20 July 2019

Fizziness

We like fizzy water - otherwise known as soda water. It's a guilty secret.

On Thursday evening I visited the "Argos" counter within "Sainsbury's" to exchange two "Sodastream"  CO2 gas canisters. I never guessed how expensive this transaction would be with a fresh canister costing £14.99 or about US$20. Our son Ian bought us the "Sodastream" unit as a Christmas present saying, "Yow won't need to buy bottles of fizzy water any more!"

Now I have discovered that buying two litre bottles of fizzy water from Lidl was far more economical than using the Sodastream. At Lidl their two litre bottles cost 19 pence each - around twenty five US cents. It is hard to weigh up the comparative environmental costs on this one.

Okay the Lidl water comes in plastic bottles but we were always assiduous about recycling them. The Sodastream canisters have to be transported to the UK Sodastream plant many miles away and then brought back. Sodastream have created a kind of monopoly and their environmental credentials are not as convincing as they might at first appear. As with most companies, profit is the omnipotent king.

Consequently, I am not certain that we will be exchanging CO2 canisters again any time soon. 

I took a big detour on the way home and parked Clint on the edge of White Edge Moor. There's an old gamekeeper's lodge nearby. I have referred to it before. See here. I walked along the track and secured a few photographs in the declining light but by the time I reached the lodge itself a bank of cloud over the western horizon was obscuring the familiar golden orb.

Oh and please don't worry, I am not planning to write a ghostly thriller titled "White Edge Lodge" any time soon. I'm still getting over "Stanedge Lodge".

19 July 2019

Ilhan

This is Ilhan Omar, a bright and brave thirty six year old American politician. She was elected to represent Minnesota's fifth district in the US House of Representatives. 

Born in war-torn Somalia, her family fled to America when she was a small girl. In spite of the odds stacked against her, she has risen through local, state and national politics to become a significant voice on the left of The Democratic Party.

But for Trump and his evangelistic redneck followers, she has become a convenient  hate figure. On Wednesday in Greenville, North Carolina rabble-rousing Trump had his supporters chanting, "Send her back! Send her back!". This spectacle was as chilling as it was racist. Trump has turned Ilhan into a target for right wing lunatics.

What do they mean by "Send her back!"? She is a US citizen who deserves admiration  and applause. She is living proof that anyone can make it in America - even a Muslim woman from a refugee camp in Somalia.

Indeed, isn't  Ilhan genuinely from "Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free", now living in a land that proudly boasts that it provides "liberty and justice for all"? 

"Send her back!"? Wouldn't it be better to send Trump back to his maternal family's humble cottage on The Isle of Lewis or back to Kallstadt, Germany  where his father's  family came from?  After all, Ilhan Omar surely better reflects the true values of decent American society than a draft-dodging playground bully who demeans women and is so demonstrably self-obsessed.

These are my true thoughts. Like them or lump them.

18 July 2019

Words

Just as there are trends with clothing and food and music and entertainment, so there are fashions with words. I am sure that this is not just in my own head. Two words that I have noticed creeping into regular use from obscurity are "diaspora" and "trope". Here I am thinking about talk radio and intelligent debate - not about exchanges in the local pub or the market.

diaspora - is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. In particular, diaspora has come to refer to involuntary mass dispersions of a population from its indigenous territories, most notably the expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel (known as the Jewish diaspora) and the fleeing of Greeks after the fall of Constantinople. Other examples are the African transatlantic slave trade, the Palestinian diaspora, the southern Chinese or Indians during the coolie trade, the Irish during and after the Irish Famine. (My thanks to Wikipedia for this)

The term comes from the Greek word diaspeirein - which means to disperse or scatter.

Using the word "diaspora":-
When war broke out in their home country, a diaspora of refugees settled in a neighbouring nation.

The Romans were responsible for the Jewish diaspora when they drove them from their homeland.

The African diaspora in the Americas was due, almost entirely, to slavery.

_____________________________________________________
trope - something such as an idea, phrase, or image that is often used in a particular artist's work or in a particular type of art. In more recent times the word often refers to a well-used cliché or motif in political rhetoric.

The term comes from the Greek word tropos meaning turn or way.

Using the word "trope":-

Love triangles are a popular romance trope found in films and books because they increase the level of drama and angst.

It is shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money'.

Trump's suggestion that the Congresswomen should "go back where they came from" is a typically racist trope.
_____________________________________________________

Have you noticed any other "fashionable" words  rising to the fore? Please do tell.

17 July 2019

Free

Between the ages of eleven and nineteen, I was music mad. At eleven I would listen almost nightly to Radio Luxembourg on a little transistor radio and every weekend I would copy down the "top ten" in red "Silvine" exercise books.

The first singles I ever bought were "Return to Sender" by Elvis Presley and "Scarlett O'Hara" by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. My very first album - shared with my brothers - was "With The Beatles" (1963). We listened to it over and over again and I can still sing all the songs it included... from "It Won't Be Long" to "Money (What I Want)".

But as I advanced through my teenage years my tastes veered  towards singer songwriters. I discovered Bob Dylan and later Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Donovan, Gordon Lightfoot and Joan Baez. I played their records on a new record player that I paid for with the proceeds of a holiday job - working on a local turkey farm. That's also how I bought my first guitar.

The songs were poetic - with the accompanying music there just to lift the song - to give it a setting. The lyrics were everything. But I was open-minded and I continued to enjoy progressive rock music.

At fifteen I was attending concerts - either in Hull or the Yorkshire coastal resorts of Bridlington and Hornsea. I saw Jethro Tull, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, The Who, The Strawbs, Pink Floyd, The Nice, Yes, Ten Years After, Wishbone Ash and many more but in my memory and in my heart there was one rock band that stood out from all the rest and I must have seen them a dozen times. They were called Free.

There was a raw, bluesy simplicity about that band. On drums there was Simon Kirke, on bass Andy Fraser, Paul Kossoff was the lead guitarist and the singer was a Yorkshire lad - Paul Rodgers. They were jigsaw pieces that came together perfectly.

They weren't really about singles, they were about live performances and albums but they had a big hit single in 1970 - "All Right Now" which they played at The Isle of Wight Festival that year. It is still aired regularly on several  British radio stations.

Tragically Paul Kossoff died at the age of twenty five. He just couldn't drag himself away from drugs. Andy Fraser died from natural causes in California four years ago but Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke are still alive and well in their seventieth years. Rock and roll survivors. Free.

I look back on my teenage years and the mad passion I had for music back then and I often wish I could recapture that all-consuming fervent interest but as life has proceeded the music has skulked away.  Sad to say it doesn't thrill me like it used to so maybe it's not "all right now"...

15 July 2019

Reportage

In Scotts Arms, Sicklinghall
We drove to Harrogate today so that Shirley could buy a hat for the beloved daughter's wedding. "Hats On Top" had an excellent and varied collection of hats for women and even a reasonable collection for men. By the way, Harrogate is sixty miles from Sheffield.
Laneside botany in Spofforth  Park 
Frances and Stew were here for the weekend. Frances is usually a calm, level-headed human being but once in a while she will have an emotional wobble. And that's what happened on Friday night. She decided that she doesn't like her wedding dress. I was gobsmacked at first.

As you can imagine, it has cost a pile of money and of course she chose it months ago. It has been fitted and altered and everything. But no - all of a sudden, she doesn't like it. Consequently, she went out on Saturday to buy a second wedding dress and her smile returned. 
Black bull  near Wardlow Mires
Meanwhile Stew and I were having a Peak District walk near the wedding venue - considering a route for a big group walk pencilled in for the Sunday after the wedding. We met a black bull and had pints in both "The Bull's Head" in Foolow and "The Queen Anne" in Great Hucklow. And I almost got stuck in  a squeeze stile. I told Stew to phone for the fire brigade but a bit of laughter and some jiggling about got me through.
A bus shelter in Spofforth
As part of the deal for driving up to Harrogate, Shirley agreed to join me on a four mile walk out of the nearby village of Spofforth. Our circle included a lovely village called Sicklinghall where we rested for ten minutes in "Scotts Arms" with cold drinks before carrying on along country lanes and paths back to Spofforth. 

And then it was home to Sheffield via Wetherby and  the A1 and M1 with the new hat safe on the back seat. I felt tired and had to fight to maintain the alertness you need when driving on fast roads. I am afraid that Clint is is till incapable of self-driving but we live in hope.
Stew completed a charity abseil in Tideswell Church on Sunday morning

14 July 2019

Story

I proceeded up the stairs, one step at a time. I could still see the half-moon through a Victorian stained glass window that depicted shooters on the moor. Ralph said the place was haunted but I didn't believe in ghosts so what the hell was I about to find up here on the first floor of the lodge? Still the insane yelling. Still the thundering feet. My heartbeat pounded madly inside my skull...

Part Four

I took one step along the polished upper corridor and at the selfsame moment, it was as if an invisible giant hand had clenched the building and shaken it. Something like a violent aftershock following a major earthquake.

As well as the din from upstairs I heard the gang members below panicking hysterically.

"What the hell was that Smithy?"

"How the fuck should I know?"

"Let's get the hell outta here!" cried Benny.

I took another step along the corridor and there was a correspondent  unnerving aftershock. The thundering of feet - like hooves and the maniacal voices continued, emerging from behind one of those doors. I thought I could hear the jarring notes of violins, rising into the rafters.

Downstairs.

"Let's go Smithy! Let's go!"

"Grab the bags lads!"

"What about him upstairs?"

"Forget him! Just bloody go!"

The lodge's front door slammed. Then car doors slammed. "Get in!" An engine burst into life.  Tyres skidded in gravel. The cowardly rogues were gone speeding off into the night and I was alone in the lonely  moortop lodge or was I?

Another step. The floorboards creaked. No aftershocks now for the entire building was shaking, physically convulsing. The violin strings screamed. The feet thundered and those shrill argumentative voices became interwoven, almost unintelligible. Outside a storm was brewing - complete with sheet lightning.

Lord knows what was drawing me on. Perhaps it was simply a case of "fight or flight". The gang had flown but my instinct was to face up to whatever might be in front of me. To fight.

There were brass numbers on the various doors. A framed painting of a stag was briefly illuminated by the approaching storm. I had reached the door to Room 11. The voices were now deafening. I could hardly stand up. A pane of glass shattered somewhere below and cold air came surging along the corridor.

Tentatively, I reached for the doorknob of Room 11. It was hot so I took my linen handkerchief from my trouser pocket to protect my hand.

Inside it was all "Get off! Get off!" and "Ring a ring a roses!" and snatched words from nursery rhymes and famous speeches and "Stop! Stop! Get back!" and then a woman screaming and the sickening thud, thud, thud of a knife being repeatedly plunged into   a human torso.

And so when I turned the knob I expected to find a bloody murder scene within. As I pushed that whining door open, the volume in the room was abruptly switched off.  The building stopped shaking and in the light of the half moon and distant sheet lighting I saw... nothing, absolute zero. Just an old chair  and a flapping curtain. There was nobody there. No body.

**************

Three weeks later, after many  hours in the local studies section of Sheffield Central Library, I  asked one of the librarians to bring me a particular city council file from the vaults below. And that's how I discovered that in 1918, Stanedge Lodge had become a temporary  asylum for certain returning war veterans - those suffering from severe shellshock. It was a good place to hide these men away from prying eyes or newspapers. After all, they did not fit in with the idea of a glorious victory.

On the very last closely typed sheet I examined there was a reference to a "Top Secret" War Office document. It was titled "Murder of Nurse 31572 - May Pritchard by Inmate 0880395 Collins (Private) at Stanedge Lodge Sanatorium July 14th 1919". It was a light bulb moment in my desperate attempts to understand what the hell had happened that terrible night.

13 July 2019

Interlude

Before I bring the story "Stanedge Lodge" to its gripping conclusion, here's a pleasant interlude. Think of it as something like an ad break during your favourite TV drama. Time for a quick toilet break or a swift snack or, if you belong to The Cult of the Smartphone, time to check your Instagram, your Twitter or your Facebook feeds.

Before proceeding, may I say "thanks" to the visitors who have been following "Stanedge Lodge". 

When I posted about my recent walk past the old shooting lodge, I had no intention of writing a story about it but Steve Reed - currently holidaying in Florida - said " It looks like a setting for a Stephen King novel." and Frances in Harpenden said, "Did you see a ghostly face peering out of a window?" and JayCee on The Isle of Man said, "Stanedge Lodge looks very forbidding to me. Like something out of an episode of Vera" and Jennifer in Florence (not the one in Italy) said, "Stanedge Lodge looks like a haunted manor house in an English gothic novel.". 

These remarks got my creative juices flowing and now after three episodes "Stanedge Lodge" is on the brink of its conclusion.
Crawshaw Farm
Yesterday I had a two and a half hour walk after parking at Crawshaw Lodge, west of this city. As I was donning my boots, I noticed that I had a distant view of Stanedge Lodge across The Rivelin Valley and up on the moors beyond Redmires. When I took the top picture of hemlock growing by the roadside, I made sure that I got Stanedge Lodge in the background. It's there by the trees on the horizon.
Shorn sheep above The Loxley Valley
I set off to Crawshaw Farm, then to Platts Farm, along to the hamlet of Ughill, down Tinker Bottom to Corker Walls and up and along a rough moorside track that leads  from Corker Lane to Load Brook, then along two more lanes - Beeton Green and Rod Side back to Clint still basking in his little lay-by. 

The circle was complete and so it was time to drive home. But as I headed away from Crawshaw Lodge I glanced again at the moors to the south where Stanedge Lodge is situated - far from anywhere. And I thought about Smithy and Benny with the stubbly chin and Silent Steve and Ralph with the greasy combed back hair and of course I remembered the terror...

12 July 2019

Story

"...crazy fast like a rock drummer playing a solo"
Part Three

They were coming back inside the lodge. In panic, I keeled over on the leather sofa aiming to resume my previous position, playing possum.

There were two others now. Smithy - who appeared to be the boss and somebody else who didn't say much. Four of them.

"Get some water!" commanded Smithy.

And before I knew it, a saucepan of cold tap water had been thrown over my head. Of course I reacted it to it and Smithy pulled me up, slapping my face. It was impossible to pretend that I was still unconscious.

"Wake up!" he growled, slapping me again as he yanked the blindfold away. "What are you doing here?"

Beyond him, left of the fireplace something glittery caught my eye. Benny and Ralph were inspecting the contents of two large canvas sacks.

I told Smithy the truth. That I had become disoriented after the rainstorm, that I had stumbled along the old wall, that I had always been curious about Stanedge Lodge. 

Smithy and his gang even looked like robbers. With their darting weaselly eyes, they were the kind of men who spend their whole lives looking for opportunities and easy money. I deduced that they had probably raided a jeweller's and they were hiding out at the lodge, till the heat died down. 

It was like taking part in  a TV crime drama - the only difference being that this was real life in which happy endings are rarer than hen's teeth and where good certainly doesn't always triumph over evil.

"You know what curiosity did dontcha?" growled Smithy squeezing my chin. "It killed the cat!"

The others laughed raucously as Smithy's gaze wheeled round to them. He was middle-aged , pasty-faced and smelt of stale cigarette smoke.

It seemed that my hands and feet had been bound with industrial plastic ties. They were digging into my flesh now and in spite of Smithy's close presence I squirmed, creasing my face.

"Hurting you are they?" asked Smithy, showing surprising compassion.

I nodded hopefully.

"Get me some scissors Steve!" he told the quiet one and the tall mixed race fellow disappeared for a minute or two.

It was just after Smithy had severed the plastic ties that we first heard the footsteps creaking above.

"Shh! What's that?" said Smithy.

Everyone went quiet. Still in the process of examining the jewelry and watches, Benny and Ralph froze .

"There's somebody up there!" whispered Ralph. And then we heard shouting. A man and a woman. Muffled.

"I saw someone", I interjected. "When I was outside. Just before one of you guys clouted me. There was somebody up there."

"What do you mean? This place is empty. We've been here ten days," said Smithy.

The gang were deathly quiet, eyeballs raised in their sockets, bottom jaws hanging loose. The footsteps upstairs creaked again, pacing across the floor and the raised voices continued.

A woman yelled, "Get back! Get back in there!"

A man screamed almost unintelligibly. It was hard to make out what he was saying but I heard the words, "vengeance" and  "tomorrow".  

It was as if there was a physical struggle going on.

"Go up Steve! See what the fuck's going on!" said Smithy.

"I'm not going. You go Smithy!"

Benny and Ralph also refused. 

Then Smithy turned to me. "You go! See what's happening!"

The unseen feet continued to thud on the ceiling. The voices remained raised . "Get back! Get off me!" and "Sweet as honey! Sweet as pie!" And there was what I can only describe as manic laughter.

The gang and I stood at the bottom of the lodge's oaken staircase. Smithy shoved my back. The head of a dead bear glowered down at me from the stone wall of the entrance lobby. Benny was holding a hurricane lantern that he'd grabbed from the panelled room. It cast moving shadows upon the carpeted  treads of the staircase.

The voices upstairs were becoming louder and more frenetic - like music rising to a crescendo. The rhythm of feet on the wooden floor had grown more urgent - crazy fast like a rock drummer playing a solo. The entrance hall was filled with sound.

"What the hell's going on?" asked Benny, his eyes wider than before.

"I'm scared!" admitted Ralph. "I told you this place was fucking haunted!"

"Get up there!" ordered Smithy.

I  proceeded up the stairs, one step at a time. I could still see the half-moon through a Victorian stained glass window that depicted shooters on the moor.  Ralph said the place was haunted but I didn't believe in ghosts so what the hell was I about to find up here on the first floor of the lodge? Still the insane yelling. Still the thundering feet. My heartbeat pounded madly inside my skull.

11 July 2019

Story

My thanks to blog visitors who read the first part of "Stanedge Lodge". Here we go with Part Two. Every word is true.
Part Two

I emerged from my unconscious state like a sealion. One moment I am basking on the floor of some deep, dark underwater cave and then I'm spiralling up to the surface. Vivid dreams evaporated and I became conscious of throbbing discomfort from the back of my skull or pounding inside my head - I couldn't tell which.

Even before I opened my eyes, I remembered what had happened. Someone had hit me with a heavy object. Perhaps a brick or a baseball bat. Isn't that what thugs use in films? 

I heard hushed South Yorkshire voices close by and without moving a muscle I listened.

"Get rid of him Benny!"

"How? Where? You do it Ralph. You hit him. Not my problem."

"We should kill 'im. Bury 'im in the bog. I bet that's what Smithy would do."

"Yeah but Smithy ain't here. We don't want to complicate things."

"Where the fuck did this bastard come from anyway?"

"Smithy said nobody would bother us. He promised."

"Fucking promises!"

Where was I? I reckoned I  was right inside Stanedge Lodge. I was lying face down on upholstered leather and I could smell a log fire burning. The two voices faded away. A door was slammed. Outside I heard feet on gravel.  Right, I thought, time to make a quick exit before they come back.

I opened my eyes to see velvet blackness. It was only then that I realised they had blindfolded me. I tried to move my hands from behind my back but they were tied and so were my feet. All that I could do was to try to sit up. Like a sealion on a rocky beach, I heaved my body over, forcing myself into a sitting position and as I writhed the blindfold slipped down so that I could see with my right eye.

The room was panelled and there were stuffed animal heads on the walls - a wild boar, a snarling wolf, a lion, different kinds of deer. Above the fireplace  with its flickering amber light, two blunderbuss rifles were crossed. It was just as I had imagined the interior of the old hunting lodge would appear.

Then I saw headlight beams creeping up the opposite wall over the wolf. A vehicle's tyres crunched the gravel. A car door slammed. Angry voices. But I couldn't make out what they were saying. Suddenly, I was more scared than I have ever been in my adult life. Shit scared. Hadn't one of them mentioned burying me in the bog? I felt like a sitting duck and entirely alone. In response to these inner feelings, my body began to tremble. Why had I turned right and not left. Bloody, bloody fool! 

And who were these rough men? Benny and Ralph and Smithy? What were they doing at Stanedge Lodge? In the next few minutes all would become clear, well - nearly all.

10 July 2019

Story

Part One

High on the moors, there's an abandoned stone cottage. It sits beside remote Oaking Clough Reservoir, miles from anywhere. Alone but for a few ragged moorland sheep and the plaintive calls of lapwings, this tiny building was erected during the Victorian era for waterboard workers.

That is where I sheltered when the rain began to pour. It lashed down in torrents so I stayed put and dry inside. Outside, November's afternoon light was quickly fading. When would that rainstorm end?  Hearing it battering the stone slabbed roof, I hunkered down in the snuggest corner I could find and rested my head against a wall.

Perhaps I was only asleep for a few minutes but when I woke the ceaseless rain had ceased and night had fallen. Only the very last vestiges of daylight remained in the western sky as a half moon now soared above me like a Chinese lantern, moving in slow motion - following the departed day.

Stumbling, I followed a now replenished stream wrung from that exposed moorland. The peaty landscape acts like a vast natural sponge - east of  Stanage Edge. It was impossible to clearly see the way ahead and the rough vegetation was of course now sodden. That half moon lantern provided weak illumination helping to define the shape of the skyline.

Had I come the right way? Maybe I should have turned back. The waterboard ruin wasn't far behind. My boots squelched in  black porridge. I felt almost blind. More than once I fell down, my tumbles cushioned by heather clumps or crowns of  bog grass. Somewhere close by a red grouse cackled. And then I made out what I thought was a wall, running arrow straight into the night. 

It was a tumbledown wall, long neglected, no doubt hewn from the exposed millstone of nearby Stanage Edge. I remembered it from before and I knew that if I followed it it would take me to an old track along which I could descend to Redmires and then home.

Progress was slow but the broken wall kept me out of the adjacent quagmire. My waterproof walking trousers were already soaked. I staggered along, sometimes feeling my way though my eyes were now better adjusted to that pale moonshine. High above, the navigational lights of an aeroplane blinked at the stars. I imagined those air travellers, strapped in their high-backed seats, reading inflight magazines as I floundered along, alone in the dark.

And then I reached the unmade track. To the left, rhododenron bushes bent over black hollows. To the right, the silhouette of an old stone hunting lodge reared up defiantly. I had often seen it from afar on my rambles. It stood in the middle of a big swathe of the moor with impenetrable plantations on either side of the access track.

Previously, I had seen signs at the estate boundaries . White on black. "Stanedge Lodge - PRIVATE" or "Stanedge Lodge - NO PUBLIC ACCESS" or "Stanedge Lodge - KEEP OUT". The capitalisation was always bold and threatening.

Though it was time to get home, instead and illogically I turned right heading up the track to the lodge as though magnetised. What was I thinking of? Why oh why did I not turn left?

Within five minutes, I was standing in front of the lodge. Its windows looked eastward over the moor and the shadowy spruce plantations and the three reservoirs at Redmires and the sprawling suburbs of the city. In its splendid isolation, it seemed daunting and defiant, like a medieval castle, designed for defence and not for guffawing grouse shooters in tweeds.

As I stood there in the November night, a cold polar breeze billowed silently, ruffling my hair like an invisible hand. Behind the window glass there was only pitch darkness, no sign of life and then I inhaled a deep breath. There was light in one of the upstairs rooms! Perhaps candlelight or a lantern. It glowed brighter. I saw a shape, a figure. Was it a man or a woman? There were muffled sounds of people shouting and then the light was extinguished.

One moment later, someone hit me hard from behind and I collapsed.

9 July 2019

Monday

At Oaking Clough Reservoir yesterday afternoon
Is it possible to make a good blogpost about cutting hedges? Probably not.

In our back garden there are over fifty metres of privet hedging. One section of this hedgerow is ten feet tall but only six feet tall on our neighbour's side. Every summer I trim all of the hedges three or four times. It is a big job that creates lots of clippings that need to be raked up and disposed of. It's all a big physical workout.

I have a reliable "Bosch" electric hedge trimmer and I also have a long electric extension cable, hand shears and two sets of stepladders. In the middle of the day yesterday I spent two hours just working on one side of the garden. Later today, if the rain holds off, I plan to tackle the other side.

You are probably yawning now. As I suggested in my first paragraph, it is most unlikely that a blogpost about trimming hedges could ever be interesting. Mind you, I could have used some poetic licence. I might have lied about discovering a robin's nest in the hedge with cute baby birds twittering for worms. Awwww! Or I could have created a scenario in which I fell from my stepladder and sliced off one of my legs with the "Bosch" hedge-cutter before crawling back into the house to phone for an ambulance. 
Approaching Stanedge Lodge
Anyway after two hours of hedge work, I jumped in Clint and drove out of the city for a country walk. I was soon walking along paths I have walked before but this time after pausing at Oaking Clough Reservoir I proceeded to Stanedge Lodge. You are not meant to walk there as it's surrounded by private land but I thought - what the hell - if anybody challenges me I'll just say that I got lost.

Stanedge Lodge is the highest residential building within the city's boundaries and also the remotest. I was hoping to walk round it but as I got closer I could see that there was a little black car parked near the main door to the south of the building. That's why I chickened out and retreated along the lodge's mile long driveway.

It's an intriguing building - originally developed as a grouse shooting lodge for the landed gentry and their chums. I'm not sure what it is being used for now. Needless to say, I would have loved to look around inside it.
Stanedge Lodge

8 July 2019

Names

Names fascinate me. Of course, there have always been fashions in naming children. Those fashions rise and fall and speak about the passing march of history mingled with culture. It is a topic I have blogged about before. For example in 2016.

This morning I was lying in bed as per usual listening to the "Today" programme on BBC Radio 4. An item on names suggested that the boy's name Jaxson is on the rise in Great Britain - not Jackson you understand but Jaxson or even Jaxon. With baby girls the name Ariana is shooting up the popularity charts - no doubt aping the Italian-American pop singer Ariana Grande.

The three most popular names for girls in Britain in 2018 were apparently Olivia, Amelia and Isla and the three most popular names for boys were Oliver, Harry and Jack. I don't mind any of these names.

You may have heard of two British "celebrities" - David and Victoria Beckham. Those two much-photographed people have, in my view, solid unpretentious first names. If their parents were trying to say anything when choosing those christian names it was all about steadiness and fitting in with the rest of society. 

Fast forward to the naming of their four children and we have got Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper Seven. What wacky names - at least in my opinion - and what a crazy self-indulgence to saddle children with daft names like that which speak of flimsiness and ephemeral stardom. I much prefer the first names of David Beckham's parents - Ted and Sandra or Victoria Beckham's parents - Jackie and Anthony. They are proper names.

Several of our children's peers have been bearing children recently. A number of them appear to have referred to "The Beckham Book of Silly Names for Children" when picking baby names. I won't give you examples here as I  would not wish to cause any of these young parents offence. After all, they were just going with the flow of modern fashion. However, kudos goes to Richard and Cindy in Perth, Australia who recently named their baby son Alexander William. When she gets married our Frances will be this little boy's auntie for Richard is Stewart's brother. Lucky little Alexander William has a splendid brace of names to accompany him on life's twisting journey.

If any visitors to this blog are looking for an even better name for a baby boy, may I suggest the first name Neil. Neil means "champion" in Gaelic and is a very rugged, masculine name. Well worth consideration but only if the baby is handsome and robust with a fine pair of lungs.

7 July 2019

Gentry

Near the reception desk of our little hotel in Santorini, there was a bookcase that contained dozens of paperbacks left by previous guests. I happily deposited the crime novel I had galloped through and looked for something else to read - something more intellectually stimulating.

Unfortunately, most of the books on those shelves were, to use a technical term, sheer crap. However, there was one about the English Civil War (1642-1651). I would have liked to read that but the font was microscopic so I ended up with "Gentry" by Adam Nicolson.

I finished reading it on Friday. It considers the landed gentry of England from the time of The Norman Conquest right through to the present day. 

Who are "the gentry"? They are between the nobility and the ordinary populace. The nobility are like The Premier League of the British ruling class - dukes and earls, duchesses and countesses and their progeny. They still own huge swathes of the British Isles and they still have castles and grand houses and wield enormous influence. Below them the landed gentry of lords and ladies and knights with family coats of arms once owned most of the land, requiring their tenant farmers to cough up annual rents as they went hunting across the landscape or wined and dined in the lap of luxury.

The wealth and influence of the landed gentry has been significantly eroded in the past two hundred years. They own far less land than they used to and few ordinary people doff their caps to them any more. But they never went away. Many wealthy families still trace their continuing success back to landowning families that were rooted in the countryside.

On my walks around the British countryside I frequently come across grand houses in which the gentry consolidated their power. Their mark is everywhere. In the building of churches, in the names of country lanes, in the domestic architectures of villages and in the arrangement of farms and woodland. Their ghosts are imbued in the very landscape I tramp across.

Adam Nicolson focused on a handful of gentry families, using documentary evidence to reflect upon their successes, their failures and their evolution or disappearance in modern times. It was an effective means of examination because a comprehensive historical analysis of the entire landed gentry would be nigh on impossible. Better to pick just a few and dig deep.

My ancestors included rabbit catchers, cowherds,  gamekeepers, farmers, milkmen, railway workers and coal miners. There was not even a tiny hint of blood linkage to the landed gentry. They were a class apart, born to govern the land. My people were serfs - born to obey and born to pay.

I found Adam Nicolson's book most fascinating and I am glad that I picked it up. The gentry and their inheritors remain an important feature of what it means to be British. Their influence is woven into our culture like undeniable threads of filigree. You may not like them but they are still there.

6 July 2019

Airports

I think it was news to almost everyone that airports existed at the time of the American Revolution (1765-1783). But that fact came up on President Trump's autocue during the soggy and embarrassing July 4th rally in Washington and besides, the great man read it out so it must be right. There were airports at the end of the eighteenth century. Period.

Delving into this surprising nether world, I have uncovered some other historical surprises. For example, did you know that Joseph and Mary watched television on that famous night in Bethlehem 2019 years ago? The kindly innkeeper had set one up in the stable for them and they watched  live gladiator fighting from The Colosseum in Rome. Jesus was born during the second ad-break.

And here's another surprising fact about the Roman Empire. Led by Julius Caesar, the Romans invaded Britain on a P&O car ferry from France and their soldiers did not march north in sandals, they arrived on Volvo buses singing bawdy Roman songs while swigging cans of  Australian lager.

Moving forward in time, it is a little known fact that when voyagers aboard "The Mayflower" made landfall at Plymouth Rock in November 1620, those weary pilgrims checked in at a "Best Western" that overlooked the bay. Rooms were very cheap in those days but hotel fees still included basic breakfasts with coffee in styrofoam cups (British English: polystyrene).

Sometimes you think you have got a proper handle on world history and then all that you ever knew is thrown into disarray. Things are not always as they seem. There were airports on the east coast of America at the end of the eighteenth century along with aeroplanes and baggage handlers, check-in desks and airside stores where bottles of water were sold at exorbitant prices to travellers who had been obliged to discard identical bottles of water before passing through security. 

5 July 2019

Alfreton

Yesterday...

I boarded the 10.37 train to Alfreton in Derbyshire. The journey only took half an hour and my cheap day return ticket only cost £8.40. It was nice to give Clint a rest.

It was a warm day but I was prepared - with a litre of cold water in my rucksack, a tube of sun lotion, my sun hat and an apple. What more do you need for an eight mile ramble in July sunshine? Oh - a map and my trusty camera too - along with "The Gentry", a book by historian Adam Nicolson.

And so I arrived at Alfreton Station. I was the only passenger who alighted from the Nottingham train. I plodded through the former coal mining town from east to west passing humble brick terraces and takeaway shops. There was a micropub called "What's Your Poison?" and in the old marketplace a rather impressive war memorial that I have driven past many times, never before stopping to take a photograph of it.

Ahead on the edge of town by Alfreton Hall, I was impressed by my first view of the parish church - St Martin's. It was nice to find the door to this old church unlocked for several ladies of the town were inside busily preparing for the annual flower show this coming weekend. 
One of the ladies, a former church warden called Sylvia, introduced herself and kindly led me around some of the church's most noteworthy features. I was slightly perturbed when she took me into a side vestry where the priest dons his robes each Sunday. There was a velvet chaise longue in there but fortunately I escaped from the little room with my honour intact. Sylvia was round about eighty years old.
Cow at Coneygrey Farm
Soon I was tramping through the countryside to Four Lane Ends and Oakerthorpe. There was a "Roman Fortlet" marked on the map near Coneygrey Farm but there was little to see - just a grassy mound.
Footbridge over Oakerthorpe Brook
On I walked to Swanwick where I stopped to consume a cheese and pickle sandwich and a pint of semi-skimmed milk that I purchased in an Asian convenience store. Then on to Sleetmoor Lane, through an industrial estate and across a main road to another industrial estate where I paused to take a picture of a factory that makes fabrics for the car industry.

When I reached the last factory gate, a very fat man in a "Securitas" jersey accosted me. Apparently, someone had seen me from a window taking the factory photo as I passed by. I assured him that I was not a spy from a rival fabric factory and that I was not an Islamic State terrorist either. The fat man was pleasant so I didn't have the heart to inform him that people can take pictures where ever they go on public footpaths in this "free" country.
More plodding. Through new housing developments. Across the busy A38 road and back to the Edwardian terraces of Alfreton. On Prospect Street, I passed another micropub, creatively titled "Prospect Street Micropub". And very soon I was back at the town's little station waiting for the 15.44 train back to Sheffield.
The railway station  - Alfreton

4 July 2019

Detention

Here, on American Independence Day, I was going to rant about the inhumane treatment of economic migrants and asylum seekers at America's southern border. I was going to continue ranting about the secret Facebook page that Border Control agents have been contributing to in their thousands - demonstrating horrible, insulting disregard for the desperate foreign people they are incarcerating in conditions that are not fit for dogs. 

I was going to highlight the way in which small children have been cruelly separated from their parents and the paucity of childcare. And of course I was going to reflect on the way in which the 45th president's nasty attitudes towards migrants and asylum seekers have filtered down to Border Control minions, legitimising racism, sexism and sheer cruelty.

However, I am aware that some American visitors to this blog are Donald J. Trump supporters and out of courtesy I have decided not to rile them on this July 4th by expounding upon the issues noted above. Besides, I am English so arguably I have no right to comment on events happening in the USA. After all, how would I like it if American visitors called by this blog deriding our beloved queen? Yes. These are reasons why I have decided to keep schtum about what is happening at America's southern border. 

Instead, let's just read a slice of what the eloquent New York Rep Yvette Clarke had to say earlier this week: "I’ve heard a lot of language about who these people are on our southern border. Let’s make it clear: They are seeking refuge in the United States of America. We send funding around the world to refugee camps, in nations that are war-torn. And here we have, on our own border, the most horrific detention of humankind in this generation, in the United States of America. We cannot abide with this. We will not abide with this."

In the summers of 1976 and 1977, Skip at "Skip and Ray's" Bar  on Kinsman Road, Novelty, Ohio always referred to me as "The Limey Bastard" and I have no wish to resurrect that nickname so yes, I am going to keep quiet about the migrant detention crisis - leaving it up to others to petition for infinitely more humane treatment of  desperate strangers in "The Land of the Free".
Yvette Clarke: "Those who would prey upon defenceless individuals,
women and children, who are seeking refuge in our nation, must be
purged from our federal service, so that we can recapture who we
are as a nation, which is a nation who has welcomed refugees, a
nation that has welcomed immigrants, and a nation above all
nations, that is great because of its immigrant tradition."

3 July 2019

Snapshot

Yesterday...

In the late afternoon, I spent an hour carefully trimming our bay tree. It sits just outside our kitchen window and requires a haircut twice a year. Otherwise, it will block our view of the garden and obstruct the steps that link our two decks. A big pile of bay leaves was left - enough to supply every fine restaurant on this island. Instead, I filled our wheelie bin with them.

Shirley told me she was going to a local church hall to play netball with other "mature" ladies so our evening meal would need to be on the table earlier than usual. In Yorkshire, most of us call that evening meal "tea" for some reason. Most readers of this blog would call it dinner but in Yorkshire lunch is called dinner. Very confusing.

I put six pork sausages in the oven and a fistful of new potatoes in a pan to boil. I prepared a side salad and fried chopped onions in olive oil and butter. Pretty soon it was ready and I took our two plates to the dining room. We always eat tea at the table.

Afterwards, I did some more sweeping up of the bay leaf detritus and chatted with our neighbour Tony over the garden wall. Tony and his wife Jill have  been the best next door neighbours you could wish for and they have been our neighbours for exactly thirty years. We moved into this house on July 1st 1989.

Shirley went to netball and I hunkered down to watch the first half of the semi-final of the Women's World Cup from Lyons in France. England were playing the USA and there was much hope and expectation that we might get through to the final but America struck the first blow with a well-crafted goal finished by Christen Press. Ten minutes later England were level again with a goal from our main striker - Ellie White. 

The halftime whistle blew. I put my shoes on and began my mile long walk to "The Hammer and Pincers" for the Tuesday night quiz. It is mostly up hill - a long steady slog - reaching the flat section by High Storrs School. That's where I encountered my quiz mate Mick and we continued to the pub together.

He has on-going health concerns and is naturally worried about his physical condition and his future. This morning he is having a brain scan at one of the city's  big hospitals. He thinks he may be in the throes of Parkinson's. It is impossible to say to him - "Oh don't worry Mick - everything will be all right" because that might be a lie.

At the pub we  met up with Mike and watched the football match through to its end. It was a hard fought game and a great advertisement for women's football. America came out of it as deserved winners but England left the pitch with great credit. They had fought like real lionesses right to the end and even missed a penalty.

In the quiz that followed, I knew that Boris Johnson's girlfriend is called Carrie Symonds but I wasn't sure about the smallest of The Great Lakes. Was it Lake Erie or Lake Ontario? Unfortunately, it was the latter. And we did not work out the anagram. The clue was "female Oscar winner" and the answer was Marion Cotillard. We had never heard of her.

I caught the 88 bus back to Banner Cross and logged on to this laptop for a while. I read about a Kenyan stowaway tragically falling from an aeroplane over London. His dead body landed just feet away from a sunbather in Clapham. There he was soaking up the suburban garden rays in summery relaxation and "Whomp!" there's a frozen dead man beside him. This is the stuff of nightmares... but luckily I slept well last night and did not dream of falling to earth like a modern day Icarus.
The Clapham garden. See the indentation  in the path.

2 July 2019

Imagery

All I have to offer today is a bunch of recent images that didn't make it into previous blogposts. The first four were taken on last Thursday's walk in mid-Derbyshire. The first one is of The Sherwood Foresters' Regimental Memorial near Crich:-
This picture was taken on the footpath that leads from Park Head to Fritchley:-
 This is St Mary's Church in Crich. It is Grade I listed and the initial structure went up  in 1135AD - about seventy years into The Norman Conquest of Britain:-
And below a disused telephone box by Moorwood Moor. The telephone within has already been removed and vegetation is creeping inside:-
And now back to the island of Santorini in Greece. This was a cross above Perissa - the day I scrambled up to the little white church on the mountainside:- 
 The viewing scope above the caldera at Thira looked like a robot or space being to me:-
And this little kiosk at Ancient Thira is meant to accommodate a member of the small security team that keeps an eye on the archaeological site during opening hours:-
And finally this is my old friend Tony on Saturday with the twin towers of Beverley Minster emerging from his skull:-

1 July 2019

Legionnaire

In Hotham
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Well that is what Noel Coward once sang and he was probably right.

On Saturday I was over in Beverley taking photos of my old friend Tony and Pauline - his  girlfriend of five years - ahead of their winter wedding. Afterwards, I headed back over the Yorkshire Wolds and parked in the tiny village of South Cliffe ready to undertake a planned seven mile walk. 

But I had not planned the 32 degree heat. It was the hottest day of the year so far in The People's Republic of Yorkshire. As I left Clint, he was grumbling. "I'm gonna fry bo! Fry I tell ya!"
The ruins of Duck Nest. Hotham Carrs
Sensibly, I had applied suncream to my arms, head and legs before setting off. The walk was mostly through farmland on the edge of The Vale of York and then on to the village of Hotham and along a long farm track to remote Cliffe Dales Farm where a sunbathing mother and her teenage daughter came out to quieten their barking hound - whose name was Bob. I asked if this slavering creature was named after the famous Georgia blogger - Bob Brague but their reply was negative. Astonishingly, they had never even heard of Bob Brague!

When I got back to Clint I was like a French legionnaire who had just made it back to his fort after a week in the desert. I unlocked Clint's boot (American:trunk) and grabbed the water flask within. That cold water descended to my belly like oxygen filling a vacuum. Ahhhh! Lovely.
White horse at Cliffe Dales Farm

30 June 2019

Killers

The Glastonbury Festival 2019 finishes tonight. Once again it has been covered quite brilliantly by the BBC. On Friday night I watched the entire set of British rapper Stormzy - screened live and last night I watched the entire set of  the Las Vegas band - The Killers.

Though previously aware of The Killers, this was the first time I had hunkered down to properly listen to them and watch them perform. Musically, I guess I live in past times - frozen in the music of my youth and it takes a lot to draw me out of my nostalgic hideaway. But last night I was enthralled by The Killers. They are a tight, energetic band with an engaging repertoire. The songs are pure and self-penned and do not rely on computerised trickery for their delivery.

There's Dave Keuning on lead guitar, Mark Stoermer on bass and rhythm guitar, Ronnie Vannucci Jr on drums and at the front - singer and showman Brandon Flowers. The line-up is reminiscent of so many bands of the late sixties and early seventies. You imagine all the hours of practice in some barn or industrial unit - to perfect the songs, iron out the errors and create a style.

Last night Brandon Flowers was in his element - theatrical and totally committed, his tenor voice rising up above the electricity and yet part of it too. He is the father of three boys. Checking him out on Wilkipedia, I discovered that his wife Tana Mundkowsky suffers from a complex post-traumatic stress disorder though I have no idea how that came about. Any advice will be appreciated. It sounds so sad.

The Killers were triumphant. The Glastonbury crowd sang along and The Pet Shop Boys and The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr came up on stage. For a few minutes it seemed as if all the other stuff in this troubled world didn't matter. Are we human or are we dancers? Good question.

28 June 2019

Birth

There were no midwives in attendance, no doctor. Hell, there wasn't even a bed and the twelve year old mother had been given zero pre-natal or ante-natal guidance. No gas and air. No proud father holding her hoof.
I had spent three hours on a circular walk in mid-Derbyshire plodding around and through the village of Crich and was just returning to Clint's resting place when I spotted a calf lying in a field with his doting mother in attendance. "Good photo opportunity", I thought to myself.

And then over to the left of the field, near the boundary wall,  I heard another cow. She had a chestnut brown and black brindle appearance and she was squatting down making grumbly lowing sounds. At first I thought she was sitting on something - maybe a rock or a pile of rags. But then she stood up and there was a baby calf protruding from her uterus. No sooner was the cow back on all fours than the calf was born - dropping to the soft grass below.

The doting and protective mother sniffed and licked the new born creature. At first I thought it was stillborn but very soon there was movement - the movement of life. At this point a local woman joined me in the lane  and we stood together peering over the hedge at the birth scene.
The mother kept licking with her rough tongue, stimulating the calf to fight for air and life. The woman waved across the field to the old farmer who came sauntering across the grass to check that all was well and I joked with him - "What are you going to call the calf? Buttercup or Daisy?" He chortled, revealing a row of uneven teeth - like neglected gravestones.

I stood in that lane for half an hour. The calf made a few gangly attempts to stand up but kept toppling over. Though I would have liked to stay longer, witnessing the moment when the newborn stood securely on her feet, I left happy in the knowledge that that miracle would certainly happen long before the sun set on that lovely summer's day. It was a good day to be born.

Most Visits