4 December 2023


Windgather Rocks

On the ridge, bones peek through
Divulging what lies beneath
Something solid and lasting
Where Bronze Age hunters paused
Perusing the land like birds of prey
Considering their next moves.
Four thousand years later
Waiting at the self-same spot
Watching a treeless distance appear
Bereft of wild boar or hunting deer
Reaching up to green Back Spond,
Kettleshulme and far beyond.
On this abridged December day
Silent rocks still show the way.
Cares require a gathering up
Just like prevailing winds
About this jagged jawbone
Where the golden plover sings

3 December 2023


Martin Luther King's grave - he is interred with his wife Coretta

Twenty one years ago I took my family to Atlanta, Georgia. It was the first time that they had been to America. After flying into Hartsfield Airport on a Friday evening, we picked up a hire car and headed south. The following day we reached Apalachicola in  northern Florida.

We were there for three nights before heading down to Orlando to visit Disneyworld and Universal Studios. Then we drove up to Savannah, Georgia for three nights before getting back to Atlanta The circle was complete but there were two days left to get to know Atlanta itself.

One of the things I very much wanted to do was to visit Martin Luther King's grave and the nearby Ebenezer Chapel where he preached plus The Martin Luther King Junior Historical Center.

These sites are situated just east of Atlanta city centre. The distance is about a third of a mile and I decided we could easily walk it. No need for a bus or a taxi. Halfway there, I remember a plain clothes cop confronting us as he stepped out of a parking lot. He held up his police badge and seemed genuinely concerned for our safety, "What you folks doing here?"

In a small green area along our route, two other cops - in uniform - had just wrestled a man to the ground and were putting handcuffs on him. Shirley was gripping my arm tightly.

We carried on feeling a little perturbed but soon reached The Ebenezer Chapel where one of Dr King's speeches was playing over the speakers. Soon we arrived at the great man's grave - on a kind of island. We didn't have to queue for long to pay our silent homage. 

Next, we went over to the historical center which contained an array of exhibits that thoughtfully told the story of the freedom struggle and the civil rights movement for which Martin was of course an amazing and courageous spokesman. It was very moving.

But here's the thing and the main reason I  have created this blogpost. After walking away from Atlanta city centre, we did not see one other white person. No white people in The Ebenezer Chapel, no other white people at Dr King's grave and none in The Martin Luther King Junior Historical Center either. Previously, I had imagined that Americans of all creeds and colours would be present in the area like pilgrims but no, they were all black! Perhaps it was just that afternoon and on other days the racial make-up of the crowd would be mixed but I don't think so. The sad realisation spoke volumes to me about equality.

After leaving the historical center, Shirley insisted that we should catch a public bus back into the city centre. After all, we did not wish to end our holiday by being gunned down as the black detective had intimated could easily happen.

2 December 2023


We are all capable of malapropisms but some are more capable than others. The definition of a malapropism is "the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an amusing effect (e.g. ‘dance a flamingo ’ instead of flamenco )." I was perspired to produce this blogpost by JayCee on The Isle of Man.

"The Reader's Digest" has highlighted numerous memorable malapropisms, including one that concerned the boxer,  Mike Tyson. When he came off  worse in a bout in 2002, a reporter asked him where he went from here. Tyson replied, “I might just fade into Bolivian.”

George W. Bush amassed dozens of malapropisms during his time in The White House including this famous  one: “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” Ahem! Surely you meant "hostage" Dubya!

Regarding the word "bigly" that will forever be associated with Trump, back in 2016 before his fake presidency began, he said to Hillary Clinton, "I'm going to cut taxes bigly, and you're going to raise taxes bigly." It is believed that what he meant to say was "Big League" but obviously he had never listened carefully to that term and may never have seen it written down.

As I was telling JayCee, the other day I  heard a presenter on the prestigious "Today" programme on BBC Radio 4 refer to "the climbing crisis" in an item on the environment and COP28 - currently taking place in Dubai. I guess there's a climbing crisis because the world is running out of ropes!

Have you got any remembered malapropisms to shear?

1 December 2023


I guess that my mother Doreen must have taken this photograph when I was on holiday with my family in the summer of 1960. At least - I have deduced that it's 1960.  It could have been 1959. We have pulled up by the roadside and we have all piled out of the car in order to snap  a family picture with Balmoral Castle as the backdrop.

From left to right there's my surviving brother Robin - born in February 1951 so he would have been nine and half years old. Next, that's Simon who died last year. He was born in March, 1956 so he would have been four and a half. Third in the line up is me. I would have been two months short of my seventh birthday. Fourth along, looking towards the castle is my oldest brother Paul who died in 2010. He was born in August 1947 so the picture was taken around the time of his thirteenth birthday. Last of all, it's our father Philip who shared his birthday with Paul. He died in 1979 and was born in 1914 so he would have just turned forty six when mum pressed the camera button.

Our beloved queen Elizabeth the Great died in Balmoral Castle  on September 8th last year. For her, the place held many special family memories and it was her preferred summer residence. Balmoral was also much loved by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who put many thousands of pounds into developing the estate and extending the castle buildings.

And here's another family photo that I scanned from a colour slide. This time I suspect that it was my brother Paul who squeezed the button. We often went on holiday to Cornwall and that's where I think this picture must have been taken - very probably in the summer of 1961. The three brothers look a little older. Dad is wearing the same holiday shirt and our mum - just turned forty has her essential handbag slung over her arm. It contained essentials like her purse, a notebook and pen, plasters, bank book, nail file, scissors, lipstick and bags of confectionery or salted peanuts. She would have been forty at the time.

We were lucky to have been raised by two such wonderful parents who loved us and never mistreated us. Mum had a penchant about fairness and treating us all equally even though there were big differences between us. How she and Dad too would have loved to meet Phoebe and Margot and Zach, comforted by the realisation that their genes had travelled into a future  that was not theirs to grasp.

30 November 2023


Rosette of spear thistle with frost at Windgather Rocks

Let me say straight away that this blogpost has absolutely nothing to do with pornography. Until I came to this keyboard, the title was going to be simply "Cold" but mischievously I thought - no, let's see what happens when I use an instantly more controversial title.

Yeah, so "Cold". It was cold enough yesterday when I  parked up in Kettleshulme and strode out into frosty fields under the clear blue of an anticyclone but this morning it was much colder. Nearby pavements and road surfaces were white with hoar frost and our car windscreens (American: windshields) were iced up. Poor Clint was shivering like an arctic monkey. The grass in our back garden (American: yard) looked as if it had had tubs of icing sugar sprinkled liberally upon it.

This is the first proper frost we have had since last winter so we can have little cause for complaint. Besides, it is possible to enjoy sharp, frosty weather. It can be invigorating. However, for those who struggle financially,  minus centigrade temperatures always stir up these fundamental  questions: "Should I put my heating on?" and "Can I afford to heat my home?"

Shirley and I both grew up in cold houses without central heating or double glazing. Wintry mornings were about leaping out of bed and  getting your day clothes on as soon as possible. I remember lying in bed listening to my father raking out and preparing our coal fire in the room below. If I timed it right, the fire would be emitting warmth when I got downstairs.

My children's generation were to a large extent sheltered from the cold with double glazing, improved insulation and draught-proofing as well as domestic gas boilers pumping hot water through heating pipes. But in the last few years fuel prices have increased dramatically and now there are of course big issues with supplies of gas and electricity. We can't take it all for granted any more.

When it's cold, wise people wear warmer clothing in their homes in wintertime. Woolly jumpers come out and shorts are put away for the springtime. By wearing warmer clothes you can reduce the amount of time you need to have your heating on.

For my seventieth birthday or was it last Christmas - I can't remember, my son Ian gave me a gift that I was not at all sure about. Was it really me? It seemed unlikely. It was a gilet by Barbour - in fact a Langdale gilet costing £80. 

A month ago, I thought that I would give it a try and ever since I have not looked back. I am wearing it now as I type these words and I have worn it around the house  all day. In fact, I have been converted to the gilet cult. It seems an eminently sensible item of apparel to don in the cool of autumn or the cold of winter. Here I am below in my Barbour Langdale gilet looking devilishly handsome - rather like a porn star on his day off...

29 November 2023


By Side End Lane

Kettleshulme is a village in Cheshire, close to that county's border with Derbyshire. This morning, Clint drove me over there to undertake another pre-planned circular walk. The weather forecast was  good - clear and sunny but frosty  cold.

Sheffield to Hathersage to Winnats Pass to Rushup Edge to Chapel-en-le-Frith to Whaley Bridge and thence to Kettleshulme. I parked Clint on Paddock Lane and got togged up - including fingerless gloves and bright red thermal hat and at eleven o'clock on the dot I set off.

Icy puddle

I expected the highlights of this walk to be the evocatively named Windgather Rocks and an isolated church called Jenkin Chapel though a hundred and fifty years ago it was known as St John the Baptist's Church. There would also be two or three ruinous farms. 

Ruinous Redfern Farm

Almost exactly four hours after leaving my sleek silver steed, I  unlocked his boot (American: trunk) ready to change into my driving shoes. The best of the day had already gone and lengthening shadows  announced that night would arrive in an hour or so.

But there was just enough time to drive back home in daylight. It had been a glorious walk, navigated without any problems. I drank hot coffee and ate a slice of banana bread while sitting on the old stone steps of Jenkin Chapel. Finally, I would like to share with you the name of a property I passed through - it was the best name on today's walk - Hollowcowhey Farm. How it acquired that name is a mystery to me.

"Hello Mary Moon!" (at Hollowcowhey Farm)

At Windgather Rocks

Jenkin Chapel, Saltersford

28 November 2023


I galloped through "Walking Home" by Simon Armitage, beginning it on the train down to London on Friday and finishing it this very afternoon. I guess that it was my kind of book, all about walking in the countryside and written by one of our country's best known living poets.

He is Simon Armitage, the current Poet Laureate who hails from Marsden near Huddersfield - just thirty miles from this keyboard. Back in around 2010, he conceived a plan to walk England's most gruelling long distance footpath - The Pennine Way. Almost 270 miles in length, it runs from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm at the Scottish border - but being a contrary sort of fellow Simon Armitage chose to attempt it the other way round.

He also had the idea that he would give poetry readings at venues along the way. With the help of his website, his friend Caroline  and others, arrangements were duly made and lodgings were also secured including breakfasts and evening meals. Plus - he needed volunteers to transport his bulky main rucksack between staging posts. He referred to it as "The Tombstone".

It was an arduous journey of sixteen days and though attempted in summer, the weather rarely played ball. He was not at all sure that he could fulfil his plan. Many before him have given up the walk after a day or two. It invariably involves moorland, rain, mist, boggy terrain, emptiness, map-reading skills, lost paths and self-doubt. As I say, not everybody makes it and most have to carry everything they require.

On page 249, Simon Armitage refers to the farm in the middle of the M62 motorway. He calls it Scott Hall Farm and earlier today this caused me to write an e-mail message to him via his literary agent:

Dear Simon,
I have just finished reading the paperback version of "Walking Home". It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and not at all as "high brow" as I half anticipated. However, I wish to point out a niggling error that occurs on page 249. Here you are referring to the farm in the middle of the M62 near Booth Wood Reservoir. You call it Scott Hall Farm but it is in fact Stott Hall Farm with a "t" where a "c" appears in the text. I make this observation in the name of accuracy and hopefully not because I enjoy nitpicking. Earlier this year, I walked under the M62 and crossed the strange "island" on which Stott Hall Farm stands. 
Best wishes,
Yorkshire Pudding (Mr)

This evening I had a reply from the literary agent, saying that they had already forwarded my message to Simon Armitage. Some of you may recall my walk past Stott Hall Farm in February. Go here.

I don't suppose "Walking Home" would be everyone's cup of tea but mostly I loved it. My main reservation  is that within five miles of Edale - a place I know well - he decided to abort the walk. It wasn't because he had run out of steam or had become physically incapable and it wasn't because of the weather either. It was hard to understand his motive but he was rather like an American anarchist, raising his middle finger and walking away. Refusing to do the expected thing. Over a decade later, I wonder if he sometimes regrets that strange choice.
Simon Armitage

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