30 November 2015


It rained all day yesterday and it's raining today. There's a thick blanket of cloud blotting out the sun and there are puddles everywhere. Because we live on a hill, there's a veritable river of rain water draining down the road towards Endcliffe Park. On days like this, it really is "grim up north". I am trapped indoors. No walking. No garden work. Will it ever end? It's half past three in the afternoon but it feels as if night-time has already arrived.

The weather forecast for the week promises that sunshine will reappear on Friday so all being well that will be  a day for rambling, getting the blood pumping and communing with the great outdoors. However, I wouldn't put money on blue skies bursting forth as those mischievous meteorologists have a habit of altering their forecasts as they go along. They are like wanton gods - just  toying with us.

For a little while, I have meant to write about "Gogglebox" - a Channel 4 programme that often has me in stitches. This programme focuses upon selected TV viewers and their reactions to a range of programmes. We see the same people each week - sitting in their living rooms, glued to the box - but never passive. They react to what they see - pass judgements, laugh, cry or spurn. It was ever thus but it took the clever producers of "Gogglebox" to turn the camera around to see what happens on the other side of the screen.

I notice the active engagement of these random viewers,  their compassion, their willingness to be entertained and their highly tuned ability to detect falseness. They are sentient beings, not empty vessels into which TV companies pour their programming. They represent us all.

"Gogglebox" fans have their own favourites. Shirley and I love retired couple June and Leon in Liverpool though we sincerely hope we are not turning into them! And I am very fond of twenty five year old Scarlett Moffat in County Durham who sits watching with her parents but seems as if she is the real parent figure in their house. She comes out with some hilarious remarks that reveal her zest for life and her sharp wit. I also like The Reverend Kate Bottley who for a time was the R.E, teacher in my old school. Like other stars of "Gogglebox" she is finding new paths opening up for her and I have for example seen her being interviewed by the BBC News on religious matters.

Although "Gogglebox" is certainly an acquired taste, here's a sample - not I must stress one of the funnier sequences...

29 November 2015


My itinerant blogging correspondent, Professor Adrian Ward of no fixed abode is currently snowed in in the wilds of eastern Scotland. But please do not worry about his welfare for he has plenty of emergency supplies on board  Old Sheila - his trusty vintage camper van. For example, he has a case of "Teacher's" blended scotch whisky, several pouches of Old Virginia baccy and seventeen pot noodles (chicken flavour). His faithful "trained to kill" security dogs - Alf and Murderous Molly also have plenty of food in reserve including the carcass of a  young stag which they hauled home before the snows came down.

As visitors to "Adrian's Images" will already be aware, Professor Adrian is like a travelling version of Magnus Pike - bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm about photography and new methods of image enhancement. Occasionally, he throws out tidbits of photographic advice to we mere mortals and just the other day he directed us to some software that even an idiot like me could play around with in spite of my prehensile knuckles.

Below there's an altered image drawn from a photo I snapped last Wednesday in Sheffield's Endcliffe Park. It is of the plinth of the obelisk that the city erected to commemorate Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887. Knowing that Professor Adrian is a devoted royalist, I naturally dedicate this first picture to him:-

Afterwards, I lifted Professor Adrian's profile image and put it through the software wringer to produce the following almost hallucinogenic picture:-
I have already been approached by a couple of leading wallpaper manufacturers who are keen to use this design in a new mind-boggling range that will certainly enhance any home. To market the product they plan to plaster Professor Adrian's camper van with the exclusive new wall covering and confidently expect to sign him up to star in a sequence of teatime television commercials.

If you would like to order half a dozen pre-launch "L'Adrianesque"rolls please send me your delivery address and credit card details including pin number and security code. In the meantime I shall shout out a huge public "thank you" to Professor Adrian for directing me towards my first entrepreneurial million. What would the French call it I wonder?

28 November 2015


I was going to blog about yesterday's drive down to London and back in an "Enterprise" hire van. Then I thought I might blog about the strange phenomenon of how traffic can draw to a halt on congested motorways for no apparent reason. Alternatively, I thought I would blog about the rags-to-riches tale of Sheffield-born Premier League striker Jamie Vardy. Then I thought about Chris, a former regular at my local pub who, upon a whim, upped sticks and went to live in Udon Thani, Thailand at the age of sixty three.

Perhaps I should have blogged about new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and how the media have portrayed him and his pacifism. I considered another general knowledge quiz or some previously unseen photographs from my rambles in the heart of England. A post in praise of Sheffield artist Pete McKee? Another poem? Or the hard luck our lovely son has experienced since the London-based internet start-up company he was working for collapsed. Hence the hire van.

Instead, I have chosen not to blog about anything at all. I shall have another mug of tea before performing my daily ablutions and heading off to "Lidl" for yet more food supplies. It's nice that in order to survive. we don't have to hunt deer, grow vegetables  or collect berries any more... isn't it?

26 November 2015


Have you heard of these men - John Kriegshauser, John Humphrey, Robert Mayfield, Charles Tuttle, Vito Ambrosio, George Williams, Lyle Curtis, Melchor Hernandez, Harry Estabrooks and Maurice Robbins?...  No? I thought not.

They lost their precious lives in Sheffield's Endcliffe Park on February 22nd 1944. They were the crew of the American "Mi-Amigo" Flying Fortress which attempted an emergency landing in my neighbourhood following an unsuccessful bombing mission to Aalborg, Denmark. The park is just down the hill from our house and it was there that they all burned to death after crashing into the trees behind the park's cafe. Here they are at their Northamptonshire base:-
Brave young men in their prime but they would never return to the land of chewing gum, nylon stockings and "Lucky Strike". Their war was over.

Every year a good number of Sheffielders still visit Endcliffe Park on the anniversary of the fatal crash. Thankfully the ten young men are not forgotten and there's a little memorial stone with bronze plaques screwed into it - at the very spot where the plane came down.

Wars cough up plenty of comic book heroes but many of the real heroes get forgotten. For example - John Kriegshauser, John Humphrey, Robert Mayfield, Charles Tuttle, Vito Ambrosio, George Williams, Lyle Curtis, Melchor Hernandez, Harry Estabrooks and Maurice Robbins. So let's hold hands and give them two minutes of our silence... For their lost horizons and for the ridiculous futility of war and for the loved ones they left behind.

Pictures taken yesterday morning:-

25 November 2015


For some mysterious reason, one of my past posts - "Priory" is regularly targeted by spammers. I get fed up of clearing up their crap. Here are three examples that I recently snipped before decanting them into a virtual zinc bucket marked "Sewage":-
Not only are the vile and greedy perpetrators of these unwelcome "comments" invading blogs without invitation, they are also guilty of mangling the English language. It is as if they put dictionaries in mincing machines that then churn out such nonsensical garbage they make "Jabberwocky" read like logical washing powder instructions.

It is disappointing that the guardians of the internet - Microsoft, Google, Apple, national governments etc. haven't found ways of clamping down on the parasitical activities of Alice, Alix, Melinda and all the rest. Nobody wants them or needs them. Whatever they are trying to sell is dodgy to say the least and nobody in their right minds would ever be drawn in by their cancerous piggyback blogpost comments.

They are the blogosphere's equivalent of nuisance phone calls from trawling call centres that interrupt so many people's lives. I had one yesterday when I was sitting at our dining room table, enjoying a £2.50 lunch of mini fish and chips and mushy peas from our recently reopened Banner Cross Fish and Chip Shop. I got up from the table, picked up the phone and there was the usual silence. "Hello?...Hello?". Finally an Asian voice appears - "Hello, how are you today?" 

"I was feeling fine till you phoned! Never phone this number again and I suggest you get a proper job!" Then I put the phone down and returned to my rudely interrupted lunch. My midday peace had been spoilt.

I don't invade Melinda, Alix or Alice's lives but if I could I would send them regular spam blog comments inviting them to subscribe to an online English language improvement course run by the redoubtable Professor Pudding and his American associate Dr Brague:-
Having trouble with basic English grammar? Struggling to get your message across? We guarantee we can improve the quality of your spam comments by 100%. You were probably a dunce at school - incapable of stringing sentences together - but it is never too late to change. Our effective online courses are individually tailored for clients' needs. These expert first aid services are reasonably priced. Contact the Professor Pudding Online Language School without delay!

24 November 2015


Yet again I was out on the frosty moors but still within Sheffield's metropolitan boundaries. I parked by Mortimer Road west of Bradfield and then headed westwards. My route took me along a track that the Duke of Norfolk had built in the nineteenth century to access some of the best grouse shooting territory in England. Not the sport of kings but the sport of toffs. In fact where is the sport or the fun in blasting plump, frightened moorland birds to smithereens? Ho-ho that's twelve I've bagged today your lordship! Jolly good show old chap!

It was bitterly cold so I was thankful that my Hull City beanie hat was in my "Converse" rucksack with a pair of fingerless gloves too. Wearing  lined walking trousers was another a good idea. The peaty ground was frozen hard in places but elsewhere ice-topped puddles were traps for optimists. I tiptoed around them.
All morning, I only saw one other person - a fell runner in a blue tracksuit and woolly headband. "Morning!" we both said in the middle of nowhere. He was heading back to Mortimer Road and I was on my way across Cartledge Flat - all peat, heather and moorland puddles and very hard to read from a map.

Then down past a line of grouse butts and across the devastated remains of a former conifer plantation. Luckily there were no gunmen around - just the cackling of surprised grouse rising up from the heather, no doubt relieved to discover that not all human beings want to blast them out of the sky.
Grouse butt number 10
Soon I was back on Mortimer Road with a three mile trudge ahead of me back to the car and at last, after four hours,  a welcome sit down.
Derelict shooting lodge by Mortimer Road

22 November 2015


After the horrendous attacks in Paris, this is how British political commentator Andrew Neil opened his late night "This Week" show:-
I would be interested to know how you react to it.

21 November 2015


Black Friday

Not that unholy scrum
Heaving through the doors
Grabbing bargains
From department stores
Not that brutish
Consumer greed
Biting the hand
From which they feed
No not that
But the
Rat-tat-tat-tat of gunfire
On the Boulevard Voltaire
A noxious smell of butchery
Poisoning the air
"Those who can make you believe absurdities 
can make you commit atrocities."
That's what he wrote,
Voltaire I mean,
Déjà vu
- Already seen.
Checking their guns
With a ha-ha-ha-ha
Ugly young men in a rental car.

Not the slashing of prices
In Paris - Texas or Maine
But the noise of lovers
Moaning with pain
As tea candles flare 
In November's  fragile rain.

And though nothing
Could ever be the same
In this heart of darkness
Still burns
A little

20 November 2015


Tension rises as viewers tune in to learn the results of yesterday's exciting general knowledge quiz. A shiny golden envelope is handed to the compere - the dashing Mr Humphrey Pudding who is wearing a lime green suit with orange bovver boots. The audience applauds like a herd of wildebeest thundering across the plains of Africa.

Humphrey rips open the envelope and carefully reads the following:-

  1. Who played Rhett Butler in the 1939 film, "Gone With the Wind"? Clark Gable
  2. In Indian and Pakistani cuisine, what does the word "murgh" mean? chicken
  3. A castrated bull is called a bullock but what is a castrated ram called? wether
  4. If John Lennon was still alive today, how old would he be? 75
  5. Which of the planets lies between Saturn and Neptune? Uranus
  6. What is the two word French term for custard with burnt sugar on the top? crème brûlée
  7. Beatrix Potter published "The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes" in 1911, but what kind of creature was Timmy Tiptoes? squirrel
  8. What does the Latin term, "tempus fugit" mean? time flies
  9. How is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta better known? Lady Gaga
  10. Which African country's flag is red with a black bordered green pentagram in the middle? Morocco
More thunderous applause as Humphrey begins to read out the order of merit, making sure that there are plenty of long, dramatic pauses with tense heartbeat music accompaniment. "In joint seventh place with zilch come Red of Canada, Lee of Australia and Mama Thyme of USA....(big pause and music) In sixth place we have Terra.... In fifth place with 3/10 it's....the delectable Ms Alphabet Soup. In joint third place with 4/10 (another big pause and thirty seconds of heartbeat music) it's feisty Jan Blawat and Father Adrian who may I say make a lovely couple! And after much deliberation in joint first place with a massive score of 5/10 we have....(pregnant pause and drum roll) Frau Meike and Nurse John Gray!"

Shiny glitter falls from the studio ceiling and grinning like chimpanzees a delighted Meike and John step on to the stage to receive their matching  designer trophies:-
Meike's trophy
John's trophy

19 November 2015


My local pub has held quizzes for more years than I care to remember. Every Tuesday and Sunday night like clockwork. However, now that the pub is in limbo, awaiting a takeover by new owners, there have nights when running the quiz would have been ridiculous because of low attendance. Consequently, I have got into the habit of creating homemade Sunday night quizzes for a few of the last men standing - true stalwarts of "The Banner Cross Hotel" such as Higgy and Steve. Lord knows where everybody else has gone.

Anyway, sifting through my self-researched quiz sheets, it occurred to me that some of my esteemed and remarkably bright blog visitors might enjoy tackling a sample of these quiz questions. Please leave your answers in the comments section - even if you can only manage a couple of answers. And remember that anyone using Google to seek out answers will receive a jolting electric shock directly through their keyboard or mouse!

  1. Who played Rhett Butler in the 1939 film, "Gone With the Wind"?
  2. In Indian and Pakistani cuisine, what does the word "murgh" mean?
  3. A castrated bull is called a bullock but what is a castrated ram called?
  4. If John Lennon was still alive today, how old would he be?
  5. Which of the planets lies between Saturn and Neptune?
  6. What is the two word French term for custard with burnt sugar on the top?
  7. Beatrix Potter published "The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes" in 1911, but what kind of creature was Timmy Tiptoes?
  8. What does the Latin term, "tempus fugit" mean?
  9. How is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta better known?
  10. Which African country's flag is red with a black bordered green pentagram in the middle?

The correct answers will be provided tomorrow. And there will be a special prize for the overall winner!

18 November 2015


Whatever happened to Ian Rhodes?
(Author of "Shooting Parrots")
In my sidebar there are links to other blogs under the heading "Blogorama". Every so often I find that I have to maintain this list. Bloggers come and bloggers go. Recently I deleted "Shooting Parrots" made by Ian Rhodes in Stockport, South Manchester, He hadn't blogged in many months but for a few years his blog was refreshed very regularly and it was one I followed quite slavishly. It became a habit... like "Going Gently", "Kitchen Connection" and "Adrian's Images".

What happened to Ian Rhodes and "Shooting Parrots" I shall probably never know. It even crossed my mind that he might have passed away but I could not confirm that through cunning googling. To replace Ian Rhodes's blog I added "Shadows and Light" by Steve, a US immigrant residing in London where he works in a school library and takes many brilliant quirky photographs but not, I am happy to say, of schoolchildren working in said library! He would probably get the sack and a tortuous police interview for that.

Over in Angola on the outskirts of Luanda lives/lived  Captain Tom Gowans, adventurous author of "Hippo on the Lawn". It was a great blog to read - like the diary of Indiana Jones. Of course this lively blog is listed in my sidebar but for how much longer? Tom hasn't blogged since March 18th and I wonder if he will ever blog again. 

There was one blog title in my sidebar that I was reluctant to delete until today - "Molly Printemps" by Carol Harrison in East Yorkshire. I know she will never blog again because very sadly she died earlier this year - another victim of breast cancer. Somehow the prospect of deleting that blog title seemed disrespectfully final. I have no idea how long Carol's blog will remain accessible. Possibly her sister and husband will leave it up as an online memorial for years to come.

My compromise is this: to leave the blog address for "Molly Printemps" right here so that  though she is gone from the world and from my sidebar, she will not be entirely forgotten in our ever-changing blogosphere:-

As Molly goes, I am going to fill that space with a South Carolinian blog  link - Jennifer's "Sparrow Tree Journal" which is always worth a visit. Welcome to "The Side Bar" Jennifer - another  pina colada coming right up!

17 November 2015


A lonely walk in a forbidding landscape. No other human beings in view. There on the high moors between Sheffield and Manchester the land is like an enormous sponge. Peaty and black with rough grasses, heather and slow moving  rivulets. It is an ancient and delicate ecology.

Occasionally there are rocky outcrops but to reach some of them you must tiptoe across boggy land, leaping between puddles, wondering if the black peat will be firm or soft and greedy - ready to swallow your boot. The picture above is of the little visited outcrop at Bull Clough Head and below a smaller outcrop thirty yards higher up. To me they are magnificent natural sculptures. They have existed for thousands of years and will remain for countless more after we have all gone.
Throughout Great Britain there are triangulation pillars, erected by The Ordnance Survey. You find them in the most surprising locations and they have been of great service in the accurate mapping of these islands. They cam also be useful landmarks for walkers and I was very happy to spot this one on The Outer Edge. It gave me my bearings.
My only companion on this wild walk was the wind. Down in the valley, it had taken the form of a gentle breeze but up here it threatened to blow me off my feet and as I walked past Margery Hill on to Wilfrey Edge I was stumbling like a drunkard. It slapped my cheeks and mercilessly ruffled my hair but you cannot see it for the wind stays invisible in still photographs. On Howden Edge I arrived at High Stones which at 548 metres above sea level is the highest point in South Yorkshire. There's a small cairn there as you can see below:-
Howden Edge - with  rough
grasses bending in the wind
Leaving Howden Edge I reached a rough farm track that descends to The Derwent Valley and saw the silvery reflection of the late afternoon sky caught in a puddle.
Day was dying and a crescent moon was already shining when I got back to my car at the end of Howden Reservoir. A young farmer with a bright-eyed sheepdog was loading a section of his flock into a trailer. I asked him why and he said he was taking them back to the farm for "tupping". There they would remain to be serviced by his best ram before being returned to the hills on Christmas Eve with baby lambs growing secretly in their bellies.

15 November 2015


Richard's tomb at Fontevraud
England's King Richard I is more often referred to as Richard the Lionheart. He died in France on April 6th 1199 - fatally infected by an arrow wound. Afterwards, his entrails were buried at Châlus (where he died), his heart went to Rouen Cathedral in Normandy and the rest of his body was buried at Fontevraud Abbey in the Anjou region.

Though King of England for ten years, Richard spent most of this time abroad living a complicated life of intrigue that involved military pacts and disagreements, land claims and land sales, affairs with both men and women, marriage, the building of castles, family schisms, religious observance and last but not least active participation in The Third Crusade.
Richard's heart tomb at
Rouen Cathedral
Now I admit that I am no historian, even though things historical fascinate me. To create this blogpost I have had to undertake some research - driven by curiosity about both Richard the Lionheart and his involvement in The Crusades. When my parents acquired our first television set in 1957 I soon became a fan of "The Adventures of Robin Hood" starring Richard Greene and throughout that series in which  evil John presided over national affairs, I noted occasional references to his brother good King Richard who was away in "The Holy Land" fighting in "The Crusades". One of his biggest fans was the outlaw Robin Hood himself.

But what were they, these so-called "crusades"?

The first crusade (1096-99), promoted by Pope Urban II, occurred in response to the rise of Islam which in various guises was threatening to overwhelm the Byzantine Empire and hinder Christian access to The Holy Land. Its aim was to suppress this growing Muslim power - for economic  as well as religious reasons. Essentially, the first crusade failed so it was followed by further crusades that drew thousands of fighters and noblemen  from all over Europe - seeking their fortunes or religious merit, focussed on defeating the threat that Islam was posing. Of course they were all costly enterprises.

Richard's stone effigy at Châlus
Historians tell us that the final crusade happened in the middle of the fifteenth century so by my calculations, the crusades were in process for over three hundred and fifty years. Richard I was a significant figure in The Third Crusade of 1189-92 sometimes called The Kings' Crusade which sought to crush Saladin and reconquer The Holy Land.

The remains of various crusaders can still be found in Christian English churches and I imagine in other Western European churches too. But that is not all that remains of the battles they fought long ago against the champions of Islam. Echoes could be heard ricocheting about the streets of Paris on Friday evening as innocent civilians were massacred by cowards with kalashnikovs. And of course these horrors are not over - not by a long way - so perhaps we must all be lionhearted now.

14 November 2015


- I -
"Shut door!"

"Gie us a minute woman!"

Behind him an old dog stood on the threshold, with its head cocked ever so slightly to the left. It was a subtle signal that Elizabeth Bamford recognised well.

"Alright. In then ye devil!"

Trembling almost imperceptibly, his coat rain-matted and with chin lowered to the flagstone floor, Old Shep crept towards the smoking peat fire. 

Outside, a bitter gale crashed like mighty ocean waves against walls that were as sturdy as those timeless millstone outcrops up at Back Tor. How old the old house was neither Elizabeth nor Samuel knew. He had been born there late one summer when heather bloomed violet pink on the moorland but by then his grandfather was already in Ashopton graveyard, buried with his library of memories.

Samuel put his oilskin cape on the nail behind the door and rubbing his ruddy hands for warmth, joined his old dog by the fire. A black pot hung from the iron spyder and both were dusted with peat ash like snowflakes on gorse.

"Famished I am. What's in pot?"

"I telled ye this morning Sam. Yon rabbit ye trapped last Thorsday. About as much meat on it as a crow."

They ate from their bowls in silence. There were hunks of dry bread to mop up the gravy. Elizabeth threw half of hers on the floor for the dog to devour. It looked up hopefully for more but there were only bones.

"Owt new in valley?" Elizabeth asked. She had not left the old place for weeks which is how it often was in the wintertime.

"Aye. There's more talk of a dam. Them fellows from London were back last week."

"Why can't they build their bloody dam in London and leave us be?"

The chimney spat a gob of rainwater upon their smoking fire where it sizzled and steamed for a moment or two. Outside the gusting gale increased its strength even as the last pale vestiges of daylight dissolved into the dark moors above Alport, leaving a cloak of inky blackness behind.

"Has Hannah's lass ad her babby yet?"

"Aye. I saw Mary Gunston. Er from Hope. She said it were a little girl. Lived for three days she said."

"Dead? Oh dear, poor little mite. She'll be with angels now. Hannah'll be reet upset. Is the lass alright. Young Sarah?"

"Aye. I believe so."

Samuel grabbed two more clods of dried turf from the box and as he placed them carefully upon the glowing fire, Old Shep's ears pricked up. In the bottom field, the blackfaces could be faintly heard from the lee of the west wall, their plaintive bleating carried like flotsam upon the howling wind. 

Elizabeth lit another  tallow candle. She had made a cache of them in the summertime from mutton fat. It flickered because of a draught that was leaking in from under the door. She watched her husband's shadow shifting about on the far stone wall as if dancing to the marauding gale's irregular rhythm.

She thought upon the baby girl and remembered her own lost children. Of course none of them would be there to support her or Samuel in old age and though she was only fifty one, her aching bones had made her increasingly conscious of her mortal vulnerability.

Samuel was unlacing his boots. Soon it would be time for bed. How slowly those night-time hours passed when winter winds were blowing as hard as that wolf in "The Three Little Pigs" - a story she remembered happily from her grandmother's knee - when she lived down in the village. After all these years, it was still very difficult to sleep on nights like these. There on the side of their valley where hardly anyone ever passed by. 

She looked at Sam and he reciprocated, candlelight twinkling in the jelly of their eyes. The ghost of a smile appeared amidst the stubble of his weatherbeaten face. They said nothing but turned to watch those fresh turf clods in the fireplace glowing brighter like fragments of summer.



13 November 2015


Who lived there at Bamford House - high on the eastern slopes of The Upper Derwent Valley? It is in ruins now and the advanced state of the ruination suggests that the place hasn't been occupied for donkey's years. Its position is very exposed. Even on a mild afternoon in November, a buffeting wind from the west contained a chilly winter warning. Thus it was easy to imagine how untempered winter storms must strike the location with full force. There are no windbreaks.

What did they do up there long before the valley below was dammed to create three reservoirs? They would have had no electricity, no telephone, no motorised vehicles and surely very little money. They must have been very hardy, resilient people - tuned into Nature and the moods of the weather, able to read the signs with the expertise that experience brings. Archaeological evidence suggests that their working time moved between rearing sheep, quarrying stone and digging peat from the moors. It is easy to forget that in distant times peat was an important domestic fuel in the area and the dwellers of Bamford House must have made money from it - hauling it to nearby villages.

There would have been dogs barking or steaming by the peat fire as another cold wind roared about the stolid stone walls like a merciless beast, making sleep fitful. But in the early summertime when swallows danced over the budding heather and cottonwool clouds slid across a clear blue sky, it would have been heartening to scan the enchanting  valley below like a god,  to watch a hawk hovering as if entirely still and to listen to the maaying of new lambs.. Times when it felt so good to be alive in that lonely place that you wouldn't have wished to live anywhere else.
Bamford House seen from the western side of the valley last week

11 November 2015


Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey in "Brooklyn"
Monday was a grey day. Rather than twiddling my fingers at home, I ventured into the city centre to watch the film "Brooklyn" directed by John Crowley. Based upon  a novel of the same name - written by Colm Tóibín, "Brooklyn" focuses upon a young Irish woman called Eilis Lacey played magnificently in the film by Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan.

Tearfully, Eilis leaves Ireland to seek her fortune in New York. Once she arrives, her homesickness is at first almost crippling but gradually she settles into her new life and meets a plumber called Tony from an Italian-American family. They fall in love and everything goes swimmingly until Eilis receives terrible news from the old country - her beloved sister Rose has died.

She returns to Ireland and soon it is as if her life with Tony had been nothing but a dream. Ireland is trapping her and she even meets an eligible bachelor called Jim with whom she has pleasant times. But Eilis is snapped out of her apparent submission during a meeting with the town of Enniscorthy's most uncharitable gossip - "Nettles" Kelly who has learnt that Eilis secretly married Tony before returning to Ireland. Something snaps in Eilis's mind and she determines to return to America, intent upon resuming her life with Tony.

The cinematography is superbly crafted and the central story is believable - making you think about the many thousands of emigrants that Eilis partly represents. Leaving home and making a new home in another land is never an easy thing to do. I must admit that at a few points during my viewing of "Brooklyn" my eyes filled with tears. Fortunately the cinema was pitch dark so nobody could see this happening.

One thing that disappointed me about "Brooklyn" was the way in which Ireland in the 1950's was portrayed. It appeared as well-heeled as New York and far too sugar-coated. There's no sense of the grinding poverty that drove so many people away from The Emerald Isle and the town of Enniscorthy looks as if it belongs in England's salubrious Home Counties. Why would Eilis want to leave it?

Another thing - just like Italians, Portugese or Swedes, many Irish people have a certain inherited look about them. It's in their genes. But in "Brooklyn", extras - such as the homeless Irishmen who attend the Christmas Day dinner in the church hall in Brooklyn - do not have that quintessential  Irish look about them. In fact they look as if they are all from a southern Californian theatrical agency.

But these things apart, I enjoyed "Brooklyn". It was a nice diversion on a grey November afternoon and a beautifully polished film. Fragile, confused but ultimately determined, Saoirse Ronan was superb in her role and it was this towering yet subtle and richly empathetic performance that held the entire cinematic illusion together.

This is what the brilliant English film critic Mark Kermode said of her performance:
"With her timeless young/old face (shades of Grace Kelly?), minutely nuanced gestures and pitch-perfect vocal inflections, Ronan is a walking miracle, one of the most intelligent and compelling screen presences of her generation." 
And of the film itself, he said 
"Like its heroine, Brooklyn does not shout its virtues from the rooftops and it’s significant that the publicity has struggled to capture its anachronistic grace. No matter – those who discover the film, whether by design or accident, will be wooed by its subtle spell and enriched by its deceptively low-key charm."

10 November 2015


On summery July 15th, I was walking near Ringinglow, along  little used Bassett Lane when a strange vehicle came into view. It was a Google Streetview car. As I happened to have my trusty camera in hand, I took this photograph of it:-
The driver could hardly stop to complain as Streetview has gathered mountains of imagery without seeking permission to do so. I blogged about that little ramble here.

I imagined that in the weeks that followed, Google would update their imagery for little Bassett Lane and that the world would suddenly see a muscular Brad Pitt lookalike standing on the verge with camera pointed. However, that update has not happened. Perhaps they lost the film. Perhaps the editors saw me and immediately censored the car's footage fearing that it might frighten small children.

After curling past Bassett Farm, Bassett Lane meets Andwell Lane near Green House Farm and just yesterday I discovered that Google Streetview did indeed update some of the imagery that was gathered that sunny morning. Andy Warhol said that everyone would enjoy  fifteen minutes of fame, so drum roll please, snipped from Google Streetview, this is my moment:-
Caught in the act of taking a picture of nearby Bassett Cottages with Bassett Farm's buildings clustered amidst those trees. I guess that that is what I have become - a tiny little man, moving over the landscape like an ant but now surely an ant with credibility thanks to Google Streetview. Fame at last!

9 November 2015


Swirling summer mist rising from a lake as golden shafts of morning sunlight herald the day ahead. A skein of geese moving along a Norwegian fijord, reflected in still waters. A newly born baby clearing his/her lungs in the delivery room ready for the lifetime ahead. Other lips tenderly kissing your lips. The Taj Mahal - alabaster and other worldy in a shimmering tropical heat haze. Stars twinkling in a velvet black sky... Beauty. Beauty...

But what could possibly be more beautiful than this:-
My team at the top of the English Championship table having acquired thirty four points from sixteen games. And I was there on Saturday to watch our lads take Middlesbrough to the cleaners with a stunning 3-0 victory. Tom Huddlestone's late strike was a work of art as the leather sphere arched into the net past the flailing hands of Dimitrios Konstantopoulos - Boro's desperate keeper. And in joyful unison we sang to the tune of "Sloop John B":-


Sing along everybody! Come on my beauties!
Tom Huddlestone on Saturday afternoon

8 November 2015


Sitting in front of the television as eleven o'clock approaches on Remembrance Sunday. The BBC are showing us tales of war and the deaths of ordinary young men...on Flanders Field, Dunkirk and Arnhem, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq... and of course you could go much further back in time. A line of silent young men, going back over the hills as far as the eye can see and way beyond. "Nimrod The Hunter" by Edward Elgar is played by the mass military bands at London's Cenotaph and my eyes fill with tears for all those lost boys. The ones who never came home.

Nearly all of Great Britain's towns and villages contain war memorials for their local heroes - the war dead. You can see some of them here. Now The Queen is standing by The Cenotaph as we wait for Big Ben to chime eleven times. Lest we forget...

7 November 2015


Inscribed under this blog's title I have always had this epigram:-

"O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite 
space, were it not that I have bad dreams." - Hamlet Act II scene ii

But in ten years no visitor has ever commented on it. So I thought that maybe it is nigh time to take the proverbial bull by the horns myself  and reflect on a line from Shakespeare that I first spotted forty years ago

Incidentally, when I watched the excellent 2012  film "Lincoln" starring Daniel Day-Lewis, I was startled to hear Lincoln relating a dream to his wife Mary (pet name Molly). He says:-
"It's nighttime. The ship's moved by some terrible power, at a terrific speed. Though it's imperceptible in the darkness, I have an intuition that we're headed towards a shore. No one else seems to be aboard the vessel. I'm very keenly aware of my aloneness. I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams. I reckon it's the speed that's strange to me. I'm used to going a deliberate pace. I should spare you, Molly. I shouldn't tell you my dreams."

Let's take the first part of the quotation - about living in a confined nutshell and yet seeing oneself as a king of infinite space. To me this suggests a prisoner, a hermit or a monk in a narrow cell, separate from the world. It could also be an Amazonian forest dweller, a Himalayan goatherd or Stephen Hawking. And yet, and yet... the power of the human mind, of memory and imagination could take you far from the nutshell - bursting with ideas and hope and happiness. I certainly think that it is possible to have a rich and fulfilling life even when one's everyday boundaries are very restricted.

The counterpoint to that notion is that it is possible to live an unfulfilled and spiritually impoverished life when one has enjoyed boundless opportunities - far different from the nutshell confines that Hamlet reflected upon. You could get millionaire travellers who despite their privilege and the things they have witnessed have in actuality never really seen anything. George W. Bush springs to mind.

But to the first part of the quotation Shakespeare added the rider, "...were it not that I have bad dreams". In other words, human beings are typically troubled by their guilt, their mistakes and the sensation that we are always living in the shadow of what could have been and perhaps what could still be. No matter how close we get to nirvana, there will be nagging doubts, feelings of restlessness and an underlying dissatisfaction that prevent us from wholly enjoying a transcendental state of being.

5 November 2015


When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Sheffield and the Upper Derwent reservoirs in late September 1945, it was just three weeks after World War II had officially ended. They rode in an open topped black car along Fulwood Road and through Broomhill where thronging crowds cheered them, no doubt still mightily pleased that war was at last over.

Mistress Jan Blawat of Wesley Mansion, Sloughhouse, California was disgruntled that I did not post a picture of the King's Oak to accompany yesterday's post. I had mentioned it in the text - a commemorative tree planted by King George and his queen on September 25th 1945 close to the head of Howden Reservoir. Not wishing to upset or offend the feisty Ms Blawat, I shall now make amends. Here it is without its summer clothes:-
It is not the most impressive of trees. I doubt that its situation is the best for English oaks - in a deep and often shady valley that can be bitterly cold in the wintertime - but at least it is still growing. Being the obsequious kind of fellow I am I wished to please Mistress Blawat further by finding a picture of the original planting ceremony but I was sadly unsuccessful. Nonetheless, here is the tree in 1946 - a few months after it was planted:-
The railings have gone - probably pilfered by an unscrupulous scrap metal thief in the dead of night. I also notice those bare hillsides that are now clothed under plantations of lofty pine trees. Lower down the valley at the bottom dam - called  Ladybower - the king ceremoniously unlocked the ornamental gates that still stand today even though I notice that those impressive bronze shields have gone. That damned scrap metal thief again!
It crossed my mind to write a spoof speech by King George in which he almost painfully stammered and stuttered out his sentences - purely for your entertainment but then I thought better of it. After all, speech defects are not really funny and having a stammer is a kind of disability. Just as it would be wrong to make fun of paraplegics or blind people so it would surely be in very bad taste to poke fun at stammerers. I taught a few over the years and shared in some of their struggles.

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