19 April 2014


Above you can see our lovely daughter Frances. I snapped that photograph earlier today as I walked with her above Edale on the edge of the Kinder Plateau. Below there's an impressive gritstone pedestal which looks down upon Grindsbrook Clough. It was next to the path we took to walk back to the village of Edale.
This wasn't entirely a leisurely country walk, more of a training walk for Frances who will be undertaking a much longer walk in early June - to raise money for Alzheimer's Research UK. Her longer walk will see her taking in Yorkshire's "Three Peaks" - Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-Y-Ghent - twenty six miles in total. It is quite a big ask for someone who spends the majority of her working time sitting at a computer screen or talking on the telephone. So today - as she was home - we went out into the Peak District to test her new boots and tackle six arduous miles.

Would you like to sponsor her? Every little helps. Go to her page on the Just Giving website and follow the instructions. Click here.

17 April 2014


The Frank Whittle Memorial roundabout in Lutterworth
On our leisurely drive back from London, we paused in a delightful Leicestershire village called Dunton Bassett. Inside the ancient village church, we chatted with two elderly women who had lived their entire lives in Dunton Bassett. They pointed at the medieval stone font and said that they had both been christened there and one of the women said that both of her parents and her grandparents and her three children had also been christened in that same font. I find something very attractive and natural about that kind of belonging to a place. It is a dying phenomenon in the modern world where lives and families are often spread like seeds on the wind.
Dunton Bassett parish church
After Dunton Bassett, we stopped at Narborough where I was hoping to buy an old cast iron pub table from a company called Trent Pottery. In the event the tables turned out to be modern imitations so we left and carried on to Leicester. Round the outer ring road and then onwards to a town we had never visited before - Melton Mowbray - famous for Stilton cheese and pork pies.

We bought a handmade pork pie from Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe and had a delightful traditional afternoon tea in Mis B's Tea Shop on the High Street - Victorian tea pot and a strainer for the tea leaves. Through the window we could see the impressive tower of St Mary's Church - especially praised by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner.
The Regal Cinema - Melton Mowbray
"The Generous Briton" pub in Melton Mowbray
Fourteenth century alabaster tomb in St Mary's Church - Melton Mowbray
Caption on shoppe - Melton Mowbray
The town's free guide sheet claimed that the expression "To paint the town red" originated in Melton Mowbray:-

...a tale dating from 1837. It is said that year is when the Marquis of Waterford and a group of friends ran riot in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, painting the town's toll-bar and several buildings red.

That event is well documented, and is certainly in the style of the Marquis, who was a notorious hooligan. To his friends he was Henry de la Poer Beresford; to the public he was known as 'the Mad Marquis'. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he is described as 'reprobate and landowner'. His misdeeds include fighting, stealing, being 'invited to leave' Oxford University, breaking windows, upsetting (literally) apple-carts, fighting duels and, last but not least, painting the heels of a parson's horse with aniseed and hunting him with bloodhounds. 

After two hours, it was time to leave Melton Mowbray and head back Up North, through Broughton Astley, Nether Broughton and the curiously named Ab Kettleby. Earlier we had stopped briefly at Frisby on the Wreake. Such evocative names! Onwards to Nottingham and thence to the M1 which leads to the land of milk and honey - Yorkshire, my Yorkshire. Ahhh!
View across a rape field to Frisby on the Wreake

15 April 2014


After the football match, we went to Soho. Not to a a sleazy striptease club or what is nowadays euphemistically called a "gentleman's club". No. We simply went for pre-dinner drinks in a lovely old-fashioned pub called "The John Snow". Apparently, he was an eminent London doctor in past times. Incredibly, the beer prices in this quaint establishment were cheaper than in my local in Sheffield. In London they usually ask you to hand over a large chunk of your life savings.

When I sauntered up to the bar to buy the second round, I noticed a young woman standing at the opposite bar. She was transfixed by her mobile phone - as many people seem to be these days. I had my camera at hand having just taken some interior picture of the pub and unbeknownst to her I snapped her a couple of times. As you will realise, I am in the habit of taking lots of pictures but rarely do I look at one of my pictures and think, "Yeah, that's special!" But that is how I feel about "Girl on a phone". 

Her Mona Lisa face is illuminated by her glowing phone screen. A group of friends are socialising behind her. The pub is an Aladdin's cave of shiny things and polished wood and outside, as the evening arrives, a shopfront star hangs above the street. All of these elements come together to make what is in my estimation a really successful composition and I am proud that it's one of mine, presented to you here in both colour and Victorian black and white. Please click to enlarge:-

14 April 2014


Hull City 5 Sheffield United 3 (FA Cup Semi-Final)
We beat them fair and square. We beat them good and proper. Our goals were all beautiful - like living works of art. And the artists were Tom Huddlestone, Yannick Sagbo, Matty Fryatt, David Meyler and Stephen Quinn. At half-time I didn't feel too wholesome, too gigantic, rather queasy. Oh no - at half-time I felt like a Monster Raving Loony Party candidate waiting for the results to be announced after a by-election. Doggy doo-doo time.
Statue of Bobby Moore at Wembley
But at half-time in the dressing room, unbeknownst to me, our Captain Fantastic central defender Mr Curtis Davies was giving the other lads a right dressing down. Many expletives were expleted. Far more than the pathetic Oscar Pistorius yelled at his imagined burglar millady. Like a real leader, Curtis told the others they had played like fairies in the first half - making underdogs Sheffield United look good. It was time to get some fire in their bellies. Time to fight for the cause and for the massed Tigers fans weeping on the terraces of our national football stadium.
Ian and Shirley at Wembley
And in the second half they came roaring back like a cyclone in Queensland, like a tornado in Canton GA and those beautiful goals rained in. I thought of Spitfires, of the Guns of Navarone of a herd of gnus thundering to an African river, of Passchendaele. The Sheffield United defence lay ragged and bleeding, moaning for assistance but we murdered them. They say that football is a game of two halves and never was this saying more true. "WE ARE ULL, WE ARE ULL, WE ARE ULL!" And we sang it to the Wembley rafters on that beautiful Sunday afternoon - bathed in spring sunshine.
Yes my friends, I was there with Shirley and Ian and Chris. We witnessed every moment. Forgive us our trespasses for thine is the kingdom. And at the end of the match, when the battle was won and the smoke was clearing, the Wembley authorities played our club's anthem over the speakers:-

Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can't help falling in love with you
Shall I stay
Would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you

Hull City have existed since 1904 but this is the very first time we have made it to an FA Cup Final. And who stands in our way? Nobody but The Mighty Arsenal - that footballing beast from North London. Those nancy boys with their cultured, grumpy, elegant economist of a French manager, those fall over and cry mummy players with their shiny Porsches and their yellow Lamborghinis. Oo - don't tackle me I'm posh! Do they really think they can defeat the Tiger Army? We are the Tamil Tigers, Siberian Tigers, tigers stalking prey in the night forest. We will go into that May game with the belief  that we have a chance, a real chance to go the distance. We shall not be the also-rans. We are Ull! Steve Bruce's Barmy Army! Up The Tigers!

12 April 2014


A recent academic study has focussed upon the first names we saddle our children with.  The names of 14,449 first year students attending the University of Oxford between 2008 and 2013 were compared with the frequency of given names in the population as a whole. The study concluded that people with rather traditional first names like Eleanor. Peter, Simon, Anna, Richard, Elizabeth and John are three times more likely to be accepted into Oxford University as people with what we might think of as more trendy, transient names like Stacey, Connor, Reece, Kayleigh, Jade, Bradley and Paige.

This doesn't surprise me. As a secondary school teacher, I was instinctively convinced that youngsters with solid old-fashioned or biblical names were more likely to succeed than the kids who arrived bearing fashionable names. There were many variations on the name Kayleigh - Kaylee, Keeley, Kealy, Kelly, K-Lee etc.. And it always seemed puzzling to me why families who demonstrably put little store in literacy were very defensive about their creative and often idiosyncratic spelling of their offspring's first names. Why, for example would anyone insist on spelling Mathew with a single "t" in the middle? Or Barny without the final "e"? Quite bizarre.  And I recall a boy with the surname Allen whose first name was Alen and a girl called Neika whose name symbolised the love that her parents - Neil and Karen  - felt for each other. Equally bizarre.

I am not entirely sure of the psychology behind choosing baby names but I think that some people want the safety and security of "respectable" names that won't rock the boat, others seem  determined to embrace current naming habits while yet others deliberately seek the unusual. Whatever the psychology I am convinced that those choices say a lot about us - how we see life and the kind of aspirations we have for our  children. What do you think?

11 April 2014


Let us forgive our American cousins for mis-spelling the title of the film I watched on Thursday morning. "Labor (sic) Day" was directed by Jason Reitman and based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard. As you can see from the adjacent poster, the stars of this film were Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin with an important supporting role played by fifteen year old Gattlin Griffith.

I am pleased that I didn't bother to read any reviews beforehand because they might have prejudiced my enjoyment of the film. As the title suggests, it is based around events that occurred one Labor Day weekend - in a New England community. Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) is a depressive divorcee who lives alone in a tumbledown house with her sensitive and supportive son Henry. Money is tight and supermarket visits are frugal excursions. It is on their pre-Labor Day visit that Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) appears from behind the superhero comics to confront Adele's son. Prison convict Frank is on the run having escaped from custody at the local hospital where he had had his appendix removed.

He needs somewhere to lie low for a day or two and Adele's house is the random hideaway he has chosen. But Frank is not a brutal kidnapper. He fixes things around the house, plays baseball with Henry and memorably shows his hosts how to make a wholesome peach pie with a bucket full of ripe peaches brought round by a neighbour. Adele is awakened from her trough of depression and falls in love with Frank.

They plan to flee to Canada with Henry but events conspire against them and before they can leave the cops have arrived and Frank is taken back into custody. He was imprisoned for the alleged murder of his wife but flashbacks throughout "Labor Day" suggest that he was not guilty.

My attention was held throughout the film. The atmosphere of it was languid - in small town America at the end of a hot summer. Winslet is a very accomplished actress with a wide range of roles behind her and her portrayal of a lost and disenchanted housewife clinging to the lifebelt of love offered by by her uninvited guest was both sensitive and convincing. And I don't care what dismissive reviewers might have had to say about "Labor Day" for I thought this romantic thriller was, as folk from Barnsley might say, "reeght good" or as folk from Surrey might say, "a spiffing film"!

9 April 2014


Cattle grazing on the banks of the River Derwent at Barmby
My father Philip came from a poor family in Norton, North Yorkshire but as an eleven year old boy he managed to get a scholarship to Malton Grammar School. From there, he moved on to St John's College in York where he trained to be  a teacher. This was back in the nineteen thirties. His first fulltime teaching post was in Hessle to the west of Hull but then the second world war came along and he joined the Royal Air Force as a meteorological officer. He was posted to India in 1940.

My mother Doreen came from a poor coal mining family in Rawmarsh near Rotherham. She was mostly raised by her maternal grandparents on Quarry Street, not far from the pit where my great grandfather worked. She was a vivacious child - good at singing and dancing and she dreamed of a better life. At sixteen she would catch two buses and then a tram to get to Broomhill in Sheffield where she had secured an office job but soon the second world war came along and at the age of twenty she had signed up for the WAAF - Women's Auxiliary Airforce. She was posted to India in 1941.

Why were they both in India? Simply because British military forecasters and politicians anticipated a concerted attempt by the Japanese to invade the Indian subcontinent. It was the jewel of the British Empire (sorry any Australians and Kiwis reading this!) and had to be protected. In the event, the Japanese never reached India so my parents enjoyed a lovely war and were married in Delhi in December 1945 before returning home to begin their married life together.

Back in war-ravaged England, Dad secured a teaching post in Uxbridge, Middlesex but can't have been in that post very long before moving to Laxton in Nottinghamshire. That post didn't last long either and with Mum heavily pregnant with my brother Paul they moved, in 1947, to a small Yorkshire village called Barmby on the Marsh where Dad had secured the position of headteacher in the little village school. Along with the job came a Victorian schoolhouse with big draughty rooms and a view over flat, often windswept farming land towards York.

Yesterday, having driven over to Hull to pick up our tickets for Sunday's FA Cup semi-final, I made a detour to Barmby on the Marsh. It is three miles from the main road through the villages of Knedlington and Asselby which also help to populate Barmby's little school. Barmby is at the very end of that road close to the point where the River Derwent (from Malton) meets the Yorkshire Ouse (from York). On the other side of the Ouse the massive Drax Power station rises from fields. It was opened in 1974.

Mum and Dad lived in Barmby on the Marsh for four years. After Baby Paul, Baby Robin came along in 1951. They always spoke about Barmby with great affection. They were young and the war was over and there were years of life ahead. Dreams to fulfil, service to give and a family to raise.

Naturally, as I walked around the area, I thought of them and how it would have been there in the austere years of the late nineteen forties when rationing was still in place. I thought of them in the now disused St Helen's church and by the "King's Head" pub and by the rivers that dictate the character of  Barmby and its sister settlements. And I thought of Dad teaching the children of agricultural workers in the little school and of Mum making friends with local women. Many of the villagers would hardly ever leave the place even though a branch railway track ran across this landscape right up to the late nineteen fifties. It seems so long ago.

In 1952 they left Barmby for the village of Leven - a bigger school and a better salary and the following year they had a third son - the person who has created this nostalgic post.
Barmby School and the schoolhouse
Stone carving over the church porch - St Helen's
Church, Barmby on the Marsh (now disused)
Drax Power Station from Barmby Barrage
On Barmby Marsh - once a watery and forbidding
landscape - now rich farming land.