5 October 2015


"The Nag's Head" on Camberwell Road
Sunday morning in The London Jungle. By a rundown shopping parade on Camberwell Road, a tall black man in a loose tracksuit is listening to music from his mobile phone. He is leaning on a wall and there is nobody else around. As I approach I realise that he is singing along to the beat and as I pass by him I hear his monotonous and desperate lyric - "Too much pressure. Too much pressure. Too much pressure."

It seems like an anthem for London. Beyond him, I notice that the sign above the launderette is missing its "d" so it reads "LAUN ERETTE" like the name of some forgotten minor film actor. Perhaps she had a role in a film titled "Too Much Pressure" about romance on a runaway steam train.

Behind her and Singhs' grocery shop and the Asante Barbers and the William Hill Betting Shop is a grim postwar housing estate in which the blocks are all named after English poets - Pope and Keats and Marvell for example. Most of the tenants are first or second generation immigrants like the "too much pressure" man. I wonder briefly if any residents have even a little cognisance of the poetry crafted by these long departed men whose names always appear on their humble addresses. I also wonder how Andrew Marvell - from East Yorkshire - might have felt to see his name on such a sad residential block in the heart of South London. What an accolade!
There are always sirens. Mostly ambulances heading for Kings College Hospital at Denmark Hill. I watch as two ambulance women unload an elderly patient. She is on a stretcher, old and frail. Her hair is white and unkempt. A bony arm - the colour of wallpaper paste - extends from the blanket. She sees me through the railing, our lives colliding for a fragment of time and we make thin smiles. She is not long for this world.

Ahead, another "too much pressure" man from another continent is arguing the toss outside A&E with three security guards and two police officers who are trying desperately not to arrest the incandescent fellow. He won't depart easily and I really cannot understand his beef but he has probably kicked off inside the hospital and has just been escorted out. Why can't he just go away? He could be mentally impaired.

There's an information sign by Camberwell Green. It tells readers that the green was in existence as early as 1245 AD when Camberwell was an agricultural village to the south of London which would then have had a meagre population of some 25,000 souls. So the green has endured for a thousand years as London has grown monstrously, devouring the small communities that once surrounded it.. I see someone sleeping on a bench there. Hood up. Can of cider on the pavement below. It was eleven o'clock in the morning.
By Camberwell Green
By our daughter's flat which is in a block not dissimilar to Marvell House or Keats House, I notice two Polish men taking photos with their camera phones. What have they seen? At the corner, close to the recycling bins,  is a healthy looking London rat. Not one of those that spouts verbiage in The Houses of Parliament or writes rubbish for "The Daily Mail" but a furry brown rat with a pink tail. He is preening himself quite brazenly and he is the size of a wild rabbit. Almost fearlessly, he takes his time to amble away in search of yet more delicious human detritus.

We exited The London Jungle via London Bridge, The Bank of England and The Angel, Islington. Riding high above the city in our "uprade" hire vehicle, I was white van man for the weekend. The sign at the start of the motorway said "M1 - The North", like the star that guided those kings to Bethlehem.
The Peabody Estate, Camberwell Green
Frances's flat is on the ground floor.
By the entrance to Camberwell
College of Arts on Peckham Road

"The Nag's Head" again with a Southwark Council rubbish sack
When I have fears that I may cease to be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

By John Keats
(1795 - 1821)

1 October 2015


As I wish to avoid a beating from the blogosphere's headmistress - Madam Lee of Tamborine Mountain - I just need to say that I will probably be "off air" for the next three or four days. Later this morning I will be picking up a hire van then driving down to Birmingham with the wife riding shotgun. We will stay in England's second city overnight to help our darling daughter to clean and vacate her flat before moving down to England's only jungle on Friday afternoon.

The jungle is called London - a vast and somewhat higgledy piggledy urban sprawl where everybody else knows where they are going as I no doubt suffer stressful palpitations just trying to edge into the correct lane. I have never been to Camberwell Green before. I am nervous in case I have to stop to ask native Londoners for directions. It is well known that they are quite aggressive and most unlike we friendly, helpful Yorkshire folk. 

It is easy to get lost forever in jungles so this might be my last post...

30 September 2015


Young men are often portrayed as sexual predators. In relationships with young women, they are apparently only after "one thing".  Drunken, leering louts, laughing about their conquests and using rude or sexist words to describe women - that's young men. Or is it?

Yesterday, I walked into the city centre to watch "Everest" at The Showroom Cinema. Just before I got there a young man came alongside me and I noticed that he was carrying a bunch of roses. He asked me the time and I told him twelve thirty.

We walked a few steps further on and cheekily, indicating the flowers, I said to him, "It's not Valentine's Day you know!"

"I know but I've got a date in Doncaster. It's our first date. I'm off to catch the train," he said.

"Is it a blind date?"

"No. I've known her a long time but only as a friend. This is different and to tell you the truth mate, I'm a bit nervous!"

"Well I hope it goes well. The fact you already know her should help. You never know, she could be Miss Right!"

"I hope so."

"Good luck!"

And I watched him scurrying onwards to the railway station, roses clasped in his right hand and the hope of love in his heart. He did not fit the caricature of a loutish sexual predator. He was vulnerable, unfulfilled and he was seeking happiness through the magic of a loving relationship. It was a morning that promised so much for him  - if she felt the same. And I do believe that that is how most young men really are.

"Everest" was a stunning film that gives the onlooker a breathtaking sense of the size, rugged  geology and inhospitable weather of that mighty mountain. It also touches upon some of the reasons that drive climbers to tackle it despite the dangers it presents. I have always liked films like "Everest" - about adventure and human beings in challenging situations - cinematic interpretations of real life stories. In contrast, I happily admit that I have never seen or wanted to see any James Bond film nor any "Star Wars" film either. Just not my cups of tea. 

29 September 2015


Paths off Hallgate Lane, Pilsley
Sometimes, when I am out and about, rambling along less trodden paths in less salubrious places, I feel a bit like an explorer of yore -  a latter day David Livingstone. But I am not bringing religion to the natives - nor coloured beads or mirrors, I am just looking to record what I see with my trusty digital camera - far quicker than a sketchbook.

Last Friday, I was back  in an area where tourists or "Berghaus" ramblers with flasks and compasses never tread - North East Derbyshire. For a hundred years this was a grim area of mining villages and smoky coking plants, railways and humble terraced homes even though all of that was layered upon a much older rural history. Now you could say that it is almost post-industrial. The mines have gone and the coking plants are wastelands.

I parked in North Wingfield opposite the  "I (Heart Shape) Hair" Salon, then set off on The Five Pits Trail to Wolfie Pond before looping back to the Chesterfield road where I confess that I purchased a small bag of chips from The North Wingfield Fisheries. Delicious and golden they were too  and so  I consumed them with greedy relish before advancing to Station Road.

Jungle drums were beating deep in the forest and the mosquitoes were like miniature Spitfires attacking exposed parts of my bodily temple as prehistoric crocodiles slid into the steamy River Rother. But I carried on determined to claim this ungodly land for Queen and Empire.

Soon I was in the dark heart of Danesmoor where I saw a visual poem of our times. On one side of the street, the old Bethel Chapel was being converted into a residential property and on the other side the presumably once popular "Parkhouse" pub was little more than a burnt out shell. Possibly an insurance job. That is how it is these days. Old ways are being buried under mountains of passing weeks and years. Perhaps it was always thus.

Then on to Hallgate Lane and Lower Pilsley. To Seanor Farm where I surprised a nervous heron in the farm pond and then over the fields and back to the car in North Wingfield. Fortunately, the native North Derbyshire-ites hadn't torched it and I was able to drive back to civilisation, like James Cook aboard "The Endeavour" after his first visit to New Zealand.

More proof that I was there:-
Wolfie Pond
Chesterfield Road, North Wingfield
Industrial wasteland between Danesmoor and North Wingfield
Impressive St Lawrence's Church, North Wingfield
Wary heron at Seanor Farm
Ode to Danesmoor. The visual poem of our times in Danesmoor - chapel being 
converted into a dwelling and the burnt out "Parkhouse" pub.

28 September 2015


Some words are pleasing to utter. They can have a mysterious or magical quality. Not so long ago I reflected on the word "hinterland" but now I am down by the sea. Yesterday, while listening to the radio, I was reminded of a lovely marine word - "spindrift". "Spindrift" is the foam that is whipped off the crests of waves during a gale. Though the word seems rather calm and homely, "spindrift" only occurs when the weather is wild and angry.

While mooching along the beach you may come across "flotsam and jetsam" - two more pleasant-sounding marine words. "Flotsam" is floating things lost from a boat but "jetsam" is stuff that was deliberately cast overboard or jettisoned into the sea. Every piece of flotsam and jetsam has a tale to tell even though it is further evidence of man's careless relationship with The Earth and its seas. Of course before ocean trade began there was no flotsam or jetsam. The terms are fairly modern - probably dating back to the seventeenth century.

Where the sea meets the land there is very often a strip of seashore that seems to belong neither to land or sea. Here there are strange seaside plants and perhaps nesting birds, pieces of driftwood and shells. Sometimes, in stormy weather, the sea may attempt to claim it just as land plants try to encroach upon  it in the growing season. This area is known as "the littoral". I love that word - "littoral" - never fixed, always subject to change - between the land and the sea. Haven't we all walked along "the littoral", humming songs or thinking secret thoughts poking around amidst the pebbles, the driftwood and those spiky maritime plants?

And thinking of maritime plants with their various names - sweet vernal grass, sea cabbage, blackthorn and lizard orchids for example - you might come across "samphire" - another pleasant word to say. "Samphire" is an edible seaside plant that belongs to the parsley family and is sometimes referred to as "sea asparagus". Curiously, around the Dee estuary in Cheshire and North Wales it is often called "sampkin" but I like the word "samphire".

It is the kind of word that belongs in a poem, along with "spindrift". "flotsam and jetsam" and "littoral" - perhaps a poem that focuses mostly upon word sounds rather than intellectual probing or philosophical suggestion that aims to "plumb the depths". Sometimes, you only want the sound of words, like healing music in your head.

27 September 2015


Yesterday I drove over to Hull to watch my beloved Tigers draw 1-1 with Blackburn Rovers. Before the match I was to have lunch with my old friend Tony in Beverley but I set off early in order to feed my photo-taking  addiction with a detour to the villages of Cherry Burton, Bishop Burton and Beverley Westwood which is an area of ancient common land to the west of the town. Here are three photos from that detour:-
Barn conversion home in Cherry Burton
Bishop Burton village pond
Beverley Westwood
Then on to Tony's  house for delicious sausage sandwiches and talk about his recent rather difficult and costly divorce. We set off for Hull at one thirty and parked in the  rooftop car park at St Stephen's shopping centre before strolling to our temple, our mosque, our Lourdes - the home of The Tigers - The KC Stadium. In the end it was a frustrating match for us. Our lads were not firing on all cylinders and there was a shared feeling round the ground that we had let Blackburn off the hook.

On the way home I took another detour to St Andrew's Quay by the mighty River Humber. I was hoping to get pictures of the evening sky framed above The Humber Bridge which was once the longest suspension bridge in the world. In a way the angle was wrong for the sun was sinking far to the right of the bridge. Even so, here are two pictures:-
Someone was sailing on the river in the evening light. I turned to compose the following picture before heading home to watch England lose narrowly to Wales in the Rugby World Cup on TV of course:-
P.S. Our lovely daughter Frances reached her twenty seventh birthday yesterday. Next weekend she is moving cities - from Birmingham to London and Shirley and I will be hiring a van to help the transition.

24 September 2015


WINTERKORN I must insist that the following agenda item remains top secret. If the matters that are to be revealed should leak into the public domain, it would surely cause tremendous damage to the reputation of our company. Now over to Helmut whose software team, I am sure you will agree has come up with an ingenious solution to the American emissions issue!
(Guffawing laughter from the rest of the board)
SCHWEIN Damned Americans!
HELMUT  Gentlemen. If you study the papers I have placed in front of you you will see that we have found a way of doctoring the onboard software so that emissions outputs during official testing will appear to be four times lower than in normal driving conditions.
SCHWEIN You beautiful man Helmut! You mean it's roughly the same process that we have been employing in Europe since emissions testing began?
HELMUT Precisely but with a little tweaking.
WINTERKORN With the cleverly depressed emissions results our green credentials will not be impaired and we can bolster sales across North America just as we did in The European Union and Asia.
ENGEL But what about the hidden impact on the environment and on people's health in urban areas!
SCHWEIN Don't be such a softie Engel! This is business my friend. Besides the relationship between diesel emissions and respiratory difficulties is not entirely proven. 
WINTERKORN I agree with Herr Schwein. It is essential that we develop strategies that defeat the march of dimwitted environmentalists and the governments that have been drawn in by their absurd propaganda!
SCHWEIN I propose that we move forward immediately with Helmut's ideas if we are going to advance sales to the next level.
WINTERKORN All in favour say "ja".
WINTERKORN Now before I draw this meeting to a close gentlemen and err... Frau Sexkätzchen , can we rise to sing the company song
For mighty Volkswagen
Let's all raise a flagon
Das Auto! Das Auto!
The People's Car!
And they say that crime doesn't pay!