31 August 2016

Susan

Recently, I have started to follow a blog called "The Pedestrian Writer" by an east coast American chap called Chris. His posts are well-written. He opens himself up and reveals his vulnerabilities. Subtle self-deprecating humour is also often present. It is clear that Chris has been through some dark times and that his blog is something of a release valve. He admits this himself.

A few days ago  he posted  "A Summary of the Girls that I Never Dated in High School". In this piece of writing, he recalled the awkwardness of his teenage years and the invisible hurdles that prevented him from wandering through the valley of love, hand in hand with a teenage girlfriend, living the American high school dream like Danny and Sandy in "Grease". It is my supposition that Chris's experience of dating or rather not dating during his high school years is not uncommon.

For some reason, that post made me think of Susan and for what I am about to write I give thanks to Chris for his inspiration...
_____________________________________________

In September 1965, I began five years of daily bus journeys from my East Yorkshire village into the city of Hull. At eleven years old, I had gained a scholarship to an all boys direct grant school, widely thought to be the "best" school in the region. 

Riding aboard that very first bus I noticed a pretty blue-eyed girl in the school uniform of The French Convent - a private school off Beverley Road. She was the same age as me and came from the next village up the road - Brandesburton. She was  a farmer's daughter and she was sitting next to her older sister who also attended The French Convent. I believe the sister was called Christabel.

As the mornings darkened and Christmas approached, Susan began to occupy a place in my thoughts with which Latin declensions and the periodic table could not compete. If sitting behind her on the bus, my eyes were drawn to her blonde locks and if sitting in front of her I fancied that she would sometimes look my way.

But we never spoke.

More than once, riding a late bus homewards - perhaps after rugby practice -  I found myself alone with her on the top deck but still we never spoke. We were getting older, physically and mentally. She was becoming rounded like a woman and I was six feet tall at fifteen. She looked at me and I looked at her. Stolen sideways glances. What was I meant to do?

Of course, I fantasised about her. Not lurid, pornographic fantasies but fantasies of love. Walking upon Hornsea beach, hand in hand, cycling along a country lane and sheltering from  a sudden rainstorm under a sycamore tree, taking her in my arms and kissing her tenderly. I never imagined conversations, just the quiet dumbshow of true love, acted out as if in a romantic film.

Once, I bought a Valentine card for her, signing it with secret kisses and I pedalled all the way to Brandesburton to post it just so that she wouldn't know the card was from me. In those days, every village post office had its own franking stamp so you could always tell where a card or letter had been posted.

Another time, sitting directly behind her, I leant forwards to fill my nostrils with the aroma of her hair. Clean and slightly medicinal like "Vosene". And so close I could have touched her.

At sixteen I left the  snobbish "best" school in Hull, transferring to Beverley Grammar School to do my A levels so no longer would I be travelling on the same bus as Susan. I had forfeited the opportunity of finally rising from my seat, swaying over to her and saying, "Hi! We have been travelling on the same bus for five years now and well, I have finally plucked up the courage to tell you that I fancy you and wondered if you'd like to see Jethro Tull with me at The City Hall?"

A few months after transferring to Beverley, I spotted her at a well-attended "dance" in Brandesburton Parish Hall. She was with some girlfriends. No doubt they danced ritualistically around their handbags. Perhaps now I could finally pluck up the courage but no, the inner strength would not come for by now she had become something like an unattainable goddess in my imaginings. We had grown up together, without even speaking to each other. She just wasn't like other girls. After all this time how could I ever speak to her?

Early the following year, at another "dance" in Brandesburton Parish Hall I saw her with a handsome, roguish fellow called Junior. He was a wealthy farmer's son with an air of confidence about him. He was two years older than me and already had his own car.

They were holding hands and laughing and in that painful moment, after all that longing and all those imagined romantic scenarios, I knew that I had lost Susan forever and ever.

30 August 2016

Zuma

South Africa has already got its version of Donald Trump. He is called Jacob Zuma. Currently, he is considering the purchase of a luxury presidential airliner using public money. It will be fitted out like a five star hotel at a cost of four billion rand. And this will happen in a country where abject poverty remains endemic amongst the massive black underclass.

Flip a coin and there's Nelson Mandela on the shiny side. Zuma is the direct opposite. Where Mandela had intellect, education, compassion and vision, Zuma has got ignorance, self-interest and deception. He's arguably the main reason why his party, The African National Congress is faltering so badly in the polls. How can you trust a man like Zuma? 

Back in 2011, Zuma began to dabble in Twitterworld. Perhaps he thought he could promote an image of himself that was busy, wholesome, positive and squeaky clean. Interestingly, he hasn't tweeted since 2013. He probably got bored with it all or privately admitted to himself that creating a believable new image was impossible . This was one of his tweets back in 2011:-
"Be that superhero"... How terribly ironic! Seventy four year old Zuma is a polygamist and has twenty children that he admits to by six different wives. There are strong rumours of others as well as rape and child sex allegations. And all of this in a country that has been crippled by AIDS. Yeah Jacob - "be that superhero"!

Stories of corruption surround him like flies round a manure heap. Repeated failures to disclose assets. Secret investments in the Congolese oil industry. Bribery. Misuse of public money. Bullying. Jobs for friends and family. And yet Zuma claims to be a committed Christian on a mission to lead his country to a better future. You just couldn't make it up.

The sooner Zuma goes the better but when he's gone who's next in line? Nelson Mandela must be turning uncomfortably in his grave. This isn't how The Rainbow Nation was meant to be.

28 August 2016

Showtime

Should we go? Shouldn't we go?

Yesterday, the weather was a little grim UpNorth but around 1pm we thought - what the hell, let's live dangerously! We put our rain gear in the silver car (Clint) and headed out of the city. Past Dore Moor and Fox House, past Longshaw and Padley Gorge, through Grindleford village and on to Froggatt. 

We drove down Stoke Lane and turned into a big riverside meadow. This was the location of the 71st Froggatt Annual Show. Stewards in fluorescent jerkins directed us to a parking place after we had paid the requisite entrance fee. of just £3 per person. Bargain!

Froggatt Show is modest in scale and quite traditional. There were vintage cars on display, a coconut shy, a parade ground for ponies, working antique engines, the Hathersage brass band playing on the bandstand and  various refreshment stalls. But the central attraction of the show was a huge marquee in which prize flowers, fruit and vegetables were displayed along with homemade wines, preserves and crafts etcetera.

It was delightful to wander around and admire the best efforts of villagers from Froggatt and slightly further afield. In a world where earthquakes shake Italian villages to the ground, where indiscriminate Russian planes bomb Syrian freedom fighters, where French police patrol beaches looking for overdressed Muslim women, it is nice to be reminded that  there are still  people making their own wine, tending their own vegetables, making intricate flower arrangements or knitting baby clothes.

Oh, for the simple life! And you know, the heavens didn't open at Froggatt. We were glad we went.

26 August 2016

Bosh!

Our beloved son Ian is currently working in a creative office in London. Recently, his main focus has been on developing a series of video clips that swiftly demonstrate meal or snack preparation.  All foodstuffs shown are vegan. These fast-moving  clips arrive on mobile phones or Facebook pages with the signature "Bosh!". Several of them  have already been seen over a million times and a partnership has been established with "Pret A Manger", the up-market healthy sandwich company who are presently developing a new vegan range.
It used to be that advertising was all about TV commercials, pages in magazines or giant posters on hoardings (American: billboards) but these days a lot of that is old hat and increasingly businesses are seeking to harness social media in order to push their products more effectively. "Bosh!" is one small part of that movement.

To visit the "Bosh!" Facebook page, go here.

Below - a You Tube clip produced by The Broccoli Industry:-

24 August 2016

Beyond

West of Sheffield, lush farming land and quaint stone-built settlements give way to bleak moorland. Up there, there are no trees, just coarse grasses, heather and upland bogs. Hardy sheep graze amongst windswept hillocks and occasional ramblers with rucksacks and compasses follow ancient tracks as grey clouds scud ever  eastwards. It is wild country and it effectively separates Yorkshire from the mysterious "other side".

But carry on travelling westwards, beyond the wild hills and you find the moors giving way to lush farming land and quaint stone-built settlements. It's like a mirror image of our side of the Pennines. 

Yesterday I mounted my trusty steed, Clint  - the sleek silver Hyundai - and drove over The Snake Pass to the "other side". To be more specific I went to Glossop and then turned left, heading south towards Little Hayfield but at  the hamlet of Brookhouses Clint came to rest in a lay-by next to a dangerous bend on the A624.

With boots on, I set off on a four hour ramble that took in Rowarth, Pistol Farm, Near Slack Farm, Cown Edge, Coombes Edge, Stich, Monk's Road and Matley Moor. It was a glorious day for walking and it was delightful to be doing so in virgin territory. Naturally, I snapped quite a few photographs - in addition to the one at the top of this post and I have chosen four more to share with you.
Monk's Road
Charolais cow and calf by Gun Road
Cottage in Rowarth
Sheep above Far Slack Farm  with Manchester in the distance

22 August 2016

Siberia

“Siberia: it fills one twelfth of the land-mass of the whole Earth, 
yet this is all it leaves for certain in the mind. A bleak beauty, 
and an indelible fear.”  -  Colin Thubron

Five million square miles - that's Siberia. To compare - Canada's land area is 3,850,000 square miles while The British Isles is only 100,000 square miles. Yes, Siberia is big, very big. However, until this month arrived, what I knew about Siberia could have been written on the back of a small envelope. 

Sorting through book donations at the Oxfam shop where I work every Wednesday, I spotted a book called "In Siberia" by Colin Thubron and decided to buy it. Though I shall never visit Siberia, at least Colin Thubron could give me a vicarious sense of the region through the eyes of an inquisitive travel writer.

Just inside the front cover, there's a map of Siberia that shows Thubron's itinerary. Mostly, he skirted the region's southern underbelly - travelling from The Urals parallel to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and eastern China. But there are vast swathes of land on the map where he didn't venture. Perhaps these areas are uninhabited wildernesses without roads, landing strips or paths. I don't know.
He visited Omsk and the vast inland sea that is Lake Baikal and he visited cold, godforsaken places such as Yakutsk, Norilsk and Magadan. Along the way, Thubron met many people who related their memories and observations. He saw nature's wild beauty and witnessed the ruins of Soviet expansionism - abandoned mines, crumbling prisons, empty schools, lost people. Of course it helped that Thubron is quite fluent in the Russian language. Though there are other indigenous languages in Siberia, Russian became the lingua franca over a hundred years ago as the Russian state sought to spread its wings.

I think I will draw this blogpost to a halt very soon. Is there anything more boring than somebody summarising a book you haven't read or a film you haven't seen in tedious detail? 

Let me just say that Colin Thubron is an accomplished writer with an enquiring mind. He likes to get under the skin of a place and he has always displayed a passion for Asia. Sometimes we might forget that the Asian continent  isn't just India, China, Indonesia and other neighbouring exotic countries such as Thailand and Japan. It is also Siberia - vast, often brutally cold, rather empty and mysterious... even after you have finished reading the 286 pages of "In Siberia". 

21 August 2016

Omran

In an ambulance in Aleppo, Syria, five year 
old Omran Daqneesh is too traumatised to cry...
Sometimes, words are superfluous.

20 August 2016

Panda

Panda has a floppy neck. Somewhere along the line, he must have lost some of his stuffing but I can't remember when.

I first met Panda in the autumn of 1953. He joined me in my cot when I was a helpless baby, before I could even walk or talk let alone blog. When I slept my fitful baby slumbers, Panda just sat there watching over me, leaning against the cot's wooden spindles. Back then, the white parts of his coat were more obviously white. Now they are almost grey. I guess Panda is growing old - just like me, for of course we are the same age.

Throughout the past twenty seven years, Panda has been sitting within inches of my pillow on a shelf next to our bed. He gathers dust and, to be brutally honest, I hardly ever notice him. He is just there as he has always been, gazing into the void with his glassy eyes.
He is reliable and constant. Family members have passed away and friends have come and gone.  Our two children have flown the nest. More than two hundred and fifty seasons have fluttered by. But Panda is still here, silent, never uttering a word or passing judgement. As loyal as the most faithful dog.

And if I ever die, I want Panda next to me in the coffin. Should that unthinkable day arrive,  I will have become just like Panda - silent. peaceful and motionless without a thought in my head. Reaching that exalted state - it is a lesson that it will have taken an entire lifetime for Panda to teach and for me to learn.

18 August 2016

Winners

The Brownlee brothers today - Alistair with the flag of Yorkshire
Yorkshire is doing well in The Rio Olympics. So far, we have won more medals than Brazil. New Zealand, Canada or Jamaica for example. This afternoon, without actually travelling to Brazil,  I watched Yorkshire brothers -  Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee win gold and silver in the triathlon. It was a gruelling event requiring guts as well as natural ability... but eventually I manged to lever myself off the sofa. As Alistair approached the finishing line, he grabbed not one but  two flags from a generous spectator. Of course, one of the flags was the national union jack. The other one - light blue with a white rose in the centre - was the flag of Yorkshire. It was great to see Alistair proudly declaring his Yorkshire heritage.

And even  while I have been typing this blogpost, I have watched another Yorkshire athlete - flyweight Nicola Adams -  heading for the gold medal match in women's boxing. Raised in Leeds, smiley Nicola, the gold medallist in 2012, never forgets her Yorkshire roots.
No doubt there are more Yorkshire medals to come as we seek to better our medal haul at the London Olympics - where we finished twelfth overall just behind Japan and Australia but above The Netherlands, Jamaica and Ukraine. If only Yorkshire was a country in its own right...
Nicola Adams in Rio today.

17 August 2016

Macclesfield

Paradise Mill, Macclesfield
Yesterday, Shirley had a day off work and was keen to do something with it. Weatherwise, it was a lovely day. We set off at half past nine, heading westwards. West to Buxton and then over The Cat and Fiddle Pass to a town we had never visited before - Macclesfield in Cheshire.

It is a town of some 70,000 inhabitants which boasts a professional football team with an uncommon nickname - The Silkmen. Why The Silkmen?  Well, for two hundred years Macclesfield was the centre of silk weaving in The British Isles. It is a long and proud story of endeavour and ingenuity. What began as a cottage industry saw Macclesfield grow into an important and prosperous manufacturing centre.
View from Paradise Mill to St Paul's Church
I had heard there was a museum devoted to silk in the town. We discovered that right next to it there's a silk mill that closed as recently as 1981. Fortunately, somebody had the foresight to ensure that Paradise Mill's looms and associated machinery were saved for posterity.

We joined the 11.45 tour led by a knowledgeable fellow called Mike who told us things we never knew about silk. It began with him passing around mulberry silkworm cocoons from China. It was the Chinese who first "discovered" silk and began to produce it over five thousand years ago. Gradually silk made its way to Europe along a trading route that we now call The Silk Road.

Mike operated some of the old machines and explained some of the clever intricacies of silk weaving. I mean, how do you create a pattern in a piece of silk cloth? Mike showed us. It confirmed how creative Victorian silk weavers were in finding solutions to production problems. Too ingenious for me to explain in this blogpost.
Silk bobbins
We had a late lunch in The Society Rooms run by The Weatherspoon pub-restaurant group before strolling around the centre of Macclesfield in August sunshine. It is a nicely located place, nestling on the western edge of The Peak District. It seemed prosperous and lively with lots of independent shops. 

On the way home we stopped off for refreshing drinks at "The Angler's Rest" in the Derbyshire village of Bamford. All in all a great day out. 

15 August 2016

Silverhill

Once the land to the west of Teversal was scarred by coal mining. Great charcoal-grey mountains of slag altered the profile of the countryside and coal dust hung about the hedgerows, blowing on to Monday morning washing lines. In these ways it was not dissimilar from other villages in the North Nottinghamshire coalfield. 

But now the coal mines have all gone. Silverhill Colliery is no more. Visitors from other parts of the country might think that the wooded hills near Teversal were natural, like miniature wolds. But dig down and you will still find the slag - all the useless waste brought up from below the earth's surface during  the quest for coal. It was a coalrush that took a hundred years to complete.

The tallest mound on the old Silverhill site is now the tallest point in the ancient county of Nottinghamshire and sitting on top of that artificial mound is a bronze statue of a miner holding a Davy safety lamp. Created in 2004 by Antony Dufort, "Testing for Gas"  pays homage to the lost coal industry, the people who worked in the pits and the tight, hard-working communities that coalmines created.

They were not what Margaret Thatcher called "the enemy within", they were the salt of the earth. Whenever I think of the adjective "Great" in Great Britain I think of coal miners and farmers, textile workers and ship builders, steel workers and engineers, not Margaret Thatcher or David Cameron or other toffs from Oxford and Cambridge. There are not many significant monuments to lost industries. Mostly those people get forgotten, relegated to unfortunate footnotes in the annals of history but "Testing for Gas" acknowledges and proclaims them, reminding visitors about coal and the heroes who mined it.

13 August 2016

Top


We're top of the league!
We're top of the league!
We are Hull City!
We're top of the league!

It might not last for very long but after the first game of The 2016-2017 English Premier League season, Hull City sit on top of the pile having just beaten last year's champions - Leicester City. And it was a deserved victory despite the referee awarding Leicester a penalty when the offence clearly occurred outside the penalty area. Oh joy! Behind the scenes the club has been in disarray with ownership and managerial issues but out there on the grass our lads played like true tigers and gave supporters like me something to smile about. Up The Tigers!

12 August 2016

Katie

It's six years since my lovely brother Paul died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was the same age as I am just now, heading towards my sixty third birthday. Paul fathered three children, the first of whom was Katie - born in London in 1976. She inherited Paul's passion for music, especially Irish music and became very adept on the flute and tin whistle. She also has an evocative singing voice as I think the You Tube clip below will reveal.

It is hard to believe that Katie is coming up to her fortieth birthday but uplifting to see that she is still making music. Her life has not been so easy but she has a heart of gold and a plaintive voice that can touch you like a magic wand. Here she is singing recently in Dublin at a little festival that celebrated the musical heritage of Ireland's traveller community:-

11 August 2016

Cargoes

I have known this poem since I was ten years old. Sitting in the Junior 4 classroom of my village primary school one grey February afternoon, I was transported. I had no idea what a "quinquireme" was and could not have found "Nineveh" or "Ophir" on a map if I had tried but it didn't matter. I just loved the exotic sound of those words and the way in which the rhythm of the poem changed from verse to verse, echoing the progress of three very different vessels...

Cargoes

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

by John Masefield

10 August 2016

Acre

Last night I went up to the quiz at "The Hammer and Pincers". As usual, I was with my teammates -- both called Michael. Every quiz, you have to come up with a team name and we always change ours. Last night we were The Bananas.

One of the questions was; "In square yards, what is the area of an acre?" Well, we had an idea that an acre is a bit bigger than half an average football pitch but our estimation was way off the mark. The actual area of an British acre is 4840 square yards.

After the quiz, not wishing to contemplate Beryl the buxom barmaid, bloody Brexit  or brewers of  beer, we instead considered the acre. What figures needed to be multiplied to reach the magical sum of 4840? And it gradually dawned on us that we knew little about this important measure of land area. I said that it should be a requirement of all schools to take classes of children out on to the school field and there to mark out an acre so that that knowledge would remain in their minds forever. I never had such a lesson.

So what is an acre? Historically it is the area of a land that a man could till or plough in a day with a single  ox. That rectangle was not square because that would have required more awkward turning of the stubborn beast. No, the original shape of an acre was an oblong. It measured one chain by one furlong - the word "furlong" being derived from one "furrow long" - 220 yards. The length of a chain is 22 yards which even today is the length of a cricket pitch. There are 640 acres in a square mile.

To confuse matters, in other countries an acre may cover a different area of land. For example, an Irish acre is 7840 square yards and an American builder's acre is 40,000 square feet.

Numbers have a habit of slipping out of my mind. It's always been the same. My brain is not designed to cling on to numbers so I doubt that any of these figures surrounding the acre will stay in my head for very long.  One way of thinking about an acre is that it covers the same area as sixteen tennis courts. This graphical representation may also  help you to visualise an acre:-

8 August 2016

Platt

Did you see the lonesome moorland cross at the top of my last blogpost? I spotted it from afar and walked up there before heading back down to the valley bottom. 

The cross was erected in memory of a certain James Platt who was the Member of Parliament for nearby Oldham. Platt was a partner in the largest machine-making firm in the world, Platt Bros. & Co., which manufactured machinery for the textile industry in Britain and overseas. In late August, 1857 he was with a grouse shooting party. They were walking across the moor and Platt was being followed by Josiah Radcliffe - The Mayor of Oldham.

The Oldham Chronicle of August 29th 1857 reported that
Mr Josiah Radcliffe was following Mr Platt at a distance of four or five yards when his foot slipped, and in recovering himself the trigger of the gun, which he was carrying at half-cock, appears to have been caught by his coat or his side, and as he threw himself partly round to recover his position the contents of the left barrel were lodged in the calf of Mr Platt's right leg. The unfortunate gentleman hopped a yard or two, threw his gun above his head, and exclaiming "Oh! oh!" fell to the ground.
James Platt (1823 - 1857)
It was a serious injury. Losing a lot of blood, Platt was carried down to the valley and medical help was immediately called for. The Chronicle continued with the tragic tale:-
Mr Josiah Radcliffe, the innocent cause of the calamity, was almost beside himself with grief, and it was feared for some time that he would lay violent hands on himself if not prevented by those around him. He took Mr Platt round the neck and bewailed his fate in the most heart-rending tears.

Unfortunately, the wailing and the calls for medical help were all in vain. James Platt died in a blood soaked bed in the now demolished Ashway Gap House - little more than ninety minutes after the accident.
The corpse presented the appearance of a marble statue, calm as if in peaceful sleep; and there can be little doubt that death was caused by the unconquerable haemorrage, the bed and mattress on  which the sufferer lay being completely saturated with blood.

So that was the end of poor James Platt. Gone and almost forgotten were it not for that windswept cross high on the moors of Saddleworth. It was an absurd death caused by the accidental discharge of a gun. Not the most noble or indeed the most pleasant way to go.

7 August 2016

Saddleworth

Forever tainted in the national consciousness, Saddleworth is an area of barren moorland between Holmfirth in Yorkshire and Diggle in Lancashire. It was here in the early nineteen sixties that notorious murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley brought at least five children under false pretences. Sadistic Brady slit their throats or strangled them and with Hindley's help buried them. 
Hindley died in prison in 2002 but at the age of 78, Brady still hangs on to life at Ashworth Psychiatric Hospital near Liverpool. He has served more time than any other living British prisoner. If you want to read more about The Moors Murderers, go here.
Phew! I am pleased to get that nasty stuff out of the way. It is a shame that such an awful shadow hangs over the area because Saddleworth is actually a wild and beautiful place - especially at its edges where it begins to mingle with human settlements and where various reservoirs were constructed a hundred years ago or more to serve the domestic and industrial needs of Manchester, Oldham, Bradford and Huddersfield.
Yesterday, with the promise of good weather, I tootled up to Holmfirth and drove over Saddleworth Moor to Dove Stone Reservoir. There I parked and donned my boots before setting off on a rather glorious and strenuous walk in unfamiliar territory.  The five images I have included with this post provide you with a sense of what this latest walk was like.
Afterwards, happily exhausted, I drove home via Stalybridge, Mottram and The Snake Pass. Crossing the threshold of our house just before seven o' clock, I was delighted to discover that Shirley had prepared a nice meal of new potatoes, quiche and salad. We ate it out on our decking in lovely evening sunshine.

5 August 2016

Hugging

Of course, people from different cultures have different methods of greeting each other or saying goodbye. Here in northern England I grew up believing that the correct way to greet another man was simply to shake hands and say, "How do you do." It was the same when parting, you just shook hands and took leave of one another: "See you before too long".

So when did the hugging start and where did we get it from? Nowadays it seems almost de rigeur for male friends to greet each other with a manly hug and to do the same when they part. This was once something that only foreigners did - like the morally suspect French or those lusty Italians. In England, we liked to keep a polite and proper distance.

I must admit that I still feel very uncomfortable about hugging anybody other than my wife and daughter. Even with our son Ian, it is my habit to just shake hands when we meet and to do the same when we part.

Another thing I am not too happy about is kissing. I am very happy about kissing my wife and the affectionate pecks on my daughter's cheeks are the same as the kisses I reserved for my dear departed mother. However, kissing female friends and acquaintances usually feels most uncomfortable. Sometimes the recipients expect two kisses - one on either cheek - and I am never sure if my lips are meant to make contact. Should I moisten them before the coming together of faces? Or am I just meant to feign my kisses?

Again, such quandaries didn't exist in the past. It would be so much easier if I could greet female friends with a subtle  bow of the head, met of course with a dainty curtsy and the offering of a gloved hand. None of this awkward cheek kissing baloney.  

Nonetheless, I guess that as more years pass by, we may reach a point where a man is expected to greet a female friend or acquaintance with a warm embrace involving the squeezing of buttocks and a full-bodied kiss on the lips including the intertwining of slurping tongues. This might prove awkward at first but with practice I believe I could learn to adapt.

3 August 2016

Olympics

You may have missed this but the thirty first Olympic Games of the modern era begin in Rio de Janeiro this week. It used to be that the Olympics were all about amateur athletes proudly representing their countries and testing themselves against talented contemporaries from other lands. Now the Olympics appear to be largely about sponsorship, TV rights, celebrity, drug taking and testing, expensive bidding procedures, building flashy facilities and riding roughshod over the arguments of local inhabitants. Oh and this time let's also throw into the mix zika infested mosquitoes...

2 August 2016

Cawthorne

"The Spencer Arms" in Cawthorne
On Sunday, I parked in the village of Cawthorne. It's one of Barnsley's best kept secrets - a lovely, well-heeled village with many stone cottages, surrounded by rolling countryside and woodland. It has everything a proper village needs - a church, a school, a pub, a shop, bus stops, a village hall, a cricket ground and a strong sense of community.

I walked down to Tanyard Brook where a ford and a footbridge lead you on past the cricket ground to Cannon Hall which was once a modest stately home set in parkland. Nowadays it is a popular leisure venue for Barnsley families. The old hall houses a thriving museum and the associated farm with its domestic animals is much loved by children.

Onwards, following two horse riders down a leafy lane and when we emerged into the sunlight there was Tower Cottage peeping over the brow of a hill. And then into a plantation called Deffer Wood. My excuse for getting rather lost in this wood was that the tracks and paths shown on my map had been supplemented by other "unofficial" routes. I was in there for more than half an hour having become rather disoriented.
Tower Cottage near Cannon Hall
On to Jowett House Farm passing a listed dovecot and then over the lane passing the "maze of maize" - a local summertime attraction. Through more woods, I found myself in a large pasture containing about eighty Friesian cows. When they spotted me, they began to rise and moo, perhaps imagining that I was the new farmhand ready to lead them home for milking.

I won't bother to explain why,  but a few minutes later I was back in that same field where the herd were now gathered like excited theatre goers at the gate. There was no way they were letting me through. Co-incidentally, just then I heard the motorbike sound of a farm utility vehicle and I guessed correctly that the real farmer was coming along to lead his girls to the milking barn. They were all out of that field and plodding farmwards in less time than it takes a Scotsman to brush his sporran.
Milepost at Clough Green
Over Cascade Bridge and on to the hamlet of Clough Green where I snapped the iron milepost you can see above and then on to the rather grand Banks Hall - an eighteenth century country house largely hidden by vegetation and substantial stone walls. A long avenue of lime trees led me back to Tivydale and Cawthorne. 

It was good to be out walking again without Biscuit the dog. No stops for detailed environmental sniffing or leg cocking. Unusually on this walk I managed to lose my way three times, but hey, this wasn't the Canadian backwoods or the Australian bush - survival was always assured. 
Horse riders in Deffer Wood

1 August 2016

Celebrate!

Flat caps thrown up in the air
Whippets running everywhere
Knotted hanky on my bonce
Draws wild laughter in response
Yorkshire puddings on our plates
Black Sheep ale stacked in crates
Brass band players on the green
Children running in between.
North Riding, East Riding, West Riding too
Our celebrations are overdue
August the first is Yorkshire Day!
So wave the flag and shout HOORAY!