21 February 2020

20 February 2020


Some of you out there seemed intrigued by Sheffield Manor and so here we go again...

In the past, ancient sites and ruins were not venerated by local people. There was no National Trust nor English Heritage running around protecting old castles, monasteries, abbeys or city walls.

When old stone structures fell into disuse, the ordinary populace saw these historical sites as fair game. Many viewed them like stone quarries - places you could go to collect building materials. It seems almost unbelievable now but that is how it was. It is why the huge medieval castle here in Sheffield disappeared almost entirely and it is why Victorians had the unenviable job of trying to rebuild Hadrian's Wall near England's border with Scotland.

I once observed  the same phenomenon in Kos, Greece. There the ancient Greek medical school, the Asclepeion, was vandalised in the fourteenth century by medieval knights in order to construct a fortress at the entrance to Kos Town's harbour. Even today you can still see writing carved into some of the stones by ancient Greeks a thousand years before the fortress was built.

All of the above is mere preamble before going back to the subject of Sheffield Manor. As soon as this impressive stone settlement on a hill fell into disuse a hundred years after Mary Queen of Scots's sojourn, local homeowners, farmers and builders pillaged the site on a regular basis until a lot of the original stonework simply disappeared. 
The Turret House - shown from a different viewpoint yesterday - is the
only complete building on the site of Sheffield Manor
If each lost stone had a DNA signature you could easily track them down and find them in a wide array of newer structures in the vicinity of the old manor complex. Once that complex was embedded in countryside with swathes of green forest and heathland where stags, wild boar and game birds flourished. 

Now what remains of Sheffield Manor finds itself stranded in the heart of an urban landscape - not leafy suburbia where middle class committees and volunteers would no doubt cradle it - but in a part of the city where there is industry and street after grim street of low-cost social housing - where survival understandably matters more than heritage.
20h century gates with Sheffield's coat of arms

19 February 2020


A view of The Turret House (1574), Sheffield Manor
On Tuesday, I parked on Skye Edge - sometimes spelt Sky Edge. It's a grassy wasteland east of the city centre and it sits on high ground. The southern section of Skye Edge was once the location of some of Sheffield's poorest housing -  leading to the vast  Manor Estate.

Going back much further in time and close to Skye Edge are the ruins of Sheffield Manor. Once this stone campus was at the centre of  vast hunting grounds known as Sheffield Park. In the late sixteenth century this land and The Manor itself were owned by the Talbot family. They were fabulously rich and headed by George Talbot, the Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury. 

In 1570, Queen Elizabeth I  asked or told Talbot to detain Mary Queen of Scots and to keep her under house arrest. She was brought to Sheffield Manor and pretty much kept there for fourteen years though there were occasional costly processions to some of Talbot's other properties.

In 1587, Talbot witnessed Mary's execution at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire. Her story was one of political intrigue, religious prejudice and power brokerage. Far too complicated for me to explain here.
Social housing on Skye Edge
As she looked out from her wooded Sheffield hilltop, it is unlikely that she would have imagined for one moment - dog walkers on Skye Edge, lads on motorbikes or skateboards and squat social housing with all the streets named after British birds - like the kestrel, the plover and the starling. Of course, she belonged to a very different time. For one thing, the population of England and Wales in 1570 was around 3.7 million compared with an estimated 58 million today.
Skateboarders shelter on Skye Edge
Anyway, I enjoyed my walk on Skye Edge and along to the ruins of The Manor. It was only when I returned to Clint and began to read my next book that the BBC weatherman's  promised rain began to fall upon Clint's windows.

"Can't we go now?" he snapped. "It's bloody windy up here!"

I finished the promising introduction to "Map Addict" by Mike Parker before heading home.

"About time too!" grumbled Clint, quickly moving through the gears to sixth and galloping down the hill like one of George Talbot's prized steeds.
Sheffield city centre from Skye Edge

18 February 2020


Cat Stevens in 1971
From mid-August !972 I lived on a faraway island called Rotuma. There was no electricity, no running water and no sewers.  I lived with my late American friend Richard in the village of Motusa. Richard had brought  a radio-cassette player to the island from his home in Minneapolis along with a dozen cassettes. One of them was "Teaser and the Firecat" by Cat Stevens.

We played those cassettes over and over again on dark South Pacific nights as our hurricane lamp flickered and waves rumbled in the darkness on the edge of the coral reef. Cat Stevens was a brilliant songsmith and in my extraordinarily humble opinion it is a crying shame that he later  turned to Islam. He had a precious knack and it is certain that many more great songs would have emerged from him had he not opted for medieval religious belief and all that that entailed.

Tonight, as I came home from  the quiz at "The Hammer and Pincers", I found myself singing quietly and the song was "How Can I Tell You" from the album mentioned above. Some would refer to it as an "ear worm". A simple, heartfelt song. I am sure that some of you out there in the blogospherw will remember it.  Here it is:-

17 February 2020


In Mytholmroyd
God said to Noah, “I am going to destroy all flesh because the world is full of violence. Build an ark of gopherwood, with rooms inside, three decks, and a door. Cover it inside and out with pitch.” And Noah did exactly as God commanded him (Genesis 6:13–22).

Personally, I think it was wise of Noah to comply with God's request. He could have stood up against God on behalf of his fellow human beings. After all, they can't all have been totally bad can they? They must have had some redeeming features. But if Noah had challenged God's decision he would have also been swept away in the wrathful flood. God didn't believe in democratic debate.  By the way, I wonder where Noah got the gopherwood from?

The above biblical diversion simply foreshadows the main purpose of this blogpost - to reflect upon recent flooding in The People's Republic of Yorkshire. 

Lots of rain has fallen these past two weeks - associated with two Atlantic storms - Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis. The moors and hills have been drenched and drenched again. And when rain falls on saturated ground where has it got to go? It runs down gullies into brooks and streams and they in turn run into rivers so that the rivers become surging torrents that aim for the open sea, sometimes spreading out on flood plains, breaking through the banks and levees created by Noah's descendants. It's only natural - a geographical tale of yore.

We live on one of Sheffield's hills above the valley of The River Porter. We can never be flooded up here. Even if all the ice on the planet melted we would still be okay though admittedly food supply chains would be severely disrupted.

It is hard to imagine what it would be like to have one's home flooded. Some Yorkshire homeowners have witnessed dirty river water gushing into their houses and rising one, two, three or more feet up their walls.

Life can be challenging enough in ordinary circumstances but imagine having to throw out all your carpets and ground floor furniture, all your kitchen appliances and some of your most treasured possessions. Then when the water subsides you have to deal with mean-spirited insurance companies and have plaster stripped from your walls - back to the bare brick. The place will need drying out and you need to find somewhere else to live. 

And in the midst of this trouble you have family and work responsibilities to juggle. It almost doesn't bear thinking about. At times the worry and the stress may become intolerable and perhaps in the middle of it all you will also wonder - Could the flooding return? How will we ever sell this house?

Though I feel for any flood victims, I am rather happy that the closest we will ever get to a flood is a big puddle on the lawn after a particularly heavy rainstorm.
In Tadcaster

16 February 2020


1) Yesterday we drove to the town of Selby - an hour north of Sheffield. We were there to support Shirley's sister Carolyn who is planning to buy a small house or bungalow in the town. We went to see three properties with her. She placed an offer on one of them.

On the way home, after we had crossed the swollen River Aire and  had driven beyond Chapel Haddlesey on the A19, it was as if we were crossing an inland sea. Excess flood waters had been directed to a swathe of flat farmland called Chapel Haddlesey Ings. Fortunately the road itself is raised above the level of the surrounding land. Above you can see a view over the ings to Eggborough Power Station.
 2) I have a pile of books to read. Lord knows when I will get through them all. I hope that no more books are added to the pile. Today, with some relief,  I finished "A Week in December" by Sebastian Faulks. I have read three other novels by Faulks - "Birdsong", "Human Traces" and "Engleby". They were all great reads.However, even though "A Week in December" is also well-written I found the subject matter somewhat tiresome. This novel focuses upon different human beings in London and how the characters' lives occasionally intersect. But I didn't like any of these people - simply could not warm to them or care about them. The novel ends just as the financial crash of 2008 is about to happen. Let's hope that the next book I read is more to my liking.
3) As we were sitting eating lunch at our dining room table today, Shirley looked out into the damp February afternoon and spotted a bird sheltering on an old apple tree bough. She took some binoculars from a drawer and reported that it was a bird of prey. I went to get my camera and zoomed in on the bird through the glass of our French windows. I must have been 25 metres away from the creature so that explains the relatively poor quality of the picture. Even so, I am quite happy with it. I hope the sparrowhawk returns on a nice, sunny day.

15 February 2020


The author of this humble Yorkshire blog does not exist solely on Yorkshire puddings. It may surprise you to learn that he does eat other things too.

One food item I have never liked is oven chips. I guess that Americans call them oven fries. You tend to find them in supermarket freezer aisles. They are generally packed in bulky  plastic bags with images of golden chips/fries on the front. You spread them on  a baking tray and whack them in a hot oven for ten or fifteen minutes and then shazzam! your chips/fries are done.

The trouble is, as I said before, I don't like them. We also never do any deep frying inside our house because of the resulting odours so hence we never have chips/fries at home unless we buy them from the local fish and chip shop.
A few weeks ago, I had an idea. What if I tried to make my own oven chips/fries? I peeled a large potato and then cut it into similarly sized chunky fingers. Next I brushed rapeseed oil on a non-stick oven tray. I put the potato chunks on the tray and then brushed them carelessly with more oil. A little seasoning and then I put the tray into the hot oven.

After five minutes I flipped the chips/fries over and then turned them over again after fifteen minutes. And after twenty minutes in total they were done - golden and ready to eat. The taste was great - just like proper homemade chips but with less oil involved in the cooking.

It's all very simple and I don't know why I had not thought of this process before. You can do the same with sweet potatoes and if you prefer you can make scallops instead of potato fingers. Visitors to Yorkshire Pudding are permitted to mimic this cooking technique completely free of charge!

14 February 2020


Flash is a tiny agricultural settlement that sits on a ridge between the Rivelin and Loxley valleys west of Sheffield. It should not be confused with  Flash in Staffordshire which is the highest village on this island at 1519 feet above sea level.

Our Flash clings to the ridge like a limpet on a rock at the seaside. It needs to have a good grip because this hilltop is often buffeted by winds. I am sure that the winter temperatures up there are significantly lower than those recorded at lower altitudes in the city's river valleys. Below you can see Flash Lane near its junction with Riggs High Road.
And here's another picture of Flash itself. Some people think that it is just a single farm - Flash Farm - but there are in fact three residences there. One of them is owned by a doctor who worked at Shirley's health centre until his retirement a few years ago. I am secretly quite jealous of him because he and his wife recently holidayed in Bhutan in the Himalayas.
I was walking on tarmacadam lanes yesterday afternoon - deliberately avoiding muddy fields and slippery paths. My two hour route was circular, leading me past Flash, down Dobb Lane and along Woodbank Road then climbing up to Stannington. 

Clint was parked in the little lay-by next to Bowshaw Cemetery - a small Quaker family graveyard that I have blogged about before. It was as I was taking my boots off that I realised I was no longer in possession of  my Hull City beanie hat. What a calamity! That hat has been one of my favourite inanimate companions for twenty years or more. To lose it would be a terrible blow.

I sped back to Christ Church in Stannington where I had been snapping ecclesiastical pictures and there was my beloved woolly headgear sitting on the wall. My spirits immediately brightened in  a pleasant flash of  heavenly relief!
Christ Church, Stannington

13 February 2020


Terrace of the Oceanus Villa, Mustique
Following past expenses scandals, British Members of Parliament have to take care to record all details of their incomes in The Register of Members' Financial Interests.

On Boxing Day, Prime Minister Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie jetted off to the Caribbean island of Mustique for a fabulous two week break in the Oceanus luxury seaside villa. It transpires that the total rental cost  of that villa was £15,000. In The Register of Members' Financial Interests, Johnson has stated that this cost was borne by someone called David Ross - the wealthy co-owner of Carphone Warehouse. In other words, it was a gift.

To most British citizens, £15,000 is a lot of money. Basic state pensioners receive half of that a year. Meantime government agencies bear down on anyone of working age who seeks state benefits. They have to jump through numerous hoops and negotiate various obstacles before "the system" coughs up rather paltry sums that make daily survival just about possible.

The Oceanus Villa
Johnson is a wealthy man. Last year, before becoming PM he "earned" £327,000 for seven speaking engagements. He also received £23,000 per month for writing his bombastic weekly columns in "The Daily Telegraph". So why did he choose to accept the gift of £15,000 from one of his supporters? Besides, David Ross is a fellow with a shady financial past who dodged and weaved his way to becoming a multi-millionaire.

Now Ross denies that he paid for the holiday but it is written in black and white in The Register of Members' Financial Interests. What's going on? Why would Johnson lie about this? Mind you, he has lied about very many things before.

I don't resent national leaders taking holidays from time to time. After all, President Trump takes two or three holidays a month down at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and no one could possibly question that. There he can lounge by the pool, twittering away to his heart's content. Over in Mustique it is rumoured that Johnson attempted to limbo dance on the beach under a flaming pole and in the process managed to set his central appendage alight. What a shame! Apparently, he calls it Winston.
Master bedroom - Oceanus Villa, Mustique

12 February 2020


Just an assortment of recent photographs today. I snapped the top one just a few minutes ago while sitting on our La-Z-Boy sofa - tapping away at this laptop. Shirley always has cut flowers in our front room window. I noticed the sunlight streaming in.

When I returned from my walk around Shepley a week ago, I took this picture of Sheffield Hallam University students' union in fading light. Those drum-like buildings clad in steel are known as The Hubs. They used to house the National Centre for Popular Music which failed for reasons that still rankle with many Sheffielders. The idea was good: it was the execution that was wrong.

Above - on Rud Hill south of the city, I captured this image of a sheep called Margaret the weekend before last. She was named after Britain's first female prime minister because of the uncanny facial resemblance. Margaret was also carrying a cavernous leather handbag (American: purse) but that is out of shot.

Below - I took this rather random picture in Doncaster last weekend. It seems to me that vaping is a feature of modern life that will die away before very long and people of the future will look back upon the fashion with puzzlement. Why would anybody want to do that? Don't you just hate it when you are caught in a sweet-smelling cloud of vaping smoke? Lord knows what is in that stuff.
And finally - I know I have shown this before - our collection of fridge magnets in the kitchen. By putting them on a metal tray affixed to the wall, the front of our refrigerator can remain uncluttered and magnet-free.

11 February 2020


You may recall that exactly a week ago I commented on the world's population growth - suggesting that people should be much more concerned about it than we appear to be. Today we are understandably fretting about coronavirus but apparently hardly caring a fig about the persistent population problem.

What I am about to say should shock you. 

This was the Earth's population exactly a week ago: 7,762,009,632

This is the planet's population right now: 7,763,562,055

That means that in just seven days the world's population has increased by 1,552,423

1.55 million more! That's far more babies than the number  of people who currently live in Milan, Italy or Munich, Germany and almost as many as the current population of Philadelphia, USA. In just one week.

With 52 weeks in a year it easy to calculate that by the end of 2020, the world's total population will have risen by 80,704,000.  That is far more than the population of The British Isles and twice as many as the number of people who currently live in California and more than three times the present population of Australia. In just one year.

I do not doubt that this surging population growth would not be easy to stop or even slow down but with each passing day these thousands of extra people increase the pressure on resources and the natural environment. Some might shrug and say "que sera sera" but I am more inclined to suggest that world leaders and international organisations should be making far more effort to address this issue as a matter of priority. Very simply - there are too many of us already. The endless growth is plain crazy.

10 February 2020


Last night in Hollywood, "Parasite" won the Oscar for "Best Picture". To be honest, I knew almost nothing about it - except that it was a Korean film requiring subtitles and that it had won the "Palme d'Or" at the Cannes Film Festival last summer,

Today, as the British Isles recovered from Storm Ciara, and feeling somewhat curious about the Oscar winner, I travelled into the city centre to watch a lunchtime screening of "Parasite". Sitting back in my upholstered seat, I waited for the magic to happen.

It is a beautifully crafted film, fitting happily together like a thousand piece jigsaw. The attention to detail is quite uncommon. It is easy to see how those who work in the movie industry would be impressed with it.

"Parasite" is a mixture of comedy, tragedy, horror, mystery, absurdity and psycho-drama. It revolves around two families - one from the upper echelons of South Korean society and the other from the next to bottom rung. Reading the English subtitles means that you engage differently with what transpires on  screen. It's an untypical kind of concentration.

In terms of cinematic quality, I really have no idea how you could possibly compare "Parasite" with "1917". The latter is a large historical canvas but Bong Joon-ho's film is domestic and rather intimate. The latter is largely serious but "Parasite" is often very silly. I don't mean that in a disparaging way. Silliness is generally underrated and is certainly a human trait worth exploring through film.

I won't say any more about the plot - in case you go to see "Parasite" yourself. In the end, I thought that the plural form of the word would have made a more appropriate title.

9 February 2020


I am not a big fan of running. These days I never run. Sometimes I march down our street and turn the corner on my way to catch a bus. But if at that moment  I see a bus on Ecclesall Road, heading down to the bus stop I will never run for it. I would rather simply wait for the next bus to come along which might be ten minutes or more.

In contrast, when I was a schoolboy, I was always running for  buses. Hardly a day would go by without me sprinting along to jump on the rear boarding platform of a public bus.

Another thing I remember about the nineteen sixties is that the only place you would ever see people running seriously was on a sports field. Nobody went out jogging. No one wore day-glo lycra running gear or ventilated running shoes made by international sportswear companies. In fact there were no shops that sold such things.

Nowadays leisure running or running for fitness has almost become a religion for many people. You see runners with earphones in or fitness watches on their wrists and sometimes stretchy towel headbands. It is not a religion to which I have ever subscribed for I prefer to plod along like an elephant.

Back in my salad days when I played rugby I disliked training sessions that involved long runs.  I was okay with quick bursts of running from scrum to lineout or occasionally over the line with ball in hand for a try but long runs or cross country runs? No thank you!

Having had issues with my knees in the past, I am especially apprehensive about running - believing that cantering  along tarmac paths or roads could see those old knee problems return. Besides, I think my street credibility would evaporate instantly if I was ever seen out jogging in a figure hugging fluorescent running suit with pink Nike running shoes and a union jack headband. 

Yes - my running days are most decidedly over. How about you?

8 February 2020


Higger Tor seen from Totley Moor
I know that one should not tempt fate and one certainly should not count one's chickens before they are hatched but I am going to come out and say it anyway - Where has our English winter gone? 

The past few weeks have been unusually mild. There has been hardly any overnight frost, no snow on the ground and as the days begin to lengthen we see spring bulbs pushing through the earth. We are eight days into February and one cannot help wondering - Will proper winter ever appear?

Tomorrow we are scheduled to feel the full blast of an Atlantic storm that the Irish have already named Storm Ciara. Damage is likely and roof slates will rattle as trees are shaken as if by invisible giants. But big storms are not necessarily the preserve of winter and even during this storm temperatures will remain moderate and "unwinterly" - a meteorological term that I have just invented. 
Of course harsh winter weather can strike as late as April and March can certainly be a crazy month for weather but as time goes on I have the feeling that this will essentially be what I call a "green winter" as opposed to a "white winter". Another saying has suddenly echoed inside my skull - Don't speak too soon!

Thursday was a beautiful, diamond day. I had to get outside. Not too far away. Just up onto Totley Moor and Totley Moss. A big circular walk was in order, passing the air shaft that descends to the Victorian railway tunnel below. I noticed that some maintenance work is in progress there though the team were nowhere to be seen.

I have often been tempted to spray words on that remote structure. Perhaps "The Big Black Button" or "Entrance to Brexitland" but I don't suppose I will ever do it. I admit that I am prone to such flights of fancy. The pictures accompanying this blogpost were taken on Thursday when winter seemed so far away.

7 February 2020


There are different ways of looking at things. Yesterday, a visitor named Beverley who lives in West Yorkshire, left the following thoughtful response to my "Asylum" post. I hope she won't mind that I have chosen to make it the main body of today's blogpost. Beverley reminded me and others that within those grim psychiatric institutions of long ago there were always dedicated and kindly members of staff doing their best to serve the residents or patients or inmates or victims - call them what you will - with kindness and professional expertise.
Storthes Hall Hospital - the administration building

From Beverley...
"I would like to add some local insight to the above post. My husband worked at Storthes Hall Hospital for almost 40 years. His mother had been a nursing sister and my mother a nurse there over two very different periods in history. My husband and I still live in the next village to Thurstonland.

I'm sure in the early part of the century when there was less knowledge about the causes and treatment of mental illness that there was indeed cruelty to the patients, but from 1960 when my husband was an occupational therapist there, things were very different. Yes, the patients were in dormitory style accommodation but many were permitted total freedom during the day to attend church, or walk in the neighbourhood, catch the bus into Huddersfield etc. They were taken by mini bus to places of interest by my husband and his team. He was in the occupational therapy department but also took his painting/craft materials onto the wards where some of the patients were not permitted to wander outside alone. The work of some of the patients was childlike but some of them made wonderful pottery and woodworking items.

There was a theatre where outside theatre groups came to put on musical shows and dances for the patients. At one point there was a gardening group and patients went willingly to work outdoors tending vegetables that were destined to be taken into the kitchens for cooking.

A friend of mine was a therapist specialising in helping patients to make cakes and even meals for themselves.

Eventually the powers that be deemed that this practice smacked of exploitation and so the gardening and cookery ceased to be.

The patients who are buried in Thurstonland all had relatives in either Huddersfield, Barnsley, Sheffield or Dewsbury areas and so they could have taken their relatives back to the area they came from for internment, but of course it was shameful for families to acknowledge that they had a relative in a mental hospital.

I remember it as a small well knit community and the patients were in a safe environment which was not the case by the 1980's when the large hospitals were closed down in favour of care in the community which did not work in the patients favour at all. They were seen wandering around our town centre just killing their time aimlessly. Many were put into small houses with a couple of staff members to make it more like a home environment but sadly they had lost a lot of their friends from the "big house" as they were scattered back into their own local authorities.

I could go on at length and I do know that it wasn't all quite so idyllic. There is a book written by a lady called Ann Littlewood, who was a senior nursing officer there, and it has lots of photos and stories about the hospital from the 1900's up until its closure so if anyone wants an interesting read I'm sure it would be available on either Amazon or maybe even on line somewhere.

The whole hospital and its grounds are mostly derelict now except for the area where the student accommodation is and it looks so very sad to see it like this. The buildings, tennis courts and cricket field all gone to ruin.

The institutions did have much cruelty in the early days but once people understood more about mental illness then the asylum system wasn't so necessary as when people were much misunderstood and it was thought they should be incarcerated for everyone's good.

I hope that this gives a little perspective to what YP has experienced in a graveyard near by. I have many really good memories about the place from the last 60 years.

YP, the area around Thurstonland, Emley Moor and Farnley Tyas has some glorious walks. If you should ever take the train here again I could suggest some fantastic footpath walks that you would enjoy."
West Riding Lunatic Asylum (Storthes Hall Hospital) in  its heyday

6 February 2020


Doris Hallas (right) died in Storthes Hall Hospital in 1974
following 23 years of enforced incarceration


Their screams still echo through the years
Their sufferings and bitter tears
Beyond the gates, behind the walls
In shadowed antiseptic  halls
Clocks ticked their  desperate lives away
Till there was nothing left to say
Nailed in pine boxes  later interred
Without eulogy or holy word
In Thurstonland just over the hill
And there my friend they are buried still
Two thousand souls or maybe more
The lost ones in a nameless  war.

At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will not
Resurrect them.

Remember that plaque that I noticed on a memorial stone in St Thomas's churchyard, Thurstonland? (See the previous post).  It seems that around two thousand former hospital "patients" were buried in unmarked graves in the adjoining field. They had all been residents of nearby Storthes Hall Hospital - previously known as The West Riding Lunatic Asylum. Their names are now unknown and the authorities do not even know the exact number of people buried at Thurstonland.

The hospital was in operation from 1904 to 1992. Most of the buildings have been demolished and the site is now home to, amongst other things, accommodation blocks for university students. In relation to mental ill-health I guess that similar transformations in care provision have happened in other western countries. Now we no longer lock 'em up and try to forget about the sufferers. Nearly all big mental hospitals in Great Britain were razed to the ground late in the last century. And we no longer use the term "lunatic" to describe those whose mental ill-health has driven them into crises.

It was with all of this in mind that I created the poem - "Asylum". 

The memorial stone in Thurstonland churchyard

5 February 2020


Emley Moor Television Mast dominates the landscape around Shepley.
It is the tallest free standing structure in The British Isles.
When I was at secondary school - what Americans call "high school" - I was a keen rugby player. And I was good at it too. Rugby matches and practice sessions involved a lot of tackling and falling over. On wet winter days you would frequently leave the field - covered in mud. 

I don't play rugby any more. As you know, I like to go out walking, plodding the miles - different paths, different landscapes. And whereas in my rugby playing days I regularly tumbled to the ground without concern, nowadays I am a little fearful of slipping on muddy paths. I walk patiently, doing my damnedest to avoid falling at all costs.

Yesterday I caught a train to the village of Shepley near Huddersfield and undertook a glorious seven or eight mile walk in unfamilar territory. It took me to a village called Thurstonland. It was first mentioned as Tostenland in the Domesday Book of 1086 but it is believed that long  before that it was known as "Thorsteinn's land" in Old Norse. It sits high upon a ridge with The Holme Valley below.
Plaque on a stone in St Thomas's Churchyard, Thorstonland
Some of the paths I took were treacherous and though I picked my way along them very carefully, I managed to fall down twice - as if suddenly flung to the ground by invisible rugby players. Thank heavens there is no video footage of these two falls - I would be a laughing stock I am sure.
There's Emley Moor mast again.
Now when you fall in mud, you get wet and well, muddy. Though I was mercifully unhurt, my left side was brown and soggy. I marched onward to Fulstone and then to Shepley Wood End and Shepley Marsh. Looking at my muddy watch I realised that I would have to keep up a good pace if I was going to catch the 15.30 train back to Sheffield.

I just made it and then bustled along to the last carriage where I plonked myself in a vacant seat. No sooner had I deposited my corporeal vessel than a sweet young Indian woman - no doubt a student at The University of Huddersfield - came over to speak to me, asking if I was okay and pointing out that my left side was muddy brown. Could she help me - did I need some water?

I explained that I had fallen over on a muddy path and that I was okay but I was very touched that a complete stranger would show concern like that. After all, she had no idea who she was talking to. I might have been a crazed racist or an axe murderer which - dear readers - I can assure you I am not.

Leaving Sheffield Midland Station, I remembered to pause by The Site Gallery to take this picture of its illuminated parapet. It is a message we can all appreciate even though some things do in fact stay the same:-

4 February 2020


As I begin this blogpost Earth's  population is exactly 7,762,009,632.

Great Britain's last population census was in 2011. Then our nation's population was  63.2 million. Today, in February 2020, that number has risen to 67,886,011. That's a rise of  4.6 million in nine short years. By the way, that is as many people who currently live in the US state of Louisiana.

Here in the middle of this short blogpost Earth's population is exactly  7,762,010,485. The terrible truth is that though people are dying all the time, the birth rate is considerably faster.

It seems to me that stemming this ballooning population growth is one of the most obvious ways in which we could save our planet - reducing the impact on natural resources and the world's climate. The Leader of the House of Commons is a posh, supercilious fellow called Jacob Rees-Mogg. He is the father of  six children.  Ursula von der Leyen is the new President of The European Union. She is the mother of seven children.

Are those in positions of influence really taking the continuing population crisis seriously?  It is rarely top of the agenda when our world's future is under the microscope. And I don't see it taking centre stage when climate activists are justifiably venting their spleens.

As I end this blogpost, the planet's population has now grown to 7,762,011,155. It is now five minutes after midnight and already 1,335 babies have been born today but only 562 mostly older people have died.

Why aren't we more worried? Why aren't we doing something meaningful about it?

It is now eight thirty in the morning - eight hours since I first published this blogpost. The world's population has now risen to 7,762,090,125. As I slept, The Earth's population increased by 80,000.

3 February 2020


"99 Luftballons" by the German band Nena was translated into English as "99 Red Balloons" even though a literal translation would have been "99 Air Balloons". The song  was written in German by the band's  lead guitarist Carlo Karges after he had seen a large group of balloons blowing towards the Berlin Wall during a 1982 Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin. The notion of what might conceivably have resulted sparked his imagination.
Upon hearing the song for the first time, the band's distinctive singer Nena (Gabriele Susanne Kerner) said to the writer, "Oh Carlo, that's the best song you have ever written". She claims she "got really big goosebumps" too.

You might say that "99 Luftballons" is an anti-war song. It considers how a nuclear war might be caused by human error on the basis of something as innocuous as a bunch of party balloons. 

A literal translation of the very last verse finds the narrator discovering the lost balloon -the one that would have made up a hundred - but it is too late, the damage has been done:-
Ninety-nine years of war
Left no place for victors
There are no longer any ministers of war
And also no jet fighters
Today I'm making my rounds
I see the world lying in ruins
I have found a balloon
I think of you and let it fly
It is interesting that the band never really approved of the English version - "99 Red Balloons" and refused to perform it during their active gigging years. As they say, things can often get lost in translation - but somehow, ever since I first heard this song it has haunted me somewhat. The simple message within it didn't get lost.

2 February 2020


In Cambodia - July 9th 2011
The mood of sadness created by Brexit was exacerbated by Hull City's heavy home defeat to Brentford from West London during  Saturday lunchtime. It didn't help that we had sold our two best players on Thursday night. I watched the match live on TV at the local pub and came home feeling like a man who has just received a coronavirus diagnosis.

For the evening meal, I made a mild chilli concoction containing chopped chicken, kidney beans, chopped red onion, yellow pepper and mushrooms. This we ate in soft tortilla wraps with sour cream and sides of wholegrain rice and salad. But this dinner didn't lift my blue mood.
An Irish convent at Cappamore - August 5th 2011
We have Netflix on our television courtesy of The Beloved Daughter but we rarely access it. Shirley was going out for a social event with other nurses and there was nothing appealing on regular TV. So much that is available via Netflix is utter crap in my opinion but I spotted a 2018 film about the deadly  terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011. It was called "22 July" and I certainly found it watchable. How twisted was the evil perpetrator - Anders Breivik! It's quite frightening to think that there are others like him in different parts of the world - just biding their time. I blogged about the sickening attacks back in July 2011 - just two days after they had happened. Go here.

Of course "22 July" was hardly a happy, laugh-a-minute film . After Brexit and the football match perhaps I should have been watching "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" instead. Ah well, to accompany this post and to perhaps lift the gloom slightly, I have selected three random photographs from my 2011 archive.
A late summer lane just north of Sheffield - September 30th 2011

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