30 June 2017


In my estimation, the greatest Yorkshireman who ever lived was James Cook.

When Shirley and I were in New Zealand in 2012, we visited the town of Gisborne. It was here on October 8th 1769 that "The Endeavour", skippered by Captain Cook, made its first landfall, anchoring just off-shore in what Cook later called Poverty Bay.  Today there's a monument there - paid for by New Zealand schoolchildren back in 1906. Once it stood proudly on the shoreline but today this "landing monument" is  rather hemmed in by trees and dockside buildings.
Cook's Landing Monument
Gisborne, New Zealand
Cook's Cove near Tolaga Bay
Further up the coast, near Tolaga Bay, we also had a magical walk to unspoilt Cook's Cove where "The Endeavour" anchored for a couple of days. The botanist, Joseph Banks, collected many previously unknown plant specimens here and to Cook's great relief contact with local Maori people was happy and peaceful. Down in Poverty Bay several Maori men had been killed during an angry skirmish.

Oh dear - this blogpost has gone off in a direction I never intended. Let me get back on track, back to our recent visit to the North Yorkshire coast. This is sometimes known as Cook Country.
Cook Monument on Easby Moor, North Yorkshire
Cook was born in Marton near Middlesbrough on November 7th 1728. Soon afterwards his family moved to the village of Great Ayton with which my own family has historic links. On the moor above the village, a great stone monument was erected in 1827 in memory of Captain Cook. Down in the village itself there's another much smaller monument erected on the site of Cook's childhood home. This humble cottage was dismantled and shipped to Melbourne, Australia in the 1930's. It was carefully re-erected there and is now a popular tourist destination.
Captain Cook birthplace monument
in Great Ayton, Yorkshire
In Great Ayton there's also a little museum dedicated to Cook and there's another one in the coastal village of Staithes which is where Cook's seafaring career began. It was funny when Shirley and I went in there. We were the only visitors but in the upstairs section the elderly proprietor was sound asleep in his armchair surrounded by a mass of pictures, books, souvenirs and artefacts -  all to do with Captain Cook.

Of course I have known about James Cook all my life but visiting the places he knew as a youth was like completing the dots we had made down in New Zealand. There we also stayed on The South Island's Banks Peninsula (named after Joseph Banks) and over on the west coast we spotted the snowy summit of New Zealand's tallest peak which is perhaps predictably called Mount Cook even though the Maori have a different name for it - Aurangi - which means something like "cloud piercer".

29 June 2017


Last night I carefully considered all fifty of the images that made the Week 25 "picture of the week" shortlist over on the geograph website. From the initial fifty I have selected a final five that I wish to share with you, One of them will be the week's winner. Which one would you pick? Perhaps you might also be able to say why. This will help me to make my final choice. Thanks in anticipation.


28 June 2017


The other night I was sitting with three other blokes in a pub. If a stranger had spotted us, he or she might have thought -  "Oh, there are four typical Englishmen, having a drink and nattering away. They are chewing the fat and laughing. Four normal blokes sitting in an English pub."

But things are not always as they might at first appear. The other three men have all had mental health issues and all three have from time to time been on prescribed anti-depressants to keep themselves on an even keel. Two of them have suffered episodes that are commonly referred to as "breakdowns". Fortunately, all three are okay now but the consumption of anti-depressants is generally a secretive, untrumpeted habit. As far as I know, all three could still be on them.

I have never had a "breakdown" and in my life I have never consumed even one antidepressant pill. In that regard I guess I am lucky but that does not mean I float around on a cloud, rubbing my hands together with glee, complacently glorying in my robust mental health. I recognise that we all have our moments and mental health can be a fragile state. There but for the grace of God go any of us.

When I was working as a teacher and manager of other teachers, I gradually came to understand the extent of coping problems amongst my colleagues. Lots of them had visited their doctors about stress and depression. Many had been prescribed antidepressants. It was all hush-hush and at times it felt that I was the only one who had not succumbed to what seemed to be a plague of mental ill-health.

I don't like the idea of antidepressants. For thousands of years, human beings had to get by without them. No doubt many of our ancestors had mental health issues and could sometimes become very blue. But they didn't visit doctors for prescription drugs. They just got on with their lives, supported by friends and family and simply struggled to climb out of their despondency. Being active and simply doing things was a good way of keeping that old black dog in his kennel.

Life isn't easy. We all want to live in happiness, rising each morning with a smile and a positive outlook as we proceed through the calendar. It is what is hoped for but it is so easy to veer off the rails,  entering a lonely world of painful anxiety and self-doubt that might ultimately drive you to the doctor for those happy pills.

27 June 2017


Long time visitors to this blog may recall that one of my hobbies is submitting photographs to the geograph project. This hobby pleases me because it involves mapping, history, curiosity, walking and of course photography. It's all about seeing the British Isles through pictures.

Every week around fifty photos from the previous week's submissions are selected for the "picture of the week" shortlist. Then the last winner picks his or her favourite image as the new winner. In a normal week between three and five thousand pictures are uploaded onto geograph so to bag a winner is a great achievement.

Of course all of that was a virtual drumroll leading to the proud announcement that I am the Week 24 winner! And here is the picture that did it:-
It's the Brent Delta oil rig - now moved from The North Sea to the coast of County Durham where it will be dismantled. Shirley and I spotted it as we were driving from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool a fortnight ago. When I saw it looming from the landscape I just had to pull over. It was a grey afternoon and perhaps that greyness added to the drama of the scene. The oil rig may have looked less significant or threatening on a sunny blue sky day.

Now I wait for the Week 25 shortlist and the opportunity to wield some power. I shall be the Simon Cowell of the geograph community.

26 June 2017


Heading to Over Owler Tor
Twas Saturday night and Shirley was off to a salmon and strawberry "do" for practice nurses. I jumped in the car and headed west for an hour long  ramble up to the rocks of Over Owler Tor from where there are good views down The Hope Valley. There was nobody else around.

A bank of dramatic grey clouds were threatening from beyond Mam Tor. I sensed the possibility of rain so headed back to the car through budding heather and down to a track that would have once been trodden by stone workers. In the event, the rain stayed away.
Over Owler Tor
Back in Sheffield there was no salmon and no strawberries for me. Instead, I pulled up outside Neptune's for mini fish and chips with a carton of mushy peas. Not bad value at only £2.50 (US $3.20). Then I watched some of the BBC's superb live coverage from Glastonbury before heading to the pub for another infusion of Tetley's bitter.

Oh, it's a hard life. And okay I admit that this blogpost is just an excuse for sharing some more photographs.
View to Hope Cement Works
Millstone outcrop near Over Owler Tor

25 June 2017


A few weeks ago I bought a very big sheet of drawing paper. I knew exactly what I was going to do with it and on Friday morning I got started after putting "Unhalfbricking" by Fairport Convention on the CD player.

Most of my life I have been doodling little cartoons of people's faces. As a schoolboy, when I was bored in lessons - which was pretty often - I would be drawing little faces in my rough book. It was the same at university in lectures and the same in teachers' meetings over thirty five years.

Very often the doodling has helped me to concentrate more intensely. Part of my brain  works almost unconsciously on the doodling, allowing a different part of the brain to focus more fully on the main subject matter of the hour. Doodling may give the appearance of  disengagement but for some people it can be a creative tool which aids concentration. Different minds approach things in different ways.
Anyway, I have the big sheet of paper. It is going to consist of many different faces. In fact, it is going to be a football crowd. Every figure will be wearing a football scarf. Later I shall colour in the football scarves. All will be black and amber. I haven't decided if there will be any more colour washed into the figures yet. We'll see.

It is going to take a long time to do. An hour here and an hour there when I am in the mood - slowly adding to the crowd till they are all done.

I would like to send thanks to my friend Mick. I shared this idea with him three or four years back and frequently he has nudged me, asking, "Have you got started yet?" Without that nudging it might have just remained as a crazy idea, never fulfilled. I know he sometimes drops by this blog without leaving any comments so once again - if you are reading this -  thanks Mick!

There's a long way to go but finally I have got started. Roll on 2018!

24 June 2017


My late brother's daughter Katie still resides on the west coast of Ireland. Like  her father, Katie loves to make music. As well as possessing a fine singing voice, she plays whistles, flutes and pipes with skill and feeling.

Recently, she made a studio recording of a song by Finbar Furey. He is well-known in traditional Irish music circles. The song is called "I Remember You Singing This Song" and when I first heard it I was blown away. Katie sings it so perfectly in my view. She is now entering middle-age and so brings her experience of life to this song. It's there in every phrase and every note. Please see what you think:-
The song is available on Apple i-tunes. Go here.

23 June 2017


I know that several old codgers visit this blog. Not all of them are as adept at computer usage as young whippersnappers like me. In an effort to boost computer literacy in the blogosphere, I am considering producing a series of instructional articles. This post is designed to simply test the market as it were. A feasibility study.

Okay. Now my computer platform was kindly designed by dwarves and nerds under the kindly guidance of billionaire William Gates in Seattle USA. Currently, I use Windows 10 but what I am about to tell you is also relevant to earlier versions of Windows. My apologies to members of the mysterious Apple Clan who may wish to exit this post immediately. Perhaps go and cut your toenails instead or bake an apple pie. It's likely that Apple have a similar facility.

Look to the top righthand corner of your Windows page. Go to the end of the top bar just below the little cross. You should see this or something like it:-
Now those three dots are not decorative. Click on them and a dropdown menu will appear. It should look like this:-
Halfway down  the list you will see the word "Find..". Click on it and a little search box should appear. It's like this:-
I typed in the word "banana". Afterwards, quite faintly you can see this written - "0 of 0". That means that on the page of writing I had open at the time, the word "banana" was not present.

Then I accessed a BBC News article about the Duke of Edinburgh's most recent hospital visit. This time I put the word "hospital" in the search box:-

Now in the bat of an eyelid, the search box is telling me  that the word "hospital" is used seven times in the article. Here's the beginning of the news item. Helpfully, the computer has highlighted all occurrences of the word "hospital":-
Do you get it?

This "Find" facility can be very useful in lots of situations. An example might be when you have accessed a long page of writing on the internet and you are looking for someone's name in the text. Another example might be that you yourself have produced a lengthy document and you are looking for a reference to say "2014" or "accident". You don't have to plough through the whole document as "Find" will do that for you.

Here endeth the lesson. You can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can't take the classroom out of the teacher... err, something like that anyway. 

22 June 2017


In times when the news is bad, it's nice to think of nice things. Be it the bonfire of a block of flats, the suicide of a sixteen year old girl, the stupidity of a hapless prime minister or the cowardice of urban terrorists - it's easy to get sick and tired of all the bad stuff. Better to think of nice things.

So I am going back to the many photographs I snapped last week up there on the North Yorkshire coast in order to find a bunch of random pictures to share with you. Nice pictures of nice things untainted by the bad stuff. Sometimes I wonder why I keep on tuning into the news. Invariably, it just fills us with despair.
Me with my family
Seagull at Redcar
England Coastal Path
On Saltburn Pier
Purple orchids on Easby Moor
Saltburn Pier

21 June 2017


Shirley has lots of cousins. They mostly reside in north Lincolnshire and north Nottinghamshire, staying close to their agricultural origins. One of her cousins had four children but in the early hours of yesterday morning that number was reduced to three. Her sixteen year old daughter had disappeared into nearby woods where she hanged herself from a tree.

She was found at daybreak. Some people from the village had been combing the area with several police officers right through the night but it was all to little avail. Maisie was dead. On the Nottinghamshire Police Facebook page, a school friend wrote this:-

You left us far too early Maisie, you had so much more to give and you will 
be so sorely missed. What is our loss is God's gain. Fly high sweetheart, 
I hope you are now at peace.

To die like that at the age of sixteen - it is of course so very tragic. Those left behind will be torturing themselves with thoughts about what they might have done and why they didn't notice the signs that were flashing - pointing to suicide.

She was in the middle of important exams and rumour has it that she was sometimes the victim of bullies but who knows what was going on her head as she tied that rope to the overhanging branch and slid the noose over her head? What a terrible, terrible waste.

I believe that everybody contemplates suicide at some point in their lives. I know that I did when I was a teenager but thankfully most of us successfully banish those terminal thoughts from our minds, climb out of the darkness of our self-pity and seek happiness once more. It's like a learning phase. You weigh things up. You realise that life is a much better option than death. 

But now it's too late for Maisie. She's lying in a mortuary awaiting her funeral and the tears that will fall in puddles and the flowers and the failure to understand. Kisses and embraces. "Sorry for your loss". A wreath from the school. Biblical verses from the vicar. "The Lord's My Shepherd". Shiny black cars. Grim faces. A buffet in the village hall. Tea cups and sausage rolls.

She squandered the precious gift of life but I guess that it was her right to do so. It's only three weeks since we saw her at an afternoon family birthday party in Pudsey near Leeds. She was holding her big sister's new baby lovingly and swaying to the music.

Such tragic news to wake up to this morning. My heart is broken for her family 
and friends. Such a lovely young girl. Rest in peace sweetheart -
you will be greatly missed by many xxx

20 June 2017


We went to Hartlepool last week. This meant crossing The River Tees in Middlesbrough. Rather than travelling on the A19 over a modern road bridge, I decided we would cross the river on the town's famous Transporter Bridge. It opened in 1911 and there are very few bridges like it anywhere in the world. It is certainly the only one of its kind in Great Britain.
Essentially there's a very tall iron structure over the river. It was so high that any masted boat could easily pass under it. Slung from this structure was a gondola or cradle upon which a few vehicles at a time could be carried. The gondola was suspended on wires from a series of rollers that were designed to carry it to the opposite bank.

The bridge still works fine a hundred and six years after its construction. At 1pm last Friday "Clint" was the very first vehicle aboard. The ticket cost £1.30 and in less than five minutes we were on the other side. We had left NorthYorkshire and now we were in County Durham tootling northwards to Hartlepool, home of the monkey hangers.

On the way we passed the Brent Delta oil platform which spent forty years pumping oil from the bottom of The North Sea. Now it is being dismantled having reached the end of its serviceable life.

19 June 2017


If you scour this blog you will find very few pictures of me. I tend to lurk in the background like a predator or a secret agent. Out there in my beloved country, I have taken  thousands of pictures but I am always behind the lens, surveying the landscape with my eagle eye.

On Saturday night, just after eight o' clock, Shirley, Frances and I drove out into the Peak District so that I could lead them on a little walk through the bracken to Bamford Edge. Neither of them had been there before and it seemed so right to make use of the last couple of hours of such a long hot summer's day. I love this time of year for the light that stretches from half past three in the morning to half past ten at night, leaving around five hours of proper night-time.

Up to Bamford Edge as the sun began its descent into the Pennine Hills. Little did I know that behind me the beloved daughter was aiming her i-phone in my direction. I was stepping into the sunshine like a religious convert or an early man ascending from the apes, I love that picture - at the top of this post. I am Heathcliff marauding across the moors by Wuthering Heights.

We looked over Ladybower Reservoir and they were both stunned by the view which we absorbed for a few minutes. Then we descended the edge and jumped in "Clint" for a short drive to "The Anglers Rest" in Bamford. This is a pub that is operated by the local community following a buy-out from the previous commercial owners. It was nice to quench our thirsts in such a place.

18 June 2017


Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire
Oh dear - I didn't get round to blogging yesterday. After our delightful three night stay on Coral Street in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, we headed southwards. Soon we took a detour towards Great Ayton which was the boyhood home of Captain James Cook but before we got there we pulled into the car park at Newton-under-Roseberry so that I could climb up Roseberry Topping.

It was already hot and sunny by nine thirty in the morning. Shirley didn't fancy the challenge so she headed into Great Ayton while I donned my boots and set off despite my dodgy knee. It has been holding up well of late.
View from the summit to Newton under Roseberry
I huffed and puffed up to the top of the hill. It took me about forty minutes and by the time I got there I was sweating like a Roman Catholic priest at a youth club. The route was quite steep with rough and irregular stone steps that challenged my knee but just like Edmund Hillary and Norgay Tenzing in 1953 I made it to the top.
Marcus with his three sons and dog
At the summit I met three young brothers from Middlesbrough. Their names were Thomas, Daniel and Harry. Their dad was called Marcus and their little black dog was called Bobby They were delightful boys - happy to chat and a credit to their parents. Most of the way down little Harry, who was only four, held my hand.

And then it was back home. Driving across Yorkshire is to the English what driving across Texas is to our American cousins. The only differences are we don't have gun-toting cowboys or restaurants that sell massive barbecued beef steaks and we don't say "Howdy!" - we say "Alright?"
The triangulation pillar on Roseberry Topping

16 June 2017


Above - that's the Victorian pier at Saltburn-by-the-Sea. I took this picture as Shirley and I were riding on the funicular railway to the top of the cliffs just as thousands of other visitors to this little Yorkshire seaside resort have done through the past one hundred and thirty years.

Of course we strolled along the pier. The weather was mild  and we saw sea anglers cast their rods from the very end of the iron structure. Something we did not expect was the marine-themed yarn-bombing of the local women's institute on a section of the pier's rails. I took several pictures of these quirky creations. Here are just three:-
 At the end of the pier this fisherman was doing his impression of a seal basking on some rocks or perhaps he was thinking about all the fish and all the girls that got away.
It has been very lovely up here. We have been to Staithes and Guisborough and Redcar. The people are very friendly which isn't surprising as they are all Yorkshire folk and as you probably know, Yorkshire folk are the salt of the earth.

15 June 2017


Grenfell House before the fire
Here we are holidaying in Saltburn-by-the-Sea. I could tell you about the funicular railway or our walk along the old Victorian pier. Perhaps I could tell you about the Indian meal we had in "Spices" or quiz night in the "Back Alex" public house. Perhaps I could tell you about our walk up to the Captain Cook Monument on Easby Moor or the lovely sandwiches we ate in the sunshine on the green in Great Ayton.

Yes I could tell you all about those things but it wouldn't seem right. Not now.

All I can think of is Grenfell Tower in West London. At first one was declared dead then six, then twelve. By lunchtime today the number will no doubt have risen. They just don't know. There could be so many.

I think of those people trapped in their flats. Faces at windows. The heat. The screaming. The confusion and of course I think of the mistakes that underpinned this horror. It's a Hollywood terror film forged in reality. It's a living nightmare.

Let us bow our heads in silence for all the lost ones and all the injured, for their friends and families and for the firefighters too. What more can we say? What more?

14 June 2017


An old railway poster. There's me and Mrs Pudding sitting on the clifftop. And that's where we are bound an hour from now via York and Thirsk - but not by train. We shall be travelling in "Clint" - our luxury Hyundai vehicle. Perhaps I will be able to bring you a blogpost or two from Saltburn-by-the-Sea before coming home on Saturday.

13 June 2017


After twelve years as a regular blogger, it is easy to forget blogposts one created in the past. Fortunately, we have that blog search facility up on the left of the top bar. You can use it to check past content.

Late last night I began to write a post about English pubs, bewailing their decline. Half way through writing it, somewhere in the murky depths of my brain a little voice asked - "Haven't you covered this before?" I went to the search box and discovered that I have indeed made three previous blogposts all titled "Pubs". In two of them there was enough bewailing to raise the dead from their graves. Consequently, I abandoned the new post feeling like a lemon.

It can be very odd looking back over past posts one has written. They can read like someone else's blogging. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of certain posts or particular sentences I wrote several years back. The business of writing - it's one of the main things that led me into blogging in the first place.

Repeating oneself can seem like the start of a slippery slope that leads all the way downhill to senility. Last year I blogged about a severe case of repetition by one of my old university tutors - a revered Scottish poet called Norman MacCaig. The polite quietness that hung over his identical second telling of the same story was pregnant with wonder about his declining mental state.

I guess it is inevitable that we will fall back on pet subjects, strong memories, the things that matter to us, the things that made us but repetition can be most embarrassing. The decline of the English pub is a fascinating subject but you don't need to be reading about it every couple of months. From now on I shall use that search box more habitually as a useful aide-memoire when creating new blogposts. Otherwise, men in white coats may arrive to take me away in an unmarked van.

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