24 February 2017


"Manchester by the Sea". What a wonderful film! Shirley and I went to see it as Storm Doris was arriving from the west. It was nice to be sitting snugly in a dark cinema as Kenneth Lonergan's masterpiece unfolded upon the silver screen and bad weather marauded outside.

The cinematography and the varied musical soundtrack were both brilliant - enhancing a painful story of loss and recovery. The central character is Lee Chandler played by Casey Affleck who bears a weight of sorrow. He had escaped Manchester to get a humble job as a janitor and handyman in a Boston apartment block. But initially the audience has no idea what brought him to this juncture. It takes a while for this to be revealed.

He is called back to Manchester by the Sea following the sudden death of his older brother, Joe. To Lee Chandler's horror his brother had  chosen him to be the guardian of his nephew - sixteen year old Patrick played by Lucas Hedges. Gradually learning to embrace this responsibility, Lee begins to claw his way out of the emotional hollow in which he has been residing.

Kenneth Lonergan has a short cameo role - rather like Alfred Hitchcock. He witnesses Chandler berating his nephew in the street and grumbles under his breath, "great parenting!" which causes Chandler to fly off the handle again.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away in case you get to see the film yourself. Suffice to say that as we emerged from the darkness of Screen Two, we encountered a couple we know and I was asked how I would score "Manchester by the Sea" out of ten. I replied, "Nine and a half" but on reflection perhaps I should have said ten. 

Casey Affleck added subtle depths to his troubled role. He was often brooding, angry, self-absorbed, guilty or  wounded - endowing the role of Lee Chandler with human vulnerability and confusion. If he doesn't win the "best actor" award at this weekend's Oscars then something is terribly amiss.

23 February 2017


The title of this blogpost should be "Red Deer" but that would involve two words and since I embarked upon this blogging journey, I have only ever used one word titles. Anyway - Red Deer - not the four-legged creatures that roam about the Scottish Highlands but a town in the middle of the Canadian province of Alberta. Currently it has a population of just over 100,000 but back in 1901 when it was first given township status, it only had a population of 323.

The present citizenship mostly consists of white folk of European extraction (88.4%) and the next significant group are Métis people - descendants of First Nation inhabitants who mixed with the original white settlers (3.1%).

In just over a hundred years, Red Deer has established itself as the third most significant city in Alberta - after Calgary and Edmonton. It's amazing to think that such a short time ago it was little more than a river crossing. Now it has fifty schools, shopping centres, parks and industries as well as modern homes often set in spacious grounds. With all the greenery and trees you might say that Red Deer has evolved into a beautiful garden city.

Last week, I climbed aboard the Google Streetview car to cruise around Oldham, Lancashire but this week I am off to Red Deer to see what we can see in six equally random pictures snipped from Google imagery...
Red Deer Golf and Country Club
Red Deer River
Red Deer City Hall
Exclusive Spencer Street in the southern suburbs
The Riverside Meadows area - often seen as the toughest neighbourhood of Red Deer.
And finally The Club Cafe with its attached massage parlour. This 
is known to be very popular with senior male members of the local 
birdwatching fraternity... including Red from "Hiawatha House".

22 February 2017


LATER NOTE: Usually a poem should speak to its readers without explanation but with regard to "Poor Tree" I have something to say. The other day, in an idle moment, I realised that the term "poetry" sounds just the same as "poor tree". Why it had taken me sixty years to reach this realisation, I have no idea. 

And then I thought about the toughness of solitary moorland trees - windblown and exposed, perhaps as poetry should sometimes be. Seeking truth, seeing the world clearly, selecting the right words - all of this requires a certain hardiness - like the tree clinging on to the hill.

I could claim that this elusive poem has nothing much to do with trees. It's really about poetry and the quest for truth and understanding. In this, the tree becomes merely a metaphor for tenacity - something that endures "when all is lost".

For the illustration, I remembered a tree I had photographed in October 2013, by a track that leads up from Shireoaks Farm near Malcoff in The Peak District. It seemed to possess the character of poetry - a "poor tree" on the edge.

21 February 2017


We are thinking of visiting The Isle of Anglesey in April. We have only ever driven across it to get to the ferry port at Holyhead but have never properly visited it. Last night I was looking for accommodation - sifting through a whole bunch of listings. 

Of course, the owners want to "big up" their properties, making them seem desirable and worth booking. They often use positive, flowery language for describing both the accommodation and the surrounding area. Here was one example. I have emboldened the subtly impactful descriptive vocabulary:-

The rural village of Llanddaniel Fab is ideally situated just 2 miles from the beautiful Menai Straits, on the south coast of the delightful Isle of Anglesey, and provides a local shop and an all weather, 9 hole golf course. Discover the magnificent Llanddwyn Beach, 3 miles of golden sands boasting stunning walks and striking views across the glistening sea toward the Welsh Mountains, or explore the fascinating National Nature Reserve, renowned for its colourful birdlife, whispering forest and huge sweep of marshes and dunes. The National Trust's Plas Newydd country house and gardens is a short drive and well worth a visit.The whole of the island boasts superb watersports, fishing, diving and walking opportunities. A wonderful location for a varied and enjoyable holiday.

Just for fun, I have written an alternative, downbeat version of this blurb...

The isolated settlement of Llanddaniel Fab is located two miles from the dangerous Menai Straits. on the rocky coast of the impoverished Island of Anglesey and only has a basic local shop and a small golf course that some desperate golfers even tackle in the rain. Relieve the tedium by trudging to litter-strewn Llanddwyn Beach, three miles of monotonous sand that furtive dog owners plod along sometimes looking across the grey Irish Sea towards the equally grey and cloudy Welsh hills, or instead you might want to go to the mildly interesting National Nature Reserve, where bird spotters in khaki anoraks scribble sightings of common birds in old notebooks and where there's an impenetrable pine plantation and a large area of boggy ground with windswept sand dunes. The National Trust's expensive Plas Newydd estate house and grounds is several miles away and something to do if you can't think of anything else. At a few places on the coast of the island you can pay through the nose for watersport activities in the freezing sea. There's also fishing - but don't expect to catch anything, diving - but you won't see anything and of course long, tiring walks. A satisfactory place to go for a budget break.

But that was just an exercise. I think we'll still be going to Anglesey and have failed to persuade myself otherwise.
North Wales

20 February 2017


I wanted to begin this post with the following sentence - Last night I went to Timbuctu - but unfortunately Google Streetview vehicles have not yet been there. So instead I am going to begin this travel post with...

Last night I went to Oldham, Lancashire. Why Oldham, Lancashire? Because last year it was deemed to be the most deprived town in England. There may be other, more deprived communities such as Moorends in Yorkshire or Jaywick in Essex but as a whole borough or town, Oldham comes out on top... or bottom, how ever you might want to look at it.

My grandmother was first married in Oldham and I have been to Oldham Athletic's football ground to watch Hull City play. I also have a good friend who hails from Oldham but really I don't know the place at all. 

In the nineteenth century, it became the most productive cotton spinning town in the world but today its textile industry has more or less died away. It sits just to the north of Manchester, home to 100,000 people, 27% of whom are officially classified as "Asian" which is a direct legacy of the town's historic  textile industries.

In 1900 it had the largest concentration of fish and chip shops in the world - one for every four hundred people and as we all know the tubular bandage was invented and developed in Oldham - a "vital contribution to advancing medical science".

But that's enough factual background. Let's have a look at six random picture of Oldham. Can we see visible evidence of the town's deprivation?
Afghan Strret with nineteenth century terraces to the left and
new social housing to the right.
 "The Egerton Arms" and Egerton Estate in the St Mary's area of the town below. This is believed to be the poorest neighbourhood in Oldham with 88.4% of residents claiming at least one kind of welfare benefit.
Regency Close near Werneth Park - an area of aspiration and relative affluence.
On Yorkshire Street I spotted the Tymbuktu Health and Beauty Shop Why the
mis-spelling? I have no idea. Perhaps the "Y" adds a touch of offbeat sophistication.
An old cotton mill  on Suthers Street. Now various industrial units.
So there we have it. A little trip to Oldham. What I learnt from this exercise is that deprivation is not easy to spot. It's kind of hidden away behind closed doors and even in towns that are classed as being especially poor you will still find pockets of pleasantness - decent homes belonging to people with money in the bank and hydrangeas in their gardens.

Who knows where my next Streetview excursion will take us?

18 February 2017


Today we met up with Shirley's sister and her boyfriend. They have been seeing each other for a good few months now. The only trouble is that he lives in The Channel Islands while she lives in a village near Selby, Yorkshire. We met in Thorne and enjoyed a pleasant lunch together in "The Punchbowl Inn". He seemed like a pleasant fellow and it is great that Shirley's sister has found him. Her husband died in 2011 so it has been quite a long time since she had a man in her life.

Afterwards, Shirley and I drove to the nearby settlement of Moorends. I had an idea that we might stroll to The Humberhead Peatlands Nature Reserve but it was a bit far. We passed the site of Thorne Colliery where there is now a solar farm. I find that rather ironic.

I am sure that there are many decent and happy people in Moorends but the place itself seems desolate and unloved. The houses were nearly all built by the local council or The National Coal Board. There's a dearth of trees but  plenty of litter, broken concrete and dog faeces. Two laughing yobs careered past us in the street on exhaust belching go-karts that were probably acquired illegally. On the main street there are basic shops and takeaways - the stuff of survival, not aspiration. This is the "other" England - forgotten, neglected. Just east of Doncaster, on the wrong side of the railway track.

Where Grange Road meets Northgate, a forlorn pony was tethered to a stake on rough wasteground. I wanted to release him and lead him off into the sunset and freedom but I guess he has an important role to play as the living symbol of Moorends. Poor thing. He looked at me through his unkempt fringe as if to say "What kind of life is this?"

17 February 2017


Trump keeps banging on about "fake news" but there's plenty of fakery about him. His complexion is unnaturally bronzed - as if he applies foundation cream each morning. Then there's his weird hair. Once it was dark brown but now it's kind of blonde and it balances on his head like a Scottish sporran. Just occasionally you get tantalising glimpses of the baldness beneath the sporran. But what about his teeth? A row of ultra-white porcelain veneers that must have cost him a fortune. These are certainly not the natural teeth of a seventy year old man.

And what about his marriage? Even that seems fake to me. The Slovenian immigrant Melania languishes happily in New York City whilst "The Donald" plays up to the cameras in Washington D.C.. And whenever they meet her body language speaks volumes about the repulsion she feels deep inside. They're just playing at being President and First Lady.

One of the things I really don't get about the "fake news" accusations is that America's press and news services are pretty conservative and tend towards The Republicans. Surely it would have been in Trump's own interest to placate them and bring them on board. But at every opportunity he denigrates them just like his laughable pipsqueak of a White House press secretary - Sean Spicer.

Great to see Spicer lampooned brilliantly on "Saturday Night Live" by Melissa McCarthy. Go here.