4 August 2015


You may have heard the latest news about doping in athletics. It seems that hundreds of athletes have been at it and many of them were medal winners in top events - including The Olympics. 

Today's doping practice is usually aimed at increasing the red blood cell count in order to transmit bigger volumes of oxygen to the muscles. This was exactly what the disgraced  American cyclist Lance Armstrong's cunning method successfully achieved. And it is why he won The Tour de France an incredible seven consecutive times.

Doping is about getting ahead of your competitors, stealing a march on them but there are plenty of other ways of gaining advantage and they make me feel a little ambivalent about the current doping scandal.

Let's take genetic inheritance. Some athletes are born into naturally athletic families where good sporting physiques are passed down through the generations. Should we accuse the recipient of such beneficent genes of cheating? Plenty of other athletes compete in their sports in spite of the disadvantageous  physiques they have largely inherited.

The saying - "You are what you eat" has extra resonance in sport. The right diet can make a big difference when competing at the highest level and many top athletes are advised by armies of dieticians. Isn't that a bit like doping - gaining advantage through what you consume?

Good coaches can also make a big difference. They know how to train their athletes for success whereas poor coaches presumably make a lot of basic errors and may set their athletes off on ineffective  training regimes. Having a great coach can surely be like taking a performance enhancing drug. They give special advantage to their charges.

Similar arguments could be made about equipment, training facilities, family wealth and sponsorship. They all confer advantage upon the fortunate recipients putting them a step ahead of their competitors.

These are all reasons why I feel somewhat ambivalent towards doping in sport. Perhaps we should just say - what the heck! Let the games commence and take as many drugs or blood supplements as you need! Then we wouldn't have all these witch hunts and moral guardians preaching from their high horses. Mind you, the Olympic motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger" would suddenly take on extra significance - especially the "Higher" bit.

3 August 2015


It was last Thursday afternoon when I set off for the tiny Derbyshire village of Astwith. I would be astonished if its population exceeded fifty but it has a postbox, a village noticeboard and a modern phone box that is so rarely used these days that ir is being reclaimed by Mother Nature in the form of creeping ivy. Here it is:-
Boots on and a few minutes out of Astwith there are cows resting in a meadow with the hollow ruins of Hardwick Hall on the ridge beyond Stainsby Plantation:-
Beyond the industrial estate on the edge of the village of Holmewood, I meet The Five Pits Trail. Once a railway track, it connects five villages that used to boast productive coal mines but they are long gone and with each passing year the evidence of their existence becomes more obscure.

By the trail I see sheep grazing near High House Farm:-
 After the village of Pilsley, I pause to compose this summery picture:-

Then I am off again, plodding towards Tibshelf:-
Through Tibshelf, I leave the main road and head for Biggin Farm.  I see the ruin of another, smaller farm beyond a barbed wire fence and spiky hawthorn hedgerows but I can't get there so instead I take this photo of the rolling North-East Derbyshire countryside:-
Two miles further on and I am back at my car in litttle Astwith and it's seven o' clock in the evening. Time to head home. I had never been to Astwith before and it is likely that I shall never return. Close to the M1 motorway, thousands of motor vehicles flash by it every day but the drivers don't even know that Astwith is sleeping there as it has done for well over a thousand years.

2 August 2015


How do you celebrate the night of Yorkshire Day? Why, you go and see a production of "Oklahoma!" of course. 

It was in Sheffield's beautifully restored "Lyceum" Theatre and we were just four rows from the front. The production was slick, vibrant and thoroughly entertaining and the quality of singing was tremendous. So too were the dance sections. In fact, I didn't spot a single unintended error or flaw in the entire show and the cast truly deserved their standing ovation.
Curly with Jud at The Smoke House in last night's performance of "Oklahoma!"
"Oklahoma!" first opened on Broadway in March, 1943 while the second world war was being waged in Europe and the western Pacific. Perhaps its "feel good" character was a deliberate antidote to war. This musical represented the very first collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. It was immediately a huge box office success and seventy years later it still pulls in the crowds.

At one point in Act One, cowboy Will Parker returns from Kansas City having been mightily impressed with the place. And he sings:-

Ev'rythin's up to date in Kansas City
They've gone about as fur as they c'n go!
They went and built a skyscraper seven stories high,
About as high as a buildin' orta grow.
Ev'rythin's like a dream in Kansas City,
It's better than a magic lantern show!
Y' c'n turn the radiator on
Whenever you want some heat.
With ev'ry kind o' comfort
Ev'ry house is all complete.
You c'n walk to privies in the rain
And never wet your feet!
They've gone about as fur as they c'n go,

If only Will had known what the next seventy years would bring!

Theatre writer Thomas Hischak once wrote, "Not only is 'Oklahoma!' the most important of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is also the single most influential work in the American musical theatre. ... It is the first fully integrated musical play and its blending of song, character, plot and even dance would serve as the model for Broadway shows for decades."

Gene Nelson as Will Parker in the 1955 film version of "Oklahoma!"

1 August 2015


August 1st is Yorkshire Day!
In celebration, I invite you to watch this 
three minute video:-

It is little wonder that we think of 
Yorkshire as "God's own county"...
The Yorkshire Flag

31 July 2015


Mount Bartle Frere - Queensland's highest peak
Today I discovered that Australian blogger Leisha is also from Queensland! So that's four feisty Queensland women! Soon there'll be a rugby league team - captained by wily Helen from "Helsie's Happenings" and ably supported by IT expert Carol from Cairns and Lee the celebrity chef from Hinchinbrook Island and other places.

There have been blog visitors from other parts of Australia such as photo journalist Michael from Sydney and the delightful Ms Alphie Soup from Victoria but mostly this humble blog has attracted Queenslanders.

So I thought it was about time that I did a little research before sharing some information about Queensland - a vast state to the north east of the island of Australia. Right then, here we go. Ten interesting facts about Queensland:-

1. It is believed that the first aboriginal inhabitants of Queensland arrived from the north around 50,000BC.
2. The original inhabitants had at least ninety different languages.
George Bowen - the first governor
of Queensland
3. The first recorded landing of a European in Queensland was in February 1606 - by Willem Janszoon, a Dutch navigator.
4. Yorkshireman Captain James Cook claimed north eastern Australia for King George III of England in 1770.
5. George Bowen from Donegal, Ireland became the first governor of Queensland in 1859  when the new colony was first established - separated from New South Wales. It is named Queensland after Queen Victoria as the name "Victoria" was already taken!
6. Queensland currently has a population of 4,750,500 - almost half live in Brisbane.
7. In 1935 cane toads were first introduced to the sugar cane plantations of Queensland to prey upon pests but very quickly they became a pest themselves. Bizarrely Queenslanders refuse to eat cane toads which can be delightful if cooked fresh in a healthy stir fry or toad stew.
8. Mount Bartle Frere at  5322 feet is the tallest mountain in Queensland and was named after Sir Henry Bartle Frere the British president of The Royal Geographical Society in 1873.
9. The actor Geoffrey Rush was born in Toowoomba, Queensland in 1951.
10. Queensland has a land area of 715,309 square miles - which is very big compared with Great Britain's measly 88,745 sq miles. In fact it means that Queensland is eight times bigger than Britain! It is also nearly three times as big as the state of Texas.
The flag of Queensland

29 July 2015


Dear Walter Palmer,

You are now famous around the world for killing Cecil. You are such a brave man! Firing an arrow into Cecil and then following him in a jeep for forty hours before shooting him dead. Wow! No wonder you were smiling proudly in the photograph at the top of this invitation. Cecil may have been King of The Beasts but you Walter are King of the Hunters.

Not only have you rid the world of a dangerous man-eating lion, you have also bravely executed Marmaduke the Elk, Gordon the Zebra, Harold the Moose, Pierre the Black Bear, Darren the Grizzly Bear, Adrian the Rhinoceros and whole generations of deer and Minnesotan water fowl. What a guy you are Walter!

I can understand entirely why you chose to spend $50,000 on the killing spree rather than giving that money to African charities that tackle AIDS, homelessness and starvation. Ridding Zimbabwe of Cecil was a way of helping the country to get back on its feet and assist its benevolent and much-loved leader Robert H. Brague Mugabe.

Because of your great achievements in the manly world of hunting, I am inviting you to join me and some other bloodthirsty hunters upon the moors west of Sheffield. It is said that there's a monster out there with unnaturally  white teeth and a shiny bald pate. It preys on sheep, women and small children and has a ludicrously high opinion of itself.

We will gather by the car park at Ringinglow -  me and Fred Fox, Higgy, Steve Howlett, bloggers like Graham and Jennifer and Mama Thyme  and Carol from Cairns and Lee and an army of ordinary folk wearing Cecil T-shirts. We will chase the cruel monster mercilessly till he's breathless, sweaty and crawling like a wounded lion amidst the heather and the gorse and then we will blast his big-headed brains out with a Canadian hunting rifle. 

As it happens, our local moorland monster is also called Walter. What a co-incidence!

I await your positive response with eager anticipation.

Yours cunningly,
Hunting hero Walter Palmer with Adrian the Rhino

28 July 2015


In the fading light of day, there was a regular visitor on our lawn last evening. Yes, it was our scraggy friend Fred Fox. At first he was just lying on his belly with his radar ears following the slightest of garden noises. He saw me busying myself in the kitchen and watched my every move. These humans - you just cannot trust them you know.

We had no cans of delicious "Fox Food" in the pantry so, in spite of Mama Thyme's vehement disapproval,  I tossed him a chunk of the beef joint we had on Sunday afternoon. Of course he gobbled it down. It must be a challenge - scavenging for food in the urban jungle - and there will be days when hunger gnaws mercilessly at Fred. Like a cancer.
He has a pronounced limp and some of the fur on his rear end is missing. He is not in the best condition for chasing pigeons or lifting the lids of wheelie bins in search of tasty leftovers.

When I was a boy, foxhunting was still legal in Great Britain. Twice a year the Holderness Hunt would gather outside "The New Inn". Twenty or thirty hunters on horseback. They wore the traditional gear - black riding helmets with peaks, white trousers and red tailcoats. As they drank their fortifying stirrup cups - whiskies or hot toddies, their baying pack of foxhounds yelped excitedly ready for the chase. The riders were all unfamilar posh people. None of them dwelt in our village. They just arrived twice a year and these were  the only occasions we ever saw them.

The hunt leader would blow his horn and they'd be off across the surrounding farmland, heading for the thickets where foxes lurked in their dens. A steamy mist hung above the yelping  pack of hounds, intoxicated by a communal bloodlust. And the riders whipped the rumps of their trusty steeds as they cantered across the fields.

Once, half a mile away and adjacent to the appropriately named Fox Wood we saw a little ginger shape pursued by the pack and behind the dogs came the redcoated hunters galloping pell mell. We were watching from the road. As I say, it was faraway but soon the chase ended. You could see the distant hounds and the horse riders circling the kill. In my imagination I watched the frightened quarry - one of Fred's more healthy and more secretive country cousins - being ripped apart by forty hounds that had deliberately not been fed that morning. I was ten years old but I  knew it was wrong. No animal should have to die that way.

Later the laughing hunt leader showed off his prize outside "The New Inn" - a bloodied fox's tail.

Fox Hunting

We shall gather outside "The Victory Inn"
Before we begin
The chase

We are being bused in
From cities far and wide
No place to hide

For redcoats.
We are coming
So I advise you start running

By the demolition site
Or under the railway bridge
Or just beyond yon grassy ridge
Between the tower blocks
And the busy road

We will get you.
So - Tally ho my friend
Tally ho!