28 June 2017


The other night I was sitting with three other blokes in a pub. If a stranger had spotted us, he or she might have thought -  "Oh, there are four typical Englishmen, having a drink and nattering away. They are chewing the fat and laughing. Four normal blokes sitting in an English pub."

But things are not always as they might at first appear. The other three men have all had mental health issues and all three have from time to time been on prescribed anti-depressants to keep themselves on an even keel. Two of them have suffered episodes that are commonly referred to as "breakdowns". Fortunately, all three are okay now but the consumption of anti-depressants is generally a secretive, untrumpeted habit. As far as I know, all three could still be on them.

I have never had a "breakdown" and in my life I have never consumed even one antidepressant pill. In that regard I guess I am lucky but that does not mean I float around on a cloud, rubbing my hands together with glee, complacently glorying in my robust mental health. I recognise that we all have our moments and mental health can be a fragile state. There but for the grace of God go any of us.

When I was working as a teacher and manager of other teachers, I gradually came to understand the extent of coping problems amongst my colleagues. Lots of them had visited their doctors about stress and depression. Many had been prescribed antidepressants. It was all hush-hush and at times it felt that I was the only one who had not succumbed to what seemed to be a plague of mental ill-health.

I don't like the idea of antidepressants. For thousands of years, human beings had to get by without them. No doubt many of our ancestors had mental health issues and could sometimes become very blue. But they didn't visit doctors for prescription drugs. They just got on with their lives, supported by friends and family and simply struggled to climb out of their despondency. Being active and simply doing things was a good way of keeping that old black dog in his kennel.

Life isn't easy. We all want to live in happiness, rising each morning with a smile and a positive outlook as we proceed through the calendar. It is what is hoped for but it is so easy to veer off the rails,  entering a lonely world of painful anxiety and self-doubt that might ultimately drive you to the doctor for those happy pills.

27 June 2017


Long time visitors to this blog may recall that one of my hobbies is submitting photographs to the geograph project. This hobby pleases me because it involves mapping, history, curiosity, walking and of course photography. It's all about seeing the British Isles through pictures.

Every week around fifty photos from the previous week's submissions are selected for the "picture of the week" shortlist. Then the last winner picks his or her favourite image as the new winner. In a normal week between three and five thousand pictures are uploaded onto geograph so to bag a winner is a great achievement.

Of course all of that was a virtual drumroll leading to the proud announcement that I am the Week 24 winner! And here is the picture that did it:-
It's the Brent Delta oil rig - now moved from The North Sea to the coast of County Durham where it will be dismantled. Shirley and I spotted it as we were driving from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool a fortnight ago. When I saw it looming from the landscape I just had to pull over. It was a grey afternoon and perhaps that greyness added to the drama of the scene. The oil rig may have looked less significant or threatening on a sunny blue sky day.

Now I wait for the Week 25 shortlist and the opportunity to wield some power. I shall be the Simon Cowell of the geograph community.

26 June 2017


Heading to Over Owler Tor
Twas Saturday night and Shirley was off to a salmon and strawberry "do" for practice nurses. I jumped in the car and headed west for an hour long  ramble up to the rocks of Over Owler Tor from where there are good views down The Hope Valley. There was nobody else around.

A bank of dramatic grey clouds were threatening from beyond Mam Tor. I sensed the possibility of rain so headed back to the car through budding heather and down to a track that would have once been trodden by stone workers. In the event, the rain stayed away.
Over Owler Tor
Back in Sheffield there was no salmon and no strawberries for me. Instead, I pulled up outside Neptune's for mini fish and chips with a carton of mushy peas. Not bad value at only £2.50 (US $3.20). Then I watched some of the BBC's superb live coverage from Glastonbury before heading to the pub for another infusion of Tetley's bitter.

Oh, it's a hard life. And okay I admit that this blogpost is just an excuse for sharing some more photographs.
View to Hope Cement Works
Millstone outcrop near Over Owler Tor

25 June 2017


A few weeks ago I bought a very big sheet of drawing paper. I knew exactly what I was going to do with it and on Friday morning I got started after putting "Unhalfbricking" by Fairport Convention on the CD player.

Most of my life I have been doodling little cartoons of people's faces. As a schoolboy, when I was bored in lessons - which was pretty often - I would be drawing little faces in my rough book. It was the same at university in lectures and the same in teachers' meetings over thirty five years.

Very often the doodling has helped me to concentrate more intensely. Part of my brain  works almost unconsciously on the doodling, allowing a different part of the brain to focus more fully on the main subject matter of the hour. Doodling may give the appearance of  disengagement but for some people it can be a creative tool which aids concentration. Different minds approach things in different ways.
Anyway, I have the big sheet of paper. It is going to consist of many different faces. In fact, it is going to be a football crowd. Every figure will be wearing a football scarf. Later I shall colour in the football scarves. All will be black and amber. I haven't decided if there will be any more colour washed into the figures yet. We'll see.

It is going to take a long time to do. An hour here and an hour there when I am in the mood - slowly adding to the crowd till they are all done.

I would like to send thanks to my friend Mick. I shared this idea with him three or four years back and frequently he has nudged me, asking, "Have you got started yet?" Without that nudging it might have just remained as a crazy idea, never fulfilled. I know he sometimes drops by this blog without leaving any comments so once again - if you are reading this -  thanks Mick!

There's a long way to go but finally I have got started. Roll on 2018!

24 June 2017


My late brother's daughter Katie still resides on the west coast of Ireland. Like  her father, Katie loves to make music. As well as possessing a fine singing voice, she plays whistles, flutes and pipes with skill and feeling.

Recently, she made a studio recording of a song by Finbar Furey. He is well-known in traditional Irish music circles. The song is called "I Remember You Singing This Song" and when I first heard it I was blown away. Katie sings it so perfectly in my view. She is now entering middle-age and so brings her experience of life to this song. It's there in every phrase and every note. Please see what you think:-
The song is available on Apple i-tunes. Go here.

23 June 2017


I know that several old codgers visit this blog. Not all of them are as adept at computer usage as young whippersnappers like me. In an effort to boost computer literacy in the blogosphere, I am considering producing a series of instructional articles. This post is designed to simply test the market as it were. A feasibility study.

Okay. Now my computer platform was kindly designed by dwarves and nerds under the kindly guidance of billionaire William Gates in Seattle USA. Currently, I use Windows 10 but what I am about to tell you is also relevant to earlier versions of Windows. My apologies to members of the mysterious Apple Clan who may wish to exit this post immediately. Perhaps go and cut your toenails instead or bake an apple pie. It's likely that Apple have a similar facility.

Look to the top righthand corner of your Windows page. Go to the end of the top bar just below the little cross. You should see this or something like it:-
Now those three dots are not decorative. Click on them and a dropdown menu will appear. It should look like this:-
Halfway down  the list you will see the word "Find..". Click on it and a little search box should appear. It's like this:-
I typed in the word "banana". Afterwards, quite faintly you can see this written - "0 of 0". That means that on the page of writing I had open at the time, the word "banana" was not present.

Then I accessed a BBC News article about the Duke of Edinburgh's most recent hospital visit. This time I put the word "hospital" in the search box:-

Now in the bat of an eyelid, the search box is telling me  that the word "hospital" is used seven times in the article. Here's the beginning of the news item. Helpfully, the computer has highlighted all occurrences of the word "hospital":-
Do you get it?

This "Find" facility can be very useful in lots of situations. An example might be when you have accessed a long page of writing on the internet and you are looking for someone's name in the text. Another example might be that you yourself have produced a lengthy document and you are looking for a reference to say "2014" or "accident". You don't have to plough through the whole document as "Find" will do that for you.

Here endeth the lesson. You can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can't take the classroom out of the teacher... err, something like that anyway. 

22 June 2017


In times when the news is bad, it's nice to think of nice things. Be it the bonfire of a block of flats, the suicide of a sixteen year old girl, the stupidity of a hapless prime minister or the cowardice of urban terrorists - it's easy to get sick and tired of all the bad stuff. Better to think of nice things.

So I am going back to the many photographs I snapped last week up there on the North Yorkshire coast in order to find a bunch of random pictures to share with you. Nice pictures of nice things untainted by the bad stuff. Sometimes I wonder why I keep on tuning into the news. Invariably, it just fills us with despair.
Me with my family
Seagull at Redcar
England Coastal Path
On Saltburn Pier
Purple orchids on Easby Moor
Saltburn Pier