31 July 2015


Mount Bartle Frere - Queensland's highest peak
Today I discovered that Australian blogger Leisha is also from Queensland! So that's four feisty Queensland women! Soon there'll be a rugby league team - captained by wily Helen from "Helsie's Happenings" and ably supported by IT expert Carol from Cairns and Lee the celebrity chef from Hinchinbrook Island and other places.

There have been blog visitors from other parts of Australia such as photo journalist Michael from Sydney and the delightful Ms Alphie Soup from Victoria but mostly this humble blog has attracted Queenslanders.

So I thought it was about time that I did a little research before sharing some information about Queensland - a vast state to the north east of the island of Australia. Right then, here we go. Ten interesting facts about Queensland:-

1. It is believed that the first aboriginal inhabitants of Queensland arrived from the north around 50,000BC.
2. The original inhabitants had at least ninety different languages.
George Bowen - the first governor
of Queensland
3. The first recorded landing of a European in Queensland was in February 1606 - by Willem Janszoon, a Dutch navigator.
4. Yorkshireman Captain James Cook claimed north eastern Australia for King George III of England in 1770.
5. George Bowen from Donegal, Ireland became the first governor of Queensland in 1859  when the new colony was first established - separated from New South Wales. It is named Queensland after Queen Victoria as the name "Victoria" was already taken!
6. Queensland currently has a population of 4,750,500 - almost half live in Brisbane.
7. In 1935 cane toads were first introduced to the sugar cane plantations of Queensland to prey upon pests but very quickly they became a pest themselves. Bizarrely Queenslanders refuse to eat cane toads which can be delightful if cooked fresh in a healthy stir fry or toad stew.
8. Mount Bartle Frere at  5322 feet is the tallest mountain in Queensland and was named after Sir Henry Bartle Frere the British president of The Royal Geographical Society in 1873.
9. The actor Geoffrey Rush was born in Toowoomba, Queensland in 1951.
10. Queensland has a land area of 715,309 square miles - which is very big compared with Great Britain's measly 88,745 sq miles. In fact it means that Queensland is eight times bigger than Britain! It is also nearly three times as big as the state of Texas.
The flag of Queensland

29 July 2015


Dear Walter Palmer,

You are now famous around the world for killing Cecil. You are such a brave man! Firing an arrow into Cecil and then following him in a jeep for forty hours before shooting him dead. Wow! No wonder you were smiling proudly in the photograph at the top of this invitation. Cecil may have been King of The Beasts but you Walter are King of the Hunters.

Not only have you rid the world of a dangerous man-eating lion, you have also bravely executed Marmaduke the Elk, Gordon the Zebra, Harold the Moose, Pierre the Black Bear, Darren the Grizzly Bear, Adrian the Rhinoceros and whole generations of deer and Minnesotan water fowl. What a guy you are Walter!

I can understand entirely why you chose to spend $50,000 on the killing spree rather than giving that money to African charities that tackle AIDS, homelessness and starvation. Ridding Zimbabwe of Cecil was a way of helping the country to get back on its feet and assist its benevolent and much-loved leader Robert H. Brague Mugabe.

Because of your great achievements in the manly world of hunting, I am inviting you to join me and some other bloodthirsty hunters upon the moors west of Sheffield. It is said that there's a monster out there with unnaturally  white teeth and a shiny bald pate. It preys on sheep, women and small children and has a ludicrously high opinion of itself.

We will gather by the car park at Ringinglow -  me and Fred Fox, Higgy, Steve Howlett, bloggers like Graham and Jennifer and Mama Thyme  and Carol from Cairns and Lee and an army of ordinary folk wearing Cecil T-shirts. We will chase the cruel monster mercilessly till he's breathless, sweaty and crawling like a wounded lion amidst the heather and the gorse and then we will blast his big-headed brains out with a Canadian hunting rifle. 

As it happens, our local moorland monster is also called Walter. What a co-incidence!

I await your positive response with eager anticipation.

Yours cunningly,
Hunting hero Walter Palmer with Adrian the Rhino

28 July 2015


In the fading light of day, there was a regular visitor on our lawn last evening. Yes, it was our scraggy friend Fred Fox. At first he was just lying on his belly with his radar ears following the slightest of garden noises. He saw me busying myself in the kitchen and watched my every move. These humans - you just cannot trust them you know.

We had no cans of delicious "Fox Food" in the pantry so, in spite of Mama Thyme's vehement disapproval,  I tossed him a chunk of the beef joint we had on Sunday afternoon. Of course he gobbled it down. It must be a challenge - scavenging for food in the urban jungle - and there will be days when hunger gnaws mercilessly at Fred. Like a cancer.
He has a pronounced limp and some of the fur on his rear end is missing. He is not in the best condition for chasing pigeons or lifting the lids of wheelie bins in search of tasty leftovers.

When I was a boy, foxhunting was still legal in Great Britain. Twice a year the Holderness Hunt would gather outside "The New Inn". Twenty or thirty hunters on horseback. They wore the traditional gear - black riding helmets with peaks, white trousers and red tailcoats. As they drank their fortifying stirrup cups - whiskies or hot toddies, their baying pack of foxhounds yelped excitedly ready for the chase. The riders were all unfamilar posh people. None of them dwelt in our village. They just arrived twice a year and these were  the only occasions we ever saw them.

The hunt leader would blow his horn and they'd be off across the surrounding farmland, heading for the thickets where foxes lurked in their dens. A steamy mist hung above the yelping  pack of hounds, intoxicated by a communal bloodlust. And the riders whipped the rumps of their trusty steeds as they cantered across the fields.

Once, half a mile away and adjacent to the appropriately named Fox Wood we saw a little ginger shape pursued by the pack and behind the dogs came the redcoated hunters galloping pell mell. We were watching from the road. As I say, it was faraway but soon the chase ended. You could see the distant hounds and the horse riders circling the kill. In my imagination I watched the frightened quarry - one of Fred's more healthy and more secretive country cousins - being ripped apart by forty hounds that had deliberately not been fed that morning. I was ten years old but I  knew it was wrong. No animal should have to die that way.

Later the laughing hunt leader showed off his prize outside "The New Inn" - a bloodied fox's tail.

Fox Hunting

We shall gather outside "The Victory Inn"
Before we begin
The chase

We are being bused in
From cities far and wide
No place to hide

For redcoats.
We are coming
So I advise you start running

By the demolition site
Or under the railway bridge
Or just beyond yon grassy ridge
Between the tower blocks
And the busy road

We will get you.
So - Tally ho my friend
Tally ho!

26 July 2015


Of course Shirley and I are really country bumpkins. Sheffield is only our adopted city but we have lived here a long time and feel committed to it, even proud of it. It is where both of our children were born. Did you know that it has two million trees giving it the highest ratio of trees to people of any city in Europe? It is certainly the greenest city in Great Britain in terms of its  parkland and those trees.

I found the following video curiosity on "You Tube". It is narrated by the brilliant local  radio presenter, comedian and folk musician Tony Capstick whose alcoholism tragically drove him to an early grave in 2003. Sadly, the video doesn't highlight the city's green credentials but it does speak interestingly of modern history and makes me realise more than ever how the times really are a-changin'...

25 July 2015


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
German philosopher
(1770 - 1831)
If a loved one died, how would you remember them? Maybe you would cry for your loss. Maybe you would smile, recalling times you spent with him or her - affectionate remembrance. The essence of the departed person treasured.

Three years back, a friend of mine died and his brother crafted an epitaph a couple of days later. It disturbed me a little at the time and it still disturbs me now.  I won't paste the entire piece - it's too long. I am just going to give you a sample of it in the hope that you will give your reaction to it in the comments:-

"To understand my departed brother . . . is to understand the “Dialectic” of G. W. F. Hegel. My brother’s “Dialectic” involved taking his “Thesis” (his issues, concerns, needs, rights) and creating an “emptiness” in his “Consciousness, in his Awareness” to make room to allow the inclusion of your “Antithesis” (your alternative and additive issues, concerns, needs, rights) . . . engaging in associative reasoning . . . to relate your “Antithesis” with his “Thesis” . . . to arrive at a “Synthesis (what is commonly known as a “Win-Win”). His life was the life of the “Dialectic.” His life was as concerned . . . if not more concerned . . . with your win as it was with his win. It was his ability to find “Synthesis” through associative reasoning that gave him the ability to exercise compassion, empathy, insight and innovation."

Of course my own brother Paul died five years back but I never remembered him in those terms - nothing like them. A couple of days after his death, I could only remember him with a mixture of tears, disbelief and a very heavy heart. I never thought of Hegel - not even for a smidgeon of a moment.

24 July 2015


A glimpse of Hooton Pagnell Hall with its
fourteenth century inner gateway
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. I climbed into the jalopy and tootled off to a South Yorkshire village called Hooton Pagnell ready for another circular walk. It's a place I had never been to before. Once it sat in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and yet  through that hundred and fifty year industrial period it preserved its rural and historic charm. The pitheads and the spoil heaps were just out of sight - along with mining families in their tiny pit cottages - where no doubt they bred whippets and spoke in impenetrable Yorkshire accents.

Over in Hooton Pagnell, The Warde-Aldam family remodelled their rambling country estate with its vast hall and gardens. They rode horses and hosted dinner parties and spoke in the accents of the ruling elite. Perhaps because she was bored, Julia Warde-Aldam oversaw the renovation of two impressive old churches - both called All Saints. One was right next to Hooton Pagnell Hall and the other, sometimes called "the church in the fields" sits alone on the edge of some woods half a mile from Frickley Hall which was also owned by The Warde-Aldams. I ventured to that old church along a grass track. The original village of humble wooden homes that once surrounded the church was consumed by The Black  Death in the middle of the fourteenth century.
All Saints Church, Frickley with Clayton - "The church in the fields"
Like other "noble" land-owning families in South Yorkshire, The Warde-Aldams benefited enormously from the discovery of the rich coal seams beneath their rambling farmlands. Their main pit was Frickley Colliery on the edge of South Elmsall. It became the most profitable pit in South Yorkshire and at one time employed over 4000 men and boys. These workers probably had little realisation of how much profit their dangerous labours were contributing to the enormous wealth of The Warde-Adams and their fortunate progeny. And though Frickley Colliery is now gone, the legacy of family wealth continues.

Sadly, yesterday's light was not as conducive to photography as the weather people had predicted. But I enjoyed my ten mile hike, then headed back to the Meadowhall bus station for three fifteen to pick up our lovely son, Ian who has returned for a few days from the human antheap they call London. There's a big music festival on in Sheffield this weekend - it's called Tramlines and the headline act is of course The Urban Foxes! No doubt they will be playing their hits - "Foxy Lady", "Fox on the Run" and "For Fox Sake" while dancing the foxtrot.
Wink House Farm. Can you see the white horse?
Stotfold Farm near Thurnscoe
The lych gate at Hooton Pagnell Cemetery. Given to the people
of Hooton Pagnell by Julia Warde-Adam in 1903 and dedicated by
The Archbishop of York in May of that year.

22 July 2015


Like so many things, it happened gradually. It all began with distant sights of them - scurrying into passageways and people's drives - late at night. Or you would open the curtains in the morning to discover that they had toppled several rubbish bins in search of food. The poor things.

Then they became bolder. You would see them in the daytime. Their instinctive fear factor was diminishing. They came into our gardens. They lolled in the sunshine. They chased pigeons or gobbled up bird food, sniffing everywhere with their long and no doubt sensitive snouts,

I recall one evening in the summer of 2015 when there were three of them frolicking on our lawn. One of them saw me open our back door and instead of hurrying away for cover as they used to do, he strutted past the bird table and came right up the path as if he was planning to come into the kitchen. I said to him, "You're not coming in here mate!". And when I closed the glass door he simply remained standing there, two yards away, glowering at me. Totally unafraid. 

Perhaps we should have done something about it when we had the chance. But now it is too late.

They started to walk into shops - butchers and bakers and supermarkets. Though they couldn't talk, they still managed to convey the message that they needed feeding. And just to get rid of them, shopkeepers tossed them sausages and scotch eggs, ham rolls and frozen beefburgers. Old ladies became afraid of venturing out on their weekly shopping trips and sensible parents kept their children at home - especially the babies.

I knew that something very peculiar and unnerving was happening when I caught the number 88 bus into the city centre one morning in the spring of 2017. Down at Hunter's Bar three foxes got on, ignored the driver and rushed past me to the back seat. There they sat, scratching, yelping and whining as if engaged in some hideous vulpine conversation. A young woman with a baby hurried off the bus at Berkeley Precinct, nervously glancing over her shoulder at the back seat passengers as her baby yelled like a warning siren.

They came into our cinemas and our libraries. They drank beer in our pubs. Restaurants were besieged by them though for some reason they kept well away from Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. Primary school classes were often invaded - to such an extent that anxious parents began to keep their children off school. In a few months, the suburban streets of Sheffield were awash with "For Sale" signs. 

I was determined not to give in. There was no way I was going to submit to an army of marauding foxes but then one morning I looked out of our window to see a big removals lorry outside number 177, just across the street from us. It was where Catherine had lived with her two little girls before fleeing to her parents in St Albans. And as I watched the removals lorry being unloaded, it became clear to me that a family of foxes were moving in! I rubbed my eyes. Surely this could not be.

It was only a few years back that the invasion began. Stealthy and unperturbing at first. For heaven's sake, I even bought them dog food and threw out chicken carcasses. We had felt sorry for them. Some had looked scraggy and painfully thin. But now they are literally living in our houses. The foxes are taking over and last evening on the BBC News the London-based newscaster smirked as he jokingly renamed our city "Foxfield". There were moving images of the new market on The Moor - now a fox-only zone, foxes driving taxis and fox families strolling through our parks. Down at the town hall, newly elected councillors were arriving in shiny limousines and do you know what? Yes. They are all foxes. All of them.
Councillor Robert H. Fox
The new mayor of Sheffield Foxfield

20 July 2015


There was report on the BBC news last week about car parking:-
Shoppers in a mid Wales town have welcomed a temporary reprieve in parking charges after meters were damaged.
Some pay and display machines at locations across Cardigan, Ceredigion have been out of order since early June after they were smashed by vandals.
Traders claim business has boomed in their absence, with one business reporting a 30% rise.
I have listened to interviews with traders and car owners alike and it seems very clear that the temporary free parking situation has been a boon for the town - both in terms of business and in relation to the feel good factor experienced by car owners and shoppers And yet - the council are busily repairing or replacing their vandalised meters and pay stations. They obviously refuse to learn lessons from it all. Squeezing money from motorists has become an obsession with short-sighted and rather vindictive local councils.

Long term readers of this blog will recall that one of my flights of fancy was the development of a fiction about parking enforcement officers. Essentially, I kidnapped a dozen of them, kept them in our underhouse area and later had them shipped to Afghanistan where they were obliged to join The Taliban. Of course, it was a fiction that I played for laughs but underneath it all was a genuine animosity towards the whole business of paying hard-earned money to park cars. In my life I have visited over fifty countries and hundreds of cities and I swear that the most stringent, motorist-squeezing parking regimes are to be found here on the Island of Britain itself.

For those who missed my parking enforcement officer blogposts back in 2010, here they are in sequence:-
Chapter 1 - Stormtroopers
Chapter 2 - Success
Chapter 3 - "Star"
Chapter 4 - Stanage
Chapter 5 - Jackpot
Chapter 6 - Escape
Chapter 7 - Nine
Chapter 8 - Bingo
Chapter 9 - Deportation
Chapter 10 - Postcard
Chapter 11 - Update

19 July 2015


As I said recently, this blog is ten years old. Out of curiosity, I have just been looking back at the people who would leave comments back in 2005. Almost the first was Alkelda the Gleeful - also known as Farida Dowler. She lives in Seattle and is a children's storyteller. We read each other's blogs regularly for a few years until Farida became a little tired of blogging and departed the blogosphere. If I wasn't so shy I would have looked her up in Seattle last year. Through blogging I learnt a lot about her, her husband and her little daughter. She was a great advertisement for American womanhood and she read my posts with thoughtful interest.

Another escapee from the blogopsphere was Brad the Gorilla. Also based in Seattle, he cleverly sustained the alter ego of a gorilla. He ate bananas and swung his arms as he mooched around the streets of Seattle. He had a wicked sense of humour and blogging with him became a kind of intellectual  jousting tournament which I very much enjoyed. It is a shame that Brad moved on or simply ran out of blogging steam.

Zandrea, Occidentally, Simon Langer and Andrea Sousa Tavares all left comments on this blog by the end of July 2005 but they disappeared long ago. One blogger who stuck around was By George. She was into art and online gaming and she had a problem with food in that she couldn't get enough of it but she was another nice American woman and we kept in blogging touch for many months until she also got fed up with the medium. I still wonder what happened to her.

By December 2005, Friday's Web was on board The Yorkshire Pudding bandwagon. She wasn't wealthy. She lived in the backwoods of North Carolina with her husband and kids and she wrote some fascinating posts. At times I feared that she was tiptoeing on the boundary between sanity and craziness for she was tormented by dreams of the better life she would never lead. It was just beyond her reach. We were close in the way we exchanged comments for maybe four years but she vanished back into the blogosphere's ether. Just like By George - I wonder what happened to Friday's Web. There were drugs and drink and tattoos and bills. It can't have been easy for her.
Friday's Web in January 2006
Five years ago, in July 2010, I wrote thirteen blogposts - some of them were connected with my brother's death. Looking at the commenters, I note that some familiar people were now on board. Lovely Kate from The Bay of Plenty in New Zealand - "The Last Visible Dog" and the equally lovely Helen from Brisbane - "Helsie's Happenings" and handsome Yorkshireman Brian ("Tannu Tuva") and equally handsome Georgian fellow Bob Brague whose name "Rhymes With Plague", Elizabeth from North Yorkshire and Jenny from Wrexham, Wales, Daphne Franks from Leeds and Michael from Sydney Australia., Libby from the English Midlands and Jan Blawat frm Sloughhouse, California.

Nowadays I interlink a  lot with Adrian from "Adrian's Images" and Meike from "From My Mental Library", John Gray from "Going Gently" and Graham from "Eagleton Notes". There's also Carol from "A Small Life", Lee from "Kitchen Connection", Red in "Hiawatha House" Canada and sometimes Tom Gowans from "A Hippo on the Lawn" in Angola. And how could I forget my blogging sister Mama Thyme in Colorado ("Peace Thyme Garden and Weather Station") or Hilly in the woods of Washington State ("Hilltop Homesteader")?

In ten years the players on my blogging field or stage have all changed. Comings and goings. Some people stick around for ages and others move on very quickly. Sometimes bloggers just get fed up with each other. Isn't that a bit like life itself? Nothing last forever. Everything changes.

18 July 2015


Over the years, I have prepared thousands of meals. Whenever I plate up a meal, I take a little trouble over it because the savouring of good food is not just about the tastiness of what is is on the plate - but it is also about its appearance. I don't like to see the elements of a meal just dumped carelessly on a plate - say with vegetables on top of the meat or with the gravy idly dripped on the plate's edge. No - to me it should look nice.

Television is awash with cooking programmes. Nobodies like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have become well-known celebrities - on a par with rock stars or Olympic athletes. Viewers who are probably munching on pizzas and ready meals find these cookery shows spellbinding but I am utterly fed up with them and I would like to see nearly all of  them banned. Their relationship to real life cooking and the reality of ordinary people's lives is extremely tenuous.

One of the things that really irritates me about many of these cookery shows is their obsession with how dishes look. That plonker Heston Blumenthal is probably the worst exponent of this "food as art" cult with his swirls of red wine sauce, his globules of balsamic vinegar and his pomegranate foam. Herbs are often used for mere decoration and there are blow torches and piping bags. It is all too much.

In the suburbs of Mumbai, Sao Paulo and Kampala, children are scrabbling in the dirt, not knowing if there will be anything to eat back in their tin shack homes but if there is it won't be five star and it won't look as if it has come from some glossy coffee table book. The gulf between the diets of the world's poor and the plates shown on "Celebrity Master Chef" is outrageous and arguably an indictment of our times.

There's a big difference between making a little effort to present meals nicely and viewing the presentation of food as some kind of art form.

I'd like to see a whole new breed of cooking programmes - "How To Make Best Use of Your Microwave", "Saving Money by using Leftovers", "How to Use Your Freezer Better", "Good Meals from Cheap Ingredients", "Cooking When You Haven't Got Much Time", "Takeaway Food", "The Sandwich Show" etcetera. And we'd get rid of the celebrities. Instead there'd just be a rasping and anonymous northern voice narrating for the TV audience as ordinary mortals take centre stage, -showing us genuinely helpful cooking tips. So farewell Rick, Nigella, Chef ****ing Ramsey, Jamie and the odious Nigel Slater! We don't need you any more. In fact, we never did.

17 July 2015


 "I've been a wild rover for many's the year/ I spent all my money on whiskey and beer"

Roving to the north west of Doncaster yesterday. I stopped to have a look at a beautiful Grade I listed parish church in a small village called Marr. It's The Church of St Helen and was mainly constructed in the twelfth century. See above.

Then I parked in Pickburn, donned my boots and set off northwards to another small yet equally historical village called Hampole. On the way I saw a few more of these ubiquitous wind turbines:-
They are like monuments to something but I am not sure what - perhaps to desperation or to optimism. I walked through Hampole Wood where there were several signs - "No Public Access", "Private Land", "Keep Out" etcetera. I was wondering what they had to hide but the track itself is a public right of way.
From Hampole Wood, the path to Hampole was chest high with tall grasses and other vegetation. Clearly not many rambling rovers plod that way. And then I came to Hampole itself where I was immediately struck by this abandoned building:-
It's called Ivy House Farm and it is up for sale for £400,000 but any would-be buyer would surely have to factor in another £200,000 to bring the ancient property back to life. I wandered around the back but the tumbledown state of the place put me off going inside.

Back home I discovered that Ivy House Farm, also known as The Doctor's House,  has some intriguing secrets which were reported in "The Daily Mail" back in 2013. You can read about it all here.

16 July 2015


The bull
Yesterday I could see for miles. Before my afternoon shift at the Oxfam shop, I drove  out of the city and parked just east of Ringinglow, near the alpaca farm. Summer had returned. Warm and sultry.

Down Greenhouse Lane and then along Harrop Lane. I stopped to admire a stocky brown bull with a ring through his nose. He grunted at me - deep and guttural - as if to say "If you want to steal my harem of cows I will fight you to the death". Then up Andwell Lane, turning into Bassett Lane where I saw a strange vehicle approaching. I recognised it after just a moment - it was a Google Streetview car, collecting fresh imagery so I snapped him back. I guess that before very long there will be a blurry Yorkshire Pudding in Streetview for all the world to see. Fame at last. Maybe.
Google Streetview car on Bassett Lane
Up on to Fulwood Lane and back to its junction with Greenhouse Lane. There's a little stone viewpoint cairn there. You know the sort I mean - with a big engraved steel disc on top of it - rather like a compass. It  informs you about distant landmarks and their distances and yesterday morning the visibility was magnificent. I had heard that you can see Lincoln Cathedral (43 miles away) and The Humber Bridge (52 miles away) from this road junction.

And sure enough, over to the east I could just make out the distant shape of Lincoln Cathedral and though I couldn't see the only bridge of The Humber, I could definitely make out The Yorkshire Wolds - almost sixty miles away. Amazing.
Looking from Fulwood Lane to Sheffield

14 July 2015


Last month two milestones were reached. June 28th was the fifth anniversary of my brother Paul's death. He was only sixty two and died unexpectedly in his sleep. I blogged about it all. For example - here and here and here. Though Paul is no longer strutting about in the land of the living,  he remains very much alive in my memories of him. Death? You could never get rid of Paul so easily. I hear his fiddle and his jokes and his frenetic "Bye-bye-bye-bye..." whenever he finished a telephone conversation. Mostly he lived life in overdrive - keen to feast on it all. Quiet relaxation was never his forte. I remember him most days and I smile for Paul really and truly lived and not all of us can claim that.

Very much in the shadow of Paul's death, on June 23rd I reached my tenth anniversary of blogging. Yes. It was on June 23rd 2005 that I wrote my first ever post for this humble Yorkshire blog. It was called "Beginnings" and this is what I wrote:-

So this is England in mid-summer. Lovely warm weather and you know what, they're all bloody well complaining! "Oooo it's too hot!" "Open a window!" "Oh I feel faint!" Whingeing whining wimps! I just love to barbecue, walk out in shorts, sweat, wear flip flops. If only all of our summers had long hot spells like this! Leather on willow. Swallows performing acrobatics in the evening sky. A glass of ice cold light white wine with condensation running down the side. "Oh! It's too hot! I couldn't live in a foreign country if it's like this!" As my old mate Trog used to say - Knickers! Knockers! Knackers!

The firsr ever photo posted on this blog

When I composed that first post I had absolutely no idea that I would still be blogging away ten years later but the ideas keep coming and the course of my life keeps unfolding through these endless blogposts. There have been 1808 posts so far and at least 448,000 visits - over half a million according to Blogger. Perhaps I will still be blogging on my own deathbed, tapping away my very last blogpost on a laptop:-

"The light is fading. I can hear the ticking of the hospital clock. My heart is faltering but I can see St Peter ahead. He is opening the pearly gates. He is about to speak to me - "Welcome my son! What's the password? It must include at least one capital letter and a numerical figure" I can see Paul just inside the gates and Mum and Dad and all the others I knew but I cannot remember the freaking password and now St Peter is looking stern and he is pointing to the other place. Shit!"
Old milestone on  Houndkirk Moor near Sheffield

12 July 2015


"What do you do?"

This is a question that often surfaces soon after being introduced to new people - at parties and other social events. But for years it is a question that I have deliberately refrained from asking. I am of the opinion that knowing what somebody does for a living is not of prime importance.I don't wish to define my fellow human beings by the jobs they do.

It may be unintentional but asking the question, "What do you do?" is surely a way of  pigeonholing people. If they reply, "I'm a butcher" or "I'm in insurance" or "I'm a surgeon", the cogs in the questioner's brain will whirl instantly as presumptions are silently logged. Presumptions about income and education. That kind of thing. And the questioner will be subconsciously rank ordering - assessing your position in the vocational pecking order.

If somebody asks me "What do you do?", I  am often deliberately obtuse. "Oh I like walking and photography - that kind of thing and I am quite keen on cookery. Do you like cooking yourself?" I have also been known to respond, "Why? What do you want to know that for?" which can induce dropped jaws and awkward silences.

For most of us, work is something we do to make money that pays the bills. We can't all be Pablo Picassos or Saul Bellows and what the vast majority of us end up doing is usually an accident of upbringing and circumstance. It shouldn't define us.

I used to rage inside when I heard people making sweeping generalisations about teachers and usually felt like yelling back, "But that's not me!" I was always more than that person at the front of a classroom, teaching lessons and marking books. This was only what I did for a living. It wasn't me.

In my philosophy, road sweepers are equal to magistrates, captains of industry are equal to the cleaners who vacuum their offices and celebrities are no better than the unknown.

Of course, in the passage of time, information about what somebody does for a living will emerge naturally. It's knowledge you can pursue or not but I will never be the first to ask, "What do you do?"

11 July 2015


Old lead mining workings west of Middleton
No lead is mined in Derbyshire any more but for a thousand years it was a vital resource. The Romans knew about it and Derbyshire lead was even exported to Rome and Pompeii. Little mining towns and villages grew up on the back of the lead mining industry - Bradwell, Stony Middleton, Tideswell and Wirksworth to name but four. They were characterised by a jumble of small mine workers' cottages - most of which still stand today even though the lead miners have all gone.

One day I really must visit the lead mining museum in Matlock Bath. I passed it yesterday on my way to Middleton-by-Wirksworth for a nice, long country walk in beautiful summery weather. From Middleton I headed westwards by a hillside that is still peppered with the evidence of mine workings - piles of stones and hollows and broken walls. The hillside was still being worked in the early nineteenth century.

Then onwards .past old limestone quarries and down into the valley past Arm Lees Farm then up the other side where I decided to veer away from the course of the public footpath to investigate an ancient tumulus in Field 40 on Perasons' Farm. The mound is now covered with nettles. I tarried there a while, close to what was probably a burial site - maybe four thousand years old though little seems to have been written about it.
To the left, the ancient tumulus on Pearsons' Farm
Down to the course of the former High Peak Raulway and then down Hopton Incline which for many years was the steepest piece of railway track in England at 1 in 14. Old steam trains often had to have two or three runs at it in order to make it to Hopton Top. I sat on a bench there, ate my apple and swigged one of my bottles of water.
Old railway cottage at Hopton Top
Then onwards through Hopton Tunnel before leaving the old railway track and striking out in a south westerly direction to Wirksworth, past old mine workings and quarries. Down The Dale to the charming town itself. On a hot July afternoon it looked quaint and lovely though I was very aware that the place was built on hard toil. Appearances certainly can be deceptive.
Church of St Mary the Virgin in Wirksworth
Below - an old Saxon stone found beneath the chancel in 1821.
It is approximately 1200 years old
It was half past three and schoolchildren were about. Time to get my camera back in its case before the two mile hike up the hill to Middleton. Several of these secondary schoolchildren were doing the same and I felt a pang of pity for them - having to do this laborious walk day after day. Back in Middleton I entered "The Rising Sun" where the charming barmaid provided me with a pint of thirst-quenching bitter shandy and a packet of Lincolnshire-made potato crisps.

It had been another super walk, filled with such wonderful sights. As well as visiting the lead mining museum in Matlock Bath, I really must return to Wirksworth in the not too distant future. Shirley would appreciate that little town too.
"The Rising Sun" in  Middleton

9 July 2015


The Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus) is a medium-sized tree-loving primate that is found exclusively in the fast diminishing rain forests of Borneo. The male Proboscis Monkey is not only one of the largest monkeys in Asia but they are also one of the world's most distinctive mammals, having a long and fleshy nose and a large, swollen stomach. Although having slightly larger noses and a protruding stomach are defining features of the Colobine (Leaf) Monkey family, these features on the Proboscis Monkey are more than double the size of their closest relatives. The Proboscis Monkey today however, is extremely threatened in its natural environment with deforestation having a devastating impact on the unique habitats where the Proboscis Monkey is found.

The male Proboscis Monkey is significantly larger than the female measuring up to 76cm in height and weighing more than 20kg, both having a long tail which can easily be the same length as the body, which is used to help the Proboscis Monkey to balance whilst it is leaping through the trees. Adults are mainly pale orange to light brown in colour with a richer coloured head and shoulders and grey limbs and tail, and a light pink face. The protruding nose of the Proboscis Monkey develops with age with infants having more monkey-like noses and older mature males having larger and more bulbous ones. Although scientists are still unsure as to exactly why the nose of the Proboscis Monkey grows so big, it widely believed to be to do with attracting a female mate as the noses of females are much smaller.
Although the Proboscis Monkey is technically an omnivorous animal, the bulk of their diet is comprised of tough mangrove leaves which are pulled from surrounding trees. It is because of the fact that they are leaf-eating monkeys, that the Proboscis Monkey has a large and swollen stomach that is made up of chambers containing a special cellulose digesting bacteria that helps to break down the leaves. This is however, a very slow process and means that the Proboscis Monkey's stomach is often full and can contain up to a quarter of the individual's total body weight. The Proboscis Monkey supplements its diet by eating other plant matter including shoots, seeds and unripe fruits along with a passing insect on occasion and does so predominantly in the trees, preferring not to come down to the ground.

Today, the Proboscis Monkey is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as an animal that is endangered in its natural environment and could face extinction in the near future if better conservation measures are not put into place. Population numbers are thought to have dropped by up to 80% over the past 30 years with numbers continuing to decrease. There are thought to be around 7,000 Proboscis Monkeys left in the wild today and very few are found in captivity as they simply do not respond well to the artificial conditions.

8 July 2015


The Proclaimers in The Botanical Gardens
How time flies! It's almost ten years since we last saw The Proclaimers in concert. I blogged about it here.

We saw them again on Saturday evening in Sheffield's Botanical Gardens. The local Rotary Club had organised a series of evening concerts to raise money for charity. Imaginatively, they titled these evenings "Music in The Gardens"

It was a balmy summer's evening. I was in hiking shorts and my "Yorkshire Pudding" T-shirt and I was carrying two old deckchairs that I unearthed from our underhouse area. We hadn't sat on them in years.

Finding a good space with a nice view of the stage wasn't easy. Some concert goers had claimed extra large spaces and clearly resented the possibility of intruders even though they  can only have arrived minutes before. One miserable bloke said,"You're not going to sit there and block my view are you?" Obviously, not one of the Woodstock generation. Peace and love man!

A woman said, "You can't sit there! We're saving that space for friends!"but we squeezed in anyway and her "friends" never did arrive.

The Proclaimers were as professional, tight and entertaining as they had been in 2005. Their set included old favourites like "I'm on My Way" (made famous by the film "Shrek"), "Sunshine on Leith" (Which features in the film of the same name) and "I'm Gonna Be - 500 miles". They must have played these numbers hundreds of times.

Yes, they were brilliant with the twins from Auchtermuchty in Fife, Scotland - Craig and Charlie Reid  - supported ably by a drummer, lead guitarist and keyboard player. The crowd bounced along and flags were waved. Shirley was danciug like a teenager but curiously I felt rather detached - as if I wasn't truly in the mood for this very good concert in the gardens on such a lovely summer's evening.

Anyway, while watching, I snapped some more pictures:-
Dedicated to Gerald England
Craig Reid
Charlie Reid
This is one of their best known songs.Unashamedly delivered in a broad Scottish brogue, it speaks of Scottish emigration - "If you go will will you send back a letter from America?..."

5 July 2015


Bell over the main gate at Dartmoor Prison
Dartmoor is a national park in the far south west of England, Until last Monday it was an area that I had never explored. 

Before leaving the university in Exeter last Monday morning  I had mapped a ten mile walk I planned to undertake after visiting Princetown which is the location of the infamous Dartmoor Prison. This grim granite edifice was built in the early years of the nineteenth century - mostly to house American prisoners from The Forgotten War. It is still in use today.

I didn't begin my circular walk till half past two in the afternoon - parking in the hamlet of Jurston before looping up on to the moor itself. The highlight of this walk was discovering the stone row on Hurston Ridge. It runs for 143 metres and consists of two lines of ancient stones leading to the site of a cairn. There are ninety nine stones in total and it is very likely that the arrangement is over 4000 years old - first constructed when Dartmoor was probably forested.

Nobody knows for sure what the stone row was all about but one compelling argument suggests that it was to do with procession and the ritualistic honouring of  ancestors. There are numerous other very ancient sites on Dartmoor as well as more recent tin mine workings.

If you lived down there, so many walking adventures would be possible - preferably in clement weather - but the paths are not as well signposted as in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. You would need to have your wits about you.

I just got a taste of Dartmoor - not the full menu - but it was delightful to be out there plodding through unfamiliar country and that haunting stone row will live long in my memory.
Dartmoor Prison seen from afar
High Jurston Farm - where I parked before my walk
The stone row on Hurston Ridge
Dartmoor ponies are semi-wild
Bennett's Cross