17 November 2017

Ode

First there was Chaucer, then Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Shelley and Tennyson, Thomas Hardy and Ted Hughes. Now English poetry brings you Yorkshire Pudding! (Not the re-hydrating fellow in the picture below but the author of the sensitive and well-crafted ode beneath it).


Ode to Donald Trump

I would like to thump
Donald Trump
Drop the chump in the city dump
With a bump
From a battered pick-up truck
Cos who gives a flying fig
About that big ugly lump
Inflated with a hot air pump?
- Those who like Trump
Will now have the hump!
Tough!
I have said enough.
New "Spitting Image" version of Trump

16 November 2017

Nativity

In promoting their scrummy advent calendar, high street bakers Greggs have recently attracted a lot of criticism. Most of the complaints have come from religious groups.

You see, in creating their unique nativity scene, Greggs chose to replace  the baby Jesus with a sausage roll - as you can see in the picture above. It's sacrilegious! It's a disgrace! One complainant pointed out that Jesus was a Jew so the connection with pig products seems particularly insensitive.

Personally, I have no problem with Jesus's replacement. After all, sausage rolls are perfectly capable of walking on water and other miracles such as turning a skinny man into a sumo wrestler. As for the three wise men from the east, it is surprising that Greggs didn't replace them with meat pies or doughnuts (American: donuts)
_____________________________________________________

Disclaimer: There is no known connection between "The Fish Guy" - Mr Gregg Barlow from South Carolina, USA and Greggs - Britain's favourite high street bakers.

15 November 2017

Victoria

Around Britain and the British Commonwealth of nations, there are many statues of Queen Victoria. This one stands in our local park. It was commissioned by Sheffield City Council soon after her death in 1901 and was unveiled with much pomp and ceremony outside the town hall in 1905. However, it was only there for twenty five years.  Victoria was shifted to Endcliffe Park in 1930.

And ever since she has stood near the park entrance in all weathers and all seasons. She sees the early morning joggers, later young mothers with pushchairs and dog walkers too. Later still she watches the lunchtime sandwich eaters and when night comes she sees young lovers and cider drinkers, teenagers on bicycles and the traffic still circling Hunter's Bar roundabout.

She watches it all. She was The Empress of India and Queen of England for sixty four years. It was a reign that saw incredible change and massive historical steps towards the world we know today. She saw it all and her name is synonymous with that energetic age of industry, commerce, exploration and culture.

She was small of stature - just under five feet tall - but gave birth to nine children, including her successor - King Edward VII. She died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, leaving several rather odd requests for her funeral arrangements. She asked that a plaster-cast of her late husband's hand should be placed in the coffin beside her as well as one of his dressing gowns and she also asked for a lock of John Brown's hair and his mother's wedding ring too. Brown was a member of her Scottish staff with whom she enjoyed a special bond over many years. 

And now the autumn leaves frame Victoria in Endcliffe Park. Soon another winter will arrive. I hope she is wearing her thermal underwear.

14 November 2017

Aman

Down at my local Oxfam shop, the manager employs a wide range of volunteers. For example, some have mental health issues, some are asylum seekers and some are super-normal well-balanced intellectual giants like me!

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a tall and well-groomed gentleman called Aman*. He is about forty years old. I was asked to give him some till training.

After the shift, I walked homewards with Aman and he told me his story.

It turned out that he was from the city of Shiraz in Iran. Over several years, he found himself at odds with Islam even though he had grown up in a traditional Muslim home. He went through the motions but secretly he was turning to Christianity. This is not a belief system that meets with much approval in Iran - either from the hardline Islamic government or from the fervent stewardship of neighbourhood vigilantes. But Aman kept quiet, outwardly living a lie and even praying at the mosque.

Perhaps he would be all right. He had his own small business in Shiraz though I didn't find out its nature. Gradually, rumours began to spread about Aman's behaviour and the people he had been associating with. It was a scary time. Then one day, as he was heading home from work,  a young neighbour told him that the police were at his parents' house.

Aman knew that they had most probably come for him. He could easily end up being tortured or even killed. The very best he could expect would be years in prison. This is the price you pay for being a Christian in The Islamic Republic of Iran. So Aman waited till the police had gone and after tearful goodbyes with his family he fled.

He fled northwards to the border with Turkey, somehow got across it and managed to make his way to the Mediterranean port and tourist resort of Kusadasi. There he gave all the money he had to people smugglers. Late at night, he was forced into a flimsy inflatable boat at gunpoint along with thirty or more refugees from different countries.

Fortunately, the sea was calm that night and they were able to voyage safely to the Greek island of Samos. 

He remained on Samos for several months after registering with the authorities there. Aman said the conditions were awful. It was rather like being in prison but finally he gained permission to leave the island and travelled to mainland Greece. 

After Greece it took three weeks to make his way to Calais in France, through Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany.It was a terrible and challenging journey but not as frightening as the hours he had spent on the inflatable boat.

At Calais, he slept in the notorious Jungle encampment but a few days after arriving he climbed into a goods lorry that was bound for England and arrived here safely the next day. He officially sought asylum in London and was then transferred to a holding centre in Manchester or Liverpool - I forget which.

After two months there and with his asylum request now being properly processed he was able to come to Sheffield to join his brother and his sister-in-law.

It's about a mile to the top of Ecclesall Road from our house. In that distance I had heard a living, breathing, real life asylum seeker's story. There were other questions I would have liked to ask, colouring in the pictures but I haven't seen Aman since that October evening. He works on Thursdays now, still not allowed to take on a paid job because of the conditions of his asylum seeker's status.

Of course we have seen it all on our televisions. Crowded inflatables in the Mediterranean. Barbed wire camps in Greece. Massing at European borders, filthy conditions at The Jungle and desperate men trying to board lorries that would bring them to England. But to hear it all from the mouth of an asylum seeker who completed such a journey - well it made it all seem so much more real. No doubt  I will see Aman again and in spite of myself I will ask more questions. It is a hell of a story. A story of our times.

*Aman is not his real name for obvious reasons.

13 November 2017

Mud

At Dale End before The Mud
It looked fine on my map of The White Peak. I would travel via Youlgreave to Dale End, park up and walk south through Gratton Dale, thence to Elton Common and down to Elton itself before returning to Dale End via Gratton Lane.

But maps do not show everything. The first part of Gratton Dale was no problem. I passed an old lime kiln and observed the sapphire blueness of the sky as I rambled along, happy to be out in the countryside once more. 

After a few hundred yards the path through the valley started to become rather muddy. I kept to the margins sometimes striding from rocks to firm green sods. "I'll just get through this", I thought to myself, "I'll soon be back on solid ground".
The Quagmire of No Return
In Gratton Dale
I noticed hoof marks in the mud - evidence that  as well as occasional ramblers, cattle also used this this pub;ic right of way. They had really churned it up and in places the mud was knee-deep. At the sides of the path there were hawthorn and rosehip bushes, meaning there was no escape from the mud.

My progress was reduced to a snail's pace as I tried to avoid two things - the cloying mud and the very real possibility of falling down in it. When I thought I had reached the end of the mud, I looked ahead and there was more mud. It was awful. It went on for half a mile or so.

Finally, the mud began to recede as the path climbed up towards Mouldridge. What a relief! But as I turned another hawthorn bend what did I see? No! Not more mud but The Guardian of the Path!
The Guardian of The Path
It was a young bullock who had somehow got away from his little herd and appeared lost and jittery. He jumped whenever I moved and blocked my way. For a moment, I thought of turning back but another half a mile of mud! I would rather take the risk of being trampled to death by a frisky bullock.

Bravely, your intrepid correspondent edged past the snorting  Minotaur and up out of The Valley of Death in which The Quagmire of Bovine Revenge has consumed countless walkers in fancy cagoules and hiking boots.

After Gratton Dale the walking was much better and I saw some lovely sights, including these two tumbledown barns on the edge of Elton Common...

12 November 2017

Unforgotten

At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

He is buried with my paternal grandparents in Norton, Yorkshire
Uncle Jack

He heard the call and went...
He should have been teaching art
In some dull provincial school,
Doling out praise with the paint,
Watching copper beeches
Outside
Turn golden
Through the years.
He should have been.
But he was in the sky
With an eagle on his chest
Wrestling with
A stubborn radio,
In the belly of a Blenheim
Before it took the plunge
Through night clouds
Over Essex,
Fatally hurtling into 

An old copper beech tree.
When he
Was only twenty three
At Ramsey Tyrells Farm.
He heard the call and went...

Written in memory of 
R.A.F. Sergeant A.J. Theasby (!917-1940) R.I.P.

11 November 2017

Pictures

 A Perfect Day (2003)
by Pete McKee (born 1966)
Sheffield is not blessed with a wide array of art galleries. There's The Graves Gallery above The Central Library, The Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery on Arundel Street and Weston Park Museum opposite The Children's Hospital.

The latter used to have four big display rooms but with the modernisation and expansion of the museum the gallery was reduced to just one big room. Yesterday, I was in the mood for absorbing some art so I ventured inside.

 The on-going exhibition is of pictures associated with Sheffield going right back to the seventeenth century and right up to the present day.There was a fine selection of paintings but they weren't displayed well. The lighting was far too subdued and the artworks were hung at three different levels so to truly appreciate the top level pictures I would have needed a ladder. A torch (American: flashlight) would also have been useful.

The paintings show Sheffield's growth from a small market town into a fiery furnace of steel making and beyond that into the current post-industrial era. 
Banner Cross, Sheffield 1890
by Albert Edward Boler (1864 - 1939)
As is often the case in British art galleries, there was a big sign warning that photography is not allowed. It is funny that we once visited the amazing Getty Art Museum in Los Angeles and there there was absolutely no problem with taking pictures. A member of the museum staff said, "Yeah sure! No problem. Go ahead and take as ,many picture as you like but please no flash!"

I pretended I hadn't seen the sign in Weston Park Museum and snapped a few pictures anyway - cunningly waiting until the security staff had walked past.

As you can see I have three pictures to share with you. The older oil painting in not very accomplished but the location is just fifty yards from this house, looking up Psalter Lane when it was just a rough track heading out of the city.

The two more modern pictures are by living  local artists Joe Scarborough and Pete McKee. Both view their home city with affection and perhaps nostalgia for more innocent past times. Their styles are very distinctive - possibly because they were both self-taught and simply driven by twin passions for art and Sheffield.
People Dancing to Bands (1996)
by Joe Scarborough (born 1938)

10 November 2017

Suburbia

Old village water pump and "The White Swan" in Greenhill
On Wednesday morning,  I undertook a suburban walk before my afternoon shift at Oxfam. Greenhill was bathed in sunshine as I wandered about the area for a couple of hours. In this time I saw whole streets of low-rise social housing as well as a semi-detached wonderland of private homes with extensions, block paving, security lights and front room interiors by IKEA or Oak Furnitureland.

I was reminded of a similar suburban walk when I was eighteen. It was a hot day and two pairs of neighbours were chatting at the end of their driveways. As I passed by, I overheard one of the arm-folded women declaring, "We exist on snacks". That phrase has always remained with me, like a piece of poetry. "We exist on snacks" - the motto of the suburbs.
Sixteenth century manor house in Greenhill
Up Greenhill Main Road, I came to two pubs - "The White Hart" and "The White Swan". The former appeared to be on its last legs as the roadside pub sign was missing from its frame and on the front wall of the building there was an ominous "For Sale or To Lease" sign. I first went in "The White Hart" in 1980 after a parents' evening in nearby Rowlinson School where I used to work. Alas, that school was also resigned to history even before this new millennium arrived.
St Peter's Church, Greenhill
The two pubs are in the oldest part of Greenhill with several old stone buildings and even a listed manor house. It's easy to imagine the little agricultural village that was, in the course of time, consumed by Sheffield's urban sprawl. Now it's just another part of the suburbs.

I looked the word up - "suburbs" I mean. It was hatched way back in Roman times. Our familiar modern term grew directly from the Latin suburbium - meaning close to (sub) urb/urbs (city).  However, I doubt that any Roman ever visualised what a modern English city suburb would be like. with its twitching curtains that conceal so many suburban dreams.
Social housing in Greenhill

8 November 2017

Contradiction

Years ago I was waiting at a bus stop on Ecclesall Road in Sheffield, As the bus approached, I could see that two passengers were moving along to the driver's perspex cab. That meant the bus would be stopping so I didn't bother sticking out my arm.

When I got on the bus ready to pay my fare, the driver said, "If you want a bus to stop mate, you should stick your arm out!"

"But I could see two passengers were getting off here."

"It doesn't make any difference, You've still got to stick your arm out."

"Oh!"

Two weeks later, I was standing at the same bus stop. A number 88 appeared and once again I could see that a couple pf passengers were approaching the bus's exit door. Nevertheless, I stuck my arm out, remembering what the bus driver had said several days before.

When I mounted the bus ready to tender my fare, the driver spoke to me.

"Didn't you see that there were people getting off?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well it's obvious isn't it? When people are getting off a bus it's going to stop so there's no need to stick your arm out!"

7 November 2017

Dodgers

It comes as no surprise but The Paradise Papers reveal that they are all at it. It appears that where ever there is wealth, there will also be unscrupulous tax dodging. 

At the top of the tree, there are huge companies like Apple and Amazon, exploiting all the tax loopholes they can find to avoid paying their dues. They move their millions across international borders to stay one step ahead of  legitimate pursuit.

At the other end of the wealth spectrum, you find minor comedy actors from television like Patrick Houlihan and Martin and Fiona Delany. They have had their fees paid into companies based in Mauritius which they later access in the form of tax-free loans.

In my way of thinking it is all quite disgusting. Of course, it has been going on for decades. Many of England's great eighteenth century country houses were funded by shameless tax dodgers who, just like Lewis Hamilton and  Bono, did their damnedest to avoid paying up.

Countries contain societies and to function effectively these societies  need numerous  things which require public funding. We need roads and schools, hospitals and social workers, police and fire officers,  refuse collection and environmental expertise, soldiers and coastguards. The list is very long and to have these necessities, taxation is vital. We must all pay up in the understanding that this is partly what being a member of a society is all about. If you avoid, evade or dodge your tax responsibilities you are effectively passing your part of the bill to fellow citizens.

It's like attending a group meal in a restaurant and then slipping away when the bill appears at the table. 

Ordinary salaried workers, low paid workers and  people who work in the public sector have  little potential for dodging tax. They pay their dues. Yet if they flee restaurants without paying their bills they will be pursued and brought to book for their dishonest evasion.

As you can deduce, I have no sympathy whatsoever for tax dodgers, They will often protest that their avoidance happens within the bounds of existing tax legislation but they know that what they are doing is selfish and immoral. As this morning's "Daily Mirror" headline suggests, they are indeed "parasites" and the sooner international laws catch up with them the better.

6 November 2017

Tony

Old friend Tony was over in Sheffield for the weekend.

We saw our team, Hull City, sadly thrashed by Sheffield United  on Saturday afternoon. In the evening, we went for lovely curry meals in "Urban Choola" before calling in at the local pub for a pint. It was very noisy so after we had supped up we came home to watch "Match of the Day".
On Sunday morning, I made bacon sandwiches followed by hunks of melon. Then we went out into the diamond blue morning for a circular walk by Stanage Edge. Tony hadn't been up there for years because he moved away from Sheffield almost thirty years ago.
We all enjoyed the walk and the lovely colours that the autumn sunshine defined. Long time visitors to this blog may vaguely remember some of my previous solitary excursions to Stanage Edge. It was nice to be up there with Mrs Pudding and Tony. I was the best man at his wedding twenty nine years ago. 
It's nice to have a friend like Tony. We have so much mutual history and later this month we shall attend his youngest daughter's wedding back in East Yorkshire. It should be a happy and memorable event even though Tony split from his wife a few years back. It was painful and acrimonious. That''s how the world often seems to go these days

4 November 2017

Guilty

The culprits were sitting nervously outside The Speaker's office. It was rather like waiting outside the headmaster's study back at prep school.

From behind the sturdy oak door, they could hear Mr Bercow berating the honourable member for Bilbury South in no uncertain  terms.

"Six complaints dating back to 1990 Mr Green-Gilbert! Six! You have let your family down! Your party down! Your country down! Your trousers down! And above all you have let parliament down!"

Rodney Green-Gilbert snivelled and looked up nervously at the Victorian wall clock  above Speaker Bercow's cluttered desk. It was time to hear the specific complaints listed in the official charge sheet.

"Number one. On April 17th 1990 in Moncrieff's Bar at approximately 1.30pm you fixed  your lecherous eyes upon the shapely buttocks of Miss Dikelele Ofinkanwa, who was clearing away glasses. She reported that it was as if your eyeballs were on stalks and she felt defiled by your piercing stare."

Rodney claimed no knowledge of this worrisome incident. His mind drifted back to his thatched family home in the rolling countryside near Bilbury. To his dear wife Felicity who he had first met up at Oxford and to their dear children - Rupert, Lilian and Edward.

"Number two.  On October 11th 1998 while walking along a corridor that leads to The Terrace Bar, The Right Honourable Member for Hastings accidentally dropped a sheaf of constituency papers on the floor. You bent down to help her to pick them up and as you did so you deliberately stared down the front of her blouse as if enraptured by her cleavage . Needless to say, she felt traumatised by this unwarranted and most ungentlemanly behaviour."

Rodney squirmed as the litany of charges continued. He pictured Felicity and the children waving from their front door framed by wisteria. Finally, Mr Bercow reached the final charge..

"Number six. On October 28th of this very year while riding in a crowded lift to the fifth floor of Portcullis House you lewdly and disgustingly pressed your body into the back of LibDem intern Miss Sara Pippin, aged twenty three. Miss Pippin is now receiving professional counselling and has been on compassionate leave for the past week."

John Bercow sighed and turning his back on Green-Gilbert he looked out of his leaded window towards The River Thames where a tourist boat was carrying international visitors towards Tower Bridge. Behind his back, he rubbed his stubby little hands together, realising that the purges had only just begun. Trembling, Rodney Green-Gilbert headed for the door, fully realising that his promising parliamentary career was now effectively over.

3 November 2017

Greyness

What is it with these weather folk? On Wednesday, they were telling me that there would be a lot of sunshine in our region on Thursday but when Thursday morning came, they had changed their tune. Now they were forecasting a day of cloud cover. Is it possible to sue meteorologists for breach of promise?

Should I stay or should I go? At least there was no indication that there would be any rain. I had an interesting eight mile walk planned but beforehand I would have a fifty minute drive down to the Derbyshire village of Brassington. Perhaps I should have saved that walk for a sunny day but I decided to go anyway. 
St James's Church in Brassington
I had parked up on Well Street in Brassington by eleven o'clock. As I was donning my boots I eyeballed the nearby pub - "Ye Olde Gate Inn" which American and antipodean visitors to this blog may wish to note was established in 1616. Apparently, there are some oak beams in there which were taken from ships belonging to the Spanish Armada.
But your trusty correspondent had no intention of whiling away the afternoon quaffing jugs of foaming beer in a historic village pub. Instead, I set off on my long circular walk heading west then north to the former High Peak Railway, then east to Harborough Rocks, south to Carsington and then westwards back to Brassington.

I must apologise for the accompanying photographs. On a bright, sunny day they would have been sharp and colourful but on a grey, overcast day they emerge looking rather washed out. I guess there can be a certain subtle attractiveness with such pictures but I prefer to see the scenes around me illuminated nicely by the big spotlight in the  sky.
In Carsington
Guy Fawkes in Carsington before being moved
to a traditional bonfire on November 5th
Loncliffe
Triangulation pillar on Harborough Rocks
In the distance you can see Carsington Water

2 November 2017

Hindsight

I am going out for more walking, exploration and photo-snapping in Derbyshire today but before putting my key in Clint's ignition, I thought I would share some more pictures with you. They were taken last Friday - the same day that I visited Alsop-en-le-Dale with its much-loved little church. It was a beautiful day.

Here's moss growing on a limestone wall near Tissington:- 
Here's the farmhouse of Manor Farm in Alsop-en-le-Dale:-
Here's a view of Johnson's Knoll south of Biggin:-
Here's a cow calmly observing me from a field north of Parwich:-
Here's the triangulation pillar on Aleck Low. It was erected here in the 1920's in relation to the Ordnance Survey's drive to map our country ever more accurately. The pillars are now largely redundant because modern technology has overtaken old-fashioned triangulation. Just behind the pillar, the raised ground is the site of a 4000 year old burial mound.
On my way home, I stopped to take this picture of the little mere in the village of Monyash:-
Soon it will be time to drive out there again. Perhaps I will gather more pictures to share with you. Cheerio!

1 November 2017

Terminology

I think we all know what "misogyny" means. It is a word that has been cropping up quite a lot recently - stemming partly from the vile boasts of the present boorish inhabitant of The White House and from revelations about the seedy private life of film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

 misogyny - dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Yes. The word "misogyny" is becoming a very current term. A spotlight has been scouring Britain's political institutions where misogyny has been rife in some quarters. It seems that many men in powerful roles have habitually taken advantage of junior females in the Westminster bubble. 

It's so wrong. I spent most of my years as a teacher working alongside women. They were my equals as they proved day after day. We were colleagues or what Americans call "co-workers". We were on the same mission and it was important to help and support one another.

However, just occasionally I would come across women who were what my late mother would have called "man haters". Their underlying prejudice towards men would in many ways echo the traits of the worst misogynists.

The other day it occurred to me that nobody ever seems to use the term that parallels "misogyny". Do you know what it is? I will tell you:-

misandry - dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men.


Its lack of use suggests that this word is somehow taboo. What do you think? Perhaps I should have remained behind the parapet.

31 October 2017

Shadow

That's me on Sunday afternoon. I am waving to you. Are you waving back? It's nice to be friendly.

You may have already realised that that's not really me at all. It's just my shadow. I was at Whinfell Quarry Gardens. It's an old stone quarry that local people have transformed into a little green oasis. Fortunately, the chestnut fencing prevented me from tumbling to the quarry floor.

If I had fallen down, I wouldn't be typing this blogpost. I would either be in a hospital bed munching grapes or lying totally still in a wooden box with brass handles.

And now I will show you what I could see from my position:-
I was about to depart for my autumnal walk along the Limb Valley when two young men appeared. They descended into the pond area and appeared to be on some sort of mission, They didn't notice me watching them from above as they furtively scrabbled about in the greenery. 

Were they burying treasure or stolen goods? Were they ardent botanists? Perhaps they were checking out film locations? It was all rather suspicious.
Anyway, it was time to go. I insisted that my shadow should come along too. As usual he complained but reluctantly followed me along The Limb Valley path as we sang in unison:-

I'm being followed by a me shadow
Me shadow, me shadow
Leapin and hoppin' on a me shadow, me shadow, me shadow---
And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes,... I won't have to cry no more.

30 October 2017

Autumntime

On the southwestern edge of this city, a stream runs down from the moors before meeting The River Sheaf. It's called The Limb Brook and where it passes Whirlow Brook Hall a woodland path follows its course. It's a nice route to walk - especially on a sunny Sunday afternoon in autumntime.

Two years ago I snapped a pleasing photograph in The Limb Valley. Go here. Yesterday, as the sun was shining I  grabbed my camera and headed back there hoping to bag some more great shots.

Some mighty trees shadow the path like classical pillars. A few other people were out and about. A couple of runners in their fluorescent tops, a few dog walkers, a chatterbox family., a pair of young lovers. From afar, I "used" some of them in my pictures.

Here's a selection. They can be enlarged with a click:-

Bracket fungi on a dead tree