30 July 2019


Five images today.  I snapped the picture of the brown cow yesterday morning when I went for a constitutional walk in the nearby Porter Brook Valley. I swear that that particular brown cow keeps following me around. On the same walk, I stopped near the alpaca farm on Fulwood Road to enjoy the view towards central Sheffield:-
 I took the picture below in Northallerton. I wonder what Alan does on Wednesdays?
When we left Northallerton, we made two or three stops before we reached our hotel in Darlington. Below is a picture of  St Eloy's Church in Great Smeaton. The Jarrow Crusade marchers paused for lunch in this village on October 7th 1936. I only know this because I am currently reading a book about that famous poverty march - from Jarrow in the north east of England - all the way to London.
Finally to beer... My favourite bottled beer is, naturally, a Yorkshire brew. It is called "Black Sheep Ale". Its familiar label has recently had a major makeover. The old label is on the right and the new one is on the left. Surprisingly, this significant  image change was not reported on any major news channels - including the BBC and CNN! Fortunately, the beer inside the bottle has not changed.

29 July 2019


Over at "Going Gently", John Gray has been asking visitors to send in pictures that say "This is me".  The picture I sent him was the one shown above. It's me at the age of four and I expect the photograph was taken by my late father Philip some time in 1957 or 1958. I imagine he called me in from the garden where I had probably been playing or gathering caterpillars or scrumping apples and then he asked me to strike up a suitable pose.

Alternatively, it could have been taken by Alfred Assert who was the grumpy caretaker of the village school. Like my father, Mr Assert was also into photography. He smelt of pipe tobacco and had white hair..

There are several details I love about this image. My hands stuffed in my pockets, socks scrunched down,  dirty legs, shirt coming out, neck tie skew whiff, collar crumpled but above all I love the innocent expression on my chubby little face.

It's a piece of history - my history and the history of postwar northern England. Nowadays nobody dresses their little boys like that and thankfully you don't see that kind of haircut any more. It was a time of innocence... of cowboys and indians and conkers and jam sandwiches and certainty - when the whole world was still in shades of black and white.

27 July 2019


I forgot to mention that we saw Prince Harry on Thursday morning. We were on our way out of the city, bound for  Darlington. On Netherthorpe Road we spotted police motorcycle outriders in the opposite lanes of the dual carriageway. Their blue lights were flashing and they were followed by three black cars. 

In the middle car - a Range Rover - there was Prince Harry in an open-necked white shirt with a grey blazer. He was chatting with somebody else in the back of the vehicle and he was on his way to Sheffield Children's Hospital to officially open a new wing. 

The strange thing is that Prince Harry did not see me. I thought he would have been looking across at our side of the road just in case I happened to be sitting there in my luxury South Korean automobile (aka Clint). Okay we did not have motorcycle outriders with flashing lights but surely Prince Harry should have been looking our way - just in case he saw me. He might not get a better opportunity in the rest of his life.

I saw Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Hull in the late nineteen fifties. I waved a little union jack flag with hundreds of other children but The Queen had a special wave just for me and for a tiny segment of a second our eyes connected.

In the late sixties I met The Queen Mother - Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. I was representing East Yorkshire youth clubs at an anniversary reception for The National Association of Youth Clubs. I shook her white gloved hand and we conversed for what seemed like five minutes. She was most charming and made me feel at ease. I was only fifteen.

But no - Prince Harry did not see me. When he reads this blogpost he will surely be mortified.

26 July 2019


In Baldersdale. Low Birk Hatt Farm is in the bottom centre
We walked in Baldersdale this morning. It is accessed by two narrow roads that run either side of the reservoirs - Blackden Reservoir and Hury Reservoir. At the end of the valley both roads peter out, giving way to the wild moors that reach over to Cumberland. It is the roof of England.

This was the landscape of Hannah Hauxwell's first sixty years. She hardly left it. After all, she had no vehicles and she had no money. She lived in dire poverty at Low Birk Hatt Farm, unable to cope with the demands of making her inherited farm  profitable. As she said herself, she was more of a dreamer than a farmer. But she never complained. Happiness and optimism shone from her like heavenly light. She knew very little about the outside world. To her Baldersdale was everything.

If you do not know who I am talking about, I blogged about Hannah Hauxwell last October. Go here.
Low Birk Hatt Farm today
Reading her story made me want to visit Baldersdale. When she was in her early seventies, Hannah left the only home she had ever known and went to live in the nearby village of Cotherstone. Low Birk Hatt Farm was sold to a doctor and his family. They modernised it and perhaps they remain its inhabitants today. I heard a man coughing like a coal miner, clearing his lungs but I didn't see him. 

Close to the farm there are two meadows that Hannah Hauxwell never treated with herbicides or pesticides. They were purchased by The Durham Wildlife Trust and have been left in a pristine state for posterity. Butterflies and other insects flutter amongst the wild grasses and meadow plants. In her honour the fields are now called "Hannah's Meadow" which is a lovely way of remembering her.
Insect life and thistle plant in Hannah's Meadow
We hardly saw anybody on our five mile ramble round Baldersdale. It was so peaceful and it still seems very far from the madding crowd. Later, we drove on to the pretty village of Romaldkirk, not realising that in 2018 Hannah was buried there. She died at the age of 91 in a nursing home.
The house in Cotherstone where Hannah Hauxwell lived for seventeen years.

25 July 2019


Shirley before dinner tonight in Darlington
This blogpost comes to you from a town called Darlington - sometimes known affectionately as "Darlo". It is just over Yorkshire's northern border in County Durham. 

We drove up here this morning - stopping off in Northallerton for a couple of hours. Amazingly, I had never been to Northallerton before - even though it is the historic "county town" of The North Riding of Yorkshire.

It was a hot day with temperatures reaching 100 degrees fahrenheit. At Croft-on-Tees we saw local people swimming and paddling in the river. Maybe we should have joined them but we carried on to our hotel on the outskirts of Darlo. It is called The Blackwell Grange Hotel.
Down by The River Tees this afternoon
Soon after arriving we were in the hotel's pool and then in the jacuzzi and I even had twenty steaming minutes in the sauna. We dried off on a sunny terrace, soaking up the rays as if we were in Greece or Florida or a beach in southern Thailand.

Afterwards we treated ourselves to dinner in the hotel's restaurant with a bottle of French sparkling wine. It was a gorgeous meal and the service was both friendly and efficient. My dessert was chocolate brownie with warm chocolate sauce and a scoop of homemade walnut ice cream while Shirley had a summer fruits pavlova with whipped cream and fresh mint leaves. Food to die for...or of!

Last October when I hit sixty five, my beloved son and daughter bought me a two night hotel stay and this is the one I picked from a list of over two hundred hotels available. I am presently not disappointed. The window is wide open and there's a fan stirring the sultry air. The wife is sparked out on the bed. I will have to stir her soon. Night night from Sunny Darlo!
In All Saints Church, Northallerton

24 July 2019


The Plague Window in Eyam parish church
Yesterday, Shirley and I walked from the Derbyshire village of Foolow to Eyam and back again. Eyam is famously known as The Plague Village. In the mid-1660's, under the guidance of The Reverend William Mompesson, the Peak District village put itself into quarantine after the bubonic plague had arrived there from London in a roll of cloth that contained infectious fleas.

An estimated 260 villagers succumbed to The Plague in fourteen months but surrounding communities were unaffected. The self-imposed quarantine was a brave communal act of selflessness.
Cottage garden in Eyam
It was a hot day. The walk between the two villages took just under an hour. After calling in at the parish church, we sauntered along to The Miners Arms for drinks and food. I ordered a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with a pint of bitter shandy while Shirley had a glass of soda water, carrot and coriander soup and a ham  sandwich. This feast was consumed at a shady bench in front of the old pub.
On Tideswell Lane
Then we walked back with the summery temperature now soaring delightfully. How wonderful it was to walk out in shorts and T shirts with unidentified butterflies dancing in the ungrazed meadows of Linen Dale. Along an ancient byway beside crisscrossed limestone walls from behind which sweltering sheep and cattle observed our trek.
Five spot burnet moth in Linen Dale
The walk was in actuality a test as we continue to think about a communal wedding walk the day after Frances marries Stew. People who have never been to this part of the world will be at the wedding and a ramble to The Plague Village with a late Sunday lunch in The Miners Arms  might be something they would always remember with affection.
Sheep with Bretton Mount beyond

22 July 2019


Hull City's Polish wingman Kamil Grosicki about to fire in an
outswinging corner at yesterday's match with Mansfield Town.
Some of you out there in The Mysterious Land of Blog, may recall that I am a lifelong Hull City supporter. It's like being a drug addict. No matter what happens, I keep coming back to them. They are my team - The Tigers. When I first started supporting them the world was in black and white.

Yesterday, City were playing at Field Mill, Mansfield - forty five minutes away from our luxury abode. It was a pre-season friendly match. Field Mill is allegedly the oldest professional football ground in the world. but the oldest ground of all is at Sandygate in Sheffield, home of Hallam F.C. since 1860.

Anyway, Clint took me to Mansfield. I arrived deliberately early in order to undertake a walk in the southern suburbs of the town. The rain that I thought had passed changed its mind and came back to soak me. I passed some palatial homes that would not look out of place in Beverly Hills. That's not how most British people would picture Mansfield. It's often portrayed as a deprived Brexit backwater.

I reached Field Mill twenty minutes before kick-off. Feeling hungry, I bought a steak pie with mushy peas and squirted some mint sauce over that delicious culinary combo. I sat on a bench at the rear of the visitors' stand to munch my lunch before finding my seat inside the stadium.

The players came out and the meaningless match was soon underway. It was a kind of workout for both teams - getting themselves up to match sharpness ahead of the new season. Both teams played with commitment and the end score was 2-2 though the referee failed to award The Tigers a clear penalty when Jarrod Bowen was hacked down in the penalty area just before halftime. That ref definitely needs to visit Specsavers (a chain of high street opticians in Great Britain).

Up The Tigers!
Hull city defender Reece Burke receives treatment for a knee injury

21 July 2019


Friday was a rainy day. The weather forecasters got it right. I hadn't been to the cinema in a while so I checked out what was on at our local community cinema. Rather than going for a "hard watch"serious film I opted for "Yesterday" directed by Danny Boyle.  I knew it would be a light-hearted "feel good" film and I was in the mood for something like that.

The actor in the image at the top is Himesh Patel who played the hero - Jack Malik. The actress is Lily James who played Ellie Appleton. At one level, "Yesterday" is just another love story in which Jack and Ellie finally find togetherness.

The core premise of the film is both clever and amusing. Imagine a world in which nobody had heard of Coca Cola or cigarettes or The Beatles. Only failed musical performer Jack Malik  knows about The Beatles and before he realises what is happening he has become a worldwide phenomenon - performing songs like "Eleanor Rigby", "She Loves You", "The Long and Winding Road" and of course "Yesterday" itself. The rest of the world is wowed.

The film was all right. It amused me and held my attention but it is not the kind of film you remember and talk about forever. It was just all right. There was no seriousness. No political references. It was good to hear a handful of Beatles songs  delivered in such a setting and there was an excellent cameo performance by Ed Sheeran. A good way to pass a rainy Friday afternoon.

20 July 2019


We like fizzy water - otherwise known as soda water. It's a guilty secret.

On Thursday evening I visited the "Argos" counter within "Sainsbury's" to exchange two "Sodastream"  CO2 gas canisters. I never guessed how expensive this transaction would be with a fresh canister costing £14.99 or about US$20. Our son Ian bought us the "Sodastream" unit as a Christmas present saying, "Yow won't need to buy bottles of fizzy water any more!"

Now I have discovered that buying two litre bottles of fizzy water from Lidl was far more economical than using the Sodastream. At Lidl their two litre bottles cost 19 pence each - around twenty five US cents. It is hard to weigh up the comparative environmental costs on this one.

Okay the Lidl water comes in plastic bottles but we were always assiduous about recycling them. The Sodastream canisters have to be transported to the UK Sodastream plant many miles away and then brought back. Sodastream have created a kind of monopoly and their environmental credentials are not as convincing as they might at first appear. As with most companies, profit is the omnipotent king.

Consequently, I am not certain that we will be exchanging CO2 canisters again any time soon. 

I took a big detour on the way home and parked Clint on the edge of White Edge Moor. There's an old gamekeeper's lodge nearby. I have referred to it before. See here. I walked along the track and secured a few photographs in the declining light but by the time I reached the lodge itself a bank of cloud over the western horizon was obscuring the familiar golden orb.

Oh and please don't worry, I am not planning to write a ghostly thriller titled "White Edge Lodge" any time soon. I'm still getting over "Stanedge Lodge".

19 July 2019


This is Ilhan Omar, a bright and brave thirty six year old American politician. She was elected to represent Minnesota's fifth district in the US House of Representatives. 

Born in war-torn Somalia, her family fled to America when she was a small girl. In spite of the odds stacked against her, she has risen through local, state and national politics to become a significant voice on the left of The Democratic Party.

But for Trump and his evangelistic redneck followers, she has become a convenient  hate figure. On Wednesday in Greenville, North Carolina rabble-rousing Trump had his supporters chanting, "Send her back! Send her back!". This spectacle was as chilling as it was racist. Trump has turned Ilhan into a target for right wing lunatics.

What do they mean by "Send her back!"? She is a US citizen who deserves admiration  and applause. She is living proof that anyone can make it in America - even a Muslim woman from a refugee camp in Somalia.

Indeed, isn't  Ilhan genuinely from "Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free", now living in a land that proudly boasts that it provides "liberty and justice for all"? 

"Send her back!"? Wouldn't it be better to send Trump back to his maternal family's humble cottage on The Isle of Lewis or back to Kallstadt, Germany  where his father's  family came from?  After all, Ilhan Omar surely better reflects the true values of decent American society than a draft-dodging playground bully who demeans women and is so demonstrably self-obsessed.

These are my true thoughts. Like them or lump them.

18 July 2019


Just as there are trends with clothing and food and music and entertainment, so there are fashions with words. I am sure that this is not just in my own head. Two words that I have noticed creeping into regular use from obscurity are "diaspora" and "trope". Here I am thinking about talk radio and intelligent debate - not about exchanges in the local pub or the market.

diaspora - is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. In particular, diaspora has come to refer to involuntary mass dispersions of a population from its indigenous territories, most notably the expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel (known as the Jewish diaspora) and the fleeing of Greeks after the fall of Constantinople. Other examples are the African transatlantic slave trade, the Palestinian diaspora, the southern Chinese or Indians during the coolie trade, the Irish during and after the Irish Famine. (My thanks to Wikipedia for this)

The term comes from the Greek word diaspeirein - which means to disperse or scatter.

Using the word "diaspora":-
When war broke out in their home country, a diaspora of refugees settled in a neighbouring nation.

The Romans were responsible for the Jewish diaspora when they drove them from their homeland.

The African diaspora in the Americas was due, almost entirely, to slavery.

trope - something such as an idea, phrase, or image that is often used in a particular artist's work or in a particular type of art. In more recent times the word often refers to a well-used cliché or motif in political rhetoric.

The term comes from the Greek word tropos meaning turn or way.

Using the word "trope":-

Love triangles are a popular romance trope found in films and books because they increase the level of drama and angst.

It is shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money'.

Trump's suggestion that the Congresswomen should "go back where they came from" is a typically racist trope.

Have you noticed any other "fashionable" words  rising to the fore? Please do tell.

17 July 2019


Between the ages of eleven and nineteen, I was music mad. At eleven I would listen almost nightly to Radio Luxembourg on a little transistor radio and every weekend I would copy down the "top ten" in red "Silvine" exercise books.

The first singles I ever bought were "Return to Sender" by Elvis Presley and "Scarlett O'Hara" by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. My very first album - shared with my brothers - was "With The Beatles" (1963). We listened to it over and over again and I can still sing all the songs it included... from "It Won't Be Long" to "Money (What I Want)".

But as I advanced through my teenage years my tastes veered  towards singer songwriters. I discovered Bob Dylan and later Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Donovan, Gordon Lightfoot and Joan Baez. I played their records on a new record player that I paid for with the proceeds of a holiday job - working on a local turkey farm. That's also how I bought my first guitar.

The songs were poetic - with the accompanying music there just to lift the song - to give it a setting. The lyrics were everything. But I was open-minded and I continued to enjoy progressive rock music.

At fifteen I was attending concerts - either in Hull or the Yorkshire coastal resorts of Bridlington and Hornsea. I saw Jethro Tull, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, The Who, The Strawbs, Pink Floyd, The Nice, Yes, Ten Years After, Wishbone Ash and many more but in my memory and in my heart there was one rock band that stood out from all the rest and I must have seen them a dozen times. They were called Free.

There was a raw, bluesy simplicity about that band. On drums there was Simon Kirke, on bass Andy Fraser, Paul Kossoff was the lead guitarist and the singer was a Yorkshire lad - Paul Rodgers. They were jigsaw pieces that came together perfectly.

They weren't really about singles, they were about live performances and albums but they had a big hit single in 1970 - "All Right Now" which they played at The Isle of Wight Festival that year. It is still aired regularly on several  British radio stations.

Tragically Paul Kossoff died at the age of twenty five. He just couldn't drag himself away from drugs. Andy Fraser died from natural causes in California four years ago but Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke are still alive and well in their seventieth years. Rock and roll survivors. Free.

I look back on my teenage years and the mad passion I had for music back then and I often wish I could recapture that all-consuming fervent interest but as life has proceeded the music has skulked away.  Sad to say it doesn't thrill me like it used to so maybe it's not "all right now"...

15 July 2019


In Scotts Arms, Sicklinghall
We drove to Harrogate today so that Shirley could buy a hat for the beloved daughter's wedding. "Hats On Top" had an excellent and varied collection of hats for women and even a reasonable collection for men. By the way, Harrogate is sixty miles from Sheffield.
Laneside botany in Spofforth  Park 
Frances and Stew were here for the weekend. Frances is usually a calm, level-headed human being but once in a while she will have an emotional wobble. And that's what happened on Friday night. She decided that she doesn't like her wedding dress. I was gobsmacked at first.

As you can imagine, it has cost a pile of money and of course she chose it months ago. It has been fitted and altered and everything. But no - all of a sudden, she doesn't like it. Consequently, she went out on Saturday to buy a second wedding dress and her smile returned. 
Black bull  near Wardlow Mires
Meanwhile Stew and I were having a Peak District walk near the wedding venue - considering a route for a big group walk pencilled in for the Sunday after the wedding. We met a black bull and had pints in both "The Bull's Head" in Foolow and "The Queen Anne" in Great Hucklow. And I almost got stuck in  a squeeze stile. I told Stew to phone for the fire brigade but a bit of laughter and some jiggling about got me through.
A bus shelter in Spofforth
As part of the deal for driving up to Harrogate, Shirley agreed to join me on a four mile walk out of the nearby village of Spofforth. Our circle included a lovely village called Sicklinghall where we rested for ten minutes in "Scotts Arms" with cold drinks before carrying on along country lanes and paths back to Spofforth. 

And then it was home to Sheffield via Wetherby and  the A1 and M1 with the new hat safe on the back seat. I felt tired and had to fight to maintain the alertness you need when driving on fast roads. I am afraid that Clint is is till incapable of self-driving but we live in hope.
Stew completed a charity abseil in Tideswell Church on Sunday morning

14 July 2019


I proceeded up the stairs, one step at a time. I could still see the half-moon through a Victorian stained glass window that depicted shooters on the moor. Ralph said the place was haunted but I didn't believe in ghosts so what the hell was I about to find up here on the first floor of the lodge? Still the insane yelling. Still the thundering feet. My heartbeat pounded madly inside my skull...

Part Four

I took one step along the polished upper corridor and at the selfsame moment, it was as if an invisible giant hand had clenched the building and shaken it. Something like a violent aftershock following a major earthquake.

As well as the din from upstairs I heard the gang members below panicking hysterically.

"What the hell was that Smithy?"

"How the fuck should I know?"

"Let's get the hell outta here!" cried Benny.

I took another step along the corridor and there was a correspondent  unnerving aftershock. The thundering of feet - like hooves and the maniacal voices continued, emerging from behind one of those doors. I thought I could hear the jarring notes of violins, rising into the rafters.


"Let's go Smithy! Let's go!"

"Grab the bags lads!"

"What about him upstairs?"

"Forget him! Just bloody go!"

The lodge's front door slammed. Then car doors slammed. "Get in!" An engine burst into life.  Tyres skidded in gravel. The cowardly rogues were gone speeding off into the night and I was alone in the lonely  moortop lodge or was I?

Another step. The floorboards creaked. No aftershocks now for the entire building was shaking, physically convulsing. The violin strings screamed. The feet thundered and those shrill argumentative voices became interwoven, almost unintelligible. Outside a storm was brewing - complete with sheet lightning.

Lord knows what was drawing me on. Perhaps it was simply a case of "fight or flight". The gang had flown but my instinct was to face up to whatever might be in front of me. To fight.

There were brass numbers on the various doors. A framed painting of a stag was briefly illuminated by the approaching storm. I had reached the door to Room 11. The voices were now deafening. I could hardly stand up. A pane of glass shattered somewhere below and cold air came surging along the corridor.

Tentatively, I reached for the doorknob of Room 11. It was hot so I took my linen handkerchief from my trouser pocket to protect my hand.

Inside it was all "Get off! Get off!" and "Ring a ring a roses!" and snatched words from nursery rhymes and famous speeches and "Stop! Stop! Get back!" and then a woman screaming and the sickening thud, thud, thud of a knife being repeatedly plunged into   a human torso.

And so when I turned the knob I expected to find a bloody murder scene within. As I pushed that whining door open, the volume in the room was abruptly switched off.  The building stopped shaking and in the light of the half moon and distant sheet lighting I saw... nothing, absolute zero. Just an old chair  and a flapping curtain. There was nobody there. No body.


Three weeks later, after many  hours in the local studies section of Sheffield Central Library, I  asked one of the librarians to bring me a particular city council file from the vaults below. And that's how I discovered that in 1918, Stanedge Lodge had become a temporary  asylum for certain returning war veterans - those suffering from severe shellshock. It was a good place to hide these men away from prying eyes or newspapers. After all, they did not fit in with the idea of a glorious victory.

On the very last closely typed sheet I examined there was a reference to a "Top Secret" War Office document. It was titled "Murder of Nurse 31572 - May Pritchard by Inmate 0880395 Collins (Private) at Stanedge Lodge Sanatorium July 14th 1919". It was a light bulb moment in my desperate attempts to understand what the hell had happened that terrible night.

13 July 2019


Before I bring the story "Stanedge Lodge" to its gripping conclusion, here's a pleasant interlude. Think of it as something like an ad break during your favourite TV drama. Time for a quick toilet break or a swift snack or, if you belong to The Cult of the Smartphone, time to check your Instagram, your Twitter or your Facebook feeds.

Before proceeding, may I say "thanks" to the visitors who have been following "Stanedge Lodge". 

When I posted about my recent walk past the old shooting lodge, I had no intention of writing a story about it but Steve Reed - currently holidaying in Florida - said " It looks like a setting for a Stephen King novel." and Frances in Harpenden said, "Did you see a ghostly face peering out of a window?" and JayCee on The Isle of Man said, "Stanedge Lodge looks very forbidding to me. Like something out of an episode of Vera" and Jennifer in Florence (not the one in Italy) said, "Stanedge Lodge looks like a haunted manor house in an English gothic novel.". 

These remarks got my creative juices flowing and now after three episodes "Stanedge Lodge" is on the brink of its conclusion.
Crawshaw Farm
Yesterday I had a two and a half hour walk after parking at Crawshaw Lodge, west of this city. As I was donning my boots, I noticed that I had a distant view of Stanedge Lodge across The Rivelin Valley and up on the moors beyond Redmires. When I took the top picture of hemlock growing by the roadside, I made sure that I got Stanedge Lodge in the background. It's there by the trees on the horizon.
Shorn sheep above The Loxley Valley
I set off to Crawshaw Farm, then to Platts Farm, along to the hamlet of Ughill, down Tinker Bottom to Corker Walls and up and along a rough moorside track that leads  from Corker Lane to Load Brook, then along two more lanes - Beeton Green and Rod Side back to Clint still basking in his little lay-by. 

The circle was complete and so it was time to drive home. But as I headed away from Crawshaw Lodge I glanced again at the moors to the south where Stanedge Lodge is situated - far from anywhere. And I thought about Smithy and Benny with the stubbly chin and Silent Steve and Ralph with the greasy combed back hair and of course I remembered the terror...

12 July 2019


"...crazy fast like a rock drummer playing a solo"
Part Three

They were coming back inside the lodge. In panic, I keeled over on the leather sofa aiming to resume my previous position, playing possum.

There were two others now. Smithy - who appeared to be the boss and somebody else who didn't say much. Four of them.

"Get some water!" commanded Smithy.

And before I knew it, a saucepan of cold tap water had been thrown over my head. Of course I reacted it to it and Smithy pulled me up, slapping my face. It was impossible to pretend that I was still unconscious.

"Wake up!" he growled, slapping me again as he yanked the blindfold away. "What are you doing here?"

Beyond him, left of the fireplace something glittery caught my eye. Benny and Ralph were inspecting the contents of two large canvas sacks.

I told Smithy the truth. That I had become disoriented after the rainstorm, that I had stumbled along the old wall, that I had always been curious about Stanedge Lodge. 

Smithy and his gang even looked like robbers. With their darting weaselly eyes, they were the kind of men who spend their whole lives looking for opportunities and easy money. I deduced that they had probably raided a jeweller's and they were hiding out at the lodge, till the heat died down. 

It was like taking part in  a TV crime drama - the only difference being that this was real life in which happy endings are rarer than hen's teeth and where good certainly doesn't always triumph over evil.

"You know what curiosity did dontcha?" growled Smithy squeezing my chin. "It killed the cat!"

The others laughed raucously as Smithy's gaze wheeled round to them. He was middle-aged , pasty-faced and smelt of stale cigarette smoke.

It seemed that my hands and feet had been bound with industrial plastic ties. They were digging into my flesh now and in spite of Smithy's close presence I squirmed, creasing my face.

"Hurting you are they?" asked Smithy, showing surprising compassion.

I nodded hopefully.

"Get me some scissors Steve!" he told the quiet one and the tall mixed race fellow disappeared for a minute or two.

It was just after Smithy had severed the plastic ties that we first heard the footsteps creaking above.

"Shh! What's that?" said Smithy.

Everyone went quiet. Still in the process of examining the jewelry and watches, Benny and Ralph froze .

"There's somebody up there!" whispered Ralph. And then we heard shouting. A man and a woman. Muffled.

"I saw someone", I interjected. "When I was outside. Just before one of you guys clouted me. There was somebody up there."

"What do you mean? This place is empty. We've been here ten days," said Smithy.

The gang were deathly quiet, eyeballs raised in their sockets, bottom jaws hanging loose. The footsteps upstairs creaked again, pacing across the floor and the raised voices continued.

A woman yelled, "Get back! Get back in there!"

A man screamed almost unintelligibly. It was hard to make out what he was saying but I heard the words, "vengeance" and  "tomorrow".  

It was as if there was a physical struggle going on.

"Go up Steve! See what the fuck's going on!" said Smithy.

"I'm not going. You go Smithy!"

Benny and Ralph also refused. 

Then Smithy turned to me. "You go! See what's happening!"

The unseen feet continued to thud on the ceiling. The voices remained raised . "Get back! Get off me!" and "Sweet as honey! Sweet as pie!" And there was what I can only describe as manic laughter.

The gang and I stood at the bottom of the lodge's oaken staircase. Smithy shoved my back. The head of a dead bear glowered down at me from the stone wall of the entrance lobby. Benny was holding a hurricane lantern that he'd grabbed from the panelled room. It cast moving shadows upon the carpeted  treads of the staircase.

The voices upstairs were becoming louder and more frenetic - like music rising to a crescendo. The rhythm of feet on the wooden floor had grown more urgent - crazy fast like a rock drummer playing a solo. The entrance hall was filled with sound.

"What the hell's going on?" asked Benny, his eyes wider than before.

"I'm scared!" admitted Ralph. "I told you this place was fucking haunted!"

"Get up there!" ordered Smithy.

I  proceeded up the stairs, one step at a time. I could still see the half-moon through a Victorian stained glass window that depicted shooters on the moor.  Ralph said the place was haunted but I didn't believe in ghosts so what the hell was I about to find up here on the first floor of the lodge? Still the insane yelling. Still the thundering feet. My heartbeat pounded madly inside my skull.

11 July 2019


My thanks to blog visitors who read the first part of "Stanedge Lodge". Here we go with Part Two. Every word is true.
Part Two

I emerged from my unconscious state like a sealion. One moment I am basking on the floor of some deep, dark underwater cave and then I'm spiralling up to the surface. Vivid dreams evaporated and I became conscious of throbbing discomfort from the back of my skull or pounding inside my head - I couldn't tell which.

Even before I opened my eyes, I remembered what had happened. Someone had hit me with a heavy object. Perhaps a brick or a baseball bat. Isn't that what thugs use in films? 

I heard hushed South Yorkshire voices close by and without moving a muscle I listened.

"Get rid of him Benny!"

"How? Where? You do it Ralph. You hit him. Not my problem."

"We should kill 'im. Bury 'im in the bog. I bet that's what Smithy would do."

"Yeah but Smithy ain't here. We don't want to complicate things."

"Where the fuck did this bastard come from anyway?"

"Smithy said nobody would bother us. He promised."

"Fucking promises!"

Where was I? I reckoned I  was right inside Stanedge Lodge. I was lying face down on upholstered leather and I could smell a log fire burning. The two voices faded away. A door was slammed. Outside I heard feet on gravel.  Right, I thought, time to make a quick exit before they come back.

I opened my eyes to see velvet blackness. It was only then that I realised they had blindfolded me. I tried to move my hands from behind my back but they were tied and so were my feet. All that I could do was to try to sit up. Like a sealion on a rocky beach, I heaved my body over, forcing myself into a sitting position and as I writhed the blindfold slipped down so that I could see with my right eye.

The room was panelled and there were stuffed animal heads on the walls - a wild boar, a snarling wolf, a lion, different kinds of deer. Above the fireplace  with its flickering amber light, two blunderbuss rifles were crossed. It was just as I had imagined the interior of the old hunting lodge would appear.

Then I saw headlight beams creeping up the opposite wall over the wolf. A vehicle's tyres crunched the gravel. A car door slammed. Angry voices. But I couldn't make out what they were saying. Suddenly, I was more scared than I have ever been in my adult life. Shit scared. Hadn't one of them mentioned burying me in the bog? I felt like a sitting duck and entirely alone. In response to these inner feelings, my body began to tremble. Why had I turned right and not left. Bloody, bloody fool! 

And who were these rough men? Benny and Ralph and Smithy? What were they doing at Stanedge Lodge? In the next few minutes all would become clear, well - nearly all.

10 July 2019


Part One

High on the moors, there's an abandoned stone cottage. It sits beside remote Oaking Clough Reservoir, miles from anywhere. Alone but for a few ragged moorland sheep and the plaintive calls of lapwings, this tiny building was erected during the Victorian era for waterboard workers.

That is where I sheltered when the rain began to pour. It lashed down in torrents so I stayed put and dry inside. Outside, November's afternoon light was quickly fading. When would that rainstorm end?  Hearing it battering the stone slabbed roof, I hunkered down in the snuggest corner I could find and rested my head against a wall.

Perhaps I was only asleep for a few minutes but when I woke the ceaseless rain had ceased and night had fallen. Only the very last vestiges of daylight remained in the western sky as a half moon now soared above me like a Chinese lantern, moving in slow motion - following the departed day.

Stumbling, I followed a now replenished stream wrung from that exposed moorland. The peaty landscape acts like a vast natural sponge - east of  Stanage Edge. It was impossible to clearly see the way ahead and the rough vegetation was of course now sodden. That half moon lantern provided weak illumination helping to define the shape of the skyline.

Had I come the right way? Maybe I should have turned back. The waterboard ruin wasn't far behind. My boots squelched in  black porridge. I felt almost blind. More than once I fell down, my tumbles cushioned by heather clumps or crowns of  bog grass. Somewhere close by a red grouse cackled. And then I made out what I thought was a wall, running arrow straight into the night. 

It was a tumbledown wall, long neglected, no doubt hewn from the exposed millstone of nearby Stanage Edge. I remembered it from before and I knew that if I followed it it would take me to an old track along which I could descend to Redmires and then home.

Progress was slow but the broken wall kept me out of the adjacent quagmire. My waterproof walking trousers were already soaked. I staggered along, sometimes feeling my way though my eyes were now better adjusted to that pale moonshine. High above, the navigational lights of an aeroplane blinked at the stars. I imagined those air travellers, strapped in their high-backed seats, reading inflight magazines as I floundered along, alone in the dark.

And then I reached the unmade track. To the left, rhododenron bushes bent over black hollows. To the right, the silhouette of an old stone hunting lodge reared up defiantly. I had often seen it from afar on my rambles. It stood in the middle of a big swathe of the moor with impenetrable plantations on either side of the access track.

Previously, I had seen signs at the estate boundaries . White on black. "Stanedge Lodge - PRIVATE" or "Stanedge Lodge - NO PUBLIC ACCESS" or "Stanedge Lodge - KEEP OUT". The capitalisation was always bold and threatening.

Though it was time to get home, instead and illogically I turned right heading up the track to the lodge as though magnetised. What was I thinking of? Why oh why did I not turn left?

Within five minutes, I was standing in front of the lodge. Its windows looked eastward over the moor and the shadowy spruce plantations and the three reservoirs at Redmires and the sprawling suburbs of the city. In its splendid isolation, it seemed daunting and defiant, like a medieval castle, designed for defence and not for guffawing grouse shooters in tweeds.

As I stood there in the November night, a cold polar breeze billowed silently, ruffling my hair like an invisible hand. Behind the window glass there was only pitch darkness, no sign of life and then I inhaled a deep breath. There was light in one of the upstairs rooms! Perhaps candlelight or a lantern. It glowed brighter. I saw a shape, a figure. Was it a man or a woman? There were muffled sounds of people shouting and then the light was extinguished.

One moment later, someone hit me hard from behind and I collapsed.

9 July 2019


At Oaking Clough Reservoir yesterday afternoon
Is it possible to make a good blogpost about cutting hedges? Probably not.

In our back garden there are over fifty metres of privet hedging. One section of this hedgerow is ten feet tall but only six feet tall on our neighbour's side. Every summer I trim all of the hedges three or four times. It is a big job that creates lots of clippings that need to be raked up and disposed of. It's all a big physical workout.

I have a reliable "Bosch" electric hedge trimmer and I also have a long electric extension cable, hand shears and two sets of stepladders. In the middle of the day yesterday I spent two hours just working on one side of the garden. Later today, if the rain holds off, I plan to tackle the other side.

You are probably yawning now. As I suggested in my first paragraph, it is most unlikely that a blogpost about trimming hedges could ever be interesting. Mind you, I could have used some poetic licence. I might have lied about discovering a robin's nest in the hedge with cute baby birds twittering for worms. Awwww! Or I could have created a scenario in which I fell from my stepladder and sliced off one of my legs with the "Bosch" hedge-cutter before crawling back into the house to phone for an ambulance. 
Approaching Stanedge Lodge
Anyway after two hours of hedge work, I jumped in Clint and drove out of the city for a country walk. I was soon walking along paths I have walked before but this time after pausing at Oaking Clough Reservoir I proceeded to Stanedge Lodge. You are not meant to walk there as it's surrounded by private land but I thought - what the hell - if anybody challenges me I'll just say that I got lost.

Stanedge Lodge is the highest residential building within the city's boundaries and also the remotest. I was hoping to walk round it but as I got closer I could see that there was a little black car parked near the main door to the south of the building. That's why I chickened out and retreated along the lodge's mile long driveway.

It's an intriguing building - originally developed as a grouse shooting lodge for the landed gentry and their chums. I'm not sure what it is being used for now. Needless to say, I would have loved to look around inside it.
Stanedge Lodge

8 July 2019


Names fascinate me. Of course, there have always been fashions in naming children. Those fashions rise and fall and speak about the passing march of history mingled with culture. It is a topic I have blogged about before. For example in 2016.

This morning I was lying in bed as per usual listening to the "Today" programme on BBC Radio 4. An item on names suggested that the boy's name Jaxson is on the rise in Great Britain - not Jackson you understand but Jaxson or even Jaxon. With baby girls the name Ariana is shooting up the popularity charts - no doubt aping the Italian-American pop singer Ariana Grande.

The three most popular names for girls in Britain in 2018 were apparently Olivia, Amelia and Isla and the three most popular names for boys were Oliver, Harry and Jack. I don't mind any of these names.

You may have heard of two British "celebrities" - David and Victoria Beckham. Those two much-photographed people have, in my view, solid unpretentious first names. If their parents were trying to say anything when choosing those christian names it was all about steadiness and fitting in with the rest of society. 

Fast forward to the naming of their four children and we have got Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper Seven. What wacky names - at least in my opinion - and what a crazy self-indulgence to saddle children with daft names like that which speak of flimsiness and ephemeral stardom. I much prefer the first names of David Beckham's parents - Ted and Sandra or Victoria Beckham's parents - Jackie and Anthony. They are proper names.

Several of our children's peers have been bearing children recently. A number of them appear to have referred to "The Beckham Book of Silly Names for Children" when picking baby names. I won't give you examples here as I  would not wish to cause any of these young parents offence. After all, they were just going with the flow of modern fashion. However, kudos goes to Richard and Cindy in Perth, Australia who recently named their baby son Alexander William. When she gets married our Frances will be this little boy's auntie for Richard is Stewart's brother. Lucky little Alexander William has a splendid brace of names to accompany him on life's twisting journey.

If any visitors to this blog are looking for an even better name for a baby boy, may I suggest the first name Neil. Neil means "champion" in Gaelic and is a very rugged, masculine name. Well worth consideration but only if the baby is handsome and robust with a fine pair of lungs.

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