22 May 2018

Back

Back home in Yorkshire now. It was a good holiday but there were some negatives. I might blog about them another day. But for today, I just want to share a few more photographs from our week on Corfu. That's one of the nice things about blogging - you can showcase images that might otherwise disappear into the digital ether - never to be seen again.

A blog can be like a personal journal - of life passing by - just like written journals that devoted diarists once scribbled in -  reflecting  upon their private lives and the world in general. When you have been blogging for thirteen years - as I have - the blog becomes a record of your life. You can look back and remember walks and holidays, family events and things you experienced. Increasingly, I find blogging very useful in that way.

Anyhow, five more pictures from Corfu...
Above - aboard the Pegasus heading for the island of Mathraki. Below - another olive farmer's shed especially for Meike in Ludwigsburg, Germany. She loves old ruins which may be why she quite likes me!
 Above - a simple meal we had in Ilias's Taverna in Avliotes. I can't tell you how utterly delightful my salad was - bottom left. It was called a "mixed salad" containing walnuts, pieces of apple, various green leaves, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar and olive oil - topped with thin slices of strong, flavoursome local cheese. I told Ilias it was the most enjoyable salad I had ever eaten. Below, all the directions you need in Agios Stefanos:-
Below - a shrine on the lovely clifftop walk between Agios Stefanos and Arillas. Perhaps somebody once jumped from here, momentarily hovering on the rising sea air like a bird before plummeting to... The End....

21 May 2018

View

Housemartins wheel about in the stillness, performing their aeronatutical acrobatics with consummate ease. Diving, pirouetting and swooping, they head for their dun-coloured nests, expertly constructed in April under concrete eaves. Babies wait there with voracious appetites.They too will be masters of the air.

Calm is the sea. She laps about the crescent of the sandy bay, just whispering like a secret voice you remember from long ago. There across the glassy aqua plane rise the milky mountains of Albania. Twenty miles away, their outline resembles the body of a giant who has lain down to slumber upon the far horizon.

Closer and better defined are the inhabited offshore islands of Mathraki, Erikousa and Othonoi, They are separate worlds with their own histories, their own memories, their own serpentine paths weaving quietly to evocative ruins and to bays where fisherfolk once mended their nets. 

I am sitting on the balcony of Room 4 at the Nafsika Hotel in Agios Stefanos. Ahead, I can see the little white Greek Orthodox church on a bluff that overlooks the old fishing harbour - its defences now eroding with each cruel battering received when the waves are up and angry. 

To the north, dark green hills resplendent with ancient olive groves and Mediterranean pines give way to a small, jumbled Legoland of squat apartment blocks and holiday villas. They tumble towards the beach where two fat people are marching, overtaken by a runner with a dog.

My black swimming shorts and a blue, red and white striped towel are drying on the railing of our balcony and sitting on the circular  plastic table a recently emptied coffee cup. My walking boots rest beneath, reminding me of yesterday's hike over the headland to Arillas.

This morning's placid Ionian Sea is not one uniform colour or texture. There are shades and swirls and corrugation. It has its patterns and its colours that belie hidden depths where octopuses dwell about the wreck of some ancient trireme that had been heading home from the heel of Italy long ago. Today, there's a lone fishing boat out there, catching the light and so faraway it is little more than  a speck of whiteness.

It is May 21st 2018. Our last Corfu morning. Our first was twenty six years ago when the kids were little and played upon the beach at Kavos that Eastertime. Ian found an old fisherman's hat and Frances plastered her cheeks with vanilla ice cream. How many tides have ebbed and flowed since then? You remember it all like a dream, uncertain that it really happened at all. Meantime the housemartins continue their amazing aerial display as  ribbon waves surge and suck upon the shore  forever and ever.

Amen.

18 May 2018

Postcard

Olive  farmer's hut - north west  Corfu
We are alive and well and enjoying our brief sojourn in Corfu, Greece. I would have blogged earlier than this but the proprietor of our litttle hotel - Basiltus Fawltiopoulos - gave me the wrong wifi password. Yesterday he also served sweet white wine to  guests like us who had specifically ordered dry white. He explained that he had run out of dry and didn't think anyone would mind drinking the sweet.
We have had a couple of lovely walks and today (Friday) we took a service boat to an offshore island called Mathraki - population fifty outside summertime. We had three hours there and sitting alone on a long golden beach I stripped off ready for a swim only to be thwarted by the sight of jellyfish - both in the water and on the shore. A close escape.
It's getting late and the wifi, like Basiltus, is unpredictable so I shall just decorate this Grecian blogpost with a handful of images collected this week. Kali nichta!
Above Aghios Stefanos

14 May 2018

Lambs

Near Whirlow Playingfields, I spotted two lambs yesterday . One of the joys of springtime here in northern England is to see new lambs frolicking in the countryside. Who can avoid a smile or an "Awww!" when we see a lamb in a spring meadow?  

It's almost one o'clock  in the morning and I need to be asleep before too long because we are driving over to Manchester round about nine thirty - ready for our flight to Corfu. I guess I will be able to blog over there but I am not sure about this. We hope to have a lovely holiday.

Before I go, I shall leave you with two images of  yesterday's  lambs and bid you good night!

12 May 2018

Saturday

On Saturday afternoon we travelled up the motorway to Leeds. We were in a minibus with several local friends and acquaintances - on our way to watch "Sunshine on Leith" at The West Yorkshire Playhouse. It's a feelgood musical that I first saw in the form of a film back in 2013. I blogged about it here.

Before taking my seat, I had a little stroll around the area and snapped these two pictures:-
The window is part of Leeds College of Music and the stencilled picture outside the BBC building appears to be of Alan Bennett, a wry and gifted writer who is one of Leeds's most famous sons.

The musical was filled with youthful energy, cleverly choreographed dancing and familiar songs by The Proclaimers. We enjoyed it immensely. It received rapturous applause from the assembled audience.

Afterwards we were transported swiftly back down the motorway to Sheffield. Once back in our suburb we all sat down in our local Indian restaurant - "Urban Choola" and enjoyed a hearty  meal washed down with wine and "Cobra" beer. 

It had been a grand day out spoilt only by the Eurovision Monster on our television when we got home. That annual phantasmagoria is a monument to bad taste, hollowness and mediocre, instantly forgettable songs. The ridiculous winner came from Israel which - like Australia - isn't even in Europe. What a mad world!
"Sunshine on Leith"

11 May 2018

Song

I first heard the album "Sounds of Silence" when I was thirteen years old. What songs! What loveliness! Paul Simon was and probably still is a truly gifted songwriter. Part of his genius lay in the simple humanity of his lyrics. They connected in a pure and unfussy way with other human beings.

As a teenager it was the wordsmiths of the musical world who magnetised me... Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Paul Simon. They were holding a mirror up to the world like great painters or poets of the past.

My favourite number from "Sounds of Silence" was "Kathy's Song". It was plaintive and it was about memory, love and lost love. You didn't know who Kathy was but you knew that Paul Simon had really loved her. Art Garfunkel gave that song wings to fly.

Here he is in concert with Paul Simon on guitar. They were performing "Kathy's Song" plenty of years after its composition.
And as for Kathy herself.  She was an English girl from Essex. She couldn't live with the stardom and instead opted for a more obscure life in North Wales where she worked as an administrator in a college. She  still enjoys a bond of friendship with Paul Simon who she first met when he was a young troubadour, scraping a living from folk club appearances up and down the length of Britain

This was Kathy -  Kathleen Chitty on her way to work one morning in 2014. I guess she has retired now. Even Kathys grow old.
Kathy appeared on the cover of this 1965 album

10 May 2018

Corfu

Well we finally clicked the button. Shirley is on holiday next week and we are off to Corfu for seven nights. We'll be staying in a small and fairly humble hotel in St Stefanos on the island's north west coast. It's a three minute walk down to the beach shown in the picture above.

I am so glad that I no longer have to trawl through possible holidays appearing on my computer screen - weighing up a whole bunch of factors. These include overall cost, location, Trip Advisor reviews, swimming pool size, flight times there and back and size and quality of accommodation/hotel. It's enough to make your brain hurt.

It's a long time since we last visited Corfu. Like most large Greek islands its character is multi-faceted. To the south you find Kavos which for many years has held special appeal for young, party animals. Corfu Town - the island's capital - has a lot of historical interest and is quite cosmopolitan. There are inland agricultural villages and while the east coast is shallow and sheltered, the west coast is wilder and more exposed to the open sea.

I recall times gone by when dining out in Greece was  amazingly cheap but nowadays typical restaurant prices will often be on a par with England. This is why we have chosen to go "half board" with breakfast and evening meals included. What more can you expect from a tight-fisted Yorkshireman?

9 May 2018

Walkabout

The pictures above and below were taken yesterday. I  needed another walk having spent all of Monday gardening. 

I didn't want to travel too far. I left Clint in the shadow of Mam Tor just beyond Castleton and began the ascent. The second photograph shows the triangulation pillar at the summit of Mam Tor. Nearby a woman with two dogs was enjoying a view of The Hope Valley. 

Then I carried on to Hollins Cross where five footpaths converge. To the north you look down into the magical Vale of Edale. It was another hot day and below me the fields were peppered with tiny sheep and even tinier lambs. I took a picture of Hollins Farm. See below.

I pressed on to Greenlands - a remote farm that looks north towards The Kinder Plateau. Halfway along the lane up to Greenlands there is a convex mirror, placed near a tight bend as a motoring safety device, Here I took my first ever selfie. I was wearing khaki shorts, a red Popeye T-shirt and a blue sunhat from Malta. Quite a cool combo I am sure you will agree.

Soon I was ascending once more, up past sheep pastures where I saw a young lamb sheltering from the sunshine near a fence. The climb continued until I met the road that connects Edale with Rushup Edge. Not far to go now. Then I am descending - back to Silver Clint who is snoozing in the layby next to a rather sexy black VW Golf called Juanita. "Oh, you're back then!" Clint sighed.

8 May 2018

TV

Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan
Recently I finished watching a nine part American Crime Drama series - "The Assassination of Gianni Versace". 

Now this is somewhat remarkable for three reasons. Firstly, I am sick to the back teeth of dramas built around crime. Can't they find other subjects? Secondly, I have no interest whatsoever in the fashion industry or indeed Gianni Versace. Thirdly, my relationship with television lacks commitment. Usually continuing dramas seem like too much trouble. I don't want television to rule my life.

That said, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace" gripped me. Apart from anything else, it was unusually constructed. Not moving chronologically from point a to point b but much more fluid so that viewers proceeded from the horror of the assassination into a better understanding of the assassin's psychology and warped motivation

The assassin was a fantasist called Andrew Cunanan. A gay escort  and a troubled loner, he became obsessed with Versace and in a 1997 killing perhaps reminiscent of John Lennon's death outside the Dakota Building in New York he achieved the notoriety that he had arguably always craved. His part was played brilliantly by Darren Criss. You might even say that this drama was not really about Gianni Versace but about Andrew Cunanan's troubled existence and his inevitable journey to suicide.

Penelope Cruz was less convincing as Versace's sister Donatella and the same might be said of Ricky Martin who played Versace's long time lover Antonio D'Amico.

I agree with Ryan Murphy in "The Guardian" who had been perplexed by several rather negative reviews of the show - "It’s dark and complex and tragic, and it deserves a much better reception than the one it received. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out on something special." Of Darren Criss's performance he also said, "Criss is horrifyingly convincing as Cunanan. He’s needy and manipulative and utterly empty; a blank that slowly draws you in to your doom....Criss deserves to be huge because of this role. He cannot win enough awards for it."

7 May 2018

Edgeways

When I went out for my walk on Saturday, I parked in the grounds of Whirlowbrook Hall. In front of the old house, I noticed a gorgeous display of yellow flowers. Before setting off on the walk I lay on my belly and took a few pictures.

What was this flower? At first I was not sure but I remembered tulips growing in this particular flowerbed. When I got home I consulted with Google and discovered that they were indeed tulips - opened right up in the hot May sunshine to attract pollinators. It is not how we expect tulips to look is it?
 Several minutes later, as I was climbing up the path out of The Limb Valley and through Bole Hill Plantation I came across new bluebells greeting the springtime. This is my favourite wild flower of all:-
Not far from where I found the dead lamb, I looked across the fields to Castle Dyke Lodge. Although you cannot see this in the picture, it sits next to Ringinglow Road which heads west out of Sheffield towards the moors and Stanage Edge.

I have often thought about this characterful house on the edge of Sheffield because back in 1989 we could have bought it. Financially, it would have pushed us to our limit and it would have still required significant extra investment to bring up to modern standards. Since then it has had a major extension added - to the left.

I guess I waste too much time pondering "might have beens" even though I know that I can never go back. How about you?

6 May 2018

Death

I would rather be alive than dead. Being dead cannot be much fun because it's like being in a very deep sleep forever and ever. You never wake up. However, being dead would have its advantages. There would be no money worries and you wouldn't have to visit the supermarket every week or yell down the phone at annoying scammers claiming to be from an awful communications company called TalkTalk. Death would also be an effective solution to unbearable physical pain.

Several people who have meant a lot to me are now dead. They include all my grandparents, my mother, my father, my brother Paul and my American friend Richard. In addition, all my pet cats are dead - Oscar, Blizzard and Boris and all the white mice I bred between the ages of twelve and thirteen. No matter how much I plead for them to get in touch again they all remain dead as doorposts and do not utter a single word, miaow or squeak. That's death for you.

There are many different ways to die. You could die fighting against the forces of evil - such as The Islamic State or TalkTalk. You could die mysteriously while watching a film on a jumbo jet or by falling from Mount Everest. However, I would prefer to die like my brother Paul did -  in the middle of the night whilst fast asleep.

You are probably wondering why today's blogpost is so morbid. I mean - shhhhh! - nobody wants to think about death with their laptop coffees do they?

Well, to explain - yesterday, when walking in the western fringes of this northern city, I came across a dead lamb. It was a healthy size and had no visible injuries. She was lying in the corner of a field next to an old  bath that now acts as a water trough. 

Her body was still floppy - suggesting she had died yesterday morning. The last few days have been warm and sunny but not so scorchingly hot that the lamb could have possibly had heatstroke. The old bath is near a public footpath so it is very possible that the lamb died in a panic while being worried by an unleashed  dog. In 2017 it is estimated that 15,000 British sheep and lambs were effectively killed by loose dogs.

Farewell sweet lambkin.

5 May 2018

Maytime

Maytime in our slightly wild garden. In fact, I snapped this picture on Wednesday morning. There's a youthful freshness about Nature at this time of year. The greens are greener and blossom sings hopefully for passing insects. Migrating birds are returning, cavorting acrobatically in the blue sky above.

Yesterday morning I saw a beautiful bullfinch close by our kitchen window and later in the day, I fired up our lawnmower for the first time this year. Last month two rows of potatoes were planted further up the garden and soon I'll put courgette seeds in little pots of compost before planting them in the vegetable plot and there'll be runner beans and peas and maybe leeks too.

Meantime, Buddha sits serenely under a laurel bush beneath one of our apple trees - watching the sparrows and reminding me of Thailand.

4 May 2018

Clerk

Yesterday. Six thirty a.m.. I manoeuvred Clint into a parking space outside a former synagogue. 

I had morphed into a poll clerk, climbing back into Clint at ten fifteen at night. A working day that lasted for almost sixteen hours. It had been the day of local elections - for a replacement city councillor and for a South Yorkshire mayor.

Most of the time I sat at a desk with a very pleasant young woman of Indian descent. We had lists in front of us. As people entered the polling station, we had to find their names on one of the lists and then add their allocated voting slip numbers to another list.

The hours seemed to pass by quickly and the young British Asian woman, the presiding officer and I got along famously. This helped a lot.

I found the list of names and addresses fascinating. About seven hundred people living in a particular Sheffield neighbourhood. You could read things into the list. There were houses of multiple occupancy, traditional homes, lonely flats and perhaps 4% of the names spoke of non-British heritage. I found Spanish, French, Italian, Sri Lankan, Iranian, Pakistani, Nigerian and Irish names. One man was called Ian Anderson like the leader of the rock band Jethro Tull - but it wasn't him.

Every person who entered the polling station was different from the next. Some came in in running or cycling gear. Some came in with small children or dogs. Some were exceedingly polite while some came in with strange challenging attitudes. Two police officers came in and the polling station inspector and a woman who complained bitterly about the location of the polling station.

In the middle of the day a partially-sighted woman came in with a very belligerent attitude. I have come across her several times before in our "Oxfam" shop. She arrives ready for a fight. She will say - "Where are the books? I can't find the books! You people do NOTHING! NOTHING FOR THE PARTIALLY SIGHTED!" And you have to calm her down by speaking quietly and kindly.

Yesterday it was the same. She was shouting the odds as soon as she had stepped over the threshold. "Mayor! MAYOR? We don't need a BLOODY MAYOR!" And she ripped up that particular polling slip in front of us, scattering the pieces on the floor like confetti. I guess she lives her whole life like that - angry from dawn till dusk.

At 10pm we closed the door and packed up the polling station - quickly putting furniture back in its place and sealing the voting boxes. Andy - the presiding officer - had to get the boxes and various documents to the counting centre but I was heading for the pub after driving Clint to his familiar parking space in front of our house.

2 May 2018

874

St Wilfrid's Church, Kirkby-in-Ashfield
Yesterday's weather forecast was clement. Consequently, I considered a walking location. I wanted an area that was new to me knowing that this would involve a significant drive if Clint was willing to co-operate. You see the trouble is that within fifteen miles of this house I have walked every square kilometre.

I ended up driving down the M1, exiting at junction 29 on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border and making for St Wilfrid's Church in Kirkby-in-Ashfield. I had checked out the location via Google Streetview. This is something I often do to visualise key junctions and the availability of suitable parking. Clint is quite picky.

With boots on I was off. First a neb round St Wilfrid's churchyard and then onwards to the wide valley of The River Erewash. Some young cows came to check me out, spellbound by my rugged handsomeness.
The whole area was once blighted by coal mining with railway tracks criss-crossing the landscape. The Erewash was once just a convenient drain for industry. However, nowadays you could easily fail to spot that history for the old rail tracks were closed down years ago, the coal mines have gone and Nature is doing her best to cover up the scars.
Path by The River Erewash
Under the M! motorway to Pinxton where I bought a cheese and onion roll and a pint of milk in a small general store staffed by a small Indian woman. Indian shopkeepers are prepared to work all the hours that God sends and you can come across them in the most unlikely places - like Pinxton for example.
Farm track up Boar Hill
Back under the motorway further north and then up the rising ground to Kirkby Cliff Farm. The paths are not so well-trodden in this area but  was able to find my way to the oddly named Franderground Farm and then up Boar Hill just to the west of Kirkby-in-Ashfield.
The circle was almost complete. "Where the hell have you been?" said Clint when I opened up his rear end and tossed my boots in. 

874? It's the walk number.

1 May 2018

Today

Well there they are - The Bosh! Boys. They were on a segment of  the legendary Today Show called "Make-Ahead Monday".  The woman in the red dress is Megyn Kelly, very famous in America but pretty much unknown on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. When presenting for Fox News her final year's salary was a reported $15 million.

Ian and Henry had flown over to New York City on Sunday morning. Their Today Show slot was only four minutes long but they managed to pack a lot in and seemed cool and competent in the glare of the studio lights.

Publication of the "Bosh!" cookbook was deliberately delayed in America so it will be interesting to see how sales go following their TV appearance. You might say it was a four minute advertisement for their book. In many American communities there is much interest in vegan and vegetarian cookery and the fact that "Bosh!" has been created by two British hipsters may give sales an extra boost. We will see.

Thanks to Vivian Swift on Long Island for keeping me right up-to-date with the show and thanks too for the screenshots she sent me as soon as Ian and Henry's slot was done. The journey continues.
Picture from Vivian Swift