29 June 2014


Until last Wednesday I had never heard of Micklebring even though I must have driven by it a thousand times. It's a small village north east of Sheffield and close to the M18 motorway. I parked up there close to the viewpoint you can see in the picture above before setting off on my planned country walk. Under the M18 and up to Beacon Hill then curling round it to a delightful Yorkshire jewel - the village of Clifton. It is where the Scottish footballing legend Billy Bremner lived for the second half of his life and where he died. Through the woods and on to the ridge and faraway I could see this across the fields - it's Conisbrough Castle - a Norman Castle recognised by Sir Walter Scott in "Ivanhoe". It's beautifully preserved. 
To the south of the castle lies a swathe of agricultural land that was once a great hunting park. My map told me to go across a disused railway track to Conisbrough Parks Farm and from there I could meet up with another designated public right of way at Parks Farm Cottages - along a lane just five hundred yards away.

However, my map did not tell me that at Conisbrough Parks Farm there would be a burly farmer riding in an old  tractor with a vicious Alsatian called Satan. When he saw me arrive at the gate to this semi-derelict property, he squeezed out of his tractor seat and trundled over to see me. He resembled Shrek in a bad mood and seemed to take enormous delight in insisting that I couldn't walk along the farm track to Parks Farm Cottages. "So how do I get over there then?" I asked. He was most unhelpful, interspersing his responses with yells of "Satan! Stay there!" to the now foaming red-eyed wolf in his tractor cab. Like the Kinder Trespassers, I have always had an issue with private land but rather than cause a scene with Shrek I apologised for interrupting his work and shrunk away back to the disused railway bed.

This meant I had to do a very long detour into Conisbrough and I was "off map" as you might say. I met a young Romanian body builder - as you do - out for a solitary country walk but he hardly spoke any English and didn't know the way to Park Farm Cottages. I detoured into Conisbrough Cemetery and saw this memorial:-
It was erected in 2012 - a hundred years after a local coal mining disaster in which eighty eight men were killed - it was the same year that "The Titanic" went down but who else has heard of the Cadeby Colliery Disaster? And it was ultimately all down to the greed and incompetence of the mine owners who seemed to see coal miners as expendable items in their quest for wealth. Has anything really changed?

An hour after my encounter with Shrek I finally made it to Parks Farm Cottages and from there I plodded down the lane to Conisbrough Lodge - a sadly abandoned farm. It was clearly  a big farm in its heyday with some ancient stone buildings and probably had a very long history indeed. The very name "Conisbrough Lodge" is reminiscent of distant times when this area was, as I said earlier,  a royal hunting ground.

I walked around the ruins and realised that if I were an archaeologist I could tease out a long story of the life and times of this farm and of the people who once lived and worked here - long, long before the nearby M18 motorway was conceived. The echoes of their laughter, their horses and their agricultural machinery can still be heard if you care to listen:-
At Conisbrough Lodge Farm

27 June 2014


Above, that's Baby Alexa - born in Bangkok  just before Christmas 2013. She is with her proud mother -  Miss Denise. Since then Baby Alexa has travelled thousands of miles. For much of the past year her home has been Taipei, Taiwan which is where her father - Mr Jonathan secured an attractive post in an international school.

That school is now enjoying its summer holidays so Baby Alexa's parents are back in England for a while and today I was honoured with a royal visit. Below, see how Baby Alexa has grown! In fact she is not Baby Alexa any more - she is Toddler Alexa. And what a charming young lady! A ready smile and a placid disposition. She is a picture of toddler health.

Judging from this afternoon's experience I would say she is going to become an explorer or a mountaineer. While Mr Jonathan looked at Sheffield Wednesday fan sites on his school-funded tablet - lounging on our sofa - like Jim Royle in "The Royle Family" I was breathlessly pursuing Toddler Alexa up our staircase. She ascended those stairs a dozen times - checking out the bathroom and the bedrooms, squeezing my Hull City rubber duck and discovering Frances's panda bear collection. Phew! You forget what little livewires toddlers can be.
Exhausted after these numerous unexpected excursions upstairs, I collapsed in a heap in our sitting room. Mr Jonathan yawned and asked if everything was okay while Toddler Alexa continued to giggle with glee. I guess that when one is a surrogate uncle one has to be prepared to put in a shift.
Who's the daddy?

26 June 2014


Luis Suarez is an exceptionally gifted footballer. Single handedly he effectively put England out of The World Cup - such is the deadliness of his goalscoring talent. As one of the world's top strikers, he is naturally given a hard time by any defenders he encounters. They try to out-muscle him and they intimidate him. There are largely unwitnessed elbows, shoves, kicks and provocative words. He has to be very strong to cope with all of this.

Against Italy the other day, Suarez bit the shoulder of Girorgio Chiellini. I have no doubt that this happened in spite of what Suarez or his Uruguayan team-mates might say. It was as clear as day - he bit him! No doubt Suarez had been provoked by the defender but of course, such reactive behaviour on a sports field is very reprehensible.

But let's not get this out of proportion. Players can be deliberately kicked, punched, spat at, sworn at. elbowed, tackles can be deliberately mistimed to cause maximum hurt and in the penalty area defensive antics can be very unsavoury to say the least. Yet Suarez - finding a defender's shoulder in front of him - chows down in an unplanned moment of frustration and he is pilloried by the world press as if he had shot the guy or knifed him in the back.What's so bad about a bite when compared with a bad tackle or an elbow in the face?

Don't get me wrong - I am not forgiving Suarez. He deserves to be banned from the rest of the tournament but many are calling for a lengthy ban from all footballing competitions for perhaps two years. This would be over the top in my humble opinion. On the BBC website the latest is "Uruguay support Suarez as FIFA verdict looms". Why FIFA are taking so long over this matter is a mystery but they are after all a bunch of incompetent freeloaders so maybe we shouldn't be too surprised. They are probably waiting for backhanders from some Uruguayan millionaire, recalling what motivated them to give Qatar the World Cup in 2022.

If Suarez does receive a lengthy ban, he should consider launching a new minty toothpaste - "Try Suarez for stronger teeth!" or maybe get a part in a new vampire movie - "Fangs A Lot" starring Luis Suarez as The Gnasher.

STOP PRESS: FIFA have banned Suarez for four months. He will miss the rest of The World Cup and Liverpool's first nine games in The Premier League. When asked for a response, Suarez said, "Oh bugger!".

24 June 2014


First World

...And they have ray guns to dry their hair
And they sleep in beds above the floor
In sheets made of cotton...
And they have keys to lock their doors at night
And cool cupboards for their food
- I think they call them freejuice.
And outside their houses
They park their shiny  Japanese cars
And trim their grass with cutting machines
Not machetes
Leaving  emerald green carpets
And they keep photographs
Of their children and their pets
In biscuit tins -
Cats that curl up in baskets
And eat fish from cans
Fat dogs that wear bracelets round their throats.
And in their pockets
There are wallets filled with crisp new banknotes
Filled to bursting
So when they visit the big shop
They can buy anything they want
Anything at all.
See that aeroplane high up there
In the blue?
They are flying in that -
Watching movies and drinking wine

Going back to their place.


At the abandoned farm north of Ellensburg by Highway 97, I was in my element. The place was all homemade - through the graft of the farmers who had occupied this remote property. The wooden fences had been nailed by the occupants. They had built the high barn and the stalls for the cows. They had made a tall conical store for hay and a little house to live in. I peered through the unglazed windows to the rusty old refrigerator and the rusty stove, the rusty bed springs and the broken rocking chair. Nearby there was a well and an area for dumping rubbish and rocks. There were two farm huts and as we all need to excrete there was the leaning privy pictured above.

As the farmer sat there, his thoughts would have mostly been about the running of his little dairy farm, the cows, the horses and the chickens. He would have considered the list of jobs he had to do as he struggled economically to keep his head above water. Maybe he would have remembered his last visit to Seattle or the Kittitas County Fair in Ellensburg or that time he kissed the girl in Leavenworth. What was her name? Rose - yes Rose. And maybe he'd have considered how fortunate he was to live in such a place - forged with his own hands and his own  ingenuity - self-reliant, proud in the summer sunshine as the grass grew thick and lush in the meadows and the cows lowed in the barn waiting to be milked.

22 June 2014


Rocking chair made of horseshoes
outside the junk shop in Sequim
Sequim, Washington State.

At Serenity Square - the shopping centre on the west of town - I am entering a bric-a-brac store while Shirley investigates the quilting shop next door. There are two women in the doorway and I have to say "excuse me" to get by. They are conversing with the slick haired proprietor who will later inform me that he has worshipped "the vulva" all his life.

I am looking for old American bottles. This is one of several junk shops and thrift stores I have perused in the last week. I become aware of the women's conversation...

WOMAN A You know, I don't like to tell too many people but I have a special gift. I can read people like a book and I can tell you all about their past lives and what they've done. It's kinda scary.
WOMAN B Well I've got that gift too!
WOMAN A No way! First time I told my husband what he'd been doing all day his jaw kinda dropped. He jus' couldn't believe it..
WOMAN B You know it was jus the same with my Mac. He couldn't speak at first. It's kinda spiritual. I feel blessed to have the gift.
WOMAN A Yeah, blessed. I feel that too. It's like I can look right inside people. I feel it's God's love inside me. Guiding me. Like I've bin chosen.
WOMAN B I feel the same way...

And then they stroll off from the doorway back to their obscure homes in this little known corner of America. The greasy haired shopkeeper with the tartan sweater is chuckling about his visitors and we have a mutual exchange of derision and disbelief. 

"The only gift I've got is to get up every morning", he says.

And I say, "The only gift I have got is common sense. I've got bags of that."

Then we fall into our own conversation and he manages to steer it into his favourite territory which is women - or more specifically "the vulva". He is a complete stranger but very quickly I am learning about his sexual preferences and his earliest encounters with the unfortunate objects of his desire. It is not the kind of conversation I have with other men in my local pub. We tend to avoid that private hinterland and none of us are blessed with third eyes that allow us to look into other people's souls.

20 June 2014


Seagull seen from the "Spokane" ferry
between Edmonds and Kingston
Waking up once more in Victoria on Vancouver Island. This is our last morning in the Pacific North West and very soon we will be homeward bound. So dear visitor, normal mundane blogging service will soon be resumed and you will no longer be regaled with tales and photographs from this corner of North America - instead it will be the usual tiresome fayre - walks in The Peak District, helping our lovely daughter to move to Birmingham, how England again failed to come up to the plate in The World Cup, laying a new path in our garden - that kind of stuff. It has been a privilege to see this part of the world. Washington State is surely one of the jewels in America's crown and Vancouver Island is itself sufficient for any two week holiday. I will leave it all with some frustration about the things we didn't see and the places we didn't go.
Seascape on the Strait of Juan de Foca between
Washington State and Vancouver Island
Mount Rainier towering above Seattle - seen from Kingston

19 June 2014


Shirley watching Hendrix on screen in the EMP Center, Seattle
Arguably, Seattle's most famous son is not Bill Gates but guitar legend James Marshall Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix, as he is better known, died in the prime of his life and at the height of is fame when he was just twenty seven years old. Three weeks before his own vomit suffocated him in a London hotel room, I saw him in concert at the Isle of Wight Rock Festival (1970). He owned that stage and lit up the dark summer night with his audacious electric wizardry. It was a special moment in my teenage journey.

Born in the Seattle suburb of Renton in 1942, Jimi is well-represented in Seattle Center's  EMP showcase building which opens your eyes to the power and the history of guitar music and media. Sadly, back in 2009 the city authorities destroyed Jimi's childhood home in Renton - driven by legalistic nonsense rather than imagination and full realisation of what Hendrix meant to the modern world and to Seattle itself. 

His body is interred not too far from the place where his old house once stood in spacious Greenwood Cemetery. Shirley accompanied me there this morning and we paid our respects as an old age Canadian rocker from Toronto strolled across the grass to pay similar homage. We chatted for a while and I thought to myself - is it really forty four years since Hendrix died when I was just short of my seventeenth birthday with most of my life ahead...

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don't seem the same
Actin' funny, but I don't know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky.
Jimi Hendrix's memorial grave in Renton

17 June 2014


Old photograph in The Presby Museum - Goldendale WA
More postcards from America. From sleepy little Goldendale high on the prairie north of the Columbia River we made our way to the Yakima Valley - a green and pleasant land surrounded by hills. When the first white settlers arrived here after their arduous journeys through The Rockies they must have thought they had arrived in Canaan - the land of milk and honey. 

We stayed in The Cedars Inn in Ellensburg - home to Central Washington University. But the students had all gone home and the town had an abandoned quality about it. I am normally anti-pizza - discs of half-baked dough with gunge smeared across the surface - but Shirley dragged me into "Brix" in the centre of town and there we consumed one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten - strong tastes of feta, black olives and oregano on a tasty pizza base. It was worth waiting for as we sat in the window watching guys coming out of Arnie's Horseshoe Sports Bar to smoke cigarettes in the street.

And in the morning after breakfast we took Highway 2 through the Cascade Mountains all the way to Seattle. At one point we had to do a U turn because there was a big accident up ahead blocking the road but it didn't matter  we were able to negotiate our way to the Northgate area of northern Seattle where we are hunkered down in a large studio apartment above Amy's garage. It is splendid and has everything we might need. It is nice not to be in a hotel - nobody next door and we can make as much din as we like - singing "On Ilkley Moor Bah Tat" numerous times through the night while consuming vast quanties of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Soon after we arrived I undertook a four mile walk through these northern suburbs. What a delightful area! So green and quite hilly with each detached house different from the next. Soon I will complete my obligatory ablutions and then we will set off into the thrusting modern American city that is Seattle. Hope we don't get mugged by the hobos!
Goldendale motel but Hoss and Little Joe were nowhere to be seen
In Toppenish - city of murals
Shirley with the Yakima Valley behind her
Pizza meal at Brix in Ellensburg
The Davidson Building in Ellensburg (1889)
Abandoned barn north of Ellensburg
Through the Cascade Mountains
Inside our Seattle studio

15 June 2014


"If ye go will ye send back a letter from America?" - The Proclaimers

Well no, but I will send back some more postcards of our travels:-
Neil Diamond hybrid rose in Portland's wonderful rose gardens.
Portland's moving Holocaust Memorial
Wood - the original basis for economic success in both Washington and Oregon
In downtown Hood River - a delightful town where we watched England's
opening World Cup game in the British Bar
By the mighty Columbia River on our way to Goldendale. This is the
border between Washington and Oregon.
Stonehenge replica near Goldendale. It is actually a memorial
to local men who died in World War I

14 June 2014


The magnificent  Washington State Legislature Building - seen from our hotel room. The interior of this building is awesome - so much marble and so much skilled craftsmanship. It speaks of this young state's self-belief and of the wealth it achieved through logging, mining and fishing. 
"The Kiss" by Richard Beyer (1990) by the waterfront in Olympia
Asthma relieving cigarettes in Aberdeen Museum
Fish assholes for sale in Kaloma, Washington
We are now in Portland, Oregon. Arriving in Portland's University District was not easy given the plethora of major roads that descend on the city like knotted spaghetti.  I left my camera in the hotel room as we walked out earlier this evening and unsurprisingly I saw many scenes I might have snapped - including modern day tramps or hobos. There are more here than we spotted in Vancouver. They hide in doorways or doze on benches, planning for the night ahead and wondering how they'll get through tomorrow. Like I suggested before, I suppose that each of these shadowy figures has a different story to tell. You wonder how they will ever get back on the conveyor belt of "normality" - job, rent to pay, a clean bed to sleep in. Once you get off the conveyor belt it must be exceedingly difficult to climb back on. Shirley and I ate delicious bowls of Mexican gumbo and I gave a dollar to a thin black man with thin black shoes and a faraway look in his eyes..."one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.".

13 June 2014


Sailing boat seen from the Coho Ferry between Vancouver Island and Port Angeles
I don't know why but whenever I come to America, there's a big part of me that feels as if I am coming home. And that's how it seems this time. I feel very comfortable here, really alive, forever striking up conversations with complete strangers. Our English accents can be a useful key.

Yesterday we arrived in Port Angeles from Victoria. It was nice to arrive in Washington State by boat and the customs official in the port didn't give a damn about what might be in our suitcases or whether or not we had paid our ESTA visa fees.He was more interested in where we were going. And we were going to Ocean Shores through the woods. Tree after tree after tree after tree after tree. We stopped in Forks - a main location for the "Twilight" series of films that mean absolutely nothing to me.

I bought a "Forks" T-shirt and we talked to a little old lady who was down on her knees in her front garden - trimming the grass with kitchen scissors. She said her husband had "left" her two years back and I presumed this meant he had died - though he could have run away with the mayor's daughter - speeding through the woods to some distant motel in some distant city.
Deer in the dunes at Ocean Shores
Ocean Shores was an odd place - spread out amidst the dunes. So many hotel rooms and yet it felt so quiet - almost melancholy. After breakfast this morning we headed on foot across the dunes to the sea and came upon a female deer grazing. She looked at us nervously as I reached for my rifle camera. The beach is hard and never ending and you can drive your car there. Last night we watched the sun go down as seabirds paddled in the shallows.
Seabird in the sunset at Ocean Shores
On the way to Olympia we stopped at Aberdeen. We had lunch in Anne Marie's Cafe and met Anne Marie herself - a cheerful and redoubtable woman who should lead courses in customer service. Then to the Aberdeen Museum where I chatted with the curator about local history. He told us how to get to Kurt Cobain's childhood home for this demigod hero of the musical world was born and raised in this old logging town. He died just like Jimi Hendrix at twenty seven.
Kurt Cobain's childhood home in Aberdeen WA
Then on to Olympia - Washington's state capital. We are staying in The Governor Hotel and have a magnificent view from our room of the capitol building, the Capitol Lake and out towards Puget Sound. There was a bit of a palaver with the plastic room keys and finally they had to move us up to the seventh floor. Shirley is already in the huge kingsize bed while I tap away at the keyboard. Olympia seems a lovely little town and the walk along the wharf spoke eloquently of civic pride. Everything in its place. Huge locally sourced  timbers forming the solid boardwalk.

Tomorrow after more investigation of Olympia we will be leaving for Portland, Oregon and no doubt there I will once more say to myself - "I wish I could stay here longer". You simply cannot do everything and we are missing so much along the way. I just love America.
Whale watching in Aberdeen WA
My tower of beach stones at Ruby Beach

11 June 2014


From Vancouver to Vancouver Island. It was once a separate state and it is like a self-contained world. The island is  12,079 square miles in area making it bigger than both Wales and Belgium. Its capital is Victoria. Around 750,000 people live on Vancouver Island - mostly in and around Victoria. There are far more trees than that but they have never been counted. Sometimes you feel as if the trees will never end but then you see a big logging truck pass by to remind you that  the supply is not infinite.

This morning we visited the world renown Butchart Gardens before driving to Port Renfrew on the Pacific Marine Circle Route. So many trees and we saw a bear by the side of the road, nonchalantly munching on the berries he was foraging. We also watched him poop a big bear poop but sensitive to his personal dignity I refused to photograph this significant evacuation. I wouldn't appreciate a photographer recording my own  bowel movements.Do bears shit in the woods? No - they shit by the side of Route 14 just outside Port Renfrew.

Later we were in a lovely pub-restaurant in James Town - a central district of Victoria. It's called "The Bent Mast" and has an attractive bohemian air about it as well as decent pub grub and a variety of beers and lagers. An accomplished young musician played West Coast songs and a sprinkling of Neil Young classics including "Harvest Moon". We applauded his delivery. Tomorrow to America - land of the free - if we can get in... "Oh say can you see...at the twilight's last gleaming?" "Hey! Where's your passport buddy?"
Land of bears
At night - The Legislature Building in Victoria

9 June 2014


The Coastal Range from Whistler Mountain
Third day in Vancouver. We picked up a hire car and drove seventy miles or so northwards to the famous ski resort of Whistler. There we paid an extortionate amount of money to experience the Peak2Peak gondola ride - not I hasten to add the kind of gondolas they have in Venice bur capsules that hang precariously from metal cables. These Peak2Peak cable cars link lofty Whistler Mountain with Blackcomb Mountain and the middle span of unsupported cable stretches for a world record 1.88 miles.
Whistler Mountain - 7156 feet above sea level
At the top there was snow, fantastic mountain scenery and views and also this chappie from the squirrel family. It is a hoary marmot. My picture doesn't give you a true sense of its size - bigger than a domestic cat. These creatures live in mountains near the tree line and hibernate for an incredible six to eight months each year:-
Later back in Vancouver we went for a drink in "The Dover Arms" where an ageing rock band were pumping out familiar tunes from yesteryear and walking home we passed a restaurant called The Ukrainian Village which of course made me think of John Gray in North Wales. I wonder if they serve rescue hens?

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