29 August 2013


So here we are in Bonnie Scotland - just over the border, near the pretty market town of Kelso. We have had two lovely days of summery weather but this morning it is overcast and uninviting. On the way north we stopped off to visit the awesome edifice that is Durham Cathedral, paying homage at the tombs of St Cuthbert and The Venerable Bede. It is a building that makes the mind boggle - I mean - how could they? The sheer audacity of such a structure beggars belief when you think of the times in which it was constructed.
Durham's magnificent eleventh century cathedral
The tomb of St Bede in Durham Cathedral
Then onwards and upwards as the bishop said to the actress - until we came to the border with Scotland. We expected pipers and girls dancing skirls but instead there was "The Borderer" fast food caravan where you could buy greasy scotch pies, disgusting haggises or delicious light and golden Yorkshire puddings in a rich beef and onion gravy:-
Fast food caravan at the border with Scotland
And so finally we came to peaceful Plum Tree Cottage on the edge of Ednam. Perfect for two people with amazing views to the south.
Our little cottage at Ednam north of Kelso
Gorgeous view from the rear of our cottage towards The Cheviot Hills
Yesterday we met up with one of my photographic heroes - The Baxatron aka Walter Baxter from Galashiels. And what a fine fellow he turned out to be in his Baxter patterned kilt and woolly tam o' shanter but more of him some other time (be afraid Walter!).  We also visited my late brother-in-law's memorial stone in the graveyard at Denholm near Hawick.

These Scottish borderlands are delightful - so much history - so many little lanes and unexpected vistas. The agriculture seems bountiful in this most productive of summers with fields of grain rolling off into the distance. No wonder the Baxatron feels little need to leave his homeland these days and no wonder he has photographed his surroundings over and over with deep affection and boyish inquisitiveness. But not a single scotch egg in sight! Perhaps it's not the right time of year for the scotch egg birds to lay...

26 August 2013


On Monday morning Shirley and I will travel to a distant foreign land where the natives' English is unintelligible and strange customs are practised. A land of pale ginger people where the men wear chequered skirts and landlords call pints of bitter pints of heavy. Here are three picture clues...
Yes my friends, you have guessed it! Bonnie Scotland, land of midges and highland cattle, white vinegar and cockaleekie soup. We will stay for three nights in a small cottage - Plum Tree Cottage - near the Border town of Kelso before driving up to St Andrews where Shirley wants to attend a study day on diabetes at the famous university. Then on our way back home next Saturday we plan to stop over with our old friends Steve and Moira in the Northumberland town of Alnwick - recently made famous because Alnwick Castle was converted to Hogwarts School for the Harry Potter films.

So you will be pleased to learn that my blogging activity may be limited over the next few days. Apart from anything else, I don't think they yet have electricity in Scotland. Only kidding - they probably discovered it if you believe everything that blubbery Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party says. Away the noo!
Pictures:-  a) a haggis b) a furry sporran c) Scotch whisky named after the national poet

25 August 2013


In my salad days when modern music was my obsession, I scorned acts like The Carpenters. They were cheesy and plastic but as the years have passed I have come to appreciate that Karen Carpenter had a very special and plaintive voice. It was a voice that was subtly imbued with the inner conflicts and uncertainties that would lead to her untimely death in 1983 - at the relatively tender age of thirty two. She was perhaps the most famous victim of anorexia nervosa and even in this video clip you may see something skeletal about her appearance. And why is she seated and why is her fringe threatening to hide her eyes?
It was a life that should have been glittery, secure and happy but as the 1989 biographical film "The Karen Carpenter Story" reveals, it was in reality a life that was riddled with  heartache, self-doubt and tragedy. It is therefore perhaps amazing that she gave us her voice - part of the enduring soundtrack of our age - touching many of us still from so far away..."We'll find a place where there's room to grow". Hope you found it Karen and thank you.

24 August 2013


It was back in the nineteen twenties that the expression "to go over like a lead balloon" was born in an American cartoon strip. After absorbing this expression, the English soon altered it to the slightly more logical"to go down like a lead balloon".  We use it to describe enterprises, ideas or jokes that have in effect failed - like balloons that cannot fly.

It appears that my last post went down like a lead balloon in some quarters. Funny that. When I wrote it I simply assumed that visitors would immediately latch on to the format, recognising that it was all tongue in cheek and that they would reply with their own exaggerated, comical and imaginary notions of what real poverty means. It was meant to be a funny game. I am sure that most other British people are familiar with this routine.

This is not to say that in any way I was mocking the poor or deriding the effects of genuine poverty. Not at all. And I am sorry for any accidental misunderstanding or offence that may have been caused. It just goes to show that even though 99% of the people I encounter in the blogosphere claim English as their first language, there may sometimes be communication breakdowns caused by subtle cultural differences.

Perhaps I'd have been on safer ground relating yet another countryside ramble such as the one I enjoyed yesterday - plodding out of the North Nottinghamshire market town of Retford into the lanes and villages that lie to the east of it and the wetlands that surround the River Idle. Ten miles of plodding that finished with a pint of bitter shandy in "The Packet Inn" on Grove Lane:-
And that pint you see on my table went down like... like Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" - delivered fifty years ago this month.

22 August 2013


Home sweet home -  only surviving photo of the chicken hut
Growing up in the heart of East Yorkshire, I knew dire, unyielding poverty. Though my father was the village schoolmaster, he was saddled by endless debt - something to do with the gambling addiction he had developed during the second world war. 

We lived in a wooden chicken hut down by the canal - Mum, Dad, my three brothers and I. There was no electricity or running water and if we needed the toilet we had to nip over to the reeds by the canal. Of course food was always a problem. Sometimes we found duck and swan eggs in nests amidst the reeds and at harvest time we could be seen gathering individual corn seeds from fields that had been just mown by combine harvesters. At potato picking time, the whole family would be out from dawn to dusk. It was back-breaking work but we could filch  enough potatoes to see us through the winter.

At Christmastime, the village butcher - Tommy Lofthouse - always took pity on us and would send us a whole pig's head which Mum would roast over a blazing Yule log.

I got my first pair of shoes when I was eleven. They'd been left behind after the church jumble sale which is where we got most of our clothes from. Those first shoes were hob-nailed and the worn-out soles flapped freely. My younger brother - Simon - mostly wore hand-me-down gingham dresses and many villagers even thought he was a girl with his curly blonde locks.

Life was very hard in the chicken hut but we were used to it and quite content. On the coldest winter nights we huddled together shivering under the pile of old sacks that we called a bed.  But one day the fearsome landowner - Sir Xavier H. Brague came to evict us - driving us off his land with much cursing and threats of extreme violence. Then we had to move to a kennel in the grounds of the old rectory. Corpulent Canon W. Crow-Magnon who lived alone in that imposing ten bedroom Victorian  mansion took pity on us and made Rufus - his Alsatian guard dog - come and sleep by his roaring fireside. Sometimes at night we crept up to the French windows and watched as Canon Crow-Magnon necked whole bottles of ruby port or French cognac while listening to Gilbert and Sullivan records on his gramophone. It looked so lovely and warm in there as we stood outside, our teeth chattering like old typewriter keys.

It was very cramped in Rufus's kennel but cosy. We mostly ate the Canon's vegetable peelings and worms from his compost bins. Yes my friends, we really knew what poverty meant back then. We were so poor that we begged from the gipsies and tramps who sometimes wandered those rural byways and fortunately they tended to take pity on us. You may have heard the expression, "as poor as church mice" - well we were considerably poorer than that, I can tell you! 

By the way, have you known poverty yourself? Pray tell.

21 August 2013


Brilliant Yorkshireman, Harold Wilson was born in Huddersfield in 1916. He died in London on May 24th 1995. He rose through the Labour Party's ranks to become Britain's Prime Minister in 1964. The left bewailed the moderate nature of his socialism and the right - represented by Fleet Street - sought to sully his reputation. There were persistent rumours about an affair with his private secretary Marcia Falkender but throughout it all his wife Mary - mother of his two sons - stood by him. Today he is something of a forgotten man but it is worth remembering that he was the PM in our swinging sixties - a time of significant social change and cultural awakening.

The Wilsons were especially fond of the Scilly Isles and frequently holidayed there. After Harold's death - from colon cancer - his body was taken back to the Scillies where he was buried on the island of St Mary's which perhaps surprisingly was not named after his wife. Mary is still alive as I write this post having achieved the ripe old age of ninety seven. An admired and acccomplished poet, she wrote this heartfelt verse in the weeks following her husband's funeral. It's why I chose to produce this particular blogpost:-

My love you have stumbled slowly
On the quiet way to death
And you lie where the wind blows strongly 
With a salty spray on its breath 
For this men of the island bore you 
Down paths where the branches meet
And the only sounds were the crunching grind
Of the gravel beneath their feet 
And the sighing slide of the ebbing tide
On the beach where the breakers meet.

The Latin line on Harold Wilson's simple headstone is Tempus Imperator Rerum - Time the Commander of All Things.

20 August 2013


The other day I was tickled pink when a visitor from the USA revealed her sheer puzzlement about my picture of Clifton Avenue, Rotherham. Across the pond, very few workers have ever been housed in brick terraces. Even in the Deep South, most poor workers have mainly occupied humble homes that are not connected to their neighbours' places. Americans have always enjoyed more space. Anyway, I have been playing around with that same picture and in honour of Clifton Avenue, these are just some of the results...

Motivational poster:-
Heatmap photo effect:-
Pencil sketch:-
 Old-fashioned sepia toning:-
Like a painting:-
I guess I should have more important things to do with my time but I like playing around with images. Some visitors might like to follow my example. See Photo Editor in the sidebar.

19 August 2013


Hull City's Ahmed Elmohamady seems to be telling the referee
at the Chelsea match that he needs spectacles
Thirty two hours in London. Picture stories that unfold themselves for travellers and every story different from the next one. Exciting London. Filled with energy. Filled with stories. The planet's melting pot. There are people here from every country on Earth. They mingle. They connect. They get by. Weekend visitors, students, diplomats, bankers, kitchen workers, down-and-outs, princes and thieves all mingling together weaving invisible webs.

Our story goes like this.

Arrive at St Pancras railway station, meet our lovely son Ian - now twenty nine! We catch a Picadilly Line tube to South Kensington and then sit at a street table drinking tea and eating cheesy "Farmer's Paninis" from an Iraqi stallholder. We go into the marvellous Victoria and Albert Museum where we are at first a little appalled to see some of the ecclesiastical treasures our Victorian forefathers brought home from Italy - entire marble altars and effigies.

The museum is filled to the brim with the wonders of decorative arts. We wander around seeing church silvers from the thirteenth century, practice paintings by John Constable, theatre posters, stage costumes, arts from South Asia and Japan, exhibits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, furniture, jewellery. After two and a half hours our brains are overloading. You just can't take it all in. Even the fabric of the museum itself is stupendous - mosaic floors, expertly crafted oak doors, marble columns, incredible aesthetic uses of the humble brick. You could spend a month at the V&A and still not take it all in.

Reeling, we head back for South Kensington where we catch an underground train to Finsbury Park. We walk along Seven Sisters Road  to the Best Western Highbury where we deposit our bags. It's a nice, clean hotel room but for £115 a night I expect a leopardskin carpet and a sunken bath filled with unicorn milk.

Soon we stroll back down the Seven Sisters Road and turn left for Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. We can hear the first game of the season in full swing - the oohs and aaahs of 60,000 spectators. It's getting close to the final whistle and as we approach this football temple, devotees are already emerging in their red religious garb. Ian lives bang next to the ground in a modern block of apartments which are part of the Emirates campus. We are like salmon swimming against the tide but we get through and drink tea in the nice, lofty apartment he shares with Henry and Chloe. They are away in Essex.

At six we head back to Finsbury Park. I want to catch a bus to Crouch End but Ian insists we carry on to Turnpike Lane on the tube. Bad move. By the time we get to Crouch End it's about 6.45 and we are under pressure to down a meal before getting into the comedy club. We spot a Malaysian restaurant and the food is great -Set Menu A. I even have time for ice cream and fruit salad. Then it's quickly over to "The King's Head" where we go "Downstairs" to the comedy club. We find ourselves a perfect table - close but not too close to the performance area.
Chris Neill

Drinks are exorbitantly priced so we only have two each but we enjoy the performances of six very different male comedians. Plenty of laughs. There's a gay fellow called Chris Neill from Peckham who has us in stitches as he examines the saying "There's just one thing I'd like to know about..." Only one thing? One thing? About the second world war? And he reels off some of the issues and complexities of that bitter conflict..."But you only want to know one thing?" What is it pray? Why did Germany bomb England?....Err might it be because we were at war with them? Then Brendan Dempsey hilariously examines his disaffection for children and how he hates to see them in public places. Shirley and Ian had never visited a proper comedy club before and they enjoyed it immensely. It's hard to convey the sense of occasion and the intimacy of that live event in a north London pub's cellar.

Then we catch a late bus back to Finsbury Park. Ian carries on to Arsenal and Shirley and I pop into "The Twelve Pins" for a last drink. It's a rough pub with a tall nicotine coloured ceiling. A drunken Irish fellow talks to us before disappearing to the urinals. I don't trust him. We take our leave - along the Seven Sisters Road.

Photos of BEST WESTERN London Highbury, London
The Best Western Highbury
The buffet breakfast in the hotel was surprisingly good though I'd still have preferred a "full English". We meet up with Ian at the Arsenal tube station and then head to Picadilly Circus. He has to return a T-shirt to a shop on Carnaby Street. Then we mosey through Leicester Square and across Trafalgar Square, into The Mall. To the left we find beautiful  St James's Park which we amble through as hordes of tourists return from The Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace. There are even pelicans in the park and by the little Swiss Chalet boat house someone has been growing rows of vegetables - right in the heart of London.

By Green Park we catch a bus towards Chelsea, passing Harrods at Knightsbridge then down to Cremorne Gardens at the riverside. We eat lunchtime sandwiches in the Cave Cafe and then move along the Kings Road towards another football temple  - Stamford Bridge - home of Chelsea FC. There's a tuneful brass band playing in the car park and there are blue Chelsea shirts everywhere but we are going to the Shed End with the amber and black supporters - Hull City AFC - back in The Premiership.

We lose two-nil but we are not disgraced. There are players in Chelsea's team - single players - who alone would cost far more to buy than Hull City's entire squad. Our lads didn't let us down and we came away feeling proud of their second half performance. 

Because the District Line was closed for engineering works, we strolled along to Earls Court where we caught the Picadilly Line back to St Pancras. Ian carried on to Arsenal while Shirley and I ate burgers with chips in a station food outlet then caught the 19.40 train back to Sheffield.

Phew! I am sorry! That's a damned long post and you know I could easily have doubled its length with more details of our latest London excursion. All those people on the underground - all with different faces - all with their own unique tales to tell. London gives you a strong sense of what it really means to live in a country of sixty two million people. We are just krill floating on an ocean current.

17 August 2013


Later this morning, Shirley and I are bound for London to see our boy Ian. It will be a costly excursion - train tickets, tube tickets, food, staying overnight in the Best Western on Seven Sisters Road. One hundred and fifteen pounds for a modest London hotel room! I ask you. They don't even provide a full English breakfast - just a "continental breakfast". But I don't want a "continental breakfast", I want fried eggs and bacon, beans, mushrooms, fried bread and hash browns and a big pot of tea! You can stuff your continental breakfasts - unless of course the continent in question is Antarctica because then we'll be eating roasted penguins and braised seal meat which I adore.

But the title of this post is not "London" but "Rotherham" - Sheffield's smaller and  poorer relation and its twin town. Two places that once merged together in a smoky fog of noise and industry - the steel industry to be precise. I was there yesterday - walking in the sunshine and here are just five of the pictures I snapped:-
"Lost dog" notice on a bus shelter at Herringthorpe
Kids fishing on the Rotherham Cut - a canal that shadowed the awkward River Don
A Peacock butterfly at Dalton Magna
Clifton Avenue
Sign of the times outside the lost "Donfield Tavern"

16 August 2013


Big Nev. The execrable boss in  the BBC's  documentary
series "The Call Centre". Shoot him!
Do you like callers? I mean strangers who phone you up touting for business or strangers who knock on your door with similar intent. Personally speaking, I hate them.

In recent times, I have got very used to answering the phone and then enduring a significant pause before a voice finally pipes up. It may be an Asian voice from a faraway call centre in India or a more familiar British voice. Sometimes they have got my name and sometimes they haven't. There may be other ways of dealing with these unwelcome intrusions but I have taken to simply yelling down the phone "Never phone me again!" before they have time to roll out their spiel. One of the things that really irritates me about these calls is that they can happen at the most inopportune moments. I might be in bed, in the shower, on the toilet, reading a good novel, eating a meal and then the damned phone rings. It is infuriating.

Today I hid behind the living room door when a "fishmonger" called. I have seen these dubious, tattooed young men on our street before. "Want any fish at all? Haddock. Salmon?" Well I don't want any fish from unlicensed chancers storing fish in an old Transit van and most certainly not paying a halfpenny in tax. Why should I even have to get up to send them on their way?  And why are the authorities not clamping down on them?

I speak to other people about this modern phenomenon and I have yet to meet anybody who appreciates these unwelcome callers. Older people who perhaps live alone or are experiencing deterioration in their basic faculties must often be duped by such callers. It isn't right and our politicians should be doing much more to stop it from happening.

I make it a rule never to part with any money on the doorstep which is a philosophy I have often had to explain to callers. Two years ago our daughter Frances endured a month as a "chugger" - pushing particular children's charities on the doorstep. But she never explained to her "victims" that her pushiness had little to do with the charities concerned - more to do with the rewards she herself would get by meeting "sign up" targets. It gave me greater insight into charity fundraising processes and I can now see straight through young chuggers. Besides, the only charity I ever give to is Oxfam.

So if there are any call centre workers reading this or doorsteppers planning their next outings, please don't call on me! STAY AWAY or I will drop you down the nearest well - head-first! No visitors! No calls from call centres! Just get lost!

15 August 2013


I am not fond of dogs but I like these two in what is a pretty bizarre video. Not sure what the racket is in the background. Maybe the Trelawnyd Flower Show in full swing. Enjoy:-


It's heart-warming when you hear that a fellow blogger has achieved some sort of success in life. Robert Brague (aka Rhymes With Plague) is not a boastful sort of fellow and has modestly refrained from announcing his film breakthrough success in his blog. But see the film poster above. Jinx Beatz clearly saw mileage in our blogging friend - even naming the film after him. The black gentleman playing Bob said, "His life story inspired me. I hope I have done Rhymes with Plague justice".

14 August 2013


The legendary TV quizmaster - Bamber Gascoigne
For a good few years now I have met up regularly with two Michaels to tackle local pub quizzes. We used to be a regular team at "The Prince of Wales" until they turned it into a food-led pub restaurant. We mourned its passing and then moved on to three other quizzes which we seem to switch between. We go to "The Hammer and Pincers" up at Bents Green, "The Rising Sun" on Abbey Lane and of course my local - "The Banner Cross" at - astonishingly - Banner Cross.

The oldest Michael was, like me, a Head of English in a secondary school and hails from Oldham in Lancashire - living proof that I am not racially prejudiced. The younger Michael was a warehouseman - Sheffield born and bred, still living in his family home. His aged mother died last year and Old Michael's mother died earlier this year. It's nice to have this regular "date" with the two Michaels and we have enjoyed countless quiz victories even though there can be dry spells when it may seem that success will never return. Being morally upright citizens we have never sneakily employed smart phones to assist our quizzing. To us that would be a heinous crime worthy of the lash.

Between quiz questions we exchange news of our families, our lives and what's been happening. We are not boastful. We never try to score ego points. We're too long in the tooth for that kind of nonsense.

I am happy to report that last night - up at "The Hammer and Pincers" - we scored twenty two out of twenty five to become the winning team, earning the reward of five beer tokens (worth about £14). Questions included the following...
  1. In which city are the world headquarters of the Coca Cola company?
  2. In which year did Winston Churchill resign as prime minister on the grounds of ill-health - the same year that James Dean hit the headlines with "Rebel Without a Cause"?
  3. Which two cartoon characters attended Bedrock High School?
  4. How many of the 96 English football league managers were sacked last season - 14, 24 or 34?
  5. Which country did Princess Diana visit in relation to the land mines issue shortly before her death?
  6. In the Miss Marple stories what is the main method by which murder victims die?
No smart phones or googling! ...Well, how did you do? Answers will be given in the Comments section tomorrow.

13 August 2013


My "picture of the day":-
South of Lathkill Dale, the Limestone Way long distance footpath heads westwards for Monyash. Over the limestone walls and across Cales Dale you can see the jumble of buildings that make up One Ash Grange Farm. This is an ancient landscape. Often, embedded in the limestone, you will come across the fossilised remains of sea creatures that inhabited this planet long before human beings evolved. And within a mile of this location there's one of northern England's best kept secrets - Arbor Low. 

It was a large temple site and meeting place for people who lived way back in the mists of time -  at least five thousand years ago. What did they talk about and what did they believe? I don't know but I guess they knew more about the sky and the elements than we do. They were resourceful. They hunted and they made shelters. They did their best to survive and tried to make some sense of the world they knew. They laughed and they loved. They fought and raised children and they felt the wind in their hair - perhaps the first chilly breath of impending autumn like the breeze I felt up there today.

11 August 2013


This afternoon I was amazed to see how much further the reach of Google Satellite Mapping and Streetview stretches. Many former blindspots are now covered. I went off to County Clare in western Ireland - down remote country lanes to track down homes I know well. Then I snipped them using the Microsoft Snipping Tool I have highlighted before.

Here's the former school residence that my brother Paul and his wife Josephine bought in the mid eighties. It's miles from anywhere and it's here where Paul died in 2010:-
This is the house in  the village Kilfenora where Gloria now lives. She's the mother of Paul's first child - and spent her working life in London as an educational psychologist. The sale of her north London flat gave her enough money to have this house built to her own specifications, very close to the ruins of Kilfenora Cathedral:-
And here's my niece Katie's property, again miles from anywhere along a country lane that winds westwards from Kilfenora. It was once just a pair of tumbledown cowsheds:-
Finally we go to southern France and the L'Ariege region of Midi-Pyrenees. This is where my brother Robin lives with his longtime girlfriend Suzie. You can holiday there. Demob Happy Jenny has been there a couple of times. If interested go to Pyreneen Vue Gites.
Google Streetview now means we can go on virtual holidays all over the place - sitting on our computer chairs without having to pay a penny. No need to eat foreign food or exchange our pounds and dollars for euros. Just go.
P.S. Any burglar bloggers planning to rob any of the above properties, forget it! None of them have much worth stealing and they all own slavering pit bull terriers called Tyson who enjoy munching on fresh burglar bones. Arf! Arf!

10 August 2013


Barnsley's imposing town hall
Barnsley is a town of some 75,000 souls situated twelve miles north east of Sheffield. It was once the capital of the Yorkshire coalfield - a hard-working town for which the saying "where there's muck there's brass" was probably created. 

I have rarely had  reason to visit Barnsley. Once, when I was little, Dad drove us through the town and I observed first hand the black "mountains" that appeared to surround it - giant slag heaps made up of spoil from the local coal mines. It was a very different landscape from my rural birthplace in East Yorkshire. There was something of the "dark satanic" about Barnsley whereas we looked out over green or golden arable fields that stretched across the Plain of Holderness all the way to the Yorkshire Wolds. I could hardly imagine what it might have been like to grow up in all that muck and industry as my mother's family had done.

I have been to Barnsley F.C.'s Oakwell football ground three or four times over the years to watch my beloved Hull City - or as the current Egyptian owners now insist - Hull City Tigers. And I have frequently walked within the boundaries of the Barnsley Metropolitan District - Hood Green, Worsborough, Penistone and Elsecar for example but it is a very long time since I've walked around the town itself. Until today.

Shirley was up early as is her wont and when I finally crawled out from under the duvet at nine o' clock she announced she'd like to visit Barnsley markets. So half an hour later - off we went.

Certain things struck me about the busy market area. Firstly, virtually all the visitors were white. This wasn't multi-cultural Britain. It was white working class Yorkshire. I was amongst people whose great grandparents were born, raised, worked and died in the area. It wasn't Islington in north London or Godalming in Surrey  - where national politicians and TV executives natter in gastro-pubs, this was downtown Barnsley where life is very different.
The quaint "Groggers' Rest" pub under an
ugly nineteen sixties office block
There were several unfortunate people gliding along in mobility scooters. We spotted some fine examples of obesity and of the dubious "art" of tattooing. Cheap clothing bought from the market. Pierced belly buttons. Old ladies with tartan shopping trollies. Clouds of acrid cigarette smoke hanging over shoppers resting on benches in Eldon Square. Charity shops and betting shops. Fish and chip shops and liquidation sales. An air of sadness hung about the place like morning mist. In Kay's Cafe inside the market halls we drank mugs of tea, waiting with the other all-white clientelle for Shirley's hot pork sandwich and my "All Day Breakfast". "Eighty five!" "Over here love!" Nobody was talking about wine merchants, horses, how their shares are doing or Mediterranean holidays. They were talking about family and friends, electricity bills, bargains and what they'd watched on the telly. Probably.

We went along to the town's architecturally eye-catching town hall - opened in 1933 and a lasting declaration of civic pride. It has recently been very tastefully refurbished but at great expense. There's a new museum section called "Experience Barnsley". It's really good and speaks proudly of the town's past, its achievements and the salt-of-the-earth people who have lived and worked there - famous or unknown. In the town hall's little art gallery we saw a wonderful exhibition of paintings stimulated by random "found" Victorian portrait photos. It was one of the best art exhibitions I have seen in a good long while.

So that was Barnsley. I like the place. I like the decency and the honesty of the people. No pretension, no frills Britain where you call a spade a spade and where urbane men like David Cameron, Nick Clegg, David Beckham and Prince William are as alien as Martians. And if I'm honest, I guess it's a place that makes you feel more grateful for what you have got and what you have done, for not being so down-at-heel, for having enough money in the bank to keep wolves from your door.
Bras for sale in Bra-nsley Market


English pubs are a national treasure and yet they are dying. People who are watching their pennies go out far less than they used to do and will now often buy their alcoholic tipples from supermarkets. I imagine them drawing their curtains and watching crap on their flatscreen TV's instead of venturing to their local to socialise. Those days seem to be disappearing and far too many English pubs have closed their doors for the very last time. It is tragic.

When I am out and about, rambling through the Peak District or hidden corners of South Yorkshire I will often photograph pubs. A good pub is  like a home away from home. A place to meet, to play darts, to chat and crack jokes or just read the daily paper. I will happily contend that no other country in the world has pubs like ours. All the more reason to bewail their decline. Here are five random pubs I have snapped recently:-
"The Duke of York" in Elton, Derbyshire
"The Three Swans" in Selby, Yorkshire
"The Crown Inn" in Monk Fryston, Yorkshire
"The Griffin" in Selby, Yorkshire
"The Fat Cat" in Sheffield
"The Greystones" in Sheffield

8 August 2013


This is Godfrey Bloom, one of the MEP's for Yorkshire and Humberside. MEP means Member of the European Parliament. He earns around £90,000 a year before obscenely generous expenses and represents the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). He looks rather like the TV actor Richard Wilson who famously played Victor Meldrew in "One Foot in the Grave".

Godfrey is a nice, old-fashioned English name which I have often wished  my parents might have given me. Then when playing football in the schoolyard, others boys would have yelled "Shoot God!" or "On me head, God!" etc. and at our family Sunday dinners my mother would have said "Fancy another Yorkshire pudding God?" God has a nice ring to it. Then I could genuinely have looked in the mirror, believing absolutely in the existence of God.

Anyway - back to Godfrey Bloom. He has been in the news this week because he made a controversial political speech in which he bewailed the very concept of foreign aid, questioning why Great Britain should send its hard-earned dosh to "Bongo Bongo Land".

Bongo Bongo Land? Where's that? Is it the Barra de Kwanza near Luanda in Angola or a smallholding close to Sloughhouse, California? Perhaps it's north of Atlanta in Georgia or on the north coast of Queensland, Australia. Maybe it's in a little village in North Wales or on the outskirts of Wrexham. Or could it be that Bongo Bongo Land is a mythical territory of the imagination like Eldorado, Shangri-la or Avalon? And do the residents plays bongos there?

Of course in a democracy, everybody is entitled to their opinions - Oswald Moseley, Benito Mussolini, The Iron Lady, Peter Sutcliffe, General Pinochet, David Icke, Adolf Hitler, Adrian's Images, Rupert Murdoch, Atila the Hun et al. Yes we are all entitled to our opinions - even Godfrey Bloom who has initiated such a deluge of debate that he may need to escape to his own Bongo Bongo Land where he will no doubt be feted by bare-breasted native ladies and carried aloft to his coconut palm palace as his grateful subjects chant "Long live God!"

7 August 2013


Yorkshire exile Brian Cutts has taken to a rather lazy kind of blogging this summer - whereby he just posts songs from the past lifted from YouTube which I previously thought was a new brand of toothpaste that used the entrails of female sheep! Anyway, feeing rather lazy today, I am going to follow the pudding burner's example and post a random song from the past that has always stuck in my head. It's 1965 and it's The Beach Boys:-
I had the pleasure of watching The Beach Boys in concert in 1971 at The Great Western Festival in Bardney near Lincoln. They were headlining along with Slade who, rather surprisingly, were also quite brilliant. But that weekend afternoon in the sunshine, it was lovely to hear the west coast harmonies of The Beach Boys who brought California to the plains of Lincolnshire. I was eighteen and there with my old mate Jock Hornby, digging the music, planning that when next in the East Yorkshire seaside town of  Hornsea we would look out over the grey North Sea and announce "Surf's up!"

5 August 2013


My father and my oldest brother were both born on August 5th. In Dad's case it was 1914 and in Paul's case it was 1947. If Dad had still been alive he would have been ninety nine today and Paul would have been sixty six. They were both wonderful, kind and intelligent men who had real passion for life and I'm proud that I swim in the same gene pool as them but apprehensive about the fact that  it was the pumping heart that failed them both.

Hard to believe that it was the summer of 1979 when I last sat with Dad in the"The Duke of York" pub in Skirlaugh and reviewed my last year of teaching and his first year of retirement from the teaching profession. We had become good friends. There was more to it than father and son. At his funeral I wanted to sing like a bird but my voice fractured and quavered, ruining the hymn tunes. And the village church was packed.

And Paul, dear Paul. Gregarious, multi-talented, impatient, excessive, obsessive, a treasure house of jokes and songs and anecdotes.He played his violin like the Fiddler of Doolin, sawing away into the early hours as the Irish rain pelted down like stair-rods in a velvet black darkness.

I know that they both loved me dearly and tonight I am missing them both. What I would give for one more evening. The Guinness, the memories, the laughter. Just glad to be alive. Dad...Paul I am toasting you with a can of "Lowenstein" lager from "Aldi" as I sit at this computer, tapping away before bedtime. Sweet dreams...
Dad, Paul and Mum - probably in the summer of 1949


Margaret Macdonald who was St Kilda's oldest living  inhabitant in 1928
One place I would love to visit is the archipelago of St Kilda which lies forty one miles due west of Scotland's Outer Hebrides. The main island in the group is Hirta which is approximately 1,700 acres in area. It is an isolated treeless place battered by Atlantic storms though occasionally in the summertime the climate can be very benign.

People lived on Hirta for perhaps five thousand years - some archaeological evidence certainly appears to confirm that. For the majority of those years the inhabitants lived in perfect isolation having very infrequent contact with other Scottish islands. They had to be self-sufficient and one of their main sources of food was seabirds and their eggs. Even today the islands accommodate enormous seabird colonies.

The nineteenth century saw more regular contact with the outer world. Curious Victorian travellers would come ashore - perhaps buying island knitwear or other hand-crafted souvenirs. With this regular contact, St Kildans came to question the way they lived and gradually islanders began to leave. Several ended up in Melbourne, Australia where their immigration is recalled in a suburb which still bears the name - St Kilda.
Seabird hunter on Hirta
In recent centuries, the island's population  never surpassed two hundred but by 1930 only thirty six islanders remained and it was in that year they agreed to an evacuation that severed their ancestral links with St Kilda.

Margaret - a woman who occasionally visits my local pub - went to St Kilda in the mid-nineteen seventies. She's the sort of person who enjoys visiting wild places. The idea of a holiday in Las Vegas or Blackpool would utterly appal her. She remembers St Kilda with much affection - its isolation, its rugged beauty and the echoes of past times. They say that the St Kildans were the very last people in the British Isles to exist principally by hunting. The fortnight Margaret spent there still occupies a special place in her memory bank.
St Kildan children before the evacuation
It makes you wonder - what was life like for those people. How did they rub along together all those years? And why did they go there in the first place? What was it that drew them there? From the sixteenth century, the islanders had annual rents to pay to one of the landowning lords of Skye. Why? How was he able to claim possession of St Kilda? There are lots of questions and it is likely that most of them will never be answered.

I may never reach there. It isn't easy to get to St Kilda and sometimes, when the boats arrive, rough seas make landing impossible. Margaret's husband - Ron - has tried unsuccessfully to land there three times. Shirley is interested in going too. It's nice to dream. We'll see. The National Trust have refurbished half a dozen of the old cottages so there's somewhere dry to sleep. One day perhaps.
A hundred years ago outside St Kilda's post office
There's an excellent National Trust for Scotland website devoted to St Klda. If you'd like to find out more please go here.

Most Visits