30 June 2013

Geraldine

Perhaps I am unusual in that certain songs from my past will sometimes rise to the surface of my consciousness so that I find myself humming them, whistling them or singing little fragments from them. Are you the same?

One of my flotsam songs is "The Ballad of Geraldine". Though it's delivered to us by a man, he's singing it in the role of a young woman who is "with child" but finds herself, rather tragically, deserted by her lover. I first heard this song when I was fifteen and for some reason it struck a chord. It's not one of Donovan's best known songs. "Oh I was born with the name Geraldine..." is of course a lie - for he was born with the name Donovan Leitch - but I guess I rather liked that idea of an artist adopting a persona - imagining himself into somebody else's situation. And the theme is surely timeless - young women left holding the baby.
Co-incidentally, it partly echoes a recent episode of the ITV's tear-jerking series, "Long Lost Family" in which a Sheffield woman who is incidentally known to us - finally makes contact with the boy she gave up for adoption thirty two years ago. He was conceived when she was only sixteen. Her outraged father had pressurised her into letting go. Only a codfish would fail to shed a tear or two as we witness the reunion of a mother and her grown up son in a Sheffield centre hotel. You think of all the lost years and the quiet regrets - living lives with vital jigsaw pieces missing..."but all my love I was saving".

29 June 2013

Remembered

It's three years since my oldest brother died - our Paul. He would have been sixty six this August. No growing old for him. No wheelchairs or zimmer frames. No pension books or preliminary visits to residential homes. No memory loss or squeaky voice. He died, most unexpectedly, in his sleep and when his phone alarm went off to rouse him for work that fateful Monday morning, his hand did not reach out to stop it. I think of him often. He was a good man.

28 June 2013

Effects

Bloggers come and bloggers go - rather like the seasons. Some stalwarts stand like stone monoliths - Father Brague, Auntie Helen at Helsie's Happenings for example - while others leave the stage - Arctic Fox, Elizabeth and gradually, sadly, maybe even Daphne and Katherine? Recently, another fellow from our former colonies has leaked into my blog - a certain David Oliver and this Yankee chappie has thrown down a stars and stripes patterned gauntlet for your humble correspondent to pick up.

Essentially, David has challenged me to "Do a post about the effects of snow, clouds and frost on our psyche". Not to write a post, craft or create one you will notice - but to "do" one. Hmmph! Anyway, here goes. Though it would be possible to research this topic, sifting through academic observations of the meteorological, psychological or literary variety, I am going to address it simply from personal experience. My own thoughts - nobody else's.

Of course, I am Yorkshire born and bred and this is where I have lived over 90% of my life. Like the rest of England, we enjoy a climate that is temperate and with our maritime eastern Atlantic location our weather is often moody and unpredictable. It's why the weather is one of our nation's favourite topics of conversation for we never know what we are going to get from one day to the next. It is my contention that living with this weather lottery itself impacts on our people's psyche. In life - as in the weather - there are few certainties.

Turning to snow, clouds and frost. Well, I am not sure that they should be grouped together or dealt with separately but I will go for the latter.

Let me think about clouds first. As I look out of my window right now - it is dry but there's a thick blanket of white cloud above us. It doesn't threaten rain. It just seems to sit there and I know that if I could rise up through it like an aeroplane, there would be blue skies and gorgeous sunshine above. Instead, this thick white cloud filters the light and drains much of the colour from our streets and gardens. It is a bit depressing. It means you're less likely to work in the garden, to walk the hills or note the beauty of nature. It seems to suck something out of existence - that paleness, that empty feeling. It transfers itself to the human psyche and reduces the possibility of laughter. But days like these make us appreciate our blue sky sunny days all the more. In Spain or Arizona they seem to squander them: oh, another morning - more sun, more blue sky - what's the big deal? Here in the People's Republic of Yorkshire, we relish those lovely days and actively try make the most of them - if we are not at work.

In temperate countries, we have distinct seasons that you can read like a calendar. They mark the natural passing of time. Closer to The Equator, seasonal distinctions are much less clear. This was something I noticed in Thailand. Days are pretty much the same length the whole year round there and it will always be warm in spite of what they say about their  "cool" and "hot" seasons. The difference appears marginal at best.

A hard frost sharpens one's senses and cleanses the earth. It is good for walking - paths like concrete - and icy patterns on windows. When winter sunshine bursts through and you are walking in frosty hills it feels good to be alive - invigorating - as good as soaking up summer sun on a beach by the Mediterranean. But frost means cold and that coldness seeps into houses and bones. You pull out extra bedding and coats. You turn up the heating and switch on the television. The cold can drive you indoors and make you hide from your friends and neighbours. Winter can be a depressing time as you await the first signs of springtime and the lengthening of days. Just around the corner. We anticipate.

And so to snow. When snow comes in the dead of night - billions of flakes falling in the street-light glow, gathering, millimetre upon millimetre, blanketing the earth - it looks so lovely and creates a muffled quietness. Somehow it covers faults - disguises them - and, like today's white cloud blanket, seems to drain colour away so that what you see is almost a black and white negative. I love the sound of fresh snow - squeaking, crunching underfoot. It is beautiful and different.  And there's an element of danger too - you could slip. You could fall down. It gets the heart pumping.

But when snow keeps hanging about - turning to slush or dirty snow that is pocketed in hollows - it is like a visitor who has overstayed his welcome. You just want rid of it and like the clouds and the frost, snow can also be depressing.

I firmly believe that the human psyche has deep-seated connections with Nature in all of her guises - and that includes the weather. S.A.D. or Seasonal Affective Disorder is really real. We all feel it in spite of Yorkshire's magnificence but some feel it more than others. Cloud and frost and snow do not necessarily impact negatively upon the human psyche. They can bring benefits too. And when any of these three arrive you know that they will not remain forever - there will be blue sky days ahead. The sun will shine. The colours of The Earth will be apparent once again. It's about rhythms and patience and it's about the stimulation that unpredictability weaves into our lives. 

In their offices, shopping centres, electric homes, factories or cars there may be some people who claim they are able to disregard Nature - carrying on in spite of what's outside. But this way of living - technology, instant light and heating, supermarket shopping and motor transport has only been with us for the blink of an eye. Looking back through the enormous span of human history - some 200,000 years - our forebears simply could not turn their backs on Nature. Their lives and prospects of survival were intimately entwined with it. They had to read it. They had to know it. Not for them PVC windows, social services or "The X Factor", no ready meals or inoculations. No, their psychologies were so connected with the days they lived in that it would have been unthinkable to suggest otherwise. And if we strip away our masking tape, our veneers you will find that underneath it all we are still the same. Well, that's what I think - and if you got this far - thank you for reading.

27 June 2013

Movietime

MALTA AND GOZO - THE MOVIE
This is my third not-for-profit You Tube movie effort. This time material from our recent trip to Malta and Gozo was used. To tell you the truth, as I shot the video clips in the mazy catacombs of St Paul's Church in Rabat - I was already thinking about levering sunny still images between them. A possible fly in the ointment is my use of  "One Day Like This" by Elbow - it's very possible that  it's breaking copyright law but I am hoping that Elbow don't give me the elbow. After all, including their song on an internationally renowned blog site will most certainly boost their sales!

26 June 2013

Time

What happened? It must have been the summer of 1990 when I snapped our daughter Frances (above) in one of her grandfather's newly harvested fields. As I recall, we had just been on holiday in Northumberland - borrowing Charlie and Winnie's caravan. It was a great summer and one bright afternoon we walked along the beach from Dunstanburgh to Craster..."Oh the salty sea! I feel as happy as can be..." In the eighties, we were blessed with two wonderful children and you can see that our Little Frances was really very lovely. Where did all those years go?

And now she's twenty four. Here she is with her office team in Leeds. They all seem so young and yet they are pushing ruthlessly to meet targets that involve many thousands of pounds every month. Her hair is darker now. She is third from the right and is it too nauseous, too Hollywood, too soppy to say that I love her no less now than I did then? She is truly the apple of her father's eye...

24 June 2013

Damned

We dug deep into haystacks, yanking out bales till dens were created. Of course these secret places were dark and smelt sweetly of harvest. In there, once, I met with Gillian Hartley's lips, plumped up like miniature cushions and ruby moist. We could hardly breathe though we were less than eleven.  We never knew that kisses could be so intoxicating. The closeness. The sense of having crossed a line. We emerged as if from a bay, gasping for air, her hair tousled with straw.

And in those summer nights upon the old recreation ground up High Stile, we village lads kicked our leather football with wild enthusiasm. Best to Law. Wagstaff to Chilton. Goal! "Over 'ere! Pass it for Christ's sake!" Laughing. Yet again, it went over the wall into the land behind a neighbouring house. They were market gardeners. My playmates nominated me to go round this time. Perhaps I had kicked it. "Excuse me Mrs Hurst, could we have our ball back?"

She was holding the leather orb against her floral nylon  housecoat with a fierce expression. "No!". So I challenged her politely but she resisted when I just wanted to return to our knife-edged game. Where did my next words come from? "The Eagle" comic? "Billy Bunter"? There could be no actual swearing so I said the next best thing - "Well I think you're a damned rotter!"

She was appalled and ugly, grabbed my arm and yanked me into her cramped living room. All antimacassars and seaside ornaments with the vaguely unpleasant odour of their dog. I could easily have broken away - returned to our field of dreams but in those days there were unspoken rules you had to follow and children knew their place. She picked up their black bakelite telephone with its twisted brown cord - identical to the one that sat on the window ledge in our house - and she spoke to my father about his contemptible, foul-mouthed offspring.

Dad arrived and heard her story then he led me away with the ball which we tossed back over the hawthorn hedge to the other fantasy footballers. He wasn't angry with me. Years later he told me how amusing he had found it all. Damned rotter indeed!

With autumn time we would roam the farmland to the west of our village to find the best conkers - hunting for some sort of holy grail. The conkers hung heavily - spiked  like little green World War II sea mines and we would throw sticks or stones or edge bravely along limbs and stout branches - thirty feet up like circus acrobats. Our parents never knew. In a neighbouring village, a boy called Keith fell to his death one bright autumn. For we all wanted the prize conker, the conker of conkers and dreamed of splitting the very next green husk to find it - as shiny as polished mahogany and as big as a child's fist. 

But it never revealed itself and all too soon childhood was over. The Eleven Plus. Be-satchelled me in kneesocks with black and red stripes along the tops, waiting for the bus to that Edwardian Billy Bunter  "college" in Hull where I never belonged and them raucous on the other side - travelling to their secondary modern in Hornsea. Nothing was the same after that.

23 June 2013

Beware

Switched our main computer on this morning, planning to do some surfing around while I ate my coco-rice but straightaway this vile page appeared:-

Basically some nasty, spotty armpit-stinking scumbags are putting this malware out on the net to try to scare people into shelling out hard-earned money. They frighten you by saying your computer has been used to access illegal sites or has broken copyright laws somewhere along the line. You have seventy two hours to pay your spot fine or you will receive a visitation from the police and your computer will be confiscated.

At first I thought, "Oh no! I knew I shouldn't have visited Going Gently so much! Or viewed those rude pictures of mature Brisbane bloggers" But then when I was having my mid-morning shower - soap bubbles cascading down my tanned and manly torso - it occurred to me that this could in fact be a scam. Fortunately we have two other computers in the house and we were able to quickly establish that the ostensible police warning page is a widespread scam that has affected thousands of people - though previously we hadn't heard of it. And I also ask myself - why the hell did we pay good money to AVG to prevent viruses, trojans and all those other nasty enemies of normal internet use if the service doesn't actually work?

The bugger is an absolute nightmare to address and solve. I went through recommended steps only to find that something has probably and accidentally been removed from the computer's guts. It is possible that I did that myself as I was messing about or it could be an extension of the original scam. What the hell is CRPT32.dll anyway? I wouldn't want to drink it.

If I could get hold of the sub-humans who have engineered this act of wanton vandalism and selfish interference in other people's enjoyment of the internet, I would happily use my pruning shears to remove vital dangly bits from their pasty and no doubt very ugly anatomies. Grrrrrr!

Dear blogging friends- especially in Great Britain - BE WARNED! And if you discover the threatening "police" page, blocking  normal computer use, don't pay anything! On a different computer you will need to check out tutorials and follow maintenance steps as best as you can or call in an expert. Oh drat...tears on my laptop keyboard now! Aaaargghh!

22 June 2013

Indecision

Now what shall I blog about today? I could write another poem, say more about our recent trip to Malta and Gozo or give you an update on the saga of our Seat Ibiza. I could write hilarious spoof biographies for Robert Brague or Thomas Gowans. Then again I could address the mysterious Voynich manuscript or weigh up Hull City's chances of survival in the Premier League next season. I could dig up memories of my childhood, university or early teaching days. What shall I blog about?

Perhaps I could share a recipe from my extensive culinary repertoire or tell you the sad tale of two married friends who are splitting up after twenty five years. The neolithic temples at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra were amazing.What about the trip I am planning to the Isle of Man? There are far too may things to blog about even though I have been at this game for eight long years. Hell I was still a young man when I started.

Locked in a cupboard deep in a my memory vaults there are tales of the awfulness of some of the pupils I had the dubious honour of teaching and of some of the wonderful colleagues I worked with. I could blog about some of  the many mistakes I have made in my life or about my brother Simon. How I swam away from the shadow of an  enormous shark beyond a reef or how I nearly died in a Morris Traveller in 1978. There are jokes I could share or thoughts about Ed Milliband - the leader of Britain's Labour Party.

Hair loss, skin cancer, losing weight, Oscar the former family cat or Blizzard or darling Boris, the decline of garden birds, why do people hoard things while others live in clinical order? The fight I had at university. Playing rugby union at school and for my city all those years ago. The women before Shirley. My thoughts about fashion and expensive watches. There's so much I could blog about.

But hey, it's eleven twenty six and I am still in my dressing gown. Shirley has gone looking for new tiles for our little shower room. Shall I blog about something this morning? Nah, I think I'll just make another mug of tea and go upstairs for a shower. See ya!

21 June 2013

Killers

At Gordan Lighthouse - I thought he was a rabbit hunter but he
was probably focussed on the assassination of birds.
Until our recent holiday in Malta, I had no idea that that this little country is home to many hundreds of cruel and unimaginative "bird hunters". For generations, men of a certain disposition have trapped migrating birds or blasted them out of the skies with a range of weapons. Various laws have been devised to attempt to reduce this avian slaughter bur the gun lobby in Malta is strong and their nasty pastime continues to this day. I found this after a quick Google search...

Malta has one of the world's highest number of hunters per capita, who shoot and kill any bird that flies. The skies over Malta and the surrounding sea are devoid of birds. Each year, 3 million birds are shot or trapped on Malta while migrating between Africa and Europe in the spring and autumn, leading to a gradual decline of these beloved European birds that traditionally seek refuge in Malta.


The Maltese hunters have all but destroyed the country’s namesake, the Maltese falcon. In 1982, hunters on the island of Ghawdex shot the last pair of nesting Maltese falcons, also known as peregrine falcons. Every year the hunters also trap millions of wild songbirds that die needlessly shortly after being caged. Politically, these hunters have won the upper hand through bullying tactics. They are organized and have intimidated political parties, governments and environmentalists.


During our nine day holiday I investigated several little DIY hunting shelters. They are scattered throughout the landscape like little air raid shelters. Often there were spent cartridges scattered around and invariably, inside each shelter there'd be a gun rack and a single old chair pointing outwards where presumably these thoughtless nitwits would sit to conduct their "sport". I came across at least three lone "hunters" and a couple of men who were unloading rifles from their 4x4 vehicle one dawn. The driver said, "Oh we just like a day out in the country. Get away from our wives. Have some food. Maybe a drink..." The lying toad!

In a world where so many bird species are in decline, it beggars belief that a significant percentage of Maltese and Gozitan  men think it is okay to continue with their  killing. I cannot understand what pleasure there is to be found in massacring birds - amazing and often beautiful creatures that ride on the wind and adapt to a wide range of environments, following patterns of migration that are so old they are written in their very DNA. We should be cherishing them and applauding the fact that we share this planet with them, not trapping them or blasting them out of the skies.

Perhaps after some internet research of your own and if you feel as concerned about this issue as I am, please write to:-
PM Joseph Muscat
Office of the Prime Minister
Auberge de Castille.
Valletta,
Malta.
One of hundreds of  DIY shooting hides in Malta and Gozo

20 June 2013

Gallery

Back in Sheffield now. I have been checking out the photographs I took in Malta and Gozo. There were more than three hundred but for your interest and my weblog diary records, here's a little gallery of ten. Click to enlarge:-
A "birding" shelter above Marsascala. Many  Maltese men remain very
keen on trapping or shooting migrating birds.
Ghajn Tuffieha Bay
A woman reading by the salt pans at Marsascala
Tom and Emily at Ramla Bay, Gozo
The San Dimitri Chapel to the west of Gozo
Yorkshire Pudding riding an orange horse
The eyes have it - the stern of a typical Maltese fishing boat
Shoe shop in Valletta
West Gozo near Gharb
Shirley atop The Citadel in Victoria, Gozo

16 June 2013

Rambling

San Dimitri, Gozo
Like Malta, Gozo is rich in history - a history that reaches far back in time - before The Pyramids, before Stonehenge. These islands are at the very crossroads of past civilisations. The Knights of St John built many defences here in the middle ages, sometimes using stones cut from Roman quarries. And the Maltese islands sit at the very edge of the Christian world - next stop North Africa and the fearsome otherness of Islam.

Last evening I wandered off from our little quadrangle of apartments and away from the village of Gharb - out towards the coast in golden June sunshine - along ancient tracks and pathways. Fields met together like jigsaw pieces - laboriously terraced by long departed farmers. The grey soil is just dust - such an unpromising nursery for little seedlings. Here those who till the land must coax it with  the accumulated ingenuity and guile of five thousand years. Water - that's what plants need - but what do you do if it hardly ever rains and you get winters like the last one that can be summarised in just one word - dry?

Into a hidden valley and up the other side past the crumbling remains of former agricultural buildings and little stone homes - all with forgotten stories to tell. Then there on the ridge with the blue of the Mediterranean sea behind it shone the honey-coloured Chapel of San Dimitri in its glorious isolation looking to the island's rolling hinterland. Madly I tried to capture it with my little digital camera - aware that the gorgeous evening light would soon dissipate. Stumbling and striding over fields and walls I finally came to the chapel's threshold and looked inside where little candles flickered in coloured glass jars.

Then I turned to Gordan Lighthouse on a dramatic rocky outcrop half a mile away. More striding and stumbling and as I drew nearer the difficulty of the ascent became more apparent. Fields of thistles and bamboo. Base rock like clods of dried earth denying me footholds. Huffing and puffing then over the protruding limestone lip near the top and there she was - the great lighthouse that dominates the west of the island. Erected in the 1840's, her light still shines out across the tempestuous sea.

By the lighthouse's southern wall a silent  rabbit hunter with rifle cocked and combat gear was surprised by my approach. I tiptoed by and down the rugged track that would eventually lead me back past  light-fading fields of melons and cabbages, courgettes, grey dust and multi-coloured flowers all the way to Gharb where Shirley had concocted a tuna and tomato sauce for our second pasta dinner of this lovely long weekend in Gozo. I had been away two and a half hours and darkness had finally fallen.
Gordan Lighthouse, Gozo

14 June 2013

Co-incidences

At Ramla Beach, Gozo
So we're up on the north coast of Gozo at Ramla Bay. Here the sand is often described as "red" and it's surely the island's best beach. We have swum in the sea - chillier than Thailand or Sri Lanka by far - and we have flopped on our beach towels like over-exerted sealions, falling asleep in the midday sun. After two hours we reckon it's wise to depart even though we had earlier smothered ourselves in Nivea Factor 30.

We wander along the boardwalk to the little cafes beyond the dunes and decide to stop for drinks and a bite to eat. We choose Rose's though we could have picked any of three others and we go right instead of left, finding a table in a shady corner. And we could have arrived five minutes earlier or five minutes later.

There's a young couple at the table ahead of us. He is chomping on burger and chips but she has sensibly opted for a salad dish. We order our drinks and then Shirley whispers, "Is that Tom? Tom and Emily?" We look more closely as they continue to dine and then we realise it really is Tom and Emily! They are in their late twenties and they are from Sheffield and we are very good friends with Tom's parents. Tom and Emily have been together for ages and they now live down in London where they battle to stay ahead of the rat race. Tom is a big friend of our son Ian. They have borrowed an apartment in Gozo for two weeks before returning to the treadmill of work.

Now what are the chances of such a meeting happening? Great Britain is home to 62 million people and  Europe has thousands of possible holiday destinations and yet we met Tom and Emily there by Ramla Bay.

I often think about the near misses - co-incidences that almost happened but didn't. You know what I mean - you could have bumped into someone you knew but you were two minutes too late or they were two minutes too early. Or maybe they were there yesterday and you arrived on Thursday. For every successful co-incidence like the one that happened today there must have been thousands of near misses.

In one of my student summers in Ohio in the seventies I worked with a camp counsellor called Ian. Ten years later I bumped into him on the track up to Ios Town in Greece. This is a big world. So many people so how could that have happened? Just like today.

I know I am not alone in having experienced statistically impossible meetings like today's. What about you? Does my co-incidence tale ring any bells?

13 June 2013

Another

Gozo Island, Mediterranean Sea June 13th 2013
Dear Bloglings,
Now we are on Gozo - not Gonzo - that creature from "The Muppets". It seems a rather lovely island. Very ancient and all appears to be made from the base rock - a creamy limestone that reflects the island's dancing sunlight. We walked into San Lawrenz in the early evening and bought a few provisions from a small family grocery store. Upon returning to our surprisingly spacious apartment I made a tagliatelli dish with pork mince sauce - chopped red pepper, onion, mushrooms and tomatoes added. The missus enjoyed it so it can't have been bad. How did Jenny do in her Welsh exam? Are they finally going to put Old Uncle Bob in the Canton Sanatorium? Has the "Shooting Parrots" website been shut down yet following those revelations in "The Manchester Evening News"? Has Mr Hippo signed the pledge? Is Madam J. Blawat a grandmother yet? I have many more questions but there's only limited room on the back of these bloody postcards! Wish you were here.
Love,
Yorkie n' Shirl

12 June 2013

Postcard


MALTA, MEDITERRANEAN SEA JUNE 12th 2013
Arrived safely. Warm but windy. Hotel Soreda in Qawra - good. Today visited catacombs in Mdina and prehistoric  "Clapham Junction" cart lines. Also saw ancient cave dwellings nearby after negotiating frothing hounds - not all on chains! Moving on to Gozo tomorrow. Wish you were here.
Love,
Yorkshire & Shirley Pudding
P.S. Our hire car is an Opel Corsa.

10 June 2013

Ouch

We had a couple of old garden chairs to cast away. I'd brought them to the front of the house intending to drive to what was once called the Dump-It Site but is now Blackstock Road  Recycling Centre. I noticed the half-empty skip (US dumpster) in front of a neighbour's house and so toddled up the street to knock on their door - seeking permission to leave our old chairs in the aforementioned skip. Unfortunately, the neighbours weren't in so, as planned, I did the decent thing and set off for the dump-it site recycling centre instead.

On the way, for reasons I shan't explain, I had to do a U-turn and very slowly this involved mounting a kerb - whereupon there was an alarming mechanical noise - as if the suspension had been badly jarred. I carried on to the recycling centre and discovered that in fact I had a flat tyre.

Previously, I had never had to change a tyre on this car - a Seat Ibiza - so I checked the manual before attempting the operation. Everything was going fine until I discovered I didn't have my vital wheel nut key to loosen the last wheel nut. I looked everywhere and realised I'd have to check at home - three miles away. Up on the main road I flagged a taxi down but when I got home - no wheel nut key to be found anywhere!

Then for more reasons I shan't explain, it registered that I hadn't renewed my Green Flag breakdown insurance so I'd have to pay £108 to receive attention - possibly vehicle recovery too. Another taxi and I was back at the recycling centre. A repairman arrived in his green van - bizarrely a former pupil of mine who has recently become a grandfather! With all of Wayne's sockets and wheel nut keys, he couldn't help so the recovery vehicle was called and both the car and I were ferried back home.

The thing is - we are driving down to Luton at midday today (Monday) for our holiday flight to Malta - no time to get the wheel nut issue sorted. So at eight thirty last evening I caught a train up to Leeds to retrieve Shirley's little Hyundai car which our daughter Frances borrowed whilst I was in Thailand. Then back down the M1, getting home just before eleven.

And as I turned into our street I noticed the yellow skip was still there and by now the neighbours'  lights were on...And the moral of this story is either (a) honesty isn't always the policy or (b) shit happens!

8 June 2013

Sheldon

Rose Farm, Sheldon
This past week the weather has been gorgeous here in the heart of Great Britain. Bright, clear days revealing the glories of nature - with human modifications - in technicolour. Yesterday, in just skimpy shorts and flipflops, with bulging oiled biceps,  I tackled the privet hedges in our back garden - forty metres on both sides. Armed with my trusty JCB hedge trimmer, it took nigh on three hours - creating a pile of clippings the size of a family-sized igloo. Job done. Then on to barbecue duty before Shirley arrived home from work bellowing "Where's me tea?" For a treat I brushed big slices of yellow pepper with olive oil and grilled them next to the pork chops and homemade burgers. Eat yer heart out Gordon Ramsay!

But on Thursday I rambled in my beloved Peak District once again. I parked  up in a picture postcard village called Sheldon with its limestone farmhouses and quaint miners' cottages, its little village greens, its red phonebox and its curiously named public house. A sheepdog came to greet me as I donned my boots and I rubbed him below the neck which seemed to make him smile.

Then I set off across the limestone landscape with its ancient walls towards beautiful Deep Dale. Down the steep green banking then up the other side to Over Wheal Farm where I caught up with a sixty-something couple from Derby who seemed slightly appalled that I was clad in only my tiger T-shirt and shorts. They had fleeces and rucksacks - no doubt containing flares, sleeping bags, water canteens and Kendal mintcake. If possible, I like to travel light. Just my A4 map and camera.

Leaving them behind I reached an old drovers' track that strikes north westwards towards Taddington but at Taddington High Mere - a remote and ancient watering hole - I turned southwards for Flagg. A woman was walking two greyhounds - the black one had a hind leg missing. Then another woman on a muscular but stumpy brown horse trotted up the lane with her daughter on a frisky white pony behind her. There was so little motorised traffic out there.

From Flagg I walked on the Limestone Way footpath towards Knotlow Farm then down into the high peak village of Monyash where I stopped to photograph the old pinfold. A pinfold was a village enclosure used for the temporary accommodation of stray animals. Errant farmers were able to reclaim their animals for a small fee. Many Derbyshire villages still retain their pinfolds though of course they are never used these days - like many things they have become just a reminder of past times and the way things were.
The pinfold in Monyash
It was a long walk on tarmac from Monyash - all the way along Horse Lane. I turned right at the road junction because I wanted to investigate the site of Magpie Mine - an old lead mine that operated for two hundred and fifty years. Its pit wheel is now forever still but the site reminds visitors that northern Derbyshire was never just about sheep farms and gorgeous country vistas. No - the mining industry affected the area from before the coming of the Romans. Men died here. Miners' wives wept. Generations trudged across these windblown lanes to exploit seams of lead, knee deep in water, under the yoke of greedy mine owners who liked to keep their wage bills as suppressed as possible to maximise profits. Has anything changed?

Back in lovely Sheldon, I went into "The Cock and Pullet" which in spite of the suggestive name is not a gay bar I can assure you! I drank a refreshing pint of orange cordial with soda water and chomped on plain crisps containing not any old salt but "Cheshire salt". Oh yes, my friends, I know how to have a wild time.
Bringing in the hay on Horse Lane
Magpie Mine near Sheldon
Another view of the now derelict Magpie Mine
Back in beautiful Sheldon. Time for a drink in
"The Cock and Pullet"!

7 June 2013

Clues

I've been back in Blighty too long. It's time to get away again...So on Monday afternoon Shirley and I are leaving Luton airport on a Ryanair jet plane. And here are three picture clues as to where we are going:-
Mmm...now that was difficult wasn't it? Never been there before. It's a nine day trip and because Shirley only gets four weeks holiday a year this is her main vacation. I'm just going to carry the bags and to negotiate the Ryanair pitfalls - designed to trip up unwary air travellers and to bleed their wallets. One of the very irritating techniques this cunning airline have recently introduced is to use advertising in word verification so that you find yourself typing slogans or phrases from Ryanair or partner companies. They didn't used to be as ruthless as they are now. I just hope we are able to manage all the hurdles before we get to.....

5 June 2013

Winner

The "geograph" project receives hundreds of  new amateur photographs of the British Isles every day. There's a weekly competition which ultimately leads to a decision about the "Photograph of the Year". Between May 18th and 24th, 6396 eligible photographs were considered for the Week 21 competitition. A shortlist was drawn up and the judge - winner from the previous week - was left to pick his/her particular favourite. And guess what - he picked mine!
I know I have shown you this picture before but here it is again. It was taken on Stanage Edge - an exposed mile of millstone grit which looks westwards to the Hope Valley and beyond. This wasn't a picture I had much time to compose. I just noticed that confident rock climber having fun, crouching on the jutting rock, calling to her companion below.

Perhaps recalling his younger days, this is what another geograph-er called "Silver Whiskers" said of my winning photo:-

A lovely picture!!! Quite apart from the top class composition, just look at her face! Doesn't that just illustrate how wonderful it feels to be up there doing it. Gingerwhiskers remembers, back in the old days ....... well I rarely did more than a scramble when not on a rope ... but just doing the odd v-diff while watching friends on more severe tasks - it was great to be out. Aaaaaahhh!


Okay, okay I know I am blowing my own trumpet in this post but like a kid with his first bicycle, I feel right chuffed! It's been a long time since I  was last a weekly winner in spite of numerous nominations and if you saw the other candidates I think you'd be right chuffed too!

3 June 2013

Edale

Edale, Derbyshire on a lovely June day. It's a secret green valley where once all that there was to do was to raise sheep and cattle and children. Manchester and Sheffield would have seemed a million miles away. Now there are holiday homes. People retire here. Some of the old stone barns and houses are tumble down - yet they whisper tantalising echoes from a bygone age.

It's a lovely place to walk when the weather is clement - especially on a Monday when the weekenders have returned to their workaday world. I came across one fellow rambler - a Mancunian - urinating merrily by a stile as I approached. He was mortified but I promised not to inform the local constabulary that there was a flasher on the loose. Surely he could have gone to the visitor centre two miles away even though I appreciate that Mancunians are a rather uncouth lot.

Pressed by agents in Hollywood, I have crafted my second major film. It took me ages to recapture the amateurish flavour of my first home movie. In this artefact, you will find deliberate discolouration, blurriness, strange transitions and shakiness. Roughness can be very effective in film don't you think?...

1 June 2013

Morthen

Morthen before the motorways came
Some things get lost. The history of England is written in the field patterns, the ancient tracks, the tumuli, the earthworks, old documents, oral legends and in the stone remains of bygone ages and yet still some things get lost.

Yesterday - another beautifully sunny and clear day - I was walking in an area just east of Sheffield. The walk brought me to the agricultural hamlet of Morthen. It was the first time I'd been there. It's off the beaten track and there's not much to see but its name is tantalising.

Close by there are two larger villages called Laughton-en-le-Morthen and Brampton-en-le-Morthen. And it seems that in medieval times some other villages in the area were appended in the same manner. Morthen? What could it mean?

Here are three suggestions from "Rotherham - The Unofficial Website":-
  • Morthen may derive from the Old Norse term morthyng meaning moorland district with a common assembly.
  • It is also possible that Morthen was part of the site of the Battle of Brunanburgh around 936. A Saxon cross still stands at Morthen which is said to commemorate those slain at the battle where 50000 warriors are reputed to have died. It would therefore mean the field of slaughter.
  • Morthen possibly comes from the French 'morte' meaning death. Morthen being the place of death for the reason above or others.
Whoever wrote the above was perhaps unaware that there are other theories about Morthen. It is said by some that when the Romans departed these islands they left behind a political vacuum in which new Viking, Angle and Saxon kingdoms formed and that one of these small kingdoms was known as Morthen. Historical speculation surmises that each June for two hundred years or more, Viking elders and leaders would gather at a gentle moorland ridge between Morthen and Upper Whiston to parley, sort out differences and look to the future. Hence: "moorland district with a common assembly".That ridge is now cruelly dissected by the M1 motorway.

Who knows? As I say, some things get lost and maybe that's a good thing. There's too much dispelling of mystery. Too much rationality and too much science. It's nice to have an area called "Morthen", hiding its mysteries for ever more. And its nice to walk there on the same pathways that long dead men and women used so many years ago. Do we really need to know everything?
Entering Brampton-en-le-Morthen last autumn
Horse riders on York Lane, Morthen yesterday afternoon