21 August 2017

Courgettes

Let me begin with some clarification. Americans and indeed some other societies have a different name for the humble courgette. They call it zucchini.

Earlier on this year, I planted five courgette plants up in our vegetable plot. As usual, these plants are thriving. For some reason they appear to like our soil. I might not have much luck with carrots and certain potato varieties but I don't have to try with courgettes.

Ideally you want to pick courgettes when they are young, like this little fellow:-

Apart from anything else, such picking allows new plants to fruit. When young courgettes, can be used in various dishes as I am sure the culinary gurus who visit this blog will agree.

When growing courgettes, you should watch out because in the height of the growing season a small courgette can easily grow too big, like this handsome chap:-

At this size the courgette is still useful in the kitchen though the skin will be less tender.

Because of unsettled weather and a couple of trips away, I somehow missed the following monster courgette, growing under the foliage. I shall call him Led Zeppelin. He weighs as much as a cannonball.Apart from firing him into next door's garden, I wonder what else I could do with him. Any suggestions?

19 August 2017

Fourteenth

Regarding Monday August 14th...

As expected, Monday morning was grey and wet but I didn't mind as I was driving home. I paid one last visit to Kirkcudbright where I bought Shirley some heather soap from the Scottish tourism shop and paid a visit to The Harbour Gallery to see the fine art exhibition - an eclectic collection of pictures of Galloway. It was certainly worth the detour.

Then I was back on the A75 heading east towards Gretna then south upon the M6 into England. To my surprise the weather was clearing. At Penrith, I stopped to look at my road atlas. It gave enough detail to guide me to "The Tan Hill Inn" which sits on the moors north of Swaledale close to the ancient border between Yorkshire and Westmorland (now Cumbria).
Entering Barras
Above Barras looking west
I left the A66 at Brough and very soon Clint took me along single track roads towards the moors. The last settlement I passed through was Barras - a strung out  agricultural community. And then it was up onto the wild moorland. I had six miles to go to "The Tan Hill Inn", the highest pub on the island of Britain.
Two views of "The Tan Hill Inn"

It's wonderful that this remote pub soldiers on. It was built during the lead mining boom of the eighteenth century. The lad miners have been replaced by day visitors like me and passing hikers on The Pennine Way long distance footpath. It's somewhere I have wanted to visit for years.

Inside nearly all of the tables were occupied but there was a little copper table in the corner for Sad Sack. I had a cheese and tomato roll and a coffee and as I prised open the double glazed window for some fresh air I thought of Ted Moult and an old TV commercial for double glazing that was set in this pub - "Fit the best, fit Everest". 
 In Arkengarthdale

The drive down to Arkengarthdale and Swaledale was breathtaking. So many wonderful sights. I could have easily spent a week exploring the area but I was just passing through. In "The Tan Hill Inn" I had hatched a plan to visit The Weaver of Grass near Bellerby. Of course I didn't know if she would be in or not. I would simply chance it.

I went into the village stores in Reeth to purchase a tin of salmon. Some women like flowers or chocolates or perfume but I guessed that Pat would prefer salmon  as she is addicted to it. I walked up the driveway to the back door where a message invited me to go inside to the inner door but unfortunately the back door was locked and I couldn't see her new car in the now deserted farmyard.

Peering in through the side windows, I could see several sealed cardboard boxes. She has often referred to them in her blog as she prepares to move down the road into the little market town of Leyburn. However, it was a surprise to see so many posters of  Jim Reeves and Val Doonican plastered on the walls. I guess The Weaver is a big fan.

Then I commanded Clint to whisk me back to Sheffield. It had been a super weekend. A lovely adventure. So many glorious sights and well worth waiting for that good weather slot. Finally, here's a bull with two girlfriends seen above Ross Bay on the coast of Galloway:-

17 August 2017

Thirteenth

Regarding Sunday, August 13th....

In the B&B, I came downstairs to a delightful fried breakfast followed by a freshly prepared fruit salad. The woman who runs the place is an artist. Her pictures are displayed on most of the walls. Her black Labrador drooled as I ate my last chunk of sausage. She wasn't getting any of it.

The morning was glorious and soon I set off for Sandgreen along a quiet lane. Checking my Ordnance Survey map, I stopped occasionally to take pictures such as the following:-
But very soon I reached Sandgreen where I looked out over Airds Bay:-
From there I backtracked - this time heading to Knockbrex and Carrick. The tide was out so I donned my walking boots and set off over the tidal flats to uninhabited Ardwall Isle. The ruins of a chapel were marked on the map but I couldn't find them. I think they were hidden by undergrowth. I walked to the west of the little island and looked north to Murray's Isles:-
To the west of  Knockbrex Hoiuse I had noticed some strange pillars protruding from the rocks. In past times, they guided boats into the estate's little harbour. With difficulty, I made my way along the rocky foreshore to photograph them:-
Back in Clint, I travelled eastwards towards Borgue where I attended the village's summer fair and won two bottles of beer. I also had a pint of: bitter shandy in The Borgue Hotel:-
My next destination was Ross. It's a hamlet near the entrance to Kirkcudbright Bay. I had spotted it when studying my map back in Sheffield. I wanted to walk round the little peninsula south of Ross Bay to see the island of Little Ross with its lighthouse, beacon and harbour house. It is currently up for sale and the starting price is just £350,000 though bidding may well push it up to the region of half a million or more.

On the foreshore I noticed an old caravan with a large Scottish flag fluttering over it.  By chance I met its occupants - Tommy and Margaret from Glasgow. Both in their seventies, they had been visiting their caravan (American: trailer) for over thirty years. Margaret was about to go swimming in the bay. We spoke about happiness, Brexit and Little Ross and Tommy explained how to circumnavigate the peninsula:-
The island of Little Ross
Black and white sheep on the slopes of Meikel Ross
By the end of this little walk  it was almost five o' clock. I headed up the western side of Kirkcudbright Bay, stopping only to spend ten minutes at Dhoon Bay:-
Then Clint and I drove on - back To Kirkcudbright. I was thirsty and quite hungry. I went into "The Steam Packet Inn" for a pint of Deuchar's bitter. There I met a local man called Jack. He had worked as a fencer for forty years - not waving swords, but building fences. He showed me his free bus pass which he had collected the day after his sixtieth birthday the previous week. He seemed confused that I, as a sixty three year old Englishman, am still not entitled to a senior citizen's bus pass. There are different rules in Scotland and some of them seem most unfair.

I enjoyed a tasty fish and chip supper in the nearby "Polarbites" fish and chip restaurant and afterwards spent an hour chattering with a couple of seniors who are touring southern Scotland in their new camper van. They even invited me inside to show off the interior of their vehicle.

I didn't make it back to the B&B till ten thirty. There was a note on the door asking me to lock up. Behind the kitchen door the malodorous black Labrador woofed a greeting as I mounted the stairs to watch football highlights on the little TV set in my room. It had been another wonderful day, exactly thirty three years since our lovely son Ian was born.

16 August 2017

Twelfth

Regarding  Saturday, August 12th....

Last Friday night, I reached The Cumbria Park Hotel in Carlisle exactly three hours after setting off from Sheffield. After a hearty breakfast, I had a little stroll round the neighbourhood and took a photograph of  a nearby pub - "The Crown" where I had enjoyed a couple of late pints. Back in the hotel car park I noticed a statue with an adjacent sign. It seems that I was standing on the site of one of the largest Roman forts that was built along the course of Hadrian's Wall during the first century BC -  Uxelodunum.
Then Clint took me back to the M6 motorway and into Scotland. I turned left just past Gretna Green and drove along the A75  under grey skies towards Dumfries. As Clint's windcreen wipers swished away the rain I was cursing the BBC weather service. Had they got the weekend wrong?  It was the promising weather forecast that had spurred me into action. However, by the time I got to Phoenix Dumfries the grey was giving way to the blue.

I headed south onto what I shall call The Desnes Ioan Peninsula as that was the medieval name for this secret corner of Scotland. You might also say that I was travelling along the East Stewartry Coast. The weather was improving all the time and I made several stops along the winding road taking several diversions and snapping lots of pictures. The roads were quiet and the sun was shining. 

One of my first stops was in New Abbey where you will find the ruins of the pleasantly named Sweetheart Abbey. It was founded in 1275 by Dervorguilla of Galloway in  memory of her recently departed husband. After his death,  Dervorguilla apparently carried his embalmed heart everywhere she went - in a casket made from silver and ivory. I wonder why this practice isn't followed in modern times. It shows true love. She was even buried with said heart.
Sweetheart Abbey rising above the houses in New Abbey
The John Gray scarecrow in New Abbey
Down the coast, I took a detour to the village Carsethorn which was once a medieval port. There's a pub there, a telephone box and a few houses that look out over The Solway Firth. At low tide, the waters recede significantly leaving sand banks, mud flats and occasional quicksands. It's paradise for seabirds and waders but challenging for sailors and watersports enthusiasts.
Tidal flats at Carsethorn
And then I travelled on to the hamlet of Overton. At the junction with the main road there's a quirky bus shelter which local children have vandalised decorated while waiting to travel to school in Dumfries:-
Onwards to Southerness with its lighthouse. Close by there's a holiday site with static caravans, a pub, an amusement arcade and a fish and chip shop. I ate golden chips from a polystyrene container and drank tea from a cardboard container before visiting the "table top sale" in the pub. Most of the stuff displayed belonged in a rubbish bin so I didn't stay long.
Southerness Lighthouse
This blogpost could easily stretch as long as as a roll of toilet paper but I'm trying to reduce it down to a few sheets. After Southerness, I headed west through Caulkerbush and Heughs of Laggan to Sandyhills Bay and  Portling. Images from these places are shown below:-
At Sandyhiills Bay
Portling House enjoys magnificent views across The Solway Firth
Clint and I then travelled inland to Dalbeattie but we didn't stop there. We cut south into what was now the old county of Kirkcudbrightshire. I was conscious of the time as I travelled around the next peninsula, arching round towards to the county town but I made a few more stops. For example:-
Orchardton Tower
The ruins of  Dundrennan Abbey
Even though I hadn't travelled far and had taken my time over the journey from Dumfries I realised that I had missed so much along the way. For example, I didn't even drive into Rockcliffe and as I say I missed Dalbeattie entirely. But it was now late afternoon and I had to press on to Kirkcudbright - my Shangri La, my San Francisco - the place I had been dreaming of for several weeks.
A view of Kirkcudbright from Toll Booth House
 Finally, I made it there - Kirkcudbright - "the artists' town" and joy upon joy there were no double yellow lines, no parking machines in the car park and no parking enforcement officers strolling around like stormtroopers. It was indeed a modern day Nirvana. I treated myself to a pint of shandy in The Kirkcudbright Bay Hotel and then strolled around the little town for a while before heading to my B&B accommodation in the hamlet of Girthon. 
Church ruin by Kirk House in Girthon
I was staying in Kirk House by the ruined church. After an hour's rest, I headed into the old mill town Gatehouse of Fleet for more exploration and my evening meal which was ordered in a busy pub called "The Masonic Arms" - just off the high street.
A window  in Gatehouse of Fleet
It had been a wonderful day. So many lovely sights. I was already looking forward to Sunday August 13th which will be the subject of my next blogpost.

14 August 2017

Explanation

The Old Hall in Bellerby
The weekend's weather forecast was encouraging so on Friday evening I headed north to Carlisle, Then on Saturday morning I crossed over the border into Scotland and headed west to Dumfries before cutting south along the coast, meandering and stopping occasionally to explore what to me was unfamiliar territory. And beautiful it all was as I  followed the twisting road to Kirkcudbright.

At five o'clock I reached my B&B in the hamlet of Girthon. It is run by an artist called Sheena. Her paintings filled the walls of the old Kirk House. That was my base. And on a bright and summe
ry Sunday,  I continued my tootling around Galloway with various stops for photographs.

Such a lovely corner of this great island. So green. So peaceful and with so many wonderful coastal vistas. I didn't return to the B&B till ten thirty. Sheena had left a little note on the door asking me to lock up. It had been a brilliant and memorable day.

Some future blogposts will report this weekend in closer detail. I snapped more than two hundred pictures but don't fret, you won't have to suffer all of them!

Today, after lunch in England's highest pub - "The Tan Hill Inn" I thought I would pay another well-known blogger a visit. I sped into the  North Yorkshire village of Bellerby. That's where Pat, The Weaver of Grass currently resides. Unfortunately, she wasn't in but I peered through her windows and saw some of the boxes she has been filling ahead of her impending move to the nearby market town of Leyburn.

I left her a tin of salmon rather than flowers. If you read her blog you may have also deduced that Pat is seriously addicted to salmon. Lunching out regularly, she just can't get enough of  this particular fish species. It would have been nice to spend an hour with her and I would also have got to meet her trusty hound - Tess.

Instead, I headed back down the A1 towards Sheffield.

11 August 2017

Statecraft

"Our republic is a responsible nuclear state that, as we 
made clear before, will not use nuclear weapons first 
unless aggressive hostile forces use nuclear weapons to 
invade upon our sovereignty,"
- Kim Jong-un speaking at The House of Culture 
in Pyonyang. North Korea May 1st 2016

10 August 2017

Bellicosity

"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen... he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power - the likes of which this world has never seen before..." 
- Donald Trump speaking at The Trump National
 Golf Center. Bedminster N.J. 8/8/17

9 August 2017

Incarceration

Is it Art?
No - it's my designer decorating trews.
While George and Amal Clooney are snuggling up on their sofa, watching "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" on their mammoth TV set, I very much doubt that Amal cajoles George to re-decorate their bedroom. I just can't visualise George donning old decorating clothes and shifting the furniture or heading off to the local branch of B&Q to purchase paint, wallpaper, filler and all the other stuff you need for a domestic decorating project.

It's something that rich people never experience. When's the last time that Mick Jagger wielded a paint roller? When's the last time Donald Trump got barley white emulsion in his eye when painting a ceiling? When's the last time Queen Elizabeth II had to use white spirit to clean up her hands and brushes while standing over the kitchen sink?

All of this preamble is leading to the confession that I have finally succumbed to the psychological pressure cleverly applied by Lady Pudding to achieve her target - the redecoration of our bedroom.. 

For three days, I have been a virtual prisoner, crawling about, up and down the step ladder. scraping, sanding, pasting, glossing, re-coating, wiping down. These are practical actions unknown to The Kardashians or Kim Jong Un. And at sixty three I begin to feel various aches and pains connected with decorating. I especially dislike having to lie on my belly on the floor, simply because it's bloody hard to get up again. I need to keep protecting my right knee from injury.

My unwelcome incarceration and the slavish drudgery have been slightly relieved by BBC Radio 4. It has taken my mind away from the bedroom of punishment. I wonder if Nelson Mandela listened to Radio 4 on Robben Island. Perhaps that's what got him through quarter of a century of unjustified imprisonment. He might have broken rocks there but I doubt that he ever glossed any skirting boards.

The job is still not done. The final act will be to wallpaper the wall at the head of our bed. I have already put good quality lining paper up on that wall. The top paper we chose cost £39 a roll and there are blue peacocks on it. In months to come, I will probably experience nightmares in which I hear the late night alarm calls of peacocks from my dingy cell before waking up in a fevered sweat.

Today I am being allowed out on parole so the papering will have to wait till tonight or tomorrow. As usual on a Wednesday, I shall soon be off down to the Oxfam charity shop to do my bit for an organisation that has done so much great work around the world through the past seventy five years. I just hope that the manager - Catherine - doesn't ask me to paint anything.
Our peacock paper.

8 August 2017

Medallists

You might recall that I was recently  lucky enough to win my third "Picture of the Week" over on the geograph website. As usual my reward was to pick the next winner from a shortlist of fifty images. Below is the photograph that I picked as the bronze medallist. It was taken at Nostell Priory which I visited just last Friday:-
 In second place, I picked this picture of an oak tree up in the Scottish Highlands. It's near a small lake called Lock Achilty which is not too far from Inverness:-
And the next picture was my favourite so it was the overall winner. It was taken by a gentleman called Alan. The location was just east of Ilkeston in Derbyshire. Alan was standing on a footbridge that crosses The Erewash Canal. I admired the geometrical symmetry of Alan's image and how this was assisted by the reflections on the water.
 Sorry that I forgot to take Yorkshire Pudding visitors through the voting process this time.

7 August 2017

Sideshow

In this mad world, we put certain people on pedestals. Mostly, these people, these stars, are engaged in activities that shouldn't really matter. They are separate from real life. Real life is the channel that the rest of us swim along - farmers, engineers, nurses, teachers, factory workers,  shop assistants, dockers, lorry drivers, soldiers and all the rest.

Without these people doing the real work, living the real life, there would be no pedestals for the famous.

I am thinking about film stars, actors, pop artists, best-selling novelists, TV people, sports stars. They are only there to distract us, an embellishment - like the travelling circuses of yore that were set up on village greens to entertain the local populace. With a few spare pennies jangling in one's pocket one could afford admission to the big top. But it didn't really matter. It was not the real life. When the acrobats and the clowns were gone, normal life resumed.

You might say that we have all been signed up - willingly or otherwise to join the cult of celebrity. They have become modern day gods from Lionel Messi to Meryl Streep and from Stephen King to Little Mix. We are meant to bow down before them, follow their stories, compare the glorious light of their exciting  lives with the anonymous shadows of our own drudgery.

When quizzed about their ambitions, many kids are magnetised by the sideshow. They want to be famous footballers, reality TV stars, actors.  But those people - the ones we see in magazines and tabloid newspapers - they represent such a minuscule proportion of humanity that it ought to make them irrelevant.

Adulation, admiration and aspiration should really be reserved for the everyday people we see around us. They are the real heroes - our fellow citizens including family members. It is far more heroic to swim in the river of reality than to dance like a moth  in the deceptive limelight of fame.

6 August 2017

Nostell

 On Friday, my trusty steed Clint carried me deeper into Yorkshire. Up the M1, then through Barnsley on the A628 and then speeding onward through Lundwood and Cudworth until I saw the sign to Hemsworth. Then on through Kinsley and Sir Geoffrey Boycott's home village of Fitzwilliam until I reached my destination - Nostell Priory.

I had no plans to look inside the grand Palladian mansion - built for the very wealthy Winn family in the late eighteenth century. My aim was solely to stroll in the extensive parklands that surround the grand house.
To secure a parking ticket at Nostell Priory I had to give The National Trust £4. They don't employ car park attendants any more as that would involve paying wages. You put your coins in a machine that begrudgingly spews out the precious paper token. Presumably wages have to be paid to a snooper who wanders around checking car windscreens.
Anyway, I wandered around the grounds with the aid of a very inaccurate map. The highlight of this walk was the Obelisk Gatehouse designed by Robert Adam in 1776 - the year that America was kindly granted its independence by Britain. Sometimes called The Pyramid Gatehouse, it was once the main entrance to Nostell Priory but when a main road was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century between Wakefield and Doncaster - passing south of the estate, the previously favoured gatehouse fell into disuse.
For a hundred years different gatekeepers and their families lived in the gatehouse. There are rooms to each side of the arch with an offshot kitchen to the left.

Another highlight of my wandering was The Druid's Bridge which passes over a tongue of The Lower Lake. I recently saw a lovely picture of this bridge and in fact it was that picture that gave me the idea to drive up to the Nostell Estate.

You might wonder why is the grand house called Nostell Priory? Well in the eleventh century there was a small religious settlement here - founded by Augustinian monks. They built a priory that was more or less razed to the ground during the construction of the estate we see today with its lakes, its woods, its follies, its lawns, its stable block and of course the jewel in the crown - the big house itself.

5 August 2017

Fifth

It's August 5th. My father, Philip, was born on this day in 1914. It was the day that our newspapers first announced that Britain had entered World War One. He lived for sixty five years, enjoying just one year of retirement before he suffered heart failure and died. If he were still alive he would have been 103 years old today.

It's August 5th. My oldest brother, Paul Philip, was born on this day in 1947. He lived for sixty two years, dying peacefully in his sleep one workaday morning in 2010. He never got up for work again. They say it was a previously undiagnosed heart problem that got him but I think it may have been a blood clot related to a hip replacement he had to have following a fall at work two years before. He would have been seventy today.

It's August 5th. My son Ian Philip should have been born on this day in 1984 but he decided to enjoy the comfort of his mother's belly for another eight days before his joyous arrival into our world. Ian is still very much alive and looking forward to the publication of the "Bosh!" plant-based recipe book that he and his mate Henry have been working upon like Trojans in the past three months. He will be 33 years old next weekend.

These are the three men that have meant the most to me. All special and gifted in their own ways. All three - lovers of life. I think about each of them every day.

4 August 2017

Women

A self-employed electrician used to be a regular in our local pub - especially early doors. I wouldn't say he was a friend - just an acquaintance. He was about fifty years old. One evening, in the middle of the bar-room banter, the topic of conversation switched to marriage and women.

The electrician piped up with this remark about marriage: "The shagging's all right. It's all the other stuff I don't like ."

Momentarily my jaw dropped. What did he mean by "the other stuff"?  Conversation, sharing household tasks, child-minding, eating meals together, gardening, making decisions about decorating, sharing thoughts, looking to the future, laughing together, holidays. Did none of that daily "stuff'" matter?

For people who are unfamiliar with the term, "shagging" is a slang term for sexual intercourse.

Anyway, about twelve years ago this fellow's visits to the pub ceased very suddenly. I asked around and discovered that he had had an accident at work. He had fallen off a ladder and broken his back.

The last time I saw him was about ten years back. He was in a wheelchair and had been pushed into "The Cherry Tree" by his long-suffering wife. He told me that he was paralysed from the waist down. Of course his wife had become his principal carer. No doubt she bathed him, helped him to the toilet, dressed him and ferried him here and there. I wondered if he remembered his horrible remark about marriage. Did he now appreciate all "the other stuff"?

In an ironic  manner of speaking, it seemed like poetic justice. That fellow has never been back in our local pub since the accident happened.

3 August 2017

Trumpish

It would be nice to coin a word, to witness its widespread usage and then to see it enshrined in The Oxford English Dictionary to which new words are added every year. Such an achievement would give a person a degree of immortality.

The other day, I thought that I had hatched a new word. The word was "trumpish". I even formed a definition for this novel adjective.

trumpish - egotistical, arrogant and boorish, having the capacity to swat away all criticism and blunder ahead in the unsophisticated manner of the 45th President of the USA.

Yes folks, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. However, I thought I had better do a double take courtesy of Google . There I discovered to my disgruntlement that others got there before me. In fact Donald Trump has spawned plenty of other new words including Trumpian, Trumpesque, Trumpist, Trumpishness and Trumpism.

But getting back to "trumpish". The Urban Dictionary defines it as "The opposite of compassionate, kind, or polite."

They also provided an example of possible  usage:-
I was driving to the mall, going the speed limit, but the person behind me was in a big hurry and kept blowing his horn. I refused to be bullied into speeding (and possibly getting a ticket). Finally, he zoomed by me, and as he passed, the person in the passenger seat leaned out of his window, flipped me off and yelled, "Learn to drive, you stupid bitch!" Clearly, he was having a trumpish day.
So "trumpish" has already been claimed but I have another new word. It's a noun and the word is a "scaramucci". Suggested definition of  a scaramucci - something very unpleasant that thankfully doesn't last very long.

Here are three examples of usage:-  

"Last weekend I went to a seafood restaurant and ordered mussels. They didn't taste quite right and on Sunday I endured an awful bout of diarrhoea and vomiting. But it was just a scaramucci. On Monday morning I felt fine."

And

"The footballers squared up to each and fists flew for a short while but it was nothing more than a scaramucci. They shook hands and carried on with the game."

And

"Donald climbed into bed with Melania and begged permission for a scaramucci but Melania said she would rather attempt another sudoku puzzle. Donald was forced to fire off another ill-considered tweet on his smartphone - "Scaramucci Disallowed! Another great, great day at The White House. Making America Greet* Again"
_______________________________________________
*greet = old northern English/Scottish word meaning to weep.