30 September 2019


Why should we live with one foot in yesterday and the other foot in tomorrow? Surely, what really matters is today - the here and now. In the past, we all had times of happiness when life was vibrant and full and we can all dream about similar times in the future. But what about today? What about now? 

Now is not just some dull waiting room. Now is where true life dwells. It is precious and it deserves to be relished, treasured, fully lived. And yet so often we squander "now" as though it was just a journey between stations. It isn't. We can find happiness and delight in "now". Now can glow in a way that puts both yesterday and tomorrow into forgettable shade.

It isn't easy to translate such an outlook into everyday reality. Past and Future keep distracting us from what should matter more - The Present, today, the here and now. Listen to the sounds of life. See the sky and the earth. Grasp "Now" while it is happening because there will never  be another day quite like this one.

28 September 2019


Clint drove me over to Hull today. I went to see Hull City play Cardiff  City in the English Championship. They are The Bluebirds and we are The Tigers.

It was a good, hard fought game. Plenty of action. It finished 2-2 which was in my view a fair result. I was sitting next to a white haired Lincolnshire woman who pointed out one of the club's resident peregrine falcons to me. They were introduced to control the stadium's  pigeon population. In other words, the falcons eat the pigeons!

Before the game I ate something from the "Admiral" fish and chip shop on Anlaby Road - but not pigeons or even a peregrine falcon. I had "pattie" and chips. "Patties" are unique to Hull and East Yorkshire but I hadn't had one in years. It was most satisfying.
"The Hull Daily Mail" local newspaper explained what a pattie is a couple of years  ago: "Traditionally, a pattie is a deep-fried, battered sphere of mashed potato with sage, but walk into any of the numerous fish and chip shops dotted around the city and each will have their very own recipe to the "perfect" pattie guarded under lock and key." The "Admiral" pattie contained some added flakes of fish. Yummy.

Before entering Hull today, I stopped off briefly in the affluent village of Welton, west of the city. The picture that accompany this post were taken in Welton. In one of them you can see a rather large boat parked in a house driveway. It has been there for years. I suspect that its owner's name is Mr Noah!

27 September 2019


The River Porter near Forge Dam
Thanks to everybody who assisted me through the last blogspost. You read the three story openings and weighed them up, stating your preferences. I am most grateful. Beforehand, I had imagined that Number 1 would win the day but that was not the case. The majority of commenters were drawn to Number 3 and so that is the one I am going to enter in the competition.

Just a little more spit and polish and I will click the "Send" button. Later I will of course win the competition. A publisher will buy the rights to it. Steven Spielberg will hear about it  and before the end of next year I will see my name in the credits of an Oscar-nominated film that has already broken box office records around the world - "The Agony". Dreams can come true you know!
Forge Dam Cafe
Meantime back in here in my reality, the weather has been unsettled this week. Yesterday, on television, I watched England beat the USA very convincingly at The Rugby World Cup tournament  in Japan. Afterwards, Clint took me over to the neighbouring suburb of Fulwood for a short walk in very familiar territory.
Horse riders on Carr Bridge, Fulwood
A woman with a shaggy dog told me that she had just spotted a grey heron. I expected the wary creature to fly off as soon as he spotted my camera but I managed to get one picture before that happened. Not the best photograph I have ever taken:-
Back at home I  made my famous spaghetti sauce and left it bubbling on a very low heat for two hours. Such slow cooking softens the texture of the beef mince. I added a single fresh bay leaf from our garden, an "Oxo" cube, salt and pepper, crushed garlic and a little oregano.

Nurse Pudding came home at six and enjoyed her meal immensely. It was topped with butter fried mushrooms with a  hint of fresh tarragon and freshly grated parmesan. There was enough sauce left over for another meal, another day.
Attractive house on Brookhouse Hill, Fulwood

26 September 2019


Some of you out there in the murky shadows of The Blogosphere may recall that in July of  this year I created a four part story called "Stanedge Lodge". It was inspired by a remote shooting lodge that sits on the moors west of Sheffield.

When recently I heard about a local short story competition, I immediately went back to that story, wondering  if I might be able to adapt it somehow, turning it into my competition entry. The word limit for the competition is just 1000 words which constitutes a particular challenge. The original blogged story was much longer than that.

Essentially, I have stuck to the same core idea - about a shellshocked presence screaming from the upper floor. I have made three versions for the competition and I want to share with you my three alternative openings. Please read them and decide which one you prefer. This will be of help to me as I decide which version to submit. Thank you in anticipation of your intelligent support. 
Version 1
Have you ever wandered up to Stanage Pole?   It commands a lofty position by an ancient moorland track west of this city. Once Romans walked that way, then pilgrims, drovers with their meandering animals and hardy jaggers  –  traversing the lonely hills that still cut northern England in two.

When you reach it, it’s good to sit there for a while. Listen to grouse cackling in the heather, feel wind in your hair, watch meadow pipits dancing. Pause there for long enough and you will notice a dark stone edifice to the north, protected by a crescent of trees. It is Stanedge Lodge – the highest and most remote building in all of Hallamshire.

Though always visible - surrounded by a rolling sea of moorland vegetation, few Sheffielders have ever visited Stanedge Lodge. It was rebuilt in the Edwardian period to accommodate grouse shooting parties.  Tweed and hot toddies by a roaring log fire with tales of birds that got away.

Version 2
Cavendish agreed wholeheartedly with the proposal as did Hunter. But Colonel Barker was instinctively opposed to it. It was the summer of 1918.

All in their sixties, these three pillars of the community were the mainstays of Redmires Shooting Club. Wearing  earthy tweeds, they sported grey moustaches and disapproving expressions.

During the season, their club met every weekend at lonesome Stanedge Lodge. In daylight the cackling grouse were plentiful and at night the carousing was memorable.

The proposal – which  had arrived directly from The War Office – was that Stanedge Lodge should become a temporary sanatorium for members of the officer class afflicted with severe combat stress. Stalwart young fellows, shaken to the core by the horrors of modern warfare. Some had become quivering, incontinent wrecks who  now existed in  a beleaguered netherworld.

Version 3
Where meadow pipits prance and winter winds ruffle the moortop,  that is where you will find Stanedge Lodge. Dark and foreboding, sheltered by a crescent of cedars -  just to the north of  Stanage Pole.

It is  Sheffield’s highest and loneliest building.

A secret  retreat for shooters. In  their other lives they were steel magnates, solicitors, surgeons. Dressed in earthy tweeds, they downed hot toddies by a roaring log fire and romanced, guffawing into the early hours about  killing game and current affairs.

Then The Great War arrived. Practice trenches were dug  a mile away at Redmires. Laughing boys played at soldiers, unafraid of what lay ahead. They didn’t know. Then they departed and more arrived for  instruction – marching up Manchester Road singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in a haze of Woodbine smoke. They didn’t know.

25 September 2019


There's a little antiques shop in Middleton-in-Teesdale. It was closed when I arrived in the village and also on the morning of my stay. But a notice in the window told me that it would be open when I headed back from my long walk higher up the river valley.

I had spotted some old bottles in the window and figured I might buy another one for my little collection. In the event, I thought they were overpriced but noticed something else of interest in a display cabinet.

It was a newspaper clipping about the clearance of Hannah Hauxwell's house and next to this there was an old and rather unremarkable invalid cup. I spoke with the proprietor about this object and she confirmed that it had come from Low Birk Hatt Farm in Baldersdale where Hannah spent most of  her life.

Should I buy it? It was overpriced. I wandered around the shop for a further few minutes - agonising about parting with my dough. After all the invalid cup had not belonged to Winston Churchill or Elvis Presley or Queen Victoria - it had been used in a remote Yorkshire farmhouse by a humble family and had finished up in the possession of the last member of that family - Hannah Bayles Talentire Hauxwell (1926-2018).

The silver haired owner of the antique shop seemed a little like Hannah. A beatific smile and a scarecrow's sense of fashion. I fully believed her explanation of the provenance of the invalid cup and how it had come to be in her hands. Apparently there had been other items from Low Birk Hatt but this was the very last one. Furthermore, the proprietor had met Hannah on several occasions.

Suspecting I might regret walking away, I decided to buy the invalid cup - joking with the shop owner that one day my wife might use it to nourish me when I am lying in bed wasting away, preparing to meet my maker... The Almighty Google.

24 September 2019


Ray Davies with Jackson Browne in Oslo, Norway in 2015
When working behind the till at our local Oxfam shop, I will sometimes pick an album to put on the  CD player. Last Wednesday, I found an album called "See My Friends". It consists of several Ray Davies compositions performed with different recording artistes. 

I was delighted to discover that one of these duets was with Jackson Browne - the Californian singer songwriter who is one of my top musical heroes. I stumbled across him at the very start of his career in the early seventies. What a joy to hear him singing timeless "Waterloo Sunset" with the song's legendary composer - Ray Davies of  The Kinks. Click the arrow below to play:-

22 September 2019


St Agatha's Church, Gilling West
When I drove up to Teesdale on Thursday, I factored in a walking halt not too far from Scotch Corner. I parked Clint in the village of Gilling West and set off in the sunshine having quickly planned a six mile walk before leaving home. To me it was all virgin territory - a gentler landscape than upper Teesdale.

The walk took in two  smaller North Yorkshire villages - Whashton and Hartforth. It was a very pleasant stroll. I did not want to overdo it, knowing that I had a much more arduous walk planned for Friday.

When Clint and I left Gilling West we still had sixteen miles to go to Middleton-in-Teesdale. We drove through Barnard Castle and Cotherstone and then in the village of Romaldkirk, I remembered to visit the local cemetery in order to see the grave of Hannah Hauxwell. I have written about her before. She died just last year. The gravestone is effectively a natural boulder which I would like to think came from her home valley - Baldersdale.

Four more pictures from Thursday's walk plus my picture of Hannah's grave:-
West of Gilling West
Smelt Mill Beck near Whashton
Cottages in Whashton
Hartforth Hall - now a luxury hotel
Hannah Hauxwell's grave in Romaldkirk Cemetery. Clint is in the background.

21 September 2019


Where the River Tees meets Langdon Beck
Late yesterday afternoon, on the A1 Motorway in North Yorkshire, I noticed a sign - "Leeming Bar Rest Area 1 mile". And I thought to myself, "Hell, I need a rest".

So I drove off the motorway, parked in the promised rest area, reclined my seat and promptly fell asleep.  I woke up half an hour later and wandered into the "Costa" coffee shop for  a medium latte. Then I went in the Gentlemen's toilets (American: rest room/ bathroom) to urinate and to splash my face with cold water.

Back on the motorway, I felt alert with no chance of falling asleep at the wheel. It had been a long day.

I had woken at 6am in a tiny single room in The Teesdale Hotel in Middleton-in-Teesdale. After reading for an hour, I showered, packed my stuff up and headed downstairs for breakfast. Muesli, toast, tea and a full English breakfast - fried egg, black pudding, two rashers of bacon, grilled tomato and a sausage - all fine quality.

Then I stepped out into the gorgeous September sunlight, strolled around the village for a while, remembered I still had my room keys, took them back and then set off farther up the valley of The River Tees. 
Scar End Farm
"Where the hell are we going?" grumbled Clint.

"Into a land that is unknown to me," I whispered.

"Let's go," he said.
"New House", Forest-in-Teesdale
We parked near an old chapel in the dispersed upland farming settlement that  is known as Forest-in-Teesdale. Then I set off. I had my map. It was a diamond day as the weather people had predicted and I had ten miles to walk. Ten beautiful miles of sights not seen before and I loved every one of those miles. No need for a jacket but I did carry my rucksack containing a flask of cold water, a banana, an apple and a packet of cheese and onion crisps (American: chips).
On Wool Pits Hill
How good it was to be there and there was something unusual that I had not realised beforehand. Almost all of the farms in that remote upland area  are painted white. It was a peculiarity that I very much enjoyed. And I enjoyed seeing the place where the infant River Tees meets Langdon Beck before continuing its journey to the sea. It is a journey that two miles downstream takes the river over a hard layer of volcanic rock  - hence the dramatic High Force waterfall thundering down as it has done for millennia.
A view of High Force Waterfall - Upper Teesdale

19 September 2019


Ten years. That is how long it has been since I left my job as Head of English and Assistant Headteacher in the tough Sheffield secondary school where I worked for twenty two years. 

I think that if I had stayed much longer the job would have killed me so I got out when I could, securing a decent early retirement package. Perhaps I was lucky to be able to escape just before my fifty sixth birthday but I had been  involved with teaching from the age of eighteen - thirty eight years in total. 

Some of the residue of those final years still remains with me like scum on the side of a bathtub. I just cannot wash it away. The thing about teaching in a school like that is that you give so much of yourself, you give so much and yet it's all about developing the pupils in front of you. It's never about personal enrichment or self-development. You give, give, give and then the system wants more. Squeezing the very air you breathe.

Two years after retiring, a former colleague and friend named Jon got me out to Bangkok, Thailand to fill a vacant teaching post. I was there for six months and returned in 2013 for a further six months. From a teaching point of view that experience was both healing and uplifting. It reminded that I was always a damned good teacher. It was in my blood. Working there was a  lovely way to truly finish my career.

Ten years. How the time has flown and I have to admit that I have squandered a lot of it. I could have done more. More reading, more writing, more playing my guitar, more song-writing, more home improvements - but I shouldn't beat myself up too much.

I've been to Easter Island, New Zealand, The Pacific North West, various European destinations and several previously unvisited places in The British Isles like The Isle of Man, Anglesey and The Mull of Galloway. And of course I have walked and walked, taking photographs along the way. Countless miles have I walked, seeing new things, learning new things. It has been such a joy. And then there has been Oxfam, the geograph website and this blog too - a creative outlet, a window on the world, a special link with other people - all accidentally encountered, all different from each other.

Will there be another ten years? Who knows? Sometimes I think that I am already living on borrowed time. My lovely father Philip died soon after his sixty fifth birthday and my amazing brother Paul died just before his sixty third birthday. I am a long way past them now and though my health is robust - no pills or other medication and no significant "conditions" - I know that The Grim Reaper could strike me down at any time - like a sheep in a riverside pasture.

I do not regret taking early retirement for a single moment. Looking back now, I am  certain that it was the right thing to do though back then - in the summer of 2009 - it seemed like a skydive. Happily the parachute opened immediately and I am still floating down, enjoying the view.

18 September 2019


"Now your next post should show the beautiful countryside. I expect to see my friend and his wife who are touring some of the islands by bicycle." - Red Kline, Alberta, Canada.

Always eager to please visitors to this blog, I managed to track Red's friends down yesterday afternoon. See above. It's surprising that no maple leaves were visible. Red also put a request in for a country walk with pictures.

It was a lovely afternoon and Clint  drove me the short distance to Hathersage in Derbyshire. He parked near Leadmill Bridge that crosses over the babbling River Derwent. 
Garner House Farm and The Hope Valley
Glover Barn -  now in a ruinous state
My plan was to walk by the river for a couple of miles and then head up the valley side to plod along Glover Bank before descending in a loop and returning to the riverside path.

It took two and a half hours. There were no unexpected problems. I was not savaged by a dead sheep or butted by an angry bull with a brass ring through its nose. I did not fall into the river from the stepping stones and I was not chased by screaming girl guides seeking my autograph. I did not encounter any axe murderers, fishermen or nudist sunbathers. Best of all both of my knees felt strong - with not a ghost of  historical pain.
Above and below - images of the river stepping stones near Hathersage 
At the door of Kentney Barn
It was a lovely day at the very end of summer. Already I could see leaves subtly changing their colours. Gnarled hawthorn bushes were heavily laden with scarlet berries and blooming heather cloaked the moortops. Being a Tuesday there were hardly any other ramblers about and I only said two words all afternoon - "Thank you" - to another walker who had kindly waited for me on a particularly narrow section of the riverside path.

Sweet, sweet September. 

How very lovely to be alive...
The Odour of Death

17 September 2019


I was looking forward to reading this novel - inspired to do so upon hearing of the writer's death just last month. I expected an uncomfortable but engaging experience and understood that the book would explore the legacy of slavery. A song from the heart of Afro-America. I came to it with an open mind and a willingness to be wooed by Toni Morrison.

I read it carefully - chapter by chapter when we were on holiday in Croatia and finished it as our plane was touching down at Manchester Airport. But I have to report that I found "Beloved" to be  a frustrating read and quite a hard novel to get through.

I rarely expect a novel to advance steadily in time from Point A to Point B in the future. One expects a degree of backtracking, various literary asides and the presentation of different viewpoints but "Beloved" was all over the place and I often found it  hard to keep in mind who was narrating and when. It was frequently confusing.

There are mythical semi-fairytale elements to the novel and I did not take well to the strange lost girl known as Beloved who provided the novel's title. What is she? Is she human or imaginary or is she a ghost? I am a big fan of reality when it comes to writing and this novel often veered away from honest believability into a different realm where I was reluctant to go.

There were powerful and tenderly written episodes and at times Toni Morrison's much-acclaimed craftsmanship shone through. "Beloved" is filled with a range of human emotions and strong feelings and has an intimate historical sense of the Afro-American experience. Her use of language is often rich and original, moulding words, using them deftly.

Yes I can really see that Morrison is quite a writer but ultimately I didn't really like her characters - Sethe or Denver or Baby Suggs or Paul D.. I just did not warm to them and felt no real investment in their interrelated stories.

It's not how I wished to react to "Beloved". I wanted to say that it is one of the best novels I have read in a long time but sadly for me that was just not the case.
Toni Morrison 1931-2019

16 September 2019


Back home now.

Of course, we were not alone in The Aminess Grand Azur Hotel in Croatia. There were around two hundred other guests there too plus a small army of staff. In the course of a week, many mental notes were gathered. I guess we are all people watchers.

There was a thirty something Croatian couple with two small boys. The mother was clearly pregnant a third time. At dinner or breakfast, the two little boys were a law unto themselves. They just would not remain seated at the family table. They wriggled down and ran around, getting under other guests' feet and yelling or laughing crazily. Eventually the mother would get up and herd them back to base while "daddy" continued eating, oblivious to it all.

One evening, the smallest boy seemed keen to investigate the coolers where desserts were displayed. Being only two feet tall he simply could not look in so rather cleverly he proceeded to shove a dining chair over there. Soon both boys were standing on it, looking in and they managed to grab some cakes before "mama" appeared to spoil their fun.

There was a German man with one of those hideous raspberry coloured birthmarks. It covered half of his face and was raised and pitted like the surface of the moon. The other half of his face appeared perfectly normal as did his pretty blonde wife. Another German woman - probably in her mid fifties -  was clearly recovering from a stroke that had affected all of her left side. She was slim and elegant but ambled around with much difficulty

Round the pool, flesh was of course exposed. There were several huge women with blubbery bodies shaped like barrels and a young fellow whose belly was so big that it wobbled right over his swimming shorts pulled up beneath. From the front, it looked as though he wasn't even wearing swimming shorts!

Every night in the far corner of the restaurant, a fifty something man sat on his own. He seemed perfectly content as he guzzled free beer and wine and  gobbled several towering  plates of food along with numerous desserts and pieces of fruit. Surprisingly, he wasn't especially fat. We referred to him as "The Axe Murderer" and after two hours his consumption would be halted by images on his smartphone which he beamed at with disturbing glee. It was an odd place to pick for a solo holiday.

Perhaps the strangest people of all were a sixty something English couple. The man dressed like a ragamuffin wearing a "Panama Beach" T-shirt, khaki shorts and worn out dusty sandals. In contrast, the woman was well-groomed and nicely dressed each evening. She picked away at salads while he sought to follow the dining habits of "The Axe Murderer". They seemed to spend much of their time observing other guests and as he lay by the pool I noticed that the grumpy old man was reading "Beloved" by Toni Morrison.

14 September 2019


Our week in Croatia is almost done. The transfer bus will arrive at 5.45 in the morning so we want an early night.

It's been good here. The weather gods blessed us and the sea was clear with a pleasant temperature. Green pines and cedars fringed the coast. Mostly, we kept ourselves to ourselves and ate well. As you could drink as much wine and/or beer as you wanted with dinner we imbibed rather more alcohol than  our weekly quota normally allows.

This morning we had another ferry trip across the water to Korčula town and there I bought a souvenir T-shirt. A cruise ship had anchored off the coast and American tourists were being brought to shore by a relay of tenders. Many of the passengers appeared elderly.
In Korčula
While we were observing paintings in an art shop, one of the Americans came to the entrance and said to the proprietor, "Do you know where there's a water closet?" The owner, a Croatian woman, was confused. She thought the elderly lady needed a drink so I stepped in to translate. None of the Americans asked me about Brexit which was a relief.
A final view of  Korčula
A bit more aimless wandering around and then we caught the twelve o'clock ferry back to Orebic for an afternoon of lounging and reading and swimming before another delightful buffet dinner. Only the desserts have disappointed.

Back to England in the morning.
View from the monastery boathouse, Badija Island

13 September 2019


At Kućište today - typical Croatian scene
This morning I put my walking boots on and marched west - four miles along the peninsula. Shirley was happy just to veg out by the hotel pool with a book.

I stopped two or three times to read more chapters of "Beloved" by Toni Morrison. I am finding it hard going. It's not the kind of novel you race through.

At one of my shady stops I was joined by a thin fellow from New Jersey. He had just got off a motor launch.
 "Mind if I join you?"

"No. Go ahead."

"Say. Where are you from?"

"I'm from Yorkshire. Yorkshire, England."

And that was his invitation to hammer home half-formed views about Brexit. He wanted to say something along the lines of - We've got Trump but your shit is worse buddy! No nice questions or remarks about family, pastimes, music, the meaning of life or the loveliness of Croatia - just straight into Brexit like a bird of prey. Quite annoying really. Perhaps he didn't realise that he had rudely interrupted my reading.

After ten minutes he got into a black Mercedes people carrier and was whisked away with his holiday companions. I was glad to see the back of him but I waved anyway. I suspect his name was Dick.
View from our room on Thursday evening
It wasn't the loveliest walk I have ever plodded but it was nice to be right next to the sea, burning off calories. I found a small village supermarket in which I bought a bottle of Diet Coke, an orange and a curly sausage roll. This was my lunch and soon I was walking back in the direction I had come from.

Back at the hotel it was time to swim - both in the sea and the pool. I fell asleep briefly on the white sunlounger and then came up to our room to polish up a short story I have been working on for an annual competition that is held in Sheffield. One thousand words is not very many.

Meanwhile our daughter Frances is now on the island of Hvar about thirty miles from here. It is a long weekend office getaway beano and she is there with fifteen work colleagues - all paid for by her company. That kind of thing never happens to schoolteachers.

Finally - a mummy cat and her four kittens in the hotel grounds. They have attracted a lot of happy attention from guests:-

12 September 2019


"We hope for reports of blue skies, sunshine and pretty scenery, and the occasional description of good food to cheer us..." - Coppa's Girl
Bronze bust by the wharf at Badija
No ambulance reports today.

This morning we were down for breakfast before eight o'clock. I had a glass of orange, two white coffees and the following food items - a bowl of muesli with some extra dried banana slices, a plate containing a scoop of scrambled egg, two slices of grilled bacon, a spoonful of fried mushrooms. some fried onions and a sausage. I also had a buttered bread roll.
I threw a crust of bread into the sea at Badija
Then we walked to the wharf at Orebic where we boarded the M/B Papa just before 8.45 am. We had booked a leisurely day trip. It took us along  The Pelješac Peninsula - almost to the very end and then  across the channel to the coast of Korčula. 

We travelled along it until we came to the island of Badija where we had a three hour stop for exploring, swimming and perhaps visiting the large Franciscan monastery there. At 1pm we had lunch aboard the boat. The blue skies were blue, the sunshine was bright and yellowy and the scenery was pretty and green or aqua blue.
On the M/B Papa
Shirley and I hiked all the way round the island that probably has a population of no more than twenty including some surprisingly fearless deer. After lunch we were on our way to Lumbarda which is a seaside village to the east of Korčula Island. We were there for two hours and found a surprisingly sandy beach. No diving shoes required. 
The Franciscan monastery on the island of Badija
Deer chewing melon rind
I swam far out like a sealion but I did not clap my flippers nor shout "Arf! Arf!" and I certainly didn't balance a beach ball on my snout.
Naturist bloggers like Tasker Dunham please note.
There - the blogpost is done. I sincerely hope that it meets with Coppa's Girl's approval. After all, I don't want to upset anybody, do I?
Returning to Orebic

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