8 August 2020

Heat

At Heyworth level crossing

I was out in the heat again yesterday - the second Friday in a row. The heat was so thick and chewy that it reminded me of the tropics. Not a breath of wind. Swallows panting on telephone lines. Drainage channels dried up. Grain crops turning golden in the fields.

Clint had been tied up by a gateway to the east of the village of Moss, ten miles north of Doncaster. Setting off towards Fenwick, I realised that the fifteen mile walk I had planned might not be a good idea in that heat. I perused my map and found a way of reducing the distance to around ten miles.

It was easy going - all flat and some of the walk was on very quiet lanes where not a single vehicle passed me by. I disturbed two or three hares that scooted off as if I was the devil incarnate. 

Near Fenwick, a herd of young black cattle watched me from behind their electric fence. Though they had water there was not one patch of shade.

Twice I had to cross the main east coast rail line that runs up from London to Doncaster before surging on to York, Newcastle and Edinburgh. The trains zoom by like rockets and at each of the crossings there were old railway houses - still occupied. Imagine that every half hour - thunderous machines passing within two metres of your living room. It would help to be stone deaf.

Lounge for horse riders at Moseley Farm

Onward to Askern, a former coal mining village. Somewhere I had never been before. I sat on a bench by the children's playground guzzling cold water and eating my usual walking lunch - an apple and a banana. I realised that I might have looked like a paedophile on the prowl but all I needed was that bench to rest upon for five minutes. Fortunately, I was not surrounded by a baying mob.

Moss is an odd place. If it ever had old buildings they all appear to be gone. Now there are numerous palatial houses with railings, automatic gates and stone lions or horses' heads on gateposts. The village has no community facilities - no shop, no school, no church, no village hall. Nothing. Even with a big, magazine-style mansion it is not a place that would ever appeal to me.

And then there he was - my South Korean travelling companion - fuming in the gateway.

"You didn't even rub any sun lotion in my bodywork!" he moaned. "It has been bloody scorching!"

As we  set off, "Blind Willy McTell" by Bob Dylan was playing on the sound system but Clint said he would prefer something called K-Pop. That term means nothing to me. By Doncaster, Dylan was singing "Dignity". It's a three CD compilation album that showcases the brilliance of Minnesota's revered minstrel...

So many roads, so much at stake
Too many dead ends, I'm at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it's gonna take
To find dignity.
In Askern near Doncaster

6 August 2020

Karen

I took these pictures of Karen womenfolk in northern Thailand back in April 2011 and rediscovered them when reviewing old photo folders last night. In the Karen culture - the unnatural elongation of women's necks through the addition of brass rings is considered somehow beautiful or admirable. Most Karen or Kayan people in northern Thailand are refugees from Burma. Interestingly, it's only the women who wear neck rings - never the men. Does that sound familiar? Of course I gave these women money. They needed it. As refugees, they have few other options. The necks are not actually stretched. Apparently, that's just an illusion. The weight of the rings presses down upon their upper chests and collar bones.

5 August 2020

Stiles

It is estimated that there are over 140,000 miles of public footpaths in England and Wales. They go up mountains, cling to coasts, weave through forests, cross farmland,  bogs, moors, industrial wasteland, village greens and parkland. They take you just about everywhere and anywhere and are part of our historical heritage, protected by the law.

When a footpath arrives at a field boundary, you will sometimes find a gate but more often you will find a stile. Stiles vary greatly in construction. Some are made from stone and others from wood. Some are "squeeze stiles" where you literally squeeze through a gap in a wall. The gap is too narrow for farm animals.

This is how one dictionary defines a stile: An arrangement of steps that allows people but not animals to climb over a fence or wall. (No recognition of squeeze stiles there).

A few weeks ago, a well-travelled American visitor called Mary pointed out that many of her compatriots may never have seen a stile. In fact plenty of Americans wouldn't even know what a stile was as sties are not a feature of the American countryside. The penny dropped for me in that moment. Remembering my various trips to the USA in years gone by, I suddenly realised that I had never seen a stile there. Mary was right.

Sifting through my geograph contributions, here's just a small sample of the stiles I have recorded in photographs. Lord knows how many stiles I have clambered over or squeezed through - thousands of them. Sartorially speaking, I may not be a stylish fellow but when it comes to rambling I believe I have earned the right to coin a new word and call myself "stilish"!

4 August 2020

Swimming

Beneath the surface peace reigns. Sunlight illuminates a shoal of tiny silver fishes that move in synchronicity, occasionally flashing signals like tiny mirrors. My arms propel me. Three fathoms below, my shadow moves over rippled sand. To the left, the coral reef rises like a chaotic monument.  Beyond my understanding.

I am swimming but it is like flying in slow motion. It's another world. The sea temperature is soothing  - reminiscent of life after conception, safe in amniotic fluid, swimming towards birth and forgetfulness. Yet the water has always been there. Ever since. Inviting us to swim.

Lake Garda, Italy 1960. I learnt to swim when I was seven years old. Mr Purcell, a close family friend, holding me round the midriff in the shallow water, giving me the confidence to let go, to stop panicking. And then I am swimming - what they call the doggy-paddle. My chin thrust bravely up, lips sealed tight, my arms and legs thrashing. Yes. I am swimming. It was a moment.

The last time I went swimming was in The Pelješac Channel - an arm of the Adriatic Sea off Croatia. It was last September and I swam out to the buoys that marked the swimming zone limits next to our hotel's little beach. I hugged the furthest plastic buoy for several minutes before swimming back to shore, remembering all the other times that I have been swimming.

Donning swimming trunks by  concrete WWII defences on The North Sea shore at Fraisthorpe. Sprinting to the water's edge to escape the wind. Or summer seas embracing the isles of Greece - Folegandros, Sikinos, Milos - olive clad bays where triremes anchored in ancient times, their banks of oars at rest. Again and again. Swimming.

Waking on beaches at the command of the rising sun. Cold the water at first after the cosy sleeping bag. Swimming out to the rocks or the yacht and then back again. The day beginning.

Perhaps one day I will swim again. Propel myself with my arms and legs. Experience that familiar freedom once more. They say that we are mostly made of water.
__________________________________________________
Picture © ANDREY PAVLOV

3 August 2020

Distancing

There's Dr Anthony Fauci on our television screen. It's just before five in the morning and he's talking to the BBC about the wisdom of wearing masks. He is one of the good guys, caught between a rock and a hard place . He declares in no uncertain terms that there is no evidence whatsoever that hydroxychloroquine has any impact at all on COVID19.

Last night I moseyed on down to the local pub - expecting to spend a safe ninety minutes supping ale and chewing the cud with my old mates Steve and Bert - keeping six feet away from each other. To my dismay I noticed that they were sitting with two other regulars - a middle aged married couple who had been in the establishment for hours and were filled to the brim with bonhomie.

Anyway, one thing leads to another, The couple call a black dog over from the front lobby. He's a happy Staffordshire crossbreed with a calm temperament and a tail that wags like a crazed pendulum. Then the dog's owner comes into the tap room. He had been on the doorstep smoking a cigarette.

He's a big, red-haired guy with a belly like a pillow. He's standing too close to me talking to the married couple about his dog. All very friendly. But he's too close to me. He is in my space. I move my chair away from him - a foot or so. The friendly banter continues. My radar continues to bleep - "Get out of my space!"

Then damn me, though I have not engaged with the dog owner, he bends down, puts his arm on my shoulder and shares a light-hearted confidence right in my face. I  want to scream, "Keep your distance!" but it's too late, the deed is done - albeit it unconsciously, innocently with no ill intent.

But it could have been in that moment that the virus was passed to me. It could have been the initial signal of my eventual demise. I didn't even know the guy's name. To me he was a complete stranger.

What is it with other people? There are so many out there who still don't seem to grasp the importance of social distancing. Many times during this pandemic  my invisible bubble has been invaded - in supermarkets etcetera - but never as blatantly as last night. All I can do is hope that that fellow is "clean". 

Dr Anthony Fauci has gone now but his messages remain clear and consistent - including, keep your distance and wear masks.  This health crisis isn't over by a long way. We need to remain on guard at all times and keep our fingers crossed that our fellow citizens have the same understanding.

2 August 2020

Blessed

Ram at Wickinford Farm
On Friday, Clint and I drove over to Cheshire again - beyond Buxton but still in The Peak District. It was the hottest day of the year so far and all over England high temperatures were recorded - making it the third hottest day on record.
I drove through the hamlet of Bottom-of-the-Oven - yes you heard me right - and then turned up a narrow lane before parking in another tiny village called Forest Chapel. I was in shorts with my muscular weightlifter legs revealed for all and sundry to see. I slapped sun lotion on them - and on my face and arms too. Then I swigged a pint of water before beginning my trek - sensibly wearing my faded cotton beanie hat from Malta.
Five hours later - returning to Forest Chapel - I was as weary as a Chinese patriot at the end of The Long March. Positively mule-like, I trudged up the lane and was finally reunited with my silver machine - Lord Clint of Clintshire. I had finished the water in my rucksack four miles beforehand while looking over Lamaload Reservoir and so I was pleased that I had left another flask in Clint's boot. I drank it down like air.
Lamaload Reservoir
Then it was back over the hills, through Buxton, Doveholes, Castleton and Hathersage. Still as thirsty as a Saharan camel, I pulled in to the car park of "The Norfolk Arms" at Ringinglow and ordered not one but two pints of bitter shandy. I guess I was in recovery mode after the hot miles I had plodded. These pints were guzzled quite rapidly and I was back home by six thirty.

It was a delicious kind of fatigue and after eating a hasty chicken salad with buttered potatoes I was soon snoozing on the couch, remembering the things I had seen in that lovely corner of  Cheshire on such a wonderful summer's day. Sometimes I feel truly grateful to be alive, to be able to walk so many miles and to live in such an amazing country. Blessed, really blessed. 
Hardingland Farm

1 August 2020

Yorkshire

August 1st! It's Yorkshire Day! A day for celebration, wild dancing, Yorkshire pudding consumption and the quaffing of Yorkshire ales.

In terms of population, Yorkshire is bigger than Scotland and bigger than Wales and Northern Ireland put together. Yet, when it comes to  funding, devolution and media recognition - Yorkshire is severely neglected. Yorkshire Day is an opportunity to bang the drum for our amazing county - this heaven on earth, this Eden, this place of dreams, history, industry, invention, reticence and (normally) quiet pride.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank visitors to this blog for all the cards and gifts they have sent me in recognition of Yorkshire Day. It is impossible to mention everybody but here are a few...

Thanks to JayCee for The Isle of Man kippers and thanks to Northsider in West Cork for the cotoneaster cuttings. Thanks to Graham on The Isle of Lewis for the original Stornoway black pudding from MacLeod & MacLeod Butchers. Thanks to Meike from South West Germany for the jar of sauerkraut. Thanks to Ursula for the scented candle and to John Haggerty for "The Broons" Annual. Thanks to Lily for the bottle of maple syrup and to Mary in Lloyd FL for the jar of pickled beans. Thanks to Sue in mid-Lincolnshire for the sausages.
Thanks to ADDY for the writing paper and to Jennifer for the framed Marco clawprint. Thanks to John in Trelawnyd for the male voice choir CD and to Steve in West London for the random found objects. Thanks to Kylie for the stuffed koala and to Jenny for the stuffed donkey. Thanks to Red for the binoculars and to Briony for the stylish crocheted toilet roll cover. Thanks to Thelma for the spicy piccalilli and to Tasker Dunham for the baby hedgehog.  I would also like to thank the uncommonly generous Robert H. Brague in Georgia USA for a pair of his old spectacles - broken.

Sorry to those I forgot to mention. 

These cards and gifts are bound to make this one of the best Yorkshire Days ever! What do we sing? "White Rose"! When do we sing it? Now! Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire!

Most Visits