1 August 2014


In the past days, I have added yet more squares to my red geograph blob. A week ago today, on a sultry summer's morning, I parked up in the South Yorkshire village of Todwick for a two hour circular walk via South Anston, the Chesterfield Canal and Kiveton Park. And then on Wednesday of this week, I parked in Spital which is on the eastern edge of Chesterfield before walking for almost four hours via interestingly named Cock Alley, Winsick and Hasland. Both walks were delightful, taking in many sights - even though these areas are not typical rambling country. The public footpaths are more likely to attract furtive local dog walkers with plastic bags of poop rather than booted fellows with maps and haversacks yodelling ""Der Fröhliche Wanderer" as they tramp through fields of ripening barley.

It used to be said that every cigarette you smoked lopped four minutes off your life. Lord knows who "did the math" to arrive at this conclusion but anyway I have a counter-claim that is in mathematical terms equally suspect. And my claim is this - that every mile you walk adds an hour to your life - assuming of course you are not prone to walking on the hard shoulder of the M1 or along railway tracks!

Given  my family history, it is likely that I shall die before I am seventy after a massive heart attack. Perhaps I am wrong, but I believe that my walking mileometer is like a medical prescription. Get the lungs pumping, sweat on my brow, stretch those muscles, blood corpuscles agitated - what better treatment for the old heart? This notion adds to my red blob motivation. One mile equals an hour of life.

And so to this little plodding gallery:- 
Todwick Parish Church
Early harvest near South Anston
Fat man fishing on the Chesterfield Canal
Thirsty horses at Kiveton Park
Detail of an old cottage at Top Alley
"The Three Cottages" pub at Winsick
At Hasland. I spotted the war memorial in the park - saying something
different about warfare from the recruitment ad on the phone box
Crossing the A617 near Manor Farm
As I am sure you already knew, August 1st is Yorkshire Day! Happy Yorkshire Day Everybody! Let us all give thanks for God's finest creation - Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire! (wild cheering).

30 July 2014


Is it Laurence or Lawrence? How ever his first name was spelt, I have blogged about L.S.Lowry before - here and here. A week ago, before I reached my aunt's funeral in north Manchester, I tarried for a while in Mottram in Longdendale. It was in this overgrown village on the edge of the Pennines that Lowry lived out the last twenty eight years of his long life, still painting and still being an awkward so and so - loving humanity and yet hating it at the same time. He could never really fit in.

This was his house - "The Elms" on Stalybridge Road. When the new owners moved in a couple of years ago they peeled back the carpet  and found Lowry's paint splattered all over the floorboards of the front room:-
 And this blue plaque is on the front wall of the house:-
Fifty yards away at the crossroads, a bronze staue of Lowry sitts on a bench. He is watching the traffic on the A57 while he sketches 24/7, year in year out:-
 Here he is again. You can see Mottram's post office on the corner:-
And just to remind you, or in some cases to give you a first glimpse, of the unique style he developed, here's "Coming out of School" (1927):-

29 July 2014


Two boys and an old woman murdered by Israel.
Ninety per cent of Israelis are in favour of what their government has recently instructed its military machine to do. Ninety per cent are in favour of bombing schools, hospitals and most recently Gaza's only electricity power plant. Ninety per cent are in favour of killing innocent women and children. Ninety per cent are in favour of the unconscionable blaming of Hamas for Israeli attacks - turning the truth on its head. Ninety per cent are in favour of trundling out the same lame excuses about Hamas rocket launching sites in order to justify the outrageous mass murder of frightened Palestinians.

The Israelis have killed far more than a thousand now and injured many more people than that. In contrast, the small Israeli death toll mainly consists of forty five soldiers from their invasion force. What do they expect? You invade a desperate, overcrowded and beleaguered little country and you expect no angry response? Now their latest coverall lame excuse is to cite the alleged  intricate network of tunnels that Israel claims is a major threat to its security.

And what is America doing? What is the useless United Nations doing? Nothing. Nothing at all. They are letting innocent Palestinians die, silently condoning the brutality. History has taught us to be sorrowful for Jews and what they endured in World War II but their military onslaught upon Gaza is ironically like a mini-holocaust for Palestinians. Dying in a gas chamber at Auschwitz or dying under a pile of concrete in Gaza - what's the difference? 

Ninety per cent of onlookers from the rest of the world say to Israel - You are wrong! This is not the way! Ninety per cent shudder about the horror of it all. Ninety per cent say that the way to solve differences is through talking - no matter how difficult those negotiations might be. I have already sent £25 to Oxfam's Gaza Appeal. I should probably be sending more but we Yorkshiremen are as tight as they come and to get £25 out of me is like getting regrets for what is happening out of Benjamin Netanyahu. 

27 July 2014


It's like a military campaign map. The red blob and the satellite red bits reveal where I have taken photographs in this region of England for the geograph project. I have red squares in other parts of the country too - from Cornwall to Fife and from Liverpool to Kent. I took up this hobby in 2009 since when my blob has grown like a pool of red wine on a laminate floor. The hobby involves several things apart from snapping pictures. There's miles and miles of walking, study of maps and map reading, internet research of the places I have been and the things I have seen. Through geograph I have learnt more than I knew before of England's beauty, its history and its incredible diversity.

Here's two pictures I snapped yesterday afternoon for geograph when Shirley and I were in our local park to attend the Folk Forest music festival - part of the annual Tramlines festival of music in Sheffield:-
Chewing the fat in Endcliffe Park
Songstress Laura James at Folk Forest 2014
Learning about my hobby you will probably think I am sad or mad or both. I don't care. These boots are made for walking and I shall not cease till my red blob has grown to cover all of northern England when I shall become The Regal Master of Up North  instructing my people to build a mighty wall - separating us from the evil excesses of Down South led by Snooty Cameron with his posh army of  Etonian Bankers. And there will be free beer and fish and chips and I'll re-open the coal mines and southern settlers will be given twenty four hours to leave and, and "If I Ruled the World"...

26 July 2014


Auntie Irene (1922-2014)
On Thursday, I travelled over The Pennines to what we Yorkshire folk often call "The Dark Side". Its real name is Lancashire. I was going to the funeral of a ninety two year old lady - my Auntie Irene. The funeral was held in the northern suburbs of Manchester in a place called Middleton. I had never been there before and I only ever met my Auntie Irene once - at my mother's funeral in 2007.

My mother only had one sibling - her brother Derek - who married Irene McGann shortly after World War II. Times must have been hard for them because when my own mum and dad returned from India - where they themselves had married in the last year of the war - Uncle Derek asked if he could borrow some money. By this time Irene had had a baby daughter - their first child. They needed to borrow £50 which was an enormous amount of money back then - equivalent to about two month's salary for an average worker.

Mum and Dad had very little spare cash and lending this money was a big sacrifice as they themselves began to settle back into civilian life. As I understand it, Uncle Derek was unable to repay the debt by the promised time. A big argument ensued which resulted in my Dad wanting to cut off all contact with Uncle Derek and Auntie Irene. This must have happened in 1946 - just before Mum gave birth to my oldest brother - our late and much missed Paul.

Anyway - the years passed - with Uncle Derek and Auntie Irene living life and raising a family in Middleton while Mum and Dad lived a parallel life in East Yorkshire. Irene bore five daughters and Mum bore four sons. On Thursday I learnt that Irene had in fact had a son too but he had died before he was a week old. Co-incidentally my mother also  had a baby girl but she was stillborn.

So five daughters and four sons grew up. We were and are of course cousins but we didn't know each other. Having five girl cousins could and should have been something that enriched our lives. My peers in our East Yorkshire village all seemed to be in touch with their extended families and I remember feeling quite envious of this. Isn't that how life was meant to be? And isn't the true meaning of "family" something richer and more extensive than the modern core nuclear family which is too often developed in geographical  isolation.
Middleton Parish Church - its origins can be traced back to the ninth century
The funeral had three phases. First there was a well-attended memorial service in Middleton's surprisingly wonderful and ancient parish church. Irene had nine siblings and so the McGann side of her family was numerous. She was a much-loved matriarch and had many friends, living life to the full right up to the end.

Next the funeral moved to Boarshaw Cemetery for the interment - witnessed by a crowd of perhaps a hundred. And then we all went on to Middleton Cricket Club for food and drink and conversation - marking the passing of Auntie Irene. And it was there I managed to snap this picture of my five girl cousins - now mature women of course with children - and in three cases - grandchildren of their own. I wish I had known them with pigtails I could pull, hide and seek and picnics on beaches, ghost stories and giggles, sandcastles and caravan holidays - growing up together - part of the same big family. But sadly it never happened.
My cousins - from left to right - Rene, Karen, Gaynor, Pam and Sandra

25 July 2014


Approaching Roche Abbey by Firbeck Dike
Close to the former South Yorkshire coal mining village of Maltby, in a green valley that is blessed by a sparkling stream, you will find the remains of Roche Abbey. It was founded in 1147 by the Cistercian monastic order and destroyed by Henry VIII's forces some four hundred years later during The Dissolution. And after that many local people viewed the site as a free salvage yard. They would turn up with horse and carts or wooden hand carts and take away dressed stones or pieces of lead and glass. And that pillaging went on well into the nineteenth century.

If you think that Cistercian monks were all about self-denial and the worship of God, you'd be wrong. The Cistercian movement was about political and economic control as much as religious worship. Like other abbeys in Yorkshire, Roche Abbey drew its wealth from the surrounding farmland and local people were subjugated - paying rents, delivering agricultural produce and undertaking work without payment in order to keep the latest abbot happy. No doubt they were warned that if they didn't do as they were told they wouldn't enter heaven.
Just to build a substantial religious campus like Roche Abbey would have been a mind-boggling task in the twelfth century. Suitable stone would need to be identified in the local area then quarried, dressed and brought in carts to the site. No electric drills, no trucks, no dynamite, no tubular scaffolding. It makes the construction of The Shard in London - or any other modern skyscraper - seem like child's play.

There were over fifty Cistercian monasteries in England and they were like the tentacles of a movement that had its central powerhouse in France. Cistercian leaders had great political sway with monarchs and popes for five hundred years. It would have been hard not to listen to an organisation that could boast such economic power and in everyday terms governed the lives of many thousands of people throughout western Europe.
Above and below. The monasteries were skilled in controlling
and utilising their vital water supplies
Roche Abbey has a fence around it these days and is overseen by an organisation called "English Heritage". It used to be that you could wander freely around the site at any time but now you can only go inside the fence on Wednesdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, paying £3.60 for the privilege. I took my photographs and kept on walking on another gorgeously hot and sunny summer's day. If only Roche Abbey's stones could speak. I would love to listen to their stories.

23 July 2014


Gaza Palestinians 649         Israel 31
(includes 132 children)                      (includes 28 soldiers)
It's not a cricket match nor a meeting of two great baseball teams. We are not talking about rugby or athletics or snooker, we are talking death. The Grim Reaper. The end of life. Even as we speak, Israel is wreaking havoc in the Gaza Strip with its American tanks and state of the art weaponry while Palestinians fire pathetic "rockets" into Israel  that are not much more deadly than grenades on sticks. If these rockets are such a threat, how come more Israelis haven't died? How come the damage to buildings is so superficial?

We are led to believe that the humane Israeli military machine messages Gaza civilians ahead of its missile strikes - warning them to evacuate their homes. Where are they meant to run to? How much time have they got? How do the Israeli generals know the messages have got through? Can Israeli bombings really be so pinpoint accurate that they always hit their targets and leave the people next door free to get on with their lives?

It is such an unequal conflict and personally I shudder when I hear the justifications and tissue thin apologies of Israeli spokesmen. Obviously, the issues surrounding Israel and the Palestinians are complex - like a tangled ball of wool. I would have no idea how it might be sorted out but killing women and children, bombing schools and hospitals, creating terror in the densely packed streets of Gaza is surely not the way. Talking, agreement and compromise are the only way forward. Ultimately, that's how it has always been.

Dumb Dubya Bush and Catholic Convert Blair promoted a war ON terror, but Philadepelphia-educated Benjamin Netanyahu is now conducting a war OF terror on a desperate people whose lives are not underwritten by America with its vast military arsenal and influential Jewish lobbyists. One things's for sure - the death and terror currently being meted out by Israel will not be the end of it all. It's no solution, no solution at all. If you kick a wounded dog it will bite back. If you put a lid on a bottle of soda water and shake it up it is liable to explode.