25 May 2016


What ever happened to Andy Monkman? Why did he take his own life? He was once a friend of mine. We were at the same school together - Beverley Grammar School in East Yorkshire.

Back in 1972, I went off to Fiji to teach in a high school under the auspices of Voluntary Service Overseas. Something like The Peace Corps. A year later, Andy followed my example and went off to Swaziland to teach in a high school there. And then damn me, a year after I had enrolled at The University of Stirling in Scotland, along came Andy Monkman to study the same subjects as me - English Studies with Education.

When he first arrived, we were best buddies but then he found a girlfriend and drifted away. He always seemed so self-assured, loving the university social life when I often found it to be a source of discomfort and soul searching. It often repulsed me. I can picture him now - tall and happy with a big grin on his face. But he died a few years back and I don't know why.
John and Helen on Mam Tor
I found this out from very old friends John and Helen. They came down to Sheffield for a few days to see a concert by Mishka Shobaly and I guess to see me and they gave me the news about Andy's death. I have tried with ultimate cunning to use Google to unveil better details of Andy's passing but to no avail. Maybe somebody reading this post in the future can fill me in. I would like that.

Why would anybody kill themselves? This life is very precious. We all have ups and downs and sometimes the skies above us can seem very dark indeed but there is always brightness ahead - just round the corner. Dear Andy - I am so sorry that you have gone and I apologise for losing contact. Perhaps I could have shown you a different path, a better path. You didn't need to die. I am shocked and so sorry. See you old chum.

24 May 2016


There's "sleek silver" Clint parked near to Christ Church in Ironville, Derbyshire. I drove there on Monday to undertake yet another of my circular walks. A few days before I had never even heard of Ironville but I liked the name - it sounded as if it belonged in America's badlands or perhaps in the wilds of Western Australia. As it happens, Ironville was a company village that grew up in the early nineteenth century in connection with local ironworks. The squat church was built in 1852.

Today the ironworks have gone but if you look closely you will still find evidence of the area's industrial history. It's there in the woods and in the overgrown courses of canals and former railway tracks. This was a place for hard work with the majority of workers living within easy walking distance of the fiery works that gave them their hard-earned wage packets.
I walked to Jacksdale, Plain Spot and Brinsley before heading west into the Erewash Valley and then onwards to the ruins of Codnor Castle. It was a thirteenth century fortress but when it fell into disuse, builders used it like a quarry or brickyard, taking away cartloads of stone to construct several local houses. The result is that the once impressive edifice is but a shadow of what it once was.

Then on past the William Jessop monument. Jessop was a nationally important industrialist and the main driving force behind The Butterley Company that developed Ironville and its ironworks.

The walk led me past The Erewash Meadows nature reserve where I spotted these greylag geese:-
Earlier I rested on a bench in the curiously named settlement of Plain Spot, beneath a signpost that directs travellers to Brinsley, Westwood and Underwood and then I looked up:-
Signpost in Plain Spot

21 May 2016


First they came for the Socialists

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

by Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler in the nineteen thirties and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

20 May 2016


We are in the middle of spring. How lovely our garden looks at this time of year with so much new greenery, blossom, flowers and happy birds zipping around. Between the globular box plants in their pots, a little path leads up the garden towards our vegetable patch, the compost bins and the green back lane beyond.

When we moved into this house in 1989, the garden was a jungle. I had to set about it with a powerful garden strimmer before applying weed killer to some areas. It was like taming a wild beast. 

How many hours have I spent here - cutting the grass, trimming the hedges, laying paths, planting and picking. It has been a joyous adjunct to my life. Our children played here when they were little. We have had barbecues and bonfires and parties. Here I have seen foxes, hedgehogs, a badger, squirrels, dogs, cats, frogs, toads, snails, slugs, butterflies, a swarm of bees, wasps, spiders, mice, rats, sparrows, jays, rooks, blackbirds, magpies, seagulls, wood pigeons, doves, bluetits, coaltits, great tits, long tailed tits, thrushes, starlings, goldfinches, wrens and a sparrow hawk.

Having a garden is therapeutic. It helps to get the rest of life in better perspective. Soil on your hands and sweat on your brow. Building snowmen. Watching the seasons passing. Watching plants grow. It's like a big outdoor room - a natural extension to our house and after all this time I must say that I would hate to live anywhere that did not have a garden. I feel that my life would be somehow impoverished.

19 May 2016


Just after noon today, I walked into the city centre to watch a film at The Showroom. It was called "Saul Fia" in Hungarian which translates to "Son of Saul" in English. What voices there were in this film spoke in either Hungarian or German or Polish with a sprinkling of Yiddish too. Naturally, there were English subtitles.

It was set in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. The constant focus is upon an Hungarian jew called Saul Ausländer played by Géza Röhrig. He is a member of a Sonderkommando unit - prisoners who evade the gas chamber by undertaking unspeakable tasks for their captors - herding new arrivals, carrying the bodies away, rifling through piles of clothes for money and jewellery. He is in Hell. We see it and hear it in a blurred background through which Saul moves furtively, often in close-up.

One day, from the pile of naked dead bodies, he hears the moaning of a teenage boy. This miracle survivor is carried away and then promptly suffocated by one of the German supervisors. Saul probably only imagines that the boy is his son and is overwhelmed by a desire to have him buried in the proper Jewish manner. All other thoughts leave his mind. Understandably, he may have been deranged by the things he has witnessed. He goes in search of a rabbi.
Saul Ausländer played by Géza Röhrig
Directed by László Nemes, "Son of Saul" is a very powerful, gripping film. We all know the terrible story of Auschwitz so why should the film spell it out once more? In fact, it doesn't. The horror is usually happening just off screen or in the blurry distance. Our focus is always upon Saul - a human being trapped by events over which he has no control. He is brutalised - given a number and a painted red cross on his back. He is a nobody and like other Sonderkommados he realises that his stay of execution will not last forever.

At the end of the film, Saul smiles for the first time as he sees a vision of a peasant boy in the doorway of the wooden  barn where he is hiding with other escapees. The smile lights up his face even as the Nazi search party closes in on their hiding place. The boy runs away as we hear the lethal echo of machine gun bullets. It is only then that we hear any music as the final credits unroll.

If this had been a play performed on a stage, I would have stood at the end and applauded loudly yelling "Bravo!" but it was just a film so instead I simply crept out of the darkness of the cinema with visions of Saul Ausländer fresh in my mind and a renewed sense of those terrible, inhuman events that were unfolding just a few short years before I was born. Truly brilliant.

18 May 2016


Some observant visitors to this blog will remember seeing this picture before. I snapped it while walking past a pub between Smithfield Markets and The Barbican - down in London.

Well I am publishing it once more because a few days ago it was  selected as the "picture of the week" on the "geograph" photo website. That particular week, 6123 pictures were submitted to "geograph" so you will understand why I am as pleased as punch that my photo was the winner.

I e-mailed "The Old Red Cow" pub, hoping they would be able to let the silver-haired gentleman in the photograph know that his image has gained a small degree of fame amongst "geograph" subscribers and visitors. However, so far I have had no reply.

Things I like about this image are - the way the man is holding that full pint of Guinness, the fact that his chosen newspaper is "FT Money", his slightly dishevelled hairstyle and his skew-whiff spectacles. Reflected in the glass are the names of some of the stations that will be linked by London's new "crossrail" project.. I also wonder - what was he looking askance at? It's slightly intriguing.

17 May 2016


Flashing back to one of last week's lovely long walks. The day of the lambs. I parked in the Staffordshire village of Warslow before setting off on a twelve mile circular walk. It took me up hill and down dale, to Hulme End, The Manifold Valley and Ecton Hill. And these were just some of the sights I saw along the way:-
By the bridge over the Manifold at Hulme End
Stone dragon by the triangulation pillar on Revidge Moor
St Lawrence's Church in Warslow
Ruined barn at Clough Head
Inquisitive cow at Clough Head
The Powder House, Ecton Hill - former copper mine facility
As the sign says...