30 November 2012


This morning I was tempted to head out to The Peak District again for a long country walk. Instead, I marched in to the city centre ("town") to see "The Master" at our "Showroom" cinema. The light was beautiful and so for once I took my camera with me. Rather than waffling on and boring you to death as I usually do  - here are six urban snaps from today's excursion:-
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Old letteing on the windows of Russell Brothers' disused factory.
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Charles Darwin mural by "Rocket01"
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Urban graffiti by Kid Acne
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Modern buildings in Sheffield's city centre
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Keating Tower - social housing
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Back at Banner Cross, the light is fading
now. In this pub, I have spent a king's ransom

28 November 2012


"Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel. " - Katherine de Chevalle

"He's a wolf in cheap clothing." - Robert Brague

"Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child."
Dan Quayle, former US Vice President

"Electrocution lessons help to improve diction." - Ian Rhodes (aka Shooting Parrots)

"It's nice to go widow shopping at Christmas." - Mick from "Mick's Page"

"After a long air flight, it is reassuring to get your feet back onto terracotta." - Libby (from The Midlands)

"A triangle with all its sides equal is called an equatorial triangle." - Daphne Franks
"A rolling stone gathers no moths" - Jan Blawat

"At New Year I like to attend a Scottish Mahogany" - Maurice the Hippo (Angola)

" 'Don't' is a contraption." - Jennyta (Wrexham, Wales)

"I don't understand. You need to be a bit more pacific."  - Helen (Brisbane)

"It'a a long play but there's an intercourse in the middle." - Earl John Gray

"If you swallow poison, you should take an anecdote." - Mountain Thyme (Colorado)

" The doctor told him he had very close veins" - Dave (Hamilton NZ)

"One of my favourite songs is Michael Rode the Girl Next Door" -Brian (Catalonia, near Spain)

27 November 2012


Continuing with our weekend trip down to London - there are many ways to see the city and I guess that each visitor returns with a very different bunch of images in their head. I have been to London perhaps thirty times - for football matches, concerts, theatre outings or simply to see friends - including my late brother Paul who resided for several years in Wood Green and later Tufnell Park, but I had never been to Greenwich on the south bank of the Thames.

Rather than waffle on as I usually do, no doubt boring everyone to death, I will instead share six more photographs with you - to give you some of the flavour of this past Sunday.
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Thin house on St James Street, Hammersmith
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The Queen's House, Greenwich - designed by Inigo Jones.
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Ship in  a massive bottle - National Maritime Museum
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Ian and Ruby on Greenwich Hill - admiring the view
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Busker in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel - completed in 1902 for
the convenience of London dock workers.
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Finally - St Pancras Station and the trip back to Sheffield.
The statue is called "The Meeting Place" and it is thirty feet high.

26 November 2012


Nov 25.12 London 027
I haven't posted for a few days. Did anybody miss miss my interesting and sometimes humorous verbosity? I doubt it. But just in case you were wondering... I was arrested on Friday night following a brawl at the local Indian takeaway in which I hospitalized three young thugs who were repeatedly pummelling the friendly Bangladeshi proprietors with baseball bats when I entered the establishment. Only kidding. We were in London - our glorious capital city - mainly to visit our son Ian and his lovely girlfriend - Ruby.

Early on Sunday morning, as Shirley slept in our £103 hotel room (Grrrr!),  I walked down to Father Thames and snapped the picture at the top of this post. Can you tell what it is? I'll give you a clue. "Come on Oxford! Come on Cambridge!" If you have ever watched the University Boat Race on television, you'll be sure to have seen this building. Enlarge it and you'll even be able to read what it once was even though now it has been converted - like many such riverside buildings - into luxury apartments. Plenty of Humphreys and Lucindas in there. I say yaah!

Golden morning light illuminated the building beautifully at the beginning of a gorgeous day. Later, we collected Ian and Ruby and went to Greenwich to visit the National Maritime Museum, taking a stroll through Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory. The view of London was splendid as you'll see from the bottom photograph. By Greenwich Market we ate pie and mash with peas and gravy, preferring to decline the jellied eels.

On Saturday night, we were riding on a red London bus to Notting Hill Gate. A bunch of lairy lads were on the top deck, laughing and talking loudly with occasional swear words thrown in for good measure. Their manner of speaking English is so different from what you might have heard from Londoners in the sixties. Back then it was the traditional Cockney brogue - like the Garnetts in "Till Death Us Do Part" but on Saturday night, it was all "innit" and "Knowwatahmean-man?" - Cockney twang had disappeared entirely from the lads' pronunciation and I wondered where they had learnt this new and to me jarring, modernistic, streetwise English. In school? A correspondence course? Naturally, I lurched to the back of the bus and urged them to speak properly but they seemed rather non-plussed.
Nov 25.12 London 085
In the foreground - Greenwich Park - still recovering from Olympic showjumping.

23 November 2012


Bib Lane, Brookhouse
Though it pains me to say this - thanks to two other middle-aged bloggers - both from the wrong side of the Pennines for directing me towards "Flikr" as a way of avoiding Google charges - now that my Picasa allowance has apparently been used up. The helpful lads from the rainy side are none other than Mr S. Parrots and Mr Steve of "Occupied Country" fame to whom I have already posted "Boneless Banquets for One" courtesy of KFC uk.

I tried to load the picture above directly from my "Pictures" folder but found the same irritating warning signal cropping up - I have used up my 1GB of storage. So, even though it was more long-winded, I managed to put the picture above into my Flikr album and then pasted its URL code into the HTML version of this page. A lot of messing about if you ask me but I got there - I hope.

The picture appeared in last night's edition of our local evening paper - "The Sheffield Star". I took it last Friday in the hamlet of Brookhouse which is just east of post-industrial Thurcroft. You see so many things when out walking that you just flash by and fail to notice when driving a car.

I cheated a little by lifting some of the ivy and tucking it behind the street sign. The postbox isn't even very old  - it's embossed with "ER" - "Elizabeth Regina". Alien visitors to this blog - such as Americans, New Zealanders, Australians, Andorrans and Afghanis may not be aware that old cast iron postboxes in Great Britain have always been embossed with the initials of the ruling monarch. You still find many that have "VR" on them - "Victoria Regina".

Bib Lane is an odd name isn't it? I think that's what mainly caught my eye. It is possible that etymologically  it owes its name to the clear limestone-sweetened brook that flows close by. The word "bib" which has been recorded in English since 1580, stems from an old  verb - bibben "to drink" - but of course I am only surmising. There could be a different more localised explanation.

22 November 2012


That night a bright star shone and three Hell's Angels came from the east on motorbikes. It is the house where I was born many years ago - in the  bedroom to the right. In those days, it was very common for country women to give birth at home, attended perhaps by the district nurse or the local GP. It certainly wasn't some kind of lifestyle choice. Besides, though the modern western world has turned birthing and midwifery into pseudo-sciences, human history has demonstrated a less anxious view of childbirth. It's just one of those things. Like shelling peas.

I lived in that house for the first seventeen years of my life but have never been inside it since. Little nicks were made on a wooden door jamb to plot growth spurts and there was an old wash-house where I kept my pet mice. Next to that was the coalhouse where we stored both anthracite and coke. There was no central heating.

It was the village schoolhouse and one day when some men came to replace floorboards in our sitting room, as well as discovering an enormous puffball fungus, we also found a stack of Victorian slates and pencil-thin chalks that had been  used in the old school during the nineteenth century.

Even as a child of three, I would wander into the school next door and affix myself to which ever class I chose. I became the school's little mascot - carried on big boys' shoulders or bounced on big girls' knees. The school was just an extension of my home. I appear in several formal school photographs sitting amongst the big kids.

An old fashioned black bakelite telephone sat on the window sill of our dining room next to the kitchen. It was there on the day I was born and it was still there the day we departed - seventeen years later - still working perfectly well - but by then you no longer had to go through telephone operators in nearby Hull. The world had moved on.

I have so many memories of that house. Dad in his pyjamas blasting noisy rooks with a shotgun he had borrowed from a local farmer. Mum forever sewing beneath her sidelight. The coldness of linoleum in wintertime when you swung your feet out of bed. Paul dissecting a dogfish in the box room. Father Christmas leaving wonderful parcels in the dead of night. Simon and I drinking several bottles of "Babycham" when I was nine and he was seven - getting secretly inebriated while our parents were out. Robin customising his Lambretta scooter in the garage. Me listening to Bob Dylan, Cream and Led Zeppelin for the first time. Amy Spicer polishing mum's brass and silver ornaments. A gipsy selling clothes pegs from a basket. Oscar's kittens. So many memories.

I was going to include one or two other photos with this post but after seven and a half years of blogging it appears that my Picasa photo allowance has been used up and if I want to increase my storage I must pay the Google god money or delete old photos - which I is what I did just to get the schoolhouse picture in at the top of this post. Has anybody else encountered this problem?

21 November 2012


On Sunday afternoon, I saw this flower arrangement in Holy Trinity Church, Ulley - a squat little stone building in a half-forgotten South Yorkshire village. Sunlight streamed in and they were calling out to be snapped. I share these flowers with anyone who is hurting through loss. To the beleaguered families of Gaza. To the loved ones of young soldiers lost in the pointless "war on terror" in Afghanistan. To those who are battling with physical ailments and to those whose lives have been blighted by depression, mental illness or unemployment. These flowers are specially for you.

19 November 2012


Fordlandia housing
Phew! I have finally finished reading "Fordlandia" by Greg Grandin - having first got it out of the local library in September. It is a very well-researched book - complete with footnotes, extensive chapter notes and a fourteen page index. 

At the most obvious level it is all about Henry Ford's most outrageous pet scheme - to develop a huge rubber plantation in the Amazon basin in order to avoid reliance on rubber supplies from southern Asia which were, in the first decades of the twentieth century, controlled by certain Dutch and British monopolies. Ford didn't like to be beholden to anyone and that is why, from 1925 onwards, he pumped millions of dollars into developing the Tapajos river site that his company had acquired cunningly and rather too cheaply from the Brazilian government.

But this wasn't just about rubber, Ford seemed intent on bringing something of small town Michigan, to the temperamental Amazon jungle. There would be clapboard houses with neat gardens for the workers, company stores, a well-equipped hospital, a golf course, schools, modern sewage and water piping and a powerhouse to produce reliable electricity. Just as Ford had tamed the wildwoods of Michigan and engineered the enormous successes of the Ford Motor Company, so he believed he could tame the jungle - almost by force of will.

He hadn't counted on the caterpillars, the leaf blight, the indifference of Brazilian workers, the lies and the graft of some of his key managers, the pilfering, tropical diseases,  poisonous snakes, flood seasons or transport difficulties. It was an expensive experiment that was ultimately doomed to failure. As each corner was turned, new problems were encountered. So by November 1945 the game was up and the Ford Company finally abandoned their Amazon site. In twenty years, hardly any rubber had been produced. The abysmal failure of the project speaks of arrogance, ignorance and lack of careful planning. What was meant to be the fulfilment of a dream, and a living statement about the force of American capitalism, became a blot on Henry Ford's glistening reputation. Demented, he died in 1947 without ever visiting Fordlandia.

So Greg Grandin wasn't  just writing about a failed rubber plantation. His book's also about the nature of the American Dream, the death of omnipotence and the ongoing tragedy of modern man's relationship with the rainforest. It's a horror story that continues to this day and Henry Ford's laughable scheme was just a chapter in its tragic plot.

Walt Disney, one of Henry Ford's best friends, sponsored the production of a short film about Fordlandia called "The Amazon Awakens" in 1944. Only a year later the entire project was ditched though the rosy propagandist Disney  film gives absolutely no inkling of what was about to happen:-

18 November 2012


In "Yorkshire Rambles", the cult international TV programme, your roving reporter visited the town of Selby yesterday. A very different place from Thurcroft, it sits on a bend in the River Ouse, some fourteen miles south of York. 

Shirley's sister Carolyn lives nearby and we were paying her a day visit which would include a trip to Selby - birthplace of King Henry I. They were looking forward to shopping but I just wanted to look round the town's ancient abbey It was founded in 1069, though Vikings and Saxons had occupied the abbey site long before that.

It was a splendid day to view the old abbey with sunlight streaming in and very few other visitors in attendance. What an amazing building! Gnarled like an old oak tree, it has many stories to tell and is arguably one of  England's best kept secrets. So shh! Don't tell anybody else.

High up in the south clerestory, I noted the famed Washington Window containing the heraldic arms of the same Washington family that produced the first president of the USA. The glass is fourteenth century.When Glover the Herald visited Selby in 1584-5 he described the escutcheon as 'Argent, two bars and in chief three mullets pierced, gules'. 

The 14th century Washington coat of arms contains three stars above red and white stripes, and is one of the first known representations of the stars and stripes pattern later used for the US flag. The window is thought to commemorate John Wessington, Prior of Durham (1416-1446). Because of this  Washington connection, Selby Abbey is on the 'American Trail' of attractions around the UK with strong American historical connections.

Other noteworthy contents include the magnificent fourteenth century stained glass window directly behind the altar - The Jesse Window. It tells the story of Jesus's lineage and is testament to the skill and patience of long forgotten medieval craftsmen. Below you can see a section of the window and in the next picture you can see the Jesse Window looming behind the intricately carved wooden altar:-
Something else that caught our eye was a feature called the "Lepersquint" which was essentially a hole in the thick limestone north wall that allowed medieval lepers to stand outside the church and look in towards the altar. They could thereby participate in religious services without infecting healthy townspeople. I imagine the lepers pushing and shoving each other to get a look in as bits of their bodies fell off..."I'd give my right arm to look through that lepersquint!"
We stayed for an hour or so and then Shirley and Carolyn went shopping while I strolled out of the town centre, taking in various sights and outside some Victorian almshouses I chatted to a ninety two year old resident who was waiting for her seventy year old daughter to arrive to undertake a few "messages".

Selby felt like a town that is proud of itself. There was hardly any litter or graffiti and the main shopping streets had not been taken over by charities. People seemed cheerful and well-heeled as they went about their business and in "Mr C's Fish Restaurant" we were greeted warmly by the staff before sitting down to one of the most popular and traditional English meals - battered cod and chips (fried potato fingers) with mushy peas, buttered bread and a fresh pot of tea. 

Here's Shirley and Carolyn in front of the magnificent Norman west door of Selby Abbey:-

17 November 2012


For everything there has to be a first and I guess that this must be the first time that anybody anywhere has ever blogged about a former pit village in South Yorkshire called Thurcroft. It's like the land that time forgot. It isn't very well signposted and to the north and west it is bordered by motorways. Winding lanes are its main links with the outside world. Sheffield is only five miles away but I don't know anybody else in my neighbourhood who has ever been to Thurcroft.
John Street, Thurcroft
It has a population of just over 5,000 simply because once the village was dominated by the local coalmine and its associated charcoal coloured slagheaps. No duck ponds here or oak-timbered pubs, no horsey girls exercising their ponies, no grouse shooters or Range Rovers. This is a different world, a world of work but without the work. When the pit finally closed in 1991, it was as if the village had suffered a debilitating stroke from which it has never really recovered.
Nature reclaiming the old colliery site

There's a kebab shop on Green Arbour Road, a fish and chip shop, three or four hairdressers, "Thurcroft Mini-Mart" and "Booze 4 You", "Di's Diner", "C.J's Frozen Foods" as well as the "Thurcroft Miners Welfare Club" where pints of bitter cost £1.55 and lager is £2.19. It's a place where people really know what hard times mean. You can see it in their eyes.

Not long after parking my car near the Miners Welfare I needed a lavatory and so brazenly stepped into a  functional red brick establishment called "Top Club". I noticed a sign on the door - "If you were barred by previous management you are still barred!" and in the Gents there was another notice that said "Anyone found taking drugs in here will be barred for life!" How charming! This was clearly not the sort of social venue frequented by Messrs Cameron and Clegg, BBC executives or Premiership footballers. They inhabit a very different kind of England the sort of England that Thurcroft people only see on TV. To them it might as well be California.

I marched past the huge colliery site which Nature is trying desperately to retrieve. When I first started teaching in South Yorkshire I frequently used to ride a slow bus back to Sheffield past Thurcroft Colliery from an equally godforsaken pit village called Dinnington. But in those days each of the pits were in full production and families had both money and pride. Now it's as if everybody's favourite grandma has just died.

Thurcroft's primary school is now called "Thurcroft Junior Academy" and is run by an "educational trust". Trust? I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them. They have even put the poor children in blazers with old gold edging. What the hell for? This is Thurcroft - not leafy Surrey or Oxfordshire. Why does anybody imagine that forcing kids to wear traditional uniforms will somehow encourage greater educational success? Next to the school is the Gordon Bennett Memorial Hall which seems a very appropriate name. Junior Academy? A pit village without a pit? Gordon Bennett!

If you would like to see more of this unsung and forgotten place, why not cruise round it courtesy of Google Streetview?  There are many different versions of England and not all of them belong on biscuit tin lids. Like other hardworking South Yorkshire pit villages, Thurcroft gave its very lifeblood to this country and for that it deserves enormous respect.
(Blogpost amended May 2020)
Thurcroft Junior Academy aka Thurcroft Primary School

16 November 2012


Yesterday, polling stations were open across England and Wales for the election of our first local Police and Crime Commissioners. The turnout was utterly abysmal - testament to the electorate's justifiable suspicions and disinterest in the whole expensive affair. This is the first election I have refused to participate in, viewing my non-participation as a suitable sign of disapproval. Around the country, turnouts appear to have ranged between 7% and 19% and in the city of Coventry, for example, many voters simply spoilt their ballot papers. The BBC report that some polling stations attracted no voters whatsoever  - empty ballot boxes.

Hi-jacked by political parties, in my estimation the bandwagon has taken precious funds away from police forces. The Commissioners with their offices, support staff and generous expenses will each cost the nation around quarter of a million pounds a year. That's a hell of a lot police officers' salaries.

Over in Hull, it is likely that former Deputy Primeminister, John Prescott (aged 74) will become that area's first commissioner. I don't wish to appear ageist but in the majority of occupations people of seventy four have retired long before - in their early sixties - if not before. Why should Lord Prescott be any different?

The bottom line is that the neverending battle to uphold the law and suppress criminal activity costs money - lots of it. When funds are cut back, the basic task of any police force becomes more difficult and "democratically elected" commissioners will have no impact whatsoever in achieving more effective policing when funds are constantly being eroded by the same Westminster government that came up with this stupid idea.

15 November 2012


It takes forty five minutes to march from our house to "The Showroom" cinema in the city centre. So this pale November morning I set off just after ten o'clock for the 11am over 55's showing of an Australian film called "The Sapphires". Not only did I get to see the film at a bargain basement price, I also received a free coffee and a piece of fruitcake.

The film reminded me of "The Commitments" and was equally pleasant as light entertainment. If you were going to pigeonhole it you might say that "The Sapphires" is a musical comedy, loosely based on the true story of an aboriginal singing group that entertained troops in Vietnam in the early nineteen seventies. If you're looking for gritty realism or a meaningful cinematic post mortem on the degradations heaped upon aboriginal Australians then you won't find it here. Instead, you'll find some tears and some laughter in a "feel good" movie that is interspersed with some of the classics of soul music.

Directed by Wayne Blair, "The Sapphires", released in August 2012, was genuinely entertaining and left a pleasant glow behind in the auditorium. As Betty said to three other grey-haired ladies in the carpeted foyer afterwards, "Did you enjoy that?" and they all smiled, replying "Yes", "Good fillm that one" etc.. I think Wayne Blair, his crew and the actors would have been delighted with such a positive reaction. Sometimes you don't want to see films that brand themselves deep into your memory - sometimes you just want to be entertained.
Driving through Vietnam, The Sapphires with their manager Dave are
alarmed when they come to a Vietcong roadblock.

14 November 2012


...and so after visiting Bolsover Castle, we had a little look at the town itself before strolling off into the countryside. The Remembrance Sunday ceremonies were still in full swing by the town's well-kept war memorial. It seemed that everybody had turned out including the yellow-capped brownies over whom I peered. Oddly, the two minute silence happened at midday and not at the usual eleven o' clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

We had hot drinks and jacket potatoes in "The Cavendish" before setting off along Moor Lane, past the entrance to Bolsover Town's football ground - "The Field of Dreams"  and then across the fields of earth, following ancient rights of way to the delightful village of Scarcliffe. We passed by the source of the River Poulter and along grassy Poulterwell Lane to Palterton, then back northwards along the limestone ridge to Bolsover. There we visited the antique centre in what was once a grand public house and Shirley went back to the castle to buy a set of English heritage chutneys as a Christmas present for Alison - a friend and work colleague.
Scarcliffe - St Leonard's
Palterton Primary School

Bolsover Parish Church
And finally, let us return to the castle for those (mentioning no names) who like to see pictures of little boys weeing. You know who you are:-

13 November 2012


Model of Bolsover Castle with the real thing behind it.
" Bolsover Castle occupies the hilltop site of a medieval fortress built by the Peveril family. The wealthy Sir Charles Cavendish - who already owned several other great mansions, including one only a few miles away - bought the old fortress in 1612 and began work on his Little Castle project.

His son William - playboy, poet, courtier and later Civil War Royalist general and first Duke of Newcastle - inherited the Little Castle in 1617 and set about its completion, assisted by the architect John Smythson. What resulted was a kind of 'toy keep', housing tiers of luxurious staterooms. The exquisitely carved fireplaces, and richly-coloured murals and panelling of its miraculously preserved and beautifully restored interiors still take the visitor on an allegorical journey from earthly concerns to heavenly (and erotic) delights.

William also added the vast and stately Terrace Range overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale, now a dramatic roofless shell. To show off his achievement, in 1634 he invited King Charles I and his court to "Love's Welcome to Bolsover", a masque specially written by Ben Jonson for performance in the Fountain Garden. Finally he constructed the cavernous Riding House with its magnificent roof and viewing galleries, among the finest surviving indoor riding schools in the country and a landmark in British equestrianism: here he indulged his passion for training great horses in stately dressage. 

The Venus Fountain, with 23 new statues, plays again for the first time in centuries, and the 'Caesar paintings' commissioned by Cavendish and depicting Roman emperors and empresses have also returned to Bolsover." - English Heritage Description

As Sunday was scheduled to be sunny, Shirley and I set off early for Bolsover - a little Derbyshire town we had never visited before. It lies about seven miles east of Chesterfield on the other side of the M1 motorway and was once well-known as a centre for coal mining. But the pits have all closed and evidence of that dirty industry is hard to find.

Before setting off on the five mile walk I had planned out of the town, we visited Bolsover Castle and we were pleased to find that only a dozen other visitors had bought tickets so as we explored the site with its amazing "Little Castle" we could do so in peace without being jostled or distracted. 

The castle's location is quite spectacular and to see it on a blue sky November morning was marvellous. Below you can see just a sample of my photos. Top row - oak roof construction in The Riding Range & view from The Terrace Range. Second row - cross-shaped aperture in the castle wall & "The Little Castle". Third row - Ceiling of the Elysium Room & bench in north western corner. Bottom - Shirley in the enclosed garden of "The Little Castle".

Click to enlarge photos:-

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