22 October 2014


Both of my grandfathers fought in World War One. My parents were in the forces in World War Two. My extended family have paid their full dues to Great Britain in terms of taxation and labour. We paid for the NHS and the roads and the sea defences and the transport infrastructure and so on and so on. It is our country and we know its rituals, its history, its cultural and linguistic nuances, the subtleties of its class system. Yes its our country. Or at least I thought it was.

I don't recall ever being asked to give carte blanche to economic migrants from across the European Union and yet they have arrived in their thousands. They call it "free movement of labour". And any of us who question this phenomenon or raise objections are frequently dismissed as latent racists. If we were far-seeing and modern enough - like the chattering classes in London - we would be dancing in the streets, delighting in our beautiful multi-culturalism. Whoopie-doo!

All this free movement of labour is starting to impact on British identity and to dilute our shared sense of culture. Of course there has always been immigration but it has tended to be of a manageable slowly infused nature - drip by drip. In the last ten years those drips have turned into a mighty torrent which resists control or even calculation.

We now have thousands of eastern European criminals here, Roma gipsies begging or pick-pocketing on the London underground, NHS facilities being utilised by people who haven't paid for the service, urban schools being swamped by children who arrive with virtually no English, translators earning a mint from official coffers, young men seeking their fortunes while often abnegating family responsibilities back home in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania.
"Decisions taken by the most democratic institutions in the world
are very often wrong"
- Jose Manuel Barroso (Outgoing EU President)
And the traffic in this "free movement" seems pretty much one way. Where are the British emigrants off to work in those eastern European countries? You could fit them all in a couple of minibuses.

Okay we have a good number of British ex-pats living in France, Spain, Germany and Portugal. As you may recall one of my own brothers has lived in southern France for several years but regarding other member states of our so-called "European Union", it's the rarity of  British incomers that is noteworthy.

I have visited some eastern European countries - all very interesting trips but I feel a much stronger kinship with English speaking countries and countries that were once part of the British Empire. They are like our blood relations - Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, India, Kenya, Fiji, Sri Lanka and South Africa for example. Yet workers from these countries are being held back or demoted in favour of Europeans who dwell in lands with which our bonds are entirely new and purely economic - not rooted in culture or history.

I don't like what has been going on. I don't like it all and when I talk to my fellow host citizens, I find it virtually impossible to meet anyone who will speak up in favour of free movement of labour. It feels like something that has been imposed upon us by Eurocrats living the high life in Brussels and Strasbourg. And one sad and tragic thing about it all is that we cannot turn back the clock or shut the stable door for the European horse has already bolted.

Ahhhh! (sigh of relief) Rant over.

21 October 2014


Bravo! To Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck the stars of "Gone Girl" directed by David Fincher and based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn. I saw the film last week and enjoyed it immensely. It is a kind of psycho-drama with a few unexpected twists and turns and an ending that is left hanging like a motor vehicle balanced on the edge of some Alpine precipice.

The visual construction of the film was splendid in its careful detail and this added to the development of dramatic tension. Though I had previously appreciated Ben Affleck's acting in "Pearl Harbor" and "Argo", cinematically-speaking I had never knowingly encountered Rosamund Pike before. I guess she has tended to figure in films that don't really appeal to me like "Jack Reacher" and "Die Another Day". Here in "Gone Girl" she was perfectly cast - expertly displaying her character's seesaw personality - half controlling and half insane. Surely she'll receive an oscar nomination for this excellent and most convincing performance.

To find out more go to "Gone Girl" in Wikipedia.

20 October 2014


Saturday night in Birmingham with beloved daughter. Wonderful authentic curry at "The Viceroy" in Brookfields on the edge of The Jewellery Quarter. How white and sweet the basmati rice, how tender the fillet beef in the nawabi bhuna gosht, how tasty the Indian pickles that accompanied our poppadoms. Then back to beloved daughter's flat for TV torture - "Celebrity Come Dancing", "The X Factor" - mind-numbing pap. I would much rather watch a documentary about the paper clip or ferret breeding but both Frances and Shirley are like pigs in muck when the glitter ball turns or when Cheryl Cole displays her manicured ignorance.

Sunday to Handsworth Park. I wanted to get inside St Mary's Church which houses memorials to three industrial giants - James Watt of steam engine fame, Matthew Boulton the eighteenth century industrial trailblazer and William Murdoch - who cleverly brought gas lighting to dark city streets across the world. Sadly the church door was locked. Sitting by the gate was a group of furtive looking fellows in day-glo jerkins. I realised later that they were guilty men doing their "community service" - clearing vegetation from the Victorian graveyard. On their battered white minibus the legend  - "Community Payback".
St Mary's Church, Handsworth
It was a lovely autumnal afternoon. Sunshine pierced the lime trees and parchment dry leaves tumbled across the paths. We walked into Handsworth Park - a pleasant Victorian gem - once a beautiful pleasure ground for the wealthy founders of Birmingham's industry to stroll through but now at the heart of a multi-ethnic suburb with saris, turbans and woolly Jamaican hats in view.

We saw an odd white stone pillar in a little valley garden. Later research told me that it was once the focal point of the Birmingham Civic Society's "Sunk Garden" that had been officially opened in 1937. It was merely the base for a statue of a boy with a lamb but sadly this was stolen in 1988 and has not been rediscovered or replaced. The statue harked back to pastoral times, long before the industrial revolution took hold or anti-social yobs and crooks perfected their miserable habits.

The bandstand in Handsworth Park - yesterday afternoon

17 October 2014


Maybe it's just me but this year it feels as if the world has become a more agitated and more desperate place. Perhaps I should blank out the news - live in a bubble of ignorance just as our ancestors would have done in the days before mass communication swamped us with information from faraway places and brought the world with all of its troubles into our living rooms.

Recently two particular groups of people have been leaving the British Isles for very contrasting reasons. On the hand you have a bunch of disenchanted young Muslims who have wormed their way into Asia Minor in order to pursue some kind of harebrained religious crusade, banding together under the black banner of the Islamic State, intoxicated by adventure and by a warped and ignorant re-interpretation of Islam. Ironically, they embrace cruelty and killing in the name of Allah.

And on the other hand you have volunteer health workers - prepared to leave our shores in order to do battle with ebola in West Africa. These brave people are prepared to risk their own lives in order help others as they struggle in challenging circumstances to turn back ebola's cruel tide of death. I wouldn't want to be in their shoes or in their protective suits and currently the very last countries on my travel plan bucket list would be Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal. In my book these people are quite simply heroes.

The first group go to kill and the second group go to save life. The contrast is stark.

15 October 2014



From shadowy bowers
Where beasts dwell
In tropical viridescence
Eyes are watching, ears are listening
As, swollen by recent rains,
She swirls to the meeting place
Where like a lover
She will melt into the Mongala
Again and again.

She is the bright heart of Africa
Arterial pulse from
Haemorrhagic hinterland
Where fisherfolk
Still reap her silver bounty
Wriggling death throes in dugout canoes
As children laugh
In humming heat haze
Splashing in her shallows.

In Kinshasa and Businga
They sing of Mami Wata
And of her nativity
And of how she would stare
From overhanging limbs
Into the brown river below
Admiring a fevered beauty
That no one shall resist
Once our lips are kissed.

No one.

14 October 2014


Brother Robin in France frequently forwards me "funnies" from his email inbox. You know the kind of thing. They do the rounds. You've probably received some yourself. Here's one he sent me the other day:-
New Species Discovered
They are referred to as homo slackass-erectus created by natural genetic downward evolution through constant spineless posturing, and spasmatic upper limb gestures, which new research has shown to cause shorter legs and an inability to ambulate other than in an awkward shuffling gait. The "drag-crotch" shape also seems to adversely affect brain function.

Verbal communication is generally crude and monosyllabic with indecipherable utterances such as "no-wa-ah-mean", "wicked man"and "innit" thrown in for good measure.

Expect no eye contact. Studies reveal that this emerging species attracts full government financial support. Unfortunately, most are highly fertile.

And sometimes the emails contain marvellous pictures like this one:-

Or this:-

12 October 2014


Thurgoland is a funny name for a village. It has evolved through the centuries. About 1200 years ago it was simply the land cultivated by Thorgeirr who we might well presume was a Viking settler. I parked there yesterday and set off on a long walk I had planned taking me from Thurgoland via Wortley Top Forge to Green Moor where I snapped this picture of the old village stocks:-
A little further along the moorland route that once carried drovers and jaggers in days before railways, canals or metalled roads, I passed by Hunshelf Hall which was mentioned in The Domesday Book though the current main house was obviously built much later:-
From Hunshelf Hall I headed down into the valley of the Little Don and in Sheephouse Woods near Stocksbridge I endured a heavy rain shower. Almost futilely, I sheltered under an old pine tree but it wasn't long before the rain found its way through the canopy giving me a right good soaking. I must have looked like a drowned rat as I plodded up to Cranberry Farm, taking this photograph of the signpost by the nearby crossroads:-
Onwards to Snowden Hill and Little Black Moor thence to Huthwaite Hall. Checking my map, I couldn't find the Transpennine Trail at this point which was puzzling and I only later realised that the disused railway track passed through a tunnel at this point. Silly me! So instead I walked along Huthwaite Lane where I spotted this memorial bench, erected in memory of a young commando called David Marsh who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008. He was only twenty three and his baby daughter, now growing up,  will of course never see him again.
Today, Shirley wanted a walk in our  autumnal sunshine so we headed off to Chesterfield and parked by Brimington Road to take a stroll by the Chesterfield Canal. Now it accommodates a few narrowboat enthusiasts but it was constructed in the late eighteenth century for the purposes of trade - taking manufactured goods and stone products thirty miles eastwards to the River Trent at West Stockwith. The audacity and "can do" attitude of our Victorian forbears really makes you think sometimes. Here a narrowboat is being guided through the lock at Bluebank:-
Here's Madam Pudding posing by the canal this afternoon:-
And here's the view from Bilby Lane Bridge back along the old canal towards Chesterfield:-
Afterwards we had Sunday lunch in "The Mill" on Old Station Road. Delightful, good value  home-cooking in an independent community pub. Bizarrely our waitress was from Gold Coast, Australia. I guess it's rather different from Chesterfield where surfers and bronzed beach babes are always in short supply.