25 July 2016

Herd

Henry the Constructor
Yesterday I photographed three members of "The Herd of Sheffield" in The Botanical Gardens. The Herd consists of fifty eight fibreglass elephants, all individually decorated by artists. The elephants have been placed in various locations around the city and their ultimate purpose is to raise extra funds for The Sheffield Children's Hospital through sponsorship and other money raising ideas. I think it is a brilliant if slightly crazy project that brings some extra colour and fun into the urban landscape. No doubt I will be snapping more elephants in the weeks ahead. 
In It Together
Small Beginnings

24 July 2016

Biscuit

Who is that lying next to me on our sofa? Why it's Biscuit, the wire-haired Jack Russell. He's staying with us for a week while his owner is on holiday.

I have already taken him on several walks. Though he is small, he likes a good long walk and his little feet patter along as if in a film that has been speeded up. These walks have been characterised by an enormous amount of sniffing - not by me but by Biscuit. His world seems to be dominated by his sense of smell and often a careful halt for sniffing is followed by a squirt of urine. I guess he is marking territory covered. It pleases me enormously that as a male human being, I don't have to do this when walking city streets or country paths.

I don't know much about dogs because we have never owned one and growing up in my East Yorkshire village we only ever had Oscar, a tortoiseshell pussy cat who, in spite of the name, bore several litters of kittens. She died at the age of twenty, long after I had left home.

No I don't know much about dogs but I am learning. When out and about with Biscuit you have to be alert to the presence of other dogs. When Biscuit spots another member of the canine family he goes berserk, barking and straining on his lead with murderous intent. It doesn't matter how big the other creature is, Biscuit will have a go at it and if he wasn't on the lead, blood would certainly be spilt.

The rest of the time he is mild-mannered and lovable. He looks up at you with his soulful brown eyes and you have to guess what he is trying to say. Mostly it's "Get off your fat ass and let's go for another walk. I need to do some sniffing and leg cocking! Let's go buddy!" Soon I shall take him to The Botanical Gardens where three elephants are located from The Herd of Sheffield. He'll enjoy sniffing those big mothers.
Later on Sunday - Biscuit in The Botanical Gardens

23 July 2016

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Sometimes blogs go into hibernation. Weeks, months or maybe even years may pass before they wake up again. This is what has occurred in relation to "Demob Happy Teacher" by Jenny from Wrexham, North Wales. It is a blog I have visited for years so it is nice to discover that Jenny is back in the blogosphere again.

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22 July 2016

Education

In a recent afternoon  conversation around a patio table, the topic shifted to higher education. I said that there was a time when intelligent young people picked subjects they were interested in. They weren't so focused on the careers that would follow after their years in university. These remarks caused a ripple of chortling hilarity - as if I was implying that such choices had been dumb or self indulgent. In our wisdom we could surely all see that  higher education is principally about getting a good job in the end.

The others sitting round the table had misread me. I was in fact bewailing a general shift in perceptions about higher education. Nowadays it sometimes all seems to be about getting qualifications that lead directly to a good career and damn the intellectual interest value of it all. In contrast, I still believe in the love of study and passionate enquiry. Focusing upon a subject you're interested in instead of  calculating one's future financial status.

When our lovely daughter Frances Emily was thinking about university, she really didn't know what to do. She gained good A levels in English Literature, Theatre Studies, General Studies and Sociology but didn't want to continue along any of those routes. One day I threw into the mix the idea of American Studies and that seed took hold. She ended up completing a degree in American and Canadian Studies at The University of Birmingham. She enjoyed the course. It lifted her in various ways and in the end she came very close to achieving a first. She also got to spend two semesters in Birmingham, Alabama.

It was not about getting a good job. However, as it happens, she now has a good job - working on the twenty sixth floor of The Shard in London as part of a young team providing innovative software for recruitment agencies. A few months ago she questioned the usefulness of her years at university with the associated student debt but I pointed out that she had found the course stimulating. Besides, though not directly linked to her current role, her degree had honed her intellectual skills, bolstered her vocabulary and opened windows in her mind that allowed her to step into her present position.

Even today, it is possible to study subjects that fit your nature, things you are simply interested in without having to look too hard at the future. Higher education should not be mechanistic - just a means to an end. In my opinion, that now widespread perception goes against the grain of what education is meant to be and I find it rather sad. There is something quite noble and laudable about learning simply for the love it and as Socrates said, "kindling a flame".

20 July 2016

Wetton

"Ye Olde Royal Oak" in Wetton
Yesterday was the hottest day of the year but instead of locating the nearest air-conditioned building or sticking my head in our fridge, I opted for a long walk in the delightful Manifold Valley in Staffordshire. As Noel Coward sang, "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" and I didn't want to let the side down.

In Clint, my trusty South Korean chariot, I tootled over the hills to Bakewell and thence to Monyash and Hartington before arriving in the quaint village of Wetton where I parked up. I slathered exposed skin with "Nivea" sun protection, pulled on my little rucksack that sensibly contained two bottles of water, an apple and an orange and plonked my new sun hat on the Pudding bonce.
All Saints Church, Grindon
Before I continue, let me tell you about this hat. It was made for me by my lovely wife who is becoming something of a seamstress in her late middle age. To look at it you could not tell that it was homemade. In my life I have had very few hats - almost none - because my skull is so big that I can rarely find hats to fit me. How many times have I tried hats on - only to find them sitting precariously on my head as if simply balanced there? I am a freak of nature but it's all just bone - not brains.

I set off in search of Thor's Cave, high above the river valley. Archaeological evidence has revealed that this cave was visited by human beings from the beginning of human time on the island of Britain. Back in Victorian times, it was a popular tourist attraction as the small gauge Leek and Manifold railway ran parallel to the river. There was even a little station called "Thor's Cave".
Thor's Cave and the Geordie folk
When I got to the cave, four grown up people from Newcastle were there - demonstrating how difficult it was to get inside it. The entrance was a cascade of smooth limestone with no steps or ropes. It would have been very easy to fall but bravely your intrepid blogger followed the Geordie guineapigs and I did not fall. It was even harder getting out.

Then down to the river and along to Weag's Bridge with an arduous climb up to the village of Grindon. It was over thirty degrees centigrade and my shirt was so drenched in aromatic Pudding sweat that I could have easily wrung it out as I basked in the sun near All Saints Church, peeling my orange and glugging one of the bottles of  Adam's ale.
Dilapidated barn above Weag's Bridge
Then up and onwards to Ossam's Hill soon to experience fine views of Dale Farm and the limestone plug known as Sugarloaf. I descended to Wetton Mill where I purchased an ice cold can of Diet Coke for £1 which is 71pence more than an identical can cost me from Lidl in Sheffield. Bloody capitalists!

There followed a punishing walk up Wetton Hill where panting  sheep were sheltering from the sweltering sunshine in  the lee of drystone walls. Just a little further and then up to the skyline. There was a quarry where I guess that most of the stones that built Wetton were sourced long ago. I was looking forward to a pint of bitter shandy in "Ye Olde Royal Oak" but damn me when I got there I found the door was locked. I beat upon it screaming, "Let me in!" but no one came.
Cow sunbathing in Grindon
In the scrupulously clean village toilet block, I guzzled a gallon of water from the cold tap - like a camel that has just reached an oasis. To use a common colloquial expression, I was well and truly knackered after this hike - driving homewards nearly five hours after I had arrived. But it had been wonderful and in that tropical afternoon I was so glad to be alive and able to plod those beautiful country miles.
Dale Farm and Sugarloaf near Wetton Mill

18 July 2016

Willoughton

Back in the late fifties and early sixties, very few families owned cars. Though my East Yorkshire village had a population of just three hundred and fifty, there were several shops. Mrs Austwick had a little sweet shop, Mr Peers ran one of three grocery shops, Mr Lofthouse was the local butcher and Mrs Rosling ran the post office. People shopped locally in those days. They didn't drive to faraway hypermarkets to fill their boots with bulging carrier bags.

Nowadays, because of housing developments, my old village has a population of 2,500 but only one shop and there are more cars than you can count. Like villagers all over the country, people seem happy to travel several miles to buy their essentials. How things have changed.

Anyway, on Saturday I was walking in a rural part of Lincolnshire between Gainsborough and Lincoln. The walk took in four lovely and peaceful villages - Harpswell, Hemswell, Blyborough and Willoughton. Once their raison d'etre was agriculture and associated trades but today's inhabitants undoubtedly include a lot of "incoming" commuters and retirees.

It was a warm morning and by the time I reached Willoughton I was feeling quite thirsty. Magically, there before me, in the centre of the village, appeared Willoughton Post Office  with the family name "Moore" above the door. It was 12.20 but thankfully a notice about opening hours told me that it closed at 12.30 on Saturdays.

I pressed the brass latch on the door and went inside. It was like stepping back in time. Back to the very early sixties. In front of me was the glass-fronted post office section and to the  left and right wooden counters with shelves behind. The air was filled with a potpourri of aromas - bacon and stationery, cheese and furniture polish. A bell had rung when I opened the door and a timid woman in a floral apron soon appeared from the living area behind the shop.

She seemed wary of me - a six foot stranger in size eleven boots with tousled hair and a camera - as if she expected a hold-up or something. She had no fresh milk and no sandwiches so I grabbed a "Mars" bar and asked if she had any cans of pop. Warily, she put her hand in the chiller cabinet and pulled out a lone can of "Diet Coke". Who had she been saving it for?

Willoughton is well off the beaten track and I can't see that post office and general store being open much longer. It is a wonder that it has survived for so long. Once it would have been a bustling, vital facility with the bell above the door ringing regularly but now it has the air of a museum about it - like a window into a very different England  - one that evaporated many years back. 

16 July 2016

Killing

Mosquito squished on a  ceiling
Yesterday, I noticed a baby earwig on the tiled windowsill in our bathroom as I was having my morning shower. I got a piece of toilet paper and tempted her to climb aboard then very carefully put her outside. This morning a tiny spider was hanging from a gossamer thread, dangling below the showerhead. I moved him out through the window before I pressed the "on" button. It would have been awful if he had been washed down the plughole.

You see, I don't like killing any living creatures and try to avoid doing so. However, I must hold my hands up and admit that I do reluctantly kill garden slugs with slug pellets and when we were in Greece recently I killed a dozen mosquitoes that had found their way into our hotel room. My weapon of choice was a damp towel tied into a ball at the end which I fired at the ceiling with a deft yank of my wrist. It's okay - they would have felt nothing. It was all over quickly.

Like a Buddhist, I respect other living creatures and I would never kill a wasp or a even a fly. I am more likely to marvel at their flying skills and applaud their ability to  survive. 

As an omnivore I of course eat meat and fish but if I had to kill the unfortunate creatures that die for supermarkets or butchers' fridges I would probably walk away and become a vegetarian. I really do not like killing. The thought of it sickens me.
In Nice on Thursday night
And there is no way, no way at all that I could ever drive a heavy truck along a French promenade crowded with pedestrians. And carrying several deadly weapons, I could not blunder into a Florida nightclub frequented by gay people  -  intent on human slaughter. And I could not venture into the corridors of a Scottish primary school determined to kill other people's children with bullets or aim a crowded jet at a skyscraper or fire at holidaymakers on a Tunisian beach.

I would be held back by unbreakable but invisible reins, respecting the otherness of other human beings, sensing their fragility, their hopes and their dreams - knowing that they were all a bit like me and that our time on this earth is so precious and magical and brief. There's no cause, religious or otherwise that could ever turn me into an assassin of the innocent. And for this reason I am unable to project my thinking into the minds of the cowardly  killers who have been making the news this year - week in and week out. So much cruel and pointless slaughter. 

What kind of  beings are the perpetrators? Surely they are not human beings like you and me. They can't be. If it is wrong to kill a tiny spider hanging from a showerhead, it must be wrong to kill a complete stranger - someone you have never met who has never done you any harm. A son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a mother, a father, a husband, a wife, a friend - someone with stars in their eyes and hopes in their heart. The targets are not mosquitoes on a ceiling. They are unique people. They should be left alone and allowed to live, to see another dawn, another full moon. Nobody has  reason or right to slaughter them. No one.
Peace & Love