31 January 2018

Chocolate

At Christmas, The Beloved Daughter gave me a chocolate bar she had bought in New York in the autumn. It was a Donald Trump chocolate bar. Politely, I thanked her for the gift and then put it in a drawer. Secretly, I imagined that the chocolate within would be like the esteemed president himself - bitter, sickly and liable to cause indigestion or vomiting.

Returning to the drawer a  month after Christmas, I pulled the chocolate bar out and mustered sufficient courage to unwrap it. And there in front of me was my chocolately miniature  Donald J.Trump looking as brown as Bill Cosby or Joe Frazier.

It was time to bite Trump's head off. As I masticated Trump's head I was surprised to discover that its taste was not unlike Cadbury's Dairy Milk which has been England's favourite chocolate for a hundred years. I ate almost half of Trump's body but baulked when I saw that his nether regions were next. No there's no way I will be tucking into that section!

Online I have searched for Theresa May chocolate bars. I mean, if American can produce Donald Trump chocolate products then surely we can do the same for our esteemed prime minister but all I could find was Theresa May silverskin pickled onions and Theresa May bitter lemon throat lozenges. Needless to say, they have not been selling well.

30 January 2018

Revitalisation

Overstones Farm and the hills of North Derbyshire
The horrible virus is definitely on its way out now. Yesterday afternoon I felt well enough to drive up to Stanage Edge in order to pay homage to the millstones. It  was good that I was well wrapped up because the winter wind was bitingly cold. The Belted Galloways were huddled together for warmth. 

I chuckled as a rambler entered their field. She was yelling at them "Keep back!" as she loitered nervously on top of the stile.

Not far to walk. Just half a mile there and half a mile back. Good to be breathing fresh air and not recycling stuffy oxygen in our bedroom or front room. So much television has washed over me these past few days because I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for reading. The virus turned your faithful correspondent into a couch potato.

A fellow geograph contributor once referred to me as "The King of Stanage Edge" because of the number of photographs I have taken there. I know that long time visitors to this blog will recall previous images of Overstones Farm and of the abandoned millstones at the southern end of the edge.
They speak of lost industry and hard working men of the past and of the incredible ingenuity of human beings - hand carving heavy disks from a tough base rock and then arranging their transport through the length and breadth of this land. They were used in metal industries as well as flour mills.

Remembering the very first time I visited Stanage Edge in 1978 or 79 - I had no prior knowledge of the millstones. Chancing upon them was a big surprise. Forty years later they remain in the selfsame position - unchanged and somewhat enigmatic. 

It was good to get out and to breathe again. 

29 January 2018

Ranting

There are many things that I could rant about today. However, my random ranting spotlight has fallen upon electronic signature devices. Have you experienced them?

Very often parcel delivery workers shove them in front of  parcel recipients to demand our signatures. The trouble is that it is virtually impossible to produce anything that even vaguely resembles one's signature on the slippery little screens we find in front of us. When ever I write my "signature" upon them it looks more like the scrawl of a chimpanzee in a laboratory experiment or the mark of an illiterate peasant from the highlands of New Guinea.

How could that mark ever stand up in a court of law? How could the parcel company ever be able to use it as proof that the parcel was indeed delivered? Anybody could have made that mark.

Ever since I could first write, I have written my name. As the years passed my signature evolved to become a part of me like my fingerprints or the colour of my irises. That signature is a symbol of  my identity. It is in my passport and it is how I still very occasionally sign cheques. And yet the parcel delivery companies are clearly not interested in our real signatures any more. They just want the hopeless screen scrawl with their little electronic sticks like the illegible scrawl that everybody else produces for them.

What I would like to see is this. When asked to provide a "signature" on one of those devices, members of the public should start saying "No! I will give you my proper signature on paper but I am not going to sign anything on this device as I find it impossible to write upon. Go back to your company and tell them so. From a customer's point of view the device is useless and I do not wish to compromise myself by even touching the thing. Who ever invented it needs shooting!" 

28 January 2018

Peregrination

It was as if  hairs were growing in my throat. The coughing made me flee from the bedroom. The next night Shirley slept in the front bedroom while I faced the night alone with a glass of water and a bottle of "Deathwatch"cough linctus. Radio 4 hummed on low volume like a never ending bedtime story.
On Thursday I was a big lump stranded on our sofa, waiting for the next cough to rise up from The Great Pudding Volcano. My energy was in retreat and my rib cage felt sore with all the coughing exertions. I hardly moved all day.
On Friday morning I felt slightly better and seeing the bright skies outside thought I might risk a little motorised peregrination in order to snap some photographs of the countryside west of Sheffield. Long time visitors to this blog will have been there with me before so I apologise if some of the pictures that accompany this post seem a touch familiar.
In Underbank Chapel's graveyard west of Stannington I had an awful coughing fit and steadied myself against one of the stones. It crossed my mind that I could have saved Shirley some money by falling into a coffin shaped hole near the perimeter wall. But I lived to hopefully get through another weekend.
It's Sunday morning and though the beastly condition has still not fully departed it is certainly on its way out. Fortunately I am generally strong and healthy but it is clear to see how a virus like the one that I have just been fighting could easily kill a weaker or more elderly human being. The physicality of the coughing and chest heaving itself has been a feat of endurance - like a four day cross country run.
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Pictures: 1.In Underbank Chapel's graveyard with views over The Loxley Valley  2.Eighteenth century milepost on Bolsterstone Road   3.A view of Hill Top with St Nicholas's Church, High Bradfield beyond   4.Sheep above Agden Reservoir  5.The Post Office and Village Shop in Low Bradfield

27 January 2018

Recognition

At work and elsewhere, it's nice to receive recognition for endeavour and/or loyalty. On Wednesday, Catherine, the manager of my local Oxfam shop, presented me with a copper lapel badge and a certificate. I have worked there every Wednesday for the past three years but it doesn't seem that long.

I worked at my last Sheffield school for twenty two years. Most weeks I put in fifty to sixty hours and many holidays involved me going in to the school for days on end. For the first twenty years I didn't have a single day off and in the last two years I missed five days for health reasons. And yet I didn't receive a copper lapel badge or a certificate. In fact I received nothing but my monthly salary slip.

When it came to managing staff, that school and the education system in general seemed much better at criticism than praise even though, ironically, they expected teachers to dole out more praise than criticism in their classrooms. This week I noticed that my old school with its state-of-the-art new buildings finished bottom of the Sheffield performance league table for secondary schools. 

People need to feel valued. In my estimation, organisations that  meaningfully praise workers for years of service and for going beyond basic expectations will find that their workforce will be better motivated and probably more productive. Thank you Oxfam.

25 January 2018

Frisco

Continuing the account of our California family holiday in 2005...
The Golden Gate Bridge seen from Alcatraz
We descended the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains, leaving the majestic sequoias behind us. Soon we passed through Fresno to meet The Golden State Highway and then continued heading northwards along The Central Valley.

Increasingly, the landscape seemed colourless, tending towards desert and not green and colourful like the California dreaming of my youth. Where were the orange orange groves and the red tractors ploughing rich, black earth? We passed Merced and Modesto - flat, low-rise working towns and then onwards towards Highway 580 which curves westwards through humped and sunburnt hills  towards San Francisco.

The Bay Bridge took us from Oakland, across San Francisco Bay. There was Alcatraz Island to the right and beyond it in the misty distance the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. I was wishing that Frances's road trip CD had included that Scott McKenzie song..
All across the nation
Such a strange vibration
People in motion
With minimal navigational difficulty we made it to The Travelodge on Lombard Street. It was dusk by now with street lights blinking on and so we set off to find an evening meal in our bohemian neighbourhood. How cool to be in San Francisco at last! The hilly geography reminded us of Sheffield. Further up Lombard Street we strolled to the summit of that famous snake-like section that careers downhill like a slalom course at a ski resort. I intended to drive our black jeep down there before we left!

The next morning we headed for Fisherman's Wharf where blubbery seals were basking and we  soon found the pier from which ferries leave for Alcatraz. It was a diamond day and soon we were disembarking at the famous prison island.
On Alcatraz Island. Can you see the word "Free"?
Audio headsets enriched our tour. We saw where so many bad men were once incarcerated. It was good to observe that the place has not been gentrified or turned into some kind of Disneyland attraction. There's a palpable sense of decay and  emptiness at Alcatraz and if you closed your eyes you could almost hear the echoing of prisoners' footsteps and the shouted commands of the prison guards.

The next day we crossed the famous Golden Gate to visit Tiburon and later I took my family on a selfish pilgrimage to the famous Haight-Ashbury district which was once the very core of the so-called hippy movement of the late sixties. What is a hippy anyway? Did people who were labelled "hippies" ever describe themselves in that way? I doubt it. They were just people seeing the world in a different, kinder way. They said "Make Love Not War" and "Bring Our Brothers Home" and some of them tie-dyed their T-shirts or smoked pot.
My family at Haight-Ashbury
I loved San Francisco. It felt so "right" to me. In another life I could have easily been a San Franciscan. I had plenty of conversations with local folk and we saw terrapins in Golden Gate Park, dodged roller skaters, rode on a tramcar, visited The Mission and walked around Russian Hill and saw the Camera Obscura at Cliff House and watched Pacific waves crashing on Ocean Beach:
I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
I have visited many cities in my life - from New York  to Johannesburg and from Bangkok to Marrakech - but of all those foreign cities only San Francisco felt like it might have been home. Frank Sinatra sang that Chicago was "my kind of town" but to me it would be San Francisco every time. Oh, and I did drive our trusty jeep down the west end of Lombard Street...Wheeeeeeee!
The Camera Obscura at Cliff House

24 January 2018

Halfway

Yesterday afternoon I finished drawing my football crowd. It has taken a long while. I found that I was only able to work on it when I was in the mood, when there was nothing else to do and when I was on my own. Getting these three stars to align was not always easy.

Usually, I have put a CD on the stereo and listened to it while creating a few more faces. For the past few sessions I have listened repeatedly to Ed Sheeran's latest album - "Divide". There's no doubt that musically he is a very gifted young man but some of the lyrics seem quite juvenile to me, emphasising the fact that he is only twenty four years old. When you have known and loved the songwriting of Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Robin Williamson, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan - other writers' lyrics can often seem inferior.
Now that the basic drawing is done, I need to start adding colour. Every character is wearing a football scarf and originally it was my intention simply to colour every scarf  in black and amber - the colours of Hull City. 

As the crowd increased in size, I began to wonder whether or not I should colour in the entire scene - different flesh and hair colours as well as clothing. A big task involving many hours of patient work. However, when I finished the drawing yesterday afternoon, I looked at it and thought that maybe I should return to the original vision - scarves only.

I am now in a state of hesitation. And here I am to the rear of the crowd - watching the game and wondering how to proceed with the picture...

23 January 2018

Celebrity

The pictures that illustrate this post were snipped from Channel 4's "Sunday Brunch". There's our beloved son hobnobbing with celebrity guests such as the comedian Ross Noble and actress Kara Tointon - both very well-known to British TV viewers.
Ian and Henry had spent the previous day preparing a series of vegan desserts ready to transport to the Channel 4 studios early on Sunday morning. Apparently, one of the production team managed to knock their entire tray of cupcakes onto the floor minutes before the Bosh! boys went live. Even so their eight minute slot went well and there is every chance that they will be invited back to this programme later in the year.
Now I guess it is just a question of time before tabloid newspaper reporters knock on our door, digging for dirt. I shall send them running for cover with the same curtness I apply to the endless fake telephone callers who interrupt my peace claiming to be representatives of "Talk Talk". Besides, there is no dirt to dig on our lovely son unless you include the time that I was changing his nappy. 

I was distracted by a telephone call and came back to  his changing mat to find that he had stuffed his little paw into a tub of "Sudocrem" and was happily consuming it like Winnie the Pooh filling his face with marmalade. I wonder if "Sudocrem" is vegan-friendly?

22 January 2018

Faces

It occurred to me that I don't know what regular visitors to this blog look like.  Ah-ha, I thought, I can use Google to find pictures of them! Simples! Knowing both first and second names was helpful. Here are some of the results of my "research". It's always nice to put a face to a name.

 Here's Graham Edwards - author of "Eagleton Notes" on his Hebridean estate:-
Here's the famous North Wales blogger and all round good egg - John Gray - creator of "Going Gently":-
This is Jennifer Barlow from Florence, South Carolina - the brains behind "Sparrow Tree Journal":-
 Below there's a picture of Keith Kline - often known as "Red" from "Hiawatha House":-
And here's Lee George, Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year in 2015 and the sassy cat-loving lady behind "Kitchen Connection":-
 This foxy lady is Meike Riley who has just stepped out of her "Mental Library":-
 And here's Long Island socialite and best-selling author Vivian Swift:-
Below you can see Steve Reed whose blog is called "Shadows and Light". He was the Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year in 2016:-
This is my surrogate Colorado sister Donna - also known as "Peace Thyme":-
Unfortunately my research didn't throw up any secret pictures of Robert H. Brague but I found this road in Canton, Pennsylvania where there is a house for sale:-
Finally, here I am:-
LATE ADDITION.... Here's Jenny O who blogs from a remote galaxy called Nova Scotia. She reported an episode of severe pouting when she discovered that her image was missing from this gallery...

21 January 2018

Mistakes

We all make mistakes. In my life I have made many mistakes. I wish I could just swat them away like irritating little flies but my mistakes tend to remain with me. I replay them over and over again, berating myself for my stupidity, for not saying or doing the right thing, for allowing the mistake to happen in the first place.

We cannot help who we are. Someone like me who mulls over mistakes and allows them to upset my equilibrium, I cannot suddenly turn into the kind of human being who brushes mistakes away as if they were just bits of fluff on a jacket.

It's easy to say - just forget it - but if blotting things out is not in your nature then "just forgetting" is not really  an option.

I think of that song by Edith Piaf  - "Je Ne Regrette Rien" ("I Regret Nothing") and I wish that I could be that way - moving on without regrets. It sounds quite blissful but speaking for myself I have many regrets. Small ones and big ones. It is easy to feel haunted  by them as they are replayed in my mind's eye.

How about you? What is your relationship with the mistakes you have made  and the mistakes you continue to make?

20 January 2018

Frustration

The Stanage Road
It has been wintry up here in northern England these past few days. Snow and ice and wind and little sunshine. As a consequence, it hasn't been easy to get out to snap more of my endless photographs.

However, yesterday - with sunshine predicted for midday - I tootled over to Castleton in The Hope Valley and tied Clint up to the railings of the former youth hostel in Market Square. Boots on I was heading for Buxton Road when I saw two pubs beautifully illuminated in the promised sunlight. I had my camera out in a jiffy and was just lining up the shot when wintry clouds dulled the scene before me. Damnation!

The weather forecasters had got it wrong. 
Lone walker on Mam Tor ridge - using a lot of camera zoom
I spent an hour rambling outside Castleton - just up to Winnats Pass and the Treak Cliff Road and then I popped in the Peak Park Visitors Centre where I checked out the museum exhibits and watched a couple of short environmental videos.

Although great photographs can obviously be taken in dull conditions, I prefer the earthly stage before me to be lifted by sunshine that brings out the colours and shadows too. 
Western entrance to Winnats Pass

Sheep and a field barn by Buxton Road
It was frustrating so after checking out the jewellery in a couple of blue john* shops I headed home via North Lees and Stanage Edge. 

Belted Galloway cattle huddled together in a biting wind and the icy road up on the tops was treacherous. However, Clint was being steered by an advanced driver - across the Derbyshire border and back into Yorkshire, Ironically, as I descended the moors, I could see ahead of me that Sheffield was basking in glorious winter light. Perhaps the forecasters had got it right after all.
Belted Galloways
*blue john - a rare form of quartz that is only found in the hills around Castleton. See this link.

19 January 2018

Brunch

This is a shout out to British and British-based bloggers and commenters. Our lovely son Ian will be on Channel 4 TV this coming Sunday. He will be on a chatty magazine programme called "Sunday Brunch" with his Bosh! accomplice Henry. The programme is set in a kitchen environment and they will be preparing at least one vegan dessert for the hosts and perhaps the other guests to enjoy.

It is a live show and  it commences at 9.30am on Sunday morning.

This TV appearance is all part of  Ian and Henry's drive to bolster forthcoming book sales. All being well, their Bosh! cookbook will hit the bookshops and Amazon's online store in mid-April of this year.

If you have the opportunity to do so, please watch "Sunday Brunch" on January 21st. And remember you don't have to be a vegan to enjoy vegan dishes.

18 January 2018

Billboards

Frances McDormand as Mildred
One of the films of the moment is the oddly titled "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Shirley and I went to see it on Tuesday afternoon.

Starring Frances McDormand as Mildred, the film is set in small town America where everybody knows everyone else. Long before the film opens, Mildred's teenage daughter  Angela was raped and murdered. Mildred is filled with both grief and anger for she feels that the local police department have neglected their duties, failing to pursue the killer with due diligence.

She rents  three disused billboards on the outskirts of town and uses them to embarrass the police into action.

It is a quirky film that has been described as a "dark comedy". McDonagh also directed "In Bruges" and seems to have a gift for embroidering seemingly tragic plots with strands of humour.

There's a clownish police officer called Dixon - played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell - in "Three Billboards".  He lives with his mother. Near the end of the film he prepares to head out of the house while she is snoozing on the sofa. Bizarrely, there's also a tortoise on the sofa and he crawls into the old lady's lap. There is no other reference to this tortoise. It's just an unremarked and quirky moment that stayed with me after we left the cinema.

Pictorially, it is an eye-catching film. By the end you feel that you know Ebbing and its environs quite intimately. By the way, Ebbing is actually a fictional town. The real location was Sylva in the Plott Balsam Mountains of north western North Carolina.

There was another assured performance by Woody Harrelson as Police Chief Willoughby and Lucas Hedges - who I first saw in the excellent  "Manchester By the Sea" played the part of Robbie - Mildred's son - in an appropriately restrained manner.

It's a good film and well worth seeing in my view but be warned - if you are of a delicate disposition - that Mildred is quite foul-mouthed and in her "cussing" shows little restraint.
Woody Harrelson as Chief Willoughby

17 January 2018

Sequoia

Continuing the story of our 2005 family holiday in America...
Joshua tree by the road to Boron
With many miles to go, we headed out of Las Vegas straight after breakfast.

Instead of driving all the way back to L.A. , we took Highway 58 near Barstow. It cuts across the desert landscape to Bakersfield. On the way over, we stopped at Boron, a dusty godforsaken small town in the middle of nowhere. It is named after the mineral boron or borax which is still extensively mined in that area. I blogged effusively about Boron before. Go here. 

After a hearty lunch in The Corral Diner, we carried on to Bakersfield where I filled up with petrol (American: gas) and then we motored northwards along The Central Valley. I thought of the Joad family in "The Grapes of Wrath" and their onerous journey from Oklahoma. The Central Valley was to be their salvation - their Canaan - but all they found was more hardship.

When I was twelve, our geography teacher set us a homework task - to draw a detailed map of California but that weekend I did something else. Instead of drawing a map in my book I made a huge  papier-mâché  model of The Golden State  and painted the mountains and deserts, before labelling the major cities. In the middle was the green swathe of  The Central Valley which I imagined to be a land of plenty with rich soils spawning all manner of vegetables and apple orchards and orange groves.

My relief map was almost as tall as me and I struggled to transport it on the school bus. In my mind's eye I can still see the face of my geography teacher when I presented that crazy labour of love and geographical enthusiasm. His jaw dropped visibly and he didn't know what to say.

And now I was riding along through the same valley all the way to Visalia where we took a right and headed east towards the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. I had booked a hotel at Three Rivers, planning to drive into The Sequoia National Park the following morning.

The road up to the sequoia forest had only opened up the previous week after the annual winter snowdrifts. We saw a deer edging nervously from the trees and noticed that the snowy sides of the mountain road were banked up. A week before the park had been closed.

Finally, we arrived in the land of the giant trees and the greatest of them all was The General Sherman Tree - the biggest living organism on the planet. The ground circumference of the trunk is 102 feet and it is calculated that the entire mass of the tree  would weigh over 2000 tons . Furthermore, it is believed that the tree is about 2500 years old. It really is an awesome sight and I use that word deliberately. Awesome!
My family in the sequoia woods and below
Frances in front of  The General Sherman Tree

A couple of hours later we descended from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and headed for Fresno on our way to San Francisco where of course people wear flowers in their hair.

15 January 2018

Terry

It's nice to see Terry blogging again. Do you know Terry over at Treey's Blog? Back in 2013 he suffered a major stroke. Thankfully, he  survived it but the unexpected event has utterly changed his life. Now he lives in a special stroke unit in Leicestershire, is wheelchair bound and has significant communication problems. But he's still with us and essentially the man within has not changed. He's still there. 
Whereas able-bodied bloggers like me find the business of typing a new blogpost very easy, for Terry it is a massive physical effort.  That is worth remembering when you read his blog.
However, the reason I decided to write a blog titled "Terry" today was not to tell you the story of the challenges he has faced since the stroke but to share with you some of his photographs. Prior to the stroke he was a talented semi-professional photographer and the images that accompany this post are all his.
I guess that people will sometimes see him in his special bed or sitting in his special wheelchair and not appreciate that he was capable of capturing such pictures. Things are not always as they might at first seem.