31 January 2019


Yesterday morning, as I vegged out on the sofa with this laptop on my lap, I looked up to see that sunlight was illuminating the mantelpiece. In a small way, I thought that it was quite beautiful. 

I took up my camera to capture the domestic tableau. There's Pinocchio in the centre. He once resided in my mother's glass display cabinet. She kept many interesting things in there. I have known that particular Pinocchio all my life.  Mum probably bought him a couple of years before I was born. He was most likely a bargain buy.

He is a clockwork figure and I can recall him being wound up and walking along table tops with his head nodding. He is associated with the animated Disney film of 1940. Unfortunately, he cannot walk now - like most old people he is rusted up inside

In the late 1940's similar clockwork Pinocchio figures were manufactured but as far as I can determine they were simpler and cruder than our Pinocchio who was most probably produced by Les Jouets Creations (Paris) in 1950. I have seen an identical figure on e-bay with an asking price of £300.

Of course Pinocchio had a big problem with his nose. Whenever he lied, it would grow a little bit longer.  Given her Brexit skulduggery, if Britain's  current prime minister had a similar personal problem she might now have an entire flock of birds roosting on her olfactory appendage.

30 January 2019


St Mary's Church, Greasley
On Monday I visited "The Country of my Heart". Not the country of my own heart but the home territory of the Nottinghamshire writer David Herbert Lawrence or D.H.Lawrence as he is better known. He was born in a small coal mining town called Eastwood in 1885 and died in Vence, France in 1930, a long way from "The Country of My Heart". These days it is administered by  Broxtowe Borough Council to the west of the city of Nottingham.

This landscape, close to Eastwood, was the playground of Lawrence's youth and it coloured many of his early writings including "The Rainbow", "Sons and Lovers", "Women in Love", "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and the early short stories. Often he changed place names but the places themselves are often only thinly disguised.

I was in the area for another long circular walk. Clint had his handbrake yanked near the ruins of Beauvale Priory. "Ouch!" he protested but he was happy to spend a few hours dozing in January sunshine as his master plodded along a pre-planned route, determined not to get lost nor to plunge suddenly into a badgers' sett!
Beauvale Lodge and a small red car
View to Brooksbreasting Cottage
Four hours later, the circle was complete. I had seen many things - including the M1 motorway, the villages of Watnall, Greasley and Moorgreen, a sugar beet field, snowdrops in St Mary's churchyard, two unkempt ponies, a running hare, streams and woods and a memorial bench..."Forever In Our Hearts". 

Where Felley Mill once stood just north of Moorgreen Reservoir, I stopped to talk to a local man. He was aboard his silent mobility scooter with a front basket that held binoculars, dog treats, snacks and a bottle of "Lucozade". He was accompanied by two faithful Jack Russells. The rotund fellow had known the area since childhood and loved to see the comings and goings of birds and seasons. It was the "country" of his "heart" too but unlike D.H.Lawrence, he had never left it.

29 January 2019


Apparently, there are one hundred and fourteen types of kingfisher in the world. In England we have only one - the common kingfisher. They are small, speedy birds and notoriously difficult to photograph.

On Sunday, Shirley and I promenaded along the valley of The River Porter. Near Shepherd's Wheel there is a millpond that once powered the old water wheel. Tangled vegetation descends to the water's edge.

It was in this very pond that I snapped a grey heron back in April 2016 - go here.

Well on Sunday, Shirley spotted a flash of blue and orange in the sunshine on the opposite side of the pond. I took out my trusty bridge camera, resting my elbows on a metal pole and using the fullest zoom facility possible I managed to capture a few images of the kingfisher as he or she observed the pond before him/her.

You might say "Aw! What a cute bird!" but he was waiting there to kill. On a smaller scale, the creature's eyes and spear-like beak are as deadly as the grey heron's. Evolution has provided the kingfisher with characteristics that will assist the daily quest for survival.

These are not the best kingfisher pictures ever taken but given my relatively inexpensive Sony camera, I am happy enough with them. After all, I was probably twenty yards away from the bird.

28 January 2019


Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day. I heard a Polish survivor talking on the radio. She was only six years old when her mother was executed. That bleak day in 1943, the children were spared. This heart-rending radio story inspired my poem.
Blood in the Snow

They gathered by the wire
Breath rising in vaporous wreaths
As sheep before an abattoir.
It was a bitter morning.
She stood at the wooden door

Of Hütte acht, clutching a mousey blanket -
Trembling, wondering why
She could not catch her mother’s eye.

Just then guns crackled.
Crows rose from trees nearby
As wounded women began to cry
Though mercy was in short supply.
They crackled again
And all was still.

Years later she said
She "grew up that day".
The image
Never went away
Of blood in the snow.

27 January 2019


When I was a teacher, I prided myself on learning, remembering and using the names of every child I taught. In a normal academic year that would be around one hundred and fifty names. They would always be there on the tip of my tongue.

However, in everyday life, I am not so good with names. I remember faces but when it comes to names my memory can be like a colander. 

On many occasions I have been introduced to people and almost immediately I see their names disappearing from view like feathers upon a breeze. I have just been given the damned name and then it's gone. And I have long recognised this personal deficiency but no matter how hard I try the names blow away.

I was thinking about this last evening when Shirley and I nipped down to the local pub. There was a woman in there who we hadn't seen since 1992. She greeted me like a long lost friend, using my first name with assurance but for the life of me I could not remember what she was called.

When this kind of situation happens, it can be awkward to be truthful. You want to say something like "Who are you?" or "I am sorry. I cannot remember your name". Potentially, it might feel like a slight upon that person - as if to say - you made so little impression upon me that I have forgotten your name.

I am sure that you have known such moments too. You carry on conversing with the anonymous but familiar figure, using various devices to traverse the gaps where a first name would normally be inserted.

Our names matter. Somehow they define us just as the name "leopard" defines a particular member of the cat family. As John Proctor says to his inquisitors in "The Crucible": "How may I live without my name?"

And finally, here's another funny thing about the way one's memory works. Strolling back from the pub after guzzling down four pints of "Black Sheep" bitter, I suddenly remembered the woman's name. It was Mary! Mary! Damn! What a shame I hadn't remembered that earlier.

26 January 2019


This is Alex Honnold. He was born in 1985 and he is the only person who has ever free-climbed El Capitan in California's Yosemite National Park. Free-climbing means climbing without ropes or other safety devices. El Capitan is a massive wall of granite that rises some 3000 feet from the valley below. It is truly awesome.

Honnold's successful ascent of El Capitan happened on June 3rd 2017 and this breathtaking feat is tracked in a feature film called "Free Solo". I watched it on Friday afternoon.

At one point in this documentary film, Honnold's mother says that her late husband might well have been suffering from Asperger's syndrome all of his life though this was never diagnosed.

It seemed to me that in his single-mindedness, his disregard for his own safety and in his burning ambition to beat El Capitan, Alex Honnold may have inherited elements of his father's condition. He clearly found the business of nurturing warm human relationships very difficult.

If you will please excuse the pun, I found this film gripping. Honnold's incredibly testing ascent was filmed by climbing enthusiasts who Honnold knows well. They vividly captured his daredevil bravery as he pushed himself to the limits of his rock climbing ability and scorned the prospect of death.

Not for Alex Honnold the safety of home and the quest for a long comfortable life. He was out there on the rock, his chalked fingers stretching for unlikely handholds, He was really alive, reaching for something beyond himself, being true to himself.

It was a helluva watch.

25 January 2019


Weatherwise, it has been a pretty dull week up here in northern England. Not too unusual for mid-January. However, Wednesday was a crisp and wintry blue sky day. Before heading down to the Oxfam shop for my regular shift, I managed to squeeze in  an hour's walk around Stanage Edge. It's a five minute drive from our home. Of course I took my camera. 

Just past The Norfolk Arms at Ringinglow, the road rises higher still to open moorland. First Ringinglow Moor and then Burbage Moor. The scenery was dusted with snow and so was Stanage Edge and other higher ground in the area. I have seen this landscape in every season and every type of weather at different times of the day and night. It has become my homeland and on wintry Wednesday morning it was simply beautiful.

24 January 2019


Let me turn the clock back to September 1970. I have just switched secondary schools. Now I am at Beverley Grammar School in Beverley, East Yorkshire. I am there to pursue G.C.E. Advanced level courses in Art, English and Geography.

My Art teacher is Mr Doyle. There are just eight boys in the A level Art class and I am the only new boy. Mr Doyle sets us a task from an old A level practical paper. We have to design an original book cover for "Around the World in Eighty Days".

A hush of concentration and patient artistic endeavour fills the Art room. Mr Doyle lets us get on with things. At the end of the afternoon I have brought my idea to fruition. There's a globe spinning in space and there's a banner curling round it. See the top image.

I finish carefully writing the author's name at the bottom of the design and look at what I have done. I am quite proud of what I believe is the end result. One last blow of warm breath and there it is done. I take it up to Mr Doyle's desk feeling quite proud of myself.

Mr Doyle surveys my effort then looks up over the golden rim of his reading glasses and says to me, "That's an excellent rough draft Neil."

What the?

I go back to my work station and two days later I have produced this:-
That remembered moment has remained with me through the years... "an excellent rough draft Neil."

Thank you Mr Doyle.

23 January 2019


When Lord Pudding of The Nether Regions descended the stairs of his stately mansion yesterday morning, this was the sight that befell his gaze:-
For a moment, Lord Pudding wondered if some lout, yob or ragamuffin had malevolently pushed a fistful of litter through his chromium letterbox. 

As his lordship's faithful housekeeper was not on duty, he gathered up the offending material in order to inspect it. In the process, a lightning bolt of pain described a circle in his right knee. "Cripes!" he muttered under his breath.

Lord Pudding laid the material on the first treads of his grand staircase. Quite rapidly he was able to discern that each item of the rudely delivered advertising material had an identical twin. In other words, there was two of everything!

Two pamphlets from a cheap supermarket called "Farm Foods"! How terribly insulting to suggest that someone of Lord Pudding's status  might ever shop in such an establishment!

Two enormous leaflets from "Domino's Pizza". The lord was bemused. It is widely known that he despises pizza - once describing this particular fast food as "discs of cheap pastry with some random stuff smeared on top". He wondered to himself, "Who is this Domino fellow anyway? I shall give that bounder a ruddy good thrashing!"

Other duplicated items included a  leaflet from the online supermarket - "Ocado" which his grace has never graced with his custom, a leaflet promoting private "Care" visits in the home, a "Check-A-Trade" brochure promoting "trusted" tradesmen and a forty eight page magazine called "Wetherspoon News".

That last item puzzled Lord Pudding greatly. "Wetherspoons" is a big chain of pub-restaurants and yet the magazine appeared to be pushing a pro-Brexit political message. Then Lord Pudding remembered that he had seen the founder of "Wetherspoons" - Tim Martin on a late night political show banging the gong for Brexit. "He should stick to beer and burgers!" grumbled his lordship.

Lord Pudding gathered the various items up and limped outside to his blue recycling bin. All that paper! All that printing and energy for nothing! This damnable junk mail - it seemed rather like a physical version of the scam phone calls he was perpetually fielding. Lord Pudding of The Nether Regions wondered who he could charge for gathering up the various unwanted items, for tweaking his knee and for having to take the bloody stuff out to his recycling bin on a cold January morning.

"It's execrable!" he fumed over his porridge. "Odious! Despicable! And just plain wrong!"

Dimly, he remembered a line from an anti-war song recorded by  Peter, Paul and Mary back in 1962.. "When will they ever learn?"

22 January 2019


You have no doubt heard of Batman, Ironman, Superman, Bananaman and plenty of other superheroes - including Catwoman. But have you heard of Catman? No? Well, I can reveal that I am he! Or I will be from February 1st to the 11th.

I shall be heading to my brother's remote property in southern France to save the day with my super powers. Not really. I am going there to look after his cats. He will be heading to Morocco with his longtime girlfriend Susy for ten days and their usual cat feeders and cat sitters are unavailable. In desperation he asked me if I would step in and I agreed.

Shirley is unable to accompany me because of work commitments so I shall be there on my lonesome with a herd of cats.

The property is situated on a ridge, a couple of miles from the nearest village. You get there along a narrow lane called Chemin du Picou. It is virtually traffic-free but the postman drives along it every day in his little yellow van with "La Poste" emblazoned on the side in navy blue.

The closest villages are like little ghost towns. There are no bars or even boulangeries. However, just a short drive away are three pleasant little towns - Mirepoix, Foix and Pamiers. Toulouse is forty minutes away. Within an hour you can be in The Pyrenees.

I don't mind solitude and I hope to make good use of my 240 hours in France. A few years back I was in the middle of writing a novel but progress ceased when I took up my second short teaching contract in Thailand. This will be a good opportunity to reconsider the 50,000 words I had completed. Or maybe I will write a different novel about a cat sitter who ended up as cat food!

21 January 2019


Driving over to Hull earlier this month, I was accompanied by Stew - my daughter's fiancée. Being Sheffield born and bred, he supports Sheffield Wednesday - one of this city's Championship football teams

As we were motoring along, I found myself sharing a couple of stories with him about past adventures. Then he chipped in with a story of his own.

Three years ago he enjoyed a big road trip in the USA with a couple of his cousins. They found themselves in the Appalachian Mountains and though they didn't have time to tramp the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail, on one fine day they did have time to undertake a nice circular walk following a recommended national park route. Stew recalled that it should have been a relatively easy walk of some nine miles.

Unfortunately, they got lost. Perhaps the signage was poor. Perhaps the path was little trodden but whatever the reason they got lost and after a few miles they had to turn back and then they got lost again.

Stew spotted a big brown snake lying across the trail, blocking their way. He got a big branch and was able to manoeuvre the serpent into the adjacent undergrowth. He had learnt quite a bit about handling snakes while working in Australia.

It was a hot day and their water had run out but at least they were finally certain that they were closing in on the car park where their hire vehicle was parked. Then they spotted two black bears. Oh no!

It was at this point in Stew's narration that I interrupted, asking, "What state were you in?"

"Oh we were distressed, thirsty and tired," he said.

Slightly puzzled, I paused.

"No. What state were you in? Was it Tennessee? Perhaps Maryland? West Virginia?"

We had a good laugh about that misunderstanding. It turns out that they were probably in Virginia.

By the way, just in case you were planning to tackle it, here's a list of hazards walkers might encounter on The Appalachian Trail:-
Severe weather
American black bears
Tick-borne diseases
Biting flies
Steep gradients
Limited water
Forest fires
Dangerous water crossings
Diarrhoea from bad water
Falling rocks
Rednecks or hunters with guns
Drug crazed hippies
Trump supporters
Poison ivy
Venomous snakes

20 January 2019


Yesterday afternoon I finished reading "Endeavour" by Peter Moore. It is a lovingly researched tome that plots the history of a very special ship that was built in Whitby, Yorkshire in 1764

Its first name was "The Earl of Pembroke" and its initial purpose was to transport coal from The River Tyne down to London. It also was involved in trading voyages to The Baltic Sea and probably to northern Germany too.

Made from Yorkshire oak, it was a capacious and buoyant vessel, easy to navigate and it quickly gained favourable reports from experienced mariners.

In 1768, the British Navy in association with The Royal Society were on the look out for a suitable ship to undertake long distance missions to the little known South Pacific. One of those tasks was to observe the transit of Venus from the island of Tahiti.

"The Earl of Pembroke" was requisitioned and fitted out for the voyage. In the process the ship gained a new name - "The Endeavour" and a new skipper who had co-incidentally first begun his education as a seaman in Whitby. He was James Cook of The Royal Navy.

When the ship returned to England, three years had passed by but the mission had been stupendously successful. The transit of Venus had been observed successfully and  Cook had made amazingly accurate maps of  New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. On board was the botanist Joseph Banks who had gathered many specimens of previously unknown plants.

Later "Endeavour" made voyages to The Falkland Islands where Britain was establishing a colony. Later still she was renamed "The Lord Sandwich" and was involved in carrying mercenary German or "Hessian" troops to the American colonies as Britain sought to suppress rebellions that preceded the consolidation of American independence in 1776.

She was eventually scuttled near Newport, Rhode Island in an attempt to block one of the sea channels there. News had already arrived that a French fleet was on its way across the Atlantic to support the American rebels.

Peter Moore's excellent book is more than just a book about a ship. He sees the years of "Endeavour" as a time of enlightenment as the people of the world became more bonded together than ever. Humanity was making great strides in science, invention and international trade. We were striving towards the modern world we know today and "The Endeavour" was arguably the flagship of that movement.

I enjoyed it immensely.
A model of "Endeavour" in Whitby Museum

19 January 2019


Olivia Colman as Queen Anne
Yesterday lunchtime, Shirley and I travelled by bus into the city centre. We were heading for "The Showroom" cinema to see the film of the moment - "The Favourite". It stars Olivia Colman as Queen Anne who was the queen of Great Britain and Ireland in the early eighteenth century. There are two other powerful female parts in the film - Baroness Abigail Masham played by Emma Stone and Sarah Churchill - The Duchess of Marlborough - played by Rachel Weisz.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, "The Favourite" provides a memorable and often uncomfortable cinematic experience. It is about intrigue, influence, deception, rabbits and gout. In the background there's an unseen and expensive war with France going on but the action of the film occurs almost exclusively within the walls of Kensington Palace.

Queen Anne, played quite brilliantly by Olivia Colman is a sad and unpredictable character, tortured by gout and other ailments. She is used and abused by Abigail and Sarah who are both self-seeking and rather cruel. They twist the queen round their little fingers and tactically they even share her bed.

"The Favourite" is a gripping watch. It certainly held my attention throughout but ultimately the human spirit does not triumph and there's not a single character you can identify with or really root for. They are all despicable. Consequently, I left The Showroom with a slight sense of despair. I was not uplifted or happily entertained. It was almost as disturbing as an attack of gout and I speak from past experience.

18 January 2019


What's that rising above the rooftops in the Lowfield district of central Sheffield? And then another one popped up as I walked along nearby Staveley Road. Are they blunt-nosed space rockets? Perhaps they are giant pepper pots.
No my friends - it's the Madina Masjid Mosque. It was completed in 2006 at a reputed cost of £5 million. This money was raised by the local Muslim community and there is apparently no truth in the rumour that they received generous donations from Saudi Arabian benefactors.
I blogged about it previously in October 2013 when I even got to go inside.

Mosques rising above English  rooftops. It has become a familiar scene in many large northern towns and cities - from Rochdale to Rotherham and from Bradford to Blackburn. 

By the way, a mosque does not have to look like that. Islamic teachings say nothing of significance about mosque design. The Madina Masjid Mosque looks as if it has been flown over from Riyadh or Jeddah and lowered into position.

I have never seen any women entering the mosque - only men, Why should that be? After all, in our dwindling Church of England congregations women are frequently predominant. They stand and sing side by side with men - as equals.

17 January 2019


At one extreme there are people who live in uncluttered, minimalist environments. At the other extreme there are hoarders who never throw anything away and live in chaotic, jumbled circumstances. Most of us exist between those extremes.

Those who champion tidiness and have expunged "unnecessary" things from their homes will often attempt to claim the higher ground - as if to say that the minimalist way is the best way. And those who live with clutter will occasionally chastise themselves as though apologising for their muddled  and somewhat disorganised lives.

For must of us achieving a state of happy equilibrium in our homes is a constant battle. We are always putting things away, tidying up, making decisions about keeping or jettisoning things. A lot of it is deeply psychological.

Those whose lives and homes have a fastidious, spartan quality may be seeking to ditch what is past - preferring to demonstrate that they are focused on the future. Conversely, those who surround themselves with clutter may be seeking to hang on to what is gone - looking back for comfort  and understanding rather than forging forward and embracing the future.

I just snapped a couple of pictures in my own residence. We have two mantelpieces downstairs and both are adorned with things. Every item means something to us. They conjure up memories of past times, past people, past travels or discoveries. But perhaps a minimalist visitor might simply view all of this stuff as clutter to be expunged from our home environment.

We never planned that the mantelpieces would evolve like this. It just happened. I have the feeling that very often the home environments we create speak outwardly about our inner selves. 

16 January 2019


Theresa May in The House of Commons yesterday
Yesterday in Parliament
FOR Theresa May's European Withdrawal Bill: 202
AGAINST  May's Withdrawal Bill: 432

I watched the political drama unfolding on our Samsung television screen live from London. May's bill was roundly beaten and deservedly so.

She just was not listening. In addition, she used disgraceful delaying tactics to push this decisive vote into the new year, closer and closer to the March 29th EU leaving date agreed with Brussels. Diligent, dogged and hardworking she would make an excellent administrator but effective leaders need other qualities - vision, imagination, munificence, wisdom and the ability to seize the moment. In such respects she is sadly lacking.

Where does Great Britain go from here? God only knows. The Brexit referendum of June 2016 was like Pandora's box. Now all the evil spirits are out and we may never get them back in their container. The only reason for the referendum in the first place was to appease right wing Tories living in the past.

They will continue to reside in their grand country homes checking their stocks and shares, with children in private schools and two cars on the gravel. They will not personally suffer because of Brexit - which ever way it goes. To them it's just a game.

Perhaps the way forward is another referendum. I have the feeling that a second referendum would result in a "Remain" majority but that would not be an end to this chaos and uncertainty. The bitterness and rancour will remain for years to come.

Where are you now David Cameron? They say you are writing your memoirs in a shepherd's hut at the bottom of your Oxfordshire garden. May I suggest a title for your last chapter? "My Biggest Mistake - Brexit". Although I accept that this would not be in your nature - surely some sort of apology to the British people would be in order. You could donate your book royalties to food banks.

15 January 2019


Yesterday, before tootling off to the "Lidl" supermarket for supplies, I asked Clint to make a detour to an area of Sheffield known as Kelham Island. Once it was the throbbing heart of Sheffield's metal industries but now it is becoming a  hip inner city neighbourhood with new apartment blocks going up as old industrial buildings are re-calibrated as modern workplaces.

I looked through the window of a former factory where files and chisels were once manufactured. But now there are houseplants, carpets and people in casual clothes tapping away at computers.
The River Don flows through Kelham Island. Back in 2007 that river was so swollen with rainwater draining from the hills that it flooded surrounding streets. Since then significant flood defence work has happened. It is unlikely that we will see a similar flood event in my lifetime but with changing weather patterns, who knows?

I strolled around Kelham Island for an hour, gathering images with my trusty Sony bridge camera. Four of those pictures accompany this blogpost.
And then it was time to head to "Lidl" where amongst other items I purchased two punnets of black cherries. pak choi, salmon, milk, bread, carrots, bananas and three small bottles of "Chang" beer to remind me of Thailand. In the Thai language "chang" means elephant. But I didn't buy one of them as there was no room left in my trolley.

14 January 2019


Some days are unremarkable, even empty. Nothing much happens and then it's time to go to bed. Do you also have days like that?

And yet other days are filled to the brim. Perhaps we need unremarkable days to appreciate the days that are filled with happenings. The full days.

Saturday was a full day for me. Frances and her fiancee Stew were back up from London. After a shower and tea and toast, Stew and I clambered into Clint's cockpit and headed to East Yorkshire. Stew supports Sheffield Wednesday and of course I support Hull City. They were playing each other in the English Championship. Kick off was at 3pm.

Clint discharged us at the "park and ride" facility in Hessle and we headed to the KCom Stadium on a public bus. However, before walking through West Park to the football ground we popped into a little Polish cafe. There we met my old friend Tony and one of his former NHS nursing colleagues - Karl.
Jarrod Bowen scored two of Hull City's goals
Stew and I ordered the "British Breakfast" with mugs of tea. £8 in total. Then we all trooped off to see the match. I could bore you with the fine details of this game but it is sufficient to say that The Tigers whupped Sheffield's Owls by three goals to nil. Stew was close to tears but luckily I had a clean handkerchief.

Then back to Clint on a full football bus and soon we were on the A63 heading back to Sheffield.

Once home the four of us sat down to a delicious Irish stew that Shirley had prepared in my absence and when this was consumed we asked Clint to take us to the city centre. "Not more driving!" he said. "I'm not a ruddy taxi you know!"

We parked near The City Hall and headed to the rear of that magnificent public edifice where the entrance to the smaller Memorial Hall is located. We had tickets for The Last Laugh Comedy Club and before too long the rotund host - Toby Foster from Radio Sheffield was on stage.
Jonny Awsum was awesome
There were three acts - Jamie Sutherland, Craig Murray and the headliner - Jonny Awsum. Each one of them provided us with belly laughs as we sat at the front of the balcony sipping beer between bouts of mirth.

Afterwards we climbed in our reluctant taxi - Clint. We headed homeward - but only to drop Frances and Stew off. After all, the night was still young and Shirley and I had a birthday party to attend in the neighbouring suburb of Nether Edge. Our friend Moira had reached the grand old age of sixty one and it would have been a shame not to pop into her house party for an hour.

And so, that was Saturday. As I began by saying, some days are unremarkable, even empty but others are filled to the brim. By the way, the comedy show tickets were a welcome Christmas present.

13 January 2019


Drawing of William Weightman
by Charlotte Bronte
A Reminiscence
By Anne Bronte

Yes, thou art gone and never more
Thy sunny smile shall gladden me;
But I may pass the old church door
And pace the floor that covers thee;

May stand upon the cold, damp stone,
And think that frozen lies below
The lightest heart that I have known,
The kindest I shall ever know.

Yet, though I cannot see thee more
'Tis still a comfort to have seen,
And though thy transient life is o'er
'Tis sweet to think that thou hast been;

To think a soul so near divine,
Within a form so angel fair
United to a heart like thine
Has gladdened once our humble sphere.


Anne Bronte died in Scarborough, Yorkshire at the tender age of twenty nine. This was in 1849. She had been suffering from tuberculosis. Her sister Emily had died the previous year from the same condition.

However, "A Reminiscence" is not about Emily. It was written in 1845 and probably concerns the death of a young curate called William Weightman. He had arrived in the village of Haworth in 1839 to support the ministerial work of the Bronte sisters' father - The Reverend Patrick Bronte. Weightman died from cholera in 1842 and was remembered fondly by Emily and Anne and presumably Charlotte too

A rather lovely tale remains about Weightman's relationship with the sisters. In February 1840 when Weightman was told that none of the Brontë sisters ever received Valentine cards, he sent them each one anonymously. In an attempt to disguise the fact that he was the sender, he walked  ten miles to Bradford to post them.

Anne is undoubtedly the least celebrated of the Bronte sisters but just as with Emily and Charlotte, one can only wonder with frustration what literary heights she might have reached if she had been granted four score years and ten.
Drawing of Anne Bronte
by Charlotte Bronte (circa 1834)

12 January 2019


Thai schoolgirl in glasses
From my days in Thailand, a particular observation has remained  in my mind concerning spectacles.

The international school where I taught was in northern Bangkok. Most of the children were from wealthy Thai families. In fact, most of them arrived at school each morning in taxis or chauffeur driven cars.

When I looked around my seated classes I noticed glasses. Of course not every child wore glasses but I would estimate that a third of my pupils wore them - either for continuous sight assistance or just for reading 

These children were well cared for. Materially, they had everything they needed and undoubtedly that included visits to doctors, dentists and opticians. Some of them may not have been very loved but at least if they required glasses they had them.

Then one day - during my second spell in Thailand - I travelled way out of the capital to a quiet  rural school in a rice farming district.  Accompanied by a couple of other teachers and twenty of our international school students, the trip was a planned exercise in personal and social education.

The rural school's lunchtime was approaching and I remember standing under a mango tree in the school yard as the children lined up to enter the barn-like dining hall. There must have been two hundred kids.

They were not used to seeing "farangs" (foreigners). As they filed passed me I smiled at each one of them, acknowledged them with a nod or said "Sawadee khrup/ka" (hello). When they were all seated in the dining barn, I realised that not one of the children  who had filed by had been wearing glasses. Not one.

I checked again in the dining barn and confirmed my initial observation. Not one of those rural schoolchildren was wearing glasses.

Reflecting upon this later, I knew that some of those children could have benefited from spectacles for general use or reading. However, these were kids from relatively poor rural homes. The very idea of visiting an optician and purchasing glasses would have been a notion beyond that community's  usual boundaries.

The contrast between the well-heeled school in the city and the poor school in the heart of the country was marked. I surmised that the same observation about glasses might easily be made in many other countries with wealthy children customarily enjoying optical support and poorer children missing out on it.

With regard to education, the ability to see clearly is pretty fundamental. If children cannot see properly their learning and development will quite obviously be impaired.

11 January 2019


Edward Baker-Duly and Rebecca Lock in the lead roles
Last night I went to see a production of "Kiss Me, Kate" at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield's city centre. I travelled in a taxi with four other regulars from our local pub. Another one couldn't make it because he was ill.

I hadn't seen a production of this fairly famous musical before. It was first performed at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia in December 1948. It was written by Samuel and Bella Spewack with original songs by the legendary Cole Porter.

The Sheffield production was excellent with faultless renditions of the songs, vibrant dance routines and imaginative stagecraft. It all blended together superbly and there was a twenty strong orchestra palely illuminated on a raised area at the back of the thrust stage.

Though there weren't any badger holes, sometimes I "got lost" in the entertainment - forgetting myself, absorbed by the theatrical chicanery in front of me. But in spite of the excellence of the production there were other phases when my mind wandered away. I guess that the silliness of the core story wasn't truly my cup of tea.

You can find out about the plot - that core story -  elsewhere if you really want to. Essentially there is a play within a play. The inner play is Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" but the audience's main focus is upon the backstage dynamics as the ups and downs of relationships between lead actors are revealed. It all ends happily when the shrew - Lily Vanessi/Katharine submits to the romantic overtures of  Fred Graham/ Petruchio as the tensions of backstage and the Shakespearean production are healed with a final dramatic kiss.

We travelled back to the suburbs in another taxi - arriving at our pub at 10.30pm. But the doors were locked. The pub is meant to stop serving at 11.15pm so we had been looking forward to a couple of pints to round off the evening. Reluctantly, the young Irish barman let us in and equally reluctantly he deigned to pour us one pint each but no more. 

Bizarrely, I believe he thought he was doing us a favour when it is of course our money that pays his wages. This isn't the first time he has unilaterally decided to shut up shop on a quiet evening. The ignorant manager/landlord isn't the kind of bloke it's worth complaining to. He just doesn't seem to care either. As "Kiss Me, Kate" proved - it really can be a mad world.

9 January 2019


Lawn Farm
Yesterday was a lovely blue sky day. It felt more like April than January.

Clint carried me south for an hour - past Chatsworth House and onward to Darley Dale, Matlock and Wirksworth. Finally, I found a place to leave him - by a quiet lane near the hamlet of Ashleyhay in a rural area of Derbyshire  that is commonly referred to as The Amber Valley.

I might not be an expert in many things but I am pretty good at map reading. Britain's premier mapping organisation - The Ordnance Survey - produce a wide range of maps. The most detailed ones even show  field boundaries with great accuracy and they are an excellent guide.

However, yesterday I had a smaller scale map that I had printed off on an A4 sheet. It showed public footpaths but no field boundaries or other fine details. Another important factor here is that most of the paths in The Amber Valley are not well-trodden. Wooden stiles and waymarkers are generally poorly maintained. In that sense, it is quite different from The Peak District.
That's the background to how I managed to get lost - not once but three times. Getting lost meant that I left the area covered by my A4 sheet. It also meant that I ended up walking three or four miles more than I had planned and it also created the following scene.

Disoriented and trying to get back on track, I descended  wide green pastureland. In the small valley at the bottom there was a lazy stream that meandered through woodland. Wary of the marshy ground within those woods I walked fifty yards further up the little valley and then plunged into the woods. Three minutes later, I was pleased to have crossed the stream without getting my boots wet.

Next I had to negotiate a bank of dead brambly briars that would have been impassable in the summer. I reached my legs up like an inelegant ballet dancer in order to tread down the barbed and entangled shoots. Progress was slow and then suddenly my right foot was no longer on solid ground. It sank right up to the thigh. I had trodden in the entrance to an old badgers' sett. At first my foot was stuck but with a little manoeuvring I managed to yank it out.

Through the brambles like Indiana Jones and then over a a barbed wire fence that was itself entangled and half-hidden by climbing plants. I am happy to report that I avoided personal injury to the nether regions.

Half an hour later I found myself in the village of Cowers Lane. It was off the map and far from where I wanted to be. In "The Railway Inn" the blonde barmaid's geographical skills were on a par with my own knowledge about knitting but helpfully she agreed that we were somewhere in Derbyshire.

I sank my pint of orange cordial and soda water and soon set off towards Idridgehay. It was late in the afternoon and already I observed that daylight was being sucked away by the low sun. If I was going to avoid getting back to Clint in darkness I needed to press on - marching like a soldier across that unfamiliar terrain, missing the leisurely and more scenic route I had visualised on Monday night.

Another rarely trodden path led me through the farmyard of Alton Mill Farm where a herd of Friesians were waiting to be milked. The farmer showed me the way. It led through a gateway and a veritable quagmire of slurry. But as the French national anthem suggests,sometimes you just have to March On! March On!
Near the end of the walk - Storer Farm, Ashleyhay

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