Saturday, October 25, 2014

Short Story By Mark Shearman - Relocation Specialists

Relocation Specialists

 Mark Shearman

Copyright Information

Relocation Specialists by Mark Shearman

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Wayne Shearman

Published by ShearArt Publishing

Cover Design copyright © 2013 ShearArt Publishing

Chapter 1 Pigeon Coup d'état
Towering block of council owned dwellings, twelve-floors sporting its latest refurbishment. Hiding the hideousness of its 1960s design and build, concrete repaired and covered in pastel blue elastic paint. New reflective windows, that alleviate all those horrific multi coloured curtains, glisten in the morning sun. Its previous drug dependent tenants relocated to Her Majesty’s rehabilitation centres. Now the new inhabitants pay rent and enjoy the surroundings with a certain amount of safety and the freedom to complain--a lot.

The block, renamed, Robin Hood House, now has communal gardens with flower beds of roses, edged with box hedges and sectioned off lawn patches with tarmac walkways. All maintained and blend into the surrounding hillside.

It’s a beautiful sunny day, calm and empty, with a slight pinch in the air, a grey feral pigeon lands on the ground and another…

Two large timber doors are open to the central waste room, housing a huge rotund, steel bin on wheels. The occasional slam, from a rubbish bag, jars, as someone deposits last night’s takeaway into the central rubbish chute and kicks up a new wave of stench. The pigeons now a platoon, grow in numbers, not one flinches from the explosive noise.

Harold clean shaven, uniformed in a faded blue boiler suit, white shirt and tie, and enveloped in a brown caretaker’s coat. He’s accessorising with multi-coloured pens and an electrician’s screw driver, stacked neatly in his top pocket. Magnifying glasses teeter on the end of his strawberry nose. Harold thought it was wormer that morning, first signs of spring the frost had depleted.

 He wished he had a garden of his own so he could grow a few runner beans and carrots, a couple of rows of jersey royals and few sprigs of herbs, to Harold that would be bliss. Reaping what you sow with a lashing of horseradish and Bisto gravy.

The paths around the block are lined with green boarders containing mainly shrubs, arranged to display a wide range of greens, textures and foliage. The small entrance gardens are plush with herbaceous plants and Dahlias, dotted around the border. Harold prunes each year to keep the border in scale with its setting and in the summer the land that stretchers up the hillside are embellished with drifts of poppies and daisies.

Harold doesn’t react or mind the pigeon muck splodge atop his shoulder, why would he? A pigeon fancier at 62, bordering on retirement from his caretaker's job, he’s seen a lot more to complain about, it shows in his tired, cloudy-blue eyes.

Harold’s wife, used to mop the hallways and clean up body fluids regularly splashed in the two lifts that service the generic floors. She threw the tea towel in a couple of years back, leaving Harold alone. His sadness nearly drove him to join her with inclinations towards suicide, but for the loves in his life, his pigeons and his grandson.

"See David you break small pieces off and scatter them, if the pieces are two big or say, the whole loaf, you will scare them away. Build up trust and then..."

Harold grabs one of the pigeons and strokes it. David’s face is wrapped concentration and a blue hoodie, factor in the rest of his clothes and his swagger, it’s obvious he’s in his late teens. David visits his granddad every day, having no father, his granddad is an adequate substitute.

 His mother acquired David one alcohol fuelled night on a package holiday on the Costa Blanca. Drunken, serenaded, loved up and left clutching a signed picture and his promotional leaflet, which read he was a flamenco guitarists from Andalucía, his prison tattoo on his right arm suggested Cardiff, Wales, to her he was exotic. She is happy her son has built a close relationship with her father, but she often worries about some of the advice he is given.

"See you after work," said Harold.

"Okay Granddad." David shuffles off, hands in pockets, broad rim to his underwear poking over the top of his skinny jeans. Harold continues this feeding frenzy as more pigeons swoop down to join the feast. He wipes a patch on his boiler suit with a tissue and stops in thought. His wife had sewn a red cross on a white background over a ripped patch on his arm, and they would joke that he was Saint George going to do battle with the dragon. The nickname they gave their boss from the council.

Cars yawn and filter out of the car park, start of a new day. A black suited, middle aged woman, climbs out her four door saloon, stern faced. She dusts off crumbs from her lap, wets her finger and rubs it on a stain then clip clops around the back of the car and reaches in the boot, pulls out a velvet handbag and clutches it under her arm, slight paranoia as she oscillates her head, her fiery red hair swishing in the wind.

 After gaining control of her hair, she marches around the side of the flats with an air of confidence and a slight twitch of annoyance at having to visit, yet again, this council owned asset on the edge of town. She kicks up a notch passing a cream Volkswagen Beetle festooned with pigeon excrement, sitting on four flat tyres with a sign on the windscreen: Caretaker's do not touch. She moves past with haste, a slight skewwhiff in her step, her shoulders lift as she squirms away, the cold air chunters from her mouth betraying her self-talk expletives at the festering sight.

The woman, dragon lady to some, works for the council’s asset management department and facilities with aspirations of one day becoming a prominent figure in local government. She slows to cautions, draws a breath, pushes it out through her nose and barrels through the pigeons, scattering them. She swings her hand bag at one that flutters near to her face, blowing in mid-air as if to repel its fleas or germs. Harold peers over his glasses and lifts his bushy grey eyebrows at her, bites his laugh back, and hides a bag of bread crumbs in his back pocket with the skill of a pickpocket. 

"Harold I’ve asked you time and time again not to do this, you can’t keep feeding them here we’ve had complaints about the mess again."

Harold shrugs his shoulders at her.

"I told you to apply for an allotment spot up the hill."

"Five years' waiting list," Harold replies, without looking up as he still carries a smile that was obviously part of a laugh.

"That’s my problem?" She wipes the bottom of her black court shoe on a paving slab.

"Thought maybe you could put a word in like, I heard you date someone from…"

She interrupts him shaking her finger at him as if he were a petulant child.

"What I do in my spare time and with whom is none of your..." she stops herself.

"This is putting your employment at serious risk, now get rid of them or I will."

"They're like friends I can’t just let them starve."

"Starve, look at that one, it can hardly walk, even its legs are fat!"

"That’s Beryl."

"Oh-My-God you’ve named them." She turns to walk, stops, turns back.

"And while I’m at it, when are you going to get that wrecked… old jalopy of yours shifted, it’s covered in crap, how they have managed to zero your car out and nobody else’s is a god send. But that will be the next thing the residents complain about. The last thing I want is to be coming down to this…" She wipes her shoe again vigorously on the pavement slab. "…hole."

She spins around and scuttles off. Harold smiles at the three splodges she has sustained from the pigeons. The birds regroup, closed the gap and strengthened the perimeter.

Chapter 2 Operation Swat

Harold rides the lift to the top floor, climbs a flight of steps, slightly breathless, holding onto the rail. He unlocks a huge padlock to the roof door, opens it and walks out on to a flat roof, stepping out slowly towards a roughly constructed timber hut, battered by the wind with mesh hanging off it. Several pigeons huddle in it but most sit in front of an air duct.

Harold tries to repair the mesh, every time he hits a nail in it, something else comes lose. This is his attempt at building a home for the pigeon and maybe containing them for a while to stop the complaints. He looks down at the cage floor, one of the pigeon lay still and lifeless, he scoops it up, sits on the roof and leans up against the lift house, exasperated.

He picks up a broken piece of mirror he had hung in the cage for the amusement of the pigeons and looks at his face. He remembers the first time he saw the bags under his eyes, when he was in his thirties, double shifts, working on the railway he blamed it on, he had a passport photo taken and that's when he noticed them. Harold said to his wife, "why didn't you tell me?" she said "what, so you notice mine," they laughed, she always made things better.

 Harold looked out at the expansive landscape, dotted below the tree line are huts that belong to allotments, all he needs is one of them and his life will be complete.

The next morning corrugated clouds shift with an icy wind revealing that a blue sky and sunshine exist if only for a moment. A white transit van lurches to a halt in front of the apartment block's main doors, spluttering black smoke and splashed in pictures of vermin like: Rats, Pigeons and cockroaches. Printed on the side in large bold black letters: Bob the terminator the answer to your future problems - they won’t be back, underneath: also house removals by appointment.

Thirty years have produced this bulking mass of a man, some easy, some hard, but mostly in denial, single and flatulent. He steps out the van, orange overalls stretch around his broad shouldered and bulgy body, he grasps a black clip board in his oversized hand, a tool to make him feel authoritative. His embroidered name tag reads, Big Bob. He’s squints his eyes and pulls on a pair of black shades to hide his deep crow’s feet, straightens his brown leather tool belt and braces, anticipation as if entering a lap-dance bar for the first time.

A young smooth faced boy, his apprentice, big dark brown Spanish eyes, spiky black hair, same overalls, everything identical to Bob’s attire. He scurries obsequiously behind, trying to keep in step with Bob, following the tarmac path towards the rear of the flats and the bin room. They pass several shabby cars, some have cards saying tax in the post and police aware stickers plastered on the windows. They round the corner and abruptly stop dead in their tracks, startled by Harold and his feed frenzy pigeon mates. Captured and unfazed, Harold and the pigeons carry on like they don’t care.

"Excuse me fella," Bob bellows, looks at his clip board. "Mr Shelly, you have been warned about that, now they are mine. Do not feed these birds on Sunday, we will be back."

Harold continues to feed them. Throwing bread crumbs from his fingerless gloved hands and turns his back on them.

  Bob counts, weighing up how many birds he is dealing with, he makes some calculations, pulls off his sun glasses and scratches his head, his eyes widening, flips on his glasses and the clip board under his arm and rubs his hands at the total.

"Lovely, five quid a bird and the ones I have to shoot down from the alcoves, ten pounds." He looks at his apprentice. Even though the apprentice is expressionless, he laughs at his own joke.

"Only joking kid, keep up."

Bob sneaks a handful of feed out his pocket when no one’s looking, scatters it amongst the pigeons and walks off. Bob’s grandfather used to have some racing pigeons and on the weekends he was allowed to travel with him and drop them off, some nights he would sit up around a camp fire waiting for them to return and listen to his granddad's stories. That all stopped when his parents moved to the city and he has always felt a big lose in his now empty heart.

Sunday night-time is only a few shades away. Bob and his apprentice, covert and stealth, hand signals, attack mode, black boiler-man overalls, thick rubber gloves. Bob turns to his apprentice, puts his fist out for a potato mash, the apprentice not being the sharpest tool from the van suddenly realises what he is doing and pounds his fist.

"We’ll call this operation, Swat," says Bob.

They move to the rear of the apartment block in single file hugging the contour of the building, keeping in the shadows until they reach the place where they last saw the insurgent pigeons. The leader, Harold, is nowhere to be seen. Bob scans the tableau for danger, steps forward and trips a wire. He is stopped in his tracks, a muffled bell rings from an apartments and a curtain twitches. Bob looks at his apprentice. "Watch where your stepping lad." He points his flash light at the trip wire made out of fishing line.

Bob positions his breathing mask and nods at his apprentice to do the same, he handles a container with caution, which is what it also says on the side of the receptacle. He peels open the lid which betrays it to be nothing more than a Tupperware container that he has painted on the side. Bob scoops and scatters multi coloured feed around. Soon... a pigeon swoops down and another... he looks up, a curtain twitches from the third floor, he carries on. The curtain moves again, he throws his eyes up with speed, but the curtain slams shut.

The third floor curtain twitchier is Harold, who holds ajar his dusty curtain. His eyes sharpen and slash wide peering down at Bob. Bruch: Violin concerto no 1 in G minor blasts in the background. Harold strokes a fat pigeon ‘Beryl’, with a sturdy hand, he has a conspiratorial look on his face, Beryl’s look is constipated. Harold’s persona is cold and sinister. His mouth breaks into a satisfying smile as he slowly closes the floral patterned curtain.

Bob rushes off ushering his apprentice to move sharpish as if leaving the scene of a crime. He steps up into his van in sync with his apprentice.

Bob pulls off his hat, liquid pouring from his thick face and unscrews a bottle of water nervous, deep in thought. He offers his apprentice some. He declines with a hand motion.

"Right tomorrow morning’s clean-up day, meet me here. It can start to get a bit nasty, so best come early, so we can avoid any visual-anti pigeon fanciers."

Chapter 3 Ensconced
The weather is Grey and threatening, a slight breeze whisks up the odd piece of rubbish. Bob and the apprentice stomp around to the rear of the apartment block carrying large weaved baskets. Bob’s smiling face changes to shock and stopping them in their tracks.
Pigeons strewn all over the place, most dormant, some twitch. Harold kneeling, tears tumble down his leathery cheeks. He has a small pile of pigeon carcasses aside a large stainless steel bucket of water. He holds a pigeon under water drowning it, barely being able to watch, so he looks upwards.
"You rotten evil beast... your poison didn’t work, they are lying here still dyeing, a slow, cruel death, heartless..." Harold stutters.
"No...!" screams Bob, "we only drugged them. We’re here to transport them to a new location in the country side, pigeon sanctuary."
Just then the council woman walks around the corner, she’s wearing casual jeans and a three quarter length leather coat, which suggest she is in on a Sunday, off the clock. She quickly scans the situation and throws her hands up to her flushed cheeks in wide-eyed horror.
Harold struggles to his feet, drops the wet cadaver and clutched his chest, dodders, and then collapses on the floor. He lifts his stubby finger stretching his arm out like Michelangelo’s depiction on the Sistine chapel’s ceiling, points it at her and cries out in breathless pain.
"And you, God will see who this day’s evil belongs to. You will walk with the devil at Easter."
Harold passes out.

The sky shrouded in amorphous clouds with the occasional glint from the sun, shining through. On top of a grassy hill, above the block of flats, is a freshly constructed, light-brown, timber shack, complete with a wire mesh front and a small chimney poking through the roof which omitted a lazy coil of smoke. At the back of the hut are neat rows of freshly planted veg. Strings of twinkling silver paper spin in a soft breeze, working as crow deterrents.
Harold sits in a cosy, warn, leather reclining chair, beaming smile, covered in his friends the pigeons. Some are coming and going, others sit on perches, and most are feeding on the floor. Harold throws Beryl a piece of cheddar cheese on a wedge of digestive biscuit.
Other allotments nearby are being tended by out-of-work seventy-some-things. Harold holds a pair of 20x50 binoculars up to his face with one hand as he dips a digestive biscuit into a mug of steaming tea with the other. He focuses and can see the council woman, dressed in a blue trouser suit, talking on her mobile phone, leaning up against her Ford car, which is parked in front of the apartment block.
"Yes, bless, we let him retire early as well, least we could do," said the council woman, she terminates the phone call and climbs into her car.
Harold's vision is blurred as Bob’s apprentice approaches. Harold still ensconced in his chair when the apprentice reaches the hut. Music plays in the background, the B52’s love shack, subtle not too loud. It’s days like these he wishes his wife was still with him, so he could tell her about it, she would make him laugh with some sarcastic remark and he would be eating some of her home made pie.
"Hi Granddad," said the apprentice, "mum said are you coming over on Sunday for dinner?"
"I lad, expect so. Did you ask Bob?"
"Yes he’s been talking about it all week. I think he's a bit nervous meeting mum."
"Well, women can have that effect son, it won’t be long before some of me veg will be ready, me carrots are doing really well." Harold leans forward and throws in a couple of smokeless coals into his stove.
"Told you David, a bit of planning in this world, like the feeding process, small and subtle, sow a few seeds and you can get what you want, jump any queue." He slurps on his steaming tea from a steel enamelled cup.
"What about those dead pigeons," asked David?
"God took them son, God. I just collected their bodies for a few weeks. Now then, time for your second lesson, how to play on the compassion of a powerful woman," he pulls off his woollen fingerless gloves. "And get her to buy you a new car. Sit down and hand me, me walking stick, I need props for this."

The End


Other Books by this Author
Streaking For Mother
Flip Flop Flamenco
Spoils of the Moon

Short Stories
Flavour For A Favour
Close Shave
Loose Lips Sink Ships

Connect with Me Online:
My blog:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Best Barbecue Sauces

Three Different Sauces To Try This Summer

If the definition of barbecue, is grilling meat slowly, allowing it to cook in its own juices, then it of course, has been around since cave men discovered fire. Barbecues are much more than cooking food. They are a social gathering of multi-generations of family, friends and neighbours, eating al fresco.
Most countries have their own versions of barbecue, and here in Valencia Spain cooking outdoors is done most of the year round with Paellas and salted Sardines.

But, what is a barbeque in any country without barbecue sauces?

Here are three great sauces to accompany barbecued meats and a barbecue sardine dish from Spain.

Disfruta de la barbacoa!

Spanish Sauce Recipe

Spanish Sauce A rich sauce to accompany barbecue meat dishes


500 ml meat stock
30 grams of butter
1 teaspoon of olive oil
45 grams of flour
1 onion chopped
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped leek
1/2 cup red wine
Salt to taste


1. Heat the oil and butter in a pan.
2. Add all the chopped vegetables and sauté until golden brown.
3. Add the red wine and flour stir and leave 2 to 3 minutes over low heat.
4. Gradually pour in the stock, salt and let simmer for 40 minutes over low heat.
5. Once it has been cooked blend in a mixer and strain for a smooth finish.

Preparation – 10 Minutes
Cooking time – 60 minutes
Serves 4

Argentine Chimichurri

Argentine Chimichurri A spicy sauce for barbecue meats


Cup of olive oil.
Cup of white wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves
1/2 medium chopped onion
3 dried chillies crumbled
1 ripe tomato.
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of thyme.
3 tablespoons dried oregano
1/2 bunch chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of paprika
Salt to taste


Put all ingredients into a blender and puree until a smooth sauce.

Passion fruit sauce recipe

Passion fruit sauce recipe Sweet and sour sauce to accompany barbecued meats


5 passion fruits
5 tablespoons of sugar.
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup water
Chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper


Bring the balsamic vinegar, water, sugar, parsley, salt and pepper to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes, let cool. Cut the passion fruit in half and scoop out the pulp. Puree the passion fruit in a blender with half the sugar syrup. Adjust the taste by adding more sugar syrup until a pleasant balance of sweetness and tartness is reached — you do not want it to thicken like jam.

Strain and discard the seeds.


Barbecue Sardines

Sardines Sardinas a la barbacoa


4 cloves of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil


Peel the garlic cloves, cut them and place them in a mortar and pestle to a pulp. Pour a splash of oil in the mortar and mix well.

Season the sardines generously (without removing the heads and guts) with sea salt crystals, transfer them to the bowl of olive oil and garlic or coat with a brush and place on the grill or into a fish grill basket and place directly onto the heat.

Cook 3 minutes on each side. Serve on a platter and garnish with a sprig of parsley.

Note: The sardines are kept in a large bowl of sea salted water. This helps provide a fresh seaside taste to the fish.

The fish is fully cooked when the eyes turn a glossy white.

Serve with a splash of lemon juice.

Discard the bone, head, and guts.

A Hot Curry Recipe to Cook for Dad on Father’s Day 


A Celebrity Favourite - Whole Chicken Curry

I first made this dish, after trying it several times in a restaurant called the Sopna in Blackheath Village, London. Unfortunately it is no longer there.

I would visit often with an Irish friend, and he thought it amusing to challenge the chief to prepare him a red hot curry, suggesting he was incapable of making one he couldn't eat - bad alcohol-induced mistake.

The waiter, smirking, brought out a curry dish with a little flag stuck in the middle reading: "God bless you". I think he was too polite to say God help you, but the metaphor wasn't lost, especially on my friend, who went home with the hiccups.

I, on the other hand, would order a dish made in honour of another regular diner, called a Terry Waite Special/favourite.

Terry Waite CBE is an English author and humanitarian. He was the assistant for Anglican communion affairs for the Archbishop of Canterbury in 80s, and an envoy for the Church of England.

He try to secure the release of four hostages held in Lebanon, including the journalist John McCarthy, and ended up being held captive himself between 1987 and 1991.

He also likes Awesome Curries!

Chicken Tandoori - Murgh Musallam

First the Stuffing


Keema Stuffing

600 grams – 1 lb 5.16 oz of Minced Lamb or Minced Ground Beef
1 Onion (finely chopped)
1 Green Pepper (finely chopped)
3 Green Chillies (finely chopped)
1 tsp. of Ginger Root (freshly grated)
3 cloves of Garlic (finely chopped)
1 tin of Tomatoes
1 tsp. of Turmeric Powder
2 tblsp ground coriander
1 ½ tsp. of Ground Cumin
5 tbsp. of Medium Balti Paste
600 ml of Beef Stock
2 tbsp. of Olive Oil

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and Sauté the onion until golden brown and soft.

Add in the minced lamb or minced beef and fry for 10 minutes or until brown.

Add in the chilli, green pepper and garlic and fry for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger, turmeric, coriander and cumin, continuing to fry for another 2 minutes.

Stair in the balti paste and fry for an additional 2 minutes. Mix in the tinned tomatoes and add the beef stock. Bring to the boil and simmer without a lid for one hour ladling off excess fat.

Drain of the stuffing into a bowl and set aside for later.



1 (3-pound) whole chicken skinless

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup tomato pureed
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon peeled and grated or crushed ginger
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 tbsp curry paste
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
Olive oil, for brushing

Three boiled eggs

Cut slashes in the flesh to allow the marinade to penetrate. Place the chicken on a platter or large, shallow dish.

Mix the yogurt, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, cardamom, black pepper and salt. Stir and mixed well, pour the mixture over the chicken and rub it into the flesh, turning the chicken until fully coated. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Set aside the excess marinade.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.
Spoon in the pre-prepared keema stuffing compacting and stitch up the opening with skewers to hold in place.

Preheat the oven to moderately hot temperature – gas mark 6 – 400 Fahrenheit or 200 Celsius.

Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, brush the pan with oil, and cook, turning once for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to moderate gas mark 4 – 350 Fahrenheit – 180 Celsius further cook for 60/70 minutes.

Add the excess marinade with the left over sauce from the keema stuffing previously set a side stir together and heat allowing to simmer.

Remove the chicken from the oven pierce the thigh if the juices run clear it is cooked, Pour away the fatty juices from the pan.

Place on a platter or large dish arrange the boiled eggs around the chicken and pour the sauce over the chicken and cover the eggs.

Grate on some cheese and serve.

Being a garlic lover, I eat it with garlic Naan but you can serve this Murgh Musallam-esque stuffed Chicken with any kind of Indian bread, like plain naan or tandoori roti.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Streaking For Mother

 How far would you go to help the people you love?

A cynical, famous underwear model, and infamous international sports personality, despondent and guilt ridden because of a terrible mistake, finds redemption from helping the Streakers who ruined his chances of a world record.

After moving in with this bunch of dysfunctional guerrilla marketeers he discovers all isn't what it seemed and finds out his life is being controlled by his estranged mother from beyond the grave.
His mother is also the patron of a large pawn brokers and the Streakers Matriarch who believe her absence is temporary. It soon becomes apparent to Ashley she has left him with no choice but to help them move on with their lives and come to terms with her untimely death.

Ashley has made enemies too. He is viciously attacked, sent a threatening message, and attempts are made to destroy him in the media - both professionally and personally. With his new house mates by his side, they must discover and deal with his pursuer Streaker style. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

My life as a Steeplejack

Steeple-jacking a Beginning

When I left School, the British band UB40 was singing about being one in ten, three million unemployed and rising.

I remember things being that bad there were queues outside bread shops, like some depressed eastern block country, yet they were not queuing for bread, but work - one position - fifty applied.

After leaving basford hall college Nottingham, I went against my father's wishes, and applied for a job at the firm he worked, which just happened to be advertising for three Steeplejack mates.

As a teenager, the experience was exiting, walking into the company's yard on a Monday with your suitcase in hand, not knowing where you would be going, and which part of the country, and how high you would be working. This was kept a secrete and chalked on a large blackboard along with who you would be working with, another important factor I later learned.

Whittington Hospital Islington London

Image Shearart Two of us ‘Sprogs’ as we were called, were sent down the inside of the chimney in bosun’s chairs, armed with sweeping brushes, and told to sweep the sulpha/soot off the full length of the barrel, so it could be inspected for potential repairs.

The joke was that, we were told that the chimney had only just been turned off, and was still hot inside, so take all our clothes off and wear only boiler suits (refusal would have been met with hostility).

After hours of choking, sweat and burns, we emerged at the bottom, black as soot. The showers removed most of it except around our: necks, arm pits, nipples, lower region cracks. They were burned black and took months to fade, at that point I realised I didn’t know everything as a teenager.

Steeple-jacking seemed natural to me as my grandfather was a steeplejack, my uncles and my father too, but he wanted me to be a chef. I think he was a little anxious that I would embarrass him, which made me all the more determined to succeed. I just had to overcome the fear of falling to my death and landing on some ornate wrought iron railings.

To add an extra flavour to the difficulty level, My father was a senior Foreman, and those steeplejacks who he had trained and traditionally worked hard, ridiculed, and I’m going to use Steeplejack parlance of the day – Slagged off. I was assigned to them, payback was tough, quitting wasn’t an option, they tried, and eventually I earned their respect and they became friends.

Day To Day

Image Shearart Working on power stations, mills, concrete and steel chimneys, cooling towers, and installing lightning conductor systems. To restoring Churches in the middle of a verdant country side on the edge of a small village, were all, week to week stuff and sometimes we would be given some unusual work.

The miners’ strike was on and next to a lot of pits in Yorkshire, loomed Coalite sites, churning out smokeless fuel, piles of it, some striking miners (allegedly) would appropriate some smokeless coal for their home fires.

The boss being an entrepreneur volunteered our services; the job was to enclose the whole place with 10ft steel roofing sheets, which seemed miles. Now and again an angry mob would stand there attempting to intimidate us, and things got worse when they found out we were from Nottingham, adding insult to injury, as Nottingham was considered scab pit country.

Our foreman had a word with them, and we were surprisingly left alone after that. I found out years later that a couple of the sheets weren’t fixed as well as they should have been — fancy that.

Meanwhile, every time we exited the motorway to enter Nottingham, the police pulled us over and
 asked us if we were flying-pickets, we nodded our black soot covered faces no — this was cutting into our pub time — the police didn’t believe us.

Don't look now

Don't look now

India Mills Ornate Chimney One of my fondest memories, and again, still a teenager, was working on a famous chimney in Darwin Lancashire, the rumours were that it had a huge stone overhang that forced the weight onto your arms as you climbed over, and some firms had backed out and ran scared, but this is an industry full of untruths, generated in the pub, at least in those days.

Nevertheless, it does put weight on your arms, and it is the moment of truth climbing over the top, especially when the top of the ladder hasn’t been tied yet. For me, the excitement factor was driving from Bolton coming down the hill and seeing it for the first time.

The boiler man was a tablet of touristic information, and apparently the chimney was designed on the tower in St Marks Square Venice; mill owners would compete by building the most ornate chimneys, this one costing 14,000 pounds.

We worked on the chimney for a few months, scaffolding the top and rigged cradles on it. I was impressed so much with Lancashire and the friendliness of the people, I moved there.

The mill and chimney are steeped in history and can be found by clicking the link arrow below.

Image Source

Looking west from India Mills Chimney One day whilst working on the chimney a fella dressed in a suit approached and asked if we would take some aerial shots of his auto sales garage and surrounding area, at the end of the shift we did. His wife had a shock when she went to collect the photos as we had including three naked backsides. Luckily they had a sense of humour.

Image Source

Steeplejack's names carved into the stone below one of the urns including mine.

Don't look down

Don't look down

Climbing over the overhang

Climbing onto the slippy stone plinth usually covered in Pigeon excrement

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Image Shearart Bob-a-job week was the week cub-scouts would knock on your door and sell you a ticket that would entitle you to have some work down: Wash the car, sweep the yard and my personal favourite, weed the garden.

My uncle was in the paper for giving a cub- scout a sweeping job at the top of a high tower on bob-a-job week, in the late 70′s. Steeplejacks were often in the paper, on this occasion we were invited to sit in front of the film camera.

Several of us, from different firms, were filmed by the college working on various chimneys, and invited to a lunch at a county pub to help produce a recruitment video – OMG how embarrassing.

Don’t give a steeplejack your camera or interview him after a couple of pints.

Gaz top ‘a children’s TV presenter’ was interviewing us all and the brief was simple, relax and be honest.

Some anecdotes from the older steeplejacks, started out pleasant until ‘cut we can’t print that’ and then asking us questions about wages and working conditions, whilst drinking pints of beer down, before the wasps landed in them, in the mid-day sun – what did they think they were going to get?

Not all of us gave a bad account of ourselves, but if they had briefed us on what they wanted, and said keep the language down, and don’t mention lodging away stories, they might have had a chance, on a personal note I had an extra cringe as the sound man was my neighbour.

To be fair, they were honest and relaxed.


Considering a career in the Steeplejack industry?

Years later, I entered the world of building site management, contract management and construction project management, and in the earlier years was faced with employing site managers to supervise safety critical works in the rail sector, the majority of labour had rail experience, not construction.

I pulled in some steeplejack foreman, and they aced it, yes they were trained and did the subsequent courses, but hands on they had a natural risk assessment ability built in and that is the essence of leaders. If you as a youngster are looking to enter the steeplejack industry, I have put together some links below from the UK, United States and Australia.

Considering a career in the Steeplejack industry?

Modern Day Steeplejacks

Back in my day we worked without fall arrest systems or safety harnesses 'free climbing' things have moved on, placing safety as number one using structure, risk assessment and clear communication.

High Rise Maintenance

Refurbishing Victoria centre flats in Nottingham, considered an eyesore for years, we used cradles and bosun’s chairs to completely clad and stone dash the outside, including installation of window sills, concrete repairs and sealant works.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Goose Fair Nottingham

Robin Hood Country

Christmas as a child was always the biggest holiday to look forward to closely followed by birthdays. Easter meant chocolate eggs and when we were really young a decorated boiled egg for breakfast. Living in Nottingham had the added treat of goose fair every third Thursday in October.

October came with fog and a giant Goose erected on a roundabout adjacent to a large recreation ground we called the forest. Kids at school started to become excited at the prospect of going to the fair. The main question on children's lips in the playground, 'are you going on the Thursday night, Friday or Saturday'.

Goose Fair

I can remember the excitement and the fear of being amongst so many people, flashing lights, the mixture of whirling noises and music. The strange food smells, watching where you stepped through a muddy ground, and trying to remember the place where my mother said to meet if I got lost. For me so young winning a bow and arrow set on the hook a duck stand and eating my favourite food was the biggest buzz of the year.

I’m not talking about candy floss, Brandy snaps, toffee apples or the smell of the onions on the hot dog stalls, but hot mushy peas with mint sauce. Synonymous with Nottingham as pie mash and liquor is in the east end of London.

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Goose Fair Boxing My grandmother was Irish and she had eleven brothers all who were Boxes and one boxed at Goose fair in the 70's and 80's.

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Image Shearart

Mushy Peas


  • 1 tablespoon Vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • A bunch of spring onions
  • finely chopped
  • A handful of fresh mint leaves finely chopped
  • 500 grams (1 pound) frozen marrow fat peas
  • 2 large knobs of butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt


Pour the olive oil in a pan and heat adding the mint, chopped onions and peas. Leave covered for a few minutes to steam. Add the vinegar and mash smooth with a potato masher. Season to taste and add the butter.

Goose Fair History

Nottingham Goose Fair, Panoramic View 1890s.

Goose fair today runs from Wednesday to Sunday over 700 years old it is still held at the forest recreation ground and it still has a hook a duck, the waltzer and over 500 hundred other attractions to marvel at. I recently spoke to a friend that takes her children to the Goose fair and the cuisine has changed. Chinese food, Spanish churros, Indian Curries, everything you can find in a shopping centre food court is on offer. The side shows are gone and the main emphasis is on the biggest and baldest rides. For me I’ll have hot peas and the dodgem cars every time, but the helter skelter “tornado slide” was a childhood favourite.

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Monday, September 8, 2014

How To Use A Fire Pot – Hot Pot

Create great communal dishes for a picnic this summer

The Asian fire pot is a leisurely and interactive way to eat. Made from metal or ceramic, circular in shape and supported by a base. On the outside is a trough, a chimney raises up in the middle and hot coals are placed inside the chimney base area.
The trough holds a stock and it is kept simmering by the hot coals. Thinly sliced ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table.

Some people place the meat and vegetables into the stock and cook it to taste, others slap the meat on the chimney first, watching it sizzle and peel off dropping into the trough to further cook.

Surprise and delight

hot pot This type of cuisine is also referred to as “steamboat”.

Plates of prepared vegetables, fish and meats thinly sliced into strips to cut down on the cooking time.

The solid ingredient is up to individual tastes and this could be a vegetarian dish, fish dish or a mixture including meat.

Cooking fish, meats or vegetables in stock enriches the flavour creating a tasty broth/soup so once the solid ingredients are cooked add noodles or rice ladling into bowls, the meats and vegetables once cooked can also be dipped into hot mustard, sweat and sour, curry, peanut, chilli and barbeque sauces.

Some food examples to be thinly sliced and arranged on platters 



Now for the Stock

Stock The stock is prepared before adding to the fire pot. Heat a chicken, vegetable or fish stock adding the selected herbs and spices.


1/2 cup rice wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 knob ginger root, finely shredded
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup black bean sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 Szechuan peppers, finely diced
One spring union finely diced

Bring to a simmer and pour into the fire pot trough. If taking on a picnic allow to cool and place it in a plastic container for transporting.

Fire Pot Recipe

  • Serves: 4


  • Stock (chicken beef or pork) as above
  • 1 Lbs. - 0.45kgs - boneless skinless chicken breast thinly sliced
  • 8 thin sliced pork steaks
  • 1 Lbs. - 0.45kgs - beef tenderloin thinly sliced
  • 1 Lbs. - 0.45kgs - shrimp peeled deveined thickly sliced
  • 10 mushrooms thickly sliced
  • 2 Chinese cabbage thinly shredded
  • 2 spring onions thinly sliced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 4 portions of noodles (see packet directions)


  1. Place the ingredients onto individual serving plates or a large platter so that the diners can ladle, skewer or fork their chosen food into the simmering stock or pressing against the chimney and then into the stock, once cooked they can coat with a choice of dipping sauce.
  2. Finally add bean sprouts, cabbage, spring onions, mushrooms, and noodles to the stock tenderising as it simmers and serve into bowls.