31 July 2017


Well slap me down with a feather! It has happened again. Another of my photographs has been picked as the "photo of the week" over on the geograph website. This is the third success I have had in six weeks and I am as pleased as punch about it. This time there were 4705 eligible images so to be the photographer behind the winning picture is a most glorious accolade.

I took the winning picture on the edge of Hathersage Moor on the evening of July 17th. As I approached the old sheepfold north of Over Owler Tor, I noticed a small herd of cattle heading towards a group of trees that overlook the Hope Valley.

One or two of them looked directly at me and mooed at full blast as if to say - hey you get offa my cloud!. As I approached the trees where a small farm once stood in days gone by, I noticed that one of the vociferous beasts was using an overhanging limb to scratch his hide. It is clearly a place that these semi-wild bullocks visit regularly.

I took four or five pictures all backlit by the diminishing sunlight as summer insects buzzed around the scratching creature, But this was the one that I submitted to geograph and the one that was selected as the winner for Week 29:-
Englargeable image below:-

30 July 2017


Back in 1965, the Eleven Plus examination was well-established in English primary schools. It was a general examination that claimed to assess latent intelligence, problem solving skills, numeracy and literacy. Every springtime, eleven year old kids all across the country sat the test, perhaps not realising that the results achieved would significantly influence their future lives.

Quite simply, if you passed the test you would go to a grammar school the following September and if you failed it you would go to a secondary modern school. Grammar schools were meant to cater for clever youngsters while secondary moderns catered for the intellectually challenged and those who would go on to become manual workers or tradespeople - hairdressers, plumbers, shop workers, farm labourers and so on.

I attended a village primary school and I was the only boy in my Junior 4 class who managed to pass the Eleven Plus. In fact my score in the exam was so good that I was offered a free scholarship to Hull's premier boys' school. Most of the lads there came from wealthy homes and their parents paid hefty school fees but a small proportion of  each cohort were scholarship boys. This was probably a requirement so that the school could receive a chunk of local authority funding.

I looked so smart in my new school uniform. I would be travelling thirteen miles into Hull every morning while the boys and girls I had grown up with would be travelling six miles east to the secondary modern school in Hornsea. Looking back it was a cruel separation. Things were never quite the same after that.

That first morning in the posh school in Hull, I met my classmates and very quickly I was struck by their manner of speech. While I communicated in a broad East Yorkshire accent, these lads spoke in a style that was much closer to the language of the BBC - received pronunciation. Until that morning, I had not realised that my manner of speaking might be deemed risible by anyone.

We met our form master - Mr Gale in his black academic gown and we were assigned desks with lids. They must have dated back to the 1890's when the school was built. Those desktops had been polished by hundreds of elbows and there were initials scratched into the surfaces with ink stains too.

After lunch we queued  up outside our form room again and one of the posh boys started to make fun of me. He was tall with a shock of blonde hair and like the others he had progressed to the senior school from its attached junior school so he was well-known and clearly popular. He was mimicking my East Yorkshire accent and the others were in fits of laughter.

He came up to me in the line, laughing in my face, taunting me and pushing my shoulder. How did he expect me to react? I dropped my new leather satchel and squared up to him. I punched him right on the nose and then pushed him to the floor where I proceeded to give him a beating. We rolled over a few times with fists flailing. I remember he was crying and there was  blood coming from his nose.

A circle of boys formed round us and some were chanting and spurring us on. I sat astride his head with knees over his shoulders and punched him at will. Then Mr Gale arrived, pushing through the crowd. To my partial relief he separated us and to be truthful I don't really remember what happened after that but I do remember that the fight won me much esteem. 

Nobody mimicked my East Yorkshire accent again after that and oddly I became best friends with my tormentor. For a long while, other boys were wary of me. On my very first day, I had found a place in school legend. And they say that fighting doesn't solve anything...

29 July 2017


It's nice to have achievable dreams. For a few weeks now I have been thinking about jumping in Clint and heading for south western Scotland. Specifically, my goal is the little town of Kirkcudbright that was once the county town of the now defunct county of Kirkcudbrightshire.

It's somewhere I have never been before - a somewhat overlooked corner of the British Isles. When there, I plan to mooch around, learn things, meet people, do some walking and take some photographs. I have already identified a few lodging possibilities.

I would have been there right now but I held back on the trip because of the unsettled weather we have been experiencing. It would not be much fun sheltering in my B&B watching rain trickling down the window panes. When I go I want to go with confidence that the weather will be kind for me.

Some of you will recall that most of this year I have been experiencing knee pain in my right knee. Back in March and April every step I made was a limp. Naturally this curtailed my country walks. Now at the end of July my knee is feeling a lot better. I have been exercising it regularly following advice from Rohini, my physiotherapist. I had my second appointment with her on Tuesday afternoon. She gave me good advice about how to look after it, "listening" to the discomfort  and now I feel a lot more confident about hiking along bumpy paths near Kirkcudbright.

Earlier this week a detailed Ordnance Survey map of the area landed on our doormat and I have been travelling over it like a drone - seeing the ruined castles, the ancient sites, the farms, the bays and the beaches. For me it's all exciting virgin territory, far away from The Peak District which I now know like the back of my hand.

All I need now is the window of opportunity. A fair weather forecast and a vacant room. Then I'll be off. I am on the threshold of a dream but I know it is one that can so easily come true.

28 July 2017


Yesterday morning I caught the number 88 bus into town to watch "Dunkirk" at The Showroom. It had been recommended  by three influential film critics - Mark Kermode of "The Guardian", Derek Faulkner of "The Sheppey Bugle" and John Urquhart Gray of "The Trelawnyd Thunderer".

Now I am not naturally drawn to war films. There have been so many of them but I greatly admired both "Apocalypse Now" and "Saving Private Ryan" so I am not totally averse to the genre.

I sat in the darkness and observed "Dunkirk" directed by Christopher Nolan with an open mind. The first thing I should like to report is that the film is visually stunning. There were so many photogenic moments - the beach at Dunkirk and the dog fights in the sky. Surely no other film has ever conveyed air battles as convincingly as this film did.

Secondly, I would like to report some puzzlement about the state of The English Channel. Sometimes it was calm and blue under a clear sky. At other times it was grey and stormy. I wondered how it could be so changeable within a particular time slot. This was irritating.

Thirdly, I liked the way the film picked out particular strands of experience and wove them together. The terror of the evacuation was portrayed  through three or four main stories, including the progress of "The Moonstone", a civilian rescue vessel  ably skippered by Mr Dawson played by Mark Rylance.

Dialogue was pared down to a minimum. This film was more about physical and visual experience than words. It held my attention throughout and there were moments when my eyes were filled with tears such as when the small ships appeared upon the water to assist in the evacuation of over 300,000 men with "Nimrod" by Edward Elgar  humming in the background.

Yes my friends, "Dunkirk" was certainly worth the watching. And to my shy friend Lee George on Tamborine Mountain in faraway Queensland, I should like to say that her current pop hero and love object - Harry Styles - did a good job as the young private - Alex.

One film critic, David Cox, was brave enough to stick his head above the parapet and admit  that he wasn't greatly enamoured with this film. He said, "Film-makers usually instil interest in their protagonists by giving them backstories and meaningful dialogue, thereby creating characters who can be engaged in drama. In 'Dunkirk', these things don’t happen." To be frank I can see to some extent where Cox was coming from.
Harry Styles in "Dunkirk"

27 July 2017


Gay men like pink, frilly lampshades. Chinese people are yellow. French people smell of garlic. German people like sausages. Italians are great lovers. Americans are big-headed. English people are snooty. Lancashire people are as thick as pig shit. Yorkshire folk are honest. Londoners are untrustworthy. Norwegians are good at skiing. Jews are miserly. Muslims want to take over the world. Posh people like fox hunting. Working class people swear and drink beer. Builders overcharge. The police are bullies. Politicians are solely interested in their own careers. They don't care about the people who elect them. Homeless people are drug addicts. Men are insensitive. Women's conversations are fatuous. In the house women do all the work.  Men watch TV and scratch their arses. Women are caring. Men like the sound of their own voices. Black people are lazy. Australian aborigines are drunkards. The Irish are funny. Canadians are boring. On and on and on...


It's all a load of tosh. Stupid

But it's easy to do. From time to time we are all guilty of ignorant generalisation. And I am no different from the rest. If you trawled back through this blog I am sure you would find evidence of me generalising. Taking the easy route. Not stopping to think. But I do try to guard against it. Generalisation I mean.

If we know we are about to generalise we should probably preface our remarks with "Generally speaking..." or "In general I find..." or "I know it's not true of all bus drivers but..." - just to show an awareness that most generalisations are built on shaky ground.

Everybody is different. There are interesting Canadians like Red and Jenny and Joni Mitchell. In the majority of gay men's homes you will not encounter pink frilly lampshades. Plenty of dishonest Yorkshire folk now languish in prison. Some French people are not fond of garlic. Some Italians are celibate. On and on and on...


Stuff it.

26 July 2017


Up the garden path and what do we see? Yes. My compost bins. This is where I come two or three times a week with vegetable waste  from the kitchen and other suitable plant matter from the garden. I'm aiming for the big black bin. I tap on the lid two or three times.
Then I carefully remove the .lid. What do we find inside? Worms - that's what. Compost worms. Tiger worms. They congeal together like spaghetti and as I raise the lid some of them get away. Perhaps that is what they were after. Freedom.
I bash the lid to jettson the others back into the compost matter below. There they will do their job like all of the other worms in this world. Beautiful subterranean creatures moving  through the earth, They break vegetable matter down. They aerate the soil. 
Without worms we would be lost. We need worms just as much as we need bees and other pollinating insects. Let's all cheer for the worms. Hip-hip!

25 July 2017


Yesterday I felt quite bored. It was a nothing kind of day and I didn't really feel like doing anything - well nothing special. It was rather grey and chilly outside which is exactly how I felt on the inside.

Shirley left for work at 8am while I lay in bed listening to "Today" on Radio 4. They say that folk are either larks or owls and I am most definitely the latter. Generally I stay up late and that's why I do not feel a single iota of guilt about rising at nine o' clock. I had enough of  early starts in my years as a teacher. I would have much preferred it if the school day had started at 10am and finished at six. It would have suited my natural body clock much better.

Anyway, I had breakfast. Toast with peanut butter and strawberry jam with a banana and a pint of tea. I surfed the internet and emptied the dishwasher before filling it again. Then I went back upstairs to perform my usual tedious daily ablutions. It's like Groundhog Day. Shampoo, mango scented shower gel, shaving foam and razor. It never changes.

Then get dressed and make the bed, Back downstairs. A bit more internet surfing. Another scam call from an Indian call centre. I say, "Why is your number withheld?"  Then they abort the call. Christ! I am so sick of those people and it's all because of our phone and internet provider - Talk Talk. Their database was hacked into two years ago and these extremely irritating calls remain the unpleasant legacy.

I stepped into our back garden to feed the birds and later I  noticed a single grey squirrel hopping about. I wondered if he might be partial to our growing vegetables - peas and beans and courgettes. Over the past twenty eight years there have been very few squirrel sightings in our garden for which I am quite thankful.
Servants' Bell Box
Lunch was a chicken sandwich and a mug of coffee. I caught the tail end of " Bargain Hunt" on the television. One pair made £190 profit on a Victorian servants' bell box.

I just didn't feel like doing much yesterday though there were things I could have done and perhaps should have done. I felt bored and lazy but at two o'clock - just to get out of the house - I jumped in the car and headed out to Stanage where I sat in a favourite lay-by  and began to read "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead.

I had a little walk through the bracken to Sheepwash Bank and then back along the familiar lane to Clint where I read some more before heading home. Here I watched "The Chase" quiz show on TV during which Shirley got home from work. Then I made our evening meal - new potatoes, cold chicken and hot gravy, grilled field mushrooms and broccoli. 

The boredom persisted. I had nothing planned for Monday night. I watched Prince William and Prince Harry in an ITV documentary about their mother, Princess Diana and I remembered that weird day back in 1997  when  the whole country seemed overwhelmed with grief as her funeral cortege headed from London to Althorp in Northamptonshire. 

Yes. July 24th 2017 was for me a very forgettable day. Boring and bored. I guess we all have days like this once in a while. The brightest note of the day was the excellent news that Jennifer in Florence, South Carolina has landed a new job. 
Princess Diana with her sons

24 July 2017


Shhh! Let's not talk about Yemen. Let's talk about Brooklyn Beckham and BBC salaries. Let's talk about the two princes and their documentary about Princess Diana. Let's talk about Brexit and the Trump clan's links with Russia and film stars' love lives and what the weather is like outside but please, let's not talk about Yemen. Let's put it in a dark cupboard and try to forget about it.

This is Yemen:-
It sits on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. It has a population of some 25 million and it is the poorest county in the Middle East. Its history is long and complicated. A succession of "visitors" left their mark in Yemen - from the Ancient Egyptians to The British Empire. To understand the influences that have made the Yemen of today you would need to be a professor of Yemeni history and even then you would be missing something.

Oh, by the way in the early hours of this morning Saudi Arabian fighter jets  supported by the US military bombed Sanhan and Bani Bahlul districts of Sanaa province reportedly causing heavy damage to citizens' properties. In the ensuing chaos today's death toll is not yet clear. But what's new? Such attacks have been happening for months on an almost daily basis.

It is said that Saudi Arabia's persistent bombings of Yemen are connected with the power struggle between the supporters of  President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Houthi rebels who have opposed his governance. SaudiArabia believes that the Houthi rebels are backed by Iran and this is why the USA, along with Britain are quietly supporting the military action.  Only a few days after the "accidental" bombing of a big funeral in Yemen earlier this year the British government approved the sale of £283 million worth of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia.
Since Saudi Arabia began their attacks on Yemen in March 2015 more than 8000 civilians have been killed and some 44,000 have been seriously wounded. The country's fragile infrastructure is in ruins with roads, schools, hospitals and bridges destroyed along with power plants and water treatment works. It was hard enough for ordinary people to survive in Yemen before this conflict but now it is a whole lot harder. Meanwhile the United Nations stand idly by.

It is perhaps no surprise that the country is now in the throes of a terrible cholera epidemic. More than 370,000 people have contracted the disease since April of this year and an estimated 1800 have died. A quarter of these have been young children. Thank you Saudi Arabia and your shadowy backers! Great job! By the end of this year the World Health Organisation estimates that 600,000 Yemeni people will have contracted cholera in the world's biggest ever outbreak of the disease.

Instead of dropping bombs perhaps the Saudis and their western allies might consider dropping barrels of clean water instead. But shh! Let's not talk about Yemen. After all, nobody goes there for their holidays and anyway aren't the folk over there mainly Muslim?

23 July 2017


Up on Riggs High Road west of Stannington, I pulled Clint over and sat on a bench to read my book. The road runs for a mile or two between two river valleys - The Rivelin and The Loxley. In wintertime, it can be very bleak up there. The temperature can fall several degrees below the temperatures in the valleys below.

As I sat on the wooden bench, turning the pages I noticed that the skies above were brightening from the south west. Gradually the countryside was being nicely illuminated as the blue above made gaps in the clouds. I took my trusty camera from Clint's boot and snapped that black cow munching grass on the top of the ridge.

Below, I turned the other way and pointed my lens towards Hill Top and High Bradfield which sits above the Loxley Valley. I hope you will agree that it's a marvellous view:-
Looking back through photographs I have taken in the past week, I spotted this one of a marsh thistle, backlit by evening sunshine. I took it while rambling like an escaped convict on the edge of Hathersage Moor. Fortunately the bloodhounds and prison search party didn't  reach me and I was able to get away:-

22 July 2017


I decided to tell my father everything about Joseph and what he had done. But as I told him, falteringly, about what was happening.his eyes exploded with rage at my gruesome 'lie'. He 
began to shout above my pleas,then, not being able to quieten me, he slammed his fist into my mouth, splattering my lips through the gaps of my teeth. He did not want to hear it, and it only made my punishment worse.I knew then that I could never tell anyone. I was utterly alone. (p112)

This short extract is from the middle of "Gypsy Boy" by Mikey Walsh. It is a true story. Here he is eight years old and bewildered by the brutal attentions of his paedophilic Uncle Joseph. But his father Frank Walsh isn't listening. Little Mikey is used to physical punishment, including being hosed down whenever he wets the bed. His father is a fearful bully, unable to accept that his first born son will never be a gypsy prizefighter.

The book reveals some of the inner workings of Romany life. There is brutishness but there is also honour and togetherness. There are long-established moral codes and the "Gorgia" householders they live amongst are viewed with disdain and invariably downright animosity.

Mikey's father makes money by ripping off unsuspecting "Gorgia" pensioners.. He lays tarmac at massively inflated prices and the quality of his work is dreadful. He even steals the tar and grit required. Of course as Mikey grows older he ends up doing all the manual work, frequently receiving cruel beatings when his father is not happy with his work.

Entering puberty, Mikey comes to realise that he is gay which in the Romany world is simply unacceptable. Eventually he runs away to begin a new life but the joyfulness and the terror of his upbringing remains with him.

This was a very easy book to read. There is a lightness about the narration that rarely obliges the reader to ponder despite the sometimes horrific cruelties that Mikey endures. It's all so matter-of -fact. Mikey doesn't come across as embittered or psychologically damaged, he just gets on with the task of telling his story.

When I was a boy, gypsies would pass through our East Yorkshire village every year. We would run to the school gates to watch them with their horses, painted caravans and ragamuffin children. They seemed so exotic, so different - a mysterious race in our midst and I often thought of them. Even though Mikey Walsh was born as recently as 1980, his book nonetheless reveals some of the secrets of that community which persists to this day in spite of everything.

21 July 2017


I wrote this poem earlier this week - specially for Jenny's "Poetry Monday" feature in her blog - "Procrastinating Donkey". I was remembering a painful time long ago and simultaneously thinking of Sue's daughter in Australia. She has recently separated from her boyfriend of many years. We all think of love - whatever it might be. We all want to love and be loved. It's the secret undercurrent of everything. Well, that's what I think anyway.

My apologies to the APA? Are you a secret member of it? (APA = The Anti-Poetry Army).

20 July 2017


Norma moved into our street when she was four years old. Next month she will be ninety two. 

She married a Czech refugee towards the end of World War Two. He was called Pavel. They had just one child - a son who must have been pretty brainy because he became a vet with his own animal practice near Preston in Lancashire.

I often talked with Pavel at his garden gate but in the last few years of his life dementia was taking a hold. In contrast, Norma has always been as sharp as a pin, even as her body was failing her. She had both hips replaced and needed a mobility scooter to get out and about. 

She was fiercely independent and it was only in the last year that she needed carers to support her. With Pavel, it was the brain that let him down but with Norma it was the body.

Recently she became so physically weakened that she ended up in hospital. She will never go back to the house where her mother died and where she lived for eighty eight years. After  temporary care in a local residential home she will transfer to a more permanent home in Lancashire - not far from her son's house.

The other day her favourite handyman was clearing out her house ahead of its sale. I asked him if he'd give Norma a "Good Luck" card from me and he agreed so I bought one at the post office and wrote a nice message inside it. 

Yesterday I received a return message from Norma who is passing time and getting a little stronger before she moves over the hills to Lancashire. Here's her note:-
Where indeed have all the years gone? It's not every day that you get a fluent  little letter from a ninety two year old woman. Hell - when she moved in to our street not one family owned a car and the milk was delivered by horse and cart. Nobody had central heating but every house had a coal fire. As Norma leaves us a piece of social history also departs. I am sorry that I have no photographs of her.

19 July 2017



Yes, I remember Adlestrop -
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

By Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

- written after an unscheduled stop
at a rural railway station on June
24th 1914 - six weeks before the
outbreak of World War One.

18 July 2017


Last weekend we were at a big family party. It was an afternoon event out in Lincolnshire and it was held in a rambling old vicarage owned by one of Shirley's aunties. What a marvellous place - so spacious! And what a marvellous spread of food her auntie provided - including huge joints of tender ham and beef, melt-in-the-mouth Lincolnshire new potatoes, dressed salads and homemade lasagne.

She is in her early seventies and divorced. She has two sons. One of them got married and moved away but the other one - now around forty five years old - still lives at home with his mother. He never moved out and still works in association with his father who is a major landowner in the area, overseeing several arable farms. Hence the big house.

With the son, it is as if the train pulled out of the station but he was left at the platform. You could say that life passed him by, This may be linked to his parents' separation but whatever the reason he sleeps in the same room he slept in when he was a schoolboy.

It is a phenomenon I have noticed before - grown up children still living in the family home. I  can only imagine the tensions that this must sometimes cause. The son or daughter frustrated by what they may see as their failure to catch the train and the parents being reminded on a daily basis that their chick failed to fly the nest. It's not what you expect when you bring a child into the world. You must sometimes wonder - what did we do wrong?

Of course nowadays an increasing number of grown-up children continue to live in the family home simply because of financial pressures but this was never the case with Shirley's cousin. He had the economic power to move away and make a new life. I don't know if he ever had a girlfriend or indeed whether or not he is a gay man in denial. But looking in from the outside I find the situation rather sad.

Not only is he stranded in the vicarage but the years are ticking by and the die seems well and truly cast. It is unlikely that anything will change until his mother departs this earth and even then he'll probably continue to rattle around in that big country house surrounded by the ghosts of old times and lost opportunities.

17 July 2017


I wouldn't want to be a rock climber. I am too much of a coward. The idea of falling from a rock face gives me the willies. However, I can "get" the appeal of rock climbing. Your body versus the rock. Mind over matter. Edging patiently upwards. Your fingers seeking handholds, your feet seeking footholds. The adrenalin pumping. Aware of the danger but determined to make it to the top.

The millstone edges west of Sheffield are a mecca for rock climbers. People arrive at these edges from all over the country and indeed from other countries too.
Yesterday I was out there again and with it being a sunny Sunday afternoon, the rock climbers were out in force with their ropes and chalk bags, carabiners and hammers. It is a fraternity but there are plenty of female rock climbers too. They are lithe, light and muscular and they hug the rocks they ascend. Rock climbers belong to a sub-culture with their own vocabulary and shared goals. They know what it means to cling to a rock just as much as mariners understand what it means to face a storm at sea.

You may have expected me to snap some pictures of the rock climbers. You were right.

16 July 2017


Did you know that every day, yes every day an estimated 5500 children - mainly babies - die in eastern and southern Africa? They die from diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition. Most of these deaths could be prevented. £1.5 million could certainly help hundreds of babies to live.

Meanwhile in England, a baby who is more or less brain dead has become an international  cause célèbre  with even The Pope and Donald Trump muscling in with tacit support for the parents of little Charlie Gard, The parents seem unable to accept that the kindest thing to do would be to remove Charlie's life support. Desperately, they have been clutching at straws. More than £1.5 million has been raised via crowdfunding to pay for their campaign and experimental medical treatment that will never provide the miracle that Charlie's parents are clearly seeking.

The case has been all over the TV and press. But I would ask this - when did we last hear Donald Trump and The Pope speaking up for the dying babies of Africa? Where is the current TV and press coverage of those "cases"?  Are we saying that the lives of all those African children matter less than the life of one helpless, brain damaged baby who relies on machines just to exist?
 Two babies

15 July 2017


On Thursday I enjoyed a ramble in the lee of Millstone Edge to the south of Hathersage. This is not far from Over Owler Tor or Surprise View. It doesn't take long to drive there from our house.

Millstone Edge is fascinating because of the quarrying activity that happened there in the past and the way in which Mother Nature has since reclaimed it, softening and disguising the evidence of stone industries. The very name Millstone Edge speaks of the countless millstones that were hewn and shaped there. Later huge blocks of stone were cut from the edge and transported on a little railway to the head of The Derwent Valley where they were used in the construction of two great dams.

Of course, I snapped several pictures on this ramble under the edge but in this post I am sharing just one of them. It's a photo of a comma butterfly seeking sustenance on a clump of yellow ragwort. The scientific name for this once rare butterfly is polognia c- album. It is easily distinguished by the scalloped appearance of  its wings and on its underside you will find two white marks shaped rather like commas.

This is what the British Butterfly Conservation Group have to say about the comma:-

"The Comma is a fascinating butterfly. The scalloped edges and cryptic colouring of the wings conceal hibernating adults amongst dead leaves, while the larvae, flecked with brown and white markings, bear close resemblance to bird droppings.

The species has a flexible life cycle, which allows it to capitalize on favourable weather conditions. However, the most remarkable feature of the Comma has been its severe decline in the twentieth century and subsequent comeback. It is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards."

Underside of the comma:-

14 July 2017


Here are the five pictures that I have selected from the geograph Week 27 picture of the week nominations. Please look at them and give me some feedback. Which would you pick as the winner?

13 July 2017


Nowadays, when we visit airports, we are not allowed to take bottles of water beyond security screening. Any water that is discovered is automatically dumped in a waste bin. You will often see air passengers guzzling from their bottles as they approach security.

It wasn't always this way. The worldwide restrictions were introduced in 2006 and were meant to be a temporary measure following a failed plot to use bottles of soft drinks to bring potentially explosive liquids on board a North American bound plane.

When air passengers reach what is known as "airside", beyond the security screening process, they will often seek out bottles of water from airside businesses and restaurants. These bottles are generally sold at extortionate prices but people need to be hydrated during flights so reluctantly they pay the high prices demanded.

I very much doubt that the expensive airside water bottles are ever tested for possible explosive liquids. I bet they are just brought en masse to the airport businesses in delivery vehicles. It has all become a massive con in my view - fleecing innocent air passengers.

On Monday of this week, I went into a discount shop called "Home Bargains" and bought six 250ml bottles of still water for 79 pence - around $1 US and yet at the airport in Lanzarote just one 250ml bottle cost me 2.75 euros - about £2.50 or $3.25 US. It is all a disgraceful rip off.

It would help if all airports had water fountains in the waiting areas where you could drink to your heart's content and fill up empty plastic bottles. When flying it is so important to be properly hydrated. It could be considered a human right and yet airlines and airport businesses appear to have simply used the worldwide liquid restrictions to make more money for themselves. 

If I ruled the world, I would first of all investigate the rationality of maintaining the liquid ban and if it couldn't be lifted I would insist that every air passenger should be given a free bottle of water beyond the airport security hall. This would be paid for by the owners of those irritating duty free shopping malls they make us walk through before every flight. 

12 July 2017


“She thought it was part of the hardship of her life that there was laid upon her the 
burthen of larger wants than others seemed to feel – that she had to endure this 
wide hopeless yearning for that something, whatever it was, that was greatest
 and best on this earth.”  - George Eliot, "The Mill on the Floss"

While in Lanzarote I finished reading "The Mill on the Floss" by George Eliot. Despite achieving an honours degree in English Literature and teaching English for thirty five years, I had never read a novel by George Eliot before. Somehow she passed me by. Yes - she - for the name George Eliot was just a pen name for Mary Ann Evans who was born in Warwickshire in 1819.

"The Mill on the Floss" contains strong autobiographical elements. It focuses on the lives of siblings Tom and Maggie Tulliver. Life presents them with a range of challenges and they battle for respect, happiness and financial security. The novel was first published in 1860.

I like to get lost in a book and there were certainly episodes in this novel where I had that feeling. The ending was especially gripping as Maggie sought to rescue her brother from the mill on the River Floss after it had burst its banks. However there were turgid phases where the narrator stood back from the plot and moralised or reflected upon the characters. I found several of these sections hard work and somewhat self-indulgent though others were fascinating diversions.

Set in Victorian England, the book reveals a great deal about the priorities and manners of middle class Victorians. From a socio-historical viewpoint, it is a mine of information. Life is governed by unwritten moral codes and shared suppositions. It is extremely difficult for the characters to act freely and simply be themselves. They are forever looking over their shoulders and weighing up how their actions will be viewed  by others.

With notes and a lengthy introduction by A.S. Byatt, "The Mill on the Floss" was six hundred pages long. Reading it with full concentration was a challenge but I read every single word. It's another box ticked but for me this work seemed far less accomplished than the best fiction of  Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy.

11 July 2017


Gadzooks! Jumping Jehosaphat! Stone the Crows! A couple of weeks ago, I shared the news that one of my pictures had been selected as the geograph picture of the week. It had been more than a year since I last received that accolade. Now just two weeks later another of my photographs has been named "picture of the week". It was chosen from 4,416 submissions.

The picture was taken from the rocks of Over Owler Tor - looking up The Hope Valley into the evening sunshine. In fact I already shared the picture with you in this post. Here it is again:-
The Hope Valley lies within The Peak District National Park. The chimney is something of an anomaly. It is at Hope Cement Works. Though you can't see it in this picture, to the left of the chimney there is a great hole in the landscape from which millions of tons of limestone have been quarried. It's alright having national parks but we need cement too so I wouldn't protest overmuch about that chimney.

When the next shortlist appears for me to judge I will again share my top five with you to elicit comments and observations. In the interim, it's party time here at Pudding Towers. Wench! Wench! Stop polishing my shoes and bring me another mug of tea ! "Two McVities' ginger nuts would also be appreciated!" - as the actress said to Ed Sheeran.

10 July 2017


As we travel through life, we bump into strangers. Conversations happen with these people. Sometimes those conversations can be delightful. We exchange information and little anecdotes. Within an hour we learn a great deal about what makes them tick, what their priorities are, where metaphorically speaking they are coming from.

These exchanges should be balanced, mutual - like a game of ping pong. You say something - I say something. I ask a question - you ask a question. That's only fair - it shows respect for "the other".

However, in my journey through life I  have frequently found myself in situations where the conversation becomes very one-sided. After a while I realise that I am finding out lots about them but they are making no enquiries of me, showing little interest. When for example  I pipe up with, "Yeah, I've been to America too" or "I have two children myself" there will be a look of glazed disinterest and no follow-up questions. Some people seem to be wired that way.

Sitting in a bar in Puerto del Carmen, we sparked up a conversation with an older couple from Wolverhampton. I guess we were talking with them for almost an hour but as I left that bar I realised I had just participated in yet another of these one-sided meetings.

I knew all about their grown-up children and the marathons and triathlons their daughter had competed in. I learnt about the woman's sister in Cyprus and why they don't like Cyprus. I learnt about their apartment in Puerto del Carmen and how the resort has changed over the last twenty years. We learnt about Wolverhampton's famous football club and the great millionaire benefactor Jack Hayward who gave so much to the town and how the streets of that city thronged on the day of his funeral.

But they had learnt so little about us. They weren't bad people but they just weren't interested in our lives. They didn't know that we also have grown up children. They didn't know what we had done or do for a living. And when I interceded at one point that we lived in Sheffield, that piece of information was left hanging in the air, untroubled by further inquiry. It was all so very one-sided but in my experience not at all unusual.

I like to believe that I have a highly-tuned awareness of "the other". I am interested in other people's lives and know how to prompt  them to get the most out of them. During these sorts of conversations I show humility, not wishing to bang on about my own life, opinions or history at the expense of the other person. But it should work both ways. It should be balanced - not one-sided, not waiting for the prompts and questions that never arrive.

How about you? Have you also encountered this one-sidedness phenomenon as you travel through life? Or is it just me?

9 July 2017


We will be heading home tonight - our pleasant sojourn in Lanzarote completed. This hotel has been brilliant though we have learnt that in a previous incarnation it was called "Spice" and was a swingers hotel. People with very liberal morals came to fornicate by the pool, and swap partners etcetera. I must assure you that during our stay Aqua Suites' guests have not been behaving in that pornographic manner. We have upheld the highest standards of decency at all times - as in a monastery or nunnery.

Before we go, I just thought I would share a dozen random Lanzarote pictures that you haven't seen before and then I will take a stroll down to the HyperDino supermarket for some bread rolls, massage oil, sardines and condoms. By clicking on the photos you will be able to enlarge them:-

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