30 August 2012

JCB

This portrait hangs in Britain's National Portrait Gallery, just behind Trafalgar Square in London, but who is he? His name is Joseph Cyril Bamford, born in 1916 but who departed this life in 2001. Raised in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, you could not say that he was born into penury. In fact, his family - the Bamfords - were already big in the world of agricultural vehicle manufacture - mostly trailers.

After World War II, Joseph sought to develop innovative ideas in  the business he had grown up with. It wasn't long before he became slightly obsessed with hydraulics and dreamt up the first prototypes for what we  now know as JCB diggers. He was extremely hard-working and ploughed most of his company's wealth back into development. One special feature of his philosophy as a manufacturer was to actively look after his workers - rather like the Cadburys of Birmingham and the Rowntrees of York. They were paid well above regular national rates and enjoyed numerous other benefits such as  leisure time  access to the sprawling  grounds of the company's Rocester factory in eastern Staffordshire. Bamford was also adept at marketing which is why early on he selected the familiar bright yellow colour for all JCBs.

In his lifetime, he became a billionaire and retired to Switzerland as a tax exile - depriving the British Exchequer of significant funds that would have otherwise been deducted from his private fortune. In spite of this selfish financial ring-fencing, there was a time, in the middle of his success when he grew vegetables and quietly bragged that his wife had made all of the curtains in their home.
Early 1950's JCB promotion
JCB diggers are incredibly robust machines. The company has been a British manufacturing success story for sixty years. You see them everywhere and without JCB diggers how would our motorway network have been built? How would foundations have been dug on new housing estates? How would the authorities have completed the construction of London's Olympic village on time and under budget?

He wasn't a poet or a singer, a politician or a pianist. He didn't play cricket for England or score the winning goal in an F.A. Cup Final but Joseph Cyril Bamford has played an important part in transforming our country. His distinctive bright yellow diggers are everywhere and even my electric hedge cutter is made by the JCB company. He's an almost unsung English hero and I salute him.

28 August 2012

Sheepish

Sitting by the roadside on Burbage Moor west of Sheffield, just watching the world go by. Behind  this old sheep, purple heather is starting to bloom again, confirming that here in the British Isles we are nearing the end of summer.

27 August 2012

Vercovicium

Artist's impression of Vercovicium in the third century AD
If we could stroll back in time from 2012 - back three hundred years, we'd arrive at 1712AD. Australia and New Zealand had still not been "discovered" by Europeans and in England Queen Anne was on the throne. The Industrial Revolution had not begun and the America we know today was essentially just a disparate bunch of colonies on the east coast. 

Three hundred years. That is how long the Romans patrolled Hadrian's Wall, the ambitious structure they built across Northumberland from the North Sea to the Solway Firth. They developed this eighty mile long boundary wall to define the northern edge of the Roman Empire and to keep out marauding Picts and Brigantes from further north and Scotland. 

It wasn't just a wall.  It had service roads, military camps, protective ditches, wells, "mile forts", temples and turrets and at least six significant major fortresses where legionaires lived and ate, bathed and socialised. It was these legionaires who built the wall and its fortifications between AD122 and AD128. They had no dumper trucks or JCB diggers, no electric saws or drills to work the stone required. No modern protective clothing or steel toe-capped boots. No builders' yards.

In its heyday, the fort at Vercovicium - or Housesteads - in the centre of the wall accommodated some eight hundred legionaries and there were buildings outside the fortress where service industries thrived and where associates of the Romans eked out their lives. The fort functioned for three hundred years until legionaries were gradually withdrawn to fight other battles in distant lands as the Roman Empire crumbled.

On Saturday, Shirley and I drove up to a hotel on the outskirts of Consett, County Durham. After a hearty breakfast, we carried on to Housesteads on a Sunday morning which the weather forecasters had promised would be fine. We perused the fort and the associated museum before walking alongside one of the most spectacular sections of the entire wall then squelching across the rough grassland to the north of Housesteads and back to Hotbanks Farm where - on the track back to the main road - we encountered a pair of bulls with rings in their noses, guarding their cows. We weren't in the mood for arguing and so headed back for the wall, taking a different and more spectacular path over Hotbank Crags - back one thousand nine hundred years to Housesteads - Vercovicium...
Ruins of the North Gate
The Granary - preserving foodstocks was vital
The wall leads over Sewingshields Crags
View to Sewingshields
Horse in the paddock at Hotbanks Farm
ROMAN WALL BLUES 

Over the heather the wet wind blows, 
I've lice in my tunic, a cold in my nose. 

The rain comes pattering out of the sky, 
I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why. 

The mist creeeps over the hard grey stone, 
My girl's in Tungria; I sleep alone. 

Aulus goes hanging around her place, 
I don't like his manners, I don't like his face. 

Piso's a Christian, he worships a fish; 
There'd be be no kissing if he had his wish. 

She gave me a ring but I diced it away; 
I want my girl and I want my pay. 

When I'm a veteran with only one eye 
I shall do nothing but look at the sky. 

W.H. Auden

24 August 2012

Roving

When the land is blanketed with a thick layer of  grey-white cloud - that's not the best of days on which to take successful photographs. But I wanted to keep up the momentum of my walking habit so yesterday I was out and about in the Hope Valley of northern Derbyshire anyway. Another four hours of walking.

My first stop was the site of the old Roman fort at Navio close to the hamlet of Brough. The fort was built in around 73AD, some fifty years before the Romans set to work on Hadrian's Wall. There's little to see nowadays - just the man-made earthwork plateau on which the original wooden fort stood and a few stones that may have belonged to a succeeding and more sturdy fortress structure.
Navio Roman  fortress
I crept by a massive Schwarzenegger-like bull in a meadow above the village of Hope. I anticipated vaulting over the boundary wall but fortunately he just kept munching grass, surrounded by his harem of young cows. I stopped in Castleton for a pint of milk and an egg and cress sandwich from "Happy Shopper" before heading out of the village into Cave Dale which is overlooked by the ruins of Peveril Castle - erected in Norman times.
The entrance to Cave Dale from Castleton
Looking down Cave Dale to Peveril Castle
And so I walked onwards - up onto Bradwell Moor passing the remains of various lead and fluorspar mine workings. Then descending New Lane into the village of Bradwell, I snapped my best picture of the afternoon. This lonesome limestone barn with the domed summit of Win Hill beyond. In spite or maybe because of the white-greyness of the day the photograph has emerged just as I hoped it would. I'm a sucker for decrepid old buildings like this one:-
PHOTO OF THE DAY

23 August 2012

Ted

On Wednesday night our house was to be invaded by women so I had to escape. Shirley is leading the launch of a new Women's Institute group in our neighbourhood. For me it's like deja-vu because in the sixties my mother Doreen was the mainspring in setting up the first Women's Institute in the East Yorkshire village where I was born and raised. Women's Institute - The Wild Indians. No place for cowboys like me.

I hadn't been to the pictures for a while (Yanks - read "movies")  so I drove into town, parked up behind Sheffield Hallam University students' union and dawdled over to "The Odeon" on Arundel Gate. I had to pay the enormous sum of £7.20 for my ticket but I didn't feel too bad about that as I had just found a ten pound note fluttering on the pavement (Yanks - read "sidewalk"). I wasn't in the mood for anything too highbrow. Sometimes you just want lightness in your life and perhaps a few belly laughs too so I make no apologies for selecting "Ted" starring Mark Wahlberg, the gorgeous Mila Kunis and an animated teddy bear called simply "Ted".

Ted swears, jokes, smokes marijuana, invites hookers (British and Commonwealth visitors - read "prostitutes") round to party, gets drunk and drives cars badly but he is mainly Mark Wahlberg's best buddy (aka "friend"). They have been together for years. In fact MIla Kunis (not a rude activity) sees Ted as an obstacle in her developing relationship with Mark Wahlberg and much of the film is about her coming to realise that she needs to accept Ted and not to view him as some kind of adversary. The setting is Boston, Massachusetts. And one dramatic scene unravels at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

It's a very silly film with a predictable plot line but I chuckled several times and it filled a couple of hours nicely. The cinema was three quarters full but when the lights went up and the audience headed for the exit, I realised that there were no other forty, fifty or sixty somethings to be seen. All the other cinemagoers were in their teens, twenties or thirties. I half expected them to sneer at me - "What you doing here granddad? Where's yer zimmer frame?" Ah well.

When I got home, The Wild Indians were still having their pow-wow so I sneaked off to the pub to meet up with a good friend of mine - Joshua Tetley!

22 August 2012

Verification

Get ready for a hot-headed rant! Am I the only blogger who is becoming increasingly irritated by the current Blogger comment verification process that some of our fellow bloggers have left switched on? For me, apart from the time involved in typing out the characters I see on screen, I am mostly irritated by the fact that very often I can't even decipher the characters as they are presented. Invariably, I have to keep refreshing until I find a number and a mumbo jumbo word I can actually make out. Look at these examples:-
Many times I have tried to carefully type out the presented characters only to discover that what I thought was an "i" was actually a "u" shoved up against the next letter or what I thought was an "n" was actually an "m" in disguise. So you have to start all over again. Who came up with this particular verification idea anyway? Who ever it was needs shooting. I bet he or she is either French or Nick Clegg!

Besides, why do we need this kind of defence? What is Blogger trying to protect us from? After all, any psychopath or Frenchman can set up a secret Blogger account and make comments on our blogs so why have this stupid verification hurdle anyway? And if we must have verification, please make the "words" and numbers easily readable and recognisable. What are "owspirs", "recokmck", "oerpril" and "ndzedi"? Albanian swear words? Very hard "words" to copy down that's what they are. The previous verification process was easier to cope with.

So what's it all about Alfie? Can somebody enlighten me?

21 August 2012

Peak

Peak Forest is a small village high in the Peak District National Park. Its little primary school accommodates just thirty five pupils. In wintertime, it can be very bleak up there. Drivers speed through - usually heading for Buxton, Manchester, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Chesterfield or Sheffield with their heaters fanning out warm air. Mostly they don't stop.

Yesterday, I drove out there and parked at a remote crossroads, near to the course of the Batham Gate Roman road which once led legionnaires back and forth from northern defensive fortifications to the mineral baths at Buxton. I undertook a wide circumnavigation of the village having planned the route beforehand. The greyness of the Pennine morning gave way to a delightful afternoon with more blue sky than clouds.

It took almost four hours and led me past hill farms, sturdy stone houses, old lead mine workings, windswept coppices and a network of ancient limestone walls. How beautiful and how very lucky I am to live close to such loveliness though I am not sure I'd have said that if rain had been pelting down. Here's a selection of yesterday's photographs, please click to enlarge:-
Traffic crawling up Hernstone Lane
Cattle posing near Mount Pleasant Farm
Looking towards Mam Tor from Old Moor
Typical Peak District vista
Cutting the grass south of Peak Forest - my favourite picture of the day
This section of road is on the course of Batham Gate Roman road leading up to Kemp's Hill but mostly the old road strikes across fields and is difficult to decipher - even from aerial imaging
Driving sheep down the main broad in the hamlet of Wheston

19 August 2012

Adulation

At Barker's Pool, Sheffield city centre
On Friday afternoon, 20,000 Sheffielders descended on Barker's Pool to welcome home our own golden girl - Olympic heptathete Jessica Ennis. I wasn't there as I was making Shirley's tea and besides I'm not very good at hero worship. We watched it all on the TV instead. 

Anyway, today we were in the centre of town - trying to buy new brushes for our Panasonic vacuum cleaner. I remembered to take my camera. I wanted to make sure I had "bagged" pictures of the huge Jessica canvas on the fa├žade of the  "John Lewis" department store along with the gold postbox on Division Street - specially repainted to recognise Jess's remarkable gold medal achievement. She seems a lovely young woman - natural in her many interviews and genuinely proud to hail from Sheffield - a true Yorkshire lass. This blogpost is dedicated to her Olympic success and to confirm that the city of Sheffield and the Republic of Yorkshire is immensely proud of her. After The Revolution she will be our Minister of Sport.
Jessica's golden postbox
The 1925 war memorial with Jessica behind

18 August 2012

Potato

A potato
Surprisingly, one of my regular correspondents - a certain R.Brague of Canton, Georgia - has requested guidance in the art of potato peeling. Coming from "The Americas" - the natural homeland of the humble potato - I had assumed that he would already be conversant in the aforementioned skill.

Now I am going to let him and other lucky readers of this post into a little known secret about potato peeling. It was one passed down to me several years ago by my late and much-missed mother - Doreen (nee   Jackson). In a quiet whisper, with eyes looking nervously to the left and right, she told me that the best implement for peeling potatoes is in fact a cheese slicer! Yes my friends - a cheese slicer of the variety pictured below!
For twenty years I have used this implement in preference to any others or any sharp knives to denude many hundreds of potatoes - stripping away their dirty outer skins to reveal the creamy white flesh within. Of course, the hand you choose for holding the cheese slice depends on your dexterity. Normal people are of course right-handed but there are a few freaks out there who are left-handed. Being normal, I always hold the potato in my left hand and the cheese slice in my right hand.

One of the advantages of using a cheese slice is that the instrument reduces wastage of potato flesh that will often occur with knives or other useless types of potato peeler.

When peeling potatoes it is important to wash them in clean water and it is unwise to peel your "spuds" well in advance of  potato cooking. The stripped potato can discolour quite quickly so my advice is to chop and boil or fry soon after the peeling process has been completed. Of course, over in Ireland, families will often scorn the business of peeling - boiling any old potato with skin attached. I put this down to their prudish Catholic heritage. Priests must have told them to avert their eyes from the naked spud of God.

Over here in Europe, it is hard to imagine a diet that did not include potatoes but they first came to our continent in the latter part of the sixteenth century and were not widely grown until the eighteenth century. Imagine a life without chips or mashed potato, jacket potatoes, potato croquettes or scallops. It doesn't bear thinking about. The potato comes with its own special, protective skin waiting to be undressed. If you didn't know already - please remember the humble cheese slicer! Just as "a dog isn't just for Christmas", so "a cheese slicer isn't just for cheese"!

17 August 2012

Rotherham

Following my last post - about Princess Anne's birthday - I was considering producing a new post that visitors would find doubly boring. For example, I might have devoted several paragraphs to the peeling of potatoes, the poetry of Alexander Pope, the history of lard, the early life of George W. Bush, how to raise guinea fowl or the travels and life habits of a carefully observed woodlouse called Patrick. That's the thing about being a blogger - within certain limits you can more or less publish what you want - and be damned!

Making boredom has its attractions and I am sorely tempted... but instead I will get back to one of my usual themes - hiking tours in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire. Or are they boring too? I know Libby at least likes them and Shooting Parrots seethes with envy when he compares the brilliance of my photography to his more humble snapshots.

You may recall that on Sunday I marched from Sheffield city centre along the towpath of the old Sheffield and Tinsley Canal and then turned back to follow the Five Weirs walk back into town? Well, yesterday I returned to Tinsley by car and then continued the walk along the River Don to the fascinating town of Rotherham. Actually, it wasn't long before the Don was bypassed again by another old canal that runs parallel to the river but avoids its shoals and unpredictable waters - The Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation Canal (1751).
The weir at Jordan Dam on the River Don
Ickles Lock - South Yorkshire Navigation Canal
Non-boring Rotherham is home to some 250,000 souls - not all in the town itself but also in the estates and villages that make up the metropolitan district. It is very close to its big brother - Sheffield - which is twice its size. On the surface, Rotherham may seem like a sad kind of place. In the past it owed its prosperity to the production of steel and steel products and it has never wholly recovered from the butchery that the industry suffered in the early eighties. Having the vast Meadowhall shopping mall on its doorstep has also not helped commerce in the town centre.
Old Guest and Chrimes works with the New York Stadium behind
Painters at Rotherham Central
I saw the new Rotherham United football ground - called the New York Stadium and spotted teams of painters at the refurbished Rotherham Central railway station. I remember alighting there in 1966 from a Hull City football special train - before walking half a mile to the old ground at Milmoor. It was a dark and grimy, industrial town and even the old ground looked like a ramshackle steel factory. The town was once famous for the production of cannons - on Nelson's flagship "Victory" the majority of cannons were made in Rotherham. But that sunless Victorian afternoon they were blasted by a couple of Hull City cannonballs!
Tree and nice house on Clough Road, Rotherham
From the town centre, I headed across the fields to Wingfield and Kimberworth where social housing estates designed in the nineteen sixties still accommodate hundreds of socio-economically challenged families. Moving at the same pace, I walked a few yards behind a burly young man with i-pod earphones and orange shorts. At Kimberworth, as pre-arranged by mobile communication, he met a young woman with a little boy of four or five and from the few words I heard as I walked by I realised that the couple were separated and the happy  little boy was the product of their defunct relationship. This was his afternoon to be with "daddy".
At Grange Park golf course
I bought a can of Diet Coke from the Co-op in Kimberworth. What a rip-off at seventy five pence! And then I crossed Upper Wortley Road before cutting through Grange Park golf course and down under the M1 to Grange Mill Lane - which is much uglier than its name suggests - home to several dirty industrial enterprises. It runs parallel to the ever-humming M1 motorway before pointing you towards the temple of Babylon - Meadowhall where there are no meadows or halls - just glass and marble stores and the ringing of tills as hordes of circling worshippers pay homage to Mammon.
"The Royal Oak" on Grange Mill Lane

15 August 2012

Anne

I expect that bloggers around the world will be anxious to join with me in wishing her noble majesty Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, a very happy sixty second birthday. Yes our beloved princess was born this day at Clarence House in London back in 1950. In the picture above our blessed queen is holding our royal princess in the music room at Buckingham Palace which is where Anne was christened in October of that year. Little Prince Charles is looking on mischievously and beside our beloved queen is Queen Mary (not the ocean liner of that name!) and Queen Elizabeth, wife of George VI who of course died so tragically in 1952.

Princess Anne is married to Sir Timothy Lawrence having divorced her first husband - the caddish womaniser Captain Mark Phillips in 1992. They had two children together - Peter and Zara. The latter was a member of Great Britain's equestrian team in the recent Olympics - following in her mother's footsteps for Anne you will certainly remember was a member of the 1976 Olympic team.

A little known fact about Princess Anne is that she is a keen pharologist - having visited all of Scotland's 215 lighthouses. There is no truth in the rumour that she bedded a protesting lighthouse keeper on each visit... This is possibly the most boring blogpost I have ever written so to enliven the ending, here is a recent photograph of the esteemed princess showing off her exquisite and much imitated hairstyle. Lady bloggers (& Arctic Fox!)  - if you're looking for a new hairstyle - this is it! The Recumbent Badger!
Happy Birthday Anne!

14 August 2012

Waterways

The biggest "river" in Sheffield is the Don but in the centre of the city it is little more than a fast flowing hill stream that tumbles over weirs and shingle banks on its way to Tinsley where it settles down and becomes deeper, more slow-moving and navigable. At the start of the nineteenth century, as Sheffield grew into the world's premier steel producing town, industrialists saw a need to cut a canal that would link the town centre with the first navigable section of the Don. 

It was a major engineering project and involved the construction of eleven locks along the four mile long canal. This was not about making a waterway for pleasure craft. It was about bolstering steel profits, making the inbound carriage of coal and iron ore and the outbound haulage of steel products much easier. And so on February 22nd 1819 the canal was opened to great ballyhoo, a public holiday was declared in the town and around 60,000 spectators turned out to witness the transformational event.

On overcast Sunday afternoon, I walked the length of the canal, passing narrow boats and fishermen and the crumbling remains of Sheffield's old industries. In this city many "special steels" were developed and foreign visitors to this blog may like to know that it was in Sheffield that stainless steel was invented and first produced. The city is also famous for high quality cutlery - in both stainless steel and silver plate.

At Victoria Quays - Sheffield Canal Basin
Dilapidation by the old canal
"Matilda" passes under the M1 viaduct at Tinsley
I returned to the city centre via "the Five Weirs Walk" which follows the winding course of the Don referred to in 1936 by George Orwell - "the shallow river that runs through the town is usually bright yellow with some chemical or other". But on Sunday I saw an angler in waders fly-fishing in what was once little more than an open sewer for industrial waste. No bright yellow chemicals any more - just the silent echoes of long dead men and women who gave their blood and sweat and ultimately their lives to the Sheffield steel industry.
"The Five Weirs Walk"
Fisherman seeking brown trout in The Don

12 August 2012

BBC

In Great Britain we have an affectionate nickname for the British Broadcasting Corporation. It's simply "Auntie". When I look back, I can see how the BBC has been as constant in my life as a close family member. It was in the year that I was born that television sales in our country mushroomed ahead of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. I remember that as a small boy I delighted in  "Andy Pandy", "Bill and Ben" and "The Woodentops" - all courtesy of the BBC.

In my travels around the world, I have never discovered a better provider of television than "Auntie". It is so nice to watch programmes all the way through without the irritating interruption of commercials and that's just one reason why you will very rarely find me watching any other channels. There's no way I would subscribe to "Sky" with its associations with Murdoch and News International. They have stolen so many of the BBC's innovations - achieved over decades.

But my main reason for  writing this post this morning is to praise the BBC for its marvellous and comprehensive coverage of the London Olympics. So much of the camera work was brilliant - from quivering slo-mo arrows at the archery to shots that fell in synchronisation with the high board divers. All sports were covered with technical imagination, passionate and knowledgeable commentary and visual excellence. Expert studio pundits like Michael Johnson and Denise Lewis provided helpful insights into the techniques and pressures of top class athletics.

It was both a sporting and televisual feast and in spite of the horrendous cost of it all, like most true Britons, I am immensely proud of what our country has just presented to the world. I'd rather see our money going to a brilliant Olympic Games than to pointless military confrontation in Afghanistan. The Olympics seem to have lifted the nation and it was kind of the BBC News to shelve many of the usual mournful topics for the duration of the Olympics. The greed of bankers was replaced by Usain Bolt playing up to the camera and economic stagnation was replaced by Sheffield's own golden girl - Jessica Ennis weeping happily on the medal rostrum.

The BBC attracts many knockers - not least the Public School Nasty Party (i.e. The Conservatives) who have regularly accused the organisation of left wing bias. I find that accusation flabbergasting as all my life I have detected something of a right wing public school bias in BBC arts and news programmes. Not surprising when you investigate the social backgrounds of key players at The Beeb. - they tend to hail from the south east having gained their education in the same privileged schools and universities that members of the Public School Nasty Party attended.

But today straight after The Games, British people ought to be immensely proud of the BBC's excellent Olympic coverage and give Auntie a great big smacker on her powdered cheek. It could hardly have been any better. It just goes to show once again what human beings are capable of when they work together in teams to achieve shared goals. Perhaps more impressive than the feats of outstanding athletes, Well done Auntie!

11 August 2012

Luke

Sir Luke Campbell - another Yorkshire hero.
Arise Sir Luke Campbell! Olympic bantamweight boxing champion who outfoxed Irish opponent John Joe Nevin on the penultimate evening of the thirtieth Olympiad in London. Not only is Luke a tough and gritty Yorkshireman (like me!), he also hails from the East Riding and all the way along his journey to the top he has been proud to declare his fierce allegiance to the city of his birth - Kingston-Upon-Hull. Forget all those poncey middle class sports like rowing, modern pentathlon, shooting, sailing and dressage - boxing is of the streets and the council estates, often born of frustration and anger. It's a sport of the urban working class - controlled aggression. It's interesting to me that this evening's BBC Olympic coverage paid much more attention to poster boy diver Tom Daley's bronze medal achievement than they did to Luke Campbell's golden achievement in the boxing ring. Prejudice and bias can be so subtle. As I say - arise Sir Luke - yet another gold medal for the Republic of Yorkshire! At Rio in 2016 we should put out our own team!
Yes, even Yorkshiremen cry