31 December 2015


Alfond Inn
The Alfond Inn, Orlando
I'm sitting on a big aeroplane operated by "Delta" - in seat D1 to be precise and we are currently thirty thousand feet above the Atlantic Ocean. It's the morning flight from Manchester to Orlando, Florida. I didn't even realise that you can now connect to the internet whilst in flight! Quite amazing.

There's an enormous coffee-coloured woman next to me. Wobbly rings of flabby flesh are overlapping into my personal space and she is snoring like an old  sow. I believe that the technical term for her physical state is "obese" though it is not a word I normally like to see or even hear. Her body odour is also noteworthy - like a rugby team's forgotten laundry basket. 

In just over an hour, we'll be touching down and then I am going to get a cab to my hotel - The Alfond Inn - before travelling on to "The Laughing Horse Tavern" for tonight's big event. Oh my god, Michelin Woman has passed wind! Euurgh! ...See you there folks! And for those of you who cannot be in Orlando tonight - HAPPY NEW YEAR!

30 December 2015


"The White Swan" in Blyth
Thank you to Lee, blogging from her sun-kissed mountain in Queensland. Watching TV just yesterday, she saw reports about flooding in northern England and sent me her best wishes. We have had a lot of rain and several rivers have been unable to cope with the huge volumes of water but I am happy to say that our city - Sheffield - remains unaffected..

Like Rome, Sheffield is built on seven hills. Down in the valleys our five rivers flow eastwards towards The North Sea - The Don, The Loxley, The Rivelin, The Sheaf and The Porter. Back in 2007, The Don caused significant flooding to the north of the city centre but this was a very unusual event and this time things look fine thereabouts. Our house is on one of the seven hills so even if rain fell in biblical proportions, we would never need to  ask Noah for a lift. We are as dry as a nun's wotsit.

Yesterday, in stark contrast to the flooding misery, I drove out of the city in brilliant sunshine. I was on my way to The Lakeside Shopping Village near Doncaster to meet up with my younger brother Simon in order to exchange Christmas gifts. I set off early, intending to take a detour to the North Nottinghamshire village of Blyth.

I visited this salubrious village for the first time in February 1978 when, as a young teacher, I was living nearby in rented accommodation in the village of Carlton-in-Lindrick. Bob, my temporary landlord, drove us there for Sunday lunch in "The White Swan". Though I have walked close to Blyth and driven by it a few times, I hadn't been back in the place for thirty seven years.
The "Gogglebox" vicarage.
Blyth is the home village of "Gogglebox" vicar Kate and her family. I snapped a picture of  the vicarage and subsequently my lovely daughter has accused me of being a "stalker". Fortunately Kate did not run out of the house with a rolling pin nor did her husband Graham set their dopey dog on me. I slunk away as stalkers do, to get pictures of Blyth's magnificent Norman church and "The White Lion" pub.

The church is the oldest Norman building in Nottinghamshire and it speaks eloquently of the village's former significance - both geographical and political. It was lovely to see it in bright winter sunshine. And then I drove on to see Brother Simon. Happily, he had bought me a bottle of Irish whiskey - elixir of the Celtic gods and much enjoyed by modern day stalkers.
Gargoyle pulling a face
Crow sitting on a stone pinnacle on the tower

28 December 2015


"Just to feel alive and in control of your own destiny"

Two days ago a large red rowing boat was tied to a jetty in the harbour at Cairns in northern Queensland, Australia. Unsteadily, a fifty three year old man clambered ashore. His leathery sunburnt torso was all skin and bone. His name is John Beeden and he was born and raised two miles from this keyboard in the Sheffield suburb of Woodseats.

John Beeden is a true modern day hero and what he achieved this past weekend deserves to be trumpeted around the world for it is another special example of what human beings are capable of when they apply themselves with true grit and determination. 

Setting off from San Francisco on June 1st, it took John Beeden 209 days to row to Cairns. He was alone and there were no stops on route. He is the first person in human history to have achieved this incredible feat, travelling 6100 nautical miles as the crow flies! Or 6500 actual nautical miles according to our recently rejuvenated and helpful  Mancunian blogger -  Mr Shooting Parrots.

There were days when he rowed for fifteen or sixteen hours and times when the Pacific winds, currents and waves drove him back so far that hours of hard rowing were nullified.He ate dehydrated meals and drank sea water that had been desalinated. Admittedly he was aided by some modern technology - including navigational aids, a satellite phone and intermittent internet connection - but that takes nothing away from what this brave Yorkshireman has achieved.

There's a website connected with John Beeden's incredible ocean journey. To learn more go to Solo Pacific Row.

27 December 2015


Don't worry - be happy! The fact that Jason Greene aged 31 was shot dead outside "The Laughing Horse Tavern" on April 1st 2011 should not  cause bloggers any particular anxiety. As Betty Kelley the founder and owner of the popular bikers' bar said - nothing like that had ever happened at her place before. Greene was not a customer. He was an opportunist thief who attacked the manager of the bar - Clarence Hadler - in a futile attempt to steal the night's takings.

Betty Kelley
founder of
"The Laughing Horse Tavern"
Furthermore, the fact that "The Laughing Horse Tavern" is popular with grizzly bikers should cause no uneasiness. The regular customers are rough diamonds sure enough but with hearts of gold. Every year they organise a big fund-raising drive for local children's charities. Wayne "Gnasher" Steelman, spokesman for the bikers said, "We are so proud that our bar will be hosting these blog awards and looking forward to welcoming so many nice folks from overseas!"

It is ten years since "Gnasher" walked out of the Florida State Penitentiary and Betty insists, "He's one of my best boys. I love him like a son."

And so the arrangements continue. The biggest night in the blogosphere's social calendar is sure to be memorable. No doubt there will be tears of pure joy as well as tears of abject disappointment as the winners are announced and the losers head for the rest rooms to sob their hearts out.
"Gnasher" Steelman

26 December 2015


It's Boxing Day! The day when families get fed  up with each other and start boxing. Cooped up in the house with flatulent old aunties and toddlers having Christmas tantrums, it is a relief to get the gloves on and crunch some bone. 

Biff! Biff! Take that! That'll teach you for buying me Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and Uumph! There's another one for the selection of dark chocolates! Splat! That's for talking incessantly through the Queen's Christmas message. Crrrrunch! And that is for nabbing the last sausage wrapped in bacon (pig in blanket) when my fork was already poised!

Peace and love? Goodwill to all men?... No way!  In the red corner - Yorkshire "The  Henchman" Pudding! In the blue corner Auntie "The Gas Factory" Edith. Seconds out! Now let's box!


The Laughing Horse Blog Awards Ceremony is happening on New Year's Eve in Orlando, Florida! Tickets for this exclusive event are going rapidly. The organising committee urge all nominees to finalise travel and accommodation arrangements as soon as possible in order to avoid potential disappointment. The 2015 designer widget for winners was received in the office earlier today and is shown here for the very first time over on the right. Who will be the 2015 winners? The excitement mounts....

25 December 2015


 Late yesterday afternoon - Christmas Eve - a short drive up on to the moors. A car splashes its way out of Yorkshire and into Derbyshire as our world's golden orb sinks into the west. Soon afterwards, I turned towards the full moon and noticed that an estate car had pulled over by Ringinglow Road. The daughter got out with her camera to capture the setting sun, perhaps not even realising that behind her our planet's timeless silver satellite was already casting its nocturnal spell.
It is 3.40pm on Christmas Day. Frances and I have been relieved of kitchen duties as Shirley and Ian beaver away, preparing our feast. Aromas of roast turkey and onion gravy mingle with chestnut stuffing and boiled vegetables. Soon I shall  be stuffing myself like Henry VIII - a turkey leg in one hand and a flagon of wine in the other. Happy Yuletide!

23 December 2015


I seem to have developed a new Christmas ritual. Perhaps it is connected with unpleasant increases in the cost of postage stamps. For the past few years, I have designed virtual cards that can be attached to e-mails. Naturally, I use photographic images that I have snapped myself. This year's picture was captured in February after a heavy snowfall. The location was Surprise View near Hathersage Booths. At the time, I just noticed those footprints heading off towards The Derwent Valley. Clearly, I am not alone in thinking of Christmas as a marking point in time. Those solitary footprints could easily symbolise our journey into the mysterious new year ahead.
We have sent traditional cards by snail mail to family and certain old friends. Through the years some of these exchanges have simply become custom and practice. The e-mail card is reserved for other contacts who for whatever reason haven't made the  physical card list. This year I sent the card shown above to a few revered bloggers. If you feel miffed that you didn't receive the card, I sincerely apologise. but I have a great idea that you may wish to follow up.

Copy the card shown above and print it on to A4 paper then stick that sheet on the right hand side of an A3 sheet of card or stiff paper. Fold the card down the middle. Voila! You now have your own special Christmas card! Using a felt tipped pen, inside please write:- 
To...(your name)
Merry Christmas
Best wishes,
Yorkshire Pudding
The card should be displayed in a prominent position - most likely in the middle of your mantelpiece or on the wall directly above your bedhead.

22 December 2015


The world famous "Laughing Horse" Blog Awards Ceremony is again scheduled for the last day of this year. For the first time ever, the event will take place on another continent - North America to be precise. More specifically the spotlight will be upon "Betty's Laughing Horse Tavern" 907 N. Goldenrod Road, Orlando, Florida. This luxury establishment has traditionally always been popular with Hell's Angels and other members of the Floridian motorcycling fraternity but Betty herself has assured the awards organising committee that "her boys" will absent themselves on New Year's Eve so that bloggers from around the world may have the exclusive venue entirely to themselves.

Of course there is plenty of hotel accommodation in Orlando and so attendees will have no problem booking rooms. Please note that there are no rooms available at "Betty's Laughing Horse Tavern".
The committee did consider holding this year's  prestigious red carpet event at "The .Laughing Horse Saloon" in Thompsonville, Michigan but the area is so cold at this time of year that visitors would risk frostbite. In addition, it was noted that the saloon attracts  some gun toting hunters and woodsmen who believe that Barack Obama is Osama bin Laden in disguise and that Adam and Eve really existed. Orlando seemed a much more attractive option.
Sheffield-based graphics company Brightstar have been awarded the widget contract this year. Their brief is to come up with an original design which incorporates a picture of a laughing horse. To be frank, Brightstar have dragged their heels over this job and it was only this morning when they forwarded two possible widget images for consideration. We have to let them know by tomorrow so that the widget design can be rapidly advanced ahead of the great day. Which should we pick? Left or right?

For some helpful background on "The Laughing Horse" annual widgets, see this post.

20 December 2015


This morning. Looking southwards from Higger Tor towards Carl Wark hill fort and The Longshaw Estate. You can see how windy it was up there by looking at the surface of the water in the grouse basin. HDR processing was activated to make this image.

Half an hour earlier I was doing something slightly crazier. It was partly inspired by a past remark from Tom Gowans, author of  "Hippo on the Lawn".

By Ringinglow Road which climbs westwards out of Sheffield there are occasional wind-battered hawthorn bushes that in spite of everything have managed to secure  footholds on the open moors. I climbed over the fence and headed to my chosen bush. There I took eight golden baubles from my rucksack and three strands of tinsel. The bush was quickly dressed but I was wishing I had brought more decorations.

I admit that it does look a bit sparse - like Ebenezer Scrooge's Christmas tree. Still, I am sure that some people will see my festive handiwork from the road over the moors  and perhaps they will wonder, "Now what kind of person does something like that?" Hopefully there will be one or two smiles. A little Christmas magic...very little...

18 December 2015


Miner Gary Ward could not hide his emotions after he finished his final shift at the Kellingley Colliery as it ended coal production today

Today was a momentous day in the history of British industry. Our last deep coal mine was shut down and our last four hundred and fifty deep coal miners lost their jobs. In the proud history of coal mining, Kellingley Colliery, Yorkshire will now forever occupy a very sad footnote - the place where it all ended. 

Millions of tons of coal still lie underground at Kellingley as huge ships bring vast quantities of cheap coal to our island from Russia, Poland and even from as far away as Colombia. It just doesn't seem right and it feels as if the closure of Kellingley Colliery  is the late Margaret Thatcher's final act of vengeance upon coal  mining communities and upon an industry that gave this country so much for so many years. So many lives were lost. It is truly the last waltz. Lest we forget...

December 18th 2015

All is quiet now
Only darkness remains
Thick black velvet darkness
As black as coal
Pressed into eye sockets
Like thumbs.
All is quiet now
Yet somewhere
Deep in this awful labyrinth
Voices chant distantly
Please cup your ears
To hear them
Sweet like forgotten birdsong
Resounding in some
Primeval forest long ago:
"The miners united
Will never be defeated!"
Melting into the darkness
"will never be..."
It's all over now
Nothing left to say.
All is silent.

17 December 2015


John Betjeman statue at St Pancras Station, London
The late John Betjeman, Great Britain's poet laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984, was familiar with Sheffield. He lived in the city intermittently,  fanned the flames of  an affair here with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of the tenth Duke of Devonshire and in old age spent time as a stroke patient in The Royal Hallamshire Hospital. He was very fond of Sheffield, especially the well-heeled suburb of Broomhill - just a mile from this keyboard. He said it was "the prettiest suburb in England" which is a bold claim I think - probably fuelled by fond  memories of Lady Elizabeth.

In 1966, he wrote a poem about the city when he was no doubt lazing about  in a Broomhill villa. The Ebenezer he refers to is Ebenezer Elliott, The Corn Law Rhymer who I previously blogged about here. It is an interesting poem but not the kind of poetry that moves mountains. It is rather suburban and twee. For me the best features are (a) the reflection upon the lives of steel workers seeking weekend leisure and (b) the last two lines which describe Sheffield as "this hill-shadowed city/Of razors and knives." I like that for it reminds readers both of the city's geography and our proud steel heritage.

An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield 

High dormers are rising
So sharp and surprising,
And ponticum edges
The driveways of gravel;
Stone houses from ledges
Look down on ravines.
The vision can travel
From gable to gable,
Italianate mansion
And turretted stable,
A sylvan expansion
So varied and jolly
Where laurel and holly
Commingle their greens.

Serene on a Sunday
The sun glitters hotly
O'er mills that on Monday
With engines will hum.
By tramway excursion
To Dore and to Totley
In search of diversion
The millworkers come;
But in our arboreta
The sounds are discreeter
Of shoes upon stone -
The worshippers wending
To welcoming chapel,
Companioned or lone;
And over a pew there
See loveliness lean,
As Eve shows her apple
Through rich bombazine;
What love is born new there
In blushing eighteen!

Your prospects will please her,
The iron-king's daughter,
Up here on Broomhill;
Strange Hallamshire, County
Of dearth and of bounty,
Of brown tumbling water
And furnace and mill.
Your own Ebenezer
Looks down from his height
On back street and alley
And chemical valley
Laid out in the light;
On ugly and pretty
Where industry thrives
In this hill-shadowed city
Of razors and knives.

By John Betjeman (1966)

15 December 2015


Do you ever speak without thinking? It would be unnatural if every utterance we ever made was carefully weighed up before it left our lips. Sometimes we all shoot from the hip, acting in haste and repenting at leisure.

Last week I was in our local "Lidl" supermarket, tootling along with my trolley and minding my own business. I reached the vegetable section and was in the process of putting a couple of courgettes in a plastic bag. Suddenly a hand reached across my trolley, brushing my arm and the plastic bag. The hand grabbed hold of a shiny black aubergine and without thinking I said to the owner of this hand, "Don't bother saying excuse me!"

It was a young man - perhaps mid-twenties. He retorted, "All right! Calm down mate!" No belated apology for his rudeness,

I fired back, "No you calm down you twat!"

Then he said, "You want to hit me or something?"

"Hit you?" I replied. "No, I don't want to hit you. I just want to give you a little lesson in basic manners!"

With a silent sneer and an inability to make any suitable riposte he slunk away with his aubergine.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that I acted correctly. It was all over and done with in a flash. It may have helped that I am a big guy - six feet tall, seventeen stones and built like a brick outhouse. With all the walking I do my legs are like telegraph poles and I can easily adopt an ursine  facial expression so threatening that it would easily scare away a legion of Islamic State jihadists. But what I mainly take away  from the supermarket incident is the immediacy of it - speaking instictively without forethought. That kind of thing could easily land you in trouble.
An ursine expression

14 December 2015


That's our sugar bowl. We bought it in Minorca, Spain twenty years ago. It's a piece of Mediterranean sunshine in our kitchen and it serves us well. Ironically, I rarely use sugar these days for a year ago, I began to use artificial sweeteners in tea and coffee. Most days I drink five mugs of tea and one mug of coffee so in the last year consuming yet another small mountain of sugar has been avoided.

Below there's our butter dish. We bought it in Portugal in 2004 so for eleven years it has been another friendly and treasured kitchen item. It cost us the equivalent of £18 but we were attracted by the naive pastoral design that speaks of summer meadows and simplicity. I have never been a fan of margarine or olive spreads in plastic tubs and have always been sceptical about the health benefits of these butter substitutes.

Toast? Teacakes? Jacket potatoes? Boiled vegetables? For me it has to be slightly salted butter every time. Interestingly recent studies have appeared to confirm that butter isn't half as bad for you as was once claimed. I might have substituted the sugar but butter - no way José!

12 December 2015


In Remembrance in Pilsley
On Thursday, I spent three hours scrubbing our decking and the paved sections of path just behind our house. They can all be treacherously slippery at this time of year - especially if you have allowed a thin layer of lethal algae to accumulate. I was knackered after all that exertion and flopped on the sofa to watch "Tipping Point" with a well-deserved mug of coffee. 

The afternoon train to Norwich.
Seen from a footbridge
south of Danesmoor.
But with fair weather forecasted for Friday, my main reward for the vigorous cleaning job, was a walk in the countryside. This time I drove to the village of Higham south of Chesterfield.

With boots on, I set off northwards towards Stretton, before turning eastwards at Ain Moor towards Pilsley. It is so hard to tell these days but once this area was peppered with dirty coal mines. They are all gone now and Britain's last remaining deep coal mine at Kellingley will cease production next week. I think of those legions of brave men - my great grandfather and grandfather on my mother's side included - who went down into the bowels of the earth to hew the black diamonds. Day after day they diced with death.

In Pilsley, two pit wheels are now a lasting memorial to the work of thousands of  colliers. The parish council have had a plaque made to go along with the old wheels. This very simple inscribed sentiment upon it caught my eye -  "TO PILSLEY MINERS THANK YOU FOR THE WARMTH AND THE LIGHT". That was real work that was. Sitting on one's arse in a call centre, gazing at a computer screen is not in the same league. Not by a long way. I for one doff my cap in humble respect to all underground coal miners past and present. In many ways they were braver than soldiers for they were in peril every day of their working lives. But there were no medals  for them, no patriotic annual  parades with royalty leading  two minute silences.

From Pilsley it was onwards to Morton and thence to Stonebroom. Then westwards into the fading sunlight dodging puddles in the lane to Shirland, then back to Higham and the car. Three and a half hours of plodding.
"The Sitwell Arms" in Morton
Jacob sheep near Stretton. The second version came to me from Google +.
 Shirland Church

10 December 2015


What is that sitting on the kitchen worktop at Pudding Towers? Lord Pudding just popped into "The Banner Crust" to buy it. Is it a ginger coated chocolate bonbon? Is it a battered cricket ball? Is it a red kangaroo turd? Or is it a castrated camel's left testicle?

No my friends it is a superb example of a scotch egg. It cost his lordship ninety nice pence and he consumed it yesterday lunchtime.

It is sometimes said that the scotch egg was invented in a posh London grocery store called "Fortnum and Mason" in 1738 but long before then, in the cuisine of the Moghul Empire, there was a strikingly similar food item called narcissus kofta. It consisted of a hard boiled egg encased in a meat kofta shell. By 1738, the tentacles (not testicles) of the mighty British Empire had certainly reached far into the old Asian territories of the Moghuls so it is very possible that the idea was brought back to the motherland.

Various readers of this blogpost will be aware that scotch eggs can be highly addictive. Over in the exclusive retirement village of Trelawnyd, North Wales one particular resident is regularly seen stumbling from door to door with a baying pack of guide dogs, his eyes bloodshot, his swollen tongue hanging out, desperately pleading "Have you got a spare scotch egg?" Once a respected member of the nursing profession this poor trembly fellow, whose name has been withheld for legal reasons, is now a shadow of his former self.

Dressed in vomit stained cargo trousers with a great split in the crotch, old Homer Simpson carpet slippers and a stained "Walking Dead" T-shirt, he is a sorry sight to behold. He hasn't shaved in years, his eyesight is going and his lank hair is dishevelled. That is what happens with scotch egg addiction. First your money goes and then your self-respect.

Being of tough Yorkshire stock, I am determined to keep my fondness for scotch eggs in check. A weak character can easily lead users down the path to dependency as in the case cited above and I am well aware of that danger. However, scotch eggs have well-proven aphrodisiacal qualities and can bring other health benefits  too such as extra walking stamina, improved memory and improved memory. On balance, I calculate it is a risk worth taking.

Here's that same scotch egg cut in half. Notice how in this example there is no gap between the egg and the sausage meat casing for such a gap is characteristic of an inferior product - such as scotch eggs sold at petrol stations or at shops across Lancashire:-

9 December 2015


Some people take pictures of golden sunrises over palm-fringed beaches. Others take spectacular pictures of panoramas from mountain tops. Some prefer images of pouting models strolling down cat walks while others prefer pictures of toothless toddlers on tartan rugs. Wildlife  photography? Mucky Highland Terriers rolling around in Scottish snow or cute thatched cottages in Dorset?  A grand palace in Ludwigsburg, Germany or a crazy grandson in Alabamistan? The possibilities are endless.

But I prefer pictures of tumbledown sheds like the one featured in this blogpost. I snapped them yesterday while testing out the new boots. It is an old railway freight carriage - minus the wheels. It has stood in a field on the western outskirts of Sheffield for all of the thirty seven years I have lived here. Once used as a stable by a horsey teenage girl who must now be in her forties or fifties, its only current functions are as a shelter for sheep and as a subject for arty farty photographers in new boots.
It is a windswept place in the heart of Britain. Beyond the shed you can see the suburb of Lodge Moor and beyond that, over on the horizon The Bradfield Moors. Having talked to the landowner, I can now reveal that this rustic holiday home will soon be available exclusively to foreign readers of "Yorkshire Pudding" for a knock down price of £315 a week, rising to £543 in the summer. Sleeps six, well-ventilated, this charming country cottage enjoys spectacular views over The Rivelin Valley and is a short drive from Stonehenge and Shakespeare's birthplace. Contact "Yorkshire Pudding Holiday Cottages Ltd" to check availability.

8 December 2015


Above: my trusty walking boots. We have travelled many miles together, up hill and down dale, in all seasons, over countless stiles, across wintry streams, through pine forests and snowdrifts and last Friday along a farm track that was knee-deep in mud and cow dung. Lovely! You will be pleased to learn that I washed them in the kitchen sink and then slowly  dried them on a radiator. It was in that process that I realised the rubber soles were so worn down that little useful grip was left behind. It was time for a new pair of boots!

Now two and a half years ago, I won £230 by betting that my football team (Hull City) would win promotion to the Premier League. That money was simply languishing in an online account so I decided to liberate it and spend a chunk of it on some new boots.

I bought them in Rotherham on Sunday afternoon and they are pictured below. Size 12 Scarpa Cyclone GTX boots  costing £90. They may look little different from the old boots but they cost  twice as much. I wore them all day yesterday just to try and bed them in. I even wore them at the pub quiz in "The Rising Sun". Men were looking at me whispering, "He's wearing Cyclone GTX! He must be made of money!"  The Gore-Tex  fabric on the uppers will keep my feet nice and dry and the rubber tread will see me sticking to slippery surfaces like a gecko. Hopefully, these two boots and I have as many miles ahead of us as I covered in my faithful old pair. Scary to say but it is very possible that they will be the last boots I ever buy....

7 December 2015


I have been working at our local Oxfam shop for exactly a year now. Every Wednesday, just after 1pm, I set off walking down the hill to Hunter's Bar. Over the pedestrian crossings and along Ecclesall Road then into the shop.

Out of a possible fifty two Wednesday afternoon shifts I have worked all but one and that was because we were on holiday in Crete. This fact reminds me that I must do more travelling in 2016. One place I would very much like to go is The Isle of Man and I know that Shirley is keen to go there too. We will see. I guess there will also be a significant foreign trip.

At Oxfam, my duties involve working on the till which I am now rather more comfortable with, sorting book donations in the book room upstairs, pricing books and putting them out on the shelves downstairs, cashing up, filling in the appropriate paper work and visiting the NatWest Bank at Hunter's Bar with the day's takings.

Each shift lasts for four hours so I have worked 204 hours for Oxfam in the last twelve months - not much in the grand scheme of things but as they say - every little helps. Oxfam does so much good work around the world. Remember the terrible earthquakes in Nepal for example? For every pound raised by Oxfam, eighty pence goes directly to development work or to emergency relief.

I get sick and tired of doubting Thomases who sagely churn out myths about how charities like Oxfam squander donated money. It just isn't true and it is an insult to regular donors and the thousands of people who work hard to raise funds.

As an aside, one of the things I like about working for Oxfam is the fact that I set off and return home at the same times each week. In this way, I have marked the seasons passing and watched the light changing with each passing week. I can only remember one afternoon when I was rained upon and had to wear my hooded raincoat. England isn't as rainy as people sometimes think even though it is of course always raining in Manchester.

I know that most bloggers are  extremely wealthy and very generous people who are always keen to help others, so please consider donating a tiny portion of your enormous wealth to Oxfam. Go to DONATE.

5 December 2015


On yesterday's country walk to the east of Matlock, Derbyshire I needed to get from the tiny village of Wheatcroft to Lindway Lane. It looked very straightforward on my Ordnance Survey map sheet. There was a track leading north from Beech Farm which would, after a hundred yards, become a path, descending  to Lindway Brook. Easy peasy.
Roald Amundsen

But what my map didn't reveal was that the track from Beech Farm is exceedingly muddy, regularly churned up by a herd of vindictive milking cows and fed by a couple of hillside rivulets engorged by recent heavy rainfall. At first I edged along the side of this morass, gripping to the fence and putting my boots on the tiny clods of verge that the bovine army had not managed to turn to brown soil porridge, supplemented by extra large dollops of cow shit.

Halfway along the track, I realised that there was nothing else for it but to step into the mud and hope for the best. If a film crew had captured this scene, they would have recorded a cursing Yorkshire Pudding trying in vain to keep his boots dry, hoping that the next footstep would not see him sinking knee deep into the chocolately brown gunge. However, that was exactly what happened. Both feet almost knee deep in mud.

One boot seemed stuck - as if in quick drying concrete - and for a moment I feared that I might die there - either through sinking into the mixture and suffocating or simply through not being able to extricate my feet. If I had shouted "Help!", no one would have heard me - just the damned cows. Fortunately, I didn't fall over and with superhuman muscular exertion lunged to the side of the track where the mooing beasts' hooves had at least left some solidity. 

Ahead of me the track veered to the left as the grassy green public footpath descended to the right. I could see a group of cows in the adjacent field and they appeared to be laughing at me like "Laughing Cow" cheese cows. "B******s!" I yelled. And then like Roald Amundsen arriving at The South Pole on December 11th 1911, I made it out of the mud and onto the relatively dry, firm path that would lead me onwards to Lindway Lane, to the ruins of Trinity Chapel, to Coldharbour Lane, to the hamlet of Butterley and then back to Tansley where I had parked my car.

My lined walking trousers are now in the washing basket but the boots are still in the car, reeking of congealed mud and cow dung. I should get them out and clean them...or perhaps it's time for a new pair of boots? It is with enormous relief that I am able to share this tale of survival with you... Folk often say that there's nothing like a nice, long walk in the countryside to ease one's troubled soul - communing with nature, listening to the music of native birds and wading through a sea of mud like the monster of the deep.

Four pictures from yesterday....
December tree by the path from Lea to Wakebridge
Holy Trinity Chapel, Brackenfield
A sixteenth century church, long abandoned in the woods.
In Wheatcoft... before the mud.
Riders on Cunnery Lane.
The woman on the right said, "We're not used to the paparazzi!"

3 December 2015


Turn the clock back to the early nineteen sixties, back to my village primary school. There's a big black-leaded cast iron fireplace in the corner and we have just returned to the classroom after playtime. Miss Readhead gives out copies of "Singing Together". She turns on the retro wireless in its polished mahogany casing and we wait for instructions from our virtual singing teacher - Mr William Appleby who speaks with a reassuring Yorkshire accent. One of us.

All around the country in thousands of other classrooms, countless children are huddling just like us - ready to sing. There are old British folk songs, Christmas carols and a few songs from afar such as "Waltzing Matilda" and "Yellow Bird". 

I enjoyed those "Singing Together" mornings and usually sang my heart out. The programmes were intelligently constructed - allowing for demonstration and repetition, breaking the songs up into small sections before putting them back together again. Some of those timeless songs remain imprinted in my memory like musical tattoos - "The Minstrel Boy", "Lillibulero", "Green Grow the Rushes-O" and "The Skye Boat Song" for example.

For several years there was a parallel programme with accompanying songbook called "Rhythm and Melody" but for some reason it was far less popular than "Singing Together" which very many people of my generation remember with much affection. It was the best of school - gathered round the fireplace with classmates. It linked us with our capital city and brought us lovely songs with history and meaning. And it wasn't dry and technical as many music lessons in secondary school would later be. "Singing Together" was exactly what the title suggested it would be - people singing together and hopefully, like me, enjoying the experience.