31 January 2020


 Ordinary life goes on. By the end of January, here in The Northern Hemisphere, we notice the lengthening of daylight. Little by little. We tick off the days. Snowdrops push through - even daffodils.

The day before yesterday, at the Oxfam shop, my manager (not manageress!) Catherine gave me a certificate and bronze badge to mark my five years as a volunteer. It doesn't seem so long ago but I really did begin working there in early December 2014. Every Wednesday afternoon - week in week out. It has become the hub around which the rest of my week seems to revolve.

Yesterday  I made a tasty evening meal for yours truly and for Nurse  Pudding who had been on duty at the university health centre all day. There was poached salmon with lemon, broccoli, pasta in red pesto, roasted tomatoes and for the first time ever - fennel. I had sliced it roughly and tossed it in olive oil with a good splash of balsamic vinegar before roasting it on an oven tray. Scrumptious! I will certainly buy fennel again.

The "Bosh!" dream journey continues. Ian and Henry are being flown out to Dubai next week for a food conference with demonstrations. Of course I am assuming that this trip is not stymied by the growing coronavirus health crisis. They will be staying in a five star hotel - all expenses paid.

Meantime last weekend's "Yorkshire Post" newspaper paid homage to the lads once again. There was even  a reference to me and to Shirley and to Henry's parents too - thanking us all for our love and support. Quite humbling.

The fourth episode of "Living on the Veg" will be screened here in Great Britain on Sunday at 10.30am (ITV 1). Also available on ITV HUB and there's a repeat of Episode 3 on Saturday morning. It's all going well. The on-screen dynamic between Henry, Ian and each week's guest is friendly, relaxed and watchable. They are two cool guys - not trying to preach - just making tasty vegan dishes. We are so proud of both of them.

30 January 2020


Lion and Lioness
The suffix -ess is interesting. When I was a boy, men who played roles on the stage were known as actors but women were known as actresses. Similarly, on buses men who sold tickets were known as conductors but women were conductresses.

Nowadays we are expected to refer to all members of the acting profession as actors. I don't know when this change happened but  it is now as if the term "actress" is somehow demeaning whereas "actor" suggests gender equality.

It's the same with manager/manageress and poet/poetess. The feminine forms are becoming both archaic and taboo.

Are you with me so far?

Okay, now let's think about some other -ess words. The fellow who is second in line to the British throne is called Prince William. You may have heard of him. You may also have heard of his mother. She was called Princess Diana - not Prince Diana but Princess. I wonder when the politically correct police are going to turn princesses into princes.

Next I think of a lion in Africa lazily flicking his tail under a baobab tree. In his pride there are several lionesses. "Lioness" is of course the term we apply to females of that particular species. It is worth noting that the England women's national football team have happily adopted the nickname  "The Lionesses".

Oh - and here's another one. If you are in a restaurant and a male member of the serving team approaches your table he is of course a waiter but when a woman approaches she is a waitress - not a waiter. Whereas "actress", "poetess" and "conductress" are apparently on their way out, "waitress", "princess" and "lioness" are alive and well in common English  usage.

As Americans are sometimes wont to say - Go figure!

29 January 2020


Britain's Royal Mint will be issuing a number of  limited edition fifty pence coins this Friday. They are  to commemorate our country's departure from The European Union - in other words to mark Brexit.

Above you can see the wording that will appear on the reverse of the coin - "Peace, prosperity and Friendship with all nations". I wonder who dreamt this wording up. Perhaps Boris Johnson's chief political adviser - Dominic Cummings who with the assistance of mainstream media cunningly engineered the tragic Conservative victory in the December general election.

Examining those words more closely I have several things to say. Firstly, half of British voters did not want to leave The European Union. Secondly, what does "leaving" mean anyway and can we ever entirely leave as we are so closely connected with our European neighbours? Thirdly, how will these coins be judged five, ten, twenty years from now? Perhaps they will strike a cruelly ironic postscript note.

Let us look at the words. In what sense does leaving a union of nations indicate "friendship"? Surely it suggests the opposite and where there is division it is historically not the best climate for either "peace" or "prosperity". These words are pretentious nonsense - trying to pull the wool over people's eyes.

"Division, regret and desperate bickering for trading advantages with all nations" would seem to me to be a more honest legend to write on the reverse of the 50p coin or perhaps simply: "Into the abyss with Mad Johnson at the helm".

In my way of thinking, January 31st 2020 will be a very sad day for Great Britain. The most appropriate way of marking it would be the tolling of bells all across the nation - solemn funeral bells. And why has "Friendship" got a capital "f" when "prosperity" hasn't? Simply stupid.

28 January 2020


Sun veiled in cloud by Frith Hall Lane
Monday morning was glorious but by the time I reached Linacre Reservoirs west of Chesterfield, a bank of light grey cloud had oozed across the firmament.

"Ah well," I thought. "It's not just about the photographs, it's the exercise too."

Clint was not so philosophical.

"What are you leaving me here for in this godforsaken car park? And how long are you going to be?"

"Around two hours," I replied.

I crossed one of the dams and headed up to Old Brampton. It was surprising how muddy it was out there. A woman emerged from her house to advise me that the public path went round the back of her property and not the side. I had the impression that she has provided such guidance before.

Soon I was on a particularly nasty section of path bordered by brambly briars. The way ahead was like a quagmire but I was determined not to fall. Derbyshire mud is notoriously slippery as I have discovered several times to my discomfiture in the past.

Soon I was on a rough farm track heading towards Westwick Farm  and onward to Frith Hall. An unleashed black dog emerged from the stackyard at Broomhall Farm to bark madly at me. "Good boy!" I pleaded and a hidden voice from one of the farm buildings yelled "Get here!" The dog complied.

As I plodded along, my head was as usual a reflecting pool for passing thoughts. The rhythm of footsteps is the perfect musical accompaniment to thinking. I remembered the recent wedding and happy things that happened long ago. I berated myself for past mistakes and for not saying  things I should perhaps have said. But gradually that annoying stuff melted away.

Miserable horses stood forlorn in the lee of hedgerows as crows gathered in the fields. A beautiful bird settled on a precarious branch and we briefly observed each other. It was probably a chaffinch.

The Birches was a busy farm property. More like an industrial estate than a traditional farm. There were warning signs and security cameras and an array of vehicles but thankfully no mud or barking black dogs.

Then on to Hemming Green and across fields towards Dumble Wood before dropping down into the shallow valley that contains the three reservoirs at Linacre.

It had been a sallow, greyish kind of afternoon but thankfully there was no rain. I saw many things and thought many thoughts. Walking can be a kind of psychological therapy and I often think that those who are troubled or depressed might feel a lot better if they simply went out walking in the countryside once or twice a week. It costs nothing.

I could hear Clint snoozing as I approached that silver South Korean beast but when I pressed the "Open Sesame!" button on my car key he stirred immediately.

"Oh, you're back!" he yawned, adding sarcastically - "Where to now Revered Master?"

"To infinity and beyond! Or Sheffield if you prefer."
View to Frith Hall from Frith Hall Lane

27 January 2020


We saw Kobe Bryant play at The Staples Centre in Los Angeles at Eastertime in 2005 when he was in his prime. He was a special sportsman and one of the greatest basketball players the world has ever seen. If I could link his death to the world of football - what Americans call soccer - I would say that losing Kobe Bryant would be on a par with losing George Best or Cristiano Ronaldo. Kobe Bryant was that big. He spent twenty years with the L.A. Lakers and won five NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals.

Helicopters, trains, boats, cars, aeroplanes - they all have the potential to take us to untimely deaths. But how should we live our lives? Cushioned in cotton wool? Avoiding all risks? That's no way to live. We must live with optimism, humility and courage as Kobe Bryant did. May he rest in peace.

We grieve also for his daughter Gianna and the other seven victims of a helicopter flight that ended in flames on a foggy L.A.  hillside just yesterday.

26 January 2020


In South Cave, East Yorkshire on Friday
This blogpost will be very boring to most visitors. 

In the "Stats" zone connected with this blog and all other blogs hosted by Blogger I had a look at two features that mean very little to me - namely "Referring URLs" and "Referring Sites". I understand that these lists are connected with how visitors arrive at one's blog.

Historically most of  Yorkshire Pudding visitors have arrived via Google or via John Gray's blog (Going Gently) or via Mary Moon's blog (Bless Our Hearts). Now I was quite happy when arrivals came from those quarters. It also made some sense.

However, recently something  happened  that  makes me feel uncomfortable - also I didn't really understand what was going on. The top Referring URL and the top Referring Site in the past week was unknown to me. It went by the name "onlinenow.top" and when I nervously investigated this link, I discovered that it was some sort of pornographic site.
Last week

There were several thumbnail pictures of scantily clad or naked women and apparently  if I had clicked on any of them it would have taken me to a separate pornographic site. It was as if "onlinenow.top" was some sort of porn hub. 

Today I am pleased to say that "onlinenow.top" has disappeared from my "referring sites" list but it bothers me that it was somehow connected with this blog and it may explain the strange presence of Russians and Ukrainians in my "audience" list.

Many of the strange machinations of the internet are mysterious to me and it is saddening that there are cunning, malicious people out there in the big wide world who will happily misuse this wonderful facility that has become so much a part of our everyday lives. We all know about online fraud but what are these bad, greedy and immoral people doing messing around in the blogosphere? Whatever they are doing cannot be good.

Perhaps our lovely German friend Meike can explain more. With her training in data protection and internet security she may be able to clarify what is going on when previously unknown referring sites start heading our lists. If Meike chooses to respond I may add her answer to this blogpost.

25 January 2020


 Back from the wedding now. 

All went well and the weather was amazing for late January. The venue was on the edge of The Yorkshire Wolds just north of the village of South Cave where Shirley and I stayed in "The Fox and Coney" pub/restaurant/hotel.

This was the view from the back of the wedding venue which opened as recently as last September:-
It was a splendid location - just perfect for the sixty guests - with a mezzanine floor where the civil ceremony happened. I guess that most second marriages can have "side issues" and I was very conscious of the feelings of Tony's two daughters from his first marriage and Pauline's two sons from her first marriage. Certainly for Tony's daughters there is a legacy of  hurt and betrayal. However, they both seemed to have a good time.

In the evening a great seven-piece soul band from Hull set up their equipment. They were called Soul Patrol and they performed with much aplomb - polished and together. Here's their lead singer, a very talented frontman:- 
The guests danced the night away but earlier they had been treated to a magnificent oration by Yorkshire Pudding whose voice boomed about the rafters and whose clever humour caused  guffawing and several secret leakages in under garments.

But the main thing is that Tony and Pauline were happy. They cemented their relationship - looking to the future in love and hope. Who says you don't get second chances? As I said in my speech -  "May they live forever!"

23 January 2020


Shirley and I are heading over to East Yorkshire this afternoon. We'll be away till Saturday and in the intervening time I won't be blogging or visiting other people's blogs. I am going to be the best man at my friend Tony's second wedding thirty two years after I was the best man at his first wedding He is marrying Pauline. Shirley has made half of the wedding cake.
My best man's speech is now written which is a relief. I was a bit like that hare in one of Aesop's fables. It would have been better to crack the speech days or even weeks ago but I left it till the last minute. Silly me. Still I am pretty happy with it and I am sure it will be well-received. All those years in school classrooms means that delivering speeches is something I take in my stride. Like water off a duck's back. In fact I quite enjoy that kind of situation and assembled wedding guesrs are generally "with" the speakers - not against them.

To accompany this little blogpost, I am adding three photographs I took on Tuesday morning while walking around Stanage Edge. I will get back to you at the weekend. Take care.

22 January 2020


Blogger is very clever. If you maintain a blog hosted by Blogger you will be able to peruse your vital statistics by clicking on "Design" on the top bar and then going to "Stats".

In "Yorkshire Pudding" the all-time most popular blogpost is one that I made back in 2009. It was titled "Chavs" and it has attracted 26,000 views. Why this should be I have no idea.

Recently another post has been steadily gaining in popularity. I wrote it last June when Shirley and I were on the Greek island of Santorini. I gave that post a Greek title - namely φεγγάρι which means "moon". This month alone  the post has attracted over 3500 views.  Click here to link to that blogpost.

If anyone out there can sensibly suggest why that particular post is attracting so many hits I would be most grateful.

Meantime, here are this month's "audience" stats for Yorkshire Pudding. At the top the battle for supremacy between the so-called United Kingdom and the good ol' USA continues with Russia and Ukraine figuring strongly alongside Canada and Australia. Interestingly, given the popularity of my  φεγγάρι post, Greece does not appear in the top ten :-
United Kingdom 6550
United States 6279
Russia 3069
Canada 1914
Ukraine 1706
Australia 1148
Ireland 731 
Italy 540 
France 533 
Poland 279
Thank you to everybody who has just read this post - wherever you may be. Receiving genuine visitors from around the world is inspirational - like fuel to keep this fifteen year old blog trucking along. But may I end by saying that bots are not welcome! Are you listening Russia?

21 January 2020


At a local hotel refurbishment
On the occasion of our thirty eighth wedding anniversary last October, I bought Shirley an amaryllis bulb rather than a bunch of flowers. It came in a box with its own plant pot and a bag of nutritious compost.

A month later she followed instructions and the bulb was placed on our fireplace tiles. We waited and waited. After three weeks, the bulb began to stir. Little green fingers emerged from the head of the bulb and gradually they grew towards the ceiling.
Last week
Christmas came and went then New Year and a flower spear emerged amidst the greenery. When would the flower heads promised on the box appear? We waited some more. Finally this very morning I came downstairs to discover that two of the flowers had opened complete with stamens crowded with yellow pollen.

The magical process has reached its crescendo as a secondary flower spear is still making its way towards the ceiling. I am sure that many of you out there in the blogosphere will have also witnessed in wonder the astonishing growth of amaryllis plants.
The name Amaryllis is taken from a shepherdess in the Roman poet Virgil's pastoral "Eclogues" and all amaryllis plants originated in the Western Cape region of South Africa.


20 January 2020


Yesterday, as high pressure settled over the British Isles, I walked in bright sunshine over flat land east of Doncaster. Having parked Clint in the village of Hatfield Woodhouse, I set off south along a frosty lane that eventually passes the sprawling site of a former World War II air base - RAF Lindholme.

To the south of this there is now a prison - HMP Lindholme which accommodates over a thousand male inmates serving sentences of four years or more. There must be some very bad guys in there.

Now I don't think about prisons very often. After all I have never even  been in one. To me they are rather mysterious institutions that I occasionally read about and sometimes they figure in hard-hitting TV documentaries. I don't move in the kind of circles where imprisonment figures though I guess that some blog visitors may have been locked up in the past.

In Britain, there are currently 83,618 people in our prisons. Men are 22 times more likely to be imprisoned than women. Currently, it costs around £40,000 a year (US $52,000) to incarcerate one prisoner and this does not include prison building costs nor educational and recreational activities. It seems bizarre to me that that money is not instead directed to improving people's life chances to effectively keep them out of prison.

In the USA, the size of the prison population is enormous. Currently 2.3 million people are locked up in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centres and state psychiatric hospitals. It is an enormous industry costing mind-boggling sums of money. Estimates vary but some reputable studies suggest that the annual cost is around $182 billion.

I wonder what the thousand inmates in HMP Lindholme were doing as I strolled by the high fence that surrounds them. Perhaps they were playing chess or table tennis. Maybe they were reading The Complete Works of Charles Dickens or simply gossiping about safe cracking and other jolly subjects like murder and fraud. Some of them may have been blogging if indeed prisoners are allowed to blog....
Life at HMP Lindholme
Sunday January 19th
Porridge for breakfast again. I finally finished "Hard Times" and I am now looking forward to "David Copperfield" which we will be discussing at the F Wing book club next month. Looking through the barred window of my cell this morning I noticed that the weather outside was nice and sunny. I saw a fellow in a blue fleece with khaki walking trousers marching by the perimeter fence. He waved at me and I waved back. I wondered where he was going and what it is like to be free. I have been in here so long that I have almost forgotten. How I wish I had not bludgeoned that old shopkeeper to death. Forgive me Lord.

18 January 2020


The past week was not a good one for the taking of photographs. Of course I am very aware that it is possible to take great pictures under leaden skies or when winds are blowing and there are rain showers but I prefer to take my photo walks in sunshine. In that respect, the best day of the week was Wednesday but of course I was working at the Oxfam shop that day.  So it goes.
Yesterday afternoon I drove up to Park Hill just east of the city centre. It was here between 1958 and 1962 that the city council sponsored a huge social housing development known as Park Hill Flats. It was the biggest social housing project in western Europe and it gave slum dwellers a chance to enjoy modern comforts in their brand new concrete city in the sky.
Park Hill Flats is a listed collection of buildings that enjoys Grade II* status. It is the biggest listed "building" in Europe Back in the 1980's there had been a real chance that Park Hill Flats would be pulled down but the listed status gave the complex a fresh lease of life. In the last ten years there has been an ambitious and ongoing refurbishment project overseen by an organisation called Urban Splash.

The housing complex enjoys westward views over the city centre to the moors beyond.

16 January 2020


Our children are not children any more. They are all grown up, living their own independent lives in which we don't figure all that much.

I visited their Instagram sites just this morning. At the top is our daughter Frances with her husband Stewart. They left London on Boxing Day bound for their honeymoon location -  Sri Lanka. They are pictured on the beach at Unawatuna - just before they flew back - arriving home  on Tuesday night. They had wonderful times on "the teardrop island", making memories that will last forever. You can see that in their happy faces.

And below you can see our son Ian with his arm around the lovely Holly  Willoughby. The Bosh! lads had a short segment in "This Morning" on ITV on Tuesday. They had to demonstrate how to prepare and cook a meat-free burger in lightning fast time and it was all live! Thank heavens they didn't drop anything.
Our children...I can hardly remember how it used to be when they were small and depended so much upon us. Bathing them, carrying them on my back, teaching them to ride bicycles, burying them on beaches, spooning food into their mouths..."Here comes the train - the tunnel is open. Here comes another train - it's Thomas the Tank Engine. The tunnel is open...", tucking them in, reading "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" over and over.

And then when they were teenagers...lying awake, wondering when they would be home, waiting for the key in the lock. Being their taxi driver, being their banker, being their friend, their guide and chef.

Was that really me? Was it in my life? Did it really happen? It's hard to believe now that they are all grown up. Oftentimes memories have the character of dreams.

15 January 2020


For a change, I went to Sheffield's newest cinema yesterday morning. It's called "The Light". I was there to see the new Sam Mendes film - "1917".

In the promotional image shown above you can see Lance Corporal Will Schofield played by George MacKay. He is the hero of "1917". He has a vital message to take from one part of the western front to a different location some nine miles away.

And what a journey it is! A journey through  mazy trenches and over a nightmarish wasteland where flies and crows feed on the corpses of dead horses as bloated human bodies float in flooded bomb craters. 

The spectacle is very convincing and often breathtaking - made more so by the illusion that we are following Schofield's mission in one long, continuous shot. The attention to detail is phenomenal. You are transported right back to that terrible war and Thomas Newman's occasional music works superbly to enhance the unfolding drama.

If you will pardon the expression, I always want to be blown away by the films I choose to watch. I want to have no reservations, to emerge from the cinema  with five stars in my eyes. However, that feeling of complete satisfaction is very rare and regarding "1917" I have a couple of small criticisms.

Firstly I would ask how, where and how often did soldiers in the trenches shave their faces? Schofield and his companion Lance Corporal Thomas Blake are as clean-shaven as every other soldier we encounter. It is as if they had all been to their local Turkish barber that very morning and what is more when Schofield smiled he had pearly white Hollywood teeth. That's surely not how teeth were in 1917.

Secondly, there's a dramatic scene in which Schofield flees his German pursuers by leaping into a fast flowing river. There are rapids and uprooted trees and he barely manages to survive the scary aquatic ride. However, there are no such rivers in the flat lands where trench warfare happened. There the rivers are wide and sluggish as they make their lazy way to the sea. It was as if he was in a mountain river.

I'm sorry. I shouldn't carp. Instead I should emphasise the big picture by confirming that "1917" is genuinely awesome. It was developed organically over several months and is a wonderful example of what team work can do when everybody is pulling in the same direction towards an ambitious goal. It is a magnificent cinematic memorial to a  tragic and ultimately pointless war in which 22 million died and millions more suffered injuries that plagued them for the rest of their lives.

14 January 2020


It's funny how the internet can take you along unexpected diversions. I guess that this is what has sometimes been described as net surfing.

Anyway, yesterday I found myself digging into the life of Elton John's lyricist - Bernie Taupin. Nowadays, at the age of 69,  he lives in California with his tall American wife and their two young daughters - but he was born and grew up in Lincolnshire, England.

Owmby-by-Spital parish church in April 2015
I discovered that his father took over a rundown farm in the village of Owmby-by Spital, ten miles north of the city of Lincoln,  and that is where young Bernie spent his formative years. It sounds like he was a bit of layabout at school - a lazy boy who was rather lost. I imagine he spent a lot of time listening to pop music on the radio in his little bedroom in the modest bungalow his father built close to the farm on Church Lane.

Young Taupin mooched around, went to village dances and discos and often ended up playing pool in "The Aston Arms" in Market Rasen which is where his old secondary school is located. His life seemed to be going nowhere until he answered an ad in "The New Musical Express". The ad was seeking songwriters. 

Elton John who was then just plain Reginald Dwight responded to the same ad and then some time in 1967 the pair of them met up in London. I believe their first dual composition was a song called "Scarecrow". 

It is said that Bernie wrote the words and Elton then wrote the music that made the words come alive. It was a strange kind of alchemy. Neither of them have been particularly forthcoming about the process but obviously it worked brilliantly for fifty years. Bernie shunned the limelight as Elton gloried in it.

Back in April 2015 I parked my car in Owmby-by-Spital and walked along Church Lane, totally unware that this was where Bernie Taupin grew up. Amongst very many song lyrics, he wrote this:-
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world
Bernie Taupin's childhood home in Owmby-by-Spital (Google Streetview)

13 January 2020


Roberta Flack singing Ewan MacColl's timeless song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" back in 1972. At the weekend, I caught this very performance on a BBC 2 music show and I was almost as entranced as Roberta appears to be herself. A talented pianist and singer, it is as if everything has come together quite magically in that performance - the song itself, her voice, her fingers on the keyboard. It is transcendent and it is as if a curtain has been pulled back ever so slightly allowing us look in - not on humanity's "heart of darkness" but on the golden brightness within - what it really means to be a human being.

Born in 1937 in Black Mountain, North Carolina, Roberta Cleopatra Flack will be 83 years old next month.

12 January 2020


How bizarre and how wonderful to see your only son on television - not just in a short news interview - but in his own one hour cooking show on ITV1. "Living on the Veg" was screened for the first time this morning and Ian and his Bosh! companion Henry came across as broadcasting naturals.

There was no preaching about veganism or explaining why there's no meat, dairy or eggs in their recipes. They just got on and did it - making delicious food. There was a guest on board for a short section - Sadie Frost - an English actress, producer and fashion designer who has hob-nobbed with the great and good and was once married - though not at the same time -  to both Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet and the film actor Jude Law.

Sadie Frost seemed to belong to a different age but Ian and Henry seemed very much to be of this century - unlike most TV chefs. They were happy together, high fiving and having fun - delighting in their results. It was a great advertisement for vegan cookery and of course "Living on the Veg" is the very first exclusively vegan cooking programme on British TV. I am sure you will concede that that's some achievement. There are nine more programmes to come in the series.

When I was walking east of Worksop on Friday, I photographed this tympanum above the south door of  Scofton Church:-
It is from The Book of Hebrews in The Old Testament. It occurred to me that each line might be the title of a novel - perhaps a trilogy. "Let Us Draw Near" would be about the early days or years of a relationship. "With a True Heart" would be about the middle years and the consolidation of happiness but "In Full Assurance of Faith" would witness the dark shadows of death as the cycle of life neared its end...

* * * * *
"Remember Ronnie - back then when we first set out. You said you adored me. That you'd never leave."
"It was under the wisteria by the old barn. I remember it Belle. As if it was yesterday."
Outside over the brooding moors that had been the backdrop to every move they had ever made, every song they had ever sung - a wolf moon slipped behind a platinum veil of drifting gossamer clouds. And somewhere down in the village a farm dog yapped repeatedly in full assurance of faith.


11 January 2020


When I was a boy, living in my home village in the heart of East Yorkshire, I would often visit our local shops. In those days the village had a population of 350 to 400 but we had six shops and a cafe. It seems almost incredible because today the village has a population of 2500 and there is only one shop.

The three shops I visited most often were Mrs Austwick's sweet shop, The Post Office run by Mrs Rosling and the general grocery shop run by Mr Peers. Many is the time that my mother would send me to Mr Peers's shop with a list or going further back in time I would accompany her there with my hand in hers. 

Mr Peers always wore a light brown shop coat. A bell above the door rang when you went inside. The shop's aroma was a mixture of everything in there from fresh bread to ham that was cut freshly on a lethal slicer and from apples to biscuits that you bought by weight from big wholesale tins.

Mr Peers was not a jovial man as I recall but he was polite and friendly. He gave his customers the time of day as pleasantries were exchanged along with current village news and local gossip. That was part of the shopping experience. Items bought were placed in one's basket - for there were no plastic bags - and then Mr Peers would calculate the bill on his ancient till with its brass number buttons and the little window at the top where the total would pop up on little white wafers made of tin.

Fast forward to 2020. 

This afternoon I visited a crowded "Aldi" discount supermarket to pick up a few things, including batteries, fresh pasta and a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Then I waited at one of the check-out conveyor belts. Soon it was my turn. 

The young shop assistant didn't say a word to me as my few items were scanned very swiftly and then he said, "Cash or card?" as I hurried to get my purchases in the plastic bag I had just taken from my pocket. No doubt as "Aldi" employee  guidelines recommend, he wanted me out of there as quickly as possible and he looked at me with evident disdain as I grabbed the bottle of wine because he was already scanning the next shopper's load and I was getting in the way.

Perhaps I should have tried to engage him in conversation - echoing the pleasant ambience once experienced in Mr Peers's shop. I might have asked about the weather or what he thought about the assassination of Qassem Soleimani under the direct instructions of Donald Trump or about what it is like to work for "Aldi".

Yes - shopping is certainly different these days.

10 January 2020


Earlier today I caught a train to the town of Worksop in North Nottinghamshire. The journey took less than half an hour. It was a lovely day - quite springlike. I walked east from Worksop railway station and out into the countryside. My ramble took in a small country estate that clusters around a grand house called Osberton Hall. After four and a half hours I was back at the railway station and on my way home as the sun began to set where it always sets - over in the west on its way to America and beyond.
 At Scofton
Osberton Hall seen from afar
St John's Church, Worksop

9 January 2020


Let me introduce you to Fake Fred Fox. He came into our lives on Christmas morning and now he sits in our garden beneath the tree where much of the bird feeding happens. Fake Fred was of course modelled on the real Fred Fox who was a regular visitor in past years. See here and here.

Fake Fred is more predictable than Real Fred. Fake Fred doesn't move unless I pick him up. Real Fred would have never allowed that to happen. He was a wild animal. Fake Fred was moulded from resinous plastic in a factory but Real Fred came out of the belly of a vixen in a secret urban den burrowed beneath an abandoned garden shed.
There are other differences too. Fake Fred never eats a thing but finding food was the number one purpose of Real Fred's life. We bought him several tins of dog food and he also chomped on lamb bones and chicken carcasses.

And Fake Fred is completely silent. But a few years ago I would sometimes hear Real Fred screaming at the moon in the back gardens behind our house. Once you have heard the yowling of a real fox you never forget it. The noise will often accompany mating rituals. Thank heavens human beings don't need to carry on that way.
Above - there's Fake Fred Fox under the bird feeding tree. He scares off cats and also acts as a perch for a cheeky robin that appears from time to time. Below you can see some of our daffodils emerging from the ground in early January. This is far too premature and like the butterfly I saw on December 30th quite starling too. You can see Fake Fred in the background. He hasn't moved an inch.

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