21 January 2019


Driving over to Hull earlier this month, I was accompanied by Stew - my daughter's fiancĂ©e. Being Sheffield born and bred, he supports Sheffield Wednesday - one of this city's Championship football teams

As we were motoring along, I found myself sharing a couple of stories with him about past adventures. Then he chipped in with a story of his own.

Three years ago he enjoyed a big road trip in the USA with a couple of his cousins. They found themselves in the Appalachian Mountains and though they didn't have time to tramp the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail, on one fine day they did have time to undertake a nice circular walk following a recommended national park route. Stew recalled that it should have been a relatively easy walk of some nine miles.

Unfortunately, they got lost. Perhaps the signage was poor. Perhaps the path was little trodden but whatever the reason they got lost and after a few miles they had to turn back and then they got lost again.

Stew spotted a big brown snake lying across the trail, blocking their way. He got a big branch and was able to manoeuvre the serpent into the adjacent undergrowth. He had learnt quite a bit about handling snakes while working in Australia.

It was a hot day and their water had run out but at least they were finally certain that they were closing in on the car park where their hire vehicle was parked. Then they spotted two black bears. Oh no!

It was at this point in Stew's narration that I interrupted, asking, "What state were you in?"

"Oh we were distressed, thirsty and tired," he said.

Slightly puzzled, I paused.

"No. What state were you in? Was it Tennessee? Perhaps Maryland? West Virginia?"

We had a good laugh about that misunderstanding. It turns out that they were probably in Virginia.

By the way, just in case you were planning to tackle it, here's a list of hazards walkers might encounter on The Appalachian Trail:-
Severe weather
American black bears
Tick-borne diseases
Biting flies
Steep gradients
Limited water
Forest fires
Dangerous water crossings
Diarrhoea from bad water
Falling rocks
Rednecks or hunters with guns
Drug crazed hippies
Trump supporters
Poison ivy
Venomous snakes

20 January 2019


Yesterday afternoon I finished reading "Endeavour" by Peter Moore. It is a lovingly researched tome that plots the history of a very special ship that was built in Whitby, Yorkshire in 1764

Its first name was "The Earl of Pembroke" and its initial purpose was to transport coal from The River Tyne down to London. It also was involved in trading voyages to The Baltic Sea and probably to northern Germany too.

Made from Yorkshire oak, it was a capacious and buoyant vessel, easy to navigate and it quickly gained favourable reports from experienced mariners.

In 1768, the British Navy in association with The Royal Society were on the look out for a suitable ship to undertake long distance missions to the little known South Pacific. One of those tasks was to observe the transit of Venus from the island of Tahiti.

"The Earl of Pembroke" was requisitioned and fitted out for the voyage. In the process the ship gained a new name - "The Endeavour" and a new skipper who had co-incidentally first begun his education as a seaman in Whitby. He was James Cook of The Royal Navy.

When the ship returned to England, three years had passed by but the mission had been stupendously successful. The transit of Venus had been observed successfully and  Cook had made amazingly accurate maps of  New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. On board was the botanist Joseph Banks who had gathered many specimens of previously unknown plants.

Later "Endeavour" made voyages to The Falkland Islands where Britain was establishing a colony. Later still she was renamed "The Lord Sandwich" and was involved in carrying mercenary German or "Hessian" troops to the American colonies as Britain sought to suppress rebellions that preceded the consolidation of American independence in 1776.

She was eventually scuttled near Newport, Rhode Island in an attempt to block one of the sea channels there. News had already arrived that a French fleet was on its way across the Atlantic to support the American rebels.

Peter Moore's excellent book is more than just a book about a ship. He sees the years of "Endeavour" as a time of enlightenment as the people of the world became more bonded together than ever. Humanity was making great strides in science, invention and international trade. We were striving towards the modern world we know today and "The Endeavour" was arguably the flagship of that movement.

I enjoyed it immensely.
A model of "Endeavour" in Whitby Museum

19 January 2019


Olivia Colman as Queen Anne
Yesterday lunchtime, Shirley and I travelled by bus into the city centre. We were heading for "The Showroom" cinema to see the film of the moment - "The Favourite". It stars Olivia Colman as Queen Anne who was the queen of Great Britain and Ireland in the early eighteenth century. There are two other powerful female parts in the film - Baroness Abigail Masham played by Emma Stone and Sarah Churchill - The Duchess of Marlborough - played by Rachel Weisz.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, "The Favourite" provides a memorable and often uncomfortable cinematic experience. It is about intrigue, influence, deception, rabbits and gout. In the background there's an unseen and expensive war with France going on but the action of the film occurs almost exclusively within the walls of Kensington Palace.

Queen Anne, played quite brilliantly by Olivia Colman is a sad and unpredictable character, tortured by gout and other ailments. She is used and abused by Abigail and Sarah who are both self-seeking and rather cruel. They twist the queen round their little fingers and tactically they even share her bed.

"The Favourite" is a gripping watch. It certainly held my attention throughout but ultimately the human spirit does not triumph and there's not a single character you can identify with or really root for. They are all despicable. Consequently, I left The Showroom with a slight sense of despair. I was not uplifted or happily entertained. It was almost as disturbing as an attack of gout and I speak from past experience.

18 January 2019


What's that rising above the rooftops in the Lowfield district of central Sheffield? And then another one popped up as I walked along nearby Staveley Road. Are they blunt-nosed space rockets? Perhaps they are giant pepper pots.
No my friends - it's the Madina Masjid Mosque. It was completed in 2006 at a reputed cost of £5 million. This money was raised by the local Muslim community and there is apparently no truth in the rumour that they received generous donations from Saudi Arabian benefactors.
I blogged about it previously in October 2013 when I even got to go inside.

Mosques rising above English  rooftops. It has become a familiar scene in many large northern towns and cities - from Rochdale to Rotherham and from Bradford to Blackburn. 

By the way, a mosque does not have to look like that. Islamic teachings say nothing of significance about mosque design. The Madina Masjid Mosque looks as if it has been flown over from Riyadh or Jeddah and lowered into position.

I have never seen any women entering the mosque - only men, Why should that be? After all, in our dwindling Church of England congregations women are frequently predominant. They stand and sing side by side with men - as equals.

17 January 2019


At one extreme there are people who live in uncluttered, minimalist environments. At the other extreme there are hoarders who never throw anything away and live in chaotic, jumbled circumstances. Most of us exist between those extremes.

Those who champion tidiness and have expunged "unnecessary" things from their homes will often attempt to claim the higher ground - as if to say that the minimalist way is the best way. And those who live with clutter will occasionally chastise themselves as though apologising for their muddled  and somewhat disorganised lives.

For must of us achieving a state of happy equilibrium in our homes is a constant battle. We are always putting things away, tidying up, making decisions about keeping or jettisoning things. A lot of it is deeply psychological.

Those whose lives and homes have a fastidious, spartan quality may be seeking to ditch what is past - preferring to demonstrate that they are focused on the future. Conversely, those who surround themselves with clutter may be seeking to hang on to what is gone - looking back for comfort  and understanding rather than forging forward and embracing the future.

I just snapped a couple of pictures in my own residence. We have two mantelpieces downstairs and both are adorned with things. Every item means something to us. They conjure up memories of past times, past people, past travels or discoveries. But perhaps a minimalist visitor might simply view all of this stuff as clutter to be expunged from our home environment.

We never planned that the mantelpieces would evolve like this. It just happened. I have the feeling that very often the home environments we create speak outwardly about our inner selves. 

16 January 2019


Theresa May in The House of Commons yesterday
Yesterday in Parliament
FOR Theresa May's European Withdrawal Bill: 202
AGAINST  May's Withdrawal Bill: 432

I watched the political drama unfolding on our Samsung television screen live from London. May's bill was roundly beaten and deservedly so.

She just was not listening. In addition, she used disgraceful delaying tactics to push this decisive vote into the new year, closer and closer to the March 29th EU leaving date agreed with Brussels. Diligent, dogged and hardworking she would make an excellent administrator but effective leaders need other qualities - vision, imagination, munificence, wisdom and the ability to seize the moment. In such respects she is sadly lacking.

Where does Great Britain go from here? God only knows. The Brexit referendum of June 2016 was like Pandora's box. Now all the evil spirits are out and we may never get them back in their container. The only reason for the referendum in the first place was to appease right wing Tories living in the past.

They will continue to reside in their grand country homes checking their stocks and shares, with children in private schools and two cars on the gravel. They will not personally suffer because of Brexit - which ever way it goes. To them it's just a game.

Perhaps the way forward is another referendum. I have the feeling that a second referendum would result in a "Remain" majority but that would not be an end to this chaos and uncertainty. The bitterness and rancour will remain for years to come.

Where are you now David Cameron? They say you are writing your memoirs in a shepherd's hut at the bottom of your Oxfordshire garden. May I suggest a title for your last chapter? "My Biggest Mistake - Brexit". Although I accept that this would not be in your nature - surely some sort of apology to the British people would be in order. You could donate your book royalties to food banks.

15 January 2019


Yesterday, before tootling off to the "Lidl" supermarket for supplies, I asked Clint to make a detour to an area of Sheffield known as Kelham Island. Once it was the throbbing heart of Sheffield's metal industries but now it is becoming a  hip inner city neighbourhood with new apartment blocks going up as old industrial buildings are re-calibrated as modern workplaces.

I looked through the window of a former factory where files and chisels were once manufactured. But now there are houseplants, carpets and people in casual clothes tapping away at computers.
The River Don flows through Kelham Island. Back in 2007 that river was so swollen with rainwater draining from the hills that it flooded surrounding streets. Since then significant flood defence work has happened. It is unlikely that we will see a similar flood event in my lifetime but with changing weather patterns, who knows?

I strolled around Kelham Island for an hour, gathering images with my trusty Sony bridge camera. Four of those pictures accompany this blogpost.
And then it was time to head to "Lidl" where amongst other items I purchased two punnets of black cherries. pak choi, salmon, milk, bread, carrots, bananas and three small bottles of "Chang" beer to remind me of Thailand. In the Thai language "chang" means elephant. But I didn't buy one of them as there was no room left in my trolley.