19 June 2018


In the limestone country of the High Peak, the main road from Stoney Middleton soon brings you to the hamlet of Wardlow Mires. There is a very old pub there. It is called "The Three Stags' Heads Inn".

Nowadays it is only open to customers at weekends. I have driven or walked past it a hundred times or more but I had never been inside it until Sunday afternoon.

I pushed open the old wooden door to find a roaring log fire burning in an old-fashioned kitchen range. Seven people were sitting in the small room on  a variety of seats and ahead of me was a small wooden bar with  three beer pumps on the counter. Two bright-eyed whippets and a wire-haired Jack Russell  were also present.

I ordered half a pint of "Daily Bread" and turned to observe my fellow customers more closely.  They clearly knew each other and seemed a little surprised that a stranger had entered their midst.

An old man with long white hair and an unkempt white beard had a copy of "The Sunday Times" open on his lap. He was siting in an ancient Windsor chair with spindles. Across from him was another bearded man in a black T-shirt. These words were printed on the front of it - "Not Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting". Sitting next to him was his missus in a red anorak. 

A ruddy-faced local man was  comfortably settled into  his corner seat and on the window seat was the owner of the Jack Russell. His thin-haired companion tried to convince me that the dog owner was Ronan Keating of Boyzone fame but it was just a joke. 

There was a second room on the other side of the fire, A few more customers were drinking in there and there were two stuffed foxes. This was the very opposite of a designer pub. The yard thick walls were painted dark green and there were old pictures of peakland scenes upon the walls.
Returning to the first room, there was a curious stuffed hare in the window. He was on his hind legs and holding a small rifle. Behind the ruddy-faced man in that dark corner there was a glass case containing a mummified cat. I was informed that it had been discovered in a wall cavity during  repair work in Victorian times. It is believed that the cat had been placed in the wall to ward off evil spirits when the pub was built at the start of the seventeenth century.

I was only inside "The Three Stags' Heads Inn" for ten minutes but in that short time I had spoken to everyone in the bar room and learnt a good deal about the history of the  pub. It would have been nice to buy another beer and blend in with the locals, whiling away the rest of the afternoon but I had to get back to the wedding venue search party.
The mummified cat

18 June 2018


Hargate Hall - just one of the wedding venues we visited. There's Clint on the left.
This weekend we were looking at possible wedding venues foe Frances and Stew. We visited ten locations and connected with every one there were both pluses and minuses.

At one end of the spectrum there was a luxurious country hotel with magnificent views. The "package" on offer was complete so that the happy couple would have been relieved of all wedding reception planning concerns. It would have all been done for them.

At the other end of the spectrum there was a rather dog-eared community work centre. It looked pretty good on the website with a silver Rolls Royce motor car parked outside the Georgian building but the reality was rather different.

Seeing the different venues with their pros and cons and costings helped Frances and Stew visualise the kind of wedding celebrations they would really like.

They plan to get married in a church - partly out of respect for Stew's father who is a vicar in The Church of England. Then they want the reception to have a personalised, laid back quality with accommodation on site. We were worried about the prospect of renting a marquee, given both the cost of  it and anxiety about the vagaries of our weather.

We have a coarse expression in the north of England  - "taking the piss". It is often applied in situations where companies or individuals seek to exploit or "rip off" their prey. In the world of wedding venues it appears that "taking the piss" is widespread.

For example, at one venue they said they charged £16 per bottle "corkage" if the happy couple wished to provide their own wine! At other venues the "corkage" ranged from £6 per bottle to £12. What an unmitigated rip off! Clearly a device designed to discourage families from providing their own wine and instead pay over the odds for the venue's own wine bottles.

At one of the venues they talked about evening food provision long after the wedding breakfast. The cost of one roast pork sandwich would have been £21 ($28 US). With a hundred wedding guests the roast pork sandwich bill alone would have been £2100. Now that really is "taking the piss".

Anyway, I learnt many things I did not know about wedding venues - a whole new world to me. When Shirley and I got married in 1981 it was all so much more simple. There were hardly any decisions to be made. Here's the church. Here's the pub. Here's the buffet menu. Here's the bill. It was just like that. Now it's very different.

Thankfully, in the end, the happy couple returned to London having reserved a place in The Peak District. Hopefully, all will be well at this chosen venue in late August of next year and hopefully the father of the bride will still be around to make a coherent, funny and heartfelt speech.

17 June 2018


When I was a lad nobody went running or jogging. There were no training shoes and no one had ever heard of  sports brands like "Adidas", "Nike" or "Reebok". If such companies did exist we had never heard of them and nobody sprinted past in day-glo coloured lycra.

However, most secondary schools organised cross country runs that took place on bitterly cold mornings in late autumn. On our feet we wore football boots or canvas shoes that were known as plimsolls or sandshoes. They were especially water absorbent.

I detested cross country runs even though I was a keen rugby player. As  a rugby wing forward or hooker, the running was all about short bursts followed by little rests - not arduous and continuous forays through mud past leafless hawthorn hedgerows up around The Black Mill on Beverley Westwood. My lungs threatened to  burst through my rib cage. It was torture.

As a teenage schoolboy I had to travel by bus into Hull or Beverley every morning. Many of those mornings saw me sprinting two hundred yards down to the village  bus stop. There was never any time to spare. Nowadays I would never run for a bus. Apart from anything else I would be anxious about damaging my troublesome right knee and returning to square one in The Game of Pain.

No. I don't run anywhere these days. I just plod around like an Asian elephant upon a jungle track. But I notice so many runners around me - flashing by in the park or overtaking me on country lanes. There are runners everywhere. It's like an epidemic of running. Tight outfits, ear phones, plastic water bottles, face-hugging sun glasses and electronic wrist monitors that they stop to check out every mile or so.

Somewhat grudgingly, I guess I should say it's a very good thing. More people keeping their bodies in shape, keeping their hearts pounding, burning off extra calories. It's surely better than watching "Love Island" on the television while munching slices of pizza. However, if the running fashion had been around in my younger days, I very much doubt that I would have subscribed. Orange lycra simply does not suit me.

16 June 2018


There's too much hero worshipping in this world. Often I have eschewed the very idea of heroes. It's the man or the woman in the street that I admire the most - decent people who forge decent lives in obscurity - pay bills, put food on the table, get up and go to work day after day after day. They are the real heroes, fighting the good fight.

Nonetheless, there are a few well-known people that I genuinely admire for different reasons. Dead heroes of mine include Captain James Cook, the Yorkshire mariner and explorer and Emily Bronte the Yorkshire writer who died far too young in 1848 at the tender age of thirty. Who knows what she would have achieved if she had lived a ,long and healthy life?

My living heroes include Bob Dylan, David Hockney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Amy Goodman  and Chris Packham.
Top - Chris Packham, Bob Dylan, Amy Goodman
Middle - Cristiano Ronaldo, Emily Bronte
Bottom - James Cook, David Hockney
I once saw the words "Dylan is God" written on a lavatory wall and I am inclined to agree with that summary. As an artist Yorkshire-born Hockney has never stopped growing, innovating, experimenting  and he doesn't give a fig about what critics might say for he is true to his Art.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal is simply the greatest ever footballer and I thought this long before he scored his hat trick against Spain in The World Cup yesterday evening. He is blessed with natural talent and the kind of self-belief that borders on pure arrogance.

Amy Goodman is the heart and soul of "Democracy Now" an American  news organisation that  illuminates social and political issues which other news organisations tend to blot out for all manner of reasons. She is dignified and persistent in her mission - pushing for justice and better understanding day after day.

Finally, there's Chris Packham - an English writer and TV broadcaster who specialises in programmes about wildlife - especially birds. His passion is infectious and he has fought many battles against the forces that threaten wildlife. He was even arrested in Malta for protesting about men who shoot precious migrating birds for no good reason in the name of sport.

Who are your well-known heroes and why?

15 June 2018


Letter to Haringey Council in London
May 2nd 2018

Re, PCN Number HP85049555
Dear Sir/Madam,
On Thursday April 19th, my wife and I drove down to Wood Green and parked close to our daughter’s flat. She moved into Disraeli Avenue just last month. A few days before our visit she had posted us a parking permit.
She was at work when we arrived and the idea was that we would park our car and then travel into the centre of London by tube in order to attend a family event in Borough  Market
Believing that the permit she had sent us would cover our parking right up to 6.30pm I was startled to note that it was in fact a two hour permit and not an all day permit. Exasperated, my wife and I were talking about the matter when another motorist appeared having overheard some of our conversation.
Very kindly – or so we thought – he offered us his own all day permit which I think he must have used earlier that day. It was such a relief and we left this permit on our dashboard before heading to Wood Green underground station.
We were astonished when, that night,  we discovered a parking ticket on our windscreen. Straight away I deduced that I should not have accepted the other motorist’s kind offer
I am enclosing a letter written by my daughter confirming that we were visiting her – a resident of  Disraeli Avenue.
I hope you will be able to show some compassion and in this instance, having heard about the circumstances consider waiving the parking fine. Up here in Sheffield all parking permits for visitors are for a full day and never just an hour or two hours. That factor also partly explains our mistake.
Yours sincerely,

Yorkshire Pudding

Letter from Haringey Council received yesterday morning

Consequently I do not have to pay the threatened £110 pound fine. Hurrah! And I can place Haringey Council's response in my "V for Victory" files - alongside successes achieved in battles with Georgia State Police (Monroe County), Florida State Police (Franklin County), New Zealand Police (Greymouth) and the  Xercise-4-Less gym in Sheffield. I put all of these victories down to the power of the written word. A well-composed letter can still speak powerfully in one's defence.

14 June 2018


Unusually,  I could not sleep so I crept downstairs to make a mug of tea. A couple of McVities ginger nut biscuits would have been a welcome accompaniment but there were none in the cupboard so I made do with a bag of Smith's plain crisps instead.

For the past forty minutes I was looking for suitable holiday accommodation for Baroness Pudding and I. We hope to go away at the start of next month - somewhere on this island - but why is everything so expensive? Hell, for less than the price of most of these places we flew to Corfu last month and had breakfasts and evening meals too. Living inland we would naturally like to be beside the sea.

It's what they call a first world problem.

Yesterday afternoon, my manager at Oxfam - Catherine - shared a heart-warming tale. Her son came over from Manchester last weekend and he spotted her "Bosh!" book on the coffee table. He recognised our Ian's name from primary school and he told his mother that once he was playing in the corner of the playground when some other boys of his age were giving him a hard time - teasing and bullying as little boys will sometimes do. 

Some older boys were playing football but when he saw what was happening in the corner, one of the footballers came over and intervened - telling the little bullies to behave themselves and to treat Catherine's son with kindness. That boy was our Ian. Catherine's son said that that simple act of kindness had been imprinted her son's mind forever. This incident must have happened almost twenty five years ago. 

The story was so precious and I am very happy that Catherine shared it with me. When Ian next picks up his dumb smartphone I will of course relate the story to him too.

Sleepless in Seattle Sheffield... It's moving on to 3 a.m.. I wonder if I will be able to sleep now. What do you do if you cannot sleep?

13 June 2018


"Virgin territory" - that's how I describe areas where I have not walked or taken pictures for the "Geograph" photo mapping project. These days to reach virgin territory I need to travel far from Sheffield.

And that's how it was on Monday morning. There was a strong possibility of rain showers east, south and north of the city so I headed west. Out across The Peak District towards the High Peak town of Buxton. I aimed to park in the village of Harpur Hill which came into being because of limestone quarrying in the surrounding hills. This utilitarian place sits just north of the national park boundary. Beyond that line almost all quarrying activity is prohibited.

At 11 am my boots were tied and I was off on an eight mile ramble. Up to Countess Cliff Farm and then along a track where I met two men - a father and son who were in the process of shearing a section of their flock. I stopped for a while to talk and they were happy to let me snap a few pictures.

"What's it like in that theer Sheffield then?" asked the younger man as he yanked an uncomplaining ewe into the shearing position. 
They had lived their entire lives up there surrounded by sheep pastures and limestone workings. While I was mustering awkward adolescents in classrooms they were repairing drystone walls and watching the weather - assisting the lambing process while I marked exercise books at two in the morning. Different lives.
Onwards to the now disused Stanley Moor Reservoir and then on to Turncliff and Thirkelow. It seems that I was in fact circling a big government installation - The Health and Safety Executive Campus where there are laboratories and testing sites for all manner of things and events such as train crashes and explosions. 

Then I turned up to the lane that leads to Earl Sterndale. I passed Buxton Raceway - located on the bleak limestone plateau. It's here that speedway meets happen throughout the summer. The stadium is home to The Buxton Hitmen. Their next home fixture is versus Birmingham Brummies on July 8th.
Ticket booth at Buxton Speedway Track
I plodded on towards Hillhead Quarry. There were two parked cars  on the grassy slopes above. Wives of retirement age were sitting in deck chairs chatting while their boyish husbands flew whining model aeroplanes over the landscape.

Then on to Stalker Hill and under a disused railway track on the way back down to Harpur Hill where I stopped at the "News Food and Wine" village store for a pint of milk and a cheese and onion sandwich - all quickly consumed while sitting on a wooden bench outside "Harpur Plaice" fish and chip shop. Clint was waiting patiently for my return.
On our way home I stopped on the outskirts of the delightful peakland village of Chelmorton to take a picture of Chelmorton Low where an England football supporter has arranged the  name of our country in limestone rocks upon the green sward. England play their first game against Tunisia next Monday evening at The Volograd Arena. Come on England! Come on!