30 June 2018

Scotland

Image result for garlieston scotland
We are off to south west Scotland this morning. We will be staying there for a week. I am hoping to blog from there. See you later alligator!

29 June 2018

Telephones

The final and concluding part of Yorkshire Pudding's fascinating foray 
into the world of telecommunications.
PART THREE
Nowadays we have five house phones. Three of them are wireless and need regular recharging. There's one upstairs in our bedroom, one in the study, one in the dining room, one in the lounge and a wall-phone in the kitchen. To dial numbers, you no longer have to wait for the circular dial to return to its starting position. We have push buttons for the numbers and besides, the phone receivers already contain our "favourite" numbers and we can use "redial" to phone back recent recipients of our calls.

In the past two decades the use of mobile or cell phones has of course become widespread. Mobile phone technology has revolutionised communication in previously unthinkable ways. More and more people are turning to smart phones that provide far more than phone call connectivity or the opportunity to text like a dervish. The modern smartphone is in fact a miniature computer with internet access as well as excellent camera technology.

My son and daughter have grown up with mobile phones and can hardly conceive of life without them. With their phones they can order "Uber" taxis, order takeaway food via "Just Eat" and find their way around places - either walking or driving. You can use a smartphone as a compass or a spirit level. You can find out what time it is in Sydney, Australia or what the weather is currently like in Outer Mongolia. Think of a question, any question and your smartphone will probably lead you to the answer.

It's a kind of magic I know but I have never owned a smartphone or indeed any kind of mobile phone. I have never sent a text message or used any kind of phone app. It's just that in the way I have lived my life, I never felt that I really needed a mobile phone. It was never a conscious choice, it just emerged this way. After all, for most of my adult life I managed perfectly well before mobile phone technology began to take over the world.

All of us have attitudes to mobile phones - whether we have one or have never possessed one.

I get angry whenever I see the driver of a motor vehicle speaking on the phone or even texting. This terrible habit has led to many road deaths and injuries. It is surely as bad as drink driving. I also get concerned about people walking across roads while talking on their mobiles and simply walking down the street while nattering into a mobile can be an open invitation to phone muggers.

Last New Year's Eve, Shirley and I took Frances and Stew to "Nando's" on Ecclesall Road for our last meal of the year. A family of six came to sit at the adjacent table and as they waited for their orders to arrive all six were separately engrossed in their phones - not communicating as a family but linking with the world beyond that restaurant - Facebook, games, sports, e-mails, dating sites and the like. I found this horrifying but perhaps that's just me. 

The smartphone revolution is a worldwide phenomenon  that has largely passed me by though I have of course always been watching it from the sidelines. It has its negatives as well as its many positives. Who knows? Maybe one day I will feel the need to have  my own mobile phone but  until that day comes I am happy to continue living slightly off the radar, somewhat disconnected from all the babble - happy to not be contributing to the behemoths who have profited enormously from this social and technological revolution.

28 June 2018

Hare

On the high moors of Bleaklow, north of The Snake Pass, I moved quietly from one area of unnamed rocks to another situated two hundred yards to the south east. I had already walked for four or five miles in the mid-summer sunshine and I was looking for a place to rest where I would eat my apple and drink some water.

I moved quietly and looking south over the treeless wilderness, something caught my eye to the right - about twenty yards away. It was a mountain hare standing stock still amidst the moorland grasses and bog cotton. Lepus timidus is a well-named creature for hares are understandably wary of human beings and indeed most other creatures including foxes, stoats and airborne raptors.
Slowly, I reached for my camera like a hunter reaching for his gun. But unlike the hunter I didn't wish to blast that beautiful hare to smithereens. I just wanted to capture his image there in his familiar moorland environment. Peaceful. Enjoying the sunshine. Taking a rest from his endless grazing.

It was a rare privilege and the highlight of my five hour moorland ramble. On the way home, I pulled into the car park of the remote Snake Pass Inn where I treated to myself to a nice chilled pint of bitter shandy. Nectar of the gods.

27 June 2018

Telephones

Yorkshire Pudding's fascinating foray into the world of 
telecommunications. A three part series.

PART TWO

Old red phone box in Fenny Bentley, Derbyshire
Before the mobile phone plague struck this planet, most households had just one phone. It was almost impossible to have truly private telephone conversations because the rest of the family would be listening in.

As a teenager, I would often make use of the red village  phonebox  to achieve some measure of privacy and usually I would be conversing with another teenager - normally of the female persuasion - speaking from another public phone kiosk in a different village or town.

In 1972 and 1973 I was a volunteer teacher on a remote South Pacific island. Nobody had telephones and in fact there was only one radio telephone on the entire island for making official or emergency calls to Viti Levu - the main island in the Fijian archipelago. To contact loved ones you had to write letters even though the island was only visited by official ships six times a year.

At university in Scotland between 1973 and 1977, I mostly stayed in campus accommodation. Each block had a couple of payphones on the ground floor. If I remembered, every couple of weeks I would phone home to Yorkshire. That was my only link back to my family and of course they couldn't phone me. There really wasn't much telephoning going on in those days. If you wished to speak with friends you went round and knocked on their doors.

Not long after  I first came to Sheffield, I live in a bedsitter - nowadays a "studio" (ha!) in a Victorian house with six other residents. After much petitioning, the avaricious landlord had a payphone installed on the ground floor. This was a great boon to our lives for it meant that no longer would we have to trudge three hundred yards to the nearest phone box on wet winter nights.

I met Shirley in late 1979 and the following year we moved into a little flat together. We had no phone there so it was back to the red phone kiosks once more. In 1981 we were married - the same year as Prince Charles and Diana Spencer - though our celebrations were slightly less lavish. After a one night honeymoon in Lincoln we moved into our first house together. In fact I carried her over the threshold in the traditional manner and soon afterwards we had a lovely green telephone installed courtesy of British Telecom.

It looked just like this:-

26 June 2018

Promotion


I know that some of you are waiting with bated breath for Part Two of Yorkshire Pudding's fascinating foray into the world of telecommunication. However, just as when  we are watching a gripping TV programme, our enjoyment is frequently interrupted by commercials and this post is an unashamed commercial for a blog recently launched by my surrogate sister in Colorado. It's called "The Autumn of My Life" and it's by Donna (aka Peace Thyme).

Peace Thyme has had other blogs so "The Autumn of my Life" is a kind of re-launch. She may need a little encouragement to keep her new blog going. After all, there's little point in blogging if hardly anyone is reading your blogposts.

This is what Peace Thyme says in her sidebar - "I have always thought I had nine lives. I think I have now used up seven. I tried very hard in the first 70 years to be a great daughter, friend, wife, mother, educator, volunteer and citizen. I am looking forward to the next 20 years, if I should be so lucky. So this blog will be about remembering and about looking forward. Want to come along?"

To visit "The Autumn of My Life", please go here:-  https://peacethyme2.blogspot.com/

25 June 2018

Telephones

Yorkshire Pudding's fascinating foray into the world of telecommunications. A three part series.

PART ONE
In the year before I was born, my parents had a new telephone installed in the village school house where we lived. It was a black bakelite phone and it sat on the window sill of our bay window looking almost identical to the telephone pictured above.

If the phone ever rang, we would pick up the receiver and say "Leven 272" for that was our number though why we had to begin any telephone conversation with this information remains a mystery to me.

In days before telephone codes we could directly  phone anybody in our village who was also lucky enough to have a telephone but if we wished to  phone say London or Hull we had to go through the operator. You reached her by dialling the "0" button and she would say, "Operator. Which number do you require?"

We moved from the school house when I was seventeen. My parents had only rented it and we went to live in a bungalow on one of the new housing estates that had sprung up in the village during the sixties. The same old black telephone was left sitting on the window sill and as far as I know it is still sitting there to this very day.

Just as an aside here, I recall that when my football team were playing away matches or mid-week matches I couldn't get to, I would phone up the Hull City Score Service during the course of the match to receive score updates. And when I think of it I would also phone up a "Star Disc" service to listen to newly released pop singles. Well, I think it was called "Star Disc" or  did I just make that name up? It was via "Star Disc" that I first heard "Albatross" and "Hurdy Gurdy Man" in 1968.

By 1971 the use of area dialling codes had made telephone exchanges and operator services largely redundant. In the new house we had a cream plastic telephone installed and preceding our old number (272) an area code had now been added.

My father died of heart failure in 1979 and my mother moved out of the estate house in 1982 to a smaller estate house in the same village. She left the cream telephone behind but had got eleven years use out of it. It was identical to this one:-

24 June 2018

Internment

In both the film and stage versions of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" there is a scary character called The Child Catcher. The Child Catcher is employed by Baron Bomburst and Baroness Bomburst to snatch and imprison children on the streets of Vulgaria.

In the past week I guess we have all become aware of what has been going on at the US/Mexico border with regard to the tightening of immigration controls. For the past six weeks as would-be immigrant parents have been arrested, their children have been taken separately to glorified internment camps. It is estimated that some 2300 children suffered and are still suffering this traumatic separation.

Who is looking after these children? What are they eating? What are their sleeping arrangements? Who is counselling them? Are the adults who are charged with detaining the children suitably trained? What qualifications do they have?

When all is said and done, it is not the children who decided to up sticks and travel to the US/Mexico border in search of a better life in the land of milk and honey now led by Trump. The children are innocent so why should they be imprisoned in such dubious and ill-considered circumstances?

I think of those children - confused, in a foreign land - not knowing where their parents are or when they might meet again, far from the homes they knew back in Guatemala or Nicaragua or Mexico or Colombia or... The children are surrounded by other children - themselves strangers from other lands. I think of children sobbing themselves to sleep or frozen with terror.

One of the worst things about this cruel mess is that it appears the US authorities do not have clear documentation to link all the children with their parents with regard to current locations, family names etcetera. It is possible that some of the children may never see their parents again unless much more strenuous efforts are made to bring families back together.

It's a shameful business, really shameful and even Trump now seems to realise that he has gone too far. It's one thing imprisoning illegal immigrants but it is another thing entirely taking away their children and putting them separately into secure encampments.

You wonder what the world is coming to when things like this can happen right under our noses. America is meant to be about liberty and huddled masses, a land of opportunity and hope - not a country where innocent children cry themselves to sleep in bunk beds because of  The Real Life Child Catcher.

23 June 2018

Gawthorpe

Gawthorpe Water Tower was constructed almost a hundred years ago.
Yesterday, every square mile of England was bathed in beautiful June sunshine from dawn till dusk. The sky was blue. Unseen birds twittered in hedgerows. 

In another life, my working life, I would have looked out from my classroom window wishing that I could be out in the sunshine following ancient paths to distant farms. Instead I was trapped with 4C or 2HS - making sense of written words, fighting against the odds. Teaching kids who lived in social housing and had narrow horizons was always challenging.

But yesterday I was free. Free to drive up to a village just south of Leeds - Gawthorpe. I parked Clint and put my boots on. Then, after guzzling a bottle of spring water I set off chomping an apple. I had six or seven miles to go in another big circle.

Who knew what I would see along the way?  The pictures included with this post give you a little sense of  how this ramble turned out. It was such a lovely afternoon.
Old farm cottages in West Ardsley
Canine chums in Ardsley Reservoir
Trinity Church, Ossett
I liked the shadows below this signage
Elderberry blossom near Low Park Farm
Red Lodge Farm
P.S. I forgot to mention this little incident from yesterday's walk. There's a rarely trodden grassy track that leads north to Ardsley Reservoir. As I proceeded along it, through the knee high grasses I noticed a human head bobbing several yards in front of me.  A middle aged man was sitting in the grass, probably imagining that he would be undisturbed. Immediately, I suspected that he might be sunbathing in the nude or possibly exercising his wedding tackle. I coughed loudly to warn him I was arriving. Startled, he pulled a  black T-shirt across his lap and as I passed by I  greeted him though for obvious reasons I did not wish to stop for a friendly chat.

Ladies and indeed fellows from foreign climes should be advised that this kind of behaviour is uncharacteristic of Yorkshire gentlemen. Generally speaking, we do not lounge by public rights of way - stark naked playing with our penises. It's highly likely that that man was from  Lancashire where I understand that such behaviour is fairly widespread.

22 June 2018

Farewell

It was time to say goodbye to Richard at the local crematorium yesterday afternoon. The place was packed and the ceremony was non-religious, officiated by a humanist celebrant.

Richard had lived and worked in Sheffield all his life. He married and raised a family here. His house is but two hundred yards from the house he was born in, just round the corner from our house.

Since childhood he had borne the nickname Bean because when he was in primary school he was the bean bag monitor. Bean bags were sometimes used in physical education in place of balls. If you threw a bean bag across the school hall it wouldn't bounce away. The name Bean just stuck and he couldn't cast it off.

Apart from football, Richard also loved opera and had a fine singing voice. He had been an active member of several operatic societies through the years and plenty of his old opera friends attended the gathering at the crematorium.

Halfway through the ceremony, the celebrant invited those who knew the song "Eagle High" to stand and sing it. Songsheets were provided. It is a song I had never heard before. It comes from a less well-known opera by Gilbert and Sullivan called "Utopia Limited".

Forget the guy at the beginning of this YouTube clip. That part was omitted as about forty people rose to sing "Eagle High" for Richard or as they knew him - Bean. It was very moving and very personal. They sang their hearts out in love and respect for a friend who lived with gusto, positivity and humour:-

21 June 2018

Connection

I was touched by most of the comments upon yesterday's blogpost - "Sometimes". People can be so nice, so thoughtful.

One comment stood out for me. It came from Bonnie in Missouri, USA. She articulated one of the best and most powerful features of blogging - seeing it as a vehicle for better understanding between nations and individuals. When we communicate through blogging we by-pass official channels of international  discourse. We are ordinary citizens just getting along and learning about each other. That's surely a very good thing and a little anarchic too.

Bonnie said:-

"You find a lot in blogs today but for me I most appreciate the opportunities they give us all. There is so much in this world today to be concerned about but I feel if only we could all reach out to one another on a personal level as we see done in blogs that possibly we could cross some of the barriers that are put in front of us today. Blogs bring us together across the world and show us that no matter where we live or what we believe we are all more alike than different."

Of course there are many specific blog categories out there producing blogs that are purely informational or instructional. Blogs about cooking, cars or craftwork. Blogs about astronomy, astrology or antiques. Such blogs have their place but they are very different from the general blogs that I and no doubt Bonnie prefer - blogs in which people reveal themselves and reflect on the circumstances of their lives. 

20 June 2018

Sometimes

Sometimes I  switch this laptop on ready to make a blogpost and then I realise that I haven't mentally earmarked a subject to blog about. I have nothing to say.

Next Monday, it will be thirteen years since the birth of "Yorkshire Pudding". Over the years I have covered a lot of ground. Country walks and holidays, film and book reviews, flights of fancy and world events, memories and family matters, poetry and paintings... etcetera... etcetera.

This blog has echoed my life. Like a best friend it has held my hand as we have stepped forward together through the passing years.

This particular post is blogpost number 2753. I hate to calculate the number of hours I have devoted to this pastime. Sometimes I think I should have used all that time and energy on something else such as the writing of fiction with a view to publication. Instead, I just kept tapping away. Blogging.

It has been a pleasurable and helpful outlet and it still delights me enormously that I have made so many contacts with visitors from around the world. This wasn't something I anticipated when I wrote my very first sentence on June 25th 2005 -  "So this is England in mid-summer."

So this is England in mid-summer. Sometimes I switch this laptop on ready to make a blogpost. In these early hours of another June morning I think I may have succeeded. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being part of this blogging journey.

19 June 2018

Pub

In the limestone country of the High Peak, the main road from Stoney Middleton soon brings you to the hamlet of Wardlow Mires. There is a very old pub there. It is called "The Three Stags' Heads Inn".

Nowadays it is only open to customers at weekends. I have driven or walked past it a hundred times or more but I had never been inside it until Sunday afternoon.

I pushed open the old wooden door to find a roaring log fire burning in an old-fashioned kitchen range. Seven people were sitting in the small room on  a variety of seats and ahead of me was a small wooden bar with  three beer pumps on the counter. Two bright-eyed whippets and a wire-haired Jack Russell  were also present.

I ordered half a pint of "Daily Bread" and turned to observe my fellow customers more closely.  They clearly knew each other and seemed a little surprised that a stranger had entered their midst.

An old man with long white hair and an unkempt white beard had a copy of "The Sunday Times" open on his lap. He was siting in an ancient Windsor chair with spindles. Across from him was another bearded man in a black T-shirt. These words were printed on the front of it - "Not Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting". Sitting next to him was his missus in a red anorak. 

A ruddy-faced local man was  comfortably settled into  his corner seat and on the window seat was the owner of the Jack Russell. His thin-haired companion tried to convince me that the dog owner was Ronan Keating of Boyzone fame but it was just a joke. 

There was a second room on the other side of the fire, A few more customers were drinking in there and there were two stuffed foxes. This was the very opposite of a designer pub. The yard thick walls were painted dark green and there were old pictures of peakland scenes upon the walls.
Returning to the first room, there was a curious stuffed hare in the window. He was on his hind legs and holding a small rifle. Behind the ruddy-faced man in that dark corner there was a glass case containing a mummified cat. I was informed that it had been discovered in a wall cavity during  repair work in Victorian times. It is believed that the cat had been placed in the wall to ward off evil spirits when the pub was built at the start of the seventeenth century.

I was only inside "The Three Stags' Heads Inn" for ten minutes but in that short time I had spoken to everyone in the bar room and learnt a good deal about the history of the  pub. It would have been nice to buy another beer and blend in with the locals, whiling away the rest of the afternoon but I had to get back to the wedding venue search party.
The mummified cat

18 June 2018

Venues

Hargate Hall - just one of the wedding venues we visited. There's Clint on the left.
This weekend we were looking at possible wedding venues foe Frances and Stew. We visited ten locations and connected with every one there were both pluses and minuses.

At one end of the spectrum there was a luxurious country hotel with magnificent views. The "package" on offer was complete so that the happy couple would have been relieved of all wedding reception planning concerns. It would have all been done for them.

At the other end of the spectrum there was a rather dog-eared community work centre. It looked pretty good on the website with a silver Rolls Royce motor car parked outside the Georgian building but the reality was rather different.

Seeing the different venues with their pros and cons and costings helped Frances and Stew visualise the kind of wedding celebrations they would really like.

They plan to get married in a church - partly out of respect for Stew's father who is a vicar in The Church of England. Then they want the reception to have a personalised, laid back quality with accommodation on site. We were worried about the prospect of renting a marquee, given both the cost of  it and anxiety about the vagaries of our weather.

We have a coarse expression in the north of England  - "taking the piss". It is often applied in situations where companies or individuals seek to exploit or "rip off" their prey. In the world of wedding venues it appears that "taking the piss" is widespread.

For example, at one venue they said they charged £16 per bottle "corkage" if the happy couple wished to provide their own wine! At other venues the "corkage" ranged from £6 per bottle to £12. What an unmitigated rip off! Clearly a device designed to discourage families from providing their own wine and instead pay over the odds for the venue's own wine bottles.

At one of the venues they talked about evening food provision long after the wedding breakfast. The cost of one roast pork sandwich would have been £21 ($28 US). With a hundred wedding guests the roast pork sandwich bill alone would have been £2100. Now that really is "taking the piss".

Anyway, I learnt many things I did not know about wedding venues - a whole new world to me. When Shirley and I got married in 1981 it was all so much more simple. There were hardly any decisions to be made. Here's the church. Here's the pub. Here's the buffet menu. Here's the bill. It was just like that. Now it's very different.

Thankfully, in the end, the happy couple returned to London having reserved a place in The Peak District. Hopefully, all will be well at this chosen venue in late August of next year and hopefully the father of the bride will still be around to make a coherent, funny and heartfelt speech.

17 June 2018

Running

When I was a lad nobody went running or jogging. There were no training shoes and no one had ever heard of  sports brands like "Adidas", "Nike" or "Reebok". If such companies did exist we had never heard of them and nobody sprinted past in day-glo coloured lycra.

However, most secondary schools organised cross country runs that took place on bitterly cold mornings in late autumn. On our feet we wore football boots or canvas shoes that were known as plimsolls or sandshoes. They were especially water absorbent.

I detested cross country runs even though I was a keen rugby player. As  a rugby wing forward or hooker, the running was all about short bursts followed by little rests - not arduous and continuous forays through mud past leafless hawthorn hedgerows up around The Black Mill on Beverley Westwood. My lungs threatened to  burst through my rib cage. It was torture.

As a teenage schoolboy I had to travel by bus into Hull or Beverley every morning. Many of those mornings saw me sprinting two hundred yards down to the village  bus stop. There was never any time to spare. Nowadays I would never run for a bus. Apart from anything else I would be anxious about damaging my troublesome right knee and returning to square one in The Game of Pain.

No. I don't run anywhere these days. I just plod around like an Asian elephant upon a jungle track. But I notice so many runners around me - flashing by in the park or overtaking me on country lanes. There are runners everywhere. It's like an epidemic of running. Tight outfits, ear phones, plastic water bottles, face-hugging sun glasses and electronic wrist monitors that they stop to check out every mile or so.

Somewhat grudgingly, I guess I should say it's a very good thing. More people keeping their bodies in shape, keeping their hearts pounding, burning off extra calories. It's surely better than watching "Love Island" on the television while munching slices of pizza. However, if the running fashion had been around in my younger days, I very much doubt that I would have subscribed. Orange lycra simply does not suit me.

16 June 2018

Heroes

There's too much hero worshipping in this world. Often I have eschewed the very idea of heroes. It's the man or the woman in the street that I admire the most - decent people who forge decent lives in obscurity - pay bills, put food on the table, get up and go to work day after day after day. They are the real heroes, fighting the good fight.

Nonetheless, there are a few well-known people that I genuinely admire for different reasons. Dead heroes of mine include Captain James Cook, the Yorkshire mariner and explorer and Emily Bronte the Yorkshire writer who died far too young in 1848 at the tender age of thirty. Who knows what she would have achieved if she had lived a ,long and healthy life?

My living heroes include Bob Dylan, David Hockney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Amy Goodman  and Chris Packham.
Top - Chris Packham, Bob Dylan, Amy Goodman
Middle - Cristiano Ronaldo, Emily Bronte
Bottom - James Cook, David Hockney
I once saw the words "Dylan is God" written on a lavatory wall and I am inclined to agree with that summary. As an artist Yorkshire-born Hockney has never stopped growing, innovating, experimenting  and he doesn't give a fig about what critics might say for he is true to his Art.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal is simply the greatest ever footballer and I thought this long before he scored his hat trick against Spain in The World Cup yesterday evening. He is blessed with natural talent and the kind of self-belief that borders on pure arrogance.

Amy Goodman is the heart and soul of "Democracy Now" an American  news organisation that  illuminates social and political issues which other news organisations tend to blot out for all manner of reasons. She is dignified and persistent in her mission - pushing for justice and better understanding day after day.

Finally, there's Chris Packham - an English writer and TV broadcaster who specialises in programmes about wildlife - especially birds. His passion is infectious and he has fought many battles against the forces that threaten wildlife. He was even arrested in Malta for protesting about men who shoot precious migrating birds for no good reason in the name of sport.

Who are your well-known heroes and why?

15 June 2018

Victory

Letter to Haringey Council in London
May 2nd 2018

Re, PCN Number HP85049555
Dear Sir/Madam,
On Thursday April 19th, my wife and I drove down to Wood Green and parked close to our daughter’s flat. She moved into Disraeli Avenue just last month. A few days before our visit she had posted us a parking permit.
She was at work when we arrived and the idea was that we would park our car and then travel into the centre of London by tube in order to attend a family event in Borough  Market
Believing that the permit she had sent us would cover our parking right up to 6.30pm I was startled to note that it was in fact a two hour permit and not an all day permit. Exasperated, my wife and I were talking about the matter when another motorist appeared having overheard some of our conversation.
Very kindly – or so we thought – he offered us his own all day permit which I think he must have used earlier that day. It was such a relief and we left this permit on our dashboard before heading to Wood Green underground station.
We were astonished when, that night,  we discovered a parking ticket on our windscreen. Straight away I deduced that I should not have accepted the other motorist’s kind offer
I am enclosing a letter written by my daughter confirming that we were visiting her – a resident of  Disraeli Avenue.
I hope you will be able to show some compassion and in this instance, having heard about the circumstances consider waiving the parking fine. Up here in Sheffield all parking permits for visitors are for a full day and never just an hour or two hours. That factor also partly explains our mistake.
Yours sincerely,

Yorkshire Pudding
_________________________________________________

Letter from Haringey Council received yesterday morning

Consequently I do not have to pay the threatened £110 pound fine. Hurrah! And I can place Haringey Council's response in my "V for Victory" files - alongside successes achieved in battles with Georgia State Police (Monroe County), Florida State Police (Franklin County), New Zealand Police (Greymouth) and the  Xercise-4-Less gym in Sheffield. I put all of these victories down to the power of the written word. A well-composed letter can still speak powerfully in one's defence.

14 June 2018

Sleepless

Unusually,  I could not sleep so I crept downstairs to make a mug of tea. A couple of McVities ginger nut biscuits would have been a welcome accompaniment but there were none in the cupboard so I made do with a bag of Smith's plain crisps instead.

For the past forty minutes I was looking for suitable holiday accommodation for Baroness Pudding and I. We hope to go away at the start of next month - somewhere on this island - but why is everything so expensive? Hell, for less than the price of most of these places we flew to Corfu last month and had breakfasts and evening meals too. Living inland we would naturally like to be beside the sea.

It's what they call a first world problem.

Yesterday afternoon, my manager at Oxfam - Catherine - shared a heart-warming tale. Her son came over from Manchester last weekend and he spotted her "Bosh!" book on the coffee table. He recognised our Ian's name from primary school and he told his mother that once he was playing in the corner of the playground when some other boys of his age were giving him a hard time - teasing and bullying as little boys will sometimes do. 

Some older boys were playing football but when he saw what was happening in the corner, one of the footballers came over and intervened - telling the little bullies to behave themselves and to treat Catherine's son with kindness. That boy was our Ian. Catherine's son said that that simple act of kindness had been imprinted her son's mind forever. This incident must have happened almost twenty five years ago. 

The story was so precious and I am very happy that Catherine shared it with me. When Ian next picks up his dumb smartphone I will of course relate the story to him too.

Sleepless in Seattle Sheffield... It's moving on to 3 a.m.. I wonder if I will be able to sleep now. What do you do if you cannot sleep?

13 June 2018

Virgin

"Virgin territory" - that's how I describe areas where I have not walked or taken pictures for the "Geograph" photo mapping project. These days to reach virgin territory I need to travel far from Sheffield.

And that's how it was on Monday morning. There was a strong possibility of rain showers east, south and north of the city so I headed west. Out across The Peak District towards the High Peak town of Buxton. I aimed to park in the village of Harpur Hill which came into being because of limestone quarrying in the surrounding hills. This utilitarian place sits just north of the national park boundary. Beyond that line almost all quarrying activity is prohibited.

At 11 am my boots were tied and I was off on an eight mile ramble. Up to Countess Cliff Farm and then along a track where I met two men - a father and son who were in the process of shearing a section of their flock. I stopped for a while to talk and they were happy to let me snap a few pictures.

"What's it like in that theer Sheffield then?" asked the younger man as he yanked an uncomplaining ewe into the shearing position. 
They had lived their entire lives up there surrounded by sheep pastures and limestone workings. While I was mustering awkward adolescents in classrooms they were repairing drystone walls and watching the weather - assisting the lambing process while I marked exercise books at two in the morning. Different lives.
Onwards to the now disused Stanley Moor Reservoir and then on to Turncliff and Thirkelow. It seems that I was in fact circling a big government installation - The Health and Safety Executive Campus where there are laboratories and testing sites for all manner of things and events such as train crashes and explosions. 

Then I turned up to the lane that leads to Earl Sterndale. I passed Buxton Raceway - located on the bleak limestone plateau. It's here that speedway meets happen throughout the summer. The stadium is home to The Buxton Hitmen. Their next home fixture is versus Birmingham Brummies on July 8th.
Ticket booth at Buxton Speedway Track
I plodded on towards Hillhead Quarry. There were two parked cars  on the grassy slopes above. Wives of retirement age were sitting in deck chairs chatting while their boyish husbands flew whining model aeroplanes over the landscape.

Then on to Stalker Hill and under a disused railway track on the way back down to Harpur Hill where I stopped at the "News Food and Wine" village store for a pint of milk and a cheese and onion sandwich - all quickly consumed while sitting on a wooden bench outside "Harpur Plaice" fish and chip shop. Clint was waiting patiently for my return.
On our way home I stopped on the outskirts of the delightful peakland village of Chelmorton to take a picture of Chelmorton Low where an England football supporter has arranged the  name of our country in limestone rocks upon the green sward. England play their first game against Tunisia next Monday evening at The Volograd Arena. Come on England! Come on!

12 June 2018

History

TRUMP So Kimmy, how come you're not wearing a nice tie and a white shirt like me?
KIM In Korea, black suits like this are all the rage Don.
TRUMP Well there's no way I would wear a suit like that dude!  It sucks!
KIM Shall we have a drink before we get started?
TRUMP Sure. I'll have a Dr Pepper.
KIM Let's see. Okay. They got me apple tea as I  commanded.
TRUMP Is there a bag of cheesy pretzels?
KIM Here Don. Catch!
TRUMP Oops! Hey don't laugh Kim! It was your throw.
KIM Butterfingers! Ha-ha!
TRUMP Screw you!
Pause
KIM I hear you like golf.
TRUMP Sure do Kim. I've got  four top, top quality courses. And some people say that if I wasn't the President of The Greatest Country on Earth  I'd be a shoo-in for the US Ryder cup team.
KIM I also like golf. I like to play "Golf Star" on my cell phone.
TRUMP Have you got any courses in Pong...Peong...your capital city?
KIM Only crazy-golf in my garden. I  have a windmill and a see-saw at hole number seven.
TRUMP Maybe I could build you a  fantastic, fabulous course in Pong... Peegone...
KIM Pynongyang.
TRUMP Yeah that.
KIM A proper golf course? You could do that for me...I mean... for the Korean people?
TRUMP No problemo Mr Kim. We'll call it  The Trump Pong Course.
KIM  What have I got to do?
TRUMP Just sign here on the dotard line.
KIM What's it say?
TRUMP It says, "I promise to get rid of  all  of our nasty nuclear weapons and I sincerely apologise for calling The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth a "dotard" "
KIM You're so sensitive! Will there be a club house with a nineteenth hole?
TRUMP Sure. Sure Kim. And it will be beautiful, so so beautiful and there'll be an amazing  fountain in the driveway and a historic statue of you and me shaking hands on this momentous day. It will be made from genuine American fibreglass but we'll have it sprayed gold.
KIM There. It's signed. Now that we have got the boring stuff done, how about an arm wrestling match Don? After all we have got three hours to kill.
TRUMP No problemo. I'll beat the shit out of you Little Rocket Man!
KIM Best of three!

 (They remove their jackets)

11 June 2018

McKee

Pete McKee is a Sheffield artist. Born in 1966, his unfussy artwork is characterised by humour and nostalgia as he explores imagery from his life in this northern city. It is a city that he loves and hailing from a working class community he is out to create affectionate paintings of that world. He is not an outsider looking in. He is an insider looking out.

Pete McKee sometimes visits my local pub with two or three of his mates. Last year he survived a life-saving liver transplant. Next month his new exhibition "This Class Works" will open in a former school building on Burton Road. I am very much looking forward to visiting it. If you would like to learn more about Pete McKee, please go here. In the meantime, here are some examples of his work:
"Old Cobble Nose"
"The Snog" - mural on the wall of Fagan's pub

10 June 2018

Grave

The Harrison family grave last Thursday evening
At Beeston, Leeds - close to those back-to-back terraces I photographed - there's a graveyard called Holbeck Cemetery. 

I have know about this burial place for years because it was the inspiration for a very controversial poem by the Leeds poet Tony Harrison (born 1937). That poem is entitled "V". It focuses upon the Harrison family grave but it is not a poem of sweet reverence

The poet notices that the graveyard is "now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti". It is an angry, reflective and rambling poem delivered in over a hundred rhyming four line verses. He says:-
When I first came here 40 years ago
With my dad to 'see my grandma' I was seven.
I helped dad with the flowers. He let me know
She'd gone to join my granddad up in Heaven.

But as the poem advances there's a growing sense of frustration and anger. Harrison observes the cemetery's neglect and he reflects upon the way that life is changing and the mentality of those who would vandalise a graveyard. He turns some of that anger upon himself .. 

As "The Guardian" once described it, "V" is indeed  "a timeless portrayal of working class aspiration". There are echoes of the past, the present and the future. Harrison has moved away from Leeds but this place is in his blood and he even contemplates being laid to rest here. What might be inscribed in his memory?

For readers of a prudish nature, I should warn you that if  you wish to investigate this poem, it contains numerous profane words that in my view, help to nail the anger and capture the linguistic poverty of frustrated working class youth - people without hope or route maps to the future.

But why inscribe these graves with CUNT and SHIT? 
Why choose neglected tombstones to disfigure? 
This pitman's of last century daubed PAKI GIT, 
This grocer Broadbent's aerosolled with NIGGER?

The poem was famously and controversially  aired on Channel 4 in 1986. Written during the coal miners' strike of 1984/85, it is a poem for our times. Not safe and saccharine but bitter, confused and questioning, pushing boundaries, getting to the nub of things. It is a poetic tour de force and if you are interested, open-minded and have half an hour to spare, here it is.
The same grave seen from a different angle

9 June 2018

Housing

There is another England. Not the England of pomp and ceremony, of Downton Abbey and swans  gliding under overhanging willows, not the England of hedgerows and haystacks or even the England of pop stars and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. This is the secret England. The oft-forgotten England of hardship and debt, takeaway meals and poor housing, soap operas on the television and banging on the walls to  tell your neighbours to quieten down.

On Beeston Hill in Leeds, overlooking the Elland Road football stadium that I visited on Thursday evening, there are several rows of Victorian back-to-back housing. Streets such as Noster Place and Marley View. You could visit them on Google Streetview if you were so inclined.
Let me explain back-to-back housing. The houses stand in terraces with neighbours' homes connected  to the left and right. However, behind each terrace there is another row of houses and these are also connected so that means that as well as having neighbours to the left and right you are connected to the neighbours behind you as well.

What the back-to-back phenomenon also means is that you have no rear windows and no yard or small garden at the back. Nowadays these houses have internal bathrooms with flushing toilets but when they were first built residents had communal privies that served the entire street.
As there are no back yards, drying washing has always been a challenge. Inventively, many housewives learnt to string washing lines across their streets and even now, in 2018 some people still follow this practice. As I walked around Beeston before the England match, I also saw residents sitting outside their front doors enjoying the evening sunshine because of course they couldn't sit outside their non-existent back doors.

Sheffield's back-to-back streets were razed many years ago but Leeds still has plenty of them. They were initially seen as a cheap and profitable way of housing the poor with rents going to either the local council or to private landlords. Even today there are few owner occupiers.

Perhaps next time you think of England with our lambs grazing on hillsides, our biscuit tin lid cottages and our ancient castles, you might also spare a thought for the residents of Leeds's back-to-back streets - both past and present - for this is also England.