' she replied. Kevin then turned to find that he was in fact sitting beside a beetroot. Since then there have been few occasions of colourful biting incidents, though I'm rarely far from a shirt with a collar.

I did mention my gentle consternation at the term 'love bite' to an old girlfriend, and was inspired enough to laughingly pen this:

Title: 'Love Bite'

Love Bite
A bite of love
From me to you

Simple and nonsensical, just like the term itself and the old girlfriend.

You may wonder why I've not yet made reference to the expression 'hickey'. Well, the reason is that that sounds far too twee - and as you'll gauge from dipping into my archive of posts I'm a rock 'n' roll, Mr Mean Mr Nasty, far from twee, really quite raucous kind of a guy. Or something to that effect.

I'm rambling, there are other things that I'm meant to be writing. Let this silty meandering nonsense end.

[* I confess to grimacing whenever I see someone unself-consciously bearing their markings in public.]

I was crushed to discover that 'love bite' is not featured in the Oxford English Dictionary. Crushed I tell you, simply crushed.

I do love this image from Interview with a Vampire.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Last weekend, and for the third year running, I had the pleasure of attending Festival at the Edge (FATE) in Shropshire. Whilst FATE is primarily spoken of as being a storytelling festival, there’s a lot more that goes on too. Before I go any further, let me assure you that this isn’t a sales pitch, though it may come across as such. In 2003 I attended FATE with chums Marie, Leeds Joe and Pete – a small posse**. In 2004, following broader enthusing from Marie (and a little from self), our gaggle** had risen to about 15. This year, we reached 27 fellows of gorgeous and wonderful soul. Over the whole festival, my guess is that there were 1000+ people in attendance – many camping (spread across a big site) whilst others visited for the day. Official entertainment included storytelling, storywalks, live music (celtic, folk, irish, pop-rock, rhythm and blues, and jazz, no gospel), children’s entertainers, circus skills tents (for having a go), workshops in belly-dancing (I saw sequined ladies), clog-dancing (I heard reports of a clog-dancing goth – fully blacked and purpled up, with face powdered white and footwear rather wooden), tai chi and more. There was a beer tent, a variety of caterers, a market, and more. And it was sunny and warm – all weekend.

Whilst I only skimmed the surface of the scheduled entertainment, I managed to see a performer whose physical and sparely worded comic skill and timing, charm and broad appeal was incredible. The performance went under the title ‘Pete White’s Suitcase Circus’ (PWSC). Official blurb read: ‘Pete’s a welcome return to the Festival with his Suitcase Circus. Whether he’s spinning plates as Trevor Organ, or doing wonderful things with a handful of ping-pong balls and a chocolate biscuit, Pete is a true genius of physical humour with brilliant comic timing and a suitcase full of wonder stuff and riotous entertainment. See him at both the Adult and Children’s Festivals’. This does not do justice to the man (web-searching yielded no sign of a personal or professional PWSC website). In particular, Pete’s attempt to break the world record for the most quick eating of an apple whilst juggling was superb. Anyone who can get away with ‘accidentally’ spraying an audience of under-10s with half-munched apple must be talented. Pete White's Suitcase Circus is an act that appeals to children, but appeals more to adults. The kids laughed, the adults guffawed. Exemplar moments:

(Much enthusiastic shouting out from children in the audience)
Pete: (calmly) Alright, let’s not descend into a rabble.

(Pete about to reward a child volunteer (James, 6, one of our crowd) with a balloon animal)
Pete: So, do you have a favourite animal?
James: Yes.
(Pete awaits embellishment, James awaits next question, they raise eyebrows at one another)
(Laughter from adults at back of marquee)
Pete: Okay. Er-. Can you tell us what your favourite animal is?
James: Veloceraptor.
(More laughter from audience)
Pete: Ah (Scratching of head, mock discomfit and desperate ‘plan B-ing’) (Pause) Ah! (Pete produces a balloon dog) There you go! (Hands over balloon, James looks unimpressed) It’s a veloceraptor on its way to a fancy dress contest dressed as a dog.
(Laughter and applause…)

Outside of the formal entertainment, there were many amusing and fascinating to-be-treasured moments. For me, these included:-

- Watching a group of the children in our party (ages 2, 4, 6, 8 and 12) bond with one another through a not very dippy-hippy, though entirely organic, series of (plastic) sword fights

- Taking a surprise plastic sword blow to the elbow (from behind) whilst carrying a beaker of red wine, thus depositing contents on right size 10 (US male size 11, European 44.2)

- Being duped by a toddler into reading stories for said toddler (what cunning!)

- Incidental chit-chat, with familiars and unfamiliars (including a most entertaining tale that featured a bath tub full of soaking chick-peas that was directly related to this 1989 story – the stuff of a Tom Sharpe novel)

- Getting to see contrasting styles of parenting (all admirable in different ways), and thinking about this (though that did ultimately induce headaches)

- Achieving the spinning of a plate – without cheating

- Meeting good egg new people

[** Pick a definition, any definition (paragraph 1)]

I love the refreshing charge of a campsite cold-bucket-of-water hair-washing experience. Bracing stuff.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Last Friday, Emma and I drove up to Harrogate. This was primarily for Emma to sit for a portrait artist.

I'd visited Harrogate twice before - to interview and re-interview a most interesting woman and to meet her young kids. Those had been fleeting visits. All that I'd gauged was that there were nice big stone houses near the centre of town and that there was an attractive green space called 'The Stray' just off the town centre. 'Cultural knowledge' - if you will forgive that phrase - also told me that it was a popular conference town - political parties, societies for various 'ologies and trade exhibitions. Thus, big expensive hotels, decent restaurants and generally 'keen' pricing should have pervaded. And so they did. That said, our business was specific...

So to the artist who Emma had first seen on a TV programme buying a property. A little research had yielded her details, contact and an enquiry had been made and after some vetting a booking was sorted. Artist turned out to be an entirely convivial chappess who made good tea and was comfortable with dry humour. She told Emma that she'd 'not met anyone like you (her) before' and that she was a 'breath of fresh air'. She told me 'you'd be good to paint oh yes, what a wonderfully interesting mouth, nose and dimpled chin'. I smiled and agreed to let her photograph me. 'Ich habe keine desire to get my portrait painted merci beaucoup like' thought I. Emma's portrait will be ready in a few weeks - sketchings, photos and what's already painted will see it through to completion.

Our overnight had been at a small bed and breakfast - 'family run' and all very pleasant until our hostess got a little too relaxed whilst dishing out breakfast on Saturday and started to anecdotalise about a guest who'd been so big and fat that he'd broken the bed in room 5. Not very professional. It was also clear that our hostess was one of those very competitive people who do one-upmanship for a living. Cringe-worthy, though suited to Harrogate from what I saw - quite a bit of 'new money' knocking about as evidenced by the glut of personalised car number plates.

Other than all that, the famous Betty's tea room was doing good business on Friday afternoon and Saturday lunch time - lots of Americans, all drawling and drooling. Was most entertained to note that you don't get mushy peas with fish and chips at Betty's, you get 'pea purée'. I shit you not.

In 2002, a poll for the Observer found that 31% of people had had sex with a work colleague. I wonder how the National Institute for Lone Traders would have interpreted this... wankers?

I love the tube map. Incidental art. Love it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I received an email, it read:

Older People Urged to Snap "Having a Good Time" in new photo competition - deadline 29th July 2005.

Such is the shortage of positive images of later life, that Counsel and Care has had to commission its own original photographs for its publications and this website. Elsewhere, in photo archives, billboards and in magazines and newspapers, older people are shown as distressed, unhappy or confused. These negative images of later life must surely contribute to ageism and the devaluing of a time of life that for most people brings shared enjoyments and valuable new experiences.

If you can send us your images illustrating the positive side of later life particularly of older people Having a Good Time, you may be eligible for a top cash prize of £500, and second and third prizes of £100 each. For details on how to enter this photographic competition go to

So I start pondering what image I would seek to capture in relation to 'older people Having a Good Time' (sic)...

Would I go back to the library in town where this morning a most foul old lady responded to me with contempt at my suggesting that the library catalogue 'which covers the whole of the county' could be added to in order to satisfy my literature desire? No, I would not.

Would I pursue a classic 'old person having a good time with the grandchildren' type of image that would also implicitly sell the notion of nuclear family? No, I would not.

Would I turn to my closest old bid' relative and seek to capture her - maternal grandmother Elspeth - 'having a good time'? Ohhhh yuk yuk double-yuk wash my mind out with soap and water and a touch of lavender, no way!

The phone rings.

Shane: Hello.
Voice: Hello, it's your Mam (imagine strong north east accent*)
Shane: Oh hello, how's things?

[...we idly chat for a few minutes...]

Shane: And how's Elspeth?
Ma Wex': Oh she's fine. She was teaching your sister how to swear in French earlier, needless to say she was also very pleased with the result of the Olympics bidding contest. She calls Jacques Chirac 'Jack Shit-Rack'. So yeah - she's fine.
Shane: 'Having a Good Time' you might say?
Ma Wex': Yeah, I s'pose...

[...we chat on.]

Thus, it was decided, my entry for the photo contest will depict grandmother Elspeth having a laugh at the expense of the French president. I will capture the moment at which she beats him at Scrabble. There now comes the not so small matter of luring Jacques to a tiny village in the north east of England. But how? I don't know, but this gives me something to think about this week...

* Minor television celebrity

I love Finnish food. What?