31 January 2015


It's time for a song.

Released in both Britain and America in 1968, "Those Were the Days" recorded by Mary Hopkin on the Beatles' Apple label began life in Russia with music by Boris Fomin and lyrics by Konstantin Podrevskii. It was first recorded in 1925 by a Georgian singer called Tamara Tsereteli. In 1953 this Russian version was even used in a light-hearted Anglo-French comedy film called "Innocents in Paris" starring Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford.

Listen closely to the rendition by Mary Hopkin and you will notice the Russian character of the song. But it is the English lyrics that have always stayed with me. The sense of nostalgia and of a better, more hopeful time being recalled. Those were the days not these days we are living in now.

As for Mary Hopkin. She is sixty four now and still active in the world of music. Her daughter, Jessica Morgan has also become a recording artiste. You can read all about Mary here. Perhaps sadly and ironically there's a sense in which the words of her famous hit song have come true for Mary Hopkin - those were her days, when she was eighteen year old starlet, not these days...

30 January 2015


Approaching Ecclesall Parish Church
Rotten. That's how I have been feeling most of this week. Cough-cough-coughing and finding it hard to get much sleep. For the first time ever, I  moved out of the marital bedchamber and buried myself beneath the covers in our daughter's bedroom. It didn't seem fair to disturb Shirley's sleep any more. So there I have languished with my evil cough, a glass of water, the bathroom radio and a roll of toilet paper for the capture of certain chewable bodily fluids - emanating from the chest I hasten to add.

Today, I fought through the snow to attend the Friday morning "drop-in" clinic at our local medical centre. The doctor prescribed some amoxicillin to address what has probably become a chest infection. Even as I tap this keyboard my airways are whistling and growling like an old steam engine.

But I felt well enough to take a little stroll in the neighbourhood after visiting the doctor. Lord, how I would love to plod ten miles in the countryside but not yet - a mile round the area was a more sensible ambulatory excursion. I went up to Ecclesall Church to check out Ken and Doris's grave. I blogged about them here.
Time marches on. The gravestone reminded me that Ken died in 1992 and that Doris followed him five years later. When the stone was first erected in 1993, it was clean and freshly made. Now it is showing signs of age and behind it there are rows of  graves which weren't there before. I am sure that nobody else ever visits Ken and Doris's final resting place for their only living relatives are in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. Today they were nicely blanketed in snow.
Banner Cross Hall seen from Ecclesall churchyard
I wandered home through the snowy streets to the dripping sound of gentle thawing. Earlier, at the local pharmacy, a massive avalanche of the white stuff crashed to the street from the building's roof. I was hoping that our Member of Parliament, Nicholas Clegg was buried underneath it but of course he is, as always, far from here. He has less integrity than politicians from the state of Georgia!

The short walk has done me good. Hopefully stepping in the right direction. Maybe one day soon I will feel properly healthy again - my normal self. Since August it has been a succession of things - bad knee, damaged ribs, long gout attack and now this damned chest infection. Oh, woe is me! Forgive me Lord for I know not what I do!
Tullibardine Road, Sheffield

29 January 2015


Visitors who have only come to this humble blog in recent months will not know  that I am a part time sheep farmer. Well, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration as we only have two sheep. There's the mummy sheep called Beau and her faithful lamb Peep. They do such a good job of munching our grass that I rarely have to use a lawnmower during the growing season.

But it's not the growing season today. No way. It's the snowing season. For the third time this winter God hath chosen to wreak his wrath upon our sinful Sheffield suburb - dumping incalculable tons of the white stuff on our streets and homes. And here's how Beau and Peep looked at midday:-
PEEP Mum! The farmer's out with his camera again!
BEAU Baaah! Can't you see I'm eating grass? Get your head down Peepo and get munching!
PEEP But there's all this snow Mum! I can't even see any grass!
BEAU Baaah! I've told you before. Shove the snow away with your snout. There's plenty of nice sweet grass underneath.
PEEP But I am fed up of grass Mum. Why can't we eat other stuff?
BEAU Like what?
PEEP You know - burgers and turkey twizzlers and cod in batter.
BEAU Baaah! There's a good reason why not you stupid lad!
BEAU Because we sheep are exclusively herbivorous mammals. Now get munching! We've got five more hours of grazing to do today.
BEAU What now?
PEEP I love you.
BEAU Baaaaaah!

28 January 2015


Fluids? Not the kind you can find in the drinks aisle of your local supermarket. No. I am thinking bodily fluids. We all move around in these amazing vehicles called The Human Body - some more amazing than others it's true. To function, our vehicles require a wide range of fluids which we owe to the human race's evolution through two thousand million years - from the very first living cells. And here's what all that evolution has provided for our pleasure:-
  • Amniotic fluid
  • Aqueous humour and vitreous humour (In the eye)
  • Bile
  • Blood serum (Plasma)
  • Breast milk (Good with coffee)
  • Cerebrospinal fluid
  • Cerumen (earwax)
  • Chyle (Inside the digestive system)
  • Chyme (Also within the digestive system)
  • Endolymph and perilymph (In the ear)
  • Exudates (Often associated with scabbing)
  • Faeces  (i.e. diarrhoea)
  • Female ejaculate (Women only)
  • Gastric acid
  • Gastric juice (Unlike orange juice)
  • Lymph (Fluid associated with the lymphatic system)
  • Mucus (including nasal drainage and phlegm)
  • Pericardial fluid (In the sac around the heart)
  • Peritoneal fluid (In stomach lining)
  • Pleural fluid (In lungs)
  • Pus (Very different from a cat)
  • Rheum (Often called "sleep" can be an eye discharge at night)
  • Saliva (Not to be confused with the salvia plant)
  • Sebum (Skin oil)
  • Semen (Men only)
  • Sputum (mucus from the lower airways)
  • Synovial fluid (Lubrication in joints)
  • Sweat
  • Tears
  • Urine
  • Vaginal secretion (Women only)
  • Vomit (Often the response to lists of bodily fluids)
As you will realise, I am no biologist so  I apologise if I have missed out any bodily fluids. By the way - to clarify - coffee, beer, wine and Coca Cola are not bodily fluids even when they are swishing around inside your belly. The same applies to tea and household  bleach. I prefer the term bodily fluids over body fluids because the latter could include skin lotions, suntan oil and perfumes for example.

27 January 2015


Tradesmen? You know - electricians, plumbers, bathroom fitters - people like that. Invariably they are men and when you find a good, reliable one he is worth his weight in gold. The demeanour and attitude of some tradesmen give me the impression they their opinions of themselves are as lofty as their bills. Their hourly rates are usually way above what a teacher or a practice nurse might hope to earn.

In 2013, we got a fellow in to revamp our downstairs shower room. He came highly recommended but in spite of charging the earth for his work, he left various problems behind. The light above the sink was upside down and off centre but I was able to sort that out myself. The expensive new bi-fold door for the shower cubicle was put in the wrong way round. His tiling was pretty good but he moaned that he couldn't complete the little column of small marble accent tiles because of their gravitational slide so I had to finish that off myself. But the worst thing of all is that the lavatory leaked. I got him back three times to address that problem but he never did sort it out properly and even had the gall to suggest that the leak was in our imagination. How can a little puddle of water be imaginary?

My friend Big Mick - a retired plumber - kindly sorted out the wrongly fitted cubicle door and tried his best to solve the leaking lavatory problem. In the end we reckoned that the original bathroom fitter may have caused a hairline crack at the back of  the porcelain unit.

So I had to get somebody else in to fit a second close-coupled lavatory. Oh Good Lord! Finding that man was such a mission. For example, one recommended plumber came to check out the job and after much humming and harring said he could do the job when he returned from a week's holiday in Wales. He would phone me. Trouble is he didn't and when I phoned him he said he had taken on two big central heating jobs so he wouldn't after all be able to fit our new lavatory before Christmas.

And there were others who made promises but didn't keep them. Didn't reply to emails or answerphone messages. Said they'd turn up at a particular time but didn't. Said they'd get back to me in the evening but didn't. I was starting to think we had been blacklisted by The Tradesmen's Mafia until I finally got in touch with Dan Campbell. He came to check out the job the next day and by the end of the week the toilet was in - at a fair price and what is more important - it wasn't leaking.

Dan could teach the rest of his "profession" a hell of a lot about how to deal with customers - providing good service at fair prices and keeping promises. I mean how would these tradesmen react if they turned up at Shirley's health centre and she turned them away with lame excuses - "Yeah, I can see you've got a severe chest infection but I 've got a lot on at the moment, I'll be in touch."  And how would they feel if their child's teacher said, "There are thirty others in his class. I am afraid I haven't got time to help him with his Maths. I might be able to fit him in next month but I'm not promising anything."

26 January 2015


He's on display in the Silkeborg Town Museum in Denmark - Tollund Man. He was strangled for an unknown reason and buried in boggy ground in the foetal position. That happened about 2250 years ago. And there he lay in the peaty ground until 1950 when some turf cutters found him. The chemistry of the peaty soil had done a remarkable job of preserving his body even though his outer skin had been turned a leathery brown.
He was still wearing his simple leather hat and leather belt but it is presumed that his organic clothing had dissolved long ago in the acidic peat bog. His neck showed a lethal injury consistent with strangulation or possibly ritualistic hanging. He was roughly forty years old.

Of course Tollund Man is not unique. Other bog people - men and women - have been found in Denmark and other countries too - including Ireland and Germany. There are probably many more still waiting to be discovered. One of the things that I find especially fascinating about these Iron Age bog people is their diet. Forensic scientists have carefully examined the contents of their guts and findings have been remarkably similar.

In Tollund Man's case numerous traces of barley and flaxseed, false flax and knotgrass were found. The last two grew in the wild, whereas barley and flaxseed were cultivated in fields. Traces of other weed seeds were also found in the stomach contents - some of them had probably been gathered, whereas others may have been mixed in by happenstance. The investigators were able to recognise approximately forty different kinds of seeds.

To sum it up, his last meal probably consisted of some kind of porridge or gruel made primarily of grain and seeds - flaxseed had probably been added in order to increase the amount of fat in the meal. The contents showed no traces whatsoever of meat or fish. And this has been true of other bog people's stomach contents.

There were no shops, no supermarkets. Wheat growing was not widespread and potatoes had of course not yet been introduced from the Americas. Rice was waiting to be discovered in distant Asia. There was no refrigeration so meat would have only played an occasional part in people's diets. Tollund Man and the society in which he grew up must have spent a lot of time  gathering seeds and simply wondering where their next meal was coming from. It makes you think.

25 January 2015


Weel by The River Hull
Riding on the bus to Beverley, when I was a sixthformer at Beverley Grammar School, we would pass through Routh and Tickton and just before Hull Bridge a lane branched left - adjacent to the river. The signpost said Weel.

Until yesterday I had never been to Weel. A single track two mile road with passing places and to the right the manmade banking that generally prevents the River Hull from flooding low-lying farmland. It makes me imagine how such areas would have been before medieval engineers sought to control water with drains and river banks. Rivers would have simply spread out so any old settlements tend to be found on slightly higher land. Even a few feet would have made all the difference.

There's nothing beyond Weel. It's an end of the line kind of place. Until 1953, villagers crossed the river by ferry to get to Beverley on the other side but in that year work began on nearby Grovehill Bridge making tranport so much easier.
Carr Lane street sign in Weel
Weel is mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. There was a little agricultural community there even then. In 1860 non-conformists built a little methodist chapel but Church of England villagers had to cross the river and walk into Beverley for their weekly services which is where funerals, christenings and marriages also happened.

Many low-lying English villages have "carr land" nearby. Carrs were challenging to farmers for flooding was frequent and to the east of Weel you will still find Weel Carr - now drained and rich agricultural land but occasionally still prone to flooding. It's all arable now - no sign of cattle.
The old chapel in Weel
Some extra houses were erected in the village in the 1960's and 70's but Weel remains a sleepy nondescript little place without facilities - no pub or school, no shop or bus service and the chapel became a private residence in 1963. But it still has a cream coloured phone kiosk - proving that it is within the sphere of Kingston Communications - independent from the rest of Britain's telephone system which of course has red phone kiosks.

Living there would, I think, be strange. In my travels and rambles, I see many small rural settlements and isolated houses and increasingly I think - No, that wouldn't be for me. To actually choose to live somewhere like Weel. Not my cup of tea. But at least I have now solved the mystery of the signpost I passed on the school bus all those years ago.
Cream phonebox in Weel - unique to East Yorkshire

23 January 2015


The University of Stirling is a campus university to the north east of the historic town of Stirling in Scotland.  Since 2002, Stirling has enjoyed city status. It sits in a strategically significant position by the River Forth, overlooked by the Ochil Hills and you could say that it has always been the true gateway to the Scottish Highlands.

Overlooking holiday times, I spent over four years there between September 1973 and December 1977. It was bit of an emotional rollercoaster but through it all I studied hard and when I look back I am proud of my academic achievements and doubt that I could have done much better. 

My main subject was English Studies and by the end of September 1973 I had to submit my first academic assignment. It was linked to a fresher course entitled "An Introduction to English Poetry" and I believe the permitted limit was 1500 words. I grafted at that essay in a void, uncertain of my academic credentials. Deep inside I felt something of a fraud for at that time nobody in my family had ever been to university before. I was the first. 

Dutifully and not a little anxiously, I posted the finished essay in the special wooden box by the English Studies offices. I knew that it was custom and practice for assignments to be submitted in this way and that a few days later, after marking and second marking had happened, the results would be posted up on the English Studies noticeboard. 

Perhaps on my umpteenth visit to the noticeboard, the results were posted. Pessimistically, I looked up the list from the very bottom and as my index finger rose through the E, D and C grades I was becoming puzzled. Where was my name? Had they somehow lost my essay in the office system? And then I spotted it. At the top of the pile - out of the 100+ students on the course there were just six students who had each been awarded a Grade A and I was one of them! It was such an uplifting moment for it gave me the reassurance that I really did belong at university and I really did have the intellectual capacity to succeed there.

Hell, it's forty years ago. Some of the memories that remain are of excessive drinking and of three particular women - Pat from Glasgow, Raganheidur from Iceland and Barbara from Minneapolis. And there were the teaching practices at Alva Academy and St Mungo's Academy in Alloa. And I also recall the student union meetings - for Stirling was very active in that regard and its left wing politics were often vehemently debated.

By default rather than design, I found myself chairing heated student meetings in  packed out lecture theatres. Proposers of motions were allowed precisely two minutes at the lectern and I recall saying firmly to one regular proposer, "No Mr Reid! You have to end there. Your time is up!". It was John Reid - who later became Britain's Home Secretary and now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Reid of Cardowan. So much for his socialist credentials!

Whereas some people cling to university friendships for the rest of their adult lives, for me it was never going to be that way. I moved on. Back to England and to my illustrious teaching career. Stirling is a long way in miles and in spirit from my Yorkshire heartland and the one time I did go back everything had changed - not the geography or the buildings but the cast of people who occupied the stage on which I once strutted  with Sean Hemphill and Andy Bryce, Nick Nicholls and Hughie Lynch, John Shabashow and Paul Palompo, Dick Mungin and Neville Scott, Andy Monkman and Mick Smith and Pat and Barbara and Ragan and all the others whose names evaporated years ago. Stirling - my alma mater.

22 January 2015


"Whiplash" 2014
"Whiplash" has had some good reviews so today I decided to struggle through the snowdrifts aboard my new sledge - pulled by six husky dogs. This was kindly donated by Siberian blogger "Ivan the Terrible". At first I thought I would name the dogs after Santa's reindeer but instead I decided to call them Lee, Helen, Meike, Gowans, Adrian and Molly. They fight over the raw meat I throw to them but seem to respond to my bullwhip. I may have to have Adrian neutered as he's forever sniffing at the bitches' behinds.

Past Hunter's Bar and along Ecclesall Road. Passers by stood with jaws open and the number 88 bus narrowly missed the number 83A when the drivers simultaneously spotted my "Tundra Express" sledge gliding along. Eventually I arrived at The Showroom and tied the sledge up at the bicycle stand outside Sheffield Hallam University Students' Union.

"Whiplash" is an odd film. It has nothing to do with controlling randy huskies. Instead it is about jazz drumming and the quest for perfection. The lead parts are played by Miles Teller as the obsessive student drummer Andrew Neiman and J.K. Simmons as autocratic jazz band teacher Terence Fletcher.

There's a breathless energy to this film culminating in Neiman's outrageous drum solo which finally wins Fletcher over. "Whiplash" is not about killing or crime, it's about psychology and the quest for perfection. Strangely, there is a sense in which music seems to take a back seat. I thought that J.K.Simmons was brilliant but ultimately, despite the reviews,  I doubt that  this film is going to occupy a place on the "best films" shelf in my memory's film library.

At the students' union, the huskies were slavering and yapping at passing students and a parking enforcement officer was trying to put a ticket on my new sledge. "Oh no!" I exclaimed as Helen and Meike leapt at his undefended rump with bared fangs.

We proceeded home through the rush hour traffic and only occasionally did I have to flex my bullwhip - mostly on Adrian's furry rear end.

21 January 2015


Help! I am snowed in in Arctic Sheffield. All through the night the white stuff fell - once again covering the city with a thick white blanket. The snow has drifted right up our doorways and I can only get out through an upstairs window. We have no supplies in the fridge or cupboards and are desperately in need of an airdrop. Please send what you can to The Yorkshire Pudding Emergency Appeal. Items required include:-

  • Fillet steak (Two poounds of)
  • Ready roasted chicken (Large)
  • A case of New Zealand sauvignon blanc (Oyster Bay will do)
  • Two Ben Sherman denim effect shirts (X Large)
  • A barrel of Tetley's bitter
  • Two return air tickets to St Lucia or Cuba (Club class)
  • A bundle of fifty pound notes
  • A sledge and six huskies
  • A couple of now redundant Page Three girls from "The Sun"
  • New lightweight walking boots (UK Size 11)
  • Two pairs of those tennis racquets that Arctic explorers tie to their feet.
  • A "Mars" bar
Photos from our upstairs windows this morning:-

20 January 2015


King Stephen Crowned!
At last, I have plucked up the courage to take a deep breath and admit to you that I am a newsoholic. Looking back, I think that the first signs of this addiction were present years ago. I must have been six or seven when my mother and father bought our very first television. Not for me "The Woodentops" or "Bill and Ben", it was The News I wanted to see - flickering away in temperamental black and white - live from London. Well-spoken middle-aged men in ties with plummy voices. What they were saying was important. Suez, Harold McMillan, The Profumo Affair, The Assassination of John Kennedy.

In the intervening years there have been times when I have gone cold turkey and deliberately avoided The News for weeks, maybe months on end. And you know what it didn't do me any harm at all. In fact, it might be argued that life is simpler, happier, more natural when you have your news blinkers on. 

Wasn't that how human beings lived for thousands of years? When Krakatoa exploded, when ancient Egyptians were building their pyramids, when Mongol hordes were galloping from the east most human beings on the planet knew nothing of such things. They were too busy surviving and operating within their immediate communities. Besides there were no vehicles for the spreading of news - just word of mouth and that might take years to reach you.

In the forests of medieval England, news of what was happening in London or even in the next settlement arrived very slowly. Many weeks might pass by... 

"Hey, Terrowin, have you heard that we have got a new king? He's called King Stephen."
"When was he crowned Gorvenal?"
"It was about three years ago. Another one of those French ponces."
"Righto, let's get back to gathering these hazelnuts.Then we can do some witch dipping at the village pond."

Of course today we have twenty four hour news on the television. Something good or bad happens in Cairns, Queensland or Sloughhouse, California and we all have the opportunity to know about it within an hour or so. There will even be live footage from the scene - "Gun Crazed Chicken Farmer Kills Five in Rancho Murieta Shoot Out", "Cairns ICT Teacher Wins Nobel Prize". News is on the radio and websites. It's in social media and it's becoming almost instant.

These days I seem to require regular news fixes. Radio 4 when I wake up in the morning and when I am cooking in the evening. Even when covering the Yorkshire Pudding manly physique in soapy suds in the shower I will be listening to the bathroom radio. On the car radio too. And there's often such crap on the TV that I frequently find myself flicking to Channel 130 on Freeview to watch the rolling BBC World News.

Psychologically, it's probably not good for us. The news is dominated by disaster - wars and deaths, diseases and economic nightmares. Just as we feel things in everyday life about family or friends so in spite of ourselves we feel things about these news stories. They get under our skin and it can be both confusing and depressing - especially as we can do almost nothing to influence those developing stories. We are only dumb bystanders.

I wish I had the courage to book a long stay in a newsaholic rehabilitation centre - being weaned off my addiction in a news-free environment. I would play my guitar, take up painting again, read books and listen to music, sometimes trudging around the rehab centre's woodland gardens in my carpet slippers with  other desperate patients, looking for hazelnuts.

19 January 2015


Above an old souvenir replica of The Empire State Building, sitting on our mantelpiece, illuminated by winter sunshine. Last June we drove through the little township of Goldbar in Washington State and stopped at "The Used Furniture Store" where we bought an old state licence plate for one dollar. The owner, a begrizzled Russian immigrant, said we could have the little souvenir for free.

Below in nearby Chelsea Park yesterday lunchtime, an athletic lurcher poses as another dog enters his territory-
In "The Banner Cross" tap room yesterday afternoon, before Hull City's live TV match with West Ham, regular and beloved customer Stan has chosen tea instead of beer:-
 Back to Christmas Day and I have snapped my happy family before we plough through our turkey feast:-
In Chelsea Park yesterday I snapped this tree stump carving by Jason Thomson(1998). After seventeen years, natural processes of decay are making the original sculpture a distant memory and one day it will of course, like everything, be gone forever:-

18 January 2015


There are many mysteries  - such as why are we here and what lies beyond the edge of the universe.?More mundanely - why do Ant and Dec have a place in popular television, how do chickens make eggs, who is RJ and are happenings in the mythical village of Trelawnyd simply imaginary? For me another mystery is something called "Google+" or "Google Plus". 

How I was ensnared by this cyber beast I have no idea. I noticed that it was capturing many - though not all - of my online pictures and storing them in an album. I noticed that it had made a homepage for me and that it had started to send me occasional emails. I was allocated "friends" and "contacts". At no time was I invited to join "Google+" and no one has sent me a manual or welcome pack.

Just before Christmas and without asking if this was permitted, it cobbled together a slideshow of my year in photos and sent it to me. The pictures flow together quite randomly and if I am honest I rather like it. I even sent "Google+" a thank you card with a lily of the valley posy on the front.

Recently "Google+" keeps picking out random photos and then re-editing them before sending them back to me. This morning for example I have received a reprocessed picture of Creswell Pond with some of the crags that fringe it. This was the original:-
 And here's the "Google+" revised version:_
"Google+" seems to make certain broad assumptions about what people want from their online experience but not everybody is the same. Some of us shun all this endless social media "Facebook" type chattering that appears to have been partly absorbed by "Google+". I wonder if they did their research properly. Clearly - just like the odious Ant and Dec - "Google+" is becoming a phenomenon that it is almost impossible to dodge. I guess I am going to have to learn to live with it.

17 January 2015


Yesterday, on my little excursion to Creswell Crags, I also stopped to take  pictures of some of the countryside east of Sheffield. Here are two I have chosen to share with you:-
Above, looking east from High Moor Lane towards Whitwell. In the foreground an ancient  boundary wall makes an accidentally beautiful limestone mosaic. Below, near Loscar Farm and Bondhay Barn, two windmills from different ages glance sideways at each other beneath a wintry sky, illuminated by late afternoon sunshine-

16 January 2015


There's a little valley to the east of Sheffield - not far from Worksop and it has tantalising stories to tell of our distant past. When England was connected to the rest of Europe - via the forests and plains of Doggerland that now lie beneath The North Sea - some of our prehistoric ancestors would often come to the little valley of which I speak. A pure stream ran through the ravine and in the limestone cliffs to each side of this stream there were several caves.

These caves provided sanctuary, safety from wild beasts and unwelcome human visitors and they were quite warm and gave shelter from the cold when the last Ice Age began to bite. Archaeologists believe that the caves were first occupied about 50,000 years ago and on and off were used by our ancestors for about 45,000 years. That's a hell of a long time. How did they get on without Jesus, Buddha or Muhammad to guide them through those endless millennia, those long and ink black nights?

It's not that our distant ancestors always lived in the caves as we live in our homes. Sometimes their sojourns were temporary as they followed the seasons and hunted for food. They must have been extremely interdependent - relying on each other for survival. There was of course nobody else that they could fall back upon for support - no emergency phone numbers, no police officers, no shops. It must have been really, really hard but so beautiful too. They would have known nothing of the world beyond their limited horizons.
I am talking about Creswell Crags. As my nasty friend Gordon Gout had mercifully disappeared for a while, I walked through the valley this afternoon. You couldn't get in the caves as they are only open at weekends in the wintertime. In these caves they have found all manner of remains from the past - flint tools, the jaw bone of a hyena, bones from lions, wild cows, the hippopotamus, the narrow nosed rhinoceros, the woolly mammoth and plenty of teeth. They have also found human bones and a woman's skull that is judged to be 12,000 years old. But more than that they have found cave drawings and images etched on ancient bones - a horse, a stag a human form. This cave art is the most northerly work ever found in Europe.

Being there - it makes you think and puts so many other things into perspective. How I would have loved to run with them for just one day, to see the world from their point of view. But what could I have told them? Most likely nothing but at least I could have scratched an image of Ed Miliband in the cave wall.

15 January 2015


This is Ed Miliband, the current leader of the Labour Party in Great Britain. Sadly, he's got an awkward look about him and comes across as a bit of a twerp from a metropolitan egghead family. I have voted Labour all my life but like other Labour supporters I know, we all agree that he's not the right man - or woman - to lead the people's party into the forthcoming general election. He's a liability with an exceptionally low popularity rating for the main opposition leader.

Of course cartoonists have been doing their best to make caricatures of him. Here's Dom Richards's best effort in "Private Eye":-
In idle moments, I have also been trying to capture Ed Miliband's image in a cartoon. I must have tried twenty different versions but this is the best I have come up with so far:-
I know, I'll just have to keep trying.

14 January 2015


Muhammad delivering The Farewell Sermon, 17th-century
Ottoman copy of an early 14th-century Persian image.
The Quran doesn't support a veto on pictorial representations of Muhammad. That restriction has evolved - principally through the Sunni Islamic tradition. It has been far less vehemently upheld in the Shi-ite tradition. Though pictorial depictions of the so-called "prophet" were never as plentiful as images of Jesus and Buddha, they were nevertheless produced quite frequently without much fuss right up until the nineteenth century.

It is interesting how religious practices alter with the passage of time - rather like the animals' commandments in George Orwell's "Animal Farm". At first it was "All animals are equal" but it later became "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others" as the pigs took control.

There are many pictures of Muhammad. Perhaps those adherrents who protest about pictorial representations are trying to prevent  idolatory but Muhammad is idolised just the same. If not what are the obligatory pilgrimages to Mecca all about? 

Today "Charlie Hebdo" again and very defiantly depicted Muhammad weeping on its front cover. Above his image is the slogan "All is Forgiven" and if Muhammad is anything surely that is what he must be about - love and forgiveness - not poisonous interactions on the internet, not Kalashnikovs and bombs strapped to ten year old girls, not alienation and anger, not the cruel assassination of a Muslim policeman pleading for his life on the streets of Paris.

The sooner all these religious bigots - Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist - see the light and turn to atheism the better. It is so hard biting your tongue and being endlessly tolerant of folk who subscribe to illogical two thousand year old religions. That was then but this is now:-

13 January 2015


Like many men, I am a daft bugger when it comes to healthcare. My nasty friend Gordon Gout has been gnawing at my feet for a month now but it was only this morning that I gave in and at last went to see our doctor at the local surgery. As well as arranging for a blood test and a foot X-ray, he prescribed a drug called Colchicine . It was a nice surprise when I stopped off at the local pharmacy to pick up my prescription and discovered I wouldn't have to pay the usual financial contribution because I am now over sixty. God bless the National Health Service!

There was an information leaflet with my little plastic jar of Colchicine pills. It was quite alarming to read a list of possible side effects:-
  • Lower the sperm count (Hell! I was hoping to repopulate the world after a nuclear wipeout)
  • Fever (Lovely!)
  • Sore throat (Nice!)
  • Rashes or ulcers in mouth and throat (Delightful!)
  • Skin colouration (But I am happy being a white man!)
  • Loss of hair (Charming! I don't want to be a monk!)
  • Inflammation of nerves (Already inflamed by Hull City's injury list)
  • Muscle weakness (Which muscle?)
  • Numbness - especially in hands and feet (My brain is already numb!)
  • No urine production (So where will it go? Don't want to fill up like a space hopper!)
  • Blood in urine and bruising (Where is this bruising likely to happen? Err..no, don't tell me!)
  • Kidney damage (That's okay - I've got two - I think)
  • Bone marrow may become depressed (Sod the bone marrow! After reading this ist of possible side effects, I am already depressed)
Blood test at 11am with the practice nurse then up to the dentist's for 11.45 to meet with Dentist Samantha. A filling came out when I was chewing a toffee on Boxing Day. Job done and now my mouth is numbed - unless that is the Colchicine kicking in! Next job is to go to The Royal Hallamshire Hospital for an X-Ray on my feet. This is my Personal Healthcare Day - all courtesy of our wonderful NHS. More sensible to worship than Allah or Jesus's Dad. At least the NHS is visible and working - in spite of David Cameron and the odious Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt whose name ought to be included in a dictionary of cockney rhyming slang!

12 January 2015


An apology is in order. See the photo above, In error it was posted by my admin support staff when I composed a blogpost "Warning" about cringeworthy tattoo mistakes. My recently appointed secretary, Miss Imelda Ramirez from Costa Rica, Central America is still learning the ropes so I couldn't get too mad with her.

It seems that the photo at the top was wrongly ascribed to blogging buddy - Ms Janice James who, as you will probably recall, is the owner of a palatial chicken ranch in exclusive Sloughhouse near Sacramento, California. Her lawyer, a certain Laurence Goldberg of Goldberg, Abrahams and Elmohamady Ltd has threatened me with legal action if I don't amend Miss Ramirez's unintended error.

So below, I present a bona fide photograph of Jan's actual upper chest tattoo. This was supplied by the aforementioned Laurence Goldberg. As you can see, Jan is all starry-eyed as she gazes into the camera lens baring the tattoo she had done when she was a pop sensation with "The Blogettes" girl group in the autumn of 2013.
Fame is so very fleeting these days. The Blogettes have disbanded and have returned to their tedious old lives. Jan hums old Blogettes tunes as she tends her chickens while Carol and Helen have returned to the Australian bush in search of witchetty grubs, Jenny receives counselling in her cottage in the Welsh hills while Katherine tries to dispel her disappointment  through immersion in therapeutic artwork. It isn't easy being a fallen star.

Meanwhile, I know that all male visitors to this humble blog will be hoping that Jan's lawyer will send us some snaps of her other rather more intimate tattoos.  Until then-
Miss Imelda Ramirez (Secretary)

11 January 2015


The dodo (right) sketched by Sir Thomas Herbert in 1634
In the early seventeenth century, the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean had very few human inhabitants. However, it had a rich birdlife and several species were unique to the island - including a very large, flightless member of the pigeon family which occupied some of the coastal forest areas. Somehow it became known as the "dodo". The origins of that name are uncertain.

In an age when European ships were fanning out around the world - mostly in search of new  sources of wealth - Mauritius became a a staging post - a remote island where sailors could rest for a while and replenish their supplies of fresh water. Legend has it that it was these sailors of the seventeenth century who were responsible for the extinction of the dodo though that assumption is unproven. Some dodos were certainly eaten and some were captured. There is evidence that one live bird was even brought back to London for the interest of the curious. Here's Sir Hamon L'Estrange remembering a viewing in 1638 "It was kept in a chamber, and was a great fowle somewhat bigger than the largest Turkey cock, and so legged and footed, but stouter and thicker and of more erect shape, coloured before like the breast of a young cock fesan, and on the back of a dunn or dearc colour. The keeper called it a Dodo..."
Turned into a figure of fun

The first recorded European sighting of a dodo happened in 1598 following a visit to Mauritius by Dutch seamen. The last known sighting was just sixty four years later. So in the length of a human life, a unique and precious creature had vanished forever.

It wasn't the most beautiful of birds - quite ugly and cumbersome in fact - as it waddled around the island's green coastal forests for many hundreds of years - safe from predators. When reproducing, it is thought that it laid single egg in ground nests. An adult dodo stood a metre tall and could weigh up to fifty pounds. It fed on fallen fruit and nuts.

In a children's book of verse from 1896, Hilaire Belloc wrote:-

The Dodo used to walk around,
And take the sun and air.
The sun yet warms his native ground –
The Dodo is not there!

The voice which used to squawk and squeak
Is now for ever dumb –
Yet may you see his bones and beak
All in the Mu-se-um.

It was around that time here in Britain that the phrase "as  dead as a dodo" first appeared in a political context following the bird's earlier popularisation by Lewis Caroll in "Alice in Wonderland" (1865). However, to me that phrase "as dead as a dodo" has now morphed into an accusation regarding mankind's thoughtless elimination of a long list of wonderful creatures. It was here but now it is gone and as the world's population increases yet more of our immediate neighbours from the animal world will surely and tragically follow the dodo into the history of what's been lost.

10 January 2015


Given the epidemic of tattoos that we see around us, I guess that many bloggers are contemplating visits to tattoo parlours this year. What better way to embellish your appearance and prove to the world that you are a unique and interesting individual? There are so many tattoo designs to choose from - lions, eagles, wolves, dolphins - or you might choose a dead relative or a personal hero - Nelson Mandela, Charles Dickens or Lady Gaga etcetera.

Some people simply opt for meaningful words and this is where my warning comes in. Remember that tattoos are pretty permanent. Laser removal is costly and problematic. So get your words right before you visit your chosen tattooist. Write them down and get your phrase, quotation or statement checked out by somebody who has a reasonable grasp of basic English spelling, grammar and punctuation. Once your tattoo is done it is impossible to change. In fact, I am so concerned about the errors that are widely being made you can run your planned wording past me and I will check it for free.

Numerous tattoo mistakes have already been made by bloggers with whom I associate. This is Earl John Gray's muscular upper right arm;-

And here's the right arm of a much younger Brian Cutts before he fled to Catalonia:-
Over in Australia, Carol from Cairns surprised other teaching colleagues:-
Also in Australia, Helen from "Helsie's Happenings" made Tony smile when she came home from the shopping centre with more than bags of groceries:-
Jan Blawat in Sloughhouse, California was angry when she saw what her tattooist had done:_
And in Manchester England, Ian Rhodes regretted this permanent reminder of his short Olympic torch run through the streets of Stockport back in 2012:-
I know that I am a bit of an old fuddy duddy but for me personally, tattoos are a complete no-no! I hate them and would never have one even if you offered me a wild night in Las Vegas with Lindsay Lohan. But hey-ho - each to their own. I appreciate that some other "mature"  bloggers are more comfortable about moving with the times and joining the tattooed generation we see around us. All that I want to say to you is please get the words right or you could become a laughing stock when friends and family check out your new tattoo.