29 September 2020

Sleepless

It's one thirty in the morning. I went to bed early - at midnight, confident that I would soon be in slumberland. But nothing happened. Sleep refused to embrace me. 

After an hour and twenty minutes, I got up and came back downstairs. Mug of tea and two ginger biscuits. D.J.Trump on BBC World News  brazenly trying to smother criticism of his tax dodging. Apparently it is all "fake news".  Shouldn't a president play by the rules?  He even dodged Vietnam with a made-up medical condition.  It is outlandish that the guy even gets to stand for president.

I think there's two reasons I could not sleep. Firstly, the now regular Monday afternoon trip to a local pub to meet up with chums. I am just not used to drinking beer at that time and it kind of upsets my equilibrium. It didn't help that I had a half hour nap after our evening meal.

Secondly, I am worried about a huge bill for repairs and upgrading at my daughter's flat in north London. It's as if she and all other homeowners on her street have walked into a terrible trap engineered by Haringey Council. It's going to break some people and she has cried a few times about it. Not a good thing when you are twenty seven weeks pregnant. Of course it's okay for the council tenants who occupy flats on the street. They won't be landed with huge bills. It all seems so unfair and it has been preying on my mind since I heard the awful news last Wednesday.

It's now past two am. The tea is finished. The blogpost is almost done. I want to go walking in the day ahead. Good weather is promised. Like last week, Tuesday is going to be the best day. Perhaps sleep will come to me at the second attempt. I need it if I am going to head out for a walk. Night-night.

28 September 2020

Cattle

I wish I was a cow - well maybe not a cow as they are girls - perhaps a big, gentle bull. Life would be so peaceful. I would not feel the cold. I would graze for hours with my friends. There would be no talking. After all - what would there be to talk about?

Grazing on the valleyside, I might notice the passing of days. Light into darkness. Darkness into light. And the passing of seasons. The coming of winter. The arrival of spring. There would be hot and there would be cold. Nothing to worry about.

If human beings entered my orbit, I would look up at them momentarily with my big brown eyes before returning to the very meaning of life - to graze upon the green grass. Those humans would scurry away somewhere as they always do. Somewhere over the rainbow perhaps.

I took these pictures yesterday, above The Porter Valley before returning home to get started  on a major Sunday dinner for six. Menu:-

Roasted pork loin
Homemade Yorkshire puddings (dreamlike)
Cauliflower cheese
Chopped red cabbage in apple sauce
Roasted potatoes
Mashed potatoes
Courgette cubes tossed in butter and thyme
Roasted carrots
Homemade gravy
Homemade apple sauce

For dessert Shirley had made a tarte-tatin which we ate with Cornish ice cream, custard and double cream. Each meal was calculated to contain eleven calories but of course there was wine too...from Italy, Australia and France.

And all the time the quiet cattle above The Porter Valley were munching grass as another night fell and October drew closer. From the trees came the hooting of an owl and from the city came the insistent bleating of an ambulance siren - faraway. Carried on the autumn breeze like music.

27 September 2020

Memory

The Island of Hydra in 1978. I am twenty five years old. This is the island where Leonard Cohen lived with his Marianne. White houses with terracotta rooftops tumble down to the harbour like jumbled Lego bricks. I have been sleeping on a pebbly beach along the shoreline. Swimming and reading books, consuming the printed words like food. Soaking up the sun.

Solitary but not lonesome, I wander into the town for my one indulgence – an evening meal in a taverna with two or three beers. Lamb kleftiko, Greek salad, stuffed tomato. The tables are arranged upon a spacious terrace overlooking the harbour’s twinkling lights. An almost full moon is reflected in the bay and there are stars a-plenty. 

A mixture of Greek and more familiar pop music oozes from hidden speakers. The volume is lifted as the Mediterranean blue and white tables are cleared. More drinks are consumed. Dancing happens in the middle of the terrace. There’s even that “Zorba the Greek” tune. Initial inhibitions start to melt.

Midnight passes. A smiling woman’s small hand grasps mine and I am there in the middle with the rest of them. We are dancing and laughing unselfconsciously – Greek and English, German and French, American and Dutch. United Nations. Yes we are dancing. Maybe twenty of us. 

A current popular song leaks from the speakers. It is “Because the Night” performed by Patti Smith and her group. We have formed a circle, arms around each other and we are whirling, having fun. All as one. Turning and laughing. Looking into each other’s eyes. All from different places. United by the song and we are singing the familiar chorus. Our voices echoing along the narrow white alleyways that lead down to the harbour. 

It is one of my signature memories of the Greek islands. That particular August. That particular place:-
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to us
The barman puts it on again and the night really does belong to us. Yes - we whirl like dervishes. Briefly, the rest of the world does not exist.

Of these things I shall say no more. It was long ago and far from here.

26 September 2020

Vocabulary

Onion bhajis with wild garlic
Yesterday we met up for lunch with  Stewart's parents at "The Rising Sun" in Nether Green - another suburb of this Yorkshire city. Not  "Love in the Time of Cholera" but "Lunch in the Time of  Covid". Masks? Check. Hand Sanitiser? Check? Contact details provided? Check.

We were given disposable copies of the Autumn menu. Shirley said, "Where's Heresy?" I think she was imagining a fishing village on the coast of Northumberland or Suffolk. I  was somewhat puzzled until I read the text for the second "main meal" on the menu; "Heresy battered cod with golden handcooked chips and mushy peas". The mistake made me laugh out loud. What the pub's chef had  meant to write was "Heritage battered cod", not "Heresy" which of course principally means "belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious doctrine".

I thought there might be some one-horse town in America called Heresy but apparently there isn't. Heresy, South Carolina or Idaho would make a good setting for a scary film with ghouls, zombies and suchlike. And of course the residents would all enjoy battered cod.

Fishermen of Heresy (by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe)

Another menu item was  - Vegetarian burger with bhaji and paneer etc.. Making a silly joke, I asked the ginger bearded barman/waiter if it was an "argy-bargy"? I got absolutely no response from him and it turned out that he had never heard of the expression "argy-bargy" - sometimes spelt "argie-bargie". It means a kind of ruckus, argument or noisy dispute . Oh, and if you didn't know, that word "bhaji" is from the Indian subcontinent and it means "a small flat cake or ball of vegetables, fried in batter."

The expression "argy-bargy" has been around in Great Britain for more than a hundred years and all four of us at the table were astonished that the young man had not encountered it. When it comes to language, it's so easy to make wrong assumptions like that. I am sure that the young man habitually uses some words or expressions that I have never heard of. No doubt he was muttering them behind his spotted coronavirus mask when we walked out.

We left him a £5 tip. After all, we were in the pub for three hours  and in case you imagined otherwise, I only drank one pint of beer, called curiously "Daily Bread" by the Abbeydale Brewery from this fair northern city.

25 September 2020

Depressing

BOSH! on "Blue Peter" last night

There was a collective sinking of hearts throughout these islands this week. Worries about coronavirus figures have caused a reversal in our efforts to get back to some kind of normality.. The Blonde Buffoon appeared on our TV screens in a glum mood emphasising words like "must", "should",  "death" and "sorry". Of course, not one  "sorry" was related to his blundering leadership.

Partly for blogging posterity, let me relate the latest coronavirus figures for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Yesterday there were a further 6634 cases and 40 new deaths. The figures are clearly starting to rise back up as in France and Spain. Total figures for our country so far - 416,363 known cases, 41,902 deaths. Deaths per million citizens equals 616.

In comparison, here are the overall  figures for Florida, USA -  693,040 cases,  13,795 deaths making the deaths per million rate 642.

Having followed the statistics from the start of this ****ing pandemic, I have  become very suspicious about calculating procedures in different countries. There should be a consistency of approach but there clearly isn't. In any case, how on earth would authorities gather accurate numbers in Malawi say or Bolivia? And what about Putin's Russia? They claim to have had 1,136,948 cases but only 20,046 deaths. Could there possibly be political influence in the reporting of Russia's figures? Surely not!

Anyway, I went down to the local pub last night to chat with Bert and Steve. There weren't many customers in and we had the tap room to ourselves. It was table service only and you had to be out of the pub by The Blonde Buffoon's 10pm closure time. If not sitting at a table you have to put a mask on. So depressing to be heading back in time and there's Christmas up ahead. What will it be like this year?

University students are being told to stay in their rooms and it is mooted that they won't be allowed to travel to their family homes for Christmas. Jobs are disappearing down a black hole - hundreds of them. This ****ing thing goes on and on. I am bloody sick of it. Aaaaaargh!

But on a happier note, our lovely son Ian and his mate Henry appeared live on Britain's most famous children's TV show last night - "Blue Peter". It was a "green" edition of the show - filmed in Manchester. They cooked two vegan dishes from their new recipe book and the only other guest on the show was the great David Attenborough though his piece was filmed at an earlier time. Ian and Henry both received green "Blue Peter" badges before heading back to London by train - first class seats courtesy of the BBC.

Can you see Ian's "Blue Peter" badge?

24 September 2020

Tableau

 

Seeding dandelion caught in morning sunlight

More pictures from Monday - the day that a red grouse kindly posed for pictures.

I had woken up far too early. Could not get back to sleep so showered, filled my flask with water, grabbed a banana and my car keys and headed west. Over the hills to Glossop. 

"What the hell is going on?" grumbled Clint - unused to such early starts.

I  parked him safely on Whitfield Avenue, donned my boots and had set off walking before 9am. I noticed an old building with a big plaque in the middle of the first floor. It was once The Joseph Hague School but now it is two residential properties. Here's the former school:-

And here's a close-up of the plaque. If only all wealthy people were so public-spirited:-

Soon the moors were rearing up in front of me. Because I was on my own  I could plod along at my own pace, resting occasionally to catch my breath. After passing a remote grouse shooters' cabin, I reached the triangulation pillar on Chunal Moor.

I sat by the pillar, unpeeled my banana and unscrewed my stainless steel flask. It was good to sit up there with not another human being in sight, enjoying the last summery morning of the year.

Soon I was descending the moors. I met another lone walker - a Lithuanian woman who was panting up the hill, getting her ten thousand steps in. We stopped to talk for a while. She was a nice person with a happy demeanour. I said as I sometimes do, "It was nice to meet you". 

And then I reached The Worm Rocks:-

In "The Four Quartets" Thomas Stearns Eliot wrote, "In my beginning is my end" and so it is with this particular blogpost. Earlier in the morning I had stopped by Ladybower Reservoir to take this picture:-

23 September 2020

Grouse

The red grouse is a ground-nesting moorland bird. Standing as tall as a bantam chicken it is unique to the British Isles.

Many is the time that I have been startled by red grouse when rambling on heather-clad moors. The birds rise up making their familiar cackling sound. They are understandably wary of human beings. After all, instead of cherishing this splendid bird,  there is a segment of our society who apparently find pleasure in blasting them out of the sky with their rifles. They call it "sport". The segment to which I refer is  99% male and wealthy. Most grouse killers were educated in private schools and have reactionary political views. Most of them don't even eat the grouse after they have "bagged" them. It is estimated that they kill half a million grouse each shooting season (August 12th to December 10th)

Grouse shooting has a big impact on the ecology of natural moorland. Huge swathes of our moors are burnt each year in order to stimulate new heather growth. Fresh heather shoots form the staple diet for young grouse. The burning of heather adds tremendously to Britain's carbon footprint and negatively affects the ability of spongy moors to retain water.

The rich and rather secretive grouse shooting fraternity employ countless gamekeepers who are known to  persecute other moorland creatures such as mountain hares and raptors like buzzards, red kites and peregrine falcons. The grouse shooters call this "environmental control" or "moorland management". Ha!

Yesterday, as I walked from Glossop up onto the wild moors to the south of the town, I spotted not one but a pair of grouse sitting on a drystone wall. I pulled out my camera and tried to photograph them but the sun was shining brightly behind them. The resulting images were little more than backlit silhouettes. Disappointing.

However, twenty yards further up the track I looked to my right and saw another red grouse sitting on a drystone wall. This time the sun was in my favour and I was no more than five metres away. Furtively,  I pulled out my camera again and managed to take ten pictures of the bird before he or she flew away. I have chosen three of those pictures to illustrate this blogpost.

It was a magical minute.  In my considered opinion, the only shooting of red grouse that should be allowed is indeed with a camera. No guns. Grouse shooting belongs in history books - not in modern times. Grouse should be appreciated as the beautiful creatures they are - not as private targets for privileged dimwits.

SAVE THE GROUSE! LET THE MOORS BE WILD AGAIN!



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