31 August 2018


Above Gardom's Edge with "The Three Men" cairns ahead
Yesterday I had another ramble in the beautiful countryside south west of Sheffield. I parked near "The Robin Hood" pub east of Baslow and climbed up on to Birchen Edge. Then I traipsed along to Nelson's monument and three stone outcrops that are known as The Three Ships.
"Defiance" -  one of The Three Ships
Soon after England's glorious victory over the combined French-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the names of three of our nation's warships were carved on the stones - "Victory", "Defiance" and "Royal Soverin"(sic). These names are still clearly visible. Yesterday a family were practising their rock climbing skills on the stones.
Moorside Farm
I walked along to the triangulation pillar and then headed down the rocky escarpment across a wide moorland meadow that would normally be very boggy but because of our hot summer it was dry and relatively easy to traverse. I passed a couple of rough cairns that are thousands of years old and marked on Ordnance Survey maps. Neolithic people inhabited this area.
On Gardom's Edge with a failed attempt to make
a stone trough. It must have cracked.
Soon I reached Gardom's Edge and wandered along the top, noting precipitous rock faces. I came across three more recent cairns together and only later discovered that they had been built in the eighteenth century in memory of three local shepherds who died nearby one particularly harsh wintertime.

Then onward, passing The Cat Stones and the aptly named Moorside Farm, back through the bracken by ancient stone walls and down to the main road that links Baslow with Chesterfield and along to "The Robin Hood". The circle was complete and all was good with the world.
The Cat Stones

30 August 2018


Our Oxfam shop
I have worked in our local Oxfam shop every Wednesday for over three and a half years now. A lot of the time I sort book donations out upstairs but I also check the morning's takings before taking that money up to the bank. There I often have to collect change. We need reserve supplies of pound coins and 1p pieces. Why is it that everything seems to cost £1.99 or £5.99, not £2 or £6?

I usually end my shift with a couple of hours on the shop floor sitting behind the till. You never know who will walk through the door. I must have seen hundreds of customers. We get our regulars. Little old ladies checking the clothing racks or brusque old men heading straight for the crime and thrillers section. E-bay sellers come in looking for bargains they can list at much higher prices. A secondhand jeweller comes in to see if he can find new stock.

Last week a family of dwarves came in - mum, dad and two dwarfish children. They were all very nice but small. Are the terms "dwarf", "dwarves" and "dwarfish" acceptable any more? I haven't checked my dictionary of political correctness recently. Perhaps the family was simply "vertically challenged" - yes that's it. They weren't dwarves at all.

In my estimation, 99.9% of the people who have entered the shop while I have been behind the till have been pleasant and well-mannered. They perhaps represent a cross section of English humanity in a northern English city. However, I realise that not everyone would choose to spend money in a charity shop so the sample may be somewhat skewed.

I have served Chinese people, black Africans, disabled people, people with learning difficulties, mothers with babies, fathers with babies, homeless people, tall men, cyclists, teenagers, students, professors, cleaners, ugly people, beautiful people, fat people, thin people. I have even served Australian and Welsh people! I swear that most of  humanity has walked through that door.

Compared with London or Birmingham, Sheffield is not a very ethnically diverse city. I would estimate that 85% of our customers belong to what you might call the host community -  white Anglo Saxons and mostly Yorkshire born and bred just like me.

They are decent people - not loud and boisterous but rather humble and thoughtful - aware of others around them. Slightly reticent. At Oxfam I am just a shopworker but they show me respect. They say "please" and "thank you" and they ask if they can use the changing room. I welcome them and thank them for visiting us. If they buy something, I often say, "Thank you for your support".

Only once in the last three and a half years have I experienced unpleasantness from a customer when a known drug addict/shoplifter came in. I watched him like a hawk, not saying a word to this skeletal individual in a baseball cap. He knew I was watching and finally he decided to leave, shouting at me "What ye ****ing looking at me for ye ****ing ***tard? I'm not nicking owt am I?". And then he walked out. I had still not said a word to him but if I had said a word it would have been "funeral".

29 August 2018


Dance is the hidden language of the soul - Martha Graham

The world has known some great national leaders from Gandhi to Abraham Lincoln. From General de Gaulle to Nelson Mandela. Britain's current "great leader" is Theresa May. This week she has been in Africa desperately trying to strengthen business links prior to our nation's catastrophic departure from The European Union . At the I.D. Mkize secondary school in Cape Town, South Africa she was greeted by a crowd of singing and dancing schoolchildren. Of course Mrs May had to join in:-
She has such natural rhythm. See how she got down with the kids and how her body was fluent - at one with the singing. As a geography student at St Hugh's College, Oxford in the seventies she must have been dynamite on the dance floor. Perhaps the reason she only achieved a second class degree is that she was too busy having a good time grooving to the music

28 August 2018


As I have grown older, I have come to see more clearly that we carry the past with us. How we were brought up, how our parents treated us  - it is all there inside us. We can never fully excise it.

My mother had a tough childhood. Her parents had a stormy relationship and finally -when she was ten years old, her father - my grandfather - walked out of the family home. He had fought at The Battle of the Somme in World War One. Undoubtedly, he had brought some of that horror back home with him.

With her little brother, Mum had to walk to her grandparents' house three ,miles away. It was  on the very day that her parents split up. For the remaining years of their childhoods she and Uncle Derek were raised by her grandparents - my great-grandparents. They provided warmth, security and love but the pain of that family break-up remained with Mum all her life and of course some of it seeped subtly and secretly into me.

I could also reflect upon my father's life and how unconsciously he also helped to form my character. I carry a part of him in me. But that's another story.

The four paragraphs above are merely a preamble. What I really want to get into is thinking about the thousands of children who were abused by Roman Catholic priests and nuns from Australia to America and from Ireland to France. Not just a handful of children but thousands. And it is likely that similar abuse is still happening today in remote corners of the Catholic empire.

What do those children carry with them into adulthood? Such shame. Such nightmares. Played back over and over again. 

The awful experiences these people had remain with them - skeletons in their cupboards. They can never truly escape or leave the past behind. It will have shaped their relationships, their attitudes,  their careers, their everyday behaviour. Maybe they drink too much. Maybe they get depressed or angry too easily. Maybe they hide behind emotional brick walls. And if they have children of their own some of this pain will certainly be transferred, the poison seeping silently into the next generation.

I began by reflecting on how the past is present in me but I was never abused - sexually or physically and I was never an object of bullying either. The legacy that I carry is natural -  an easy one to bear compared with the crippling weights that are carried along life's path by the victims of abuse within the Catholic church. They were innocent and yet they were given life sentences.

27 August 2018


When we were enjoying our refreshing drinks in the pub garden at Boston Spa, we noticed a dog in the window of a terraced house just across the street. We could also hear his intermittent excited yapping as people walked past. He was like a prisoner trapped in his cell when he just wanted to be out running and sniffing. God Almighty - free at last!

The sight reminded me of that old song by Patti Page - "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?" It was number one in the year that I was born. The deep meaningfulness of this moving hit song seeped into the lives of every child born in 1953:-
How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggly tail
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie's for sale
Of course in symbolic terms the song reflects upon the insidious effects of commercialism and possessiveness. It was lovingly crafted  by songwriter Bob Merrill whose other great gifts to the music world included "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd Have Baked a Cake", "She Wears Red Feathers" and "Mambo Italiano"..
Apologies to any readers who were misled by the title of this blogpost and expected more titillating content. But that's not my style.

26 August 2018


Fishing by The River Wharfe
Yorkshire is a big county. It's the biggest county in England. Though I have spent most of my life within Yorkshire's boundaries, I haven't been everywhere in this illustrious county. 

Yesterday we headed up the A1 to Boston Spa. It is a large village on the southern bank of The River Wharfe twelve miles south west of York. I had never been there before. 

We were there to see Shirley's sister Carolyn. She moved to Boston Spa six weeks ago. Long term readers of this humble blog may recall that Carolyn's husband dropped down dead in the summer of 2011. It was most unexpected but there his lifeless body lay - on the floor of their utility room. He was not yet fifty years old. 
Riverside property and drooping flowers
Via the magic of the internet and after kissing a few frogs, Carolyn eventually found herself a new man. Her two grown-up sons had already moved out of the family home. That house has now been sold and she has moved in with her new fellow - a resident of Boston Spa. 
Weir on The Wharfe
Richard - that's his name - has been married twice before. He divorced his first wife and his second wife died. He has four children, two step-children and nine grandchildren. Quite impressive for a chap who is five years younger than me. 

We all had lunch together in a local cafe and went for a walk around Boston Spa. It's a lovely place. One of Yorkshire's most famous sons lives there - Sir Geoffrey Boycott the great cricketer who played for Yorkshire and England. We went down to the river and along to the old spa buildings before climbing back up into the village. I bought a round of drinks at "The Fox and Hounds" where Richard trapped two wasps in an upturned pint glass. 
"Tom Foolery" bar-restaurant
First impressions are that he is a nice man - a gentle soul. Of course we sincerely hope that he is the right man for Carolyn. She has made a big leap of faith in moving to Boston Spa to be with him. In life, I guess you sometimes have to simply take the plunge or you would be hanging around for ever and a day weighing things up. Best of luck to both of them. All five accompanying pictures are from Boston Spa.
Sunny Side Place

25 August 2018


Monsieur Robin - the French brother recently sent me this photograph but it wasn't  taken in France. It was taken in Trumpland (formerly the USA). I guess that Trumpians need that kind of signage.

Co-incidentally, the word "sidewalk" is one of those Americanisms that really grates on me. To me a "sidewalk" is when you are moving sideways like a crab. This is something I do frequently when  moving along our English pavements and footpaths.

Thank heavens the word "sidewalk" (meaning pavement) has not yet been absorbed into English parlance. With the imperial influence of American culture since World War II, many American terms have crossed the Atlantic and weaselled their way into our everyday speech and writing. Like linguistic grey squirrels they drive out the red squirrels of our communicatory heritage.

I may have said it before, but another irritating Americanism that has not been with us very long is "standout" - as in "The striker had a standout performance". Ten years ago a British commentator would have said. "The striker's performance was outstanding". Now they are all using "standout" - even cricket commentators. It's just not cricket!

24 August 2018


When commenting on other people's blogs I can be such a cheeky monkey. I don't mean any harm by it - I'm usually just trying to raise a smile. 

These days my first "go to" blogs are "Going Gently" by the legendary John Gray and "Shadows and Light" by the less legendary Steve Reed in London. Like me, both of these bloggers are regular, posting something just about every day of the year. Consequently, there's usually something fresh to read or see. I feel like I know these guys and that makes me feel relaxed about being a cheeky monkey when commenting on their various blogposts.

Maybe  I owe them a public apology. If that is the case, I am happy to say to both of  them - sorry for being a cheeky monkey. In the future I shall try harder to leave comments that are dull and predictable.

Do you want to read some examples of the cheek I have doled out this month?

Let's look at "Going Gently" first of all. On August 13th John was writing about a short train journey with his Welsh terrier Mary. He wrote, "I drank coffee on the Virgin train while Mary jammed her head between the seats in order to bum something from the middle aged couple sitting behind us."

This was my comment: "It is surprising that you didn't also jam your head between the seats in the hope of scrounging a scotch egg!"

Back on August 6th, John's post was titled "A Load of Young Bullocks". In it he describes how a herd of bullocks ran down the lane. He says they ran with "gay abandon" so my comment was "What is "gay abandon" and can only bullocks run that way? How about penguins? Can they also run with "gay abandon"? Camels? Hippos?"


Over to "Shadows and Light". On August 14th Steve was just back from Florida and he referred once more to grey squirrel problems in his garden. This was my comment - "You need to get a couple of squirrel traps. I understand that in The Deep South squirrel is a popular delicacy. Was it on the menu at The Waffle House?" Steve had recently visited a waffle house with his brother back in The States.

On August 11th, Steve shared wildlife pictures he had snapped when wandering round the gardens of his mother's condominium with his mother in tow. My response was this: " "Steve! Steve! Watcha doin' son? Now put that goddam camera away and let's get walking or I shall give you a thick ear my lad!" "

Please don't get me wrong. Not every comment I leave is glowing with cheek. Sometimes I give simple encouragement or applause and surprisingly some of my remarks are serious and thoughtful. However, like my old friend Bert often says at the local pub - you've got to have a laugh. Life's not worth living if you can't have a laugh.

23 August 2018


With Trump, the mis-information began in the very first White House press briefing when his squeaky puppet - Sean Spicer - angrily challenged  estimates of the 45th president inauguration ceremony crowd. And yet the pictures were clear. The turn-out was much lower than for President Obama. Publicly at least, Spicer's  jaw-dropping denial was the start of the new president's fakery - his fake news.  Privately, the fakery had begun long before that.

In Trumpian philosophy, these appear to be the central tenets:-
  • Never admit any guilt or weakness
  • Repeat an untruth over and over and people will believe it
  • Intelligence is a form of ignorance
  • Ignorance is a form of intelligence
  • Being president is just like starring in a reality TV show
But now, after the court appearances of Cohen and Manafort the lasso is starting to tighten. How will Trump wriggle free? Surely, surely in the end truth will win out and rightfulness will reclaim its seat and Trump will be resigned to history with his tail between his legs. It has to happen.

Recently, one or two British TV documentaries have brought typical US Trump supporters into our homes. Universally, they seem like decent people who are proud of their country and wish to live happy, fulfilling lives. But regarding Trump they appear to have one very dangerous thing in common - blind faith. What does it matter if Trump paid off prostitutes? What does it matter if The Russians helped to get him elected? What does it matter if he lied or cheated or if he used bullying tactics to build his real estate empire? After all, nobody's perfect and he's doing a good job - starting to make America great again - just like he promised. Unlike the rest he's a businessman, a man of action.

This blind faith reminds me of frightening religious cults or Islamic fundamentalism. It's hard to argue with it because adherents do not wish to argue. Believing in Trump has become a mast to cling to in a stormy sea. They just do not want to let go.

If Trump announced that he had won a purple heart in Vietnam for his heroism in the heat of battle, they would probably rather believe him than any whining fake media reports that he had in fact avoided the draft by claiming to have a "bone spur" in his foot. Some hero! In stark contrast, John F. Kennedy did win a purple heart for gallantry as the skipper of a gunboat - close to The Solomon Islands in 1943. If pressed, Trump would probably say that if Kennedy was a hero, how come he allowed his boat to catch fire when the Japanese destroyer rammed it?

22 August 2018


Deer watching me
Around midday the brother who lives in France telephoned. It was just as I was about to toddle off into Derbyshire for a three mile circular walk. Phone conversations with Robin can take an hour or more as we relate news, remember and grumble. I have to remind myself to avoid mentioning Trump. Robin admires his cavalier style while I despise it.

Anyway, consequently I was late setting off into Derbyshire. It was a bright but overcast afternoon. I parked near Curbar Edge and proceeded along on the moorland track that leads to Wellington's Monument.  Not the best of days for photography but even so I gathered a few images and five of them accompany this blogpost.
Down to Over End on the edge of Baslow village. There were some grand stone houses here with flashy cars parked in the driveways. There was the aroma of money in the air. Perhaps this is where Michael Vaughan - the ex-England cricket captain resides with his wife and family. I know he lives in Baslow.

Along Gorsebank Lane to Gorsebank Farm where an old collie sheepdog came out to bark at me. On the concrete in the farmyard the date 1970 was imprinted - a year I remember well when I was sweet sixteen. The dog slinked away. His muzzle was half black and half white. I would have called him Chess.
Then onwards. I met a woman who was picking brambles. She said she had not seen a soul before me and I said that I don't have a soul and she said that I must have if I had chosen to walk below Baslow Edge. We laughed. Her green supermarket bag was bursting with sweet berries and when I left her I picked brambles for my own mouth. The sweet taste of summer.

Back home I made tea (dinner to southerners). Shirley came in from her shift at the health centre. The tea was chicken steak with a creamy mushroom sauce I had made from scratch, new buttered potatoes and runner beans from our garden. 
At six we set off for the nearby town of Rotherham. I had tickets to see Rotherham United v Hull City. The game kicked off at 7.45pm and I am happy to report that we won our first game of the season by three goals to two! Two of our goals were scored by our long-haired Australian player, Jackson Irvine. Someone has created a new chant for him - to the tune of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline":-
Jackson Irvine!
Long hair never looked so  good!
So good! So good! SO GOOD! (repeat)

We drove back to Sheffield, lifted by the victory and Shirley dropped me off at the local pub for three celebratory pints of the brown nectar - "Tetley's Bitter". Beverage of the gods.
The Eagle Stone above Baslow Edge

21 August 2018


Beautiful. We should use that word more often. Or maybe - what I really mean - we should make more conscious effort to appreciate - consider - contemplate - value beautiful things, beautiful scenes, beautiful feelings, beautiful memories. There is too much ugliness around. It distracts us, riles us, worries us. If you are not careful, Ugly takes over and Beautiful is resigned to the shadows.

Beautiful is the best antidote to anxiety or distress about all that is ugly in the world. "Pleasing to the eye or ear or mind or soul" - that is what beautiful means.

When I think about beautiful - various notions buzz around in the hive that is my head. Naturally, I think of Nature. Within the confines of this blog, I have sought to share some beautiful images  from the natural world. Woodland walks, sunsets, beaches, limestone hills and grazing sheep. Nice things, Beautiful things. 

I think of my wedding day, the births of our children. I think of dancing round a campfire on the beach at Lindos, Rhodes and swimming out to a distant Mediterranean buoy. And those family holidays in America and walking from Tolaga Bay to Cook's Cove in New Zealand. I think of earlier family holidays in Cornwall and The Lake District - with Mum, Dad and my three brothers. Beautiful.

The Isle of Wight in 1970. "Evita" in 1980. Listening to Leonard Cohen. Hull City finally making it into The Premier League on My 24th 2008. My cats - Oscar, Blizzard and Boris. Beautiful.

Such beautiful things, to counter Ugly. We should bring them to the front more often. Push Ugly to the side of the stage  along with Trump and Brexit and global warming and crime and personal regrets and things we did not say or do and money and Yemen and plastic and sexual abuse and why the dodo disappeared forever. There's too much Ugly.

Beautiful. What springs to mind when you roll that word around in your head?

20 August 2018


Overheard in Foolow last week...

BETTY Tell you what Nora, my head is throbbing.
NORA  Serves you right Betty. You just don't know when to stop.
BETTY  I only had six vodkas and that bottle of Merlot.
NORA  You are forgetting the  Jägerbombs.
BETTY Anyway. You can talk. I had to steer you back to the B&B
NORA  I don't even remember getting into bed.
BETTY You were singing, "My Way". The landlady banged on the wall. I don't know what she was yelling. It was well after midnight.
NORA  Anyway. I guess we'd better get going.
BETTY Where are we walking to today?
NORA I thought we'd walk up Hucklow Edge and then over the fields to Abney.
BETTY How far's that?
NORA About three miles
BETTY (Groans)  I don't think I'm up to it Nora. Like I say, my head's throbbing.
NORA Hair of the dog?
BETTY "The Bull's Head" will be open in five minutes.
NORA  Shall we have a snifter?
BETTY  Why not? We can always go for a walk tomorrow.
The village cross in Foolow

19 August 2018


  • My exam result was lower than expected. It's the exam board's fault or maybe my teacher didn't teach the right stuff. It could be her fault.
  • I ran into the back of the car in front of me. The driver had braked too quickly. It was his fault. 
  • In court John received a three month jail sentence. It was the judge's fault because he had it in for John and didn't listen to the evidence properly
  • Betty forgot to pay her house insurance just before the chip pan fire. It was either the insurance company's fault because they didn't send out a reminder or the chip pan maker's fault because there was no warning label on the pan.
  • Baby Bobby died from meningitis in the hospital. It was the doctor's fault because she didn't tell the nursing staff in detail what to do. Or it could have been the ambulance team. They took over four minutes to get to Bobby's house!
  • In Market Rasen high street, Sue tripped on the kerb and grazed her knees when she fell down. It was the council's fault because the kerbstone was too high and there was no warning notice either and besides the kerb was made of concrete and not foam rubber.
  • Donald was annoyed with what he called the fake media. It was their fault that people were learning the truth about nepotism and Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. And it's Crooked Hillary's fault and Robert Mueller's and President Obama's and definitely not his.
  • Obesity is the fault of fast food companies.
  • Drunkenness is the fault of breweries and distilleries.
  • "The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions." - Dwight Eisenhower

18 August 2018


"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman is a very readable novel. It is easy to turn the 383 pages as we delve into the damaged life of  an improbable heroine. Eleanor is lonely and awkward, haunted by the ghosts of  her past but at a basic level she is able to function in society. She has a job and a flat and at weekends she treats herself to bottles of vodka..

As you can see there are burnt matches on the novel's front cover. You may be able to guess why they are there. They speak of her past and those demons she has been unable to shake off.

Eleanor has never had anyone she could call a friend until Raymond comes along. He is the computer troubleshooter in her workplace. They have lunches together and gradually she learns to trust him. Like his mother, he has simple kindness in his bones and he recognises Eleanor's pain. He wants to help her.

This was forty-something Gail Honeyman's very first novel but it has been met with rapturous enthusiasm and for several weeks earlier this year it was Britain's number one bestseller. Film rights have already been purchased by Reese Witherspoon and in the course of time Eleanor's story of survival and triumph will no doubt appear on the silver screen.

Technically and artistically it is by no means the best book I have ever read. It has its flaws and its weaknesses but at its heart there is a damned good story. It is a story of loneliness in modern life, of the baggage we carry and of little acts of human kindness. Ultimately, the novel is uplifting and human. In the final analysis, we are optimistic about Eleanor's future. She has turned  a massive corner.
Gail Honeyman

17 August 2018


At the north end of Silly Dale
Yesterday I put on my clown costume and went to Sillydale - sometimes written Silly Dale. Silly Dale is a short, dry limestone valley just north of Wardlow Mires in Derbyshire. How it got its silly name I have no idea. Perhaps President Trump's Mar-a-Lago mansion should be renamed Silly Dale. You could say the same for 10, Downing Street in London.

Having parked in the charmingly peaceful upland village of Foolow, I made my way across the landscape like an earthworm. First to the hamlet of Grindlow and then south to the head of Silly Dale. I was expecting to find giggling people walking backwards or riding on unicycles while juggling bananas but there was none of that. Not even a monument to Spike Milligan.
Old barn at the south end of Silly Dale
Just a couple of horses at the head of the valley and at the southern end a derelict barn and a bull standing on a mound observing his harem of brown cows below. Yes - Silly Dale was something of a disappointment. 
Back in Foolow I lifted Clint's tailgate as I removed my colourful clown's outfit. Regarding country walks, please store this piece of advice - Avoid walking in oversized, floppy clown shoes. Even in Silly Dale I think it is probably best to wear proper walking boots.
Bull in Silly Dale
Above him you can see typical drystone walls - not fences!

16 August 2018



After rain I slide more easily,
Contracting then relaxing,
Gliding through the dampened soil,
Circumventing stones and roots -
It lubricates my passage.
I have no eyes to see
So it does not bother me
That I exist in darkness. 

Just listen and you’ll hear me
Pulsing quietly below
The surfaces you know
Or dig and you will find me
Writhing in the loam
This earth that is my home.

15 August 2018


The longest- running BBC radio show is "Desert Island Discs". It lasts for an hour - during which the week's special guest chooses eight recordings - usually songs - that he or she would choose to take to an imaginary desert island. The guest also gets to choose one luxury to take with them and a book too. Towards the end of the show, the guest is asked which one of their eight recording choices they would select if they could only take one.

Pam Ayres
Last weekend the guest was a woman I have long admired for her wordsmithery and her wholesome sense of humour - Pam Ayres. She has become a national treasure having first appeared on a TV talent show back in 1975. The songs that she chose to take to her desert island were:-

  • Tim van Eyken & Members of the War Horse Company Chorus - "Only Remembered"
  • Alun Armstrong & Original 1985 London Cast of "Les Miserables" - "Master of the House"
  • Bob Dylan - "The Times They Are A' Changing"
  • Neil Sedaka - "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen"
  • Bruce Springsteen - "Independence Day"
  • Tina Turner - "The Best"
  • The Fureys and Davey Arthur - "When You Were Sweet Sixteen"
  • Ruggero Leoncavallo  - "Vesti la Giubba"

Interestingly it was the song by The Fureys that Pam Ayres picked if she were only allowed to take one. I hadn't heard that plaintive song in years. There are various different versions of "When You Were Sweet Sixteen" and here are three of them:-

By the way, which song or piece of music would you take to your desert island?

14 August 2018


Tideswell Church
© Copyright Andrew Hill - geograph.co.uk 2012
Just over fifty years ago I informed the choirmaster and the vicar at my village church that I was resigning as a choirboy. No more chilly Sunday mornings in my cassock, surplus and ruff singing to a dwindling congregation. No more listening to endlessly dull sermons or prayers and Bible readings that droned on and on. Besides I had stopped believing in "God" years before - that's if I ever really believed in "Him".  

And you know, since my resignation I had never attended one regular Sunday church service until last weekend when I found myself standing in the pews of The Cathedral of the Peak - St John the Baptist Church in Tideswell. - at 9.30 am.

Not much had changed in fifty years. The same droning prayers, readings and sermon. It all seemed so hollow, desperate even - still clinging to the ludicrous notion of an afterlife - as if  the trials and tribulations of earthly life merely foreshadow the glorious and everlasting life to come.

At one point we were invited to shake hands with other churchgoers. That would have never happened fifty years ago. They grinned at me and said "Peace be with you!"as I replied, "Hello!". It was quite irksome.
Inside Tideswell Church
When the hocus pocus of communion was being performed at the altar, I whispered to my daughter, "It's such a substantial building but this service is so insubstantial". Indeed Tideswell Church is a wonderful building - so much craftsmanship, so much history. It soars gloriously above the large Peak District village. It speaks of christenings, funerals and weddings going back to the fourteenth century. You feel that history - it's almost tangible.

In order to qualify to be married there, Frances and Stew have to attend six services in six calendar months. Consequently, they were up from London again at the weekend. It is likely that the next time I am in The Cathedral of The Peak I shall, God willing (!), be walking her proudly down the aisle - a year from now.

After our attendance, we called in at The Yonderman Cafe for breakfast - eggs, bacon, oatcakes, black pudding, sausages, beans, tomatoes, toast and mugs of tea. It's a popular place and with the rest of the congregation we paid homage to  the mysterious Yonderman before driving back to Sheffield.

13 August 2018


Our son Ian was up in Scotland over the weekend. He was there to attend a wedding that had already cost him several hundred pounds. Most of that was spent on a four day stag weekend on the Spanish island of Ibiza.

That's how it goes these days - stag and hen dos in faraway places - drinking excessively and spending lots of dosh on airfares, meals, accommodation etcetera. In contrast, my own "stag do" back in 1981 was a very quiet affair that involved walking down to our local pub - which was then "The Closed Shop" - to meet up with a small bunch of male friends for a few drinks.

For the actual wedding weekend, Ian had to pay for more accommodation, the rail fare from London to Dundee and the hire of a full Scottish outfit - including a tartan kilt. Here he is:-
This is the first time I have ever seen any male member of my Yorkshire family in a kilt! The kilts we see today were largely a Victorian development  - different from the rough lengths of cloth that highlanders once used to attire themselves. The thing you can see around Ian's waist is a sporran and you can easily guess what he has tucked in there. Under the kilt he was probably wearing what all Scotsmen prefer to wear - frilly women's bloomers from Marks and Spencers.!

By the way - it's Ian's birthday today. He is thirty four years old. Happy Birthday Jock!

12 August 2018


"I just feel completely disconnected from myself lately. I don't even know who 
I am any more..." - Ms Moon "Bless Our Hearts" (a blog from northern Florida)
Who I Am

That unshakeable
Shadow stretching
In silver streetlight.
Photographs stored
In disorderly drawers...
Somebody else’s memory.
Written words
Like flotsam,
Old paintings.
Familiar face reflected
Again and again
And yet and yet
It is easy to forget
Who you are...
Shall we look for ourselves between the lines
Or in the voids that follow our melodious rhymes?

11 August 2018


The single first appeared on this album
Just like anybody else, there are songs that I associate with particular times in my life. In the 70's I spent four and a half years at The University of Stirling in Scotland. The song that I mostly associate with that time is "Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)" by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. It was often playing in "The Allangrange" students' pub.

The lead line "Come up and see me" was drawn from a Mae West film of 1933 - "She Done Him Wrong".  There are deeper, more meaningful songs with better-crafted lyrics but there was something very human and plaintive about the Cockney Rebel song. Apparently it was engendered late one night as Steve Harley reflected on the bitter break up of his original band

Even after forty three years "Come Up and See Me" still reverberates in my head and takes me back to that concrete university campus by Airthrey Lake in the shadows of Dumyat and The Ochil Hills. I am in touch with very few of the people I knew back then though some were truly loved...
There's nothing left, all gone and run away
Maybe you'll tarry for a while
It's just a test, a game for us to play
Win or lose, it's hard to smile
Resist, resist, it's from yourself you have to hide
Come up and see me, make me smile
Or do what you want, run on wild
Are there any particular songs that mark key times in your youth?

10 August 2018


Here in Great Britain there is a prominent right wing politician called Boris Johnson. Until very recently, his mop-haired buffoon was our foreign secretary - but he resigned - ostensibly in relation to the way our nation's "exit" from the European Union is going.

As a boy, Johnson went to exclusive Eton School - beloved of the wealthy and the noble - before proceeding to Oxford University. Johnson loves the sound of his own voice and seems to enjoy stirring up controversy. Many political commentators believe that all his bluster is merely a thin disguise for his burning ambition to become this country's prime minister.

Currently, he is in the middle of an on-going debate about the way in which a  small proportion of Muslim women dress. In a recent speech, he compared women who wear burqas and other forms of face-concealing headwear to letter boxes or bank robbers. He said such concealing garments are "ridiculous" and that he could find no scriptural justification for them in The Quran.
In several European countries - including Denmark, Belgium and France - the burqa is now banned and in bringing the topic up Johnson was tuning in to widespread public distaste about what many see as alien forms of dress that have no place in the free world.

I find myself quite conflicted about burqas, niqabs and even hajibs. As a lifelong atheist I am suspicious of all religious belief and the often medieval practices that may accompany such belief. I am also a proud feminist and hate to see any oppression of women. Women are men's equals and I feel that they should walk our streets as equals, proudly showing their faces, not veiled from public view.

Another thing I think about the burqa is this - are the women who choose to hide their faces able to explain this choice, living as they do within a liberal western democracy?  I suspect that the choice is often a self-indulgence, approved by menfolk and driven by social expectations rather than well-considered religious philosophy.

I am a pretty tolerant fellow but toleration must surely have some limits. Should we tolerate anything and everything? As I say, I feel quite conflicted about the burqa issue. What do you think?

9 August 2018


My beloved wife woke me early this morning, yelling up the stairs - "It's gone! It's gone!"

Emerging from another dream about fairies dancing in a woodland clearing, I yelled back, "What? What's gone?"

"It's the Maserati!"

I raced  downstairs and sure enough Fabio - the banana-coloured Maserati I bought straight after my big lottery win was not where I had parked him yesterday afternoon. There was just an empty space.

We phoned Woodseats police and a couple of hours ago a panda car arrived containing P.C. Gray and P.C.Barlow - who is a woman constable still in training I believe. There were many questions to answer and papers to sign but in the end P.C. Gray confessed in his lilting Welsh accent, "You haven't much chance of getting it back. It'll probably be on a shipping container already. Heading for China or some such place." Great!

After the cops had gone, Shirley and I had a heated debate about the lottery money. To tell you the truth, it has disturbed our equilibrium. It is often said that money cannot buy you happiness and that money is the root of all evil. Well, I am beginning to concur with these sentiments. I am sick of it. We were happier before all this dosh was transferred to our bank account.

There's so much of it that the total figure is growing day by day. I could easily buy another Maserati to replace Fabio but how could I sleep at night? Instead of fairies in a woodland clearing I would be imagining hideously ugly car thieves in balaclavas, circling like vultures.

For the time-being we will stick with Clint plus Shirley's little grey car - Bonnie. By the way, Bonnie received a nasty scratch in the health centre car park on Tuesday afternoon and the careless perpetrator didn't even report it - just drove off. Damnable! 

As for the lottery money, we will just have to think some more about it.

This blogpost was written in memory of Fabio. He did not stay long but he was my friend.

8 August 2018


Kirkmaiden Church before being "blessed"
One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can more or less write about anything you want to. Today, I shall approach a subject that is almost taboo - bottom wiping. Yes - bottom wiping. And having uttered that term I can already see blog visitors from across the world clicking away and grumbling, "That's the last time I visit Yorkshire Pudding!"  So be it.

When Shirley and I were at Monreith  in south west Scotland just last month, she opted to sit on the beach one afternoon reading her novel while I went off to find a church that I had spotted on my map. It's called Kirkmaiden Church and it is no longer in use. Built into the cliffside amidst woods, it overlooks Front Bay in sight of The Mull of Galloway.

Along the beach then up into the woods and there it was with its magnifient red sandstone doorway. Adjacent to it there was the ruin of a much older church but I had a problem. A personal problem and it was becoming quite urgent. I needed to defecate. There was no time to get back to the car park where Clint was parked. I remembered there was a blue council porta-loo there.

No. This business needed  to be settled and settled quickly or the consequences would be dire. I'd be walking back to her ladyship like a waddling duck, smelling like a Danish pig farmer. Action was vital but I had no toilet paper on me. I grabbed a couple of handfuls of dried summer grasses from the recently mown churchyard and headed for a shady corner.

There relief was duly obtained. I shall not go in to the fine details of this evacuation but the dried grasses were successfully utilised and a measure of rear cleanliness was achieved. Fortunately there were no thistles or creepy crawlies in the dried vegetation I had requisitioned for this intimate occasion.
Doorway at Kirkmaiden Church
Back on the beach I washed my hands in the sea and built another tower of beach cobbles. I got to thinking about toilet paper and what people did before it was manufactured. Mass production of toilet paper in the western world did not begin until 1857 though wealthy Chinese families had been using paper to wipe their bottoms for many centuries before that.

It was common in the Roman world to use sponges on sticks (tersorium) that were kept in vinegar containers. And in India today, the majority of  people in both country or city simply use their hands with water. Imagine rural scenes in India if every Indian peasant used toilet paper after squatting in the fields. After a few weeks it would look as if the country had been hit by a massive snowstorm.
Izal toilet paper was non-absorbent
Used widely in English schools in
the 50's and 60's

Historically, in England, what you used to wipe your bottom often depended on your location and social status. You might use seaweed, sheep's wool, dried leaves, pebbles, sea shells, dock leaves, fur or yes - like me at Kirkmaiden - handfuls of dried grasses. Incidentally, those ancient methods were surely more kind to our environment. We take toilet paper for granted these days but it hasn't always been with us. 

My grandmother ran away with with my step grandfather in the 1930's. They ended up living in humble social housing in Newcastle with a lavatory in their yard. As a boy I was always  delighted to see newspaper squares on a nail in there. You could read before putting these squares to a more basic use.

Have you got any bottom wiping tales or information you would like to share dear reader? Don't be shy.
Xylospongium (Greek) or tersorium (Roman) - Replica

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