31 December 2017

Awards

Yesterday bloggers from across the blogosphere arrived at The Westminster Hotel in Rhyl, North Wales. They were assembling for the ninth Laughing Horse Blog Awards Ceremony.
The Westminster Hotel, Rhyl
In the early evening, after freshening up in their rooms and donning their gladrags, the bloggers assembled in the hotel bar where beverages and light snacks were provided. It was a time to put faces to blogging names and titles.

For example, I had a merry time conversing with the legendary Sue from "Susan Here There and Everywhere". What a delightful filly but my oh my she could knock back the G&T's! We were interrupted by the equally delightful Jennifer Barlow from South Carolina. It was a pleasure to meet her. I wondered how she had got her pet parrot Marco through immigration. He was sitting on her shoulder - endlessly squawking vulgar words which I shall not repeat on this family friendly blog.

At bang on 7pm the buses arrived to take us on a seven mile inland journey to the famous Lost Village of Trelawnyd. It was here that the Ninth Awards Ceremony was to be held in the village's famous Memorial Hall which annually hosts The Trelawnyd Flower Show.
Trelawnyd Memorial Hall
Upon entering the hall, we were politely ushered to our seats by Cameron the Teenage Boffin and Jason The Affable  Despot . When everyone was settled, the stage curtains swished open to reveal the entire Trelawnyd Male Voice Choir. They welcomed us with three traditional Welsh songs, including "Men of Harlech". North American bloggers were not the only audience members to be wowed by this magical performance.

"Magic!" yelled Derek Faulkner who was dressed in a smart tweed suit with tartan knee socks and brogues.

"That was so cool!" beamed my surrogate sister Donna from the mountains of Colorado.
Trelawnyd Male Voice Choir
Following the choral performance bloggers tucked into traditional Welsh fayre including Welsh lamb,  Welsh cakes, boiled leeks and bara brith which even met with the approval of the 2015 overall winner Ms Lee George from Queensland, Australia.

"Fair dinkum, that's bonzer mate!" she exclaimed in her native "Strine".

And Kylie from Sydney and Helen from Brisbane agreed, "Dinkum, fair dinkum, dinky di!"

There was much laughter in the air as gallons of Welsh beers by Brains were being quaffed by the thirsty bloggers. Margie from Toronto, Maria and Rozzie were getting on like a house on fire - boldly harassing Jason the Affable Despot by slapping his buttocks whenever he brought more beer to their window table.

To my consternation, a fight broke out between two previous winners - Steve Reed and Ian Rhodes ("Shooting Parrots") over whether or not 2018 will be a leap year. I had to physically separate them as they rolled about on  the floor . By the way, the next leap year is 2020. Steve should have known that.

Taking a breather outside the hall, I was approached from the misty street by a Welsh goddess. At last I was in the company of the delectable Mrs Trellis. Initially, I was tongue-tied but  managed to request her autograph. She thrust me against the wall and ran her slender fingers through my leonine locks, whispering a husky invitation that I shall not repeat. Some things that happened in Trelawnyd must stay there.

When I eventually got back in the hall, the party was in full swing. Conga music was playing over the P.A. and most bloggers had joined the conga line as you can see below. I latched on to the end holding the ample rump of Jenny The Procrastinating Donkey. She was giggling like a schoolgirl. Then ADDY from London latched on to my own quivering hips. I was wishing she had trimmed her nails.

Even intellectual bloggers like Meike Riley (in a beautiful light blue silk dress), Graham Edwards and Robert H. Brague were in the conga line which snaked its merry way around The Memorial Hall till just about everyone was exhausted.
The authoritative Jan Blawat appeared on stage in a lacy evening gown bellowing into the microphone, "Shut the **** up and sit down! It's time for the awards! ...You too buddies!" she said targeting Jenny and Keith who had just arrived from Wrexham after getting lost on the North Wales Coastal Expressway. They had given the literary socialite Vivian Swift a ride from Manchester Airport following her unexpected delay. She wafted into the room throwing her vintage feather boa over her left shoulder.

Jan announced that owing to budget constraints only five awards would be presented for 2017. A ripple of surprise was transmitted around the hall and there were audible gasps from Libby and Briony's table. Briony was nimbly crocheting a table mat.

There was some ear-piercing feedback over the P.A.. Then Jan announced that Laughing Horse had highly commended three bloggers for services to blogging - Jennifer Barlow for "Sparrow Tree Journal", Pat for "Weaver of Grass" and Sue for "Susan Here There and Everywhere". 

Overwhelmed, these three giantesses of the blogging word floated to the stage in their sparkly evening outfits to collect their Laughing Horse awards. Embarrassingly, Sue tripped on the stairs but soon regained her composure and graciously clutched her award.

"And now," said Jan. "We come to the highlight of the evening as we announce who will be the overall blogger of the year for 2017." Cameron the Teenage Boffin delivered a dramatic drum roll.  "Let me give you a couple of clues. He's a senior blogger. He is a birder and he is devilishly handsome! He blogs regularly and interestingly  and his comments on other blogs are consistently supportive and positive. It's none other than... Keith Kline!"

"Who?" said Pam from "Hilltop Homestead".

Everybody else was asking the same question.

"Shut the **** up!" commanded Jan. "Yes. Keith Kline - otherwise known as Red whose blog - 'Hiawatha House' is out of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. Come up to the stage Red! Blogger of the Year for 2017!"

There was loud hollering and wolf whistles as Red stumbled to the stage. Surprisingly, he was not with Lady Kline, his long-suffering wife who Red calls The Micro Manager. Instead, he had picked up a member of the Air Canada cabin staff called Martha on the flight over to Manchester. She was clearly besotted as you can see in the picture below:-
Red - after receiving his Blogger of the Year award
Red gave a funny, self-deprecating acceptance speech. Jan kissed his newly shaven cheeks and ushered him from the stage as the audience stomped and clapped with delight. It was one of the highlights of Red's long life and he vowed to cherish his award for the rest of his days.

Again Jan bellowed down the microphone, "Shut the **** up!" California style.

"I know some of you remain puzzled about why we brought the Laughing Horse jamboree all the way to North Wales this year - specifically to the home of  the legendary John Gray with his famous fifty shades!"

There was a lone titter from Jennifer's table.

"I know it is very disappointing to many of you that John is not here. However, he sent this note if I might read it....'As some of you know I suffer from agoraphobia. I had hoped to welcome you all to my village but I was overwhelmed by an indescribable panic. The Prof kindly decided to take me away for the weekend – down to his mother’s place in Broadstairs.'  and that folks is the reason he's not here in this hall that has witnessed so many wonderful summer flower shows under his devoted administrative guidance."
Chez Gray from the rear
"Little did John know that the reason we chose Trelawnyd this year was to present him with The Laughing Horse Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to Blogging. In his absence may I suggest that we now rise and conga down to the corner cottage opposite the church. We will leave the award in his new kitchen and get to see his humble abode. We might even encounter Albert the cat though all the dogs are elsewhere this weekend. Mr Pudding! Please lead the way!"

And so I led our drunken conga out into the December night, across London Road and all the way down the lane to the famous corner cottage where Earl Gray normally resides with the famous Prof and the even more famous dogs. Albert had a hell of a fright.

30 December 2017

29 December 2017

Yesterday

The Beloved Daughter was up very early yesterday morning. The Pleasant Boyfriend was keen to take a winter walk and see the sun coming up over The Hope Valley.

It was still dark when they set off in Shirley's little Korean car but I noticed a lightening in the eastern sky. (Please note the spelling - "lightening" and not "lightning"!)

I wasn't feeling well. That's why I was up to see them off. The urge to blow disgusting gunge through one's nostrils  into toilet tissue tends to disturb one's sleep. 

At about eight o'clock, I was back in bed and managed to grab another hour of sleep in which I dreamed that I had deliberately sliced off my right foot with an ultra-sharp machete. Hopping around forevermore I was starting to regret the action when to my enormous relief I woke up from this disturbing dream, happily discovering that my right foot was still intact.

The Beloved Daughter isn't an athletic out-doorsy kind of young woman. When she is back in this house one of her favourite occupations is to curl up in her room and sleep so I applaud The Pleasant Boyfriend for getting her out in the countryside at such an ungodly hour on such a wintry morning.

They returned before midday having completed a bitter circular walk around the hills above Castleton. Living in London this will be a great memory for them  to take into the new year. The Devoted Mother made them bacon sandwiches while The Snotty Father took a look at The Beloved Daughter's smartphone pictures. The best one is at the top of this post just as it was at the top of Cave Dale. If I might be so bold, perhaps she has inherited my talent for nailing a good picture.
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In other news, bloggers from around the world are already flying into Manchester ready for the ninth Laughing Horse Blogging Awards Event. The Committee have finally released this year's widget which may only be reproduced by awards winners. Traditional seaside B&B accommodation will be free to all bona fide attendees because of generous sponsorship from The Welsh Tourist Authority. Here's the unique widget design:-

28 December 2017

Cruise

I wish I was Tom Cruise from Syracuse. If I was Tom Cruise I would cruise around the neighbourhood like a tom cat, flashing my pearly white teeth at everyone I encountered.

To entertain myself in the evening, I would watch old Tom Cruise films on a giant screen or fondle my many awards that I would keep in a vast glass display cabinet.

There would be framed photos on my walls of my three wives and many girlfriends plus my three adorable children. I would smile quietly at these images, sometimes catching my own reflection in the glass.

If I was Tom Cruise I would know all about scientology and I would be able to explain to myself why it's not just a load of bullshit. Above my bed there would be an enormous painting of  L. Ron Hubbard. He'd be smiling benignly just like me.

As Tom Cruise, I would literally observe doors opening for me. I would enjoy the best tables in fancy restaurants and first class air tickets where ever I decided to travel. And I could go anywhere. Penguins in Antarctica. Footprints on an uninhabited coral atoll. An African safari. Anywhere.

And where ever I travelled my fans would call my name. I would sign my autograph over and over again and figure in thousands of selfies. I would not find this attention tiresome. Being Tom Cruise obviously comes with responsibilities. 

Yes I wish I was Tom Cruise and wonder if Tom Cruise wishes he were me. Somehow I doubt it.

27 December 2017

Hideout

Boxing Day and along the moorland track there are people burning off Christmas calories. They are about to turn left and head over Brown Hill back to the Redmires reservoirs. But I am carrying on all the way to a remote moorland pool that I previously named Oaking Clough Reservoir. This name does not exist on any maps. I chose it because there is a small cluster of windswept trees  nearby called Oaking Clough Plantation. My rather unimaginative label is beginning to take hold - gradually being absorbed into the geographical lexicon.
It's a place I have been to several times before. There's an abandoned building there which has two entrances and in each of the separate rooms there is a fireplace. Some visitors have suggested it was a small grouse shooters' cabin but my investigations lead me to the conclusion that the building was erected by a local  water board over a hundred years back. It overlooks the reservoir and the associated weir. I think it provided temporary accommodation for water board workers.

It is quite dry in the old building even though some roof slates are missing, It's pretty sturdy which it needed to be given its location high on the moors west of Sheffield. This might sound crazy but I have often thought of spending a couple of days there. 
I guess it's just a fantasy... I would be curled up in my sleeping bag as the wind howled about the place and deep in the middle of the night I would hear the padding of a beast. An escaped  panther or a puma. My heart would be racing. It would sniff the air in the doorway and I would see its silhouette against starlight. It would bed down in the other room and in the morning it would be gone save for its unmistakable  footprints in the mud.

From the old building at Oaking Clough Reservoir I zoomed in on the highest residential building within the City of Sheffield's boundaries - Stanedge Lodge. It is situated at the end of a long private track and was built as a shooting lodge for wealthy grouse shooting parties. No one I know has ever been there. I would love to see inside it.
I headed homewards - glad I had brought my gloves but wishing I had remembered my thermal hat. My cheeks were reddened by an unforgiving Arctic wind. The gloom of dusk was descending and as I looked back along the track I thought I saw the outline of a beast - black and feline moving stealthily across the rough moorland, seeking shelter.

26 December 2017

Bibendum

Reeling away from the table like Bibendum, the famous Michelin Man, I managed to lurch ten yards into the living room, collapsing into the sofa. My belly was filled with all sorts of things. 

There was the traditional starter of prawns in seafood sauce on a salad bed. Then there was the banquet itself on an oversized plate. Roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potato chunks, roasted carrots and parsnips, peas from our garden, brussel sprouts, leeks, homemade chestnut stuffing, apricot and stilton stuffing, sage and onion stuffing, pigs in blankets, cranberry sauce, turkey gravy and of course slices of roasted turkey meat. As Ian's a vegan there was a also his "Bosh!" portobello mushroom wellington. It was all washed down with a good quality sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.

I cleared the plate and waited for the homemade Christmas pudding with brandy sauce, brandy butter and cream. Yes. Like Bibendum I was fit to burst.

We sat in the living room and watched a sci-fi film starring Matt Damon - "The Martian". Not my cup of tea but I followed it to the end still unsure why my son had raved about it but hey, he has watched all the Star Wars films when I haven't seen a single one. I'm a fan of reality and well-crafted portraits of believable lives. "The Martian" simply confirmed that for me.

Frances's young man Stewart came round in the evening. We had beers and turkey sandwiches and watched another film as rain began to pelt our windows. The second film was "Eddie the Eagle" and in spite of myself I rather enjoyed it. After all it was based on a real man's Winter Olympic ambitions. There was a good mix of highs and lows, laughter and tears. I guess in the end it was what you might call a "feel good film".

And now it is Boxing Day once more. The sun is shining. Frances and Stewart are on their way to London in Shirley's little car. Stewart's extended family have a big  gathering in West London every Christmastime and they are all expected to be there. F&S will be driving back Up North tomorrow. They will have done their duty as well as spending seven or eight hours sitting in a small metal box on wheels.

24 December 2017

Card

Every Christmas I make a "card" from one of my photographs. I e-mail it to friends from the past and to members of my extended family that I hardly ever see. Here is this year's e-mail "card":-
This year I have decided to make the "card" available to all blogging associates.

You will need a colour printer and if possible some printer card or stiff, good quality printing paper.  Copy and paste the card shown above onto your paper or card design and print it off.

Fold in half. Inside you should write "To...." followed by your name. Then "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year". This should itself be followed with "Regards from Yorkshire Pudding".

When the card is finished you should display it proudly in your humble residence and point it out to all Christmas visitors. You have my express permission to do so so no need to worry about breaking any copyright regulations.
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Reminder - Laughing Horse Blogging Awards coming real soon. Be prepared to 
travel at short notice to a secret venue in The British Isles. Who will win?

23 December 2017

Cartoons

Briony in Brighton has not forgotten my football crowd scene. I work on it when the house is empty and the weather outside is unappealing. I have drawn over two hundred little characters. Each one is wearing a football scarf. When the crowd is complete I plan to colour it in with watercolours. Every supporter will be wearing a black and amber Hull City scarf.

Here is Briony herself:-
Here is Jennifer from Florence, South Carolina:-
Here is my son Ian:-
And here's my esteemed blogging chum from Canton, Georgia. Yes, it's the legend who is Mr Bob Brague. The likeness is eerie:-
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And continuing the cartoon theme of this morning's blogpost:-
Meet the new children's cartoon hero. He's very big this Christmas. Yes folks, it's Basil Cell-Carcinoma. This mischievous little fellow gets everywhere - creating mayhem. His favourite saying is "I told you so!" as he torments people who had too much exposure to the sun when they were young.

Don't confuse Basil with the culinary herb of that name or indeed with Basil of "Fawlty Towers" fame. This cheeky cartoon character's aim is to cause upset rather than mirth. That's Basil for you!

22 December 2017

Tidbits

1. View from our bedroom window on Tuesday morning. Lenticular cloud forms:-
2. Victorian lamppost on nearby Brincliffe Edge Road. Still working, it burns off waste gases from the city's sewers and is one of about a hundred that were dotted around the city - located on high ground to which the gases naturally rise:-
3. I have a basal cell carcinoma on my back and actinic keratoses on my right cheek. This was confirmed in the Dermatology Department of The Royal Hallamshire Hospital this morning and this afternoon I have to go for a biopsy of the thing on my back. Hopefully I will still be alive when we ring in the new year but if not I leave this blog to The British Library in London.
4. Our lovely daughter Frances came home from London yesterday evening. So nice to see her. She is one of my very best friends.
Frances with "The Lovely Boyfriend"
5. As I write, our son Ian is at BBC Radio Sheffield recording an item that will promote Veganuary. He and his two best friends and housemates drove up from London this morning. He is also going to be on national BBC Radio 2 next Wednesday on The Breakfast Show with Sarah Cox. The fashion for plant-based diets and recipes is growing and Ian seems to be at the forefront of the movement.

21 December 2017

Yuletide



"And this light is for Midwinters past, present, and future. May we 
learn, may we love, may we revel! Hail the Yuletide!"


This is a poem for heathens, pagans, humanists and atheists. It is perhaps worth noting that people have lived on the island of Britain for half a million years. Stories of Jesus of Nazareth only arrived here in the second century A.D. via The Roman Empire's  channels of communication. That's much less than two thousand years ago. 

Even after the Christian message seeped in to our land, the old ways persisted and subtly they continue to this very day. I wrote this poem in response to the "Poetry Monday" challenge posed this week in the Nova Scotian blog - "Procrastinating Donkey":- 
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Yuletide

At midwinter we gathered round a burning log
Drinking flagons of ale as a roasting hog
Spat and sizzled in those lapping flames
As our children played their childish games
And we sang songs from long ago
As moonlight glistened upon the snow.
And green were the garlands about our door
Though the worst of winter lay in store
We knew that at last the darkness had turned
Even as the Yule log burned.
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Christianity in the guise of Roman Catholicism requisitioned thousands of  ancient sites in the British Isles and built churches upon them. They sought to crush our ancient belief systems and cynically they purloined midwinter traditions, adapting them to showcase the fictionalisation of Jesus's birth. But the old ways were simply suppressed, not expunged.

The wheel has turned. This is the winter solstice. Happy Yuletide!

19 December 2017

Tweeting

WARNING! IT IS INADVISABLE FOR ANY TRUMP 
SUPPORTERS TO READ THIS BLOGPOST!
A scary fake version of President Trump from "Twitter"
I don't have a Twitter account and have never sent a tweet. Is my life less complete because of this? I very much doubt it.

Of course the most famous Twitter user is the 45th President of The United States. Ever since he was elected, I have been interested in his tweets. After all, he is the single most powerful person in the western world. It is conceivable that what he tweets will frequently make significant ripples. 

I have noticed Mr Trump's mis-spellings, his late night rants, his tiresome "fake news" mantra and his apparent inability to apologise about anything. Humility just doesn't seem to figure anywhere in this chap's personal inventory. Sorry is for losers, right?

Two days ago there was a fatal rail accident in Washington State. The scene was shocking. It is certain that if Barack Obama were still in office his initial messages would have demonstrated compassion for the injured and for the families and friends of the dead. A normal and humane reaction.

But that was not the first instinct of Mr Trump. Instead, he saw the accident as an opportunity to make political capital. Ten minutes later his insincere message of sympathy emerged on Twitter as an afterthought - no doubt prompted by a family member or another figure from his nervous camp. But this is what he first tweeted:-
I clicked on it and for the first time discovered that whenever Trump tweets, other Twitter users respond. This was a revelation to me.

Clearly some of the respondents are orchestrated Trump defenders but most follow-up tweets are from ordinary citizens, regular Twitter users. Every time El Presidente tweets there is a cascade of responses - many of them extremely scathing and scornful. 

Here's are just three of the responses that Trump's train tragedy tweet attracted:-
The animosity shown in these tweets is pretty mild compared with responses to many of Trump's other tweets. It is amazing how anarchic Twitter can be. Trump is meddling with fire. Surely somebody should have explained the nature of statesmanship to him. His reliance upon Twitter as his shoot-from-the-hip preferred means of communication is astonishing and continues to demean the lofty office he holds.

Blackwell

Cob horse near Blackwell
Another bright weather forecast so a walk was in order. Sometimes it's nice to walk in more neglected areas where most Peak District or Yorkshire Dales weekend ramblers would never venture.

I headed south down the M1 to Junction 28. Instead of continuing on the A38 towards Derby I instead headed through the former coal mining village of South Normanton to Blackwell which also once had a colliery. Research brought this up - "Around 1900, a coke oven and a coke by-product plant were built next to Blackwell Colliery producing tar, coke and various chemicals. 'The fumes and smoke from the plant were horrendous, destroying hedgerows, grass and crops in the vicinity. It was impossible to have doors open or windows open when the wind blew the fumes in the direction of the houses."
Blast testing bunker
Nowadays the pits have gone and the local communities have had to evolve. There are new housing estates and the old waste heaps have been levelled or grassed over. On my circular route I also passed a massive fenced compound that contained odd grassy mounds with flat tops. Later I discovered that the compound is owned by an explosives company and the mounds are used for testing their deadly wares. 
My walk took me back through South Normanton where I encountered a grizzled man with walking sticks. He had a khaki rucksack on his back and out of this two rolls of Christmas wrapping paper protruded. He had an angry, combative disposition and his breath smelt unpleasantly of stale alcohol. He showed me a small statue of a dog that a local welder had created just for fun. When my new friend sniggered that he was going home to masturbate I knew it was time to march onwards and I left him in my wake.
St Michael and All Angels Church, South Normanton
I bought a tuna and cucumber sandwich and a pint of milk from the "Nisa" shop where I had to listen to a shop assistant called Jane weighing up the merits of different brands of red wine they had on their shelves. Soon I  was consuming  my humble lunch sitting on an old gravestone slab in St Michael and All Angels churchyard.

Then onwards to the oddly named St.Werburgh's Church in Old Blackwell then back along the road that leads to New Blackwell where three hours earlier I had parked my car close to the flattened site of the old coal mine.
St Werburgh's  Church and a
mysterious snowball

17 December 2017

Teaser

Established way back in 2008, The Laughing Horse Blogging Awards have become an important milestone in the blogging calendar. Each year special sub-awards are received in a variety of categories but the most coveted award always goes to the overall blogger of the year. All nine of the previous winners have become legends in the world of blogging. Here is a list of previous winners:-

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”

2016 – Steve Reed for “Shadows and Light”

But who will be the winners in 2017? Above all, who will be the overall "blogger of the year"? The venue is booked. The new winners' widget  is being prepared by the Laughing Horse design team. The tension mounts. 
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As chairman of the Awards Committee, I must make it clear that cash bribes are no longer accepted. Credit and debit card financial incentives only. Please make sure you include your PIN and card identity number. Cars and holidays also appreciated.

16 December 2017

Expiration

I wonder when I will die.

Just the other day as I was strolling through Ecclesall Woods, it occurred to me that eight years have passed since I walked away from my teaching career. It seems like yesterday.

If I project the same number of years into the future I will be 72 years old. But will I even get that far?

My dear father died at the age of 65 - just one year after he had retired and my oldest brother Paul died in his sleep at the age of 62. I have often thought that I will be lucky if I make 70. So it's very possible that I don't have eight years left. One day when I am least expecting it an invisible iron fist will surely squeeze the life out of my heart muscle and I will die.
And linked to these morbid thoughts is the harsh realisation that some of my dreams will never be achieved. I was meant to be a rock and roll singer. I was meant to write a novel that thousands of other people would enjoy. I was meant be a songwriter. I was meant to compile a selection of the poems I have been writing since the age of six and get it published too. I was meant to bounce grandchildren on my knee. I was meant to create great paintings and carve bowls from chestnut wood.

But I have done some things. I have travelled. I have raised a family. I stuck at the teaching grindstone for as long as I could bear it. I have walked over the landscape and taken photographs of wonderful scenes. I have been kind and above all I have been me. Never seeking approbation. Just being myself. I could never follow the flock. Independence runs through me like the name "Scarborough" in a stick of  seaside rock.

For a fellow of 64 I guess I am quite healthy. I don't smoke and I walk regularly. I am not a drunkard or a drug addict. I eat well - maybe too well. Perhaps I could do with losing a stone or two. Perhaps I could make the effort to go swimming once or twice a week. Things like this.

Death is not something that obsesses me. I shall accept it when it happens in the full knowledge that that will be that. There will be nothing else. But still...

I wonder when I will die.

15 December 2017

Card

Do you remember a post I wrote in July titled "Norma"? It concerned an elderly neighbour who had lived on our street since the early nineteen thirties. She's now over in Lancashire living in a residential care home for the elderly not far from her only son's home. This morning I received a surprise Christmas card from her:-
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Dear Master Pudding,


It was so kind of you to send me the card of Winnat's Pass and your good wishes hoping I would settle okay at Longridge.

It has taken a long time getting used to being cared for. It will never be home to me but am looked after well although now I have begun to walk again with two sticks. I insist on looking after myself - i.e. washing, dressing, toilet etc.. It has been hard work with the help of the physios but I was determined to walk again and have managed it!

I see my son every day so that is nice and he has been a wonderful help. Had a time in Preston Hospital but now apart from having to run to the loo a lot I am much better. Of course at 92 body parts start wearing out.

I wish you and your family a very Happy Christmas and hope that 2018 will be a happy year for you all.

Again thanking you for the card and good wishes.

Fondest regards,
Norma
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In the unlikely event that I ever reach the ripe old age of 92, I hope that my mind functions as clearly as Norma's still does. I plan to send her some questions that will tease out her earliest memories of this Sheffield suburb. I know that when she moved here at the age of just four, nobody on our road owned a car and milk and coal were delivered by horse and cart. She has seen a hell of a lot of changes in her long life and I think she will enjoy my planned task.

14 December 2017

Misunderstanding

He shuffled into the Oxfam shop. Lean, with bloodshot eyes and a salt and pepper beard, he was well wrapped up but I recognised him as the homeless man who is often seen sitting on his haunches outside the bank at Hunter's Bar roundabout. Before the Conservative Party took a hold of  this great nation's government we never saw any homeless people in south west Sheffield which has always been a pretty affluent area.

I was adding more books to the shelves. He came into the heart of the shop and asked me a question. "Av ye gorreny ******?" The last word was lost on me. I thought he was saying "clothes".

"Yes sir. Over here. We've got shirts, jumpers, trousers, jackets. What are you looking for?"
I could smell stale alcohol on his breath.

"No, not ******, I want ******!"

And then I thought he was saying "cloves", imagining that he was planning to make mulled wine. It seemed unlikely but I said "I think you'll be able to get some cloves in Sainsburys - just up the road!"

"No, not ******, I want ******! Dunt anybody speak Inglish in ere?" he slurred. "Spect  you can all talk African. I want ******!"

And then a female customer piped up with, "I think he's saying gloves!"

The homeless man was relieved. "Yeah! Yeah! ****** (gloves). That's what I want but they av to be real cheap. Bout a quid. Me 'ands are that cold and I brock this 'un in the summer. I can't feel it."

I looked in the basket where gloves are normally displayed but there weren't any. I apologised and he went on his way probably thinking he'd just been talking to a moron. Perhaps I should get my hearing checked. In the meantime I am going to see if I can find him some old gloves and take them down to Hunters Bar as an early Christmas gift. He'll probably say "No! Not ******! I wanted ******!"

13 December 2017

Continue

Here's a story for you to continue...
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Once upon a time a beautiful couple were married in a beautiful church. After their beautiful honeymoon in a beautiful country faraway, they moved into a beautiful house on the edge of beautiful countryside.

They lived a beautiful life. He had a fantastic job - often jetting first class around the world and she was a beautician with her own thriving business. They made lots of friends and were very popular in the local community.

With the passage of time they had two beautiful children. The baby boy was called Adonis and the little girl was called Bella. They were both healthy, happy and clever – just like their beautiful parents.

The years continued to hurry by and the beautiful couple’s love for each other matured like a good French wine. They never argued and they were besotted by their beautiful offspring. Adonis achieved four A starred grades in his A levels and won a place at Cambridge. Bella was already studying medicine at University College London.

The beautiful couple felt truly blessed. Life could not have been better. All was so wonderful until….
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You can either write the next paragraph or provide a thumbnail sketch of where you see the story going.

12 December 2017

Woods

Less than two miles from this house there's an area of ancient woodland known as Ecclesall Woods. It covers 350 acres. Nothing has ever been built here apart from a couple of charcoal burners' huts but the woods have been "managed" since the middle ages.

I have walked there many times. It's very nice to see those woods in bluebell time which is usually in early May, But yesterday it was equally lovely to walk there as snow had turned the entire area into a winter wonderland.

Some people were out and about exercising their dogs. I said hello to one woman who had no less than seven dogs in tow and for some reason she replied with "Hello my love" but I couldn't remember any previous encounters with her so I was a little puzzled. Perhaps she says "Hello my love" to everyone she meets.

I snapped twenty photographs or more - trying to capture the essence of  such a beautiful winter's day. The picture at the top of this post was the best I could come up with. Those two faraway figures really make the composition in my view. Without them there would be no focus and no hint of a story. They also provide a sense of scale. Yes - I am pretty happy with that image.

11 December 2017

Wintertime

Beau and Peep
Last evening in "Blue Planet II", David Attenborough told us about the effects of global warming upon our oceans. However, here in South Yorkshire we appear to be suffering from global freezing. 

There's snow on the ground and the weather people have painted their map icy blue. Brrrrr! Last night I almost slipped on my arse as I walked down to the pub for a drink and a chat with Old Bert. He's eighty one and has a cheerful, upbeat attitude to life. He can remember wartime London quite vividly and also his two years of National Service in the mid-fifties. They sent him to a godforsaken army base at Warcup in Westmorland but he remembers that time with his usual cheeriness.
Apple hollowed out by blackbirds
This morning, the tarmacadam on our north-facing  road looks surprisingly clear and I can see that a gritting lorry must have spread salt on it in the middle of the night. In our back garden, blackbirds peck at the apples we have cut open for them. Meanwhile our pet sheep - Beau and Peep continue to shiver in the snow.

Yes folks. It's wintertime.  The sun is meant to burst forth in an hour or two to illuminate the whitened suburbs of this city so later on I might clear the snow from Clint's windows and drive over to Ecclesall Woods for a slippery walk and some wintry  photo snapping. We'll see.
Our house from the back garden