31 August 2016


Recently, I have started to follow a blog called "The Pedestrian Writer" by an east coast American chap called Chris. His posts are well-written. He opens himself up and reveals his vulnerabilities. Subtle self-deprecating humour is also often present. It is clear that Chris has been through some dark times and that his blog is something of a release valve. He admits this himself.

A few days ago  he posted  "A Summary of the Girls that I Never Dated in High School". In this piece of writing, he recalled the awkwardness of his teenage years and the invisible hurdles that prevented him from wandering through the valley of love, hand in hand with a teenage girlfriend, living the American high school dream like Danny and Sandy in "Grease". It is my supposition that Chris's experience of dating or rather not dating during his high school years is not uncommon.

For some reason, that post made me think of Susan Hawkins and for what I am about to write I give thanks to Chris for his inspiration...

In September 1965, I began five years of daily bus journeys from my East Yorkshire village into the city of Hull. At eleven years old, I had gained a scholarship to an all boys direct grant school, widely thought to be the "best" school in the region. 

Riding aboard that very first bus I noticed a pretty blue-eyed girl in the school uniform of The French Convent - a private school off Beverley Road. She was the same age as me and came from the next village up the road - Brandesburton. She was  a farmer's daughter and she was sitting next to her older sister who also attended The French Convent. I believe the sister was called Christabel.

As the mornings darkened and Christmas approached, Susan Hawkins began to occupy a place in my thoughts with which Latin declensions and the periodic table could not compete. If sitting behind her on the bus, my eyes were drawn to her blonde locks and if sitting in front of her I fancied that she would sometimes look my way.

But we never spoke.

More than once, riding a late bus homewards - perhaps after rugby practice -  I found myself alone with her on the top deck but still we never spoke. We were getting older, physically and mentally. She was becoming rounded like a woman and I was six feet tall at fifteen. She looked at me and I looked at her. Stolen sideways glances. What was I meant to do?

Of course, I fantasised about her. Not lurid, pornographic fantasies but fantasies of love. Walking upon Hornsea beach, hand in hand, cycling along a country lane and sheltering from  a sudden rainstorm under a sycamore tree, taking her in my arms and kissing her tenderly. I never imagined conversations, just the quiet dumbshow of true love, acted out as if in a romantic film.

Once, I bought a Valentine card for her, signing it with secret kisses and I pedalled all the way to Brandesburton to post it just so that she wouldn't know the card was from me. In those days, every village post office had its own franking stamp so you could always tell where a card or letter had been posted.

Another time, sitting directly behind her, I leant forwards to fill my nostrils with the aroma of her hair. Clean and slightly medicinal like "Vosene". And so close I could have touched her.

At sixteen I left the  snobbish "best" school in Hull, transferring to Beverley Grammar School to do my A levels so no longer would I be travelling on the same bus as Susan Hawkins. I had forfeited the opportunity of finally rising from my seat, swaying over to her and saying, "Hi! We have been travelling on the same bus for five years now and well, I have finally plucked up the courage to tell you that I fancy you and wondered if you'd like to see Jethro Tull with me at The City Hall?"

A few months after transferring to Beverley, I spotted her at a well-attended "dance" in Brandesburton Parish Hall. She was with some girlfriends. No doubt they danced ritualistically around their handbags. Perhaps now I could finally pluck up the courage but no, the inner strength would not come for by now she had become something like an unattainable goddess in my imaginings. We had grown up together, without even speaking to each other. She just wasn't like other girls. After all this time how could I ever speak to her?

Early the following year, at another "dance" in Brandesburton Parish Hall I saw her with a handsome, roguish fellow called Junior. He was a wealthy farmer's son with an air of confidence about him. He was two years older than me and already had his own car.

They were holding hands and laughing and in that painful moment, after all that longing and all those imagined romantic scenarios, I knew that I had lost Susan Hawkins forever and ever.

30 August 2016


South Africa has already got its version of Donald Trump. He is called Jacob Zuma. Currently, he is considering the purchase of a luxury presidential airliner using public money. It will be fitted out like a five star hotel at a cost of four billion rand. And this will happen in a country where abject poverty remains endemic amongst the massive black underclass.

Flip a coin and there's Nelson Mandela on the shiny side. Zuma is the direct opposite. Where Mandela had intellect, education, compassion and vision, Zuma has got ignorance, self-interest and deception. He's arguably the main reason why his party, The African National Congress is faltering so badly in the polls. How can you trust a man like Zuma? 

Back in 2011, Zuma began to dabble in Twitterworld. Perhaps he thought he could promote an image of himself that was busy, wholesome, positive and squeaky clean. Interestingly, he hasn't tweeted since 2013. He probably got bored with it all or privately admitted to himself that creating a believable new image was impossible . This was one of his tweets back in 2011:-
"Be that superhero"... How terribly ironic! Seventy four year old Zuma is a polygamist and has twenty children that he admits to by six different wives. There are strong rumours of others as well as rape and child sex allegations. And all of this in a country that has been crippled by AIDS. Yeah Jacob - "be that superhero"!

Stories of corruption surround him like flies round a manure heap. Repeated failures to disclose assets. Secret investments in the Congolese oil industry. Bribery. Misuse of public money. Bullying. Jobs for friends and family. And yet Zuma claims to be a committed Christian on a mission to lead his country to a better future. You just couldn't make it up.

The sooner Zuma goes the better but when he's gone who's next in line? Nelson Mandela must be turning uncomfortably in his grave. This isn't how The Rainbow Nation was meant to be.

28 August 2016


Should we go? Shouldn't we go?

Yesterday, the weather was a little grim UpNorth but around 1pm we thought - what the hell, let's live dangerously! We put our rain gear in the silver car (Clint) and headed out of the city. Past Dore Moor and Fox House, past Longshaw and Padley Gorge, through Grindleford village and on to Froggatt. 

We drove down Stoke Lane and turned into a big riverside meadow. This was the location of the 71st Froggatt Annual Show. Stewards in fluorescent jerkins directed us to a parking place after we had paid the requisite entrance fee. of just £3 per person. Bargain!

Froggatt Show is modest in scale and quite traditional. There were vintage cars on display, a coconut shy, a parade ground for ponies, working antique engines, the Hathersage brass band playing on the bandstand and  various refreshment stalls. But the central attraction of the show was a huge marquee in which prize flowers, fruit and vegetables were displayed along with homemade wines, preserves and crafts etcetera.

It was delightful to wander around and admire the best efforts of villagers from Froggatt and slightly further afield. In a world where earthquakes shake Italian villages to the ground, where indiscriminate Russian planes bomb Syrian freedom fighters, where French police patrol beaches looking for overdressed Muslim women, it is nice to be reminded that  there are still  people making their own wine, tending their own vegetables, making intricate flower arrangements or knitting baby clothes.

Oh, for the simple life! And you know, the heavens didn't open at Froggatt. We were glad we went.

26 August 2016


Our beloved son Ian is currently working in a creative office in London. Recently, his main focus has been on developing a series of video clips that swiftly demonstrate meal or snack preparation.  All foodstuffs shown are vegan. These fast-moving  clips arrive on mobile phones or Facebook pages with the signature "Bosh!". Several of them  have already been seen over a million times and a partnership has been established with "Pret A Manger", the up-market healthy sandwich company who are presently developing a new vegan range.
It used to be that advertising was all about TV commercials, pages in magazines or giant posters on hoardings (American: billboards) but these days a lot of that is old hat and increasingly businesses are seeking to harness social media in order to push their products more effectively. "Bosh!" is one small part of that movement.

To visit the "Bosh!" Facebook page, go here.

Below - a You Tube clip produced by The Broccoli Industry:-

24 August 2016


West of Sheffield, lush farming land and quaint stone-built settlements give way to bleak moorland. Up there, there are no trees, just coarse grasses, heather and upland bogs. Hardy sheep graze amongst windswept hillocks and occasional ramblers with rucksacks and compasses follow ancient tracks as grey clouds scud ever  eastwards. It is wild country and it effectively separates Yorkshire from the mysterious "other side".

But carry on travelling westwards, beyond the wild hills and you find the moors giving way to lush farming land and quaint stone-built settlements. It's like a mirror image of our side of the Pennines. 

Yesterday I mounted my trusty steed, Clint  - the sleek silver Hyundai - and drove over The Snake Pass to the "other side". To be more specific I went to Glossop and then turned left, heading south towards Little Hayfield but at  the hamlet of Brookhouses Clint came to rest in a lay-by next to a dangerous bend on the A624.

With boots on, I set off on a four hour ramble that took in Rowarth, Pistol Farm, Near Slack Farm, Cown Edge, Coombes Edge, Stich, Monk's Road and Matley Moor. It was a glorious day for walking and it was delightful to be doing so in virgin territory. Naturally, I snapped quite a few photographs - in addition to the one at the top of this post and I have chosen four more to share with you.
Monk's Road
Charolais cow and calf by Gun Road
Cottage in Rowarth
Sheep above Far Slack Farm  with Manchester in the distance

22 August 2016


“Siberia: it fills one twelfth of the land-mass of the whole Earth, 
yet this is all it leaves for certain in the mind. A bleak beauty, 
and an indelible fear.”  -  Colin Thubron

Five million square miles - that's Siberia. To compare - Canada's land area is 3,850,000 square miles while The British Isles is only 100,000 square miles. Yes, Siberia is big, very big. However, until this month arrived, what I knew about Siberia could have been written on the back of a small envelope. 

Sorting through book donations at the Oxfam shop where I work every Wednesday, I spotted a book called "In Siberia" by Colin Thubron and decided to buy it. Though I shall never visit Siberia, at least Colin Thubron could give me a vicarious sense of the region through the eyes of an inquisitive travel writer.

Just inside the front cover, there's a map of Siberia that shows Thubron's itinerary. Mostly, he skirted the region's southern underbelly - travelling from The Urals parallel to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and eastern China. But there are vast swathes of land on the map where he didn't venture. Perhaps these areas are uninhabited wildernesses without roads, landing strips or paths. I don't know.
He visited Omsk and the vast inland sea that is Lake Baikal and he visited cold, godforsaken places such as Yakutsk, Norilsk and Magadan. Along the way, Thubron met many people who related their memories and observations. He saw nature's wild beauty and witnessed the ruins of Soviet expansionism - abandoned mines, crumbling prisons, empty schools, lost people. Of course it helped that Thubron is quite fluent in the Russian language. Though there are other indigenous languages in Siberia, Russian became the lingua franca over a hundred years ago as the Russian state sought to spread its wings.

I think I will draw this blogpost to a halt very soon. Is there anything more boring than somebody summarising a book you haven't read or a film you haven't seen in tedious detail? 

Let me just say that Colin Thubron is an accomplished writer with an enquiring mind. He likes to get under the skin of a place and he has always displayed a passion for Asia. Sometimes we might forget that the Asian continent  isn't just India, China, Indonesia and other neighbouring exotic countries such as Thailand and Japan. It is also Siberia - vast, often brutally cold, rather empty and mysterious... even after you have finished reading the 286 pages of "In Siberia". 

21 August 2016


In an ambulance in Aleppo, Syria, five year 
old Omran Daqneesh is too traumatised to cry...
Sometimes, words are superfluous.