27 February 2015


Conisbrough was a grim little town in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield. And yet it had history. Long before coal was mined on an industrial scale, Conisbrough's location was judged to be of strategic significance. In the eleventh century, as the Normans sought to strengthen their political control of northern England, a castle was built at Conisbrough by William de Warenne, the first Earl of Surrey who had fought with William the Conqueror at The Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Over the next four hundred years, Conisbrough Castle remained an important stronghold and as the year's passed it was modified, extended, repaired and strengthened but by the sixteenth century it had fallen into a state of semi-dereliction and played no part in the English Civil War that tore through the country in the seventeenth century. However, in the nineteenth century a new spotlight was shone on the castle ruins by the famed Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott - in his novel "Ivanhoe" (1819).

Scott wrote of Conisbrough - There are few more beautiful or striking scenes in England, than are presented by the vicinity of this ancient Saxon fortress. The soft and gentle river Don sweeps through an ampitheatre, in which cultivation is richly blended with woodland, and on a mount, ascending from the river, well defended by walls and ditches, rises this ancient edifice, which, as its Saxon name implies, was, previous to the Conquest, a royal residence of the kings of England. The outer walls have probably been added by the Normans, but the inner keep bears token of very great antiquity. It is situated on a mount at one angle of the inner court, and forms a complete circle of perhaps twenty-five feet in diameter. The wall is of immense thickness, and is propped or defended by six huge external buttresses which project from the circle, and rise up against the sides of the castle as if to strengthen or support it. These massive buttresses are hollowed out towards the top, and terminate in a sort of turrets communicating with the interior of the keep itself. The distant appearance of this huge building, with these singular accompaniments, is as interesting to the lovers of the picturesque, as the interior of the castle is to the eager antiquary...

As it happens, Scott may have been wrong to assume that the castle was of Saxon origin. No archaeological evidence supports that stance though I find it difficult to believe that the mound on which Conisbrough Castle still stands was a blank canvas before William de Warenne arrived. And it is worth noting that the name "Conisbrough" is of Saxon origin and means "king's stronghold".

Yesterday, I didn't go inside the castle. I walked past it and down to The River Don. There I noticed yet another pub that has bitten the dust. Now converted to residential units, it was once, somewhat ironically, called "The Castle".  No boozy laughter any more or shiny brass bar rails or pub quizzes. When was Conisbrough Castle built? Rest in Peace.
"The Catle" has gone

25 February 2015


Every Wednesday afternoon I work as a volunteer at our local Oxfam shop. Charitable Sheffielders bring in their unwanted possessions in plastic bags or cardboard boxes. You never know what you are going to get - from a Barbie doll to a dead man's pin-striped suit. or a battered cricket bat or a lampshade with frilly bobbles. And there are plenty of books. I spend a lot of my time processing book donations - upstairs in the books and bric-a-brac room.

Today as five thirty and the end of my shift approached, I noticed an old photo album on one of the cluttered shelves. I dipped into it for personal interest. It was filled with old postcards from the nineteen twenties. Back then, many family portraits were printed in postcard form so the album contained a mixture of family photos and souvenir postcards from exotic holiday locations like Blackpool, Ilfracombe and The Cheddar Gorge. 

In the middle of the album, I spotted a sepia photo that took my breath away because it contained the image of a woman who is almost identical to a certain female blogger who often drops in to "Yorkshire Pudding" and leaves comments. I just had to buy the postcard The long deceased babe from The Roaring Twenties is so beautiful and so dainty, dressed in her best dancing outfit. She could so easily have been Miss World 1922. Of course, I do not wish to embarrass the lady blogger who is this woman's doppelganger but I think we can all guess who she is:-

24 February 2015


In north west Lincolnshire there's a district known as "The Isle of Axholme". Long ago, when effective land drainage techniques were in their infancy, the area was literally an island - surrounded by rivers and watery marshes. To get on to the Isle of Axholme or off it you needed a boat or a particularly dry summer. Shirley was born on the Isle of Axholme - in the southern part - where her father was a farmer - so I knew that part of the island well.

However, I was very unfamiliar with the northern part so last week I went there - the same day I snapped those sad village pubs. Above you can see one of the drains developed by Dutch engineers in medieval times. It's called Boating Dike.

Below, an old chapel near Crook o' Moor Farm. Not so long ago it was derelict but thankfully somebody has had it converted into a house. In past times, the rich farmland would have been worked by a veritable army of agricultural labourers so the chapel would have been thronging on Sundays.
The church below is St Oswald's in Crowle. The land at Crowle rose a few feet higher than the surrounding fields so it was a sensible location for the most significant settlement in the northern part of the Isle of Axholme. Some parts of the church predate the Norman invasion of 1066 and as there are no stone quarries for miles around, it would have taken an enormous effort to import the stones - on rafts or sailing barges.
The signpost below is in the village of Eastoft. Once The River Don flowed through the village but its course was drastically diverted in 1626. The signpost stands on what was once the Yorkshire side of the village.
I crossed the River Trent at Keadby Bridge and later parked in Burton upon Stather. From there I walked to Normanby Hall which is the family home of  PM David Cameron's wife Samantha Sheffield. There were snowdrops:-
 And here's the eighteenth century hall itself - set in extensive parkland:-

23 February 2015


Why do cats climb trees? After all, with the structure of their claws, they are far better at climbing up things than climbing back down. This is why fire brigades are frequently called out to rescue cats from rooftops or high branches.

Up our suburban garden there are four mature apple trees which soar in a gnarled kind of way twenty five feet from the ground. Yesterday morning I noticed something very high in the middle tree - a young black cat. He was on one of the loftiest branches and fearing for his safety I watched some more.

Near to him on an even higher branch was a magpie. Even from our kitchen I could hear the bird cackling at the cat. As the magpie hopped over to a higher branch, the cat seemed infuriated and eager to follow.

Then I noticed a couple of other magpies in two neighbouring trees and two crows flew in as well and there was a jay. They all kept dancing about and it struck me that they were in fact  bating the cat, deliberately daring it to climb higher. They were making the young animal risk its life - I am sure of it.

If the young cat fell to the ground he could easily be fatally injured and then the feathered omnivores would enjoy a feline feast of fresh young cat meat. This is a phenomenon I have never observed before though I am well aware that members of the crow family are highly intelligent, cunning and inventive.

We think of cats as predators but on this occasion, though Tiddles didn't know it, the gang of birds were the true predators. The tops of trees are avian territory and that young cat had climbed out of his comfort zone. The birds were willing and able to make a meal of him. Either that or they had just invented a daring new sport called "Tease a Cat".

22 February 2015


David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr in "Selma"
I got to see "Selma" on Thursday afternoon. Directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, it focuses on the city of Selma in Alabama during the summer of 1965. A civil rights march is planned from Selma to the state capital - Montgomery. It's all about pressurising the  authorities to  roll back layers of institutionalised southern  racism and allow disenfranchised black people the right to vote.

The role of President Lyndon B. Johnson is played magnificently by Yorkshire-born actor Tom Wilkinson and of course the lead actor Oyelowo is also English. This slightly puzzling English  factor was reminiscent of "Twelve Years a Slave".

I thought that "Selma" was a brilliant film and half a dozen times as I gazed at the screen in the cinema darkness, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was weeping about the wrongness of racism and the cruelty that so often accompanies it and because I was ashamed that my species - the human race can at times be so inhuman. If a film grabs you like that it's saying something.

David Oyewolo was very convincing as Dr King - not only when he delivered his rousing political sermons but also as he wrestled with the demons of his private life and the likelihood that one day the American establishment would take its ultimate revenge. Death never seemed far away. It is outrageous that Oyewolo is not nominated for best actor at tomorrow's Oscars when Bradley Cooper has got the nod for his part in the truly awful  and gratuitous "American Sniper".

There's a scene early in "Selma" when four black girls in a Montgomery baptist church are chattering about hairstyles as they descend the stairs by a beautiful stained glass window.  There's an almighty blast which fills the cinema and darkens the screen. When the dust clears you see the mangled bodies of these girls in  the debris. This outrage happened on September 15th 1963 but the legal ramifications were still very apparent as planning began for the 1965 Montgomery march 

(As an aside and as I said before some time ago in this blog, our daughter Frances helped to clean up the broken glass from that self-same stained glass window when she worked at The Civil Rights Centre in  Birmingham, Alabama back in 2011. She also visited Selma soon after arriving in Alabama as part of her induction programme)

"Selma " is an important film that should from now on be required viewing in all American high schools for the shadow of racism still lingers and Martin Luther King Jr's dream has not  yet been realised. It was fifty miles from Selma to Montgomery but it's much further to the promised land.

20 February 2015


Wandering around the north west corner of Lincolnshire by foot and car, I came across the depressing sight of three country pubs that have closed their doors forever. Once - not so long ago - they would have bustled as the till drawer went in and out. They would have been at the very heart of their communities but now they have gone for good. Farewell to "The Lincolnshire Arms" in Luddington. Adieu to "The Barge Inn" in Keadby. Goodbye to "The Flixborough Inn" in Flixborough. We shall not see their like again.

No more the clacking bones of dominoes or thudding of darts upon the board. No more accidental spillage of beer on bar top towels or the sucking sound of the pumps or little pewter measures for spirits. Or roaring fires on winter nights reflected in horse brasses hanging on old black leather belts. No more business meetings or family celebrations or whist drives, beetle drives or Park Drives. No more antique teapots on the plate shelf or the lingering odour of tobacco smoke in curtains. Or old farmhands arriving on older bicycles with their trouser bottoms tied with twine. Or strangers from faraway on motorbikes unpeeling their leathers in the car park. Or brewery men unloading metal kegs from Sheffield. No regulars propping up the bar early doors. Or holiday postcards or sporting trophies or pictures of huntsmen leaping hedges. No more black cast iron pub tables or community notices on display or bleached smells from the lavatories or condom machines. Nor bags of crisps or jars of pickled eggs or middle-aged landlords with heavy guts curving under tight striped shirts or landladies with lipstick and earrings or "What can I get for you?" or charity boxes or "Haven't you got homes to go to?" or frosted window glass with the pub's name etched or slightly stained beer mats or Christmas carols. No more laughter or banter or rows or kisses or staggering homewards or juke box sounds or upright pianos for singalongs. And no more opening times. No never no more.

18 February 2015


The current population of Yorkshire is bigger than the populations of either The Republic of Ireland or New Zealand. We have just over 5.4 million whereas Ireland and New Zealand each contain 4.5 million people. Size-wise, Yorkshire's population is very similar to Finland's. Norway is home to 5.6 million while Denmark's population is only just over five million.

Albania is  half the size of Yorkshire in population terms. Our county is bigger than any of the Baltic states. Estonia for example only has 1.3 million people. With 10,486,660 people, the German state of Baden-Württemberg is almost twice as big as Yorkshire.

Turning to the United States of America, Yorkshire is bigger than twenty eight of them - including Colorado but not including either Washington (ranked 13th)  or Georgia (8th). 
Yorkshire folk gathering last summer to cheer Le Tour de France riders
Over the last year, the media in Great Britain was filled with news about Scotland and their independence referendum. From Yorkshire's point of view, Scotland has received a lot of preferential treatment over the years and yet it only has a population of 5.3 million - 100,000 less than Yorkshire. Wales is very much a little brother with around 3.1  million living in the picturesque principality.

The state of Queensland, Australia is considerably bigger than Yorkshire - but only in terms of its land area. Regarding population, Yorkshire has about 700,000 more residents. We are on a par with the city state of Singapore.

As the bishop said to the actress, "Size isn't everything" but when you compare populations it starts to provide an interesting  new perspective on things. All the more reason for Yorkshire to seek independence. The London government will need to fork out £414 million for a Yorkshire Parliament Building for this was the huge amount they had to cough up for the Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh. There'll be an avenue of marble statues in our white rose gardens - Harold Wilson, Freddie Trueman, Hilda of Whitby, Geoffrey Boycott, Jessica Ennis, David Hockney, Dame Judi Dench,  Kevin Keegan, Joe Cocker, Emily Bronte, Helen Sharman, Andrew Marvell... it will be a very long avenue leading to our Yorkshire pudding-shaped mass debating chamber.

16 February 2015


In the middle of The East Riding of Yorkshire is the village where I was born. As my father was the headmaster of the village primary school, I was born in the school house which came with his job. That is the school house above. My mother had already cracked out two baby boys so she felt she didn't need to attend a hospital in order  to push her third and biggest baby into the world. It was behind the right-hand window where I first appeared, weighing in at a healthy ten pounds and ten ounces. Reportedly, my mother said, "Phew! That hurt ever so slightly!"

As Dad contemplated retirement, he realised that there would have to be some action with regard to housing. The school house belonged to the local council so it was effectively a council house and when Dad retired he knew we would have to get out. So in his mid fifties, savings were scraped together and the house below was duly purchased. It was on one of the residential estates that were developed in the village in the late sixties. We moved in in 1970.
Dad only had one year of retirement before he died. That was back in September 1979. Mum hung on there for a year or two before selling up and moving to smaller house on the village's Barley Gate estate. It had two dormer bedrooms upstairs and was rather pokey inside. I never liked that house but of course I never had to live there, having flown the nest in 1972.
Mum died in 2007. My younger brother was still living in the house and her death happened to co-incide with a plunge in the housing market. So a house that had been valued at £165,000 found a much smaller price ticket attached. What is more, the fish were just not biting. It has taken a few years, but finally the house has been sold.

Split four ways, the money is of course handy but it is kind of sad that I now have no physical or family links with the village. It's a sixty one year old connection that is forever gone, unless in the course of time my younger brother moves back into the village. So many memories.

15 February 2015


"Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together." 
- The Rescuing of Romish Fox, William Turner (1545).

That is the earliest known printed appearance of the well-known saying - "Birds of a feather flock together". Ornithologically, many bird species  will of course literally flock together for there is safety in numbers. Transferring the idea to human activity, people who are similar will also tend to flock together - for security, well-being and self-affirmation.

Why am I pondering upon this saying? Well, I am thinking about blogging. When I set out on my blogging journey ten years ago, I never imagined that I would find myself heading down an avenue that was reserved for "the mature blogger" and I am not sure how this happened.

However, when I look down a list of the bloggers I have come to associate with I find that they are nearly all "mature" - like ripe cheeses and past fifty. Where are all the twenty somethings? The thirty somethings? Perhaps they peep at blogs like ours and are repelled by our fusty, old-fashioned interests, the way we use language, how we see the world.

Okay I know there are one or two youngsters who call by this blog such as The Librarian With Secrets who at forty seven is almost a schoolgirl skipping merrily to work in her white kneesocks and there's Senor Brian over in Tortosa, Catalonia who still has a catapult in his back pocket and enjoys playing with Transformers. But on the whole everybody else is "mature".

There's "mature" Adrian still on the loose in Scotland. He's in his mid-sixties like The Brisbane Babe - Madam Helsie. Lovely Carol in Cairns is past fifty and Graham in Lewis is way past sixty. Lee in Queensland is also closing in on seventy and Mama Thyme in Colorado is sixty seven - round about the same age as Jan The Chicken Lady in Sloughhouse, California. Mistress Hilly in Washington State is a youthful fifty five while legendary blogger John Gray is fifty two - about the same age as Tom Gowans in Angola. Father of us all is The Oracle - Bob Brague in the middle of Georgia USA. His age is beyond comprehension.

See what I mean? These are all people who are oozing maturity. So mature it sometimes hurts. No signs were ever put up saying "Young Bloggers Keep Out!" or "Reserved for Mature Bloggers Only!" And yet young bloggers appear to have shunned our corner of the blogosphere.

To draw some of them in maybe we should start discussing hip-hop music, urban graffiti, recreational drugs, the latest computer games, "Candy Crush", Lindsay Lohan, Reality TV and dating techniques. And we should start using a more cool, modern form  of English - know wha I mean? Innit? That'd be wicked dude!

Have you got any theories about why we are blogging on Mature Avenue? Or is it Old Git Lane?

13 February 2015


Remains of  The Granary at Templeborough
Moved in 1916 to Clifton Park, Rotherham
Long ago, before there was such a country as England, Rotherham sat at the border between the ancient kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria. Going back even further in time to the first century AD, the Romans built an important fortress at Rotherham. It was at the northern edge of the Roman Empire long before they pressed further northwards to settle in Northumbria and build Hadrian's Wall.

Today the Rotherham fort is known as Templeborough but tragically the site was obliterated in 1916 as the steel company Steel, Peach and Tozer expanded their works as part of the effort to win World War One. Though she probably didn't know it, my grandmother Phyllis White worked in the very cavernous manufacturing shed which was quickly built upon the Templeborough fortress site. She belonged to an army of women who produced shell casings.

In 1916, a lot of the old stones had already disappeared from the Roman fortress. They had been purloined over many centuries and then the steel company began to move away the earth - destroying so much evidence of a Roman military settlement that had been in use for almost four hundred years. Fortunately, some bigwigs at Rotherham Council realised what was being lost and sent in a team of archaeologists. They only had a few weeks in which to properly conduct a final survey of the site and rescue as much archaeology as they could. By the way, there had been some earlier digs during the nineteenth century.

Some of the evidence collected in 1916 ended up with the British Museum in London but a lot of it remains in Rotherham - housed at Clifton Park Museum. I was there today.

Behind the museum there are many old stones that were once part of Templeborough's granary building. Having a large food store was vital for maintaining hundreds of Roman troops - many of whom came from Gaul. They stored dried meats and fruit as well as various grains.

Inside the museum there's Roman pottery, weaponry, domestic objects such as tweezers, photographs of the desperate archaeological dig back in 1916 and the broken remains of four Roman gravestones:-
The base of the middle stone is inscribed with these words:- 
Which means:-
"To the spirits of the departed and Crotus Vindex, veteran of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, forty years old, this monument was made and its inscription set down by Flavia Peregrina a most faithful wife for a most faithful husband".

Today there's nothing to see at the place where the fortress once stood. It is really very sad but at least some objects were rescued and much is known of the site and of its importance in advertising that the Romans had arrived and they were not going to be messed with.

12 February 2015


Well, I've not get anything of note to say today so instead I will just share some more pictures of Sheffield - all taken within the city's boundaries. Above there's an old stone gatepost looking out over The Limb Valley. Remnants of last week's heavy snowfall are still hanging about in the fields, Below you can see Sheephill Farm's farmhouse at the top of a long straight road called Long Line.
Above - yet another sad sight for anyone who loves The English Pub. This is "The Fleur de Lys" at Totley. It's all boarded up and round the front of it there's a big "For Sale" sign but I very much doubt that it will ever be a pub again. Once it was busy with locals and with other Sheffielders who fancied a pint or two on the edge of the city. There were bands and special nights, comedians and singers. That kind of thing is becoming like a chapter from history. Below - All Saints Parish Church in Totley. Compared with other parish churches it is very modern having been opened in 1924 - partly in memory of several local men who lost their lives in World War One.

11 February 2015


It comes as no surprise that the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) have been merrily helping many hundreds of greedy businesses and private citizens to dodge their tax responsibilities. Billions of pounds have been lost to the British Treasury. It is of course a national disgrace but it is one that has been happening since the idea of taxation was first conceived.

Many of the great stately homes of England with their associated country estates were built on the back of tax evasion. Lots of wealthy people arrogantly resent paying their dues to society and do whatever they can to reduce their tax bills. They open offshore bank accounts in secretive places like The Cayman Islands, Switzerland or Jersey and they employ financial advisers and accountants specially to deprive The Exchequer of its just deserts. Tax evasion or tax avoidance are both the same to me. With regard to taxation, bending rules is as bad as breaking them. 

The Musketeers' motto - "All for one and one for all" should be the principle of taxation for none of us exist alone. We all belong to societies that need roads, social services, schools, hospitals, police, soldiers, museums, libraries, cemeteries, relief for the unemployed, parks, airports and railways. These things cost money and we must each play our part in proportion to our earnings, following the rules. If we don't do that we are cheating our fellow citizens.

There can be no doubt that the HSBC bank is not the only one that facilitates tax evasion. They are probably all at it. Recently Her Majesty's Revenues and Customs have been working harder than ever to claw back unpaid taxes but unlike the pauper who steals a loaf of bread from a supermarket, the rich tax evaders have generally not found themselves facing criminal charges in a court of law. HMRC seem to imagine that it's getting back the money that is the important thing. So these dodgers have been getting off scot free instead of going where they belong - into jail.

When this week is over and the brouhaha about tax evasion and Swiss bank accounts is over, the tax dodging and creative avoidance of tax will carry on just as it always has done. There will also be men and women in the Houses of Parliament whose tax affairs will remain very suspect. Probably the same esteemed representatives who happily abused the expenses system.

Meanwhile ordinary workers like me and Shirley have paid every penny we were meant to pay. We had no choice but even if we had had some leeway for avoidance we would not have gone down that route. Cheating is wrong and tax evasion is a heinous and extremely selfish form of theft. The guilty ones  are indeed like pigs with their snouts in the trough.

10 February 2015


Yesterday northern England enjoyed dawn till dusk sunshine. I made a map of a country area that was previously unknown to me and Shirley and I set off eastwards in the car. Past Worksop and Retford - out into the North Nottinghamshire countryside.
Through North Wheatley we came to its sister village - South Wheatley where I noticed a church tower poking up through the trees. It was the tower of a church that had been abandoned in 1883 when the two villages were amalgamated within the same parish. The Norman chancel arch framed a slightly discordant view of West Burton Power Station.
Onwards to Sturton-le-Steeple with its fine medieval church and a pub called rather strangely - "The Reindeer Inn". The church tower was also quite unusual with twelve stone pinnacles atop the tower. Back in the car, we headed for North Leverton where we parked and got our boots on ready for a six or seven mile walk. I felt good - healthy. No bronchitis. No gout. No bad knee. It's something I have really missed - setting out on a country walk in previously unknown territory and feeling healthy.
Soon we came to North Leverton windmill to the west of the village. It is still able to grind corn into flour and is one of the precious survivors of a time when most English villages of reasonable size had their own windmills for grinding the local crop.

Along muddy Retford Gate track to Caddow Wood. A couple of dogs jumped up at Shirley and muddied her jacket. No apology from the dog walkers. Some are so ignorant in their doggy worlds. I have come across that before. "Oh he'll not hurt you!" - as a barking hound's paws wallop your crotch. At least you can eat sheep and cattle.
Over the fields to Cowsland Farm. Good name for a farm that. Better than Dogsland. Then down towards Sheds Farm with Cottam Power Station beyond sending plumes of steam into the bright February air. And along to South Leverton where we saw a fat cat on a wall. I have always been a cat person. You don't get cat walkers on muddy tracks. The cats wouldn't stand for it and they wouldn't bark aggressively at innocent ramblers either. "Oh don't worry love! He just likes the sound of his own voice!" Charming.
We paused in All Saints churchyard in South Leverton before following the road back to North Leverton and there we treated ourselves to drinks and a bag of plain crisps in "The Royal Oak". It had been a lovely walk and a pleasure to discover a little corner of England that we will probably never see again. And more than this the vehicle I call my body purred like a well-oiled machine. I hope that there will be many more walks like this - but you never know. You should probably relish every one.
"The Royal Oak" in North Leverton

8 February 2015


 Quite a few women drop by this manly blog and I will be most interested to find out what they have to say about today's subject - cosmetics. Last year, "The Independent" newspaper reckoned that in her lifetime the average British woman will spend around £100,000 on cosmetic products. Products which hide blemishes, which colour or gloss the lips, which embellish the eyes with eye shadow and mascara and do various other jobs to enhance or perhaps to hide the face that Nature has provided.

A former teaching colleague called Val once confided in me that all her adult life she had had to factor in an extra half hour every morning in order to apply her war-paint. She admitted that she wore "a mask" and that no one outside her family had ever seen her without the face she had painted on every day for forty years. I found this very sad and wondered what it had to say about women's liberation.

Many of the older teenage girls I taught must have spent more time preening themselves in mirrors than they spent on their homework. Their faces could be caked with concealing creams - often in tan colours that would be too dark for a Greek peasant in a heatwave. Their eyebrows would be plucked and shaped so perfectly that they looked as if they had been stuck on from a clown's kit.

Like most men, I have never worn any make-up (apart from theatrical make-up). My eyebrows have never been plucked and my hair has never been coloured. Before I go out, I sometimes comb my hair and that's all. No lipstick, no concealing creams, no eye shadow.

I think that many modern women have got the balance right. In everyday life and work they may wear no make-up at all and only when "going out" on special nights do they reach into their make-up bags or apply some of the products they keep on their dressing tables. Isn't it all about self-confidence? 

Perhaps a woman's relationship with cosmetics has a great deal to say about how she sees herself. For girls who are becoming women it cannot be easy. They receive so many mixed messages. On the one hand, they are told that men and women are equals and yet they see so many images of women who meticulously seek to enhance their natural appearances with expensive facial products. And finally, I also wonder what cosmetics have to do with making women more desirable to the so-called "opposite" sex when honesty is surely beauty's best companion. Oh, and please don't get me started on face lifts and botox and other such self-indulgent nonsense.

6 February 2015


Two proper Sheffield pubs in the Lower Heeley area. They are both drinkers' pubs - not glorified restaurants. Thankfully, both "The Sheaf View" and "Ye Olde Shakespeare Inn" are doing well. With good beers, they seem to have found a healthy niche in the pub market when so many other drinking pubs appear to be in terminal decline. They are just fifty yards apart.
Above, a sixteenth century stone waterspout on the tower of St James's Church in the Norton area of Sheffield and below an unusual view of that same tower:-
Who's for skating or transportation to hospital in an ambulance? An icy path in Graves Park on Wednesday afternoon:-

5 February 2015


Walking isn't just about exercise and nice views of the countryside. It can have a psychological, perhaps spiritual function too. Plodding along, your mind drifts hither and thither as if in harmony with your footsteps. Notions and memories may be released  - thoughts that might otherwise be buried in everyday living.

The film "Wild"recognises these other aspects of walking. Based on a true story, Cheryl Strayed is played by Reese Witherspoon. She sets out alone to tackle a huge section of the Pacific Crest Trail, beginning in the Mojave Desert before heading north through the Sierra Nevada Mountain and then through Oregon to The Bridge of the Gods which spans the mighty Columbia River east of Portland. It is a journey of over a thousand miles.

Strayed (Witherspoon) has issues to deal with and believes that the walk, for which she is mightily ill-prepared, might help her to regain her self-belief. Drive out some demons. Throughout the walk there are flashbacks to her previous life - memories of her late mother and her abusive father, memories of love and of self-destructive habits including sexual adventures and drugs. Along the way there are also hallucinations and moments of danger - a rattle snake, a fox, a furry caterpillar, two hunters.

But she gets through it and as she stands on the bridge after more than three months of walking this is her conclusion:-

“It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
Film reviewer Mark Kermode had awarded "Wild" four stars in "The Guardian" and that persuaded me to go along to see it. Reese Witherspoon is of course an accomplished film actress but we are used to seeing her in much lighter roles. I think she handled the challenge of playing Cheryl Strayed pretty well. The camera rarely left her, adding to the intensity of the mental torment that swirled beneath wonderful images of the natural world that embellish the Pacific Crest Trail.

3 February 2015


Graves Park is Sheffield's biggest park. In one corner - near St James's Church - there's a little urban farm which specialises in rearing Highland cattle. Yesterday, after parking near the main entrance, I wandered up to the farm and noticed a calf snuggling up to its be-horned mother. I managed to get these two snaps of him. I will christen him "Awwwww!" as that is the first word that came to mind when I saw him on his straw bed with his Beatles' fringe-

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