29 September 2013


Our lovely English summer is still refusing to die. Autumn and Winter have been kept waiting in the wings by The Summer of 2013 - and even here at the end of September she continues to take well-earned curtain calls. On Friday, I had half planned to begin decorating the kitchen at my son's house - craning my neck at the top of a step ladder to emulsion the ceiling with paint droplets in my hair and eyes. Instead, the weather forecast drove me out to Tideswell in the High Peak from where I walked down to Miller's Dale and then up the other bank to Priestcliffe and High Dale. Back down to Litton Mill and then back along Tideswell Dale to the car. It was another super, energising ramble - up hill and down dale - feeling glad to be alive:-
Old railway good wagon near Tideswell - now an allotment shed
View across the fields to Heathydale Ward
Deteriorating Meadow Farm south of Tideswell
View over the Wye Valley above Litton Mill
Back to the allotments at Tideswell
And then today, Sunday, Shirley was up for another walk with me. She often complains that I walk too fast and too far so I filled my boots with lead and planned a manageable stroll out of Ashford-in-the-Water, through limestone uplands to Monsal Head with its magnificent views of the Wye Valley. And then we'd walk along the Monsal Trail for a mile or so - through the Headstone Tunnel cutting south on the path back to Ashford which is where we were befriended by a black cat:-
Shirley with the black cat at her feet
Victorian postbox in Ashford
"The Bull's Head" in Ashford

27 September 2013


I have nothing to say today - nothing to blog about. I thought I might reflect on the horror of the fatal Nairobi shopping mall attack or the dignity of Dr Muhammad Taufiq Al Sattar who lost his entire family in an arson attack in Leicester. The return of Kiwi Katherine de Chevalle to the blogging fold or the amazing number of plums we have harvested from our Victoria plum tree this year. How to make something delicious from a bag of microwaveable rice or the tragic Tory privatisation of Royal Mail...

But I cannot muster the energy. Can't be bothered. Nothing to say.

Or maybe I could have written about last evening's journey up to Leeds to join our lovely daughter Frances for a celebratory birthday meal. Born twenty five years ago, she remains the apple of our eye. A young professional now. With five of her friends we dined on mince and slices of quince in Miah's Kitchen - an intimate up-market Indian curry house on York Place. One of the waiters even brought out a sparkling birthday chocolate caterpillar log and we sang "Happy Birthday to you...". I was pleased we had made the effort to join her in the middle of the working week. We drove back on a very quiet M1 motorway, now peppered with the evidence of expensive, slow motion road widening activity. Flashing lights and warnings about speed cameras...

But I'm not in the mood for writing about that. No way.
At the birthday meal we were asked to spill the beans about Frances's childhood - an embarrassing tale. But we had nothing to say for she, like her brother, was such a lovely child and our memories of her are almost entirely sweet. But we related the tale of a summer holiday in France when she was almost four years old. From the back of the car a little voice piped up out of the blue - "I want a fishing net". And that voice continued for the next three days. When she woke up, her first words were, "I want a fishing net" and at hourly intervals, the same refrain - "I want a fishing net". It wasn't a request, it was a demand. Finally, we relented and in a seafront shop in La Baule, ground down by her ceaselessness, we found the precious fishing net she had craved. And, as the tide was out, I took her straight down to the rock pools where we saw little French fishes and caught a lurking French crab called Pierre. She was very happy. Mission accomplished. What next?

But you wouldn't want to hear an unremarkable story like that one so I'll just say nothing and go back to bed for a bit more kip.
Frances last evening - just twenty five

25 September 2013


Sheep mask
"Standout" - that's just one irksome expression that has leaked its way into modern English usage and is now becoming part of our common currency. I mean, why can't commentators say: "I thought Joe Bloggs's performance was outstanding" or "In my opinion the most outstanding player was Joe Bloggs" instead of "For me Joe Bloggs was the standout player". It is a term we have absorbed from American television - especially their sports coverage. Not so long ago you would never have heard that term in Britain - either on the BBC or in private conversations.

Another term that really irritates me is "gifted". "The paintings were gifted to the nation by Lord Snodgrass"  - why not simply "given to the nation" or "left as a gift to the nation by Lord Snodgrass"?  Usually, I'd expect "gift" to be used as a noun and it's only when referring to somebody who is especially talented in a particular area that I'd use it as a verb - as in "Mr Brague is a gifted organist" or "Helen has become a gifted quilter".

In language use, it is easy to be a sheep - going along with the flock. Language is forever changing I know and  I have happily embraced many new terms and expressions  - from "cool" to "chav", from "blog" to "boob" and from "software" to "airhead" but there are some developments that just get my goat. "Standout" and "gifted" being just two of them.

Perhaps I am a bit of a pedant but guess that I am not alone in being annoyed by and unwilling to absorb particular words or expressions. Are there any "new" words or expressions that irritate you?

24 September 2013


Grab the popcorn and a bucket-sized cup of cola - it's time to snuggle down in your comfy chair and enjoy the latest blockbusting film from the renown, avant garde English film director - Sir Yorkshire Pudding. It is his fourth feature film and once again Pudding ignores normal film conventions to craft a unique and dramatic vision  of the Derbyshire countryside. Incredibly, this film is brought to you free of charge thanks to generous sponsorship from Yorkey's Knob Junior Football Team (Cairns, Australia) and The Tom Gowans Big Toe Preservation Society:- 

23 September 2013


In northern England, autumn was stopped in its tracks yesterday. Cobalt blue skies and sharp sunshine with a balmy temperature that meant coats were once again redundant. The last rallying cry of summer. And naturally I had to get out with a map, walking boots and Shirley's little Nikon Coolpix camera.

I headed for the hamlet of Pomeroy which is on the old Roman road that leads from Ashbourne to Buxton. Parking opposite "The Duke of York" pub, I was soon marching along the High Peak Trail to Dowlow and then onwards past the voracious limestone works to Sterndale Moor. The afternoon light was gorgeous and the meadows were thick with lush green grass - testament to the wonderful summer we have enjoyed this year. A summer of summers.
"The Duke of York" at Pomeroy
Then up towards Nether Low. In Derbyshire, the word "low" often indicates an ancient burial mound and indeed when Nether Low was excavated rather amateurishly in the middle of the nineteenth century, Bronze Age bones, metal implements and jewellery were discovered here. It is a place that sings quietly of past times and how we used to be.
The path to Nether Low - on the horizon
The view over Chelmorton was dreamlike. Sleeping beneath Chelmorton Low, the limestone village is redolent with echoes of its medieval significance - a small market town made wealthy by the wool industry. But yesterday I turned at the nearby crossroads and headed up across fields to Highstool Lane. Evidence of former lead mine workings could be seen in the land's bumps and hollows. I paused to take several pictures of a simple wooden signpost that has endured endless seasons of changing weather high on those uplands.
Old wooden signpost on the path to Flagg
Onwards to beautiful Flagg and then across more thick meadows towards Pasture Barn. I hoped to find it sitting sweetly behind a small copse but in spite of what my map said,  it wasn't there! In recent times it must have been demolished - probably by the landowner. It is a sad loss. I love the isolated limestone barns and farm buildings of the Peak District. They speak to us of distant times and deserve to be preserved as long as possible - not crushed to bits.

Back at Pomeroy, "The Duke of York" was now closed because of a mysterious "problem in the kitchen". I drove on to another isolated roadside pub that is over five hundred years old and called rather sweetly - "The Bull-i'-th'-Thorn" but by then it was past five o'clock and time  to head back to Sheffield via Monyash, Bakewell and Calver - a journey illuminated in brilliant technicolour. I couldn't have wasted an afternoon like that. Such beauty.
Old field barn near Dowlow
Inquisitive Zwartble sheep at High Stool Farm, Flagg
The village of Flagg is ahead
"The Bull-i'-th'-Thorn" public house

22 September 2013


Grrrrr! is the sound that tigers make before they pounce and yesterday - in front of 51,000 supporters at St James's Park in Newcastle - my beloved Hull City A.F.C. - The Tigers - secured an unlikely victory with goals from Robbie Brady, Ahmed Elmohamady and Sone Aluko. Above, in a balletic pose, David Meyler congratulates Aluko whose superb first time volley sealed our famous victory.

Now I am aware that many bloggers out there in the blogosphere are not big followers of football so let me fill you in. My team was formed in 1905 and it took over a hundred years before we finally arrived in the top flight of English football. In 2010 we were relegated but this year - under the wise management of Steve Bruce and our wealthy new owners - the Allam family - we are back in The Premiership. The start has been encouraging but our target must still simply be to stay in this division.

Financially we are like David competing with Goliath teams such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and even yesterday's opponents - Newcastle United. These teams all have single players who cost more to buy than our entire squad. So to go up to Newcastle and win by three goals to two is something of a minor miracle and testament to our team's self-belief and togetherness.

Dear friend, if you don't have a favourite English football team, may I invite you to become an honorary Hull City supporter? Who knows, if you get hooked, you may even decide to  purchase merchandise from Tiger Leisure such as the Roary the Tiger keyring. How have you lived thus far without one?

20 September 2013


More walking. Twice this week I have visited a bleak and hilly area north of Sheffield and along the road I had to pass this isolated pub called "The Travellers Inn". Once it would have catered for coach travel - I mean teams of horses and coach travellers - when the miles passed far more slowly than they do today.

I have rambled round Ingbirchworth, Denby Dale, Upper Denby, Lower Denby, Skelmanthorpe, Bagden Hall and to me the best name of all - Nether End. Nether End - like the end of the world. The word also appears within Sheffield's suburbs - Nether Green and Nether Edge. Both of our children were born at Nether Edge when the maternity hospital still stood there. Now it's a campus of luxury flats - a gated community - keeping the rest of the world out. The idea of living in such an exclusive "community" appals me.

A little etymological research tells me that the prefix "nether" means "under" or "lower" - like one's nether regions - somewhat hidden from view. "Denby" was once a "Settlement of the Danes" - harking back to the years - after the Roman occupation - when Yorkshire was invaded by Vikings and other Norsemen. Many Yorkshire place names and family names - including my own - can be traced back to those early Danish settlers. Even the name York sprang from its Viking name - Jorvik.

It was good to be out in the wind today, under scudding clouds, plodding along unfamiliar paths. You never know what you might see or when you might encounter a yapping pampered canine or even genuine wildlife. As I descended to a silvery pool in the babbling River Dearne - under a leafy canopy - an alarmed  heron flapped its way out of the trees and later a covey of grouse were equally startled - their clucking song resounding along the hedgerows as they left.

Then back past "The Travellers Inn" to Sheffield where I went straight to "Carpet Right" to purchase enough cheap carpet to cover a bedroom floor at our son's house. I have been decorating that room this week and had to admit that the carpet was gross and really needed replacing. I have also bought some new curtains as a previous tenant had roughly sliced the excess bottom inches off the old curtains with a pair of scissors, leaving ragged threads behind. The good thing about cheap carpets is that they tend to be thin so they're quite easy to cut. Fitting it myself will save £60.

Oh dear - this post appears to have rambled like a good old  country walk.

19 September 2013


Last night I walked up to "The Greystones" pub with its "Backroom" concert venue and waited for Robin Williamson to take the stage. I first saw him when I was seventeen and he was the creative leader of The Incredible String Band. Last night there were about a hundred aficionados in the "Backroom", mostly badly groomed sixty and seventy somethings - for Robin himself is now in his seventieth year.

More than half of his songs and stories happen to the accompaniment of the Celtic harp which he plays with nimble passion. Otherwise, half-crouched behind the harp he plays his acoustic guitar in a skilfully idiosyncratic manner that has been fashioned through fifty long years as a troubadour. The songs are interspersed with gentle chit-chat and oddly amusing tales such as the time he was in Nashville, Tennessee.

Arriving in the marbled foyer of his hotel, in his softly lilting Scottish accent, he repeatedly asked the stogie-smoking black manager who was sitting in a green leatherette armchair if he could leave the heavy case for his Celtic harp in a store room and he'd take the harp itself up to his room to practise upon. Still chewing and puffing on his cigar butt, the manager appeared baffled so he asked Robin's tall Texan agent - "What he say?". The Texan translated the request. "Well why didn't he say that?" and the request was fulfilled. 

And then he moved into "October Song" - the only recognisable Incredible String Band number of the night. It was a song which Bob Dylan once described as "all right" - a point that has clearly tickled Robin through the tears. He played an "all right" Dylan number and then delivered a memorable version of "Wild Horses". He kept losing picks and plectrums and his voice soared and quivered enigmatically. He was a bumbling granddad in his lumberjack overshirt and his maroon jeans.

And though he is very much an acquired taste, he is someone who has remained true to his art his whole adult life. Still making music and I'm glad I went along though it is unlikely I shall ever see him play live again:-

18 September 2013


English can be spoken in a myriad of different ways. Here in England there are still dozens of distinct accents. We don't all talk like David Niven or Prince William tha knows! The following jokes - sent to me by my friend Sofia - all require some appreciation of a broad South Yorkshire accent. Will you be able to "get" them? 

Police have just released details of a new drug craze that is going on in Yorkshire nightclubs.
Apparently, Yorkshire club goers have started injecting Ecstasy just above their front teeth.
Police say this very dangerous practice is called "e by gum"

A Yorkshire man takes his cat to the vet.
Yorkshireman: "Eyup, lad, I need to talk to thee about me cat."
Vet: "Is it a tom?"
Yorkshireman: "Nay, I've browt it with us."

A Yorkshireman's dog dies and as it was a favourite pet he decides to have a gold statue made by a jeweller to remember the dog by.
Yorkshireman: "Can tha mek us a gold statue of yon dog?"
Jeweller: "Do you want it 18 carat?"
Yorkshireman: "No I want it chewin' a bone yer daft bugger!"

Bloke from Barnsley (called Brian) with piles asks the local chemist: "Nah then lad, does tha sell arse cream?"
Chemist replies "Aye, Magnum or Cornetto?"

16 September 2013


In our immediate circles, we know of three people aged between fifty five and sixty five who are now living with cancer. When first heard, each announcement was shocking. Somehow such news - about people who are members of your own generation - shakes your own foundations, reminding you that these lives we live are breakable. It could all just disappear in a trice.

Benny is the father of one of our daughter's very best friends. He has worked in a managerial position in the NHS for many years and successfully fought off colon cancer five or six years ago. But now the devil inside him has worked its way to his lungs and there's nothing that can be done. Just palliative care to hold back death's inevitable tide.

In her mid-fifties, Mary has had a lifetime struggling with  mild cerebral palsy but now God has also decided to see how she copes with breast cancer. Doctors may have spotted it early enough to achieve a happy resolution through radiotherapy and chemotherapy. We have known her for twenty five years and our children were at school with hers. We will be keeping our fingers tightly crossed for her while recognising that even when women beat breast cancer their lives are forever changed.

Then there's Pauline. She retired just last year having been a nurse in general practice for many years. It was she who helped Shirley to shift from hospital nursing to practice nursing in the community. But recently stomach pains and loss of appetite have pointed to the cancer within - hiding in digestive organs, sending out wicked messengers to other parts of her body. Her husband has wept buckets of tears. The prognosis isn't good - only months are left.

You spin the roulette wheel or deal the cards. You never  know what you are going to get. Some of us come up trumps while others fade away - casualties in the great lottery of life. In my sixty years, I have enjoyed excellent health with very few problems along the way. I have been very lucky. But the sad tales of Benny, Mary and Pauline make me think it's probably time to see my doctor again - get checked out in case The Big C is already secretly casting his gruesome shadow upon me. You never know.

14 September 2013


This is the best picture I snapped on Saturday - at Wharncliffe Crags looking northwards to Deepcar and Stocksbridge. It's about six miles out of Sheffield. The name Wharncliffe evolved from the term “quern cliff” because as far back as the Iron Age "querns" were shaped here and then transported to farms and villages throughout the region. Literally thousands of finished and unfinished querns have been found in the locality.

Quern stoneWhat is a quern? -  I hear you asking. It was essentially a rounded stone with a depression in the middle. Using a hand-stone or later a clever rotary stone mounted on a wooden handle,  you ground your grain in the middle of the quern to produce a rough and ready flour. 

The quern on the right  was found at Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire but is now kept in The British Museum in London. It dates from around 350 B.C.. Querns could come in slightly different shapes and sizes. It is hard for modern people to appreciate how much this simple piece of technology meant to our ancestors. It was widely used for hundreds of years and only a few sites in the north of England offered the sort of stone that was best suited to quern production. Wharncliffe was one of the very best.

13 September 2013


Which creature would be voted the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society? There were various nominations and as the election day drew near there was a lot of money on the Lake Titicaca scrotum frog,  the proboscis monkey and the pig-nosed turtle but in the end there was a clear outright winner - the blobfish:-
And if you are thinking - it looks so ugly it must be Australian! - then you are right. This aesthetically challenged animal lurks in the deep seas off southern Australia. Of course, it has no natural predators because, as in human society, ugliness is an effective repellent. Certain readers of this post will be able to testify to that - mentioning no names! 

Perhaps you thought I made up the Lake Titicaca scrotum frog? Well here's their leader - Malcolm - sulking in the reedy bottom of Lake Titicaca after hearing the election result:-

11 September 2013


What can be more invigorating and peaceful than a walk in the countryside? Well when Jennifer O'Malley and Dave Alden went for a walk in Cornwall just last week, they encountered not just one but two angry bulls - at the same time! For an hour they perched nervously on the wooden stile between  two fields before scrambling to safety along the brambly hedgerow. If they hadn't done that they'd have probably still been there today. I'm going to call the bull on the left Robert and the bull on the right John. I don't know why but this amateur clip made me laugh:-


Ee-by-gum, when I were a lad, you could only get two sorts of light bulb. Both had bayonet fittings and both were incandescent. You could choose between 60 watt pearl and 100 watt pearl so buying light bulbs was very straightforward. 

Not so today. The range of light bulbs verges on the ridiculous. There are general bulbs,  LED bulbs, GU10, energy savers, fluorescent, halogen, spotlights, compact fluorescent, There are bayonet fittings of different sizes, screw-in fittings of various sizes and that's all before you start looking at the different wattages. With energy savers the wattage is no guide to the strength of light you might expect. Manufacturers claim "lumens" equivalents which are considerably higher than their bulb's apparent strength but unless I am going blind I suspect they massively talk up the lighting power of these bulbs.

Nowadays bulbs can be very expensive. Keeping a reserve store of bulbs to cover any domestic failures would involve taking out a bank loan and filling a space equivalent to a medium-sized garden shed. In the past you could have one spare 60 watt sitting in a drawer alongside one spare 100 watt.

Getting back to these energy-saving bulbs: I have never been fond of them. They take a while to "warm up" so the light you want isn't instant. They tend to be heavy and ugly in appearance and they cost a lot. Once I heard Germaine Greer - the radical Australian academic -  ranting on TV about energy-saving light bulbs in hotel rooms around the world. She was moaning because very often the light these bulbs provide is insufficient for reading which is a complaint I happily support. Often a candle would provide better light.

I am sure that political and profit-hungry corporate strings have been pulling along the changes we have seen in the light bulb industry. In this area, as in so many others, Great Britain has suffered from European Union legislative interference. Last year they prohibited the sale of all incandescent bulbs in this country, causing massive confusion in thousands of British homes. It is a confusion that continues to this day.

A greener world is something all intelligent, caring people desire and forcing energy-saving bulbs upon us might be okay if these damned bulbs emitted the quality of  light we require at a fair price but they fail on both counts in my judgement.

10 September 2013


Certain famous people remind me of animals. I am sorry to non-British visitors because you'll probably not be aware of my three example celebrities. Here is our odious Health Secretary - Jeremy Hunt - who seems intent on doing all he can to undermine the good work of the National Health Service and to besmear its good reputation. I would happily dunk this lizard's head down a lavatory bowl and flush it:-
And here's somebody I often wake up to courtesy of BBC Radio 4. It's the veteran broadcaster John Humphrys. He is so articulate and so skilled in the art of interviewing. It is great when he corners a smug politician and digs for the truth. He really is like a dog with a bone and he is somebody I greatly admire even though he is Welsh:-
BBC newscaster Kate Silverton is like Bambi's mother. Behind her trademark spectacles, her doleful eyes look sweetly, almost invitingly at the entire (panting) heterosexual male population of the British Isles. Like John Humphrys she is also a skilled interviewer but her technique is less rabid, more seductive:-
Other examples could have been plucked from the world of blogging. For example, Mr R. Brague reminds me of a bald eagle soaring in the sky, looking down upon the Earth while Helen in Brisbane reminds me of a cuddly koala bear, lazing in a eucalyptus tree. And Cap'n Tom Gowans in Angola reminds me of a ferret, sniffing this and that, running along connecting drainpipes and then popping his head out where you least expect it.

Are there any famous or non-famous people out there who remind you of animals?

9 September 2013

8 September 2013


Coldstream is a charming little Scottish town that sits right on the border with England  - which is on the other side of the River Tweed. Almost accidentally it gave its name to a famous army regiment - The Coldsteam Guards and is very close to the battlefield known as Flodden which five hundred years ago tomorrow was the scene of the bloodiest ever battle between Scotland and England. Of course, we won! My apologies to any Scottish readers.

While strolling along Market Street, Shirley drew my attention to one of the shop windows, And this is what she had seen:- 
Here she is again from a different angle:-
And here's a grandfather with his grandson on the English bank of the River Tweed - teaching him the art of fly-fishing. It remains one of Britain's very best salmon rivers:-

6 September 2013


Syria's immediate neighbours are Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. Since the bloodbath began, thousands and thousands of ordinary Syrian citizens have done what most of us would have done - they have escaped their country to save their lives. This has meant leaving behind homes, possessions, businesses, jobs, neighbours and children's schools. 

I am sure that some rich Syrians have boarded planes and fled to the West or even to Russia but the masses haven't had that option. Their escape routes have simply led to those neighbouring countries.

Here are the current estimated figures for the destinations of Syrian refugees:-
Lebanon - 587,795
Turkey - 402,176
Iraq - 206,365
Jordan - 498,947
Israel - 0
Now I am not an anti-semite, even though I believe that all religions are bonkers, but I find it flabbergasting that the heart of Israel has not been opened to welcome a few thousand desperate Syrians - to do their bit for the folk next door. After all, with its historical American backing, Israel has grown into a thriving middle eastern country with the sort of wealth and infrastructure that could easily accommodate a good number of refugees. What use is religion if it isn't about helping your neighbours, displaying charity and kindness to those in need?

5 September 2013


Statue of Mr Brague William Wallace near Dryburgh
When we were in the Scottish Borders last week, we met up with one of my heroes - the renown Borders photographer Sir Walter Baxter who I have blogged about before - here. Passionate about his home area, Sir Walter has meticulously captured thousands of  wonderful images of the Scottish Borders which reveal the region's beauty, its history and some of its quirkiness.

We met him in the town of Melrose but - and I kid you not - Sir Walter was expecting me to look like my blog image that you can see in the sidebar. This is just a silly picture I put together using Yorkshire puddings and a sausage. Imagine walking down the street looking like that! People would run a mile! 

Anyway after some initial confusion Sir Walter led us to Russell's Tea Room in the Market Square where he had reserved a table for lunch. It was a bit posh for Shirley and I - with blue rinse Scottish ladies sipping tea and Scottish gentlemen warming their hands vigorously inside their sporrans. Sir Walter kept interspersing our conversation with unfamilar terms and expressions such "och aye", "hen", "away the noo" and "ye Sassenach bastards!"

I was sweating about the lunch bill but then something incredible happened. Sir Walter insisted that he would pay the bill. Now as you probably know, the Scots are well-known for their meanness. Only Yorkshiremen are tighter with their money. Walter's generosity proved to me that he could not possibly be a fullblood Scotsman and later investigations suggested that he is actually of eastern European extraction - probably linked to the noble Baxinsky family of northern Poland. Well that's my theory.

After the delightful lunch, we drove on towards Dryburgh Abbey, stopping at Scott's View and at William Wallace's Statue - which spookily reminded me of a certain resident of Canton, Georgia. In Dryburgh Abbey's evocative ruins we saw the graves of the novelist Sir Walter Scott and of the wartime military leader Field Marshal Douglas Haig.

It was an honour to meet with Sir Walter - having only "known" him via his photographs and e-mail communications. The fellow has a gentle demeanour and a wry sense of humour but I must apologise to him for not looking like my sidebar image. Perhaps I should invest in some radical plastic surgery! Shirley snapped us in the car park at Dryburgh Abbey. When Livingstone met Stanley...when Lennon met McCartney...when Gilbert met Sullivan...and now when Baxinsky met Pudding. Such meetings can change the world...
Baxinsky and Pudding

3 September 2013


Seamus Heaney  (13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013)

Now that man, that man - he was a real poet, he was. He crafted words like a master potter at a wheel or dug them from the depths of his memory or pursued them through the labyrinths of his emotional intelligence. He didn't seek to baffle with unnecessarily complicated language or overly obscure classical reference. No. This was a kindly, self-effacing man with his feet firmly planted on the ground and a heart brimming with love for those he loved and for simply being human. A poet worth saluting as he departs though of course, thankfully, his words remain....

Death Of A Naturalist

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

2 September 2013


Boo! I am still alive. Did you miss me? Oh...I see! The kilted hordes failed to drive this fearsome Yorkist Sassenach into the North Sea. Remember Culloden! And we had a lovely time these last few days. The weather was mostly gorgeous - with me frothing at the mouth as I observed endless photogenic scenes bathed in glorious light.

The Scottish Borders are like "The Land That Time Forgot" - an ancient landscape of winding lanes, farmland, castles, villages and little market towns - enclosed by the wild North Sea to the east and by wild uplands to the north, south and west. And then we headed up to The Kingdom of Fife, finally arriving at St Andrews which is a unique little town.

It boasts the ruins of an ancient abbey, an old castle, the  world's most famous golf course, gorgeous seascapes, stolid stone university buildings and proud merchants' houses. Seagulls perform their acrobatic manoeuvres on the wind while bulky Americans and slender oriental students roam the streets, marvelling at the place like children at a sweet shop window.

While Shirley attended her day course at the university, I parked in a fishing village south of St Andrews. It is called Crail and it looks as if it belongs on the lid of a luxury box of shortbread. With boots laced, I marched off to Fife Ness and along the coastal path. Three hours later a young seagull seemed desperate for the cheese and pickle sandwich that I had bought in Crail's little "Co-op" store. Needless to say, its begging was not in vain.

The next day we bypassed Edinburgh - stopping at Dunbar -  birthplace of the famous New World conservationist - John Muir. Then after tea and scones we headed back to Merry Olde England, only stopping on the Northumberland coast to snap distant views of Lindisfarne - The Holy Island. Then onwards to Alnwick where Steve and Moira were perfect hosts.

We walked on the beach at Alnmouth and then drank Black Sheep beer in "The Red Lion" before heading back to their house for a lovely meal and wine. And on Sunday morning we visited the famous "Barter Books" second-hand book-store in Alnwick's old station. It was here in 2000 that an old "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster was re-discovered. This iconic design has now spread about the planet in different forms. Perhaps I should design an alternative "Get Angry and Fight!" poster.

A trip like this reminds me that we are very fortunate to live on such a beautiful island with its intricate history and its special character. We ought not to listen to the detracting "Boo!" boys and girls for this really is a land of hope and glory and when the weather is good, there really is nowhere finer....Gallery:-
Boarhills Church near St Andrews
Crail Harbour, Fife
Th Old Course, St Andrews
View to The Holy Island
The original "Keep Calm" poster in Alnwick
Later, I made this:-