31 May 2018

Characters

Leven is in the very heart of The East Riding of Yorkshire. That is where I was born and where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. My first cries were heard in the front bedroom of  the village's Victorian school house as Dr Baker helped to deliver me. I weighed 10lb 7oz - the heaviest of all my mother's babies.

At that time Leven's population was a steady 350, hardly varying from year to year until the mid-sixties when three housing estates were developed  - Westlands Way, Barley Gate and Mill Drive. Within a couple of years the population had doubled.

But back in the original village of my childhood, I knew everybody. As the years have passed my memories of those people have become dimmer and some of the names now escape me. They were like characters in a very lengthy play - "The Early Life of Yorkshire Pudding".

For some reason I have clear memories of a little fellow called Joe Grubham. He was the village's road sweeper and lived in a tiny cottage down West Street. Wiry like a weasel, there was always an old flat cap on his head. I picture him on his ancient black bicycle with bike clips protecting his flapping trouser bottoms from the oily chain. And I picture him with his extra wide sweeping brush, quietly sweeping along - gathering the dust and agricultural debris with a battered old shovel.

Even though the village was quite small it had two pubs, a cafe and six shops. Leven is now home to 2500 souls but nowadays it only has one shop. Go figure.

Mr Peers in his brown shop coat ran a grocery store on South Street. It was right next to Nat Lofthouse's butcher's shop. Across the road was the post office run by Mrs Rosling and a few doors away was Mrs Austwick's sweet shop. That was my favourite one.

Mr Austwick was Welsh. A bell went when you entered the shop through its little dark wooden porch and Mrs Austwick would leave what ever she was doing in the living quarters to attend to her customers. There were big jars of sweets - nut brittle, lemon sherbets, aniseed balls, Everton mints, Milkmaid  toffees, pineapple chunks and below the counter was a window on a wonderful world of penny chews, gobstoppers, black jacks, fruit salads, shrimps, white chocolate mice and Anglo bubblegum.

This pocket money confectionery was moved out in mid-October every year so that Mrs Austwick could display her fireworks stock ahead of Bonfire Night and the annual incineration of Guy Fawkes. In those days there were no age restrictions surrounding the purchase of fireworks. Even from the age of six or seven, I remember buying individual fireworks from Mrs Austwick and adding them to the cache that I kept in a tin under my bed. Penny bangers were a particular favourite.

Leven Canal struck east for three miles from The River Hull. Once it had been a useful artery for the transport of coal and agricultural produce but its usefulness came to an end before World War II. By the fifties it was a back water for wild fowl and anglers.
Image result for leven canal east yorkshire
Ship Ahoy! Robin, Paul and I on Leven Canal circa 1959
Village boys saw it as an aquatic playground but there was a fly in our pleasurable ointment - the canal warden who lived in an isolated house near Sandholme Bridge. She was the fearsome Old Ma Fairlow - like an evil witch in a fairy story. She had a personal vendetta against lads like me and was especially averse to us rowing boats on her private waterway. Many's the time she'd be there on the canalside in her floral nylon housecoat, frothing at the mouth and yelling hateful epithets at us as we rowed to the opposite bank. It would be easy to have nightmare about Old Ma Fairlow.

P.C.Geoff Pepys, a gentle uniformed giant of a man, lived in the police house on High Stile with his wife and two daughters - Diane and Vicky. The building included a little courtroom where presumably, in times gone by, magistrates made judgements about local infringements of the law. It was nice to play in there and sometimes we had mock trials. Old Ma Fairlow was regularly given the death penalty.

Mrs Jordan lived in a farmhouse on West Street. Mike Swann and Michael Keenan lived on Trinity Close. Fanny Williamson lived in the shop down East Street and once performed a striptease in the hayloft to an exclusive male audience with eyeballs on sticks. Alf Assert was the school caretaker with a smoky black pipe that he clenched expertly between his teeth and portly Irene Buckley and Nelly Brocklebank were the seemingly permanent school cooks easing generous portions of mashed potato or treacle sponge on to our plates with matronly affection.

Neil Wright was neither a boy nor a girl. Physically I guess that nowadays he would be called transgender. It was all a mystery and I have no idea what happened to him.

A lady from Northern Ireland lived next door. Mrs Varley was very good on the piano and a stalwart of the congregation at Holy Trinity Church. She was very fond of our Paul and even left him an ancient set of The Encyclopaedia Britannica in her will. In the autumn, she would leave baskets of fallen eating apples at her gate for passing schoolchildren.
Leven today courtesy of Google Streetview
Mrs Austwick's shop was in the house on the left
And I remember Amy Spicer. My brothers and I sometimes referred to her as Auntie Amy though she was not related to us. She came to our house once a week to polish brasses and clean out the fireplaces. She was small and a gentle spinster with her steel-coloured hair tied up in a bun. Sometimes she would babysit for us and she would read stories too but she got old and started accidentally breaking things till my mother had to say "no more" and let her go.

The pubs were called "The Hare and Hounds" and "The New Inn". The landlord and landlady of the first named pub were Trevor and Madge Ward. One cold New Year's Eve they were walking home by the main road  after carousing in "The New Inn". I don't recall the details of the accident but a car ploughed into Trevor and killed him outright. That was probably at the very start of 1960 - not a nice way to start a new year. Afterwards, Madge ran "The Hare and Hounds" for many years as the sole licensee.

Around the village there were several farms where you could work or play and I spent a lot of time at the Watsons' farm at Hall Garth near to where the medieval village church used to stand - St Faith's. Once we cornered a rat with pitch forks and we were devils at pulling bales out of the haystacks to make caves and dens. I remember kissing Gillian Hartley's ruby lips deep in one of them though she was nine and I was eleven. It seemed as though we were locked together.

Though many years have passed, I remember a lot about my early years. In lots of ways it was an idyllic, safe and happy childhood - a time of discovery and innocence. No computer games or smartphones and television was so amateurish and black and white. No one was addicted to it. What mattered was the people around you and what the weather would be like the next day. You made the most of things and carried on without much thought about what the future might bring.

30 May 2018

Balm

Wheston, Derbyshire. Another walk in the countryside. Walking with memories. Walking at my own pace. Each footstep pressing down on torment or conjuring up pleasant times from the past, Each footstep taking me further along the course of my life.

As my heart beats I can feel blood coursing through my veins. Nine pints of it. I picture nine pints of Tetley's bitter on a pub table. It's a lot of liquid.

There's a world outside myself. It seeps into me as I plod along, moving across the landscape like a beetle.

A cow peers at me from behind a limestone wall. She is partly hidden by cow parsley. A mile along a traffic-free lane and just before Limestone Way Farm I stop to take a picture of a wooden signpost. It is showing me the way to Hay Dale, Dam Dale and Peter Dale. There are no other ramblers to be seen.
Near an old sheep fold I spot some purple orchids growing by the wayside. They are orchis mascula and at this time of year you may often spot them in The Peak District - in sheltered dales where no sheep are grazing.
The old track curves southwards past limestone crags. Below my boots I realise that the roadway is roughly paved with thousands of small limestone rocks. Who did this and how long ago? Then I come to a view of gentle Dam Dale reaching westwards.
Soon I am entering Hay Dale where upon an old tree stump I notice bracket fungi growing. Like all fungi it appears other-worldly.
Through Hay Dale to Peter Dale. The last time I walked here there was a stream and a water meadow but now the water has disappeared below the surface of the earth. The going is dry and easy. Creamy hawthorn blossom festoons spiky branches.

Reaching a lane called Summer Cross I climb up out of the valley, reducing pace so that I can plod on without stopping. Rising to the plateau I notice a  wide verge near an overgrown gateway and realise that several years ago I parked at this very spot before hiking down Monk's Dale. It is strangely familiar.

The circle will soon be complete. At Cherry Tree Farm I stop to snap a picture of a fine, limestone farmhouse. Behind it there are two long lines of washing strung between trees. Pegged items flap languidly in the breeze. What would it be like to live in such a place?
Another mile. Along Monkdale Lane. The walls are tight on either side. Just room for one vehicle. Nowhere to pull in but no motor vehicles pass by. Halfway back to Wheston where Clint is waiting under a sycamore tree I see a lonesome cow in a small enclosure with two handsome brown and white calves dozing in the late spring sunshine.
Nature and the sights witnessed seep into one's consciousness during such a ramble. Balm for the soul.

29 May 2018

Dandruff

Forget global warming and the continuing threat of nuclear warfare because something far more sinister is sweeping across the western world. It is an epidemic, a veritable plague and no household in the land is immune from its deadly clutches.

What am I talking about? Dandruff of course. The title of this blogpost was a giveaway wasn't it?

But what is my evidence for this assertion? Well, I have visited several supermarkets in the past month, always making a beeline for the shampoo sections or aisles. And in every supermarket I was greeted by an array of anti-dandruff products.

As is well-known by shampoo scientists in white coats, ordinary shampoo is useless when it comes to tackling the dandruff curse. Dandruff can only be defeated by regular use of anti-dandruff shampoo - "Head and Shoulders" being the number one weapon in mankind's war upon the evil scalp condition.

How on earth did our ancestors endure their lives without the aid of anti-dandruff shampoos? They are a godsend, as miraculous as penicillin or the contraceptive pill. 

Have you got friends or family members who are quietly enduring the dandruff disease? They may be too ashamed or embarrassed to seek support. It is easy to spot sufferers because where ever they go it seems to be snowing and their clothes may appear to have been dusted with something resembling dessicated coconut.

Mankind strives to tackle cancer, weapons of mass destruction and the AIDS epidemic but where are the warriors who will take up the fight against dandruff? How much longer must we suffer?

28 May 2018

Island

After reading "The Northern Clemency" by Philip Hensher in Corfu, I began another novel and continued reading it throughout our three hour flight home. This second novel was written in 2005 and over the last decade it has been enjoyed by many thousands of readers.

The novel in question is "The Island" by Victoria Hislop. It is set in eastern Crete and the seeds for its creation  were sown during Mrs Hislop's first visit to the offshore island of Spinalonga.

For over fifty years Spinalonga was the location of a leper colony - populated by unfortunate victims of leprosy from both Crete and mainland Greece. When you were sent to Spinalonga there was no possibility of return - or so everyone thought until, in the mid-1950's a cure for leprosy was finally confirmed.
Spinalonga seen from Plaka
In 1957, the colony shut down for good and the island was left to wrack and ruin. It received very few visitors but since the success of "The Island" it has become a must-see destination for visitors to eastern Crete. Shirley and I were there in June 2015. To see my initial blogpost about our visit to Spinalonga, please go here.

The island and the nearby tiny port of Plaka are the main locations for what unravels in the novel. It is pretty well-researched and clearly Victoria Hislop came to know a great deal both about leprosy and the customs of eastern Crete. She uses this knowledge to embroider her tale of love, family loyalties, heartache and leprosy. The novel spans some fifty years.

Soft sod that I am, I found myself weeping as I turned some of the pages. The story is written with genuine humanity and tenderness. No wonder the novel has won so many admirers and I will wager that some readers of this blogpost read "The Island" years ago. Like "The Northern Conspiracy" it  is not Literature with a big "L" but a damned good read all the same.

27 May 2018

Engagement

Beloved Daughter and her beau are taking a three day break in Salzburg, Austria - away from their workaday lives in manic London.

Yesterday morning, they took a cable car ride up one of the surrounding mountains. I believe it was Untersberg. And there on the Alpine summit, Stewart got down on one knee in order to ask Frances to marry him. He had a beautiful diamond ring in his hand. Naturally, she said yes.

All of this came as no surprise to me because last Wednesday evening Stew phoned me, asking for permission to pop the question to Princess Pudding. I appreciated that traditional approach and advised him to pick a special moment, a moment they would always remember. Perhaps at the top of a mountain would be a good time to do it.

Frances has always been the most wonderful daughter - the apple of her father's eye. Caring, creative, intelligent, loyal and hard-working with a personal moral code that speaks of justice and fairness. Shirley and I are very lucky to have such a daughter and we are both delighted that she will be wedded to Stew before too many moons have passed by.

Over the phone I asked him if he really loved her and he said, "I love her very much". That says it all.

Excitedly, she phoned us from the top of the mountain soon after her affirmative response had been delivered. It is a gloriously happy moment she will remember forever. Such lovely news, filled with hope.

26 May 2018

Seahorse

This picture was taken in Indonesia by Justin Hofman. It appears in the June issue of "The National Geographic Magazine" in a feature that looks at the impact of waste plastics upon various natural environments. Hofman said that it is "a photo I wish didn't exist" but in my view it speaks loudly about the horror of plastic pollution. The past few months have seen the western world waking up to our plastic carelessness. Perhaps a shocking picture like this will help to turn that growing awareness  into positive remedial action. The mad plastic thing has gone on for far too long. It's time for change.

25 May 2018

Unfamiliarity

Your friendly correspondent went out for another country walk yesterday. The weather forecasters got it right. Morning cloud cover burned off to reveal a warm, blue sky afternoon.

I love to walk in unfamiliar territory, plodding along by-ways, paths and lanes that have never felt my boots before. This is why yesterday Clint and I drove north of Doncaster to a village called Kirk Smeaton. After parking the silver steed in Rectory Close, I donned those boots and set off to discover what sensory feast The Lord God Almighty had prepared for me to enjoy.

How delicious and heavy was the creamy hawthorn blossom, festooning ancient  hedgerows as I walked south to the long abandoned Hull and Barnsley railway. Then eastwards along Flea Lane and up to White Ley Plantation. I was heading for the village of Norton but noticed that a windmill was marked on my Ordnance Survey map sheet.

It is in fact the old Norton Tower Mill, now part of a desirable country residence protected by CCTV cameras and a frothy-mouthed and rather  loud Alsatian called Satan. There's a good boy Satan! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!...But he didn't get me.

Plodding by more hedges heavy with May blossom, I noticed a gap that seemed to frame the old windmill and I snapped the following photograph. It was the best one I took all afternoon and rather than cause distraction with other images, I have chosen to share it with you in splendid isolation:-
Though I say this myself, I think it sums up this beautiful Maytime in northern England quite perfectly.

By four thirty I was back at Rectory Close in Kirk Smeaton ready for the drive home. There spaghetti with meatballs was waiting to be prepared for our evening meal out in the sunshine. Nurse Pudding was already home. Clint would have to make do with unleaded petroleum.

24 May 2018

Clemency

On sunshine holidays and aeroplanes I often like to devour books. The holiday in Corfu was no different.

I took a book called "The Northern Clemency" by Philip Hensher, having spotted a copy of it when sorting out book donations in the upstairs rooms at my Oxfam shop. At 738 pages in length, it would certainly take some devouring.

"The Northern Clemency" is a novel - largely about suburban life in one of England's great northern cities. In fact that city is Sheffield and I could relate directly to most of the locations to which Hensher referred. With my intimate knowledge of a city I have lived and worked in since 1978 there were some minor jarring notes. For example, the author refers to the village of Orgreave on the edge of our city as a "town". This is where the great battle between striking coal miners and an army of police officers occurred on June 18th 1984. Nearly everybody in South Yorkshire knows that Orgreave was just an ugly industrial village with a big coking plant on its doorstep. It was never a town.

The novel spans some twenty years and follows the development of two families - the Glovers and the Sellers. They live on the same street between the suburbs of Broomhill and Crosspool. Hensher treats his characters with affection, revealing their differences and the things that make them tick as individuals. His love of humanity is palpable and though there is laughter to be found in this tome, readers are never invited to laugh at the characters. They cannot help who they are.

There are things I disagreed with - such as the way the miners' strike was portrayed - but this was a very readable and engaging novel. It's not heavy Literature with a big "L", nor is it filled with weighty philosophical notions. It is just about ordinary people rubbing along together, trying to be happy, trying to be true to themselves.

"Clemency" is not a word you come across every day. It means "mercy", "leniency" and "forgiveness".  Hensher shows clemency to his characters just as these inhabitants of the novel tend to forgive the mistakes and failings of others. Life is perhaps too short to be weighed down by the soul-sapping burden of habitual inclemency.

23 May 2018

Murderer

Habitually, I claim to respect all creatures and would certainly never harm a fly. In this sense, I feel I have unconsciously adopted a Buddhist attitude to non-human life. As a gardener, I always feel bad about disposing of slugs and snails but it has to be done. Often I just throw the munching snails into the green access lane at the bottom of our garden.

I remember a still summer day on a lake in Austria long ago. My younger brother, Simon and I had paddled a raft away from the shore. I had a length of orange sea fishing line with me - wrapped around a wooden "H". At the end of it were a dozen hooks. I put stale bread on them and threw the line into that crystal clear lake. I believe it was called Grundlsee.

Almost as soon as those hooks hit the water, a crowd of fish - probably arctic char - rose up from the depths below. Within seconds every hook had a fish upon it. I hauled my catch in - beautiful silvery creatures being rudely yanked from their aquatic environment.

They thrashed about alarmingly upon the floor of the raft and then I had no idea what to do. I think I was nine years old at the time. Frantically, I yelled to my two older brothers on the shoreline, "I've caught some fish! I've caught some fish! What should I do?"

Was it Robin or Paul who yelled back, "Bash'em on the head with your paddle!"? I don't recall but I do remember replying, "Bash em on the head? I can't do that!"

With the fish still showing their displeasure, we paddled the raft back to the lakeside and there our older siblings relieved the creatures of their misery. They were eaten for brumch in our caravan but I was still mourning their deaths and feeling guilty about what I had done so I refused the fish.

Wind forward fifty five years and we are in our first floor hotel room in Corfu. Every night some ten or twelve mosquitoes find their way into our little space. They are on the ceiling or in the bathroom or lurking in the curtains.

I have a rolled up a copy of "The Times" and I am no longer a hippy Buddhist lover of life, cradling butterflies or feeding garden birds - no - I am now a ruthless killer. I show no mercy as I whack the little bastards. Sometimes they are filled with blood. I crush two on the mirror and whipping a bath towel I bring stray mosquitoes down from the ceiling, pursuing them  to the bitter end. I feel elated with each death and deflated whenever they get away.

It's a nightly hunting expedition. Though I recognise the inconsistencies in my moral code and in relation to my usual attitude towards living creatures, I feel no shame in being a mosquito assassin. After all - what is the point of these whining little creatures that have brought so much distress to the human race? We are at war with these hypodermic devls and in Corfu I confess that I murdered them without regret.

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?