23 October 2016


Marjoie was sited at The Kelham Island Museum through the summer
Being a fellow of limited means, I didn't have a cat in hell's chance of buying my wife an elephant on Thursday night. Not a real elephant you understand but a member of the 58 strong and very delightful "Herd of Sheffield" which I have blogged about before.

I did go along to the auction. It was held in The Crucible Theatre - home to World Snooker and many excellent theatrical productions. The event was introduced by BBC sports and morning show presenter Dan Walker who is the patron of Sheffield Children's Hospital Charity. There were two auctioneers - local lass Lucy Crapper ( I swear I have not made the surname up) and Charles Hanson who makes frequent appearances on BBC antiques programmes such as "Bargain Hunt".
Peace Elephant - attracted the lowest bid
The night was very well-organised but it took a long time to get through fifty eight lots and there was an interval in the middle. Successful bids greatly exceeded expectations. The cheapest elephant, one I rather liked,  cost somebody £3500 and the most expensive one - "Marjorie" by local artist Pete McKee went for £22,000. It was named after his late mother and celebrated the hard graft of Sheffield's cohorts of industrial workers - both men and women.

Altogether the auction raised £410,600 - way beyond the target sum and enough to buy the desired Multipurpose Fluoroscopy System. The director of the children's hospital charity said, “Tonight has been an absolutely spectacular finale to the Herd of Sheffield. We really can’t thank everyone enough for their generous bids; we have been overwhelmed by the amount raised and are absolutely delighted the trail will leave a lasting legacy for Sheffield Children’s Hospital.”

When I got home I discovered that a couple who live on our street - just a few doors down bid successfully for an elephant called "Holi". He or she will be delivered in the next few days and cost them £4700. Of course, I am insanely jealous.
Marjorie at Meadowhall
Top Photo of Marjorie.
© Copyright Graham Hogg and licensed for reuse under the "Geograph"Creative Commons Licence.

22 October 2016


Another visit to Houndkirk Moor on the southwestern edge of Sheffield. This time I was heading for Houndkirk Hill where rocks of millstone grit appear through the moorland vegetation. Dark clouds and sunbursts battled for supremacy but the forecast was for a dry afternoon. Over the years I have paid homage to many rocks in the Peak District. Some of them are like natural sculptures and others speak of Bronze Age habitation or historic quarrying activity.

In the changing light, I snapped several photographs up on Houndkirk Hill. Far away I could see rain moving across the landscape so perhaps I should just have returned to "Clint", parked up on Whitelow Lane. But half a mile away to the south I saw another unnamed hill and there were distant rocks that I hadn't seen before so I made my way up there along a sheep track through the dying heather.
On the unnamed hill before the rain
On the way back, the rain came. I was not dressed for it. By the time I reached sleek-silver Clint, my leonine locks were plastered to my skull, my fleece jacket was twice as heavy as normal and my trews needed hanging out to dry. Fortunately no paparazzi were around to create incriminating pictures of this bedraggled beast. 

I came home and stripped off to my red and blue striped M&S underpants, watching "Escape to the Country" with a mug of hot coffee.  What a sexy scene! Good job the BBC hadn't just filmed my own "escape to the country" or even worse, my escape from the country like a drowned rat.
50x camera zoom on The Ox Stones - over a mile away.
Other ramblers are there - no doubt in rain gear.
The depressions in the rock catch pure rainwater
which moorland grouse seek in preference to
brackish and  rather acidic drainage water.

21 October 2016


You are doing something peaceful. Perhaps reading a newspaper, watching "Escape to the Country" on the television or listening to "You and Yours" on Radio 4. And then all of a sudden you are rudely disturbed by the horrible noise of continuous mechanical suction. The vacuum cleaner has been turned on again! Oh no!

It was the same when I was a boy. There I would be happily playing with my Dinky toys on the carpet or buried in "Look and Learn" and our mother would start up the old Hoover. She would come swishing over the carpet with the thing and above the whining din I would hear her commands to move my little cars or lift my legs. I swear that in a slightly malevolent way she loved to observe the discomfiture that was caused by her frequent vacuuming.

In comparison, sweeping brushes are far quieter and more in tune with the human psyche. But a vacuum cleaner - it's like an instrument of aural torture. Over the years, they haven't got any quieter. It seems we can send men to the moon or eradicate smallpox, send Coca Cola to every corner of the planet or develop smartphone technology but we can't produce a silent vacuum cleaner.

If an inventor ever comes up with an efficient, reliable and silent vacuum cleaner, he or she should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In the meantime I guess we must continue to suppress the annoyance we feel whenever a vacuum cleaner is switched on, waiting for the heavenly feeling that returns when the power is cut.

20 October 2016


Yesterday, London-based CIA agent Steve and The Yorkshire Ambassador to Germany - Frau Meike in Ludwigsburg separately applauded a photograph I snapped in one of the gift shops at Tate Modern. There was a sepia photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe on top of a display case. Through the window behind this piece of shop furniture, I could see St Paul's Cathedral across The River Thames. It seemed as if the artist was also glancing across the river. If she had been facing the opposite way, the picture would not have "worked".

As it happens I took two photographs at the time and I think this one is better...
Miss O'Keeffe seems a little wistful. If a thought bubble was emerging from her skull it might well say, "I don't belong here in Europe. In this bustling human-infested city, looking across this mud-coloured river to Christopher Wren's great cathedral. Take me home to El Rancho de los Brujos, to Abiquiú and Taos, to my white place and my black place, where desert winds whisper and lizards dart across ancient rocks under  skies so pure and blue you might swim there, where the bones of long dead creatures turn white in the desert and days pass slowly like shadows moving across my beloved  hills..."
A view of Pedernal Mountain, New Mexico
where Georgia O'Keeffe's ashes were scattered in 1986

19 October 2016


In photographs she rarely smiles
On  October 8th, I walked through bustling Borough Market then along the south bank of The Thames, passing The Globe Theatre to reach Tate Modern. Once it was Bankside Power Station but the generators within that vast facility ceased their humming in 1981. Thank heavens the powers-that-be behind The Tate Gallery had the vision to realise that Bankside could one day become Britain's premier modern art museum.

There are permanent exhibitions there and if you have ever been sceptical about modern art, Tate Modern will open your eyes. That doesn't mean you will appreciate all artefacts that fall into the extremely broad  and convenient category known as "modern art" but certain prejudices and presumptions will fall away. You will begin to see and perhaps to connect.
Pelvic Series
All summer, Tate Modern has hosted a temporary exhibition of the work of Georgia O'Keeffe and I was keen to see it. Georgia O'Keeffe was born into a Wisconsin dairy-farming family in 1887. She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico ninety nine years later. In between she had a passionate, all-consuming love affair with art as she strove to express wonderment and beauty, seeking a world that she sometimes referred to as "The Far Away".

Most of her youth was spent in New York. There she grew as an artist, finding her "voice". She painted evocative pictures of Manhattan's canyons and played with light and shade, always experimenting, forging relationships with other artists, trying to take the next step.

By 1929, when she was in her forties, she found the place where she really belonged - the countryside of New Mexico. It had a harsh and simple beauty with echoes of Native American culture. The mountains changed with the sun's migration and in the desert lands there were more bones than flowers. They lay there bleached white so she gathered them and brought them home to her simple ranch house.
Black Mesa Landscape
She drew with pencil and charcoal. She studied and she painted several subjects over and over again - such as "the white place", "the black place", "the ghost ranch", "the road" and pelvic bones with a dazzling blue sky seen through the holes. Her art was both furious and patient for she was thrilled by the world she witnessed and she never lost her childlike wonder.

At Tate Modern I saw her journey unfolding in thirteen gallery rooms. How I would have loved to be alone there, absorbing that story without distraction but there were other visitors - lots of them from all corners of this planet. I was probably getting in their way too. This wasn't like the stillness and the solitude that Georgia O'Keeffe knew as she carried her easel to secret places in the New Mexico hills.

But it was a remarkable exhibition. Testament not just to a life lived in Art but to our world and to the fundamental delights we might all find within it as we take our own journeys to "The Far Away".
"Ranchos Church New Mexico" (1930 or 31)
I saw her image on some bookcases in the gift shop
with St Paul's Cathedral visible through the window
- on the other side of The River Thames
From the Faraway Nearby (1937)
New York "East River" (1928)

18 October 2016


Less than ten minutes from this house there's an ancient track called Houndkirk Road. It weaves its way from Ringinglow to Fox House. Once it would have known drovers with their animals and carriers with goods such as salt from Cheshire or coal from shallow pits in South Yorkshire. Nowadays it only knows the footsteps of leisure ramblers or the tyres of mountain bikers.
In recent weeks my walking has been greatly restricted by a knee injury that makes me notice every footstep. But yesterday I wasn't limping and the ongoing pain was in abeyance so I went for a short afternoon ramble along Houndkirk Road and then down Jumble Road to Sheephill Road. 

The autumn light was glorious with fine views towards the centre of Sheffield and east towards the M1 motorway that runs up the centre of England like a pulmonary artery. But long ago long distant transport was very different. Saddle bags thrown over trains of horses. Moving slowly along Houndkirk Road. Making camp. Days passing by. Robbers and rain clouds.
Jumble Road
And below another picture I took along Houndkirk Road in late September 2011. How many of those old drovers, carriers and jaggers paused here to check the miles and to let their animals drink from the moorland stream at the side of the path?

17 October 2016


I know that the revelation I am about to make will disappoint or irritate some visitors enormously. Pause for dramatic effect... Ghosts do not exist. In other words, there's no such thing as ghosts. They are  all born in the imaginings of the human mind.

For complex socio-psychological reasons, it is as if many folk actively want the delicious mysteries that ghosts represent. They want that uncertainty, that sense that there is something other than humdrum everyday reality. And perhaps belief in ghosts is connected with a deep-seated desire for there to be an afterlife - the promise that earthly life continues beyond death.

But it is all balderdash, poppycock, hornswoggle and tommy-rot.

Many's the time that I have walked alone through two local graveyards at night - a half moon turning the old gravestones silver white. Perhaps an owl will hoot from the sycamores, perhaps I will hear a noise behind me... but it's just an animal or the breeze blowing a tree limb against masonry. I could happily pitch a tent there and sleep as soundly as a baby, safe in the knowledge that no ghosts will come along to disturb me. There's as much chance of that as King Arthur arriving with Excalibur in his mitt.

I can't bear books, TV shows or films that are built on the premise that ghosts exist. They are so tiresome. One of my favourite novels is "Wuthering Heights" and there's a supernatural apparition in that but it's all  just in the mind of Catherine Earnshaw and a small feature of the novel - created for literary effect.

Long ago I was on the island of Rotuma in The South Pacific when the eye of a 120mph hurricane passed over us. Many houses were destroyed and many coconut palms were blown over like skittles. The eye arrived in the middle of the night bringing a strange calm. I said I would walk up the track to the government station at Ahau to tell them what had happened down in the village of Motusa.

Village people who were taking shelter in the house I shared with Peace Corps volunteer Richard were flabbergasted that I  had walked up to Ahau in the dead of night and returned safely. They insisted that the road was haunted but my only obstacles had been the palm trees lying across the track. I could have walked that way a thousand times in the dead of night and no ghosts would have leapt out on me or waited for me in the shadows.

Let me re-address my opening assertion... Ghosts do exist - but only in people's minds. They are not present in the world around us. They never have been out there and they never will be. The half-secret cult of the ghost is like an extended party game or a shared condition that sufferers freely subscribe to. It fulfils a need, that's all.

I look for ghosts; but none will force 
Their way to me.'Tis falsely said
That there was ever intercourse
Between the living and the dead.
William Wordsworth "The Affliction of Margaret"