31 October 2017


That's me on Sunday afternoon. I am waving to you. Are you waving back? It's nice to be friendly.

You may have already realised that that's not really me at all. It's just my shadow. I was at Whinfell Quarry Gardens. It's an old stone quarry that local people have transformed into a little green oasis. Fortunately, the chestnut fencing prevented me from tumbling to the quarry floor.

If I had fallen down, I wouldn't be typing this blogpost. I would either be in a hospital bed munching grapes or lying totally still in a wooden box with brass handles.

And now I will show you what I could see from my position:-
I was about to depart for my autumnal walk along the Limb Valley when two young men appeared. They descended into the pond area and appeared to be on some sort of mission, They didn't notice me watching them from above as they furtively scrabbled about in the greenery. 

Were they burying treasure or stolen goods? Were they ardent botanists? Perhaps they were checking out film locations? It was all rather suspicious.
Anyway, it was time to go. I insisted that my shadow should come along too. As usual he complained but reluctantly followed me along The Limb Valley path as we sang in unison:-

I'm being followed by a me shadow
Me shadow, me shadow
Leapin and hoppin' on a me shadow, me shadow, me shadow---
And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes,... I won't have to cry no more.

30 October 2017


On the southwestern edge of this city, a stream runs down from the moors before meeting The River Sheaf. It's called The Limb Brook and where it passes Whirlow Brook Hall a woodland path follows its course. It's a nice route to walk - especially on a sunny Sunday afternoon in autumntime.

Two years ago I snapped a pleasing photograph in The Limb Valley. Go here. Yesterday, as the sun was shining I  grabbed my camera and headed back there hoping to bag some more great shots.

Some mighty trees shadow the path like classical pillars. A few other people were out and about. A couple of runners in their fluorescent tops, a few dog walkers, a chatterbox family., a pair of young lovers. From afar, I "used" some of them in my pictures.

Here's a selection. They can be enlarged with a click:-

Bracket fungi on a dead tree

29 October 2017


There's something that happens in school classrooms that is never commented upon in inspection reports or by academic observers. I am thinking about insects - mostly of the flying variety and about spiders too.

Especially in  warm weather - perhaps when a couple of classroom windows are open - insects will get inside the classroom and fly around. Such an event can cause disruption. Some daft youngsters may use such a happening as an excuse for silly over-reaction.

The teacher finds himself or herself charged with the responsibility of getting rid of said insect or spider in order to return to the lesson in progress. When I was a teacher here in South Yorkshire, I would often hear schoolchildren baying "Kill it sir!", "Squash it!", "Stand on it!".  They wanted that unfortunate creature dead in no uncertain terms and were generally puzzled when I gently captured them or wafted them out through an open window. 

I never killed the insects, never swatted them, never squashed them. Once a red admiral butterfly found its way into my classroom and still the youngsters urged killing like medieval onlookers at a hanging. I cupped it in my hands and let it back outside. The disappointment in the room was almost palpable and this made me feel a bit like a hippy alien Jesus kind of guy.

Fast forward to one of my teaching spells in Bangkok, Thailand.

One afternoon, a small flying cockroach found its way into my classroom when I was teaching a class of fifteen year olds. There was a ripple of distraction but none of the children were urging a killing. Nobody wanted to squash the creature or stamp on it. The exact opposite was happening. They all wanted that cockroach out of the room so it could live.

I trapped it with a plastic beaker from the water cooler and slid a piece of card beneath. "Please don't kill it Mr Neil!" begged one of the boys and I assured him there was no chance of that. I carried it to the back window which one of the girls kindly opened for me and I released the cockroach into the tropical afternoon air outside. 

The contrast between the two classroom attitudes was stark. My South Yorkshire charges bayed for killing and expected it too but my Buddhist students in Bangkok wanted the life of that little cockroach to be respected, nay cherished. And to me this felt very right indeed.

Of course I am not so naïve as to believe that there should be no killing of insects. Some of them can decimate food crops, others can spread disease and some can give you a nasty sting but surely we can still admire the lives they lead and view them as precious creatures. Earth was their planet ages before we came along.

28 October 2017


The weather forecast for Friday was so positive that I had to get out into The Peak District - aiming to make good use of the sunshine. I had parked up near Newhaven by eleven thirty bound for Aleck Low. It's a wooded hilltop I have often seen from afar but until yesterday I had never been up there. 

There's an ancient "bowl barrow" burial mound on Aleck Low and other evidence of our distant forebears' presence. The bowl barrow dates to the Late Neolithic era - over four thousand years ago.
Afterwards, I got back in the car and headed for Alsop-en-le-Dale. It is a tiny Derbyshire village with an ancient church. It is dedicated to St Michael and All Saints. It was so nice to find the church open to visitors. I left my usual comment - "Thank you for leaving the church unlocked for passing visitors like me to appreciate". All the pictures that accompany this blogpost were taken there - including the impressive "millennium window" which was installed as recently as 2001.
After Alsop I went on to Tissington and a path that leads northwards from that delightful village. I needed to bag a particular photo square I had missed for the "geograph" website.
How lovely it was to be out and about in late October sunshine. I saw some wonderful things - including a giant flock of gulls miles from the sea and a weasel that clambered out of a drystone wall before scurrying across the path in front of me. I was home by four thirty with signs of evening already appearing.

26 October 2017


Above - the view from my seat at the Oakwell Stadium, Barnsley last Saturday afternoon. I was one of almost five thousand  Hull City supporters who turned up to watch our team achieve a rare away victory. It was a cold and miserable afternoon and I still wasn't feeling too well but the result lifted my spirits

Back in 2008, Hull City made it to The Premiership for the first time in our history. Our top goalscorer that season was a Manchester United loanee called Fraizer Campbell. It was he who made the vital assist that led to the winning goal against Bristol City in the Championship play-off final at Wembley. The fans developed a special chant for him "Duh-duh-duh-duh Fraizer Campbell! Duh-duh-duh-duh Fraizer Campbell!" etcetera.

However, instead of sticking with The Tigers for our first season in The Premiership he accepted a more lucrative financial package from Sunderland F.C.. At the time it seemed treacherous and blatantly mercenary so whenever we played Sunderland after that his chant was adapted to "Duh-duh-duh-duh Greedy Bastard! Duh-duh-duh-duh Greedy Bastard!" 

But after ten years away, Campbell has returned to Hull City. He was a substitute last Saturday and as he warmed up on the touchline, the chant again went up - "Duh-duh-duh-duh Greedy Bastard! Duh-duh-duh-duh Greedy Bastard!" 

Campbell laughed and waved to the Hull City end who promptly changed the chant back to "Duh-duh-duh-duh Fraizer Campbell! Duh-duh-duh-duh Fraizer Campbell!" 

Campbell laughed at this and again waved to the massed supporters who promptly delivered a new chant to the tune of  "Bread of Heaven" - "You're not greedy any more! You're not greedy! You're not greedy! You're not greedy any more!" There was much hilarity and it was as if the fans had re-bonded with a former hero.

It was Fraizer Campbell who managed to stab home the winning goal in the seventy eighth minute. igniting a roar of delight at my end of the ground. For those who don't particularly like football or fail to understand the passion that surrounds it, you may now wake up! This blogpost is over.
Fraizer Campbell

25 October 2017


This is Jared O'Mara. He is my local Member of Parliament. Back in June, to widespread surprise,  he ousted Nick Clegg from the Sheffield Hallam parliamentary constituency. Clegg was the national leader of The Liberal Democrats and had been Deputy Prime Minister when the LibDems were in coalition with the Conservatives under David Cameron. In June, Jared  had appeared like David bringing down Goliath.

As I am  a lifelong Labour voter, Jared O'Mara naturally got my vote.

Today news broke that he has been suspended from The Labour Party. Why? Is he guilty of financial wrongdoing? Is he guilty of sexual impropriety? Did he enter The House of Commons as drunk as a lord, cursing The Speaker before urinating on The Woolsack?

No. None of these things. The reason he has been suspended is to do with computer algorithms and the fact that these days people's online lives are being recorded and documented for future reference. What we write online will never entirely disappear. It can be raked up so that things we said in the past may come back to haunt us.

Back in 2002 and 2004, Jared O'Mara made some unpleasant remarks in different internet forums. These remarks have been judged to be either sexist, racist or misogynistic. I have read some of them and they are pretty juvenile, nasty and stupid but a long way from being truly criminal and shocking.  It's the kind of thing young online warriors might say late at night when they are going with the flow of online forum banter. 

O'Mara is only thirty five years old now. When he made these comments during his early twenties, he would have had absolutely no idea that it would all come back to bite him. Don't  get me wrong - there's no way I approve of his remarks but I think it's a warning to all of us. Be very careful what you say online.

In the distant past, before the internet came along, our trails were less easy to trace. Youthful stupidity was forgotten or remembered only as vague  hearsay. Now it's different and it is almost impossible to erase incriminating "evidence" from the internet. It's there in black and white. As internet slickness has increased so the ability to capture and archive online activity has also advanced.

I must say that if I still conducted interviews in teaching, I would happily use the internet to find out more about the candidates. One of the key aims of any job interview is to get to the core of someone's being. What somebody says may be at odds with online evidence about them.

Though I feel some sympathy for Jared O'Mara, it is in the end very disappointing that Labour Party research didn't uncover his online wrongdoing before he was chosen as our local candidate. Now there is every possibility that we will be having a by-election here in the near future. 

24 October 2017


It's quite a picture. A strong man has lifted his entire family off the ground for the benefit of the photographer. There are six children along with  their mother. I have no idea if he was married to that woman but the couple are sometimes referred to as Mr and Mrs Bowler.

She doesn't look very happy does she? She isn't laughing.  I know it's just a snapshot, a moment in time, but here's a real sadness about her demeanour. In contrast, the children seem happy and healthy enough.

The picture was taken in The Philippines, an island nation which has hosted American military bases since the end of the nineteenth century. This particular picture dates from around 1930.

The children can be described as Amerasians. It is estimated that there at least 52,000 Amerasians in The Philippines - probably many more than that. Being Amerasian isn't always easy. Often the father will have disappeared back to America and the offspring may find themselves shunned in the host country. Many became virtual social pariahs.

There are thousands more Amerasians in Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. It seems that wherever the American military have been located for any length of time they find a very intimate way of underscoring their might. It was the same in Great Britain during the second world war. 

War is meant to be about territory and overpowering the enemy. Swords and bullets, aeroplanes and tanks, strategy and victory or defeat. But history shows that it is also about impregnation and the careless fathering of children who, very sadly, are frequently destined to lead troubled lives.

23 October 2017


Is our son, Ian, on the threshold of  a dream? Everything seems to  be moving in the right direction.

Sixteen months ago, he and his chum Henry had the bright idea of launching a Facebook page dedicated to delicious vegan cookery. It has attracted great interest with many thousands of visitors dropping by.

Publishers got wind of it and Ian and Henry were approached by several big name publishers to produce a recipe book That book is now at the editorial stage pending its big launch next spring. 
The Facebook page has now transmogrified into a polished website with links to a You Tube Channel, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. The guys are giving it all their very best shot and if it should all go pear-shaped tomorrow I would still be very proud of the effort, imagination and energy that Ian has put into this venture.

They seem to be pressing the buttons at the perfect time when many people are moving to plant-based diets. Several famous figures from film, music and sport have embraced veganism in the past couple of years and there are undoubtedly many good ethical and health reasons for following that dietary direction.

To visit the new Bosh! website, go here.
Co-incidentally, Ian and Henry featured
 in "The Guardian" this very day

22 October 2017


How do I plead? I plead "Guilty" your honour.

Though I did spend six weeks in Ireland in the summer of 1974, visiting amongst many other places  the youth hostel at Killary Harbour, I did not have a ghostly encounter there. That was all a fignent of my literary imagination. Ludwig Wittgenstein was buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge in 1951 and that is where his mortal remains have remained ever since.

When it comes to ghost stories, there is one fundamental problem. There's no such thing as ghosts. It's all utter balderdash, a legacy of dark medieval nights and the troubled dreams of our ancestors. No genuinely haunted houses, no poltergeists. If you are attracted by such things then I am sorry to disappoint you. It is all utter nonsense. Pure make-believe.

I have a theory that those who claim to "believe" in ghosts find the idea stimulating. Ghosts get the heart racing. They add a delicious frisson of mystery and uncertainty to the ordinariness of everyday life. In other words, many people actively "want" to believe in ghosts. This fanciful desire blinds them to the overwhelming evidence that it's all poppycock but I guess it's a welcome distraction for many.

Writers of ghost stories and makers of ghost films are very fortunate because they are tapping in to a massive audience of would-be believers. This is something I find very disconcerting. To think that I live amongst people who readily lap up this drivel. They are probably the kind of people who might also turn a lecherous reality TV show host into a national leader or blindly allow themselves to be led into a dangerous fantasy world called Brexitland.

Yes your honour, I am guilty as charged.

21 October 2017


Memoir - Part 3
In the middle of the night I needed to urinate. I fumbled my way to the light switch but alas the power was off. Then, like a blind man, I felt my way through grey darkness to the bathroom beyond the bunk room. Outside thunder rumbled somewhere over the ocean.

When I returned to the dormitory, my eyes were becoming accustomed to the pale light of pre-dawn. I noticed that the door into the kitchen/communal area was ajar. And what was that aroma in the air? It was the slightly acrid smell of cigarette smoke. Remembering smoking experiments by one of my brothers, I recognised the brand - Woodbines. Perhaps one of the German sisters couldn't sleep but when I squinted into the kitchen I could not make out a figure yet I uttered the word "Hello" with an inflection. No one replied.

I clambered back into my down sleeping bag and gradually went back to sleep. Beyond the marine horizon a blanket of white electricity briefly illuminated the sky.

When I woke, the German sisters were preparing to leave. They were bashing about in the kitchen and seemed filled with the joys of springtime. Once dressed, I joined them and we ate a little breakfast together. Thankfully, there was no more mention of Wittgenstein as sunlight bathed the green linoleum floor. Outside the surface of the fjord sparkled.

Soon their bags were packed and there was some friendly farewell cheek pecking before they left - just as the warden arrived in his battered  Fiat 127. He offered them a lift back to the main road and of course they accepted. Goodbyes were waved even though we had exchanged addresses.

Now I was on my own. One more night at Killary Harbour. As the morning weather had taken a turn for the better, I planned to spend my day exploring the nearby coast.

A day of seals and gulls, scrambling over rocks and ocean vistas. From the white beach at Glassillaun, I swam out to some rocks and returned to bask in the sand, turning yet more pages of "The Magus". Hours passed by but I didn't speak to anyone until I got back to the little harbour opposite the youth hostel where I struck up conversation with a couple of local fishermen in dirty yellow oilskins. They specialised in lobsters but after gutting it, they kindly sold me a silvery pollock, explaining how to steam the creature. I was starving.

Fresh from the sea, it was one of the loveliest fishes I have ever eaten. I found salt and pepper and some "Jiff" lemon juice in the kitchen cupboards and ate this pollock with some instant macaroni cheese I found in the bottom of my rucksack.

That long evening there was nobody to talk to. The warden had gone home and there wasn't a pub for miles. 

A couple more chapters. Another mug of tea. Half an hour at the water's edge staring across the fjord. Then back into the dormitory. Once again it was time for bed. In the morning I would continue my journey through Connemara and down to Galway City. Apart from anything else, I desperately needed to get to a grocery shop.

I don't know what it was that woke me in the middle of the second night but again I detected the faint sickly whiff of Woodbine smoke. Suddenly, a chair scraped on the kitchen floor. Silently, I unzipped my sleeping bag and again got up, feeling for the light switch. For the second night running - nothing.  Someone coughed and I edged apprehensively towards the connecting door.

It creaked open.

In the shadowy half-light I could see someone sitting at the kitchen table. A silhouette. He was bent over in the position of a child scribbling away at a school desk. The room felt icy cold and involuntarily I began to tremble.

"Hello," I whispered.

The figure ignored me at first and then he turned - simultaneously inhaling on his cigarette. The orange glow of the tobacco momentarily lit up his face and I recoiled ever so slightly, struck by the darkness of his deep set eyes and by the unsettling  seriousness of his demeanour. His head had surely turned too far like that girl in "The Exorcist".

He didn't say a word - just gradually bent back into his "writing" though there was no paper on the table and he wasn't in possession of a pen or any other writing instrument. It was as if he was simply miming the process of writing. Scratching away manically at the surface of the old pine table.

It was - how shall I say this - very unnerving. Who was the man at the table?  Instinct told me I had to get out of there. I grabbed some clothes along with my boots and ran out into the night, cowering behind the lobster pots waiting for dawn to rise over the Galway hills. And when daylight finally came, I plucked up courage and crept back into the hostel but the man - whoever he might have been - had gone. I know this because I checked everywhere.

When the bearded warden reappeared in his little blue Fiat close to seven thirty, I asked him about the mystery guest. 

The Bearded One stopped in his tracks, just shook his head and in his thick West Irish brogue asked rhetorically, "Why do you think I don't sleep here?"

Though I pressed him, he wouldn't elaborate and to this day I have no idea what occurred in the Killary Harbour night. There is no rational explanation. It was not a dream. And in spite of my natural scepticism about such matters, I know that  the hunched writer at the kitchen table was really there. I didn't dream him. Of this I have no doubt.

20 October 2017


Memoir - Part 2
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Trudging along the lane, I must have looked like a tortoise or perhaps a giant hermit crab - with my home upon my back. There was everything I needed in that rucksack - sleeping bag, tent, gas burner, kettle, clothes, toiletries, books - everything. But back in those days there was no camera. I espoused a half-baked philosophy about living in the moment, not photographing it.

A thin drizzle drifted about me from the nearby Atlantic - or was it a sea mist? I marched onward, enjoying the weight upon my shoulders. I passed the tumbledown ruin of a squat stone cottage - perhaps a monument to the Irish potato famine.

No vehicles passed by. There was just the sound of my footsteps on the tarmac in the dank afternoon stillness.

As the drizzly mist slightly lifted I reached the brow of a hill and looked down upon Ireland's only fjord - Killary Harbour. It reaches inland like a grey Norwegian serpent. To my left, a hundred yards along  and nestled by the shoreline, there was a little wharf and a small cluster of buildings. I knew that one of them was the youth hostel though once it had simply been called Rosroe Cottage.

It was here that the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein worked on his treatise "On Certainty" in the summer of 1948. It seemed a strange choice  Crafting complex sentences, shaping intricate academic theories at a place where men gathered lobster pots and occasional dolphin pods sheltered from Atlantic storms. It was far away - on the very edge of Europe.

The bearded warden led me to the men's dormitory. It was spartan with bare floorboards and limewash walls. There were just four wooden bunks. It was mid-week and though it was the beginning of summer,the warden informed me that nobody else had reserved a bed for the night apart from two German females who were of course in the women's dormitory on the opposite side of the kitchen/communal area.

With rucksack propped against my bunk, I went for a stroll along the lapping shore. Returning to the little grey harbour I met the German girls sitting silently amidst jumbled lobster pots looking out to sea. They were sisters and one of them - the taller one - was a Philosophy student in Heidelberg. She spoke English with amazing fluency and it was she who first told me about the Wittgenstein connection. I can't remember her name any more but I can still picture her animated blue eyes.

She seemed almost obsessed by Wittgenstein and claimed to have read just about everything he had published. She was starry-eyed and could recite entire quotations but to tell you the truth I kept switching off. Clever linguistic gymnastics were never my cup of tea. The other, prettier sister remained quiet, in the shadows of her sibling's brilliance, occasionally fingering the ends of her blonde pigtails.

That evening as the wind picked up and rain began to lash the youth hostel's windows, we shared a simple meal together. I had bacon and soda bread. They had cabbage and a small bag of potatoes. After ten nights of camping, I felt I was sitting in the very lap of luxury and that simple meal was like a feast. We washed it down with enamel mugs of sweet tea as the kitchen's striplights flickered ominously.

"It must be the storm," I surmised.

Later, lying on my bunk in the men's dormitory, I read another chapter of "The Magus" by John Fowles while fantasising that one of the German sisters, preferably the quiet one, would come to join me but of course the door never opened and before too long I drifted off to sleep, listening to rain, happy that I wasn't again ensconced in my little orange tent on the edge of some lonely thicket.


19 October 2017


The tale that follows is true though forty three years have passed by and of course as years disappear under the bridge, memory has an increasing capacity to distort what really happened...
Killary Harbour, Ireland with the youth hostel on the right
There is a road in the far west of Ireland that wanders around squat hills and across ancient boglands all the way from County Mayo into the wild north of County Galway. In early June, back in 1974, that is where I was heading.

I stood on the outskirts of Westport with my thumb pointing hopefully at the billowing sky. After half an hour, an old black car pulled up. It may have been a Humber or perhaps an Austin. The driver was a Catholic priest called Father Stoker. He was bound for Galway City via Clifden where he had some church business to wrap up.

Father Stoker was well into his seventies with straggly white hair and stubbly whiskers to match. I noted his slightly bloodshot eyes and the golden signet ring on his left hand. We had twenty miles or more to travel together and Father Stoker, clearly a genial sort of fellow, was glad of my company for at least part of his car journey. He had a few tales to tell and he was keen to hear what I had seen and done since arriving in Ireland ten days before.

At the county border on the N59 there's a little settlement called Clog. I kid you not. It was just as we were leaving Clog that  Father Stoker asked where exactly he should drop me off. Studying my map, I explained I wanted the Lough Fee road just south of Derrynasligaun. He chuckled at my pronunciation.

"But that's in the middle of nowhere!" he declared. "Where are ye heading after that?"

"I'm going to the youth hostel at the head of Killary Harbour."

For some reason, the car suddenly decelerated. Father Stoker gripped the steering wheel tightly, staring straight ahead before building his speed back up. Ahead, a pair of crows were picking over the flattened carcass of a dead rabbit but they flew off as the old black car approached.

Father Stoker didn't speak another word until we reached the drop off point. I heaved my bulging rucksack from the back seat and leaned back into the car's upholstered interior to thank the old priest for the lift.

He grabbed my hand quite tightly and as he did so I noticed  a curious symbol engraved on his golden ring. Perhaps it was Celtic. His cheerful demeanour had changed. With his rheumy eyes locked upon me he whispered, "Mind how ye go young fellow. Mind how ye go!" And then he released his grip.

I waved as he drove off, leaving me at a blustery road junction far from anywhere.  A rusting sign swung from an old post - "Hostel 2", meaning I had two miles to march with my Famous Army Stores rucksack - all the way to Killary Harbour.


18 October 2017


Hardwick New Hall (Wikipedia picture)
For the past few days, I have not been feeling too well. Bunged up with cold and not able to breathe easily. Some might call it "man flu" which is in my view a dumb and rather sexist way of describing a genuine male ailment.

On Sunday, in spite off my poorliness, Shirley I drove out of  the city. After passing through Chesterfield, we arrived in the north-east Derbyshire parish of Ault Hucknall. We parked near the eastern gates to an old country estate.
After donning  our boots, we set off through the gates and along a lengthy driveway. The temperature was pleasant for October and sunshine was beginning to burn off the early morning cloudiness. Sheep observed us from the trees.

Shortly we arrived at the two old halls that sit in the heart of the Hardwick Estate. There's Hardwick Old Hall and Hardwick New Hall. The former building was constructed in the early sixteenth century and the latter much later in that same century.
The initials "E.S." can be seen on the parapet
As we approached Hardwick New Hall, up on the stone  parapets somebody's initials were dominant - "E.S.". Who could that be? It was Elizabeth Shrewsbury - otherwise known as Bess of Hardwick (1527-1608). It was she who ordered the construction of Hardwick New Hall and no expense was spared. After all, she had become the second richest woman in England after Elizabeth I. By 1590, she could afford whatever she wanted. The building is partly notable because of the amount of glass that was used in its large windows. At the time, no other residential building in the world had lavished so much space or money on glass windows.
Bess of Hardwick's coat of arms in stone on the roof of the new hall
Partly because of the admission fees demanded by The National Trust and English Heritage, on this occasion we did not venture inside The New Hall or the ruinous Old Hall. Instead we continued our ramble through the country estate and back to the car. Soon we were quaffing refreshing drinks in "The Elm Tree Inn" in the nearby village of Heath.
St Mary's, Sutton Scarsdale
After this I took Shirley a mile further north to see the shell of Sutton Scarsdale Hall. A  service was just finishing in the adjacent St Mary's Church so we went inside. The vicar, whose name was Roy, kindly gave us a mini guided tour of the building. What most impressed me was the ninth century Saxon tombstone embedded in the floor with its symbol of a primitive scythe. It was very kind of Roy to talk to us and nice to meet a man who has a passionate and intimate knowledge of his local history - in particular the church and its historical associations.

By the time I got home I was, as my mother would have probably said, jiggered. What with the cold and everything, I had almost overdone it. A sensible person would have been spending the day resting on the sofa with a warm lemon drink and a box of tissues. Perhaps next time we will pay the hefty admission fees required to enter Hardwick New Hall. I shall start saving.
Shirley in the woods at Hardwick

17 October 2017


Should a poem need explanation? Perhaps we really do "murder to dissect". After all, a poem isn't an extract from a washing machine manual. It isn't a financial statement. Some people think that poems are there to be decoded, translated, examined like specimens in a laboratory. I don't agree with or approve of such a mechanistic approach to poetry.

Nevertheless, I should like to reflect on yesterday's poem. And first of all I say thank you to Jennifer in Florence, South Carolina for attaching the curious word "liminal" to my first picture. It's not a word that is in everyday use. This is what a dictionary has to say about it:-
And yes. it was easy to see why Jennifer might have  seen the edge of the sea as such a place - a sort of limboland.

I thought of the lugworms as earthbound and of the seabirds as heavenly, soaring up into the blue. The human figures in the poem are therefore at a "boundary" between land sea and sky and perhaps also on the threshold of their own future with the past behind them.

There's a deliberate circularity in this poem as the end focus is again upon creatures that live at the edge. Like the shadowy human protagonists there is a connection between the worms in the sand and the birds. They also have a relationship.

Poems will often concern themselves with the very sound of words - echoes, half-rhymes, full rhymes and repetition. I wanted the personal pronoun "I" to stand alone in the fifth line - solitary upon the shore and in the ninth and tenth lines - "Along the margin/ Of that bay" I was consciously nodding to William Wordsworth and his "Daffodils".

Regarding the eleventh line, human life with all its baggage can be burdensome don't you think? We are forever "weighing" or assessing the "burdens" of memory, hope and conscience that we carry. In this we are dissimilar to  the lugworm and the seabird whose lives are more elemental, more driven by the moment. For them it is much easier and simpler to live in the liminal zone.

"Sky" in the second half of the poem chimes with "I" and "fly" in the first half.. "Shore" rhymes strongly with "soar" to seal the poem. There are plenty of "s" sounds to suggest the sound of the sea upon the sand and I like the image of those lugworm coils. I thought of "Spew their little coils" and "Pipe their little coils" but instead opted for "Leave" which has less anthropomorphic association. 

Sue said she never thought she would read a poem about lugworms. I am just pleased to have made a poem that contains lugworms. They are hidden from us in their burrows like the truth and the happiness we seek. There but not there in the liminal zone.

14 October 2017


When I was an English teacher in what is now my distant past, I noticed that many modern poetry books aimed at schoolchildren contained eye-catching photo-illustrations. Of course the idea was that the pictures would enhance appreciation of the poems. There would hopefully be a certain synergy between the image and the word.

In an idle moment, I had the idea of turning this process on its head in order to help some of my classes into poetry writing. To explain further - I presented them with pictures and asked them to write poems that would "fit" with these images - as if we were compiling our own poetry anthology before sending it off to the publishers.

Many of the resulting poems were excellent. It was as though the images had reduced creative inhibitions. Teenagers who might habitually retort, "I hate poetry...it's boring" found themselves creating little pieces of Literature that would have not looked out of place in a genuine anthology.

Well after that preamble, I think I shall write another poem for this humble Yorkshire blog and for the appreciation of its illustrious visitors. And just like my pupils I shall allow an image to be my muse. All five images that accompany the post were taken last weekend. 

Which picture do you think I should go with and if you were writing it what might your poem be "about"? Perhaps it wouldn't be "about" anything. You might be able to supply me with a creative spark.

Picture 1
 Picture 2
 Picture 3
 Picture 4
 Picture 5

13 October 2017


St Mary's, Sheffield - now a community centre
I have joined a non-religious choir. So far I have been to four Thursday night sessions. Perhaps ironically, these practice sessions are held in an old church that is no longer used for worship. It is now more of a community centre with a warren of rooms and corridors inside.

The choir has around thirty members. Three quarters of these are women. Most people have been with the choir for years. I think they were a bit surprised when I turned up out of the blue after visiting their website. Who is that guy? Is he a copper?

The songs we have been working on are all new to me. However, I have enjoyed those moments when the different voices have gelled  together in delicious harmonies. It's a good feeling to be part of something like that and I am starting to get used to the new songs and how the choir leader Janet breaks up sopranos, altos, tenors and the bass section to which I have gravitated.

The choir often performs in public but I haven't reached that point yet even though they keep saying - "You've got a great voice!" and "Come along!" etcetera.

The simplest song I have been learning is "You Won't Be Fracking Long" which is sung to the tune of "The Laughing Policeman". Instinctively, I am anti-fracking and I am disgusted by the bullying tactics used by government and fracking companies to push approvals through. Fracking is in my view a desperate, environmentally unfriendly way to squeeze yet more fossil fuel energy from our much-abused planet. It is surely not the way forward and I send out a cheer to the anti-fracking protesters at Kirby Misterton, North Yorkshire who are currently engaged in a long-running anti-fracking protest that has seen several local people arrested.

Here's The Red Leicester Choir singing that same song...

12 October 2017


Multiply this million pound palette by a thousand
At first, if I happened to win a billion pounds or found a billion pounds in a very, very large suitcase I wouldn't know what to do with it. However, I have already decided that I would spend some of the money buying gifts for blogging friends and acquaintances - to thank them for their kind association.

Working down my sidebar bloglist here are the gifts I am thinking of...

For ADDY at "Alcoholic Daze" a Japanese motorbike, tight red leathers and a helmet so that she can whizz more easily through the London traffic to visit her 94 year old mother in hospital.

For Jan Blawat near Sacramento in California a new Winnebago Vista to travel to shows across America with her poultry and not have to pay for hotel rooms.

For Libby at "D-Scribes" a long weekend away with her "Mister" in New York City with carers recruited to look after her aged parents while she's away.

For Jenny at "Demob Happy Teacher" a tartan shopping trolley so that she  can visit local shops and not have to lug heavy bags back home.

For Graham at "Eagleton Notes" a carbon fibre fishing rod and a basket of fishing gear so that he can fish from the rocks and beach near his home on the Isle of Lewis. His catches will help to supplement his meagre pension.

For Kylie at "Eclectica" who does so much good for other people, a voucher for $5000 AUS to be spent exclusively on herself at Sydney's top department store - arguably Myers.

For Meike in Ludwigsburg a fashion shoot with one of Germany's top fashion photographers and access to any clothes sold in the Breuninger department store in Stuttgart.
For John Gray in Trelawnyd, Wales a hefty cheque to cover the cost of revamping his kitchen and to provide Winnie with a lifetime's supply of frilly bulldog knickers (pink).

For Helen in Brisbane a pair of air tickets to anywhere she and her long-suffering husband Tony wish to travel next.

For Red in Red Deer, Canada a brand new pair of bespoke ice skates with "Red" picked out in glittering red sequins on the side of each boot.

For Hilly in Washington State a brand new Ford Escape SUV to get up and down the track to her rural retreat in the woods.

For Lee on Tamborine Mountain, Queensland I shall buy her the cabin she lives in with her furry companions - making the pompous owner an offer he can't refuse.

For Derek on The Isle of Sheppey there will be a brand new bike with a wicker basket on the front for his little dog to ride in when they visit the nature reserve.

For Jenny the Procrastinating Donkey in eastern Canada a brand new electric sewing machine.

For my old chum Bob in Georgia whose surname rhymes with "plague" I shall cover the costs incurred by visiting tradesmen such as a plumber, electrician, roofer or painter over the next five years. Optometrist costs will also be covered plus car maintenance.

For Steve in West Hampstead I shall buy three pairs of which ever walking boots his heart desires and damn the cost. He covers quite a few miles on his photo journeys. Also a diamond studded collar for Olga.

For Ian in Greater Manchester  an expertly framed map of Yorkshire (by Michael Drayton 1622) to hang above his fireplace and treasure.

For Jennifer author of  "Sparrow Tree Journal" in South Carolina and her husband Gregg I shall buy a week's holiday on the island of Barbados with luxury kennel expenses covered for her two dogs back home.

For Susan in rural France I shall buy a classic Citroen 2CV so that she can potter about the Gallic countryside with Rick or Paul sitting in the back. The car will be resprayed which ever colour Susan prefers.

For Terry in Hinckley, I shall cover taxi costs for a month so that he can go where ever he wants. The taxi will of course be wheelchair friendly with an adjustable ramp.

For Pat near Bellerby, North Yorkshire I shall cover all removal costs to her new home in Leyburn - when that move eventually happens! Also a large cut glass vase containing white roses to greet her in her new home.

And when all that spending is done, I shall start to think of other ways of disposing of my giant windfall. There'll be a million for Oxfam, a million for The Labour Party and a million to support Friends of the Earth in their battle against fracking in the English countryside. I shall phone our two grown up kids to tell them to pick which ever London homes they want from Right Move. Then I'll take Shirley out for fish and chips - over which we will begin to plan our round the world trip.

11 October 2017


Filey Sands
Just down the coast from Scarborough you will find its little brother - Filey. For hundreds of years it was a significant fishing village - long before seaside tourism was conceived. There's still a slipway down by the beach called Coble Landing. A "coble" was a kind of fishing boat unique to this part of the Yorkshire coast.

On the way home from Scarborough we decided to drive into Filey. It was a lovely, sunny morning and we managed to get parked very close to Coble Landing. The outside temperature was unseasonably warm and the sea breeze was very light. I decided to go coatless as we set off along the beach to Filey Brigg.

I hadn't gone there since I was a teenager.
Filey Brigg
Harder layers with boulder clay above
Geologists would find the Brigg very interesting. Hard layers of sandstone and limestone are topped by a thirty foot layer of boulder clay that was pushed there by bulldozing ice sheets during the last Ice Age which began 1.8 million years ago.

The boulder clay is very susceptible to erosion by the sea but the underlying layers are more resistant and it is they that form the wave-battered point known as Filey Brigg. In stormy weather or high tides it is a dangerous place to ramble. Numerous people have been swept off the brigg over the centuries. Death by drowning is normally the only prospect.
On Old Quay Rocks - looking to Flamborough Head
Looking landward from Filey Brigg
The hut is a refuge in case of emergency.
After our walk to Filey Brigg we returned to the seafront and bought ice cream cones from a kiosk. We sat on a bench looking out to sea - basking in lovely sunshine on what would have been John Lennon's seventy seventh birthday...
Eating ice cream cones - looking out to Flamborough Head

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