29 February 2012


Don't you think that place names are fascinating? Sometimes the reasons for a particular place or street name are very clear and well-documented. Sheffield for example is a field by the River Sheaf and England is the land of the Angles - Germanic invaders who arrived on these shores in the post Roman period. Before they came there were various tribal areas including Mercia and Norhumbria but the word "England" did not exist.

When we were on holiday in New Zealand we visited several places that drew their names from the English aristocracy - for example Auckland after Lord Auckland the patron and former commander of  William Hobson who was the governor of the country between 1840 and 1842. In fact our hotel in the city was on Hobson Street. Maori names tend to be descriptive. For example Whakarewarewa means "gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao". 

I'm getting too serious. This was meant to be a light-hearted post. I wonder how these genuine English place names were conceived -  Shitterton in Dorset, Cockup in Cumbria, Twatt in the Orkney Isles and Titty Hill in Sussex? Other countries can also claim memorable place names such as Muff in Ireland, Bald Knob in Arkansas USA and Cockburn in Western Australia.

And what about these genuine English street street names: Butt Hole Road, Bladder Lane, Titty-Ho, Fanny Hands Lane, Crotch Crescent, Squeeze Guts Alley and Shaggy Calf Lane?

Of course we can laugh at these bizarre names now but in the mists of time there were reasons for them. They were not affected modern choices made in committee rooms by politically correct planners but had logical roots in our earthy history. Modern street naming tends to be blander, safer as in Acacia Avenue or where one of my brothers used to live - Sweet Briar Close. How lovely! Would you rather live at that address or on Pope's Head Alley or perhaps Bummers Hill?
In France
In Austria
In America

28 February 2012


Barbara Hepworth at work
The "county towns" of Yorkshire's three ancient "ridings" were Beverley (East Riding), Northallerton (North Riding) and Wakefield (West Riding). It was from these three towns that local government in Yorkshire was administered and even today all three places still serve important bureaucratic functions in relation to highways, education and social work for example.

I hadn't been into Wakefield for years and years. The last time I was there, the surrounding coal industry was still strong and the people of Wakefield were as tough and as thoroughly Yorkshire as their rugby league team - Wakefield Trinity. Today it was different. I was starting to think I had developed a hearing complaint because I kept noticing snatches of Eastern European languages - Latvian, Polish, Romanian, Lithuanian. And as I looked at these passing white people, I realised that they didn't even look Yorkshireish any more - their facial features, even their clothes. As our American friend Mr Brague might remark - I'm just saying.

My main reason for driving up to Wakefield was to visit The Hepworth. It's a new art gallery by the River Calder. It mainly celebrates the artistic legacy of the city's most famous daughter - the sculptress Barbara Hepworth. Born in 1903, she revealed her artistic talent at a precociously early age but the idea of devoting her life to sculpture took several years to germinate. Nearly all  photographs of Barbara Hepworth show her "at work" - mostly in her St Ives studio. She died in 1975.

Apart from prime examples of her work, there were displays of her tools, her old work bench, preparatory sketches and plaster models, how her massive abstract bronzes were forged and after sliding out one secret drawer I looked down on various beach pebbles she had gathered. Of them, she said that people like collecting sea-worn stones because they remind us of the timelessness of nature and help us to reconnect to it. This is something that has become a habit for me too. For example, I have a perfectly circular beach stone that I found on Birdlings Flat beach  in New Zealand. Her words helped me to understand my own urge to collect stones as souvenirs.

Black and white view to Wakefield Cathedral
Exhibits by Barbara Hepworth

There were some small groups of  "college students" in the gallery being shepherded by "college tutors". I had the feeling that they were not really there out of choice. They seemed more interested in their social tittle tattle than in Hepworth's monumental work. A few of them were eating snacks and swigging fizzy drinks. A few had worksheets to complete. I hesitate to imagine what questions they contained... What was Hepworth's first name? How much did you spend in the cafe? What did you think of the visit? -  (a) Okay (b) Crap (c) A Damascian experience which has convinced me that I should also become a sculptor, using a range of  solid mediums to reflect on mankind's place in the natural world... I'm just saying, that's all. 
The Hepworth by the River Calder

26 February 2012


Snowdrops don't last for long but in the British Isles they are the true heralds of springtime. And can there be a finer place to see snowdrops in bloom than in the grounds of Hodsock Priory - just over the border in Nottinghamshire? Shirley and I had never been there before this morning. The "window of opportunity" only lasts for a fortnight and of course you want to see the flowers in sunshine not beneath overcast skies:-

The Snow Drop

The Snow-Drop - winter’s timid child 
Awakes to life bedew’d with tears;
And flings around its fragrance mild, 
And where no rival flowerets bloom,
Amidst the bare and chilling gloom, 
A beauteous gem appears!
Mary Robinson (1757-1800)

And before the Grade I listed sixteenth century gatehouse there were even some very early daffodils, tempted out of hiding by the unseasonably warm days we have recently enjoyed:-

25 February 2012


Shirley found a book in our copious but disorderly bookshelves. It was probably given to me as a present but I have no memory of receiving it. It is an Ordnance Survey Pathfinder Guide and it's called "White Peak Walks". Normally when I go out into the Peak District which borders Sheffield's western and southern suburbs, I tread country paths I have followed before or I work out circular routes from one of my own maps. More recently I have used an Ordnance Survey internet site to print off A4 maps of planned walks.

However, flicking through the new guide book, I spotted several circular walks that I have not tackled before - mostly in the far south or the far west of the national park. Needing exercise and with a pleasant afternoon weather forecast, I set off yesterday to try one of the closer walks  - Walk Thirteen - "Beeley and Hob Hurst's House" - an area that lies immediately south of the Duke of Devonshire's famous Chatsworth Estate and is less than half an hour's drive from our illustrious city - a true jewel in England's crown (MI5 please note!)

I parked up but before setting off on my hike I sat under a yew tree next to St Anne's - the fourteenth century parish church - to eat a ham sandwich and drink coffee from a thermos flask. Snowdrops were everywhere. I set off up the fields to Beeley Top and then onwards to Park Farm and Bunker's Hill Plantation. Then up to Hob Hurst's House - a remote early Bronze Age burial site. Back down to Beeley Plantation, passing an even older stone circle, and onwards to the hamlet of Fallinge before dropping down through Burnt Wood and back to Beeley... Six and a half miles and three hours - just as the book said but it would have been quicker if I hadn't stopped to take photos:-
Beeley from Burnt Wood
Old guide stoop near Hob Hurst's House
Towards Fallinge 
"Lunky" or Sheep  Hole near Beeley 
Old barn above Beeley

23 February 2012


How did people survive before modern inventions arrived to relieve the pressures and stresses of  everyday living? Here's an amazing yet ludicrously simple invention from 1937. Funny how it never really caught on:-

21 February 2012


A few minutes ago, the doorbell went. I was halfway through the crossword in the Sheffield "Star". Standing outside was a grinning campaigner for the Liberal Democrats. We have the dubious pleasure of residing in the odious Nick Clegg's consituency. (Foreign readers please note he's Britain's Deputy PM). Magically, she knew my name and quickly gave me hers - Penny - before flashing a LibDem newspaper in front of me. "Not interested!" I said firmly and immediately shut the door. I needed to get back to my crossword.

Yesterday morning, I received a mailing from a company that deals in expensive designer blinds without which of course no home is complete. They got my name wrong. Instead of using my proper surname "Pudding" they used my middle name in its place. Let's just pretend it's Algernon - which of course it isn't. He's a friend of Rupert the Bear. I have no idea how these bloodhounds tracked me down or why they mailed me in the first place.

Algernon the pug
Since that mailing arrived I have had four phone calls from the blind company. Brr-brr, brr-brr. "Hello?" Crackle. Pause. "Can I speak to Mr Algernon?" Immediately, Mr Algernon puts the phone back in its cradle and returns to whatever he was doing before - cooking, listening to the radio, writing another fantastic blogpost. Why should these money-grabbing businesses imagine that it's okay to invade people's privacy in this way?

And please don't tell me about "preference services" - I am signed up to them all and have been scrupulous in ticking or unticking online tick boxes to avoid unwanted mailings and phone calls.

In everyday life I am exceedingly polite as I go about my daily business and it used to be that I would deal very politely with such undesired phone calls. However, as years have passed I have become more and more irritated by these intrusions and usually just put the phone down when I realise who's calling but I am thinking of adopting some new tactics as a kind of sport.

When I am free to do so, I might string the buggers along - pretend I have fallen into their trap and pull out at the last minute or provide false bank details or a wrong address. They irritate me so why shouldn't I irritate them? Another idea I've had is to ask for the caller's home phone number.


"So that I can phone you at home - just as you have phoned me. Come on. What's your number?"


"Right then. You're not prepared to give me your number so would you please remove my name and number from your data bank? I don't want you or your company to ever phone me again. Got it?"

Why can't our overpaid politicians do something about these telephonic invaders? The idea of hiring a team of assassins is attractive but perhaps you've got another way of dealing with telephone intruders? I feel especially concerned about older people who may be even less sharp than I am! They may find themselves drawn in by these telephone villains.

20 February 2012


"Safe in  our hands" - that's what Cameron promised in the  run up to the last general election. He was talking about our cherished National Health Service. But of course in politico-speak, "safe in our hands" doesn't mean that. In fact it means the exact opposite. "Safe in our hands" was just a cynical ruse to win votes.

Many of our English speaking cousins around the world don't "get" the National Health Service - especially in America where they is an ugly, uncharitable school of thought that says you've got to pay for what you get and buddy if you're weak, down on your luck, desperately in need of health care you cannot afford, then tough - it's your own fault. Ironic really when you think of America's widespread "Christianity" - The Bible Belt, Billy Graham, The Tea Party and all that. It appears that their "Christianity" can at times be most un-Christian. I'm alright Jack - pull up the ladder. Did Jesus say that?

Of course, our NHS isn't free. Employed people in Britain have always paid for it in the form of National Insurance. We live in a society and I for one have never resented subsidising the health needs of the poorest and most unfortunate members of this society. Though the three musketeers may have been French, their motto was admirable - "One for all and all for one". To me and to some large degree it's what living in a society is all about.

If it wasn't for the NHS, I would be dead and so would Shirley. It was there when we needed it most - when our continuing good health was severely threatened. The NHS service we received was super-professional from beginning to end.

I know many NHS workers, from a hospital porter to a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and of course Shirley has spent her entire working life nursing within the NHS. They all say how proud they are to work for such an important institution and they all recognise that during Labour's years in office the service evolved tremendously, becoming more efficient with reduced waiting lists and improved professional practice.

Now Cameron and his Tory cronies want to smash the edifice, bringing in expensive "reforms" that they hope will lead to more privatisation - moving away from the principal NHS tenets forged after the second world war. They are not listening to the cacophony of protests from public and professional bodies alike. They don't want to listen.

Don't get me wrong. In  such a massive organisation there is never room for complacency. Improvements - often of a money-saving nature - can always be made and under Labour they were being made. But if something ain't broke don't fix it. The Tories' radical restructuring will turn primary care practitioners into accountants and as time passes ordinary people will witness deterioration in the quality of service they receive while those with money will look to private healthcare in greater numbers than ever before.

The Crown Jewels are kept in The Tower of London but the NHS is our finest national treasure. Safe in our hands? I wouldn't trust Cameron with a banana.

18 February 2012


Amy Winehouse - Murdered by alcohol
What is your relationship with alcohol? Has it changed? I have just returned from the local pub where I consumed four pints of foaming Tetley's bitter and now I am sitting at the computer keyboard with a bottle of Marston's "Double Drop" before I stagger up to bed. Hell, it's Saturday night - surely I'm allowed to go as wild as that! 

Alcohol can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Sometimes both. Years ago, my relationship with alcohol was not as comfortable and controlled as it is today. I hesitate to recount in detail my worst memories of booze. But there was blood, fighting, the police, sex, vandalism and twice I slept in prison cells. I am not proud of those times. Another me often surfaced when I was fuelled by alcohol. Many's the morning when I opened my eyes and remembered with horror the night before. 

I was thinking about our lovely daughter. She is so level-headed, living a busy life which is usually guided by her innate intelligence. And yet she has been enchanted by Bacchus. Alcohol has made her fall asleep with a pan of pasta burning away, fall asleep with a pizza in the oven, walk in front of a taxi, fall off her high heels and end up bruised like a prizefighter. Quite simply, alcohol could have already killed her.

In supermarkets there are aisles filled with wines from across the world, whiskies and whiskeys, beers and lagers. Our high streets and suburbs welcome licensed restaurants, public houses and wine bars. Alcohol is all around us.

The majority of  alcohol tragedies are never touched  upon by the media. And then of course there are the related health issues - obesity, liver problems, renal failures, diabetes, depression, falling over. We seem to turn a blind eye to it all.

How many instances of football hooliganism have involved alcohol? How many robberies? How many rapes? How many acts of vandalism? How many fatal car accidents? How many street fights? How many deaths through jumping into rivers? How many divorces? How many beatings? How many friendships broken because of angry words pumped up by alcohol? These statistics have not been recorded.

So I ask you again - What is your relationship with alcohol? The good and the bad. Come. Spill the beans.

17 February 2012


Logos are all around us. You just can't miss them. Logo designs can make or break organisations. This is probably the most recognisable logo on the entire planet:-
In the 1930's, the brilliant propaganda machine that was Germany's National Socialist Party (Boo!) raided ancient Indian iconography to find this memorable spiritual logo which is now of course tainted forever:-
In Great Britain ( I never say "United Kingdom" any more) this horrible logo was dreamt up by some joker for the 2012 London Olympics. When launched, its design attracted floods of complaints and I must say it took me months to realise that the hideous logo spells out "2012" in a stylised manner:-

Surely one of the most effective logos of all time was created for The Brazilian Institute of Oriental Studies. Here you can see an Asian pagoda being absorbed by the setting sun. At least I think that's what it is meant to represent! You may have other ideas:-

16 February 2012


This morning's old gits' film at "The Showroom" was the 2011 black comedy "Carnage" starring Jodie Foster and John C Reilly as the Longstreets and Kate Winslet and Christopher Waltz as the Cowans. They have met up, as urbane middle class New Yorkers, to talk in a civilised manner about a recent physical skirmish between their respective eleven year old sons in a nearby park. Directed by Roman Polanski, the movie proceeds to strip away veneers of politeness, leaving all four characters severely challenged and emotionally exposed. It is a very intense piece of cinema with the action totally confined to the Longstreets' apartment. There are many laughs as we see the layers peeled away, recognising that all of us habitually suppress many of our truest feelings for the sake of social cohesion.

Friends Mike and Jill were behind me in the ticket queue. Afterwards, they shared my feeling that there were moments in the entertainment when you wanted the camera to just get out of that apartment, to reduce the intensity and simply lighten up.  But we all thought it was very good and to Polanski, Reilly, Waltz, Winslet and the ageing Foster, I say Bravo! A nod must also be given to French playwright Yasmina Reza who crafted the stage play "God of Carnage" from which this excellent film grew. Though you wouldn't know it, it was pretty much all filmed in Paris where Polanski, now 78, still lives in exile.

14 February 2012


Sometimes, I find myself remembering my beautiful little island in the Andaman Sea - Koh Poda. There you didn't need to care about the "euro" or the American right or crazy Muslim clerics or the price of bacon. You just took your book and your bottle of water to a shady place on the beach and when the sun got too hot you put your mask on and snorkelled out over the turquoise bay. One afternoon, when I finally raised my head from the salt-water, I noticed that I was a hundred metres offshore and an angry,  charcoal-coloured storm cloud had arrived from nowhere. By the time I made it back to the beach, rain was lashing down like no tomorrow. I just stood there laughing, waiting for this sudden tempest to pass. There was nobody else there. My book - "Bangkok - A Cultural History" was completely sodden. 

I looked back at my photographs of Koh Poda today. Did I really go there? Was it really me?:-

And on the mainland, in the fishermen's cave at Railay Beach, wooden phalluses had been placed as offerings to some ancient sea god:-

13 February 2012


Two short planks
Yes I'm thick folks. In England we use the term "thick" to describe those whose mental capacities are under par. I have just been watching news footage from Greece. Street riots have greeted the news of yet more austerity measures for that blighted country as the "euro" struggles from one crisis to another. Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights has decreed that the Jordanian hatemonger- Abu Qatada must be released from a British jail. Apparently his human rights must be protected! But who I wonder is paying his massive legal bill?

I am thick because I have no idea what European unity is all about. How can you have unity if some of us are less equal than others so that when the going gets tough the weak get punished? And why is it that British justice can be overruled by overpaid and unelected legislators in Strasbourg, Brussels or The Hague? A straw poll of British citizens would overwhelmingly conclude that the odious Abu Qatada should be sent back to Jordan immediately and billed for his air ticket. We wonder what the hell the guy was ever doing in our country in the first place and how he got to tap in to our welfare benefits while championing a nasty vision for the world that is utterly medieval and anti-Western.

In my profound thickness, I have other questions about Europe. How come petrol is far more expensive in Britain than anywhere else and how come we pay far more for wine and other alcoholic drinks? Why do we contribute more to the American adventures in Afghanistan than any of our European "partners"? Why are the borders open for Eastern Europeans to swarm in willy nilly and why did we allow countries like Romania and Bulgaria to join this so-called European Economic Community when they were clearly economically backward and would become liabilities propped up by the rest of us?

Back in the day, economic "experts" and transient politicians decreed that the only way forward for our continent was monetary union. European people assumed that they knew what they were talking about though many of us were very sceptical - imagining that this drive for union was mainly about big business, banks and suchlike. But how could we see into the future, being as thick as two short planks? We had to bow to the experts. They knew best.

The state of an economy has an enormous bearing upon political stability and the contentment of ordinary citizens. It was economic chaos that led to the rise of the Nazis in the 1930's and economic gloom that has caused so many suicides, so many relationship problems and so much anger all around Europe in recent months. I know I'm thick but looking back I'd have been much happier if rather than joining the European feeding frenzy, Britain had stepped aside, choosing instead to fortify its economic links with the rest of the English speaking world and historical allies from the British Commonwealth such as India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Nigeria.  The world is a small place now. Did we really need Europe? Or am I simply being thick?

12 February 2012


A visit to a faraway country like New Zealand is not something you file away in the back of your mind like a beach holiday in Spain. New Zealand was at the top of my "must visit" list. A special country. I knew a lot about it before I went - it's Maori heritage, its unique flora and fauna, its settlement by Europeans - mostly of British stock. And of course there was the connection with Yorkshire through master mariner Captain James Cook who circumnavigated the North and South Islands in 1769 aboard the "Endeavour" - a buoyant vessel that had once carried coal from the north east coast of England to London. 

A hundred and twenty years beforehand, the Dutch "discoverer" of New Zealand - Abel Tasman had not set foot ashore, didn't realise there were two big islands and never even saw the east coast. In contrast, Cook spent six months carefully mapping the country with astonishing accuracy and made contact with Maori tribes. Sadly this involved some musket fire and killing. Scientists aboard carefully collected hundreds of previously unknown plants and  The "Endeavour" was careened in Queen Charlotte Sound. Lovely word that - isn't it - careened. It simply means that the ship was beached so that its hull could be repaired and stripped of seaweed and barnacles.

Last week through the magic of "Amazon" I acquired Alistair MacLean's affectionate, authoritative and thoroughly readable account of Cook's life and achievements as a master mariner. He was an intensely private man and little is known of his personal life or how he progressed from such obscure origins in the North Riding of Yorkshire to become England's finest seaman and arguably the greatest explorer the world has ever known. That mystery exists in spite of his copious journals which pretty much limited themselves to factual matters surrounding the weather, the ship's position, problems with supplies etc.. 

MacLean refers to Cook's first landfall at Gisborne. While we were there, I went to find the Cook Landing Monument. It was erected in 1906. Every New Zealand schoolchild had been invited to contribute a penny to fund its construction and the monument was duly unveiled with much pomp and ceremony. (I guess that Maori families might not have been too happy about parting with their pennies!)  Today the monument sits close to Gisborne's gluttonous timber docks and there are ugly industrial units hiding it from the sea.

Though New Zealand is growing up now, it is still very much a young country. Even America seems ancient in comparison. New Zealanders still revere Captain Cook in statues and street names and of course he supplied the country with so many of its familiar geographical names - Young Nick's Head, Poverty Bay, Bay of Plenty, Cape Turnagain, Hawke's Bay, Cape Foulwind etc.. In fact, no one who has ever lived named as many places as Captain Cook did - though admittedly  he would occasionally ignore the fact that there were many pre-existing Maori names.

Below, the unveiling of the Cook Landing Monument in 1906 and my own photo taken last month:-

9 February 2012


Often on a Thursday morning I walk into the city centre to take advantage of  a cinema deal for the over fifties. It's offered by our independent Showroom Cinema not far from the Midland Railway Station. For £4.50 you can have a cup of coffee, a cake and a ticket to see a current movie. Last week I saw "Like Crazy" and this week it was "Young Adult" starring the gorgeous Charlize Theron - who is also becoming a mighty fine film actress.

It feels odd being in a large audience of people who are all over fifty. I look around at the grey or dyed hair, the wrinkles, the sensible winter coats and I think to myself - these people were all young once with their lives ahead of them and now they're on the downward slope. I still can't really believe that I am one of them.

Both films have been excellent - the kind of films that absorb you - where you lose track of time and accept the illusory world that is being unpeeled on screen. Starring Anthony Yelchin and Felicity Jones. "Like Crazy" is a love story with a difference. Meeting as students in Los Angeles, Felicity's character - Anna is British and she overstays her visa limit in order to have more time with Jacob. This causes future travel difficulties that eat away at their love like dry rot. The sense of time passing in this film is expertly crafted and I enjoyed it very much.

"Young Adult" is about a Minnesotan ghost writer of "young adult" fiction. Selfish, self-absorbed and semi-alcoholic, it's as if Mavis (Theron) has never truly grown up. She returns to her hick hometown - Mercury - expecting to just pick up where she left off with her high school sweetheart - Buddy Slade. But Buddy is married now, with a new baby and he has put his high school years where they belong - in the land of memory. At first, like a spolit brat, Mavis can't accept this but there is hope for her at the end as she drives back to Minneapolis.

Why Theron's performance hasn't won her an Academy Award nomination for best actress is beyond me. If you're reading this Charlize - please call round for a cup of tea next time you're in Sheffield! Daytime would be best. The strapline for her film could be my own life motto:-

8 February 2012


The notion of "school" probably means a lot more to me than it does to most people. I was not born in a hospital but in a rural schoolhouse - right next door to the village primary school where my father was the headmaster. I wrote about this back in October 2010 and have probably alluded to it on other occasions during my seven years in the blogosphere.

After advancing successfully through my primary and secondary school years, I joined the last cohort of eighteen year old British school leavers to become  V.S.O. (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteers. It was 1972 and I was posted to the most northerly of the Fiji Islands where of course I was a teacher in Rotuma's only high school.

Later, in Scotland, my degree was in English Studies with Education and during those four and a half years at university I visited or taught in a range of Scottish schools before embarking on my teaching career proper. Thirty two years flashed by teaching English in secondary schools in and around Sheffield.

So naturally, after all of this, I have many memories of things that happened in schools. Do we ever choose the memories that resurface or are they chosen for us by the "id" deep inside us? Some of my school memories are rather dark - often to do with injustice while others are light and quite joyful. In another post I shall reveal some of the darker school memories that still rankle even as they become fuzzier with the passing of years. But today, as February makes us shiver and a silver-grey cloud blanket shrouds the sun, let me think positively. The happiest days of your life?

I was in my last year at primary school so I was just eleven years old. It was my turn to lead a morning assembly. Usually, the Junior 4's just told stories from  a book called "The Bible" - you may have heard of it. But another idea was stirring in me. I wanted to give a speech that questioned the very existence of God and challenged the authenticity and origins of the "good book". In the days leading up to my assembly, I scribbled down some of my budding ideas. I had never shared them with anyone before but even at eleven and as a solo-singing member of the church choir I had come to realise that religion was all a load of poppycock. "The Bible" was just a story book, written by men and the idea of an afterlife was really quite absurd.

The night before my assembly, a voice in my pubescent head told me that the sky might fall in if I delivered my planned assembly talk. I imagined the stony silence that would follow my profane oration and the stormy ripples that might follow. So I ditched the idea and hurriedly reconstituted the safe and comfortable biblical story of Daniel in the den of lions. The next morning that tale was met was met with nods and applause.
Daniel in the lions' den - perhaps a suitable 
motif for my life in education
A few weeks later, the teacher - who was my father - asked my class if they knew the names of any great composers. I was thinking Beethoven, Handel, Bach... but Dad had noticed that Joyce Collingwood's hand was up so he asked her. Beaming with confidence, she said "Albert Hall!" - London's best known concert venue. A few of us tittered but I guess that others admired Hall's great symphonies!

At secondary school, though I was always an average footballer, I discovered that I was naturally good at rugby. I was a Yorkshire terrier, ripping the ball from the hands of other forwards and muscling through. I was at the heart of the scrum  - a fearless warrior, from scrum to line-out, from maul to ruck. I had a great "engine" as they say and I especially loved playing the game on muddy winter grounds. 

At the age of fifteen I was promoted to the school's first fifteen even though the other boys were all seventeen or eighteen. The standard of rugby was higher - harder and faster - but I learnt to hold my own and gave as good as I got. And one of the proudest days of my life was when, after county trials, I was selected to play for Hull and East Riding schoolboys.

Soon after that, I transferred to the sixth form at Beverley Grammar School where the rugby tradition was not as strong and where I grew my hair long and became enamoured with modern music, poetry and art. Even so, I still turned out for the inter-house competition and remember the acclaim I received when, in the final, I had to take an "impossible" conversion kick from the touchline. The ball sailed between the posts as sweet as a nut and we had won the game!

Fast forward to September 1978. It's breaktime at Dinnington Comprehensive School and I'm in my leaky shanty town classroom on the edge of the school campus. I notice two new first year boys in fresh blazers walking across the adjacent sports field. I go out to them. 

"What are you doing here lads?"
"We're trying to find the science department."
"Well it's not on the field is it?"
"It's supposed to be," one of them says.

He shows me the map his form teacher has given him and there smack in the middle of the sports field is indeed the science department! The amateur cartographer has put it there for convenience because science is on the first floor of the main school building and the one-dimensional map can't overlay floors. That's why there's a big arrow to show that in actuality the science floor belongs on top of humanities. I chuckle at the boys' confusion and try to explain their error but they look at me blankly. To paraphrase The Jam - That's Education! 

And that's the end of this post. I have waffled on long enough... for now.

5 February 2012


In 2008, a publisher called Florence Sandeman decreed that the first Sunday in February would henceforth be known as British Yorkshire Pudding Day. It would be a day to celebrate this humble "pudding" - that has accompanied roast meats in the British Isles for at least three hundred years. Mrs Sandeman had various reasons for picking this particular day - mainly its temporal distance between Christmas and Lent.

Though I support the idea of a day designated to rejoice in  the existence of Yorkshire puddings, I am affronted, nay hurt that Mrs Sandeman did not think to discuss arrangements for the day with me - a man who after all changed his name to Yorkshire Pudding several years ago - someone who has always been a loyal ambassador for the kingdom of Yorkshire and a champion of all things Yorkshire.

If she had met with me, I would have proposed the following for Yorkshire Pudding Day:-
1) All Yorkshire schoolchildren to wear larger Yorkshire puddings like flat-caps for the day or two smaller yorkies as ear muffs.
2) Yorkshire pudding hurling events to be held in Yorkshire parks - flinging the pud like a floppy frisbee to win various prizes in several age groups.
3) RAF Red Arrows acrobatic team to drop thousands of small Yorkshire puddings on troubled hotspots around the world like Syria, Canton GA and Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The delight engendered would create genuine pathways to peace.
4) For charity, all members of the British Coalition cabinet to be force-fed burnt Yorkshire puddings - which should of course normally be avoided at all costs.
5) If snow is on the ground, extra large Yorkshire puddings to be baked then allowed to dry till hardened before being used in municipal parks as sledges by young families from urban areas that are blighted by poverty and joblessness.
6) On BBC, a musical talent show to be launched in which contestants are only allowed to sing self-penned songs that are about or refer to Yorkshire puddings.

Perhaps next year Mrs Sandeman will pick up on some or all of my ideas and the whole world will notice that it's Yorkshire Pudding Day!

Six years ago on this li'ol blog I posted my Ode to the Yorkshire Pudding. On such an auspicious day the time seemed right to recycle it:-

How simple thou art, risen through the years
I recall you marked my Sundays
Fat laughter and glass tears
Golden wert thou - a vessel for mum’s gravy
Mashed potato memories
Brown ocean for a navy
Of minted garden peas

What an ordinary pudding you are
Milk and eggs and plain flour
In a hot oven for half an hour
You’re even made now by the famous Aunt Bessy
Supermarket packaging being not quite as messy
As beating those ingredients
In an old mixing bowl

You bear my county’s name
My land of hopes and dreams
From Flamborough’s chalky cliffs
To Barnsley’s deep coal seams
But in googling the world wide web
I find your fame at last has spread
From Timbuktu to Kalamazoo
The Yorkshire pudding rises…

3 February 2012


Alportdale - off The Snake Pass. Above, the hamlet of Alport - a cluster of stone farm buildings that predate the pine forest behind this isolated settlement. Below - The Tower - the central rock formation at nearby Alport Castles.
I walked above the Tower on barren snow-dusted ridges that overlook the winding Alport River valley. After a mile, and very carefully, I descended to the icy stream below, thinking I would make my way back to Alport along its rocky banks. However, in three places, progress was blocked by rock walls that were curtained with thick icicle sheets. Should I climb back up the treacherous slope to the ridge above or wade across this Arctic stream? I waded, three times, up to my knees, then squelched back to civilisation praying that the god of  frostbitten toes would spare me.

Another invigorating Pennine adventure in lovely, sharp winter sunshine... Oh a rambling we will go/In the February snow/ And its nice to walk alone/ Without a mobile phone!

1 February 2012


They use the word "tramping" in New Zealand but I was simply walking, high on the very backbone of England. In the image above you can see the upper valley of the River Derwent. At this point it is really just a moorland stream that burbles its way into Howden Reservoir that then cascades over a dam into the Upper Derwent Reservoir which in turn feeds the next reservoir - Ladybower. These man-made lakes supply most of South Yorkshire's water.

In Sheffield, it was mild and sunny this morning with daffodils poking through too early, unaware that winter's    hunger is not yet satisfied. But on Howden Moor the snow was six inches deep. I was wrapped up warm like an Inuit and every step was tiresome. The snow hid hollows and springs, clumps of heather and loose millstone rocks. There was no path to follow and my destination was hidden from view on the moorland plateau above me. I laboured up Horse Stone Naze and then there she was - The Horse Stone - remote and ancient, sculpted by wind and time, frost and rain, revealing millstone layers that were formed before dinosaurs tramped this land - laid down in some ancient shallow seabed, long long ago - way past our imaginings.
And to the east on Crow Edge, I could see The Rocking Stones but if I had also gone up there it would have been dark by the time I got back to the car.
There was absolutely no one else about on those moors this afternoon. If I had fallen and injured myself, there would have been nobody to hear me yelling "Help!" or instigate a dramatic TV helicopter rescue. I'd have had to crawl into the lee of an outcrop, like the sheep do and curl up in sub-zero temperatures till tomorrow morning. That was just one of the crazy thoughts that flashed across the silver screen inside my head. And I wondered - why did they call it The Horse Stone? It doesn't look like a horse. It looks like a mega-pastrami sandwich - the sort they serve in delis in New York City... The Pastrami Stone?