24 March 2018


Meet William Willett (1856-1915). This moustachioed fellow is largely responsible for the unnecessary hassle that befalls every British home, business, public building and church each spring and autumn when, respectively, we are required to put our clocks and watches forward by one hour and then back by one hour. It is such a waste of time and very unhelpful  to the normal functioning of society.

Willett was a successful builder in and around London. For obscure, personal reasons he got a bee in his bonnet about changing our clocks to mark a period that would be known as Daylight Saving Time or British Summer Time. As a wealthy Tory party supporter, he was able to bring pressure to bear on influential politicians to take up his hare-brained cause.

The idea was much debated and finally in 1916 his scheme was  introduced but Willett had died the previous year so he never got to endure the tiresome process of putting timepieces forwards and then back each year. 

There are those who still make convoluted arguments that support the continued existence of British Summer Time but I am with the camp who see it as an utter nuisance. Normal life simply does not need this bi-annual disruption. Apart from anything else, the world we live in now is less entrenched in its time habits than the world that Willett occupied. 

Tonight we put the clocks forward again thanks to William Willett and I will once again be cursing him. Instead of focusing on clocks his energies would have been better spent on improving working conditions in the construction industry that spawned his personal fortune.

P.S. Willett is the great-great-grandfather of Chris Martin who is the leader of the extraordinarily successful English rock band - Coldplay. He must be gutted.

23 March 2018


The pier at Cleethorpes
It was Shirley's birthday today. I bought her some new walking boots, a summer dress, a nice bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, some Cadbury's mini chocolate eggs and  a colourful bunch of Gerbera daisies but still she wanted more! She had the idea of visiting the coast - seventy miles from Sheffield so at 10am we set off.

Clint was purring as we headed east along the M180. At first we decided to head south of Cleethorpes in the direction of Donna Nook which is a coastal nature reserve famed for its seal population in the autumn but by March the seals have all left along with their new pups. Here land and sea threaten to merge and at low tide you might imagine that you could walk across The North Sea to The Netherlands.
Royal Air Force  training aids at Donna Nook
After an hour we were back in Clint and made a short stop at Marshchapel on our way back up the coast  to Cleethorpes. We had a nice stroll around the town before reaching our lunch destination - Steel's fish and chip restaurant. It was an establishment that Shirley's late parents - Charlie and Winnie - would occasionally visit and a traditional eatery that has won many plaudits.
Battered haddock with chips and mushy peas, a pot of tea and some bread and butter - you can't beat it and we also had a window seat overlooking Market Street, watching all the comings and goings. A  small funeral party emerged from The Market Tavern - some holding purple balloons - as senior citizens with small cars manoeuvred with difficulty out of tight parking spaces.

Later we went in a seafront amusement arcade and frittered away a tub of two pence pieces on one of those coin drop machines - trying to push other two pence pieces over the moving ledge inside the glass. I have always enjoyed losing money in those frustrating contraptions.

By the time we had strolled a few hundred yards along the beach, it was after four o'clock and the birthday girl decided it was time to head home. It had been a nice day out in brightening weather and a pleasant sway to mark my wife's 59th year in this world.
Pew carving by Thomas Swaby
in St Mary's Church, Marshchapel

21 March 2018


Here in Yorkshire, the BBC sponsors a regional news programme called "Look North". Mrs P and I watch it regularly and we are very familiar with the main presenters. As is the wont of regional television news shows, "Look North" occasionally organises televisual charity-related projects.

This month "Look North" sought to mark its fiftieth anniversary by arranging a week long sofa push -taking a red sofa on a trolley to fifty different locations within Yorkshire. They are raising money for the Sports Relief charity. Yesterday they came to Sheffield.

Paul Hudson and Harry Gration

I drove up to the nearby reservoirs at Redmires and sat inside Clint reading a novel. The remains of recent snows were still  on the ground, settled in hollows and drifted up against the drystone walls. I bumped into an old friend who has finally retired. He has a rescue dog now. It was sitting in the back of his car smiling back at me. My friend said that his wife had named it Deefa which sounds like a Hindu goddess but he said it was simply a shortening of "D for dog".

Soon a colourful bunch of walkers appeared on the far side of the top reservoir. It was the "Look North" team with their support staff, cameraman and an array of local followers. As luck would have it, this little caravan stopped right in front of the spot where I was standing to take stock and prepare for the arduous climb up to Stanage Pole.

Amy Garcia
You will never have heard of these people but to us they are very familiar television celebrities. There was the cheeky weather presenter - Paul Hudson whose nightly quips are legendary. And there was the lovely Amy Garcia from Wakefield looking as fit as a fiddle but surprisingly not wearing gloves and there was the genial uncle and anchorman of thirty years - Harry Gration from York. 

A young physiotherapist began to pull up Harry's right trouser leg and he spoke directly to me, "You'd best look away now!" She was checking out his bad right knee, adjusting the knee support and blasting some magic spray at the joint. 

Soon the rest stop was over and the motley crew began their ascent up the old Roman track heading towards Stanage Edge and down to Hathersage. This would be a taxing walk at the best of times but pulling a trolley along with a red sofa aboard in wintry conditions made it much more challenging. 
Harry Gration
If any of my millionaire American, Russian, Australian, Italian and German visitors would like to donate spare money to the BBC Sofa Challenge, please go here.

20 March 2018


Let's all cheer and raise a glass. It's March 20th - St Cuthbert's Day!

In my humble opinion, St Cuthbert should be the patron saint of England and not the foreigner - St George who had as much to do with England as I have to do with Timbuktu. 

St Cuthbert was a holy man who helped the poor and lived a blameless life. He was probably born in 634 AD and died on March 20th 687 AD. His tomb is the centrepiece of Durham Cathedral though at first his remains rested on the holy  island of Lindisfarne off the Northumberland coast where he was the prior of the abbey in the last three years of his life.

When Danes and Vikings attacked the east coast of England in the ninth century, the monks of Lindisfarne exhumed Cuthbert's remains and carried him to safety. He seemed to represent the very heart of northern England and his coffin went on a long journey - resting in a variety of locations around the old kingdom of Northumbria of which Yorkshire is the major part. I have been to just a handful of the churches where St Cuthbert rested and all of those churches are named after him.

There are many stories surrounding Cuthbert including tales of miracles. When the Scandinavian threat diminished his remains were brought to Durham and for centuries his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.

I am not a religious person but most countries seem to have patron saints who come to act as symbols of a nation's character. Somewhere along the line, for reasons that are lost in the mists of history, England picked the wrong patron saint in my judgement. It should have been our own homegrown saint, a man who lived amongst us, a man of peace and hope. Happy St Cuthbert's Day Everybody! Happy St Cuthbert's Day!

19 March 2018


Snow came from the east. Then it went away. Then it came back again. This should be a time of daffodils and crocuses, a time for digging the earth ready for vegetables. Instead, there's snow on our garden once more. Silver Clint, my trusty steed, is wearing a thick white coat and our road is a treacherous ice rink. Clint is going nowhere.
Last night I noticed that icicles were forming above our back door as a wodge of snow slips slowly from our slightly angled kitchen roof. When I emerged from the snug cocoon of our winter quilt this morning I decided to photograph said icicles that have grown a little longer like super-speedy stalactites in a limestone cave.
Like a rainbow, a snowflake, a leaf, a flower-head, a seashell, a mushroom, a berry, a feather - the icicle  is a wondrous and beautiful phenomenon to behold, fashioned by Nature  for our appreciation and delight.

18 March 2018


In the British  population census of 2001, it was calculated that 15,000 Russian nationals were living in our country. By 2014, well-grounded estimates showed that there were now over 150,000 Russians living in London alone. Many of these Russian inhabitants are stupendously rich though the sources of their wealth are rarely crystal clear. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the growth of the Russian mafia meant that there was much graft and shady dealing in the years that followed. It was a dog eat dog world

It seems that Britain has welcomed Russian oligarchs, business magnates and billionaires with open arms, happily allowing them to buy up prime real estate, enrol their children in our best schools while even letting them donate many thousands of pounds to Theresa May's Conservative party.

We don't appear to welcome ragged babushkas in slippers from godforsaken post-industrial towns in Siberia or malnourished peasant farmers from the Ural Mountains or displaced steelworkers from Magnitogorsk but we have been happy to embrace bejewelled oligarchs in Bentleys.

Now when I last looked, Russia was not in the European Union and I do  not believe it has ever been a member of The British Commonwealth so as a fairly intelligent and reasonably liberal British citizen I am baffled about how all these rich Russians got to live here in the first place. Who let them in and furthermore why?

There is something quite sickening and perverse about giving rich Russians the red carpet treatment when traumatised Syrian families escaping from the rubble of their destroyed country \are denied entry or forced to get here on inflatable boats at the behest of gangsters. Ironically, Putin's forces continue to prop up Wicked Bashar al-Assad, perpetuating the Syrian conflict and the trauma.

They say that money talks and in the case of London's large Russian community that is clearly true. Normal immigration rules are shelved. The history of their dubious wealth is conveniently overlooked and we even allow them to buy Premier League football clubs, newspapers and publishing houses. Meanwhile, a Syrian child looks into the camera with bloodshot eyes, cement dust on her cheeks and memories of hellishness, fury and death seared in her mind forever.

17 March 2018


In blogging today, I was going to tell you the meaning of life. Then I thought I might give you tonight's winning National Lottery numbers. I also considered sharing the secret of eternal happiness and how to live healthily to the age of one hundred. Other blogging ideas included how to bring about peace in Syria, how to stop Saudi Arabian aggression in The Yemen, how to lace Vladimir Putin's cornflakes with nerve gas and how to lose seven pounds of excess bodyfat in a week without even trying. 
In the end, I ditched all of the above ideas in favour of sharing three more photographs I snapped last week on my circular walk around Stoney Middleton and Eyam in Derbyshire. These three pictures were all nominated in the geograph website's "picture of the week" competition though in the end I didn't bag a winner. Still, I am pretty happy with these images and I know that some of you out there like to see my various pictures from this region of England.

16 March 2018


Where did Mr Pudding go THIS time?

He went away for two nights with Mistress Pudding - to the heart of West Yorkshire.

Low mists hung over the Pennine hills and valleys. In the darkness of Wednesday night, we sped along the M62 to Junction 24. Thence to Elland, Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd before turning along a "B" road to Cragg Vale.

Then up a steep single track road intersected by drainage channels till we finally arrived at Cragg Hall. We were staying in the barn conversion next door as guests of our old friend Tony and his fairly new lady, Pauline. Tony had booked the barn for a week to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. His daughters had been there at the beginning of this week.

We were there with two other old friends - Glyn and Jackie who happen to eke out an existence in the heathen territory known as Lancashire. There be dragons!

The eco-barn was amazing. Warmed by ground-sourced heating it has a huge wall of glass that overlooks Cragg Vale. The materials and fitments used throughout are top notch and it was a delightful place to stay in spite of the low lying cloud and the hair-raising track up the hillside.
Yesterday we went into Hebden Bridge - a former milltown that is now synonymous with alternative lifestyles. Businesses here are independent - no Starbucks allowed, no Tescos etcetera but there is a small co-operative supermarket. 

We climbed higher into the mist specifically to visit Sylvia Plath's grave in Heptonstall churchyard. It wasn't easy to find but when we did light upon it we noticed that previous visitors had plunged pens into the sod that covers her. Glyn and Jackie had never even heard of Sylvia Plath but I read "The Bell Jar" and her poetry many moons ago and this was a pilgrimage I had often thought of making. 
Sylvia Plath's grave in Heptonstall
"Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted"
She was such a gifted writer. If she could only have suppressed her suicidal thoughts or perhaps sought professional help for possible postnatal depression, she might easily have become a modern day literary great. She was only thirty years old when she left us. I had nothing to put on her gravestone but a ten pence piece with a crowned lion on the reverse. We walked away leaving Sylvia behind us in the swirling Pennine mists. She died in 1963.

Last night we had pints of beer in "The Hinchliffe" before climbing the precipitous track for a late dinner of chilli, rice and jacket potatoes in the lovely barn. It was nice to spend time with people we care for and in whose company we feel very much at ease. The spooky weather didn't really matter.
Ruins of the old church in Heptonstall

14 March 2018


Two English geniuses have died this week. They occupied very different worlds but in their own ways they were both remarkable people.

Legendary comedian and variety entertainer Ken Dodd passed away on Sunday at the ripe old age of ninety. He died in the same house where he was born - in the Liverpool suburb of Knotty Ash.

With his buck teeth, his wild hair and his various costumes and tickling sticks, Ken could keep a theatre audience entertained for hours. Just one man on a stage with a vast repertoire of jokes and a fine singing voice. He was a modern day court jester. Though he starred in several TV shows, his home territory was the theatre and in his seventy year career he delivered shows on virtually every stage in the land.

He once said, "Laughter is the greatest music in the world and audiences come to my shows to escape the cares of life. They don't want to be embarrassed or insulted. They want to laugh and so do I - which is probably why it works."

Professor Stephen Hawking died this morning at the age of seventy six. He was a theoretical physicist with a brilliant mind. In addition to this he had to battle with a terrible handicap most of his adult life - namely, motor neurone disease. His familiar computer-generated monotone "voice" was operated by the blinking of his eyelids.

He wrote "A Brief History of Time" and as a gifted physicist he would most certainly have won the Nobel prize were it not that his work was principally theoretical and not always proven  in practice. Apparently, the Nobel awarding committee appreciate substance as opposed to hypothesising. 

I could not begin to understand the complex solutions to the scientific puzzles that Stephen Hawking unravelled but I loved the film about his early life - "The Theory of Everything" (2015) starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. If you haven't seen it please give it a whirl some time.

Ken and Stephen will now be queuing together outside the pearly gates and Ken will be saying... "Tonight when you get home, put a handful of ice cubes down your wife's nightie and say: 'There's the chest freezer you always wanted'." And this will surely be followed by computerised guffaws of laughter.

13 March 2018


At the weekend we worked like Trojans. Our aim was to get Frances and Stewart  happily settled in the flat that they have bought for a king's ransom. Stewart's parents were there too. His father is a vicar here in Sheffield and his mother is an occupational therapist. They are both at the very end of their working lives.

Everything went according to plan. The estate agent handed over the keys at 1pm on Friday. At 2pm we arrived from the motherland (Yorkshire). At 3pm the carpet fitters arrived. At 5pm we were putting flatpack furniture together. Stewart and his father were in the bedroom working on a massive double wardrobe while I was in the living room/second bedroom working on a designer coffee table with drawers. Frances and Mummy went back to Tooting Bec in South London to finish her packing and cleaning.

It was funny lying on the new carpet with my complicated flatpack instructions. Next door I could hear the vicar and Stewart struggling with their bigger job. I chuckled because I knew that if I had been in the next room the air would have sometimes been blue... "Jesus Christ! Where are the number eight b*****d screws?"..."Whoever made these ****ing instructions wants shooting!" etcetera.

Instead I heard calm and patient endeavour... "Oh my giddy aunt, do you remember where we put the number eight screws Stew?" and "These instructions might have been a little clearer in my view." Yes, it made me chuckle.

At 9pm we went for dinner at the nearby "Westbury" pub. It was very nice and even nicer that the vicar and his wife fielded the bill. Afterwards, I drove to Southgate which is three or four miles north of Wood Green. I was staying in a brand new Premier Inn where I slept like a log. Shirley stayed the night over at Tooting  Bec.

On Saturday, I was up at 8am and eating scrambled egg on toast in a nearby cafe by 8.30am. Then I caught the tube back to Wood Green and by 9.15 I was waiting to get in the flat to carry on working.

Frances's removals van arrived and The Queen and Princess turned up shortly afterwards. It was a day of window cleaning, unpacking, a visit to The Temple of IKEA, swilling, mopping, putting screws in walls (not screwing!), popping out to Wood Green high road for various things until night-time arrived once more.

The vicar headed back to Sheffield to prepare his Mothering Sunday sermon. Stew's mother crossed London to stay with one of her sisters and we went to an amazing Turkish restaurant called Capital. It was on three floors and buzzing like a hive. People of all nationalities were eating there - many of them Turks. We were assigned a table on the top floor and our order arrived pretty quickly considering the number of diners in the place. It was a very efficient operation and the food was deliciously simple Turkish fayre washed down with bottles of "EFES" beer. Oh my giddy aunt it was marvellous!

Is this blogpost getting boring? Sorry. It will soon be over.

Shirley and I headed back to Southgate and on Sunday morning drove back to Wood Green - no parking restrictions on a Sunday you see. 
Our Ian - Mr Bosh!
More work at the flat and a trip to Awful Homebase but not so frantic now. Everything was coming nicely together. Mr Bosh! arrived at midday and at 2pm we were back at "The Westbury" for Sunday lunch with the two mothers on Mothers' Day. Mr Bosh! revealed an exclusive  copy of the cookbook he had picked up in Italy.

Another shopping trip to bustling Wood Green's high street. More work at the flat and at 6pm Shirley and I commanded Clint to take us home. Three hours up the scenic M1 motorway to Yorkshire. Job done... and here's hoping that Frances and Stewart's current joy, love and togetherness endures. It was a privilege to help them. Renting is over. They have their own place.

12 March 2018


On a hillside east of the Derbyshire village of Eyam there is a tiny graveyard surrounded by a drystone wall. It contains the graves of seven members of the Hancock family who died in the summer of 1666. They were struck down by The Great Plague that, according to legend, had arrived from London in a bundle of cloth that happened to contain disease-carrying fleas.

Perhaps surprisingly this little graveyard is known as The Riley Graves and not The Hancock Graves, for the Hancocks were buried in Riley Field - an area of common land between two farms - Top Riley and Riley House Farm.
The story goes that the brave people of Eyam, urged by the local vicar, imposed a quarantine upon themselves in order to prevent the plague from spreading. In the event 260 villagers died from the bubonic plague but surrounding settlements were saved. Various myths have grown up over the past three hundred and fifty years about "The Plague Village".

It had been a good few years since I last visited The Riley Graves but I was there last Thursday as the recent snows were beating a gradual retreat. I parked in the valley near Stoney Middleton's squat church  and hoofed it up the valleyside, at one point tackling the remains of  a long snowdrift that was tucked up against the side of a drystone wall.
The little graveyard is an atmospheric place and as there was nobody else around  I found myself alone with the Hancockes - Alice and Ann, William and two Johns, Oner and Elizabeth. All of them were interred in August 1666 less than a month before The Great Fire of London was sparked in Pudding Lane - just north of London Bridge.

9 March 2018


We are about to travel back to London. This time Silver Clint will be whisking us down. 

We are heading for Wood Green in north London where The Beloved Daughter and her consort are about to move into a humble flat which they are buying at enormous expense. For the same price here in Sheffield they could buy a detached three bedroom property with a  big garden and a drive. But London is where they work and at least for the time being they like it down there - the bustle, the buzz, their network of friends.

Anyway, after helping with the move, we plan to be back Up North on Sunday night. Until then normal blogging activity is suspended.

8 March 2018



We measured our mountains in feet
Edging up them one foot at a time
Until ultimately
We reached their lofty summits
Where sometimes
We found piles of stones or cairns
That added more feet
To those mountain tops.
You could see for miles.
But now it seems
We are required
To measure our hills in metres
Quantify liquids in litres
Their aim being to defeat us
- One of the troubling features
Of this modern world.
Yet I, undefeated,
Still stand
Six feet tall
- Exactly.

7 March 2018


The current manager of Manchester City Football Club is a passionate and rather eccentric fellow called Pep Guardiola. He hails from the Catalonia region of Spain. You my recall that the Spanish government has sought to supress the Catalonian independence movement. Several Catalonian politicians have been incarcerated and to demonstrate support for them thousands of ordinary Catalonians have been wearing yellow lapel ribbons. In TV interviews about football matches Pep Guardiola's own yellow ribbon has been visible for many weeks.  

However, the English Football Association have a rule that says that managers and players must not wear any "political" symbols. Because of this rule they have brought Pep Guardiola to task, charging him with the offence.. He has admitted his guilt but shown no contrition and has no plans to stop wearing the discreet yellow ribbon. 

I was thinking about this last night.

It is okay for football teams to wear shirts that bear the logos of betting companies and online casinos but it is not okay to wear a small yellow ribbon. It is okay for dodgy Russian, Chinese and American oligarchs to own English football clubs but it is not okay to wear a small yellow ribbon. It is okay for matches to be switched around to benefit the ruthless Sky TV  organisation but it is not okay to wear a small yellow ribbon. It is okay for a Premier League player to earn £250,000 a week but it is not okay to wear a small yellow ribbon. It is okay for football grounds to be adorned with advertising for all manner of products and services but it is not okay to wear a small yellow  ribbon. 
Stoke City football shirt
The morality of this is all topsy turvy in my opinion and if I were a Manchester City fan I would also wear a small yellow ribbon when attending their matches - to show solidarity with Pep Guardiola and the campaign to free imprisoned Catalonian politicians. Besides, I was under the illusion that we live in a democracy in which citizens are entitled to free speech.

6 March 2018


Our lovely son Ian (left) was in Italy yesterday. It was a day trip with his "Bosh!" chum Henry. They were there to see their cookbook coming off the printers' production line. Already 50,000 copies of the English language version have been printed. The book will be launched at Borough Market in London on the evening of April 19th at an event called "BoshFest". 

It's an exciting time for the two young men. I'm keeping everything crossed that the success they can smell - just round the corner - really does come true. They will be signing books in various Waterstones book stores around Great Britain and also travelling over to The United States to undertake some more promotional work - including at  least one TV appearance.

Surely, nothing can go wrong now. I am so proud of him. They have given this project their very best shot. In my unbiased opinion, they deserve the success that is surely waiting for them. It is a good news story.

Go here and explore:-  https://www.bosh.tv/

5 March 2018


We woke to fog yesterday morning. There is a myth abroad that England is regularly shrouded in fog but this is utter nonsense. We hardly ever see fog here in Sheffield. Yesterday's thick mistiness related to the improving air temperature, the snowy ground and the absence of wind.

I took a morning walk up to nearby Ecclesall Churchyard. In my mind I had a vision of golden light emanating from the church windows in the fog. It would make a dramatic scene worth photographing. As it happens,when I  got to the church I realised that the mental image wasn't replicated in reality.
Even so I took a bunch of other pictures, including the grave of our old neighbours - Ken and Doris who both died back in the nineties. They had no relatives here and as old age squeezed them I gave them a lot of practical support. Ultimately, I arranged their funerals and even ordered the headstone which included an extract from one of Doris's own poems. They were lovely, well-meaning people who seemed to belong to a more innocent time. They were very grateful of my help which motivated me to help them more. Their entire "estate" was left to their niece who emigrated to New Zealand years ago - apart from a gift of £5000 which they left to me though I am still not sure how or when Doris amended her will to include me.
The inscription reads:
Our bitter tears shall cease to flow
As we leave this desolate life below
To join all the saints in heaven above
There to find everlasting love

Ken and Doris used to lie in the last row of the graveyard but there is a good number of graves beyond them now. I also spotted the grave of Elizabeth Winter. It seemed fitting to come across that grave on such a snowy day.

4 March 2018


Lady Bird and her mother in "Lady Bird"
On Friday, I went to see "Lady Bird" written and directed by Greta Gerwig.

I tell you my friends that it is very nice to see a film that does not involve killing, detectives, car chases or any of  the other typical ingredients of what usually constitutes modern day film entertainment.

"Lady Bird" is about ordinary life. In my view, this is the most fertile ground for film drama that truly resonates and impacts upon ordinary observers. We don't need superheroes or shoot-outs, science fiction fantasies or ultra-drama. Ordinary life is enough.

Set in the suburbs of Sacramento, the film creates a powerful sense of Christine McPherson's community. She is a belligerent and rather wacky high school student with dreams. She even creates a new name for herself - Lady Bird.

Played by the brilliant Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird has a warring relationship with her mother Marion played by Laurie Metcalf. Marion is a psychiatric nurse who often works double shifts just to keep the family afloat. They live on the wrong side of the railway track.

It is a "coming of age" film with many funny and tender moments. Lady Bird ends up at college in New York and comes to realise how much she really values the life she has left behind in Sacramento.

Some film reviewers believe that "Lady Bird" has a real chance of getting the "best film" award at tonight's Oscars ceremony in Hollywood and if it does achieve that glory, I for one will not complain though I think that "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" is better.

3 March 2018


As boys, my three brothers and I were very lucky. Every summer my parents would pack up the caravan (American: trailer) and we'd be off for five or six weeks. At first we would bomb down to Cornwall or South Wales but by 1959 we were heading across The English Channel to something we referred to as "The Continent".

In those days you wouldn't see many British families touring Europe and continental campsites were often uncrowded. We travelled all over France, Belgium, The Netherlands, West Germany, Switzerland, Austria and even down into Italy.

One summer, I believe it was 1961, our principal destination was Lake Garda, There we met up with old family friends - a childless couple called John and Brenda. They are still in the land of the living. John is ninety and Brenda is eighty seven.
It was at the southern end of Lake Garda that John taught me to swim. He balanced me in his arms and then I took off in the silky warm Italian lake. Swimming freely was easier than I had imagined. That's just about the only thing I can remember from that holiday.

Just the other day, John sent my brother Robin a photograph that was taken that summer - probably in the form of a colour slide. I edited the picture to improve it and then set about discovering its location. It was taken at the north end of Lake Garda at Torbole. That was  fifty seven years ago.

There's my late brother Paul with his Elvis quiff. Then there's Robin who was a big lad at the age of ten. I am the next one in the photo - seven years old coming on eight and there's my younger brother Simon who was five. Yes, fifty seven years back - a long time ago with our entire lives ahead of us.
Torbole today

2 March 2018


In a corner of our garden there's a concrete girl. Year in and year out she stands there both day and night, rain or shine. Nothing seems to faze her. She always has the same mischievous smile on her concrete face.

Yesterday the snow was even thicker than before. When I went out to feed the birds, I noticed the little concrete girl. She was wearing a hairpiece that would have impressed Marge Simpson. Here she is. She hasn't got a name:-
There was so much snow in our street that I didn't even think about reversing Clint into the road. He remains parked up in front of our house with a good ten inches of snow on his roof. Instead, I donned my snow-gear and set off to The Porter Valley. I aimed for Forge Dam Cafe,looking forward to a big cup of hot chocolate and a toasted teacake.

On the way, I passed a memorial to one of the great figures of Sheffield's proud steel history - Thomas Boulsover (1705 - 1788).  This clever fellow invented Sheffield plate - a process whereby base steel is coated in silver. He used this discovery in the manufacture of millions of metal buttons which made him a very rich man. He went on to produce other specialised metal products including saws and surgical instruments. This was before the arrival of stainless steel which incidentally was also invented in Sheffield by Harry Brearley in 1912.
Thomas Boulsover Memorial
After twenty minutes in the cafe, I set off up the side of the valley towards Bents Green. By now fierce wind was whipping the snow as schoolchildren careered down the slopes on plastic toboggans. I thought of the first toboggan I ever rode - made by my step-grandfather from waste wood, a length of  rope and two strips of steel that acted as runners. Back in my East Yorkshire home village we would have died for just one of the many marvellous sledging hills around Sheffield.

I bought a steak pie in the butcher's  shop at Bents Green. Two and a half hours after setting off from our house I was back with rosy cheeks and a head of hair that bristled with static electricity thanks to my thermal ski hat. The concrete girl's head of hair had grown even taller in her sheltered corner.
Whiteley Woods Bridleway