11 December 2019


Mostly, I like to walk in the countryside. But just occasionally it is nice to go urban walking. As in the countryside you never know what you might encounter in a city.  Over the years, as revealed in the dusty cobwebbed annals of this ancient blog, I have shown visitors lots of images of England's steel city - Sheffield.
There's a general election on Thursday. I heartily concur with this message.
On Sunday, I went plodding in the heart of this ever-changing city with so much safety gear I might have crippled myself. Wilhelm the St Bernard kept barking at the traffic as rough brandy swilled around in the little barrel under his chin.

I walked beside The River Don - up to Blonk Street Bridge - I wanted to photograph the confluence of The Don and The Sheaf. As it happens, I was facing bright sunlight so my confluence pictures did not work out too well but you can see how the Sheaf emerges from a culvert close to the bridge. I could hear the sound of water rushing over a weir within the culvert which is half a mile long.
Sheffield became a steel city largely because of its little rivers. Firstly they powered small cottage industries and forges. Scythes were sharpened and iron was smelted, then steel and later stainless steel. In fact, this is where stainless steel was invented and first produced. Sheffield cutlery could be found in every corner of the largest empire the world has ever known - The British Empire. Through the nineteenth century, Sheffield's steel industry became enormous and the Lower Don Valley led the world in a range of such dirty, brutal and ingenious metal-related businesses.

More pictures. The next (Reedesque) one is specially for Mrs J.Barlow in Florence S.C..
Paradise Street corner looking to the old central fire station:-
On Bank Street with a reflection:-
I noticed carved figures on the facade of a building in Fitzalan Square - celebrating some of the city's traditional metal working skills:-
And that was that. Clint carried me home to prepare our Sunday roast dinner as Shirley visited the Christmas market at Sharrow Vale with an old friend. Though I say it myself, my roasted potatoes have finally reached a state of culinary excellence - crispy, bronzed and rosemary flavoured. Much depends on the potato variety you select. Eat your heart out Jamie Oliver!

10 December 2019


Around two hundred people gathered at the local crematorium to say farewell to the young man who took his own life on November 21st. It was a non-religious gathering led by a humanist celebrant.

There were images of the young man projected on to a screen. Images from a comfortable life in the suburbs surrounded by his family and friends. There he was smiling at us. And there were images from his short marriage to a young woman who was his girlfriend from the age of thirteen. Separation had occurred months before his final tragic act. Personally, I would not blame her at all. The self-destructive urges and blue thoughts were happening long before their break up.

His father and five known others carried the coffin into the building. His tearful older sister and younger brother read out suitable goodbye verses and there were two songs that the young man had requested in his final notes - "One More Light" by Linkin Park and "Chocolate" by The 1975 - along with another song - "Lifted" by The Lighthouse Family.

The sun shone brightly on the sharp December morning. A pair of rooks strutted on the cemetery lawn. Afterwards mourners made their way to a pub in Nether Edge where there was a buffet and drinks and conversation. 

The young man is already entering history. Months will pass and then years and some time in the far distance there will be days when his mother, father, brother, sister and estranged wife do not fall asleep at night or wake in the morning thinking about him and the space that he has left behind.

He was born under the sign of Taurus in Sydney, Australia in 1988.

9 December 2019


WD40 is one of the most magical products known to mankind. You can fix just about anything with WD40. Squeaky hinges? Try WD40. Nut and bolt seized up? No problem! Just squirt some WD40. Dandruff? Hair loss? Lawn mower problems?  Tar on your car's body work? Tap washer stuck? No matter what your issue is - WD40 can solve it.

Is there a home in the western world that does not possess a spraycan of WD40? Another splendid thing about WD40 is that the cans are everlasting. I have had my current can of WD40 since 1982. As I say - WD40 possesses magical qualities.

I was wondering. What is WD40 and who invented it?

Norman B. Larsen - the possible inventor
of WD40. I could find no images of Iver
Norman Lawson
It seems that it was invented in the early nineteen fifties in connection with the production and maintenance of Atlas rockets in San Diego, California. The letters "W.D." stand for "water displacement" and the number "40" suggests that the magical spray which went into commercial production was in fact  the 40th formula tested..

The inventor of  WD40 may have been Iver Norman Lawson but it  could have been Norman B. Larsen. There is a continuing dispute about who was responsible. The product was never properly patented.

Similarly, there is continuing disagreement about what WD40 actually contains. What are its ingredients? The American explanation is rather different from the European Union's analysis but both agree that a petroleum derivative makes up the bulk of the recipe.

Some critics of WD40 have suggested that because of its water displacement properties, WD40 is not a suitable alternative to oil. Sure - it will make moving parts operate more smoothly for a while but in the long run it will have a deleterious effect. However, I expect that all of these critics will have cans of WD40 at home. As most of us know from experience - WD40 is magic!

8 December 2019


Over at the geograph website, one of my photographs has just won "picture of the week" for Week 48. It was chosen from 2235 eligible images. This is the second time in 2019 that I have won "picture of the week" and I am as pleased as punch.

As you can see, my winning picture is of rock climbers in Derbyshire. They were tackling a tricky climb on Froggatt Edge. The sunlight was co-operative that day as I rambled by without a mobile phone or any emergency gear whatsoever - mad fool that I am.

Very soon I am  going into the city centre to walk by The River Don. I want to photograph the point where the subterranean River Sheaf enters the Don by Blonk Street Bridge. This time I will be taking all necessary survival aids - including rope, sleeping bag, tent, a medical kit, snow shoes, a compass, a GPS beacon, food for three days, a gallon of water, a St Bernard dog, a canoe and a mountain rescue team in a Land Rover.. 

I have told Shirley that if I am not back home by nightfall to send out helicopters and a police search team. After all, walking is a dangerous activity - probably far more dangerous than the pastime illustrated in my winning picture. You can never be too careful can you?

7 December 2019


There's a nice fellow who lives across the road from us. He is also into country walking. He's two or three years older than me and his name is Alan. He's a widower.

Yesterday I rode into the city centre with Alan on a number 82 bus. We compared recent walking experiences and reflected on our favourite pastime.

The conversation confirmed what I already surmised about him. His experience of walking and indeed his attitude to rambling is in several ways radically different from mine.

For example, whereas I prefer solitary walking with no one to please but myself, Alan never walks alone. He plods along with a walking group or a couple of friends. I think he finds the very  idea of solo walking rather odd.

Here's another difference. Alan always has a haversack on his back when walking in the country. Amongst other things it always contains a whistle, a torch, a flask of hot tea, sandwiches, Kendal mintcake, fruit and possibly a raincoat - just in case. He also uses walking poles. In contrast I prefer to travel light - with no bag - just my camera and a map sheet. This changes if I am going on a particularly long walk or if it is an unusually hot or cold day. Then I might take a bottle of water, an apple and a banana, maybe a woolly hat in wintertime.

On the bus I said to Alan, "You are a sensible walker but I am foolhardy!" He seemed shocked to learn of my devil-may-care casualness and didn't appear to get it when I pointed out that our local walking territory was not  The Himalayas or The Sahara Desert. 

He was further shocked when I told him that I have never owned a mobile phone. To him it is an essential aid when rambling in The Peak District with his companions. He can use it like a beacon to alert emergency services or he can use it as a tracking device - mapping his walks. I said I didn't need that kind of thing and that I had walked hundreds of miles without such a gadget.

Dismounting at the same bus stop in the city centre, I suspect that Alan strolled away shaking his head about the carefree lunatic he had just travelled with. We are not the same but I wonder if for one fragment of a moment did he wonder about my carefree attitude to walking? If we were rock climbers I would be into free climbing while he would have a helmet, safety ropes, carabinas, a support team and no chance whatsoever of falling.

That is not to say that I am right and Alan is wrong but doing it his way would not sit well with me. No it would not sit well at all. What kind of life is it if you are forever battening down the hatches just in case danger calls? 

5 December 2019


The River Porter (Porter Brook) approaching Forge Dam

I wrote a poem today - about a little river that I know well. It begins its journey in the spongy sphagnum moss and peaty terrain of Ringinglow Moor before spilling into steep-sided Porter Clough.

Then it heads past Forge Dam Cafe - once a working forge - before flowing through ancient woods to Endcliffe Park. That is surely Sheffield's most loved park and every Easter there is a plastic duck race there for charity - along The Porter Brook.

Every Wednesday when I walk to work at the Oxfam shop, I look over the park railings to observe the Porter before it flows into a Victorian tunnel under Ecclesall Road. Though its journey is quite short it has never dried up these forty summers past.

With two miles to go until it joins forces with The River Sheaf my little river passes along arrow straight high-walled sections and through dark and slimy culverts. It would be possible to walk it in wading boots though I have never done that.

The two rivers meet beneath Sheffield Midland Railway Station - hidden from view - before they continue - soon meeting the much larger River Don by Blonk Street Bridge.

Porter Brook

Sucking  sphagnum
On Ringinglow moortop
Along hidden capillaries
Water  slowly syphoned
Leeching  hummocks
Where ovines graze
And red grouse cackle.

Puddling  now
At yon  clough top
Under stone arches swelling
Over rock steps tumbling
Surging down the valley’s “V”
Incised through ancient history
Drawn onward to a distant sea

Past old Forge Dam
Burbling into suburbia
Where mill wheels spun
Grinding knife and scythe
Under mighty beech and lime
Then  scurrying into shadows dark
Cast by trees in Endcliffe Park.

Deeper into the city
Subterraneously contained
In stygian culverts, under roads
That brook of hidden secrets flows
Approaching engine grumble grows
At Platform 5 - while  yards beneath
Is where The Porter meets The Sheaf.

4 December 2019


North Lees Hall (1594)
November was a dreadful month up here in the north of England. Grey rain drummed down from charcoal coloured skies as brown rivers overflowed. We were trapped inside like November's prisoners though we were innocent of any crime.

In contrast, the first four days of December have been gaudy and bright. We have been  drawn out of our houses by sharp sunshine and a whole box of colours. As I look out of my window right now, the sky is the colour of blue sapphires, reaching up above the houses with not a cloud in sight.
Stanage Edge and a wall... See how the bracken has turned brown
Yesterday, I walked again. Not far away. West of Stanage Edge. A very familiar walk. I was mostly doing it for the exercise and simply just to be outside in the light. You never know - as December progresses the gloom may well return. No matter what the weather, it will be particularly gloomy on the twelfth if  Conniving, Lying, Ugly, Brow-Beating, Dodging, Twisting, Insulting, Narcissistic Johnson wins the election with his motley crew of like-minded twerps and sycophants.
Overstones Farm
Who could vote for that over-privileged mob? It makes my blood boil. I would rather have L.B.Johnson than B.S.Johnson and the first one is long dead I know.

Calm down Yorkshire Pudding! Calm Down Lad! You'll have a seizure if you are not careful.
Another view of North Lees Hall
And so let me illustrate this blogpost with soothing images of yesterday when "all my troubles seemed so far away". I took several pictures of North Lees Hall which Charlotte Bronte visited with another clergyman's daughter in the 1840's. It is said that it then became the model for Thornfield Hall in her most famous novel - "Jane Eyre".

By the way, that was not Charlotte Bronte on the horse.
Horsey Lady on Sheepwash Lane

3 December 2019


Normally I walk alone. I'm referring to country rambles. I plod at my own pace with my own thoughts, alert to the world around me - without distraction. There are no discussions, no pauses to agree the way forward.

However, on Sunday morning I walked with my old friend Tony. He had driven over from The East Riding of Yorkshire to ramble in sunshine on the first day of December. We headed to Bradfield - to the north west of Sheffield where farmland meets moorland. Surprisingly, he had never been there before so it was a delight to introduce him to this lovely corner of The Peak District.
St Nicholas's Church, High Bradfield
We left Clint by the cricket ground in Low Bradfield and set off towards Agden Reservoir. Five miles later we were back in the lower village ordering hot teas and snacks in the small post office-cum-cafe before driving back into the city.

It had been a delightful walk and there was  conversation too - some of it about Tony's forthcoming marriage. It's his second marriage and early in the new year I will be his best man for the second time. 
I have known that fellow for forty years. There is no pretence nor point scoring in our fellowship. It's all so easy and so comfortable. We have shared secrets with each other that we have never shared with any other person.

Sometimes it's good to walk with someone else.

2 December 2019


Just up the road from us there's a former community pub that has now reinvented itself as an upmarket bar restaurant. It has retained the original name - "The Prince of Wales" but is very different from how it used to be.

Since the conversion - around five years ago - I have avoided visiting this hostelry. It was as if the developers had stolen away one of our local pubs without even asking if that would be okay.

However, on Friday I had to step over the pub's threshold once again. The visit was obligatory because Shirley and I had been invited to a special birthday celebration in "The Prince of Wales". The birthday girl was the mother of the young man who recently killed himself so inevitably  the evening had the character of a wake. We were saying goodbye to him.

We arrived at 6pm and left at 11.30pm. The next day I felt awful. It was the first hangover I have had in many years and I did not like it. It reminded me of my student days when I frequently drank like a fish and woke up feeling like a dog.

Costwise, this evening of over-indulgence would have been bad enough if it happened in an ordinary pub but in "The Prince of Wales" it was almost ridiculous.

Early in the evening, Shirley sent me to the bar to buy a bottle of wine. As I was waiting to be served I spotted a bottle of New Zealand savignon blanc in the glass fronted cold cupboard behind the bar.

I said to the young barman that I would have it and he he keyed it in on the till before looking up at me and saying, "That will be £42!" £42? £42! £42 is currently $54US or $80AUS. Though shocked to the core, I regathered my composure and ended the transaction asking what other bottles of sauvignon blanc were available. I ended up paying half the price for a similar bottle which was still exorbitant but not capable of causing very sudden heart failure.

I looked around the rest of the clientelle. They were so different from ordinary pubgoers. They smelled of affluence. Their clothes had the look of money and style just like the women's hair-dos and the men's wristwatches. Out in the car park there were Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar cars. Clint would not have fitted in so it was fortunate that we had walked up to "The Prince".

If I never go in that establishment again I will be very happy. Nonetheless, when all is said and done, we were there on Friday night to support a couple we have known for over thirty years in a time of  enormous grief and desolation. I guess that in the great scheme of things it did not really matter that the wine cost £42 a bottle for that was  merely another feature of the pain that coloured the night.

1 December 2019


On Friday, I walked along two edges - Curbar Edge and Froggatt Edge. They are millstone grit escarpments that overlook the valley of The River Derwent - a twelve minute drive from Pudding Palace.
Above you can see two photographers standing on a rocky outcrop. They are probably talking about photographic techniques or possibly the meaning of life. Behind them - on the horizon - there's the telecommunications mast that sits on Sir William Hill above Grindleford.

Below you can see part of the Bronze Age stone circle on Froggatt Edge. It is around four thousand years old and though not as imposing nor as important as Stonehenge would once have been, it still speaks powerfully of past times and of the people who populated these islands long ago.
All of the millstone edges near Sheffield are popular with the rock climbing fraternity. It is not a pastime that has ever appealed to me personally though it is easy to admire the courage, patience and sheer ability shown by the sport's adherents. They cling like insects to rock faces, raising themselves upward - reliant upon personal strengths - both mental and physical. This young man was on Curbar Edge with his bare-footed companion above - holding the safety rope.

Above, a finger-like outcrop points the way to infinity and beyond and below the two photographers are continuing their wide-ranging discussion. The agenda has moved on to Brexit now so a tandem leap from the edge is anticipated at any moment..."Geronimo!"

29 November 2019


I got round to reading "How To Live Vegan". It was written by the so-called Bosh! Boys - my son Ian and his friend Henry Firth. They wrote it at the behest of their publisher - Harper Collins who realised that there was a place for such a lifestyle manual in a changing world where more and more people are considering moving to plant-based diets - recognising the huge detrimental impact that meat dairy and egg consumption are having upon our planet.

But please don't think that "How To Live Vegan" is preachy, adding to climate crisis tales of gloom and doom. No way. It is an upbeat, friendly and honest guide to adopting a vegan lifestyle in this modern world. It is easy to read and practical too.

It considers such matters as the clothes we wear, cosmetics, eating out, dealing with cynics and sceptics, shopping in supermarkets, travel, meal planning and best practice in the kitchen. The underlying messages are that it is good to be alive, it's good to aspire to live better lives and it's good to adopt a plant-based diet.

From the word go - Ian has always said that the number one reason he turned vegan was through watching the 2014 documentary "Cowspiracy" by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. This film is referred to in "How To Live Vegan" and so just the other night I finally watched it. It is available in Netflix but here's a YouTube link to the official trailer.

I had imagined that "Cowspiracy" would be about intensive farming methods and mistreatment of farm animals but it wasn't that at all. It was about the massive harm that animal industries are doing to our planet and how the startling connected statistics have so often been  swept conveniently under political carpets in a weird conspiracy of silence.

"How To Live Vegan" contains three hundred pages of positive, straightforward assistance. It tells us that it is okay to approach veganism in the way that best suits you and that no one can be 100% vegan. There will be slip-ups and contradictions along the way. Ian and Henry twice refer to the British Vegan Society's definition of veganism:-

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is 
possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty 
to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

The emphasis is upon the terms "possible" and "practicable" -  riders sensibly embraced in this handbook.

The third Bosh! recipe book - "Bosh! Healthy Vegan" will be available in Britain from Boxing Day and in the USA on January 28th.

28 November 2019


Camping by Lake Constance in Friedrichshafen, southern Germany in July 1997

In the summer of 97, we left The French Alps and headed north arriving in the Burgundy region of France on August 12th. By then we were very adept at erecting our frame tent and arranging its interior for sleep and temporary living. It was all about teamwork. Surrounded by vineyards, we set up camp on a small, peaceful site just outside the historic city of Beaune.

That night I was feeling quite bad about our son Ian because his thirteenth birthday was the very next day. There would be no party or fun time with friends. Instead he was miles from anywhere in the heart of France with his family.

We had one or two small gifts to give him but when Shirley retired to our sleeping compartment for the night, I resolved to stay up with several pieces of A4 paper and a felt tipped pen. By the light from our gas lamp, I created a special birthday greeting that I affixed to an old washing line just outside the tent doorway.

And this is what our darling boy saw when he arose from his slumbers as a teenager twenty two years ago:-
And along with the previous two posts, that my friends is pretty much all I remember about our European road trip in 97. Many details have evaporated completely. For example, I have no memory whatsoever of any of the campsite shower and toilet blocks that I must have visited. And no memory of what we cooked or ate or where we went shopping but bizarrely I can remember a praying mantis on the spindly tree just behind Ian in the picture above. We watched this curious creature for several minutes. Yes he or she has remained with me when so many other memories and images have,  it seems, disappeared for good.
European mantis

27 November 2019


It was in October 2010 that I first noticed this strange fungi growing on our rather mossy lawn. I blogged about it here. Until that autumn I had never been aware of Earthtongue before. If you wish to know more about it you can visit Wikipedia. Go here.
Earthtongues really do look like weird black tongues emerging from the earth. They are well-named. It occurred to me that there might be old folktales linked to this odd fungi - legends or myths but unfortunately nothing surfaced during my research. Consequently, I have made up my own folktale.

"Grandfather, where did the name 'Earthtongue' come from?"

"Sit here upon my knee bonny lass and I will tell thee...

"It was long ago in the time of wolves. On the edge of the great forest that was later to be known as Sherwood, there dwelt a wizened old woman. In the nearby village, she was simply known as The Witch. Her eyes were bloodshot, her fingers as spindly as winter  twigs and just like a polar bear - her tongue was  black.

Her only companions were the birds of the forest and the badgers that lived in the clearing close to her hovel. These creatures were not afraid of her. She sang melodically to them and earned their trust for she was not really a witch after all. She was a widow entering her ninetieth year with tender memories of times long past.

And it was in that summer, because of inclement weather, voracious pests and a very harsh  late frost that crops failed. No oats nor barley. No apples nor plums upon the trees. No hazelnuts in the forest. No root vegetables. No juicy brambles growing on the briars. No turnips to feed the hogs nor seed for the hens.

The people in the village were hungry for they lived from hand to mouth. In their desperation and growing alarm, they sought something or someone to blame. Two children had already starved to death. 

Revenge began as a whisper - like a voice upon the wind. Then the whisper became a gabbling - like the geese by the village pond. Then one dark November night as thunder rumbled over those foreboding hills to the west, the gabbling became an angry chorus. It was The Witch! The Witch was to blame! She had cursed them all and cursed their land and now she must pay!

They gathered by the village stocks with pitchforks and burning torches. It was a mob of vengeance and as one they moved over common land to the forest's edge.

Meantime, the old woman lay sleeping on her cot, no doubt dreaming of those times long past. The village folk were almost at the brook when their approaching voices stirred her. They were chanting "Kill The Witch! Kill The Witch!" She was sore afraid.

And then they were there at her doorway. No words were spoken. They pulled the animal skins from her cot and grabbed her thin arms, dragging her roughly outside into the darkness under a stormy sky. There was nothing she could say.

They attacked like wolves and when the killing was done they tossed her aged body in the cesspit behind the hovel and threw dirt and fallen leaves upon her.

"Hide her black tongue!" yelled the blacksmith's son as amber torch flames threw the villagers' silhouettes upon mighty oak trunks.

Then they went away. Back to the village. The purging was over and The Witch was no more. She would rot in the bowels of The Earth. Forever.

The following spring as a kindly stranger walked through the forest on his way to the distant hills, he passed by the site of the old woman's hovel. It was little more than a charred shell now. Wrens and bluetits darted between the fallen rafters as a dove cooed from the new green canopy above.

Something caught the kindly stranger's eye, amidst the dead leaf litter behind the ruined cottage. It was like a small black tongue emerging from the ground. He had never seen anything like it before. He knelt to observe it more closely and said to himself, "It is like the tongue of the earth and I shall hereafter call it Earthtongue".

And as the kindly stranger stepped out of the forest into the light he thought he heard a woman behind him singing to the birds. A voice so sweet and pure that it filled his eyes with tears."

26 November 2019


Ian and Frances in the "etang" near Bitche in the Moselle region of France
Part Two

Waking in our tent in Friedrichshafen that Saturday morning in the summer of 1997, I was anxious about getting the car fixed and moving on with our holiday. It did not help that I could hardly speak a word of German. By eight thirty I had arrived at the Ford dealership on the edge of town - with a swish modern showroom up front and a service section behind.

Fortunately, they were open for business. I spoke to a glamour model at the main reception desk and explained my issue. She phoned the service section and after a couple of minutes a gentleman in neat grey overalls arrived. There was a "Ford" logo on his chest.

He lifted the bonnet, poked around with his screwdriver and concluded that a fuse had blown. That was why the fan had stopped working. He scurried off to find the right fuse and then announced that the problem was fixed. Back at the reception desk the efficient mechanic and the glamour model exchanged words in German before I asked them how much money I owed them.

"Nothing," she said. "Enjoy the rest of  your holiday!"

I shook hands with the mechanic, thanking him profusely and then headed back to our lakeside campsite with the good news. The kindness I experienced that Saturday morning far from home has stayed in my memory ever since.

The following morning - a Sunday - we set off on a long drive through The Alps, taking in a little of Austria before  driving through Liechtenstein and onward through Switzerland to the Italian border. It was a beautiful drive through snow capped mountains and high plateaus

We descended on the Italian side feeling tired and hungry. We pulled into a little mountain town - possibly Mandesimo. After parking the car, with its small trailer, Ian and I went off in search of food. We found a popular pizza shop where we queued with locals and returned to Shirley and Frances with a kilo of freshly baked pizza cut into squares and presented in a simple brown cardboard box. It was utterly delicious and so welcome.

And then we carried on down the hills. Ahead mist hung in a faraway valley. It marked the location of Lake Como where we camped for three nights before moving on to Pavia just south of Milan. And then it was on through tunnels and over lofty viaducts towards Genoa where the blue-green Mediterranean came into view.

Down the coast we at last came to Diano Marina - the Italian seaside resort I had randomly selected as our southern destination. The camp was busy with holidaymakers from Milan, Turin and southern Germany. Pitches were close together and there was little room left  for vehicles. It was a good job we had made a reservation weeks beforehand.

There were ice creams and sea swimming and evening promenades before we packed up once again and headed back inland to Turin then on through the mountains to a beautiful Alpine campsite on the French side of the border. It was dark by the time the tent was erected and as Shirley made our evening meal on the camping stove, I fell asleep on the soft grass with a zillion silver stars above me.
1997 rest stop in The Alps between Italy and France

25 November 2019


Part One

It was the summer of 1997. I had bought a small camping trailer from some friends. Linked to this, I had had a tow bar fitted on our silver Ford Escort.

We planned  a road trip through the heart of Europe down to The Mediterranean without the assistance of the internet which was very much in its infancy. Ian would have been twelve years old and Frances would have been nine and of course Shirley and I were younger too.

In mid-July I had the car fully serviced for we were about to set off on a 3000 mile journey. Some of the camp sites were pre-booked and I had acquired maps and other useful information.The camping trailer was packed - including the big frame tent we had just bought.

We set off very early one morning bound for Folkestone. The Channel Tunnel had finally been opened the year before and this was the first time we had used it. I manoeuvered the Ford with its little trailer on to the flat bed of a train and we were transported for twenty five miles under the English Channel, emerging in France half an hour later.

Then we headed to southern Belgium, arriving in the early evening and successfully setting up camp on a wooded site near Spa where the Belgian F1 Grand Prix race is held each year. 

After two Belgian nights we were on the road again heading through Luxembourg and back into France. We camped for three nights near Bitche in the Moselle region. The campsite was right next to an "etang" or an inland lake  I remember swimming in there with the children  though the water was muddied and you wondered where you were putting your feet. There could have been water snakes or alligators or bottom feeding sharks! 

After packing up the camping trailer once more, we set off for Strasbourg before heading east into Gemany. It was as we were crossing the border that I noticed the temperature gauge rising on the car's dashboard. I am not referring to the summer weather but to the car's radiator. I pulled over and after a few minutes carefully unscrewed  the radiator cap. Steam was emitted as if from an Icelandic geyser. 

A kind German man in a Porsche stopped to see if he could help and though he hardly spoke a word of English, he managed to communicate that there was a problem with the fan and that I should drive south without replacing the radiator cap. 

We headed along fast roads towards Lake Constance or Konstanz which straddles Germany's border with Switzerland. As we drove along there was no problem with the water temperature - with cooling air swishing into the engine compartment but when we hit slow traffic in Friedrichshafen the gauge began to rise alarmingly again.

I saw a sign for lakeside camping and headed there immediately. It was a Friday evening and as we set up our tent once again I was very anxious about how we would get the car fixed. We went to the camp's bar-restaurant where a helpful barmaid who spoke reasonable English found me the address of the town's main Ford dealership but it was too late to go there for help that night. I would try in the morning.
 To be continued

24 November 2019


To be honest, I couldn't think of anything to blog about today so I am just sharing more images from my ramble in Staffordshire last Monday. At the top you can see the barn where I conducted some (cough-cough) private business before falling down in the field that is next to the lane you can see to the right of the barn. I wasn't Batman, Superman or even Bananaman - I was Mudman.

The second picture is of the moorland road that leads to the village of Warslow while the third photograph, in fading light, shows a bird surveying its domain. Having magnified that image I believe it was a bird of prey though it might have been a corvid.

The fourth picture shows a cow on the edge of Revidge Moor  with a view across The Manifold Valley to Derbyshire. As some readers may recall, I am forever being observed by cattle. It can be quite unnerving.

The pictures below show firstly a young sheep called Paris after Paris Hilton the American media personality, businesswoman, socialite, model, singer, actress, fashion designer and DJ. When questioned about the name choice, the sheep farmer, an old man called McDonald, simply said, "They look the same".

Below Paris you can see The Meike Riley Tumbledown Farm Building. It was specially created for the well-known Ludwigsburg blogger who often visits this blog because she is attracted to old ruins like me. It is located close to a farm called Cuckoostones - which is true. I rather like that name.

The last picture is of a horse and rider at Oxbatch - riding down the quiet moorland lane to Folly Farm. Beyond you can see another view of The Manifold Valley.

And so that is that. I haven't been able to get out for another long walk in the intervening days but my boots are now dried out...ready once more. When the time is right and good light is promised, I will be out there again, tramping along.

23 November 2019


We can put men on the moon, create passenger jets that whizz around the world. We can develop television and mobile phone networks. We can make The Internet and we can invent penicillin and microwaves and hovercrafts and huge combine harvesters. We can make tunnels under The English Channel and we can build New York City. We can make films like "Star Wars" and "Toy Story". We can write and print thousands of books each year. We can build submarines and atomic bombs and pizzas. We can take all of the fish out of the seas and destroy The Amazon rainforest. We can undertake heart transplants. We can put 1.2 billion motor vehicles on the world's roads and even invent self-driving cars. We can mine the planet's minerals and build massive oil tankers and huge passenger liners and superyachts but in spite of all of this it seems...

We can't oblige all food manufacturers to use packaging that is easy to recycle and we cannot stamp out unwanted phone calls from ruthless scammers and we cannot bring an end to homelessness. We cannot stop African babies dying from diarrhoea and we can't ensure that our elderly people are looked after and cared for by right - regardless of how much money they have in the bank.

Go figure.

22 November 2019


I woke to shocking news.

A young man had taken his own life. He was 31. We had known him since he was two years old. 

He once lived just across the street from us with his parents, his older sister and his younger brother.

Many times he played in our garden and came to birthday parties. He was just a few months older than our Frances.

He didn't find much success at school and ended up working in our local Co-operative supermarket. If I saw him down there we would invariably have a little chat.

There was always an aura of sadness about him. It was as if he was living a life that he didn't really want - a life that would hardly do. He also had Type 1 Diabetes.

Four years ago he got married with small celebration. I was pleased that he had found someone to love him and maybe his new wife would help him to build a happy, worthwhile life. Sadly, it didn't work out. Unemployed and unhappy he ended up back at his parents' house. He was always troubled somehow.

His parents are lovely people - kind, generous and understanding - always proud of their three children. They supported him, cared for him - even when he played computer games all night long and got up after midday. They cancelled holidays and stayed home, concerned about what might happen to him. He had threatened suicide before. They had paid for counselling services and he was often at his local health centre.

But yesterday it happened. The little blonde haired boy who played in our garden has gone away. The troubles and the pain that he found in this life have suddenly evaporated. His parents will be distraught, almost broken in two. Shirley is round at their house now, listening, giving comfort. It was a hanging but I don't know the full details of his death. That doesn't matter too much. He has gone and he is never coming back.

As with any suicide, you wonder what might have been done to avoid the taking of that terrible path. You wonder where it all went wrong and you recall that at times like these people will often say - he is at peace now.

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