31 October 2019


I know that some of you who live in foreign climes  enjoy looking at my pictures of this region of northern England. You live in faraway, exotic places like Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ludwigsburg, Missouri, Australia, Washington State, Florence SC, Florida, Harpenden, Colorado, West Hampstead, New Zealand, Brighton, Toronto and of course - Goole. Oh and I must remember all those Russians who regularly figure in this blog's audience statistics. To them I say: Привет, мои друзья!

All of this is just characteristic preambling as I choose some more pictures to share with you. On Monday, as I walked around Onecote in Staffordshire, I saw other things apart from cattle.
St Luke's in Onecote
One day, if I am lucky, I may be an old man - no longer capable of long country jaunts. When that time comes it will surely be a comfort to look back on posts like this one and remember the paths and byways I walked when I was younger - retracing and reliving my steps. And if that old man is reading this I say to him - Do as the carers tell you and stop dribbling soup down the front of your pyjamas! Nurse!...Nurse!
Redundant telephone kiosk in Ford

30 October 2019


In general interest television interviews or chat shows, you will often hear people declaring that they "like their food". Huh? Isn't that amazing? People who like their food. Apart perhaps from folk with eating disorders, I would say that nearly everybody on the planet "likes their food". That has been my experience anyway.

Food can be a comfort, a happy distraction from mental strains, a pleasant and familiar ritual and a focus for family or celebratory events.  At weddings there is food and funerals finish with food and American Thanksgiving Days - for example - would be nothing without the feast upon the dining table. Food glorious food!

Putting aside the politics of food and healthy eating guilt trips, I just want to share with you a list of my naughty pleasures when it comes to food:-

1. A chip sandwich  or "chip buttie". By this I mean homemade fried potatoes. Two slices of fresh bread slathered liberally with salted butter. Put the hot chips inside and enjoy as the butter melts. Beautiful.

2. Salted peanuts. Most times I visit the supermarket, I have to force myself not to pile the trolley up with salted peanuts. Realising how fattening they are, I have to ration myself to an occasional packet. Savoury, crunchy and salty you cannot beat a handful of salted peanuts or even a full packet. They are so "moreish".

3. Custard cream biscuits. We never have them at home because I would devour a packet in a couple of days. Their small sandwich appearance and surface design has not changed since I was a child. There are usually a few custard creams in the biscuit tin at my Oxfam shop but when I arrive half of them mysteriously disappear.

4. A ripe banana. Not over-ripe and not green and hard. Just in the middle. How wonderful that Mother Nature has pre-packaged them for us. Hardly a day goes by without me eating at least one banana and I usually take bananas on my country walks. When hunger rumbles, a banana will usually send that beast back into its cave.

5. A sausage and tomato sandwich. Again you need fresh bread or a fresh roll. Good quality grilled pork sausages sliced down the middle. Then a large spoonful of tinned chopped tomatoes layered on top. When I pass through Sheffield's Moor Market, I often pause at one of the food stalls to order this culinary delight with a mug of tea.

Well I could go on and on with this list - apples, bacon sandwiches, sausage rolls, pork pies, peanut butter and strawberry jam on toast, Welsh rarebit... As you can see, I have kept away from proper meals like Sunday roasts, spaghetti, curries, stir fries, salads, meat pies with mashed potato and peas, fish and chips etcetera... or indeed vegan meal recipes from "Bosh!" books.

Sticking with food, what are your guilty pleasures?
A chip buttie

29 October 2019


The Peak District National Park straddles four counties - Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire. Yesterday, Clint kindly transported me right through Derbyshire into Staffordshire via Bakewell and Hartington. There were a couple of hold-ups because of road resurfacing and market traffic in Bakewell so I didn't reach the distant village of Onecote until twelve thirty.
It was so good to be walking in a corner of the national park that I had not explored before. The sun was out, my boots were on and all was well with the world. I didn't get back to Clint till 4.30pm and by then, largely because of putting the clocks back on Sunday, the light was already failing.

Along the way I saw many things, including a junction of farm tracks that looked fine to walk across until I discovered that the mud and cow shit there was about six inches deep. But once in, I had to keep going, emerging from the junction with boots that were now thick with brown gunge and twice as heavy. Up ahead there were some clear puddles that I splashed around in to remove most of the milk chocolate coloured coating. Fortunately, the boots are waterproof.

On my rambles, I am often observed by members of the cattle family. And yesterday was no different. Cattle will often look at me as if I am the first human being they have ever seen. In fields they will frequently move towards me. I have heard of horse whisperers and worm charmers, perhaps my relationship with cattle is similar.
As I walked along the track to the long disused copper mine at Mixon, there was a young bull on guard straddling the track. If he had been elsewhere in the field, I  would have walked quietly past but standing there he obliged me to hop over the fence into an adjacent field.  He continued to watch me as I moved by while  I wondered what was going on inside his bullish head. His harem was grazing close by. Perhaps he saw me as a challenger...(See the top picture).

27 October 2019


One of the things I love about England is the weather. Like life itself, it is so unpredictable, so fickle, so difficult to pin down.  Take this weekend - just as an example. Saturday was grey and miserable, dank rain drizzled from leaden skies and all colour was sucked out of the landscape. Then Sunday morning arrives and abracadabra, it is bright and beautiful under a cobalt blue sky with a handful of cauliflower clouds scudding eastward.

Time for an hour long autumn walk. Not too far. Clint took me to one of my favourite  local haunts - Whirlow Brook Park. With boots on, I patted Clint's rear and wandered off along a familiar route, into The Limb Valley and under majestic beech trees towards Ringinglow.
At this time of year, if you keep your eyes peeled, you will see all manner of fungi. Mushrooms love October. They are mysterious and multivarious. Many is the time that I have sought to identify particular mushrooms but more often than not they have defeated me. I have even been on a couple of  foraging walks with a local expert but still most examples of  fungi refuse to give up their names.
There are an estimated 15,000 different types of fungi on this green and pleasant island and around 1,700 different types of lichen.

In the autumn sunlight, today's walk was delightful. I spotted several types of  fungi and when I paused under a great beech tree I heard beech nuts popping all around me as they bounced upon the woodland floor. There was virtually no wind. It was just that the tree had decided that today was the day to release its seeds. One of them landed on my head.
I am reading a novel by Lionel Shriver at present and I had hoped to consume a couple more chapters while sitting inside Clint after the walk but by the time I had put my shoes back on it was 1.15pm. Time to speed home to make lunch for The Empress and I. 

It has been a funny, disorienting kind of day because we put our clocks back an hour this morning. The rationale for this irritating twice yearly inconvenience continues to discombobulate me - rather like the accurate identification of fungi.
Rowan tree in Whirlow Brook Park earlier today

26 October 2019


I took this picture of a red grouse on the edge of Kinder Scout in 2013
Every autumn, Sheffield hosts a "festival of words" called "Off The Shelf". There are lectures, book launches, writing events, question and answer sessions and special film screenings etcetera.

This year I have attended three special events. Firstly, a talk at The University of Sheffield by my son Ian and his Bosh! colleague Henry - promoting their latest book - "How to Live Vegan". Two weeks later I was at another venue to witness the film critic Danny Leigh talking about working class cinema and how ordinary working  people have been portrayed in films since the 1920's. It was fascinating and well-illustrated with clips.
Kinder Scout landscape by John Beatty
Last evening, I attended a third event at the city's other university - Sheffield Hallam. It was a promotional talk about a new coffee table book called "Kinder Scout - The People's Mountain". It was written by Ed Douglas with photographs by John Beatty and these upland country lovers were at the front of the packed lecture theatre.

Surprisingly, Ed Douglas was pretty hopeless - mumbling away and hardly inspiring the audience. If he had been a secondary school teacher the kids would have crucified him by now. In contrast, John Beatty had presence and talked through a hundred of his wonderful pictures with passion and self-assurance. He knows Kinder Scout like the back of his hand and has spent hundreds of hours up there.
Kinder Scout at sunset by John Beatty
I can hear some of you saying - Kinder Scout? What's that?  It is a mountain between Manchester and Sheffield. It sits in The Pennine Hills which are the backbone of England. Kinder Scout is a strange kind of mountain. It has steep, craggy sides all round it and they lead to a boggy and largely inhospitable plateau. It is not like one of those Alpine mountains with a peak from which you can enjoy magnificent views.

I have climbed up on to the Kinder plateau several times. It is a wild place that allows your thoughts to wander. Many people have got lost up there and before modern navigational aids several aeroplanes crashed there - amidst the boggy hags and groughs.  At the edges of Kinder Scout there are various exposed rock formations - shaped by the passing centuries.
The Boxing Glove formation on the northern edge of Kinder Scout (by me)
But humans have also played their part in creating the Kinder Scout we know today. Acid rain connected with coal-powered industries around Manchester has adversely affected the moorland vegetation and in several locations the  grouse shooting fraternity have sought to control the terrain in order to facilitate their "sport". Yes, Kinder Scout may feel like a lonely, wild place but it has not been immune from man's interference.

To illustrate this post, I have used two pictures by John Beatty and three of my own that I have just rediscovered on the geograph website.
Groughs and hags in the middle of Kinder Scout (by me)

25 October 2019


It was our thirty eighth wedding anniversary yesterday. Shirley worked at the health centre all day. As a nurse in various guises, she has worked for The National Health Service for forty two years. It is a wonderful organisation that has thrived for seventy years, providing good quality health care to all - no matter what their social status or financial circumstances. All British citizens pay for The National Health Service through taxation that reminds us that together we are all part of a society in which we  look after those in need, regardless of our own situations. 

The vast majority of British people are immensely proud of the N.H.S. because every family in the land has stories of how the service has helped them. I myself can recall that it has saved my life on two occasions. Sadly and insidiously, its continuation as a free service at the point of need is under threat while Johnson's Conservative Party remain in power. There are cunning plans afoot to erode the N.H.S.. - bringing in sub-contractors and business services that naturally put profit first.

Anyway, we had booked an anniversary meal at The Dore Moor Inn on the edge of the city. We were placed by a roaring log fire. 

I have contributed three hundred reviews to TripAdvisor so I am always taking mental notes of hotels and restaurants for later reference. I am happy to report that our dining experience at The Door Moor Inn was excellent.

We had a charming and helpful waitress called Lottie and time intervals were good. There was none of that lengthy thumb twiddling that can often mar a good dining experience. Above all, the quality of the food and drink was splendid.

My starter was pancetta, black pudding  & mozzarella on mixed leaf with toasted walnuts & honey mustard dressing. This was earthy and delicious. My main course was a medium grilled rump steak with fries, grilled tomato and rocket salad. For dessert, I had the triple chocolate brownie with fudge sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. To drink, because I was driving,  I just had one glass of prosecco but we also had a jug of tap water on the table.

The bill came to a most reasonable £48.50 ($62 US) with a £5 tip for Lottie. A decent meal for a decent price and a good way to celebrate thirty eight years together. 

We have travelled so far, through thick and thin and Shirley has been the love of my life. Our wedding day that blustery October afternoon in Owston Ferry, Lincolnshire seems so long ago. I had just turned twenty eight and she was twenty two. Yes - we have travelled a long way. The world is different now.

24 October 2019


My friend Mike told me a story the other night...

A man went into a restaurant for an early evening  meal and spoke to the waiter before placing his order.

The man said, "To start with I'd like soup of the day. What's that?"

The waiter replied, "It's badger, badger soup."

"Okay I'll have that then, " said the man. "And what do you recommend for the main course?"

"I recommend the roasted badger."

The man was a little puzzled. "Okay. How about dessert?"

"We've got badger mousse!"

Still puzzled the man asked, "How come every course is badger?"

The waiter replied, "Oh sorry -  I assumed you wanted the sett menu."

23 October 2019


Big Ben seen last Saturday afternoon
When foreigners think of England, they will often picture the famous tower that houses Big Ben in the grounds of The Houses of Parliament in London. It is a symbol of our nation just as The Eiffel Tower is a symbol of Paris, France and just as The Statue of Liberty is a symbol both of  New York City and the USA in general.

Big Ben is actually the great bell within that tower which should  really be referred to as Queen Elizabeth Tower. However, let us not be too pernickety, most people know the Victorian tower itself as Big Ben.

Currently subject to an expensive maintenance programme, the tower has been hidden by scaffolding since the spring of 2017. That scaffolding is scheduled to remain in place till the summer of 2021. Why the work should take four long years I have no idea. Incidentally, the estimated cost of the renovation is £61 million.

Anyway, the nub of today's post is to point out that throughout the Brexit nightmare our nation's most recognisable symbol has been shrouded from view. Arguably, the presence of the scaffolding is itself symbolic - suggesting national embarrassment or shame. Only when the political horror show is over will Big Ben be seen again.

And what will Big Ben witness when the scaffolding is finally dismantled? I hope it will see a nation that has stepped back from the brink, recommitting itself to The European Union after dumping mad Brexit fantasies in the bin. Conversely, the clock tower may find us living in Boris Johnson's dream world, bathing in unicorn milk while the oompa loompas gather cash that is falling steadily from the sky.  

22 October 2019


Six recent images to share with you today. All previously unpublished in this humble Yorkshire blog. Above - a spider I spotted just outside our front door. He or she had crafted a web between our little conifer tree and the bracket of our hanging basket. The arachnid is a European garden spider or araneus diadematus. It is pretty common in England. This particular one is called Jacob Rees-Mogg after an especially obnoxious politician. My apologies to the spider.

Below, as I walked past Trafalgar Square in London late on Saturday afternoon, I noticed how magically the fountain had been backlit by dipping sunshine. To the left you can see the base of Nelson's Column with its recumbent bronze  lions by Edwin Landseer. I remember when I first visited Trafalgar Square as a boy there were flocks of pigeons but nowadays their presence has been hugely reduced and there are no more corn sellers.
Above - a fell runner is about to reach Stanage Pole on the moors west of Sheffield. The pole stands by an ancient track that was once trodden by Roman soldiers and medieval drovers and carriers. Below in the Nottinghamshire village of Upton I spotted a yapping hound. She was watching me but  - How much is that doggie in the window?
Above, a portrait of one of Sheffield's most generous benefactors - seen in The Graves Gallery - named after him. He was a self-made  man  who arrived in the city from Lincolnshire with nothing. By the time of his death in 1945, J.G.Graves was fabulously wealthy having developed an extremely successful mail order catalogue company. He gave a great deal of his wealth back to the city. Like the art gallery, Graves Park is also named after him.

Below - I spotted this memorial on my way to Marble Arch in London. It remembers Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg, a Swedish architect who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust from German Nazis and Hungarian Fascists in the later stages of World War II. He died in  mysterious circumstances in Moscow in 1947 while imprisoned by the K.G.B..  

20 October 2019


Johnson portrayed as a glove puppet on this amazing float
On Saturday, I caught the 7.37am train down to London. In my backpack I had a large poster that I had made on Friday evening. It read "44 MILLION PEOPLE DID NOT VOTE TO LEAVE".

Sitting across the aisle from me there was someone I recognised. It was our local Member of Parliament, a ginger fellow called Jared O'Mara. By the time our train reached Chesterfield, I had plucked up enough courage to talk to  him.

Mr O'Mara has been a controversial and rather hopeless M.P.. As a traditional Labour supporter, I feel quite angry that Labour's National Executive put him forward as the party's candidate for Sheffield Hallam back in 2017. I understand that they never imagined that he would actually win the seat - ousting Nick Clegg, the national leader of The Liberal Democrats.
I thought that this fellow might be Steve Reed
Last year, O'Mara was outed for historical and unsavoury abuse through social media. He brought shame upon the local Labour party and then he left Labour to continue in parliament as an independent M.P.. His ability to properly represent his constituents and deal effectively with their issues deserves a mark of zero.

However, I am an open-minded bloke and I know that what you hear about people through media channels will often be at odds with reality. O'Mara told me that he was heading for The House of Commons to play his part in defeating the prime minister's recently achieved "deal" with The European Union. I told him that I would be joining The People's March for a second referendum and that I had voted for him in the last election.

I told him bluntly that he had let people like me down and that in my opinion he should have done the right thing and resigned his seat by now. I said that I did not vote for an "Independent". O'Mara became defensive but he had turned red and there were tears in his eyes. He said that he had never intended to let anybody down and asked me if I knew that he had been suffering from mental health issues? 
Senior Labour MP Emily Thornberry on big screen in Parliament Square
Though the train was not full at this point, I noticed that some other passengers were listening in so I decided to cut the discussion short and returned to my current novel. I helped him from the train when we reached St Pancras Station and said, "Make sure you vote against Johnson and his cronies!" Wittily, O'Mara retorted, "Don't worry pal! We'll get Boris done! Enjoy your march!"

I headed for Marble Arch where I joined a million others as we marched along to parliament. seeking a second referendum to bring an end to this Brexit nightmare.  Decades had passed by since I last joined a political demonstration. I held my poster up high and added my voice to the chants and spent four hours standing in Parliament Square  as Boris Johnson was again defeated inside The House of Commons.

18 October 2019


Cottam Power Station looms in the distance
Nine miles of tramping along through Nottinghamshire countryside. That was how I spent a good deal of yesterday. Some of the fields were soggy but I have known much worse. No muddy quagmires to contend with.

Clint decided to come to rest in the village of East Drayton, next to the now deceased "Bluebell Inn". It is so sad to witness the death of any village pub. Once "The Bluebell" would have been a home from home - a place to meet friends or to seek refreshment after a hard day at work. A place of darts and dominoes, pub quizzes and laughter - the secular heart of any sizable village. Far too many village pubs have died in recent years. It is a quiet national tragedy.
Unnamed fungi in the hollow of a tree near Hawksley Farm
From East Drayton I headed for Askham. My path was neither well-trodden nor well-signposted and at one key point there was no sign whatever of a path that was clearly marked on my map. It caused an irritating detour but at least I found an old wooden footbridge over the stream I needed to cross.
St Nicholas's Church, Askham
From Askham to Upton and thence to Headon. All four of the villages on my walk were peaceful and seemingly quite affluent. I entered three medieval churches and in one of them found a little kitchen in which I was able to quench my thirst with a drink of apple and blackcurrant cordial.
Medieval carving in St Peter's Church, Headon
The walk began in glorious sunshine under a sky that was bluer than a robin's egg. I didn't bother with my fleece jacket. However, after two hours had passed, grey cumulo-nimbus clouds appeared in the heavens and I feared a soaking but fortunately the rain never transpired.

"You took yer bloody time!" said Clint when my circle was complete. "I have been bored stiff just sitting here!"

"Never mind old boy - we are homeward bound now," I sniggered, turning the ignition key.

P.S. I am heading down to London tomorrow to join The People's March for a second referendum to end Britain's Brexit nightmare. Back Sunday evening if the cops don't apprehend me.

Cottage in East Drayton

16 October 2019


Tuesday was almost as grey and uninviting as Monday. I didn't want a second housebound day so I caught a bus into the city centre to visit The Graves Gallery on top of The Central Library.

Apart from checking out current exhibits, I knew there was going to be a free talk at 1pm - all about the abstract artist John Hoyland who was born and raised in Sheffield.

I have always been drawn to art - if you will pardon that expression - and I consider myself to be quite open-minded about artistic fayre. However, I must admit that I have often been totally unimpressed by abstract canvases. Sometimes I think this is a failing in me. Perhaps I am blinkered or unenlightened but I simply cannot help what I feel.
Before the talk, I saw a wonderful, quirky tapestry created by Grayson Perry in 2014. In a light-hearted manner, it seeks to capture what it means to be British. It is titled "Comfort Blanket" and I was of course pleased to find "Yorkshire Pudding" woven in there though I could not find "The Beatles".

The talk was by a bearded academic in a stripey woollen sweater. He mainly spoke about the differences between a canvas that Hoyland created in 1969 and another that he finished before his death in 2011. I could see depth and interest in the newer picture but the earlier one left me stone cold - just big blocks of colour. What possible merit could there be in that? It reminded me of similar canvases by the American abstract painter - Mark Rothko.

It was all two hours well spent and afterwards I went to the indoor Moor Market for a sausage and tomato sandwich and a mug of tea before visiting the T.J.Hughes department store to buy a new shirt. Then I rode back home on the Number 82 bus. Living on the edge.
Memories of Rain by John Hoyland (14.4.09)

15 October 2019


Recently, I showed visitors some holey stones that I had found on the North Yorkshire coast between Whitby and Sandsend. Helpfully, Lily Cedar from Canada informed us that such stones are sometimes called hags or hag stones. She herself had gathered a few when visiting Winchelsea on England's south coast. I must admit that I was previously unaware of  the term.
Further research told me that they may also be called adder stones. It seems that stones with holes in were much prized by ancient cultures and were often endowed with mystical qualities. For example, they might be used to ward off evil spirits.

The "Magick" website says this: "Hag Stones can be any type of stone as long as they possess a natural hole through it and if in your possession, should be considered a sacred object."

The website goes on to claim: "Hag stones are said to have many uses. They have been used by witches worldwide for centuries in both rituals and spell work. They also have been used, ironically, as a toll to counteract a witch’s magic. Legend has it that they can be used to ward off the dead, curses, sickness and nightmares."

The hag stones shown in the photographs that accompany this blogpost were found on Orford Ness in Suffolk last year as Shirley and I walked south of the old lighthouse.

As I recall it was a very happy day. The sun shone and the brambles we picked while walking  on the ness were ripe and sweet. I even wrote a song that was inspired by that strange place and the nearby village of Orford. Some of you may remember it but if not, here's a link back.

I don't believe in ghosts or evil spirits or magic spells or curses so the hag stones I collected on Orford Ness  are just souvenirs of that place  and they remind me that one stormy day in the not too distant future Orford Lighthouse will collapse into The North Sea  and will then enter the realm of memory.

14 October 2019


This is Gillian Flynn from Kansas City, Missouri. She is forty eight years old . She isn't a prolific writer but her three novels thus far have been bestsellers . She takes her time and is naturally drawn to the thriller genre.

Her writing is accessible and contemporary. Her themes are conscientiously researched in order to inform the authenticity of her fiction. Gillian Flynn studied journalism at university and indeed her working career began in that field - with a focus on police reporting.

I read "Gone Girl" some time ago and yesterday I finished "Dark Places".

It's about the disturbing murder of a farming family.  We see much of  what happened through the eyes of a child who survived - Libby Day. But she is as unclear about the circumstances of the deaths as the reader is. Only as the novel nears its conclusion are we certain about who was responsible and why.

This isn't brain food or meritorious Literature with a big "L" but it is delightfully readable. In fact, on Friday, I carried the novel in my pocket up the track to Stanage Pole where I sat and read a couple of chapters and on Saturday evening I read another couple of chapters riding on  a public bus into the city centre. It's that kind of book.

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