31 October 2011


It is over a year since I got rid of that lorry load of parking enforcement officers - or as I prefer to call them - Nazis! How time flies! For those who may not recall, through the summer of 2010 I was busily kidnapping Nazis and accommodating them in the underhouse/workshop area beneath Pudding Towers. Stupidly, I had not planned what to do with them after capturing these odious creatures but was saved by a brilliant brainwave. Ultimately, they were transported to Afghanistan in the back of a "Buxton Mineral Water" lorry.

Truck driver Terry handed them over to the Taliban in the city of Kandahar. After suffering some initial physical abuse, the parking enforcement officers were assigned to a secret training camp on the mountainous border with Pakistan. There they lived in dank caves feeding on small portions of rice and little rodents that inhabited the adjacent undergrowth. Huddling together in the Asian darkness, they sang some of their favourite songs to stave off cold and hunger - such as "I Should Be So Lucky" by Kylie Minogue and "Happiness" by Ken Dodd. The hills of Helmand echoed with their caterwauling tunelessness.

The recent picture at the top of this post shows some of the Sheffield parking enforcement officers in full Taliban disguise going on a cross country run along precipitous paths. And as they run, they sing this yomping song:-
We are Nazis, we don't care
We'll put tickets anywhere
Now we're in Afghanistan
Fighting for the Taliban!
The photo was e-mailed out of the country by Randy and Peggy-Sue Lieberwiener from Canton, Georgia, USA who are currently on a hiking holiday in scenic Waziristan and the surrounding area. In a recent message home, Peggy-Sue said "...there are literally no other tourists around. It's so cool mom. The people are soooo friendly. Today we were given a present to bring home to Canton. The awesome tribal leader who gave us it insisted that we shouldn't open it till we get home. I think it's something electrical as there's a little red wire poking out! Sorry to hear that Mr Brague was arrested last week. He seemed like such a nice guy. Anyway - must go - we're exploring some bat caves today..."

Meanwhile, it seems the parking enforcement officer insurgents will soon be infiltrating NATO defences, placing bright yellow notices on NATO tanks and gun emplacements to raise much needed funds for the Taliban cause which includes these key political aims: (a) to get Simon Cowell to turn on the Christmas lights in downtown Kandahar (b) to ensure that Afghanistan retains its medieval culture and (c) to upgrade Afghan mens' fashion from this:-

To this:-
If I hear any more about the Nazis, I mean the parking enforcement officers, I'll let you know.

30 October 2011


On Friday morning I parked in lovely Whirlowdale Park on the south western edge of Sheffield - before you get to Dore and the nearby moors of the Peak District. I was there to join a foraging expedition led by Dr Patrick Harding - arguably the country's leading authority on mushrooms and toadstools. A genuine mycologist.

There were about twenty people in the group. I had expected we would be wandering through the nearby woodland but really, in the allotted two hours, we just did a short circle of the park, stopping occasionally as the entertaining Dr Harding talked knowledgeably about the various mushrooms we encountered. At the age of sixty eight, his passion for mushrooms remains as excitable as it must have been when he was a boy. It was infectious - as if every mushroom we came across was a precious jewel in Nature's crown.

He spoke about the famous "fly agaric" which he insisted is not poisonous. It is an hallucinogenic mushroom that Scandinavians, especially Lapps, used like alcohol to escape briefly from everyday reality. It gave the effect of flying and may have helped to spawn some parts of our Santa Claus mythology.

At the end of the walk, Dr Harding had books for sale. I bought one called "Mushroom Miscellany" which is an informative personal account of the world of mushrooms, including, legends, stories, myths and rumours. Early on in the book, Dr Harding tells us that there are some 2000 known wild flowering plants in the British Isles but some 14,000 known species of fungi.

At this time of year, mushrooms are nosing through the soil all over the place. Once again we have Earthtongue under our rotary washing line and on recent country walks I came across these fine mushroom specimens:-
Here's Patrick Harding looking like a hippy Father Christmas in his thirties:-
And here he is today - a distinguished scientist - still enthralled by his subject:-
Dr Harding isn't only passionate and knowledgeable about mushrooms - he also knows a great deal about trees and country plants. He is aware of many past uses of plants in cooking and medicine and is clearly cynical about the homogenised, corporate and plastic-packaged world we seem to have inherited. He is amused and appalled by the fact that most people couldn't tell the difference between a beech tree and a larch or a sycamore and an oak. By the way, he stressed that woodland mushrooms are associated with particular trees so that what you find beneath a beech for example will generally be different from what you might find beneath an oak. Fascinating. And if you ever read this Patrick - thank you! A breath of fresh air.

28 October 2011


Like thousands of others visitors to Stanage Edge, I have often noticed a large windswept building about half a mile due east of the edge on a vast tract of open moorland - a good distance from any public footpaths. I referred to it earlier this week. It is Stanedge Lodge. The private moors around it make ideal grouse shooting country and it's clear that past occupants of the lodge were intent on enjoying that upper class "sport". There are several grouse "butts" and more than a hundred large flat stones were specially hollowed to allow rainwater to gather for the grouse. Apparently, the birds find the acidic water that gathers naturally in peaty hollows undrinkable.

Yorkshire has enjoyed some fantastic weather this October but Thursday was an unsettled day with cloud and rain so I toddled off to the local studies room of the city's Central Library - intent on finding out more about Stanedge Lodge. I was there for two hours but came away little wiser than before. It's almost as if the history of the place is concealed behind a veil of secrecy.

I studied an ordnance survey map of the area dated 1931. Then the large pine plantation due east of the lodge didn't exist so the property would have been even more exposed although the nearby small deciduous Broadshaw plantation was mapped.

In "Sheffield Topic" (August 1982) - a magazine that is no longer published - I discovered that the lodge had been up for sale for £50,000 and that it boasted seven bedrooms and seven acres of land but had no mains electricity. The article claimed that the lodge used to be called Lumley Hall and part of the building dated from the eighteenth century. There was also this remark - "the history of the property seems somewhat patchy".

"Westside" is a free magazine that is only distributed within Sheffield's wealthiest suburbs. In the December 1990 edition, there were a few black and white interior pictures of the lodge showing its new entrepreneurial owner a Mr Hardy in the snooker room. It seems he had been in the process of setting up an exclusive clay pigeon shooting facility called The Redmires Sporting Club and there were plans to turn the lodge into a country hotel. There were tantalising references to "visiting royalty" and antique graffiti and the reporter called the place an "18th century shooting lodge".

If the lodge was built in the eighteenth century, the building process would have been as monumentally difficult as erecting a small pyramid and just getting up to that isolated location on horseback, in carriages or on foot would have made for an extremely long and arduous journey.

So, as I say, I am not much wiser about Stanedge Lodge. I will keep my eyes and ears open to discover more and perhaps I'll make a more determined visit to the local studies library or pose a couple of questions in the online Sheffield History Forum. Funny how such questions can get under your skin and gnaw away at you like ticks. This was Stanedge Lodge on the horizon - viewed from a remote moorland reservoir yesterday afternoon:-

27 October 2011


As we all know, the world's population is increasing at an alarming rate. I came across an interesting tool on the BBC website that enables you to discover what position you came in the living human race on the day you were born.

For instance, on the day my father was born in August 1914 he became the 1,794, 229, 969th person on the planet. There were far less than two billion people on Earth at that time. I was born around forty years later but I was the 2,687,150,676th person - way past two and a half billion people then. In 1984 our son Ian came into the world and he became the 4,788,241,610th living person on the planet. You can see that in thirty years, the world's population had grown by a massive two billion.

Find out your position in the human race on the day you were born. I hope the link works - click on the crowd below to, hopefully, go to the BBC's calculator:-
Another thing I have found out is that when my dad was born 42 million people were living in Great Britain. When I was born there were 50 million and when our Ian was born there were 58 million. Now we are well on track for 70 million in the early 2020's. What I'd like to know is what is causing all these extra babies to be born? It's mystifying.

26 October 2011


This is what Wikipedia has to say about Stanage Edge:-

Stanage Edge, or simply Stanage (from "stone edge") is a gritstone escarpment in the English Peak District, famous as a location for climbing. The northern part of the edge forms the border between the High Peak of Derbyshire and Sheffield in South Yorkshire. Its highest point is High Neb at 458 metres (1,503 ft) above sea level. Areas of Stanage were quarried in the past to produce grindstones, and some can still be seen on the hillside—carved, but never removed.

Today - October 26th - was again a really beautiful autumnal day. Visibility was marvellous. I tried - but ultimately failed - to find a neolithic stone circle on Bamford Moor about eight miles west of our house. But in the meantime I took several photos of the landscape.

Here's Overstones Farm, nestling beneath the millstone edge:-
And here's an ancient cairn - some thousands of years old - on Bamford Moor - looking west to Stanage:-
Yesterday, I was behaving like a fugitive on the run as I found my way through a pine plantation immediately east of Stanage Edge to take this picture of windswept Stanedge Lodge. It was a private hunting lodge, built in the mid nineteenth century and it is the highest inhabited dwelling within Sheffield's city boundaries. There seem to be very few photos of this substantial building and because I can find so little information about it on the internet, I plan to discover more at the city library in the next few days. I have discovered that one or two incongruous businesses now list Stanedge Lodge as their "office" address. Very peculiar -especially when you remember its isolation and its rough access track that leads through the pine woods up on to inhospitable heather moorland.

25 October 2011


The sign on the building above is not as you might think an instruction, it is in fact a pub sign. Yes this is another Sheffield pub - situated in the outlying suburb of Oughtibridge. There are various stories about how, historically, the pub got its unusual name but mostly they are to do with a lascivious nineteenth century landlady called Nora Bone who had a novel way of getting outstanding bills settled. Apparently, the village lamplighter often heard her yelling those words from an upstairs room.

Nowadays the pub's name figures naturally in everyday conversation in Oughtibridge. Here are some overheard snippets:-
  • "I stopped off at The Cock for a quick one."
  • "The Cock was full to overflowing on Bank Holiday Monday!"
  • "She worked at The Cock for years!"
  • "Oh look! There's a seagull on top of The Cock!"
  • "Have you ever been round the back of The Cock?"
  • "The Cock needs a new cleaner"
What's in a name? This uncharacteristic post was written by my alter ego - the controversial and exceedingly vulgar Yorkshire comedian - Royston Vasey - otherwise known as Roy "Chubby" Brown:-

24 October 2011


On October 24th 1981, Shirley and I were married at St Martin's Church, Owston Ferry in Lincolnshire. Where those thirty years went I cannot say. That day was so very happy. A simple wedding in the countryside surrounded by our families and friends. Some of those dear people have left us but others have arrived - most notably our two wonderful children. Life goes on.

This evening we had a lovely meal in a new Thai restaurant on Ecclesall Road called "Patoo" but before our delicious platter of mixed starters arrived, I gave Shirley this necklace made from iridescent "black" pearls on our Pearl Anniversary. She wasn't expecting it but fortunately she was delighted with it and, though I say it myself, it suits her very well:-

23 October 2011


Written by American songwriter, Bill Anderson, Ken Dodd released "Happiness" in July 1964. It reached Number 31 in the British hit parade. Dodd was born in 1927 and has spent an entire lifetime in entertainment. In spite of old age and health problems, his performing days are still not over.

Dodd has brought happiness, however momentarily, to millions. The song champions the gift of happiness that of course all of us experience from time to time but like the ocean tide that is referred to in the song, it ebbs and flows. Although a few people we meet are of a consistently happy disposition, most of us have our ups and downs. Happiness can be very slippery. You might try to hang on to it but because of events, changing seasons or other factors that are difficult to pin down, happiness can steal away.
Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess
I thank the Lord I've been blessed
With more than my share of happiness

To me this world is a wonderful place
And I'm the luckiest human in the whole human race
I've got no silver and I've got no gold
But I've got happiness in my soul

Happiness to me is an ocean tide
Or a sunset fading on a mountain side
A big old heaven full of stars up above
When I'm in the arms of the one I love

Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess
I thank the Lord that I've been blessed
With more than my share of happiness

Happiness is a field of grain
Turning its face to the falling rain
I can see it in the sunshine, I breathe it in the air
Happiness happiness everywhere

A wise old man told me one time
Happiness is a frame of mind
When you go to measuring my success
Don't count my money count my happiness

Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess
I thank the Lord I've been blessed
With more than my share of happiness

Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess
I thank the Lord I've been blessed
With more than my share of happiness

22 October 2011


The very symbol of English civilisation is not parliament, the monarchy or even the works of Mr Shakespeare himself, no it is the public house or pub for short. This bastion of our culture is threatened by corporatism, competition from supermarkets, the smoking ban, excessive alcohol taxes and the impact of home entertainment in the form of DVDs, home computers, LED and HD television. Many pubs have already died. Some have been demolished. Some have become curry restaurants or have suffered the indignity of being turned into apartments.
In my world travels, I have found no social facility or venue that is as democratic, welcoming and pressure-releasing as the English pub. Other countries have tried to imitate it but it never seems to work out the same. A pub is something other than a glorified restaurant. It is a meeting place. A place to relax, to laugh, to read a newspaper quietly, to get completely sozzled if you wish. A place for quizzes and darts, a home from home.

Sheffield and its environs can boast any number of wonderful pubs. Expelled former residents like Mr Gray and Mr Booth should seek out their hankies now.

Here's "The Yorkshire Terrier" at Brinsworth:-
A marvellous and thriving real ale pub at Nether Green - "The Rising Sun":-
Sheffield's foremost Irish pub, "The Dog and Partridge" on Trippet Lane:-
CAMRA 's regular national pub of the year, "The Kelham Island Tavern":-
And finally, here's "The Norfolk Arms" at Ringinglow. Sadly this is one that has succumbed to the "gastro-pub" plague and is not the pub it once was. The round house you can see on the left was once a tollhouse for travellers and herdsmen moving over the hills from South Yorkshire into Derbyshire and onwards to the mysterious land of nightmares they call Lancashire:-

21 October 2011


Is it just me? Why do we have so many different power providers in Britain - each with its own range of complicated payment schemes? And where is the evidence that all of this "competition" is good for consumers?

For the last year, Shirley and I have been paying £84 a month for all the gas and electricity we consume in our moderate semi-detached home in the suburbs. We have never been in the red. In fact, our payments to "E-on" have normally been comfortably "in credit". Then suddenly, out of the blue, "E-on" tell us that their calculations have led them to conclude that our monthly payments must rise to £137 - a full £53 more than before. That is a 63% increase!

I telephoned the "E-on" monster which said that our previous "scheme" had ended in September. I said, "Well why didn't you let us know and advise us of a more economical "scheme" to replace the previous one?" But the "E-on" monster wasn't really listening. The call-centre woman just kept following her on-screen script which makes no allowances for over-heated Yorkshire puddings or rational questioning.

So I did what our illustrious government advised. I switched, after investigating the other beasts at the waterhole of power. Time for me to brush down my old sporran - we are moving over to Scottish Power! Yes Scottish Power - even though none of our electricity or gas will be piped down from Scotland. And isn't that a funny thing? All these power "providers" are not really providers at all. They're just glorified debt collectors!

Our ancestors lived in woods by water sources. There were no planning authorities. You could grow your own crops, pick your own berries, hunt your own rabbits. You made your own fire and your own light. These things were fundamental. Now we seem beholden to great gods of power for the energy we need. They sponsor football matches and power boat races. They give us Tesco points but in the end we - the general public - are just cash cows to them, held to ransom by monstrous organisations that are more interested in graphs, spreadsheets and the insatiable greed of their shareholders than in the basic rights of ordinary citizens. Power really does corrupt.

20 October 2011


There's a man I know whose life is ruled by habits and the clock. He was married in the mid-seventies when he and his wife bought a house very similar to ours but just round the corner. They had three children who have all now flown the nest. Sadly, his wife died of breast cancer two years ago. Now he lives in what was once a family home filled with the busyness of everyday life. Ruling over all of it was his wife who kept him in line as much as the children. He lives alone, surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of that rich past life. Retired from work with, most days, only the four walls and the radio to keep him company. I wrote this poem with him in mind.

A Widower

We lived within these walls -

Janet , our babies

And me.

I can still hear echoes -

The ringing of the phone,

Those late for school mornings,

Birthdays and bonfires,

Laughter and tears -

We lived it all.

That’s her favourite perfume.

That’s her side of the wardrobe.

That’s a letter from outpatients.

That’s the bed

Where we made

Our children in the dead of night

Like breathing air.

That’s Sally’s room.

That’s Paul and Jeffrey’s.

This is the fridge

Yes it’s almost bare.

This is her hairbrush

With strands of her hair.

And that, that was Janet’s chair -

But I can never sit there

I sit by the phone.

It makes me feel

Somehow less alone.

And sometimes they ring

The children I mean

Bulletins from their new lives

And places they have been

Later with silence re-released

I stare at our mantelpiece

That day in April, 1974

Standing in confetti

By the very same church door.

19 October 2011


I took this (clickable) photograph earlier today. It is of the Upper Derwent Reservoir ten miles west of Sheffield. Up ahead you can see Howden Dam which was constructed a hundred years ago. The men who built it lived in a temporary village called "Tin Town". It housed almost a thousand people and had its own church, school, grocery shop, pub and hospital. Today you'd need to be an archaeologist to recognise that there was once a village there. It must have been a hellish place to live in wintertime in spite of the natural beauty of the area.

During the second world war the RAF tested Barnes Wallis's bouncing bombs in this valley before attacking important dams in Germany. Here's another picture I took today:-

18 October 2011


Over in my home city - Hull, a bunch of primary school teachers have just found themselves in hot water for indiscreet communication on Facebook. These people are meant to be serving a deprived school in east Hull to the best of their ability. However, via the infamous social networking site they made unforgivable condescending remarks about the poverty and limited horizons of their pupils. I guess they thought that this banter was funny.

Here's a sense of what they were saying. I have copied this from "The Hull Daily Mail" website:-

During the conversation, "Nyanza Roberts" replied: "by town, do you mean top end of holderness road?

"That's bout as far anyone in east Hull goes.

"No wonder everyone is thick....inbreeding must damage brain development."

"Debbie Johnson" then said: "You're really on one today mrs... !! Xx."

"Nyanza Roberts" replied: "Haha, I'm actually in a good mood.

"If anyone reading this is offended, then get a grip."

Another teacher, "Jane Johnson", then said: "Massive queue of Westcott year 5/6 kids in poundland! x".

Copies of the conversation were pinned to lampposts and trees in the school's neighbourhood. The banality of what was said and how it was said makes me shudder. Professional people are not saints and given the pressures of work in the modern world, everybody needs to let off steam from time to time but Facebook is not the place to do it.

Parents reading letters of apology from the school

There have been plenty of examples of serious work problems even sackings caused by unwise Facebook comments. Those presumably well-educated teachers at Westcott Primary should have been wise enough not to let their guard down so publicly. However, what is more reprehensible is the sense that when all is said and done these young teachers look down on their pupils and the community they serve, forgetting that without these people they wouldn't be in receipt of comfortable teachers' salaries.

From now on, how can they hold their heads up high at parents meetings or even in front of their classes? Idiots!

17 October 2011


Dad in wartime - probably Egypt 1943

I hadn't heard my father's voice since September 1979. I was the last member of our family to see him alive. He was lying in a curtained hospital bed in Hull having suffered his second major heart attack that summer. He stretched out his yellowy tongue and then pleaded for whisky which seemed extremely odd as he was never a drinking man. I kissed him and later that night he left us.

Recently, my younger brother encountered a few old cassette tapes. He transferred some of the contents to CD and then voila - there he was - my old man speaking to me from over thirty years back. His voice was clear but what struck me so vividly was his pronounced North Yorkshire accent. I had completely forgotten that he spoke that way. He was talking about his postwar working life as a village primary school teacher. He spoke of his very first school memories. He was almost five years old and in Norton near Malton in the very heart of Yorkshire he could recall the playground celebrations that marked the end of World War One.

If Dad were alive today, he'd be ninety seven years old. Neither Shirley nor our children ever knew him which is a real shame. In his youth he was a rugby player, a cricketer, a rower, a piano player and a singer but as he grew older he became a water colourist, a photographer, a local National Union of Teachers leader, an advisor, a parish councillor, a church warden, an activist in the campaign to create a village recreation ground and the president of our village cricket club. Dad had oodles of energy.

His funeral in late September 1979 caused the village church to overflow with mourners and well-wishers. I remember trying to sing "The Lord's My Shepherd" in his honour but my voice could only quaver and, clinging to the hymn book, my hands shook uncontrollably. The words were in any case blurred by tears. In the last couple of years of his life, I had grown ever closer to Dad. He became my friend. I think he saw a lot of himself in me and was immensely proud that I had chosen to join the teaching profession, following in his footsteps.

To hear his voice after all this time was like listening to a ghost. Since he died, I doubt that even one day has gone by without me thinking of him. I would never put him on a pedestal but I would say that he was a good man, a good father and husband who tried to make the most of his life and didn't deserve to die at only sixty five.
Dad circa 1965 with three of his sons - me on right.

16 October 2011


Thailand is currently experiencing its worst flooding in living memory. The ancient capital of Ayutthaya is inundated. Above you can see Buddhist monks in their familiar saffron robes wading down the main street. Heaven knows what damage will have been done to the various irreplaceable archaeological wonders that Shirley and I saw there in March.

One evening, lower down the Chao Praya river in the Bangkok suburb of Nontaburi, we enjoyed a lovely meal with the owners of my lodging house - Sataporn and Thida. The beautiful and newly built house overlooked the river which is wide and deep even in the driest of seasons. I remember asking Sataporn about the possibility of flooding. He pointed out that before erecting his designer house, he had had a sort of concrete tank wall built that was a full metre above the usual flood level. The house sat within the bounds of that concrete wall and Sataporn was quietly confident they'd never be in trouble. However, given recent news from Bangkok I rather suspect his confidence will have been unfounded.

A bizarre news titbit I spotted earlier today was Primeminister Yingluck's announcement that a fleet of a thousand boats would sit upon the river with engines churning to assist water drainage when the high tide from the Gulf of Thailand met the river's floodwaters.

Much of Thailand is low-lying and when you fly over it you see fishponds, paddy fields, lakes and drainage ditches glinting in the sunshine. A lot of this retained water is partly down to regular heavy tropical rainfall but the main river network connects with the mountains of Burma and the Tibetan plateau.

At least three hundred people have died in the current floods - many through electrocution. Factory production has ground to a halt in various locations and tragically much of the nation's vital rice crop will have been ruined. Thailand is usually the world's number one rice exporter but perhaps not this year.

Calling my Bangkok reporter - Mr Booth! Mr Booth! Come in please. How do things look from your perspective?
On Sunday - Bangkok motor boats fighting the floodwaters

15 October 2011


As regular visitors may remember, I am on a mission to photograph all of Sheffield and its environs - every square kilometre. In yesterday afternoon's lovely autumn sunshine, I found myself walking near the tiny Derbyshire hamlet of Unthank.

Setting off towards the woods on a public right of way that skirts a cow pasture, I stopped to take this picture of Unthank Hall Farm:-
No sooner had I taken the picture than a voice emerged from the other side of the field. It was a woman with a bucket.

"Excuse me. What are you doing?"
"I'm going for a walk on a public path!" I replied. "What are you doing?"
"Me? I live here! What are you taking pictures for?"
"Because I want to. Okay?" I yelled back.

Then I continued with my walk. I am very aware of country people's sensitivities and I have come across other country dwellers who clearly appear to resent ramblers. I went into Meekfield Wood and out the other side to another chocolate box lid hamlet called Moorhall. I thought of Earl John Gray of "Going Gently" when I snapped this picture:-
But I think the best picture I took was of a lonesome hawthorn tree in Meek Fields looking back to Moorhall:-
After an hour I got back to the car in Unthank. A mucky old 4x4 vehicle was nosing out of a driveway. The driver got out - a rotund fellow in his forties. Let's call him Farmer Giles. Here's the conversation that followed:-

FARMER GILES Excuse me. What are you taking photos for?
ME Because I want to. I like taking photos of the countryside.
FARMER GILES My wife tells me you took a picture of my brother's farm.
ME You mean that old farm across the fields up there?
FARMER GILES Yes that one.
ME That's right. I did take a photo of it.
FARMER GILES Well my brother wouldn't like it.
ME. Well that's tough. I'm a law abiding citizen out on a country walk and I fancied taking a few photos. As far as I know there's no law against that.
FARMER GILES Where are you from?
ME I am from Sheffield as it happens. Where are you from?
FARMER GILES Me? I'm from here! (raising his voice) What are you asking that for?
ME I was just being polite. I've told you where I'm from so I just thought I'd keep the conversation going.
FARMER GILES Well don't come here again taking photos of our village.
ME This is a free country and I'll come as often as I want.
FARMER'S WIFE (Getting out of vehicle) We've had some burglaries here.
ME Well I can assure you that I am not a burglar. I'm just somebody who loves the countryside minding my own business, taking a few innocent photos.
FARMER GILES How'd you like people taking pictures of your house?
ME I wouldn't mind in the least and besides the picture I took of that farm must have been from fifty metres away. I don't know what your problem is.
FARMER GILES (Getting back in the 4x4) Well don't take pictures of our houses again!
ME See you mate! (The mucky vehicle zooms off down the lane)

I was quite proud of myself for staying cool and sticking to my guns. Perhaps I should send the script to the creators of BBC Radio 4's long-running tale of country life - "The Archers". I can see now why "Unthank" is so called and why the path to the woods seemed so untrodden.

14 October 2011


Above, you can see a doctored image of me recently produced by the talented New Zealand artist Ms Katherine De Chevalle. This faraway lady continues to doubt that my Beau is a real sheep. I deduce that the purpose of the doctored image is to turn me into the laughing stock of the blogosphere. Well go ahead everybody - laugh! I can take it because I believe in Beau. She's real. You can touch her. Many people out there believe in something called "God" yet you can't touch him or see him. He doesn't eat your grass. In contrast, even as I write these words I can see my Beau munching on the lawn. So who is more real - Beau or God?

Although she is bashful about her achievements on and off the rugby field, I have discovered that Katherine was once New Zealand's top hooker. Below you can see her racing to the try line whilst receiving the close attention of England's Fanny Winterbottom and Doris Scraggs. Unfortunately, after receiving a serious head injury, Katherine had to turn her attention away from rugby to her other great passion - art. I am sure you will agree that the sheep picture above showcases the richness of her talent.

13 October 2011


My new animal friend, Beau, seems to have inspired a veritable epidemic of poetry. For those who do not investigate "comments" boxes and also to simply showcase the poetic talents of my intellectual visitors, I have done some copying and pasting. So here we go:-

Oh Kind Sir

Oh Kind Sir
I do thee entreat
that you listen to my earnest bleat
that you should get to know me better
(before you see me as a sweater
or a woolly rug beneath your feet}
and I guess that my hunch is,
that if I become your Sunday lunches
that you will find it hard to sleep,
feel guilty when you’re counting sheep
when you know I love you bunches.

I feel you have the right to know
just how much I love you so
and I think that you ought’a
(if you wish to take this lamb to slaughter)
consider that I am your best friend -

Ian at "Shooting Parrots" quoting Ellis Parker Butler:-

The Sheep

The Sheep adorns the landscape rural
And is both singular and plural—
It gives grammarians the creeps
To hear one say, “A flock of sheeps.”

Katherine at "The Last Visible Dog":-

YP's Sheep

From where I stand the sheep stands still
As stones against the stony hill.

The stones are gray
And so are they.

And both are weatherworn and round,
Leading the eye back to the ground.

Two mingled flocks -
The sheep, the rocks.

And still no sheep stirs from its place
Or lifts its Babylonian face.

Never pellets can this sheep excrete
'cos this one's made of paint'd 'crete.

When thou art old

When thou art old and lying in thy bed
And thinking of the dumb things thou hast said
Wilt thou recall those halcyon days of old
When thou didst on thy friends these posts unfold?
O Yorkshire lad, they trusted thou wast true
Who gave to them each day a piece of ewe.

As you can see from the above, poetry is not dead! It is alive and well and living in the blogosphere. I dedicate this post to my faithful companion Beau without whom this outpouring of spontaneous linguistic dexterity would not have happened. And to those who hesitate to craft poems, I hope this post inspires you to sharpen your quills, dip deep into the inkwell of life and release the poetic spirits that lurk inside us all.

11 October 2011


Ode to Beau

Quietly, so quietly you gorge upon our grass.

Silently, so silently the daylight hours pass.

I woke to hear you just past dawn

Sheepishly munching on our lawn.

Like tiny waves your fleece it curls

Tight and springy with lanolin whirls

Your voice is deep and reassuring

Your wise brown eyes are so alluring.

Oh Beau , I’ve spent my whole life counting sheep

Jumping over gates to send me to sleep.

I never thought in my wildest dreams,

My fantasies and hair-brained schemes

That I’d ever receive a genuine sheep -

A real life Merino for me to keep!

Folk wonder why I called you Beau -

I shake my head 'cos I don't know.

10 October 2011


What is that munching on our lawn this drizzly autumnal day? Why it's my new pet sheep - Beau! Our son Ian purchased her from a sheep dealer in Nottingham and she travelled back to Sheffield in the back of our hatchback yesterday afternoon. I woke this morning to "Baaaa! Baaaa!" I wish Beau was part of a flock. She looks very lonesome doesn't she? But investigations demonstrated that we don't have enough grass to support more than one hungry sheep.

I am a regular reader of "Going Gently" in which Earl John Gray, the tea baron, often recounts the ups and downs of caring for an assortment of animals on his country estate in North Wales. Now with the arrival of Beau, I think I have joined his league though I am not about to make Beau my "partner". She will instead be my lawn mower. She was purchased secretly by Shirley, Ian and Frances to celebrate my recent eighty second birthday.

Earlier, regular garden visitor Stanley, the alpha male ginger cat from up the street, came strolling down the little path between our dwarf box trees and stopped in his tracks when he saw Beau grazing. Beau sneered at him and Stanley ran off. Territorial rights modified.

I guess there'll be a few more posts about Beau before she becomes several Sunday lunches, a few lamb saags and a fireside rug. In the meantime I hope to find great pleasure looking after my new girlfriend. Now where did I put my wellington boots? Welcome Beau! Daddy's coming!

9 October 2011


Tonto with his partner.

"Partner". It used to be a word reserved for solicitors and The Lone Ranger. Then somewhere along the line its usage changed so that gradually "partner" became a term you could use to describe your live-in lover, your boyfriend or girlfriend.

I first heard the word being used in this new way about twelve years ago by a whirlwind science teacher called Mark Kelly. He was from the Isle of Man. Several times he'd drop "my partner" into conversation without the accompaniment of a personal pronoun. "My partner likes cheese on toast" or "My partner does all the washing and ironing". Naturally, I concluded that he was gay because in my previous experience of life and language, young men had always referred to their lovers as their "girlfriends".

To me the word "partner" implies a businesslike relationship, as if embarked on some kind of a mission together. I don't like it. I still prefer "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" for unmarried couples. "Lover" would also be better. Like tattoos and the consumption of pizza, language can be like a virus that spreads so that gradually the term "partner" has become an unquestioned fixture in common usage.

Over the last ten years several other irritating words have followed the example of "partner" to gain acceptable footholds in common usage. Two other examples that occur to me off the cuff are "gifted" and "stand-out". The wealthy entrepreneur gifted an art gallery to the city of his birth. Why not simply "gave" or "donated"? And Rooney was the stand out player of the tournament. Why not: Rooney was the most outstanding player?

The English language is forever evolving with new words being embraced or introduced from other languages. I think that that is wonderful and it's partly what makes the language so rich and fascinating. Ultimately, I guess I will have to give in to "partner", "gifted" and "stand out" but I swear that I personally will never use those words in the irksome ways described above.

8 October 2011


Until a month or so ago, I had never even heard of The Pierces. Then my old friend Tony told me he'd like to come over to Sheffield to watch this unfamiliar band and would Shirley and I like to join him and Fiona? He even promised to send us a CD that would showcase the band's music. So last night we rolled back the years and went into The Leadmill - perhaps Sheffield's most famous live music venue. It hadn't changed. We had been there frequently in the early eighties.

The Pierces are essentially two American sisters and their backing musicians. Catherine is the younger sister and Allison is the older. They hail from Birmingham, Alabama and have apparently been knocking on the door of musical stardom for at least ten years. Their music is very polished. Some of the self-penned songs are uplifting and memorable - like "You'll Be Mine", "Glorious" and "Kissing You Goodbye". The best characteristic of their performance was the sisters' wonderful intertwining harmonies - honed since childhood and best exemplified in their haunting unaccompanied rendition of Paul Simon's "Kathy's Song" written in 1965:-

I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls.

And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies.

Yes, "To England where my heart lies".

It was nice to be entertained. To forget the troubles of the world. To
enjoy live music again - just like I used to. Thank you to The Pierces
and good luck on the rest of your UK tour. Here's a taster:-

6 October 2011


When I was seventeen, they made me stand on the school stage at nine o'clock one morning to recite this poem to the assembled pupils and teachers of Beverley Grammar School in East Yorkshire. I read it clear and I read it true and I still remember all those faces in front of me - a little bit spellbound both by the poem and by my delivery of it. I have always felt comfortable standing on stages like that - an adrenalin rush -and that particular morning I felt quite passionate about the poem I had been asked to convey. It seemed to have something meaningful to say about the dispossessed and the outsiders - even though they were not really represented in that school hall.


Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

5 October 2011


Put out the light, and then put out the light:
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore,
Should I repent me:--but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume.

Today it was time for an injection of culture at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre. The current production of Shakespeare's "Othello" has been vaunted on BBC radio and TV and by several theatre critics. I arrived early hoping to buy a "return" ticket and was offered a great seat seven rows from the front.

The production starred Dominic West as Iago, Clarke Peters as Othello and Lily James as Desdemona. For a girl who was still in drama school a year ago, Lily James was superb - imbuing her role with an overlapping sense of purity and gullibility that Shakespeare clearly intended. West was very good but arguably too domineering and I thought Peters made a rather puzzling Othello. His diction was often fuzzy - especially so when he raged. I was pleased to see that the reviewer from "The Guardian" agreed with me saying his enunciation "tips too often into indistinction".

I liked the fact that the set was simple and that the costumery was conservatively Elizabethan. In Shakespeare the words should speak for themselves without self-indulgent and rather bizarre stage effects and costume ideas chosen by madcap directors.

I first read "Othello" at the age of sixteen. I studied it again at university and then as a teacher I taught it a couple of times to A level classes. I am very familiar with the play's ideas and its language. Essentially it's about jealousy and the successful way in which the scheming Iago wreaks cruel revenge upon Othello for missing out on promotion.

The quotation at the top of this post comes from the last act of the play when Othello first extinguishes a lamp before proceeding to suffocate his wife. I have always remembered those lines. If I ever get to the promised land - the old people's residential home - you'll probably find me rocking in my chair reciting those words over and over till the Almighty puts out my light.