31 December 2016

Winners

Winners are entitled to copy one of the 2016 prize 
widgets before pasting into their own illustrious blogs. 
_______________________________________

The Laughing Horse Awards Committee have instructed me to announce the winners of the 2016 blog awards. This is a duty that I feel immensely honoured to execute having been associated with the Laughing Horse organisation since its inception way back in 2008. The central remit of Laughing Horse is to encourage excellence in blogging and to honour leading exponents of the craft of blogging.There is no truth whatsoever in vindictive rumours that suggest The Awards Committee are influenced by  monetary backhanders or bribery.

Without any further ado, here at the very end of 2016 AD, let us go straight to the awards...

SENIOR BLOGGER OF THE YEAR - Pat (Mrs Weaver) for "Weaver of Grass". This Yorkshire-based blog gives us a window upon country life in the Yorkshire Dales. It is about friendship, family, memories, poetry and appreciating the simple joys that life presents. Written in a kindly, contented manner the blog demonstrates that being an octogenarian does not mean one's zest for life should shrivel up. Pat deserves credit for excellent blog maintenance and for responding thoughtfully to comments that are received.

BEST WELSH BLOG - Once again "Going Gently" by John Gray is honoured. The Committee stated, "It is an antidote to The Archers on BBC Radio 4". Having gained worldwide popularity, "Going Gently" continues to surprise us all as John reports on his various animals, The Prof's eyebrow, the legendary Mrs Trellis and of course the machinations of The Flower Show Committee. There is a heart-on-sleeve humanity about this village blog which keeps its readers returning.

BEST AMERICAN BLOG - Jennifer for "Sparrow Tree Journal"  . Emerging from Florence, South Carolina, Jennifer writes a very candid blog. In 2016 she considered the ups and downs of working life in a retail environment and her struggle to stick with it. There's her beloved dogs Ginger and George, her parrot Marco, her husband Gregg, reading group meetings and all of the rest of the paraphernalia of everyday life in a typical town of the southern states. Jennifer's thoughtful and supportive comments on other blogs were also noteworthy. (Runner-up in this category was Bob Brague for "Rhymes With Plague", Steve Reed's blog, "Shadows and Light" was dismissed from this category as it is mostly produced in West London, England)

BEST REGULAR FEATURE ON A BLOG - Ian Rhodes for "The Sunday Round-Up" in "Shooting Parrots". Every Sunday - almost without fail - Ian treats his readership to a quirky look at the previous week's news. There are links to news stories from around the world and an obituary section too. It deserves more visitors. His "Sunday Round-Up" is bound to make you chuckle and perhaps your jaw will also drop. Ian even posted a "Sunday Round-Up" on Christmas Day which is most commendable.

BEST CANADIAN BLOG - For the second year running this has gone to Red of Red Deer, Alberta for his calm and friendly "Hiawatha House". One of the best features of Red's blog this past year was recollections of the time he spent working as a teacher in the far north of Canada. We also learnt more about the infamous "micro manager" who lurks in the background, monitoring Red's activities and no doubt keeping him sane. Red continues to leave pleasant, supportive remarks on other people's blogs.

Two previous Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year winners were highly commended by The Awards Committee for outstanding services to blogging. They are of course Ms Lee George for "Kitchen Connection" and Ms Meike Riley for "From My Mental Library". The former blog is forged in Queensland, Australia and the latter blog is mostly manufactured in Ludwigsburg, Germany. Both blogs are carefully crafted, well-maintained and enjoy loyal followings. They remain a credit to the blogosphere.

And now, drum roll, we move on to the major award - 
The Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year for 2016
Here's a clue:-
And here's another:-
Yes folks! The Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year for 2016 is none other than Steve Reed for "Shadows and Light"

In  selecting Steve's blog as the overall winner, The Awards Committee noted "...the clarity of its expression, its grammatical accuracy, its regularity and reliability, the ceaseless high quality of accompanying photography." The Committee enjoyed tales of outings with Olga the pet dog on Hampstead Heath and Steve's recent Caribbean cruise which took followers to faraway places such as Belize, Key West and Cozumel. But above all, it was those amazing, expertly formed and often quirky photographs that clinched it for Steve to whom we send a huge... 
Well Done!

30 December 2016

Seven

These days I don't listen to music very much - not like I used to. But occasionally songs still pierce my defences and in 2016 I was charmed by this rather quirky number from a Danish pop-soul band called Lukas Graham...I notice that the official music video has now received almost 460 million hits on YouTube... What do you make of this song?

Seven Years 

Once I was seven years old, my mama told me,
"Go make yourself some friends or you'll be lonely."
Once I was seven years old

It was a big big world, but we thought we were bigger
Pushing each other to the limits, we were learning quicker
By eleven smoking herb and drinking burning liquor
Never rich so we were out to make that steady figure

Once I was eleven years old, my daddy told me,
"Go get yourself a wife or you'll be lonely."
Once I was eleven years old

I always had that dream, like my daddy before me
So I started writing songs, I started writing stories
Something about that glory just always seemed to bore me
'Cause only those I really love will ever really know me

Once I was twenty years old, my story got told
Before the morning sun, when life was lonely
Once I was twenty years old

(Lukas Graham!)

I only see my goals, I don't believe in failure
'Cause I know the smallest voices, they can make it major
I got my boys with me, at least those in favor
And if we don't meet before I leave, I hope I'll see you later

Once I was twenty years old, my story got told
I was writing about everything I saw before me
Once I was twenty years old

Soon we'll be thirty years old, our songs have been sold
We've traveled around the world and we're still roaming
Soon we'll be thirty years old

I'm still learning about life
My woman brought children for me
So I can sing them all my songs
And I can tell them stories
Most of my boys are with me
Some are still out seeking glory
And some I had to leave behind
My brother, I'm still sorry

Soon I'll be sixty years old, my daddy got sixty-one
Remember life, and then your life becomes a better one
I made a man so happy when I wrote a letter once
I hope my children come and visit once or twice a month

Soon I'll be sixty years old, will I think the world is cold
Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me?
Soon I'll be sixty years old

Soon I'll be sixty years old, will I think the world is cold
Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me?
Soon I'll be sixty years old

Once I was seven years old, my mama told me,
"Go make yourself some friends or you'll be lonely."
Once I was seven years old
___________________________________________________

Reminder - Tomorrow ...The Laughing Horse 
Blog Awards for 2016 will be announced. 
The tension mounts...

28 December 2016

Widget

Social media is awash with rumours. Countless column inches have been taken up in popular blogging magazines. There have even been items on TV news programmes. Yes folks, it's that time again though it's hard to believe that twelve months have passed by. The whole world is waiting with bated breath to discover who will be successful in this year's Laughing Horse Blog Awards.

The Awards Committee have been in virtual lockdown through the Christmas period, revisiting blogs from around the world, debating the merits of over four hundred nominations.

As you know, winners are always revealed on the last day of the year and now the excitement is building once more. The Awards Committee have asked me to remind the blogosphere of previous winners going way back in time to 2008. This is the roll of honour:-
2008 - Arthur Clewley for  "Arthur Clewley"
2009 - Daphne Franks for "My Dad's A Communist"
2010 - John Gray for "Going Gently"
2011 - Ian Rhodes for "Shooting Parrots"
2012 - Kate Steeds for "The Last Visible Dog"
2013 - Tom Gowans for "A Hippo on the Lawn"
2014 - Meike Riley for "From My Mental Library"
2015 - Lee George for "Kitchen Connection"

Last year's winner, Lee George, speaking on the phone from her luxury mountain cabin in Queensland, Australia said, "Winning the overall blogger of the year award has changed my life. I can't go anywhere now without being stopped for autographs and selfies. Sometimes I have to pinch myself ."

Each year a unique new  awards widget is revealed. They are created by leading designers and after much cogitation I am now authorised to reveal the 2016 widget, presented to The Awards Committee by none other than Fergus Botticelli of the London-based design consultancy "Charge The Earth":-
I am sure you will agree that this is a special design which would certainly enhance even the dullest of blogs but sadly, not everyone can be a winner. The Blogger of The Year and several sub-awards will be announced on Saturday. Watch this space.

27 December 2016

Rushup

Unusually for 2016, no famous people died on Boxing Day. Consequently, I thought it would not be too disrespectful to treat myself to a two hour country walk west of Castleton. I  dropped our son Ian off near Hathersage where he had arranged to meet up with an old friend before travelling out of The Hope Valley and along Rushup Edge towards Chapel-en-le-Frith.

Though bright, the day was windy and cold. Fortunately I had brought along my fashionable red thermal hat, fingerless gloves and my Hull City manager's coat. I must have looked a "right div". That's a slang term derived from prison life. Apparently low status prisoners of the past found themselves putting cardboard dividers in boxes so they became "divs" - now used as a term of mild abuse for stupid or stupid looking people.

Anyway, when suitably attired I plodded along a track that leads eventually to a hill called South Head which you can see in the picture below. The light was sharp and beautiful and I snapped more than forty photographs on the walk but I have only picked two to share with you. 

The picture at the top is of Bettfield Farm - an upland sheep farm. On the horizon you can see the head of a railway shaft which ventilates The Cowburn Tunnel. This connects Edale with Chinley and is just over two miles in length. I have travelled through it several times for it is on the most direct rail track between Sheffield and Manchester..

The days remain short and though I would have loved to walk an extra three miles as planned, I decided it was wiser to curtail my route in order to avoid  tramping across sheep pastures in darkness. Never a good idea. Isn't it always best to see where you are going?

25 December 2016

Whirlow

An hour's escape from Trevor the Turkey, chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce and various vegetables. I jumped in the car and drove to Whirlow Brook Park. It's on the south western edge of the city and was once the private estate of a Sheffield steel magnate. It's only five minutes from our house.

The park is dominated by Whirlow Brook Hall, erected in 1906 in a stolid Elizabethan style. Nowadays it is a conference centre and wedding venue but of course it was once a luxurious private residence.

Many's the time I have gone there for a stroll, to read a book or feed the ducks. It's never busy in the park  and so it's a nice place to go whenever you need a little peace. Today the temperature was so mild that I didn't even bother with a coat.
Then it was back home for the Christmas feast with our grown up kids and Frances's boyfriend Stewart and Shirley's sister Carolyn and her oldest son Edward. Crackers and Christmas hats and memories.

Memories of all those other Christmas feasts going back in time - to when our parents were alive, to childhood and black and white television and Nana and Jock and Paul. Christmas is not just a celebration but an annual  marking place in time. Where you measure personal history, look ahead and look back.

23 December 2016

Assessment


It is easy to get things out of proportion. You need to halt sometimes and ask yourself - Is it just me? 

I look back over this year and  see a troubled and troubling world out there. Human society has never been perfect but 2016 appears to have taken us several steps closer to the abyss. It's worrying, very worrying. Of course there's Trump and there's Britain's narrow decision to leave the European Union. And there's the unholy mess that Syria has become. We are all aware of these things. We have been bombarded with images and endless words, over and over. It would be almost impossible to ignore it all.

Then there's been lots of other worrying stuff. Mad men driving lorries into crowds of innocent people. Sexual abusers being unmasked week after week. Desperate migrants drowning at sea. Social media trolls inventing false news stories which thousands believe. I could go on and on, moving from world events to the microcosmic details of everyday life.

In Sheffield, council sub-contractors have chopped down dozens of perfectly healthy mature trees, replacing them with scrawny saplings that will take several decades to catch up. Other contractors have been merrily removing traditional green man lighting from pedestrian crossings, replacing it with console screens mounted at waist level above the "Stop" request button.

Train tickets cost the earth. "Smart" motorways have no hard shoulders. Where once we got our energy from British Gas and the local electricity board, now there's a plethora of energy companies competing for our "custom". In America, an estimated 14,000 people will have been shot to death this year - a total that does not include suicide deaths. Big businesses and millionaires bend taxation rules to breaking point. In East Africa, lives continue to be ravaged by AIDS.

And when it comes to the natural world with which we have all been blessed, the carcasses of elephants and rhinos lie rotting in the heat, victims of poachers as starving polar bears  drift away on ice floes. In Russia and Malta, so-called sportsmen shoot down endangered birds just for the thrill of it all. And in  the Amazon basin, swathes of rainforest are obliterated - often containing forms of life that human beings have never recorded - extinct even before we have even seen them.

I know other people who feel the same as me about 2016. A bad, bad year in which the world went rather crazy and many past certainties were shaken to the floor. Are we wrong? Is it just us? Is there any reason why we should look ahead to 2017 with optimism, believing that a corner has been turned and that the year ahead will be better than the one that is about to end? 

22 December 2016

Sunlit

The day after the winter solstice, sharp wintry sunlight illuminates this long row of terraced houses in south Sheffield. They rise from the valley of The River Sheaf up the hillside. The name of the street is Woodseats Road. As you can see, these houses don't have front gardens but they are well-built and surprisingly spacious and comfortable inside where the residents are now no doubt ticking off the hours to yet another Christmas. All of the houses have cellars and in front of each one you can still see the tops of  the chutes down which coal men once poured coal. But those days are long gone. Nowadays, the only fuels supplied to these homes are electricity and gas. 

Further up the road on the right I noticed that number 210 is up for sale. It is on the market for £129,500 which is $160,000 (US) or $221,000 (AUS). It would make a nice little holiday hideaway for one of this humble blog's wealthy visitors.

21 December 2016

Shortest

At last, here in the northern hemisphere, we have reached the winter solstice and therefore the shortest day of the year. Now we can begin climbing back up again to the light.

On the left there's an image of Queen Jane - otherwise known as Lady Jane Grey. She had the shortest reign in English history - just nine days in July 1553 before fate pointed her in a different direction. She was beheaded in The Tower of London on February 12th 1554. Her death was down to religious warfare as Catholicism struggle to reassert its power in a country that was moving towards Protestantism, rejecting the yoke of Rome.

Below there's Chandra Bahadur Dangi who died last year. He was Nepalese and at just 21.5 inches tall, he was the world's shortest man. To me it is sad that he died far away from home in Samoa and not in the mountain village where he had lived and worked for seventy years before being spotted by a passing tourist. In old age he had opted to join a travelling circus, displayed as a freak, no longer loved and supported by his family and neighbours back in Reemkholi, Nepal.

20 December 2016

Card

Unfortunately, I don't  know the home addresses of the majority of blog visitors so I haven't been able to send you Christmas cards. Instead, I have designed this special card for you. Please print it off  - in colour of course - carefully cut it out and stick it to a suitable piece of card:-
Next write inside your preferred name followed by "Season's Greetings" and then "Love from Yorkshire Pudding". When the card is finished, place it proudly on your mantelpiece for family and Christmas visitors to admire.

The idea for posting a Christmas card for blog visitors came from John Gray @ "Going Gently" and the legend, "Merry Christmas Everybody" came from the Romanian "Big Issue" seller on Stamford's high street. The photograph came from The Hope Valley - I snapped it myself a few days ago.

Stamford

We returned from "Strictly Come Dancing" via The Great North Road - otherwise known as the A1. Until the M1 motorway was constructed in the late nineteen fifties, the A1 was England's premier north-south arterial road. The journey home was swift and untroubled - so different from Friday afternoon's tortuous trip.

We decided to make a short detour to a Lincolnshire town we had never visited before - Stamford, And what a lovely place it seemed to us with its many limestone buildings, its riverside setting and its various churches. 
After parking "Clint", we wandered around and noticed how many independent shops there were in the town centre. It seemed affluent and confident - not dog-eared or sadly reflective of better times. A soprano carol singer stood in front of a gift shop, gathering change for her chosen charity.

Outside W.H.Smiths, a cheerful Romanian "Big Issue" seller maintained her happy refrain of "Merry Christmas Everybody! Have a nice day everybody!" I tried to snap her with my camera from across the street but she spotted me and raised her Christmas edition of the homeless magazine to hide her face. I suspect that Stamford is a rather nice town to be homeless in. In 2013 it was adjudged, in all of England,  to  be the best place to live by "The Sunday Times".
There's a lot of history in Stamford and it is a shame we had so little time there. In the old Sheep Market there was a tall spire made of limestone and bronze. Researching it later, I discovered that it had been erected in 2008 to commemorate the fact that Stamford was once home to one of the twelve Queen Eleanor crosses.
They were erected under the instructions of King Edward I after his late wife's embalmed body was, in 1290,  moved from Lincoln to London in twelve stages. The twelve crosses signified the nightly stopping places of the funeral procession with the last one being Charing Cross in London.

Noticing a parking enforcement officer snooping around Stamford's riverside car park, we unlocked "Clint" and sped off  back towards The Great North Road, pausing only at the gate to Burghley House to take off our coats.

18 December 2016

Fog

Ridge Farm and the old phone box in Ridge
Yesterday, Borehamwood was my oyster as Shirley attended the "Strictly Come Dancing" final. I had planned a country walk but had not anticipated fog. What the hell - I donned my boots anyway.

On this country walk, I found myself chatting with three people I met.There was a seventy something farmer at Summerswood Farm. We talked about country paths, dairy farming, horses. and the volume of traffic on the A1 which bisects his acres.

In the village of Ridge, in "The Old Guinea" I met a tattooed Serbian barman who supports Tottenham Hotspur. We talked about football and Serbia and the village of Ridge. The pub's current character is very different from how it must have been in the past. It has transmogrified into an Italian eating house, specialising in stone-baked pizzas. No longer farmers in mucky wellies and tradesmen propping up the bar and chewing the cud over a pint or two.
"The Old Guinea" in Ridge
The third person I met was a tall woman with blonde dreadlocks and a gold stud in her nose. She was called Debbie and she was dog walking for an elderly couple. It turns out that she was born within six weeks of my birth in 1953. In some respects we have seen the same world unfolding as we grew up and grew older. She said several things - amongst them - "Isn't Hertfordshire a brilliant county for walking in?"

Diplomatically, I retorted, "All English counties are great for walking in."

She had a sunny disposition in spite of arthritic joints. She summarised our parallel lives with this - "Don't you think we are damned lucky to  live in England? It's a bloody brilliant country." 

And of course I agreed before bidding her farewell and carrying on with my foggy Hertfordshire ramble. It may be a great county for rambling in - when you can actually see it!

16 December 2016

M1

Once more unto the breach! The M1 motorway is the spinal cord of England's road system. When it opened in the late nineteen fifties, families would occasionally get out of their cars and picnic on the road's grassy embankments. That was in a time of innocence when traffic was very light.

Nowadays, convoys of monstrous lorries trundle up and down the lanes sandwiching endless shoals of cars and vans. Some of us are going south and some are going north. There are endless roadworks, variable speed cameras, accidents, mysterious traffic jams caused by congestion, sirens and idiot drivers on mobile phones. It is not a pleasant way to spend your time - especially on dark December nights with the windscreen wipers swishing.

We went up and down the M1 last weekend and we're doing it again this weekend. Shirley is taking her pair of golden tickets for the "Strictly Come Dancing" final down to Elstree Studios in Borehamwood. We are going to stay in the nearby Ibis Hotel and she will join the ticket validation queue at five o' clock in the morning with her deckchair, blanket and flask. What a crazy and extremely unkind process!

Let's hope she is successful. The Princess Frances will arrive in Borehamwood later in the day as I set off to watch Borehamwood F.C. take on Barrow in the English National League - not a military skirmish but a football match.

And then on Sunday, it's back up the M1 again. The road is usually quieter on a Sunday with fewer big lorries but you still have to have your wits about you and at the end of the tension-packed journey you have to prise your white knuckles from the steering wheel. Someone should write a song about it "...and I was only twenty four minutes from Luton, a half  hour away from your heart..."
______________________________________________

M1 TRAFFIC UPDATE

We set off from Sheffield at 2.40 in the afternoon and arrived at our hotel at 8.15 in the evening. Five an a half hours for what should have been a two and a half hour drive. Motorway signs advised us that the motorway was closed because of an "incident" between junctions 25 and 26, not far from Trowell Services. Like everybody else we had to leave the motorway and work out a detour, through Eastwood, Heanor, Ilkeston and the western suburbs of Nottingham. It seems a mad man had been on the loose. He killed his wife and then went on a driving rampage along the motorway which resulted in his death. The full details are still emerging.

"STRICTLY" UPDATE

It is half past midnight. Shirley is sound asleep. I have just been over to the TV studios' rear entrance where four brave souls are already camped out for the night - more than eight hours before the ticket validation process begins.

15 December 2016

Victory

In human history there have been many great battles - from the jungles of Vietnam to the isles of Greece and from the poppy fields of Flanders to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But surely, through the centuries, no battle can compare with the bloody conflict fought between the mighty forces of Premier Park and Brave Sir Yorkshire Pudding - alone, like Daniel in the lions' den. His path was illuminated by the flickering beacon of justice and words were his only weapons.

To learn more about the background to this bitter conflict go here

The Evil Premier Park's only goal in life is to squeeze money from motorists. They show no mercy and believe that they always have right on their side. They try to bully their victims into paying parking charges by warning that if you don't pay now you'll pay much more later. Many motorists cough up and put it all down to experience as Premier Park go laughing to the bank, their pockets filled with booty.

In England there is an organisation called POPLA which stands for Parking on Private Land Appeals. It is legalistic, with several hoops for accusers and appellants to jump through over a period of a month or more. I submitted written and photographic evidence and later challenged some keypoints contained in the arguments of Premier Park. I thought I had a convincing case but suspected that POPLA would be in league with private parking companies, paying mere lip service to the notion of appeal.

However, yesterday I learnt that my appeal had been successful! Ring the bells! Go dancing in the street! This is a mighty blow for the common man. Goliath has been brought to his knees. Premier Park must skulk away to the dank caves of abject defeat as Sir Yorkshire Pudding, astride his great white charger, waves to the cheering crowds. Let me borrow these words from Winston Churchill, "I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we've done and they will say 'do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.'

In conclusion, the POPLA assessor said this : "From the operator’s evidence, I can see that the signage at the site is located on the walls of the building. I am not satisfied that this is sufficient to inform motorists of the terms and conditions of the site as they are not easy to see and I cannot determine that the appellant has had the opportunity to see, read and understand them. As I am unable to determine that the appellant has had the opportunity to see the signage within the car park, I can only conclude that the operator has issued the PCN (parking charge notice) incorrectly. Accordingly, I must allow this appeal."

14 December 2016

Vacillation

Some days, you just don't know what to blog about. Memories flutter across your mindscreen and you wonder whether or not you should pick one and run with it. You think about recent photographs and consider posting  a few more with linking commentary. What about your method of cooking meaty rissoles? You could share that recipe. 

You think about that idea you had for a poem called "Stuff" and the way people gather things around them for comfort and defence. Ornaments, gifts, pictures, objects imbued with memories, books and natural things like shells and pine cones. But you're not in the mood for such a task today - all that careful chiselling and smoothing. Word choices, line changes, echoes, half-rhymes.

You think you might say something about Aleppo or Yemen. All that horror - man's inhumanity to man - and the way The United Nations have appeared impotent, impassive, hopeless - allowing the slaughter to continue. You see those highly paid UN folk flying first class to New York year after year, staying in the best hotels, eating in the best restaurants, sitting in the assembly hall, looking important. And you see images of children blown to bits. What the hell are they doing? Why does the UN even exist if not to act?

Perhaps you could blog about your parking appeal process or the rip-off central heating chap or the cost of postage stamps for Christmas cards or The Great Western Express music weekend at Bardney Lincolnshire in 1972 - The Beach Boys, Slade, Roxy Music, Wishbone Ash, Joe Cocker, The Incredible String Band and Don McLean. And all that straw we threw in the air just for fun.

Yes, there are some days when you just don't know what to blog about. Days like this one. Meanwhile, time for a shower methinks. I will be heading down to the Oxfam shop in an hour and a half. Business is brisk in the days before Christmas. 

12 December 2016

Reappearance

Sitting in a traffic jam on the M1 motorway. An ambulance with blue lights flashing and siren blaring wove in and out of the lanes. It was pitch dark and we were on our way to Rugby. Sunday night in the heart of England. 

A glowing little petrol pump symbol appeared on the dashboard and as the stop-start progress of that slow motion traffic jam inched us forward, we began to imagine how much fun it would be to run out of petrol there. Not. No hard shoulder to pull onto because of ongoing roadworks and a ten mile tailback behind us. How would the recovery vehicle get through? Nightmare scenario.

After forty painful minutes, the jam almost magically unravelled itself and we made it to Watford Gap service station under our own steam. It was a relief, I can tell you.We hardly spared a thought for the unfortunate travellers whose vehicles had apparently collided and we saw no evidence of the accident.

Onwards to Dunchurch just south of Rugby. We had a room reserved in "The Dun Cow" and we were just in time for dinner. In this village - once an important stopping point for stagecoaches - Guy Fawkes and some of his fellow gunpowder plotters holed up here in 1605. They were in a pub called "The Lion Inn" but nowadays it is a private residence known as "The Guy Fawkes House".
Sunday in London was bright and beautiful. We walked over Wandsworth Common with dozens of dog walkers. Seabirds sat in a line on a wooden platform by one of the ponds as footballers competed for a leather orb, hoping to drive it into the opposition's net. 

We carried on to Clapham Common, passing humble terraced houses that now sell for over a million pounds apiece. Then down the back streets to Balham. We bought French onion soup and fresh rolls for lunch, having feasted the night before on delightful Nepalese dishes -  Momo Cha, Pokhareli Lamb, Bhuteko Bhat and fresh Nepali bread from a tandoori oven. Excellent.

Earlier today we walked around a rather gloomy Rugby. But at least it wasn't raining. We visited the new Rugby Hall of Fame above the town's library and we also  strolled by Rugby School, observing the statue of William Webb-Ellis and a massive bronze rugby ball embedded in the sports ground close to the spot where Webb-Ellis allegedly picked up the ball and ran (see first picture).

Visiting Rugby - as I said earlier to the dog lady in Dunchurch graveyard - it was indeed a once in a lifetime experience.
London on Sunday.....

9 December 2016

Absence

Just in case you were wondering where I have gone this weekend, we are driving down to London on Saturday morning. We will be staying with The Beloved Daughter overnight and dining in a local Nepalese restaurant with The Beloved Son who will be joining us from Highbury which is in North London. The Beloved Daughter's beau will also be there.

Weather permitting I will walk on Wandsworth Common on Sunday morning. Then there'll be lunch and a lazy afternoon before we travel on to Rugby in Warwickshire. I have booked a hotel there for Sunday night. Rugby is where the game of rugby began when during a football (soccer) match in 1823, William Webb Ellis picked the ball up and ran with it. It's a great story.

So folks, this is my absence note... Back home on Monday night.

8 December 2016

Paterson

Adam Driver as Paterson
No police sirens in "Paterson". No guns blazing or inspired detectives spotting murder clues. Nobody from the glitterati, no fast cars screeching round corners. No. This is a quiet and beautifully crafted film about ordinary lives. Not much happens in it and yet I found it curiously engaging.

Jim Jamusch directed it, lovingly and meticulously, and he recently said this of "Paterson"; “Life isn’t dramatic, always. This is about the day-to-day. It was less intentionally an antidote to all this action, violence, abuse of women, conflict between people, but I’m sure that’s part of it. We need other kinds of films. With my films, my hope is that you don’t care too much about the plot. I’m trying to find a Zen way where you are just there each moment and you’re not thinking too much about what’s going to happen next.”
Golshifteh Farahani as Laura
In "Paterson", twins appear on several random occasions without comment. They are just there, part of the town's scenery. The central character is a bus driver co-incidentally called Paterson like the New Jersey town that provides the film's setting. Every day he gets up early leaving his wife Laura dreaming in bed, except on Saturday when she is up early, manically decorating cupcakes to sell at the local farmers' market. She has various dreams of fame and fortune and artistic leanings that are always black and white in colour. Perhaps she is a little crazy but she loves Paterson all the same.

In four or five brief moments, the camera focuses on a framed  photograph of Paterson in a previous life - in his US Marines uniform but no mention is made of that experience or how it might have affected him. It is just there - slightly tantalising but deliberately untapped Then there's the pet bulldog, Marvin. When left in the house one evening he chews up Paterson's notebook of poems. The lines often came to him while bus driving and making poetry was obviously his biggest aspiration in a town that was once home to the great American poet William Carlos Williams.

There is humour in "Paterson" and there is a sense of how life trundles on for most of us - unexceptional, undramatic and ordinary. Jamusch was right - we do need other kinds of films and for me, "Paterson" was a sweet and rather lovely film - at times melancholic and meaningless. By the end you feel you have got to know both of the Patersons quite intimately - the east coast town and the bus driver.who traverses it.
Marvin the English bulldog in "Paterson"

7 December 2016

Poem

There are an estimated 130,000 miles of public footpaths in Great Britain. They go here, there and everywhere, leading us to secret places, taking us away from our everyday lives.  This is not the first time I have created a poem that bears the title "The Path".  For example, looking back I wrote another one in March of this year. See here.

6 December 2016

Quiztime

"The words a man says are as deep waters..." - The Bible

In today's episode of "Quiztime", competitors will be given two contrasting quotations. Your task is simply to decide which quote came from the mouth of Donald J. Trump, esteemed 45th President Elect of The United States of America and which quote was delivered by the late Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, 17th President of Cuba.
________________________________________

A "Men do not shape destiny. Destiny produces the man for the hour."
B "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything …Grab them by the p***y … You can do anything."

A "Warfare is a means and not an end. Warfare is a tool of revolutionaries. The important thing is the revolution! The important thing is the revolutionary cause, revolutionary ideas, revolutionary objectives, revolutionary sentiments, revolutionary virtues!"
B “They said, ‘How are you going to change the pageant?’ I said ‘I’m going to get the bathing suits to be smaller and the heels to be higher’.”

A "A person who's flat-chested is very hard to be a 10, OK?" 
B "I feel my belief in sacrifice and struggle getting stronger. I despise the kind of existence that clings to the miserly trifles of comfort and self-interest."

A "They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America?"
B “You know, it really doesn`t matter what the media write as long as you`ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”
________________________________________

How did you do? The producers of "Quiztime" make no apology for the difficulty level of this demanding quiz. The answers will be proudly tweeted by Donald J. Trump on his Twitter feed later this month. Unfortunately, "El Comandante" will be unable to assist with this process

5 December 2016

Pictures

It's nice to share photographs with blog visitors. Some of you have  occasionally written complimentary comments about them. Such words are much appreciated. Sharing pictures is more motivational than saving them for my eyes only. If nobody else saw them, what would be the point?

Here are three more pictures, taken in the last three days. Below you can see an ancient squeeze stile I came across when walking between two farms in north east Derbyshire. The squeeze stile remains when the hedge or stone wall in which it once sat disappeared. long ago. The squeeze stile allowed people to squeeze through to the next field but not livestock.
From Ringinglow on Friday afternoon, I looked across the valley of The River Porter to the old tower of Lodge Moor Hospital as a rainbow fell on Harrison Lane. The hospital was demolished years ago and now an up-market housing estate surrounds the tower. Soon after this my camera battery flashed its exhaustion. It was a pity because soon afterwards the rainbow sharpened its colours and formed an impressive arc, framing our city down in the valley.
I took this next picture at The Great Pond of Stubbing where, as you can see, there's a little stone boat house. No boats are moored within it these days. I imagine long ago Edwardian summer days when little groups from the big house at Stubbing Court would saunter down to spend a pleasant hour or two boating on the pond with a wickerwork picnic hamper and a bamboo fishing rod. Not Stubbing Pond or Stubbing Lake but The Great Pond of Stubbing - maybe a good title for a new murder mystery.

3 December 2016

Emojis


Well, I don't know how long it has been there but when creating a new blogpost one of the facilities available on the top bar in Blogger is "insert special characters".  Click on the second of the three dropdown menus there and you will find emojis. 

As I don't possess a mobile phone, I was only dimly aware of what emojis are and how they might be used. I guess they either replace words or reinforce previously expressed sentiments. It is amazing how many different notions and emotions can be suggested with these little symbols. Some of them are very clever indeed.

I have applied certain emojis to members of the blogging community - henceforth to be called blogonauts. Some days even I can be insane. I hope that Blogger don't send that white van over again today. I hate being trussed up in that canvas straitjacket...
πŸ‘°= Librarian - a German princess with secrets... and "Holzofen-Dinnede" in her Swabian belly.
πŸ™‹= Jennifer - a South Carolinian princess with dogs, a parrot and a husband.
πŸ‘¨= Terry - Hinckley's "man of the year". What an amazing accolade!
πŸ‘Ί= Steve - chief enforcer  at The American School library - "Bring em back!"
😜= John Gray - blogger extraordinaire and animal lover - no, not like that!
πŸ’†= Queen Helen from Brissy, queen of quilting and holiday planning.
πŸ‘§= My name is Sue, how do you do? "Here, there and everywhere..." - thanks to John Winston Lennon.
πŸ‘©= Mama Thyme/Mama Bear - Miss Colorado 2016 and lovely mountain lady in fur.
πŸ‘΅= Mrs Weaver, illegal Lincolnshire immigrant - aka Emma Dale.
😻= Lee on Tamborine Mountain - foxy lady and damned good cook.
πŸ˜‡= Ian Rhodes - happy halo man and king of the Sunday Round-Up.
😁= Mr Graham, Laird of Eagleton, IπŸ’—Lewis  showing off his new teeth.
πŸ™Ž= Jan Blawat, feisty no nonsense Sloughhouse chicken woman.
😊= Red - a Canadian glass half full happy chappy eskimo teacher guy.
πŸ˜‰= Chris the Newhaven Pedestrian winking at the world.
πŸ‘΄= Mr Rhymes, senior blogger and wise monitor of blogging morals.
πŸ‘ΈπŸ‘ΈπŸ‘ΈπŸ‘ΈπŸ‘ΈπŸ‘ΈπŸ‘Έ= What is the collective noun for a group of princesses? A herd? A gaggle? Here are Princesses Kylie, Coppa G, Lesley, Libby, Frances, ADDY and Alphie before they descend on their favourite downtown dive - "The Flaming Yorkshire Pudding" to guzzle down shots and dance like dervishes deep into the night.
Did I miss somebody? Oh yeah, I missed you! πŸ˜ˆ You little devil!  

1 December 2016

Abuse

Andy Woodward - brave whistleblower re, sexual abuse in boys' football
Here in  Great Britain, a secret door has been pushed open. Beyond that door in the dank shadows of recent history, vile child abuse has been exposed. This awfulness happened at the behest of several perverted football coaches.. They took advantage of dozens of young boys and overpowered them with their careless lust.

We have seen ex-professional footballers on our television screens, revealing their terrible secrets. Some of them have been in tears. Such things are very hard to talk about - even when you are a grown man. How much harder it would have been to talk about such things when these tortured men were boys.

"How was the football practice Jimmy?"

"Oh fine mum but afterwards Mr Smith buggered me in the back of his Cortina."

It doesn't work that way.

I wonder if there are any other countries in the world that are as  diligent in their rooting out of past abuse as Great Britain seems to be. We keep delving into the shadows, pulling out the monsters when in so many other countries the secret door is double-locked.

I pause to wonder what turns a man into a child abuser. Surely they didn't just wake up one day stretching and yawning and thinking - "Oh I am bored. I think I will go out and abuse a child today." It would be instructive to learn about the backgrounds of these abusers and what made them so. Of course forgiveness would be absurd but it is arguably far too facile to view these predators as evil devils without stopping to consider their life journeys.. Are abusers born or made?

30 November 2016

Hope

Tuesday was a diamond day. Though our night starts to fall at around three thirty in the afternoon at this time of year, the short day we enjoyed was bathed in sharp winter sunlight as anticyclonic conditions settled over northern England. This is the kind of wintry weather we like - not the grey-damp wintry weather that eats into your bones on days when the golden orb fails to seep through thick layers of dismal cloud.

I didn't want to drive very far - just out to Hathersage, and under the railway bridge on the Grindleford road. I parked near Leadmill Bridge, laced up my trusty walking boots and set off along a public right of way that follows the course of The River Derwent all the way to Castleton.

I was in The Hope Valley. I always think that is a perfect name for a lovely green English valley. A valley filled with hope, perhaps the hope of better things to come. Maybe somewhere there are other valleys - The Hopeless Valley, The Valley of Lost Souls, Despair Valley - I can't say but The Hope Valley suits me fine. I have walked along every one of its ancient paths, filled with Hope.

Here are some of the photographs I snapped along my seven mile walk as November drew closer  to its photogenic ending...
Unclothed tree near Upper Hurst
Two pictures of Kentney Barn
Another barn - on the frosty slopes of The Hope Valley
Riverside path that follows the course of The River Derwent