30 April 2020


In spite of  The Great Lockdown, it has taken me several days to finish reading "The Body" by Bill Bryson. That is no reflection upon the readability of the writing but upon my own lethargy.

I think I have read every book that Iowa-born Bill Bryson has ever written. Over the years, his preferred genre has been observational travel writing. His dry wit has given me many belly laughs.

This book represents a very different departure. In 386 pages Mr Bryson takes us on a well-researched tour of the human body. He possesses no medical qualifications but what he does possess is an enquiring mind and a rare ability to  convey challenging information in an accessible manner. He is a gifted communicator - at least when employing the written word.

The chapters of "The Body" are all of manageable length. You never feel overwhelmed by them but Mr Bryson packs a lot of information in. There are twenty three chapters in total with titles that range from "Microbial You" and "The Guts" to "The Immune System" and "Nerves and Pain". Incidentally, beyond the 386 pages of text there are a further fifty pages of explanatory notes, an extensive bibliography and index.

Most of us travel around in our bodies without knowing a great deal about them. Even doctors and biologists tend to specialise in particular aspects of the body and may be quite ignorant about other aspects. There is so much to know and in a sense Bill Bryson's book is just the tip of an iceberg of body knowledge.

The very last chapter is called "The End" - considering, as you might imagine, what happens when life leaves the human body. And that inquisitive chapter ends like this:-

For those who choose to be buried, decomposition in a sealed coffin takes a long time - between five and forty years, according to one estimate, and that's only for those who are not embalmed. The average grave is visited only for about fifteen years, so most of us take a lot longer to vanish from the Earth than from others' memories. A century ago only about one person in a hundred was cremated, but today three-quarters of Britons and 40 per cent of Americans are. If you are cremated, your ashes will weigh about five pounds (two kilos).

And that's you gone. But it was good while it lasted, wasn't it?

29 April 2020


The British government have been saying that we do not need to wear masks so many people have decided to make masks. Shirley is one of them. She has been busy on her sewing machine and has already made perhaps twenty masks. They are in double ply cotton and all kind of pleated so that they will wrap around one's face and they have elastic loops to go around one's ears.

That's me in the top picture modelling my new mask. Rather stylish, huh? As an aside I think I look devilishly handsome in that photograph. I know that some visitors were curious about my appearance - well, now you know! And to Mr Tasker Dunham and Mr Robert H. Brague may I say that I am well aware that I need a haircut! Blame the ****ing pandemic for that shaggy Old English Sheepdog look.

I have many talents but using an electric sewing machine is not one of them.  Hand sewing would be equally disastrous. Consequently, I am unable to make Shirley a coronavirus mask in return for her kind gift. 

However, I had the bright idea of ordering her a mask via a little start-up company called Amazon. I flicked through what was available and selected the mask - well full head gear shown below. I believe it is called a niqab hood and it is worn by some women who follow the Muslim religion. I think that Shirley will be very happy with it. I can be such a thoughtful husband at times. Damn the expense!

28 April 2020


Being an Americophile, I like to keep a handle on what is happening Stateside. Unfortunately, some of the top newspaper sites require subscription. However, the website of "The L.A.Times" still allows open access. During the time of The Virus, I have been over to "The L.A.Times" on  a good number of occasions.

Of course the newspaper has a particular focus upon events in southern California but it is not entirely parochial. It gives serious consideration to both national matters and to significant international happenings too. I especially like the "Opinion" section in which the editor and senior correspondents stand back from the present moment to reflect intelligently upon current affairs.

In general, it is clear that "The L.A.Times" is not a big fan of the forty fifth president. They see through his shenanigans, dissecting his utterances and tweets while identifying both his failings and his oftentimes dubious motives. I guess that in Mr Trump's book, this intelligent scrutiny would put "The L.A.Times" in the "fake news" corral along with other champions of democracy and political transparency.

Commenting on Trump's approach to the COVID 19 crisis, veteran columnist Scott Martelle said this last Thursday: "Amid the noise, he pushes forward his agenda, keeps flogging his supporters like a jockey at Santa Anita Park and tries to keep those who disagree with or oppose him on a defensive footing. That’s no way to lead a country, even one that isn’t in the midst of a dangerous pandemic."

It isn't easy for any newspaper in the western world to both survive and keep the beacons of service and truthfulness burning. But my visits to "The L.A.Times" confirm that the paper maintains its independent spirit and its standards. In free countries, newspapers have always played an important role in describing, in challenging and in unravelling. Their gradual disappearance is very concerning.

To visit "The Los Angeles Times", go here.

27 April 2020


This is my "Findig" leather wallet. I bought it in Bangkok, Thailand in 2011. There's nothing exceptional about it. It serves my purposes nicely. I didn't want a wallet with an integral coin section. In my humble opinion, such wallets are for wusses. Insincere apologies to any male readers who use such a wallet. (Guffaws like Mutley in "The Wacky Races")

In my entire life, I would estimate that I have possessed no more than six wallets. One of them was stolen from me by a prostitute in a bar in Lautoka, Fiji in 1973 when I was as drunk as a bishop on a Butlins holiday. Wallets are like companions that travel with men through huge chunks of their lives. Usually, it's not the same for women.

I could waffle on about wallets for several more paragraphs but that was not the intention behind this particular blogpost.

Inside my wallet there are currently three £20 notes and six £10 notes. That's £120 in total. I collected the three £20 notes  from our local Sainsbury's store on March 19th following two minor wins on The National Lottery. The six £10 notes had been placed in the wallet after a visit to an ATM on March 15th.

The banknotes have remained unused for  over a month. Since the lockdown began all the payments I have made have been contactless card payments. I suspect that you might be the same and so what I want to ask is this - Has the pandemic signalled the end of real money? Will we ever again use banknotes and coins as frequently as we did before?

26 April 2020


Though I love birds, I am not very good at identifying them.However, when I got home yesterday I swiftly confirmed that the bird pictured above was indeed a meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis). Though the species is in decline, they remain common enough to feature prominently in the natural soundtrack of my moorland walks.

I wasn't far from home. Just a couple of miles away near Brown Hills Farm at Ringinglow. It is a sheep farm with two or three hundred sheep. And yesterday afternoon there were plenty of lambs about, enjoying both the sunshine and their mothers' vigilant protection
The lamb shown below has already realised that it cannot rely on mother's milk forever.
I wandered up Rud Hill with its views of Redmires Reservoirs. On the hillside amid the rocks and the heather there are occasional trees bent by south westerly winds. I took a couple of photographs of one of them then dropped down to it. There in the crook of two bent limbs I spotted this:-
It is an old tobacco tin with hand sanitiser attached. Inside there was a small notebook and a little silver-coloured pen. I flicked through it. Not especially interesting. Perhaps it was all part of a geo-location game but I had stumbled across it by pure accident. It was at least thirty metres from the official path over the moors. Naturally, I wrote something in the notebook - scribbling down the meaning of life for anybody who might be interested.

Finally, here's another picture of the meadow pipit:-

24 April 2020


Shira Haas as Esther Shapiro in "Unorthodox"
Several months ago, our beloved daughter got us hooked up to an Amazon Fire Stick. It has been useful for watching the BBC i-player - catching up with programmes that have passed by. At first we were reluctant to venture into "Netflix" territory but finally succumbed.

She recommended a four-episode drama series that came onto "Netflix" at the end of March. It is called "Unorthodox" and is largely focused upon a young woman called Esther Shapiro - or Esty who effectively escapes from the stifling expectations of a strict Jewish Hasidic community based in Brooklyn, New York.

Esty flees to Berlin where her mother lives and attempts to embark upon a new secular life - that is until the past tries to catch up with her.

Delivered in an intriguing mixture of Yiddish, German and English, "Unorthodox" is a beautifully crafted quartet of episodes which ends with some hope for the future. Esty is physically small and vulnerable. Her part is played sympathetically and convincingly by a young Israeli actress called Shira Haas.

I enjoyed "Unorthodox" immensely. There was no killing and no detectives solving crimes but there was a tender story and there were several excellent performances. You felt lost in this drama and to me that is how great drama should affect you. Convincing and absorbing.

If you have access to Netflix, perhaps you will give this mini-series a try.

23 April 2020


The remote shooting lodge on Broomhead Moor
Earlier today, I walked two miles along a rough moorland track that leads to a grouse shooters' lodge. You can imagine them, during the grouse shooting season, driving up there in Land Rovers and other rough terrain vehicles. They'll be dressed in earthy colours with waxed Barbour jackets and flat caps.

They'll have their prized rifles and boxed cartridges with them as well as bottles of beer and flasks of whisky. There'll be handshakes and manly guffawing and a sense of anticipation as they contemplate the killing spree that will occur in an hour or two. There will be an unspoken shared belief that it is perfectly all right to blast moorland birds out of the sky as they come flying over the heather horizon.

They will be waiting in grouse butts, their hearts beating faster. Guns at the ready. Isn't this what it means to be a man? Besides, weren't grouse born to be shot? I say, what sport! How many did you bag Mortimer?
Typical grouse butt on Broomhead Moor
Up there on the featureless moortop I separately disturbed three mountain hares. They scooted off as if they had just seen Frankenstein's monster. Little did they know, that it would be my dream to simply stroke their fur and look into their eyes. I also disturbed three red grouse. They rose from clumps of heather just in front of me cackling in their familiar way and just about making me jump out of my skin.
Track from the shooters' cabin
It was good to be up there on the quiet moors with a compass in my hand and my trusty Sony camera slung over my shoulder. Three hours after leaving him snoozing under roadside pines, I returned to my moody South Korean companion - Mr Clint. He was quite grumpy when I woke him by inserting the ignition key.

"Ouch!" he exclaimed. 

And then we roared off - back to the city - in time to make Nurse Pudding a delicious evening meal. Later, I watched the last episode of "Unorthodox" courtesy of Netflix. Excellent. I might blog about it next time.
High on Broomhead Moor with my compass

22 April 2020


One Day

One day we’ll live again
Stride over dunes till the sea appears
Putting these present fears
Behind us.

One day we’ll sing again
Voices raised to the stars above
Choosing sentimental songs of love
To remind us  

Of how we were… before.

One day we will embrace again
Sensing our hearts thud within
Touch, voice, smell, everything
That defines us.

One day we’ll fight again
For hope, for freedom and what’s right
To rage against the dying of the light
That blinds us.

One day….

21 April 2020


Here are a few photographs from yesterday's walk - still within the boundaries of The City of Sheffield. It was pleasant to discover some paths that I had not plodded along before - between the Rivelin and Loxley valleys.

There were plenty of lambs around on what was a beautiful spring day. Not a cloud in the sky and no contrails either - now that very few military or civilian flights are operating. And when I was on the lanes round about the hamlets of Storrs and Stopes and Hilltop I didn't see a single motor vehicle apart from a sheep farmer's quad bike.  
Emerging from a dell through which Load Brook ran, I climbed up to Hill Farm and then proceeded along the farm's track towards Riggs High Road. Half way there I spotted a very rustic bench by a wall. It had an engraved metal plate in the middle. Strangely the plate was badly scratched but I was still able to discover that the bench was dedicated to the memory of Harry Potter!
Harry Potter memorial bench
I kid you not! But not the Harry Potter boy wizard invented by J.K.Rowling. The Harry Potter in question was a farmer - born in 1926. He died in 2006. How weird it must have been for him to discover that his ordinary name had become ultra-famous in the ten final year's of his life - with best selling books, a hugely successful film franchise and a legion of fans. So strange.
Mirror reflecting Greenfield Cottage at Storrs
On a bench by Riggs High Road, someone had left a wedge of wood with topical messages burnt into it:. "Stay Safe", "We'll Get Through This" and "Follow the Guidance".  Very soon afterwards, Clint drove me home where I prepared a nice tea of salmon, French beans, roasted tomato and my latest culinary invention - colcannon cakes - using leftover mashed potato and spring cabbage from our Sunday dinner. They were pretty yummy.
View to Stannington from Spoon Lane

20 April 2020


"My Sharona" by The Knack (1979) has been widely revised since we entered the pandemic. Musically inclined folk  have been tempted to play around with the name Sharona - changing it to Corona instead. 

Come on everybody, let's sing along!

Ooh, my little pretty one, my pretty one
When you gonna give me some time, Sharona
Ooh, you make my motor run, my motor run
Got it coming off o' the line, Sharona
Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind
I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind
My, my, my, aye-aye, whoa!
M-m-m-my Sharona

Come a little closer, huh, a-will ya, huh?
Close enough to look in my eyes, Sharona
Keeping it a mystery, it gets to me
Running down the length of my thigh, Sharona
Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind
I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind
My, my, my, aye-aye, whoa!
M-m-m-my Sharona
M-m-m-my Sharona

When you gonna give to me, a gift to me
Is it just a matter of time, Sharona?
Is it d-d-destiny, d-destiny
Or is it just a game in my mind, Sharona?
Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind
I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind
My, my, my, aye-aye, whoa!
M-m-m-m-m-m-m-my, my, my, aye-aye, whoa!
M-m-m-my Sharona
M-m-m-my Sharona
M-m-m-my Sharona
M-m-m-my Sharona
Ooooooo-ohhh, my Sharona
Ooooooo-ohhh, my Sharona
Ooooooo-ohhh, my Sharona

Alternative version

19 April 2020


Back in the sixties the British tea company Brooke Bond sponsored an educational awards programme that was open to every school in the land. Book prizes were given for art, essay writing, handwriting and other skills that I don't recall.

However, what I do remember is that I won two first prizes. In 1964 I won the school prize for handwriting and became the proud recipient of the "Children's Encyclopedia - Book of Learning" (see the top picture). That book has travelled with me all my life and it still sits on a book shelf in our house. The illustrations within are almost all in black and white though for some reason the frontispiece is a coloured painting of The Trojan Horse. Who could tell what was within? Rather like other people's heads.

Inside the front cover a prize label was stuck - presumably by Brooke Bond staff - declaring my happy success. I had nice handwriting when I was ten years old - partly testament to the great store my village primary school placed on neat handwriting. We had daily copperplate writing sessions. My handwriting is not as neat these days. Like everybody else, I have found there's less need for handwriting these days. The keyboard has taken over.

The contents of that prize book appear to be biased towards ancient civilisations. There's a whole chapter on Easter Island. Perhaps that was the seed of the idea that eventually took me to Easter Island forty five years later.

There's even a picture of an Easter Island "bird man" on a stone but the reference to "the Polynesian religion" is lazy. There was never a single "religion" in the countless Polynesian island communities that spread across the vastness of The Pacific Ocean.

In 1965, I won another first prize - this time for Art. I received the "New National Dictionary" this time. There it is below, still with me but battered through use. I had it by my side throughout my grammar school and university years. The pages are now yellowing and it smells fusty as if it has been in the vaults of a museum for decades.
 As you can imagine, many words are absent from  that dictionary, including the word "computer" and back then - in 1965 - the word "gay" meant "lively, merry, light-hearted". Apparently, there was no such being as a "transsexual" and I kid you not - one of the meanings of "trump" was "to impose upon; to deceive" and "trumpery" was defined as "anything showy but of little value; rubbish".
How could I throw these books away? They have been with me for more than half a century. Travelling companions on the road to nowhere. On the days that I received them, how could I have foreseen that they would still be with me when I reached the foothills of old age?  Here are the prize labels:-

18 April 2020


These are our coronavirus days. We will remember them for the rest of our lives. Days when the calendar and the clock did not seem to matter very much. Days of Zoom and long phone conversations with loved ones. Lazy days with time to think, to read, to remember, to bake bread and plant seeds.

And yet, and yet...it is always there in the background isn't it? The Thing. Regular TV and radio are filled with it. Word after word. "Epidemic...testing...waves of infection...deaths...sobering...social distancing...health systems...PPE..." So many words that they wash over you. And there's The Orange sneering at journalists, petulant, awkwardly reading other people's words, caring only about re-election. Narcissus reborn.

Word after word. Number after number. Image after image. Plastic visors and coffins. Photographs of the living before they became the dead. Smiling. Unaware. As a Yorkshire centenarian pushes his rollator up and down his driveway. Wearing his medals. 

Yes. These are our coronavirus days. Like a long holiday but with persistent tension in the air. Like the top E string on a guitar. Over-tightened and taut as though it might snap.
On Wednesday, I walked in Graves Park. Not graves as in a huge burial ground but Graves as in John George Graves the Sheffield philanthropist who gave that  splendid 227 acre park to the city.

There's a lot of variety. Ancient woodland, sports pitches, streams, an animal farm, a nursery, a cafe, meandering paths. By  a meadow arrayed with cowslips I sat upon a sunny bench to read for half an hour. Nobody else wandered by that secluded spot.

Then I ambled to the fields where over the years generations of highland cattle have grazed with their unwieldy horns and their Beatles fringes. On Wednesday afternoon there were just two adolescents - one black and one ginger. They play-fought or perhaps they were just scratching each other's heads. You wouldn't want to mess around with horns like that. Fortunately, theirs is a very gentle breed.

I made a short diversion to the churchyard of Norton St James. Within nicely painted blue railings there is the grave of England's foremost Regency period sculptor - Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841). He created lasting portrait sculptures of both King George III and George IV as well as James Watt and William Pitt the Younger. Our American cousins may be interested to learn that he also created a classical sculpture of George Washington that can still be seen in the Massachusetts State House.

17 April 2020


In this terrible pandemic, news services have told us about how COVID 19 has affected China, Italy, France, Spain, the USA and Great Britain but who is talking about Belgium? Yes, Belgium. At this moment in time it is the worst hit country in the world.

Belgium has a population of 11.6 million. but it has lost 4,857 people which is 419 dead per million. So far my country has a death toll of 202 per million, the USA is at  104 fatalities per million and Italy is at 367 per million. Spain is just slightly behind Belgium with 413 dead per million.

Of course there are stories behind all the pandemic statistics. Some countries are better than others at collecting accurate data. While several countries are scrupulous about adding in  deaths in the home or in homes for the elderly, other countries only record hospital deaths. 

Behind some of the numbers there is political skulduggery and behind others there is simple incompetence. As a former British prime minister allegedly once said: "There are three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies, and statistics".

Nonetheless, the current numbers about Belgium are possibly correct. The situation may change but here on April 17th it is the worst affected country in the world. Spare a thought for the Belgians, for those who have already gone and the families who grieve.
LATER - Midday Friday. Updated Belgian statistics.  5163 deceased or 445 per million. If the same death rate was transferred to the USA, America's  tally would now be 138,600.

16 April 2020


It's nice when you can squeeze two blogposts out of one country ramble. I'm thinking about Tuesday - the day I saw the sheep with the two lambs.

Earlier I had parked Clint at Hollow Meadows before plodding four or five miles along a familiar route that took me to Sugworth Hall and the redundant tower known as Boot's Folly.. 

I have blogged about that tower before and I have photographed it on several occasions. On Tuesday I was pleased to see some cows in the vicinity of the tower - adding interest to my images.

The tower was built under the instructions of Charles Boot (1874-1945) who was the wealthy boss of a successful construction company. He lived at Sugworth Hall. When the economic depression of the mid nineteen twenties hit the western world, Charles Boot commissioned the building of a stone tower that would keep a team of his builders occupied for a few months.
Though disused, it still stands proudly above Strines Reservoir - looking down  the valley to Dale Dike Reservoir and the village of  High Bradfield beyond. In the same decade, the Boot family had a new house built on the estate. It's called Bents House and is just a stone's throw from Boot's Folly. It is assumed that the 1920's team that worked on the grand new house then went on to build the tower.

I love the position of Bents House and have sometimes thought of it as my dream home though of course I have never been inside.

Descending from the tower, I walked parallel to Dale Dike Reservoir and along Bradfield Dale before starting a long climb back up the valley side crossing Blindside Lane, Hoar Stones Road and Wet Shaw Lane. This brought me to  the sheep pasture I referred to in the last blogpost. Soon after that, I watched a brown hare sprinting across a ploughed field. Unlike the rest of us he knew nothing of COVID 19.

Approaching Clint, I could hear him snoring from twenty yards away. I  pressed the button on my electronic car key and he woke up as though emerging from a dream.

"What were you dreaming about?" I asked.

"Need you ask?" he said. "Margaret of course. Lovely Margaret."


"You know. That cute VW Beetle that lives at Number 198.  She winked at me  last night.  Made my radiator boil."

As we drove home, Clint was whistling the theme tune of "The Love Bug" (1968) but I was just happy to have been out on my own plodding miles in the sunshine without a police drone flying above me, feeling free but still within the limits of The City of Sheffield.
Bents House

15 April 2020


Yesterday I walked along Stake Hill Road. It is a moorland track but still within Sheffield's city limits, close to the Derbyshire border. To the left of me was a two acre pasture with fifty to sixty ewes in it. 

I was thinking to myself - I wonder when these sheep are going to give birth to their lambs? After all, we are in the middle of April. And then half way up the track I spotted one mama sheep with two newly born lambs. They must have been born in the field within the past twenty four hours. They were so gangly. It is always a real joy to see new spring lambs at this time of year.

And then at the top of the field I spotted another ewe behaving oddly. And there beside the stone wall I noticed a white pile of lifeless lamb. The mother was clearly confused and somewhat distressed. She backed off and looked at me - as if saying, "Please help!"

But there was nothing that I could do. Nothing anyone could do. Without human intervention, the lamb had probably suffocated on mucus or placenta. I did not capture an image of the dead lamb - largely because of the electrified wire fence between us but here is a picture of the mother. Can you feel her grief?

14 April 2020


Still within the boundaries of The City of Sheffield, Shirley and I were up on the moors on  the morning of Easter Sunday. We walked along an ancient track called Houndkirk Road, passing an eighteenth century milestone before visiting the site of what was once a moorland farm. Little is left of it - just some gateposts, field boundaries and a foot-worn stone that showed where the farmhouse's doorway would once have been. 

Then we walked beside a long estate boundary wall that took us up to The Ox Stones on Burbage Moor. You can see them in the top photograph. They have stood there for thousands of years - long before human beings appeared on the scene.
When we got home we enjoyed a beautiful blue sky afternoon - pottering around in the garden. I put a few seed potatoes in the vegetable plot and dug a trench for peas which I enriched with homemade compost and chicken manure pellets.  The grey clouds of the morning - seen in the accompanying pictures - were swept away and  under the baby blue sky we were wishing we had taken our walk a little later in the day.

Since I retired I have cooked nearly all the main meals in our house so it made a pleasant change when Shirley said she would prepare the Sunday dinner. We had topside beef, roasted potatoes, spring cabbage, roasted carrots, Yorkshire puddings and gravy. This was followed by slices of the bramble pie I baked on Saturday - with cream. Later, we watched the Elton John biopic - "Rocket Man" and enjoyed it. I am still fascinated by Elton's fifty year songwriting relationship with Bernie Taupin.
For the record - total coronavirus deaths in Great Britain  - 11,329. Hospital deaths today 717.  167  fatalities per million

13 April 2020


You know how you get those pop up ads that appear almost magically to reflect topics you have been googling? I don't know if it just me but when ads for an online fashion business called "NewChic"cropped up, I felt slightly sick. 

At first I thought it might be a bad taste joke, but no! This company is touting a range of products connected with COVID 19 - from whole body suits to masks and goggles and as you can see in the three examples shown here - protective headgear.

Should any business be gratuitously and blatantly profiting from the current crisis? In my way of thinking - certainly not. If "NewChic" has the wherewithal to produce this range of protective products they should instead be putting their manufacturing processes into the hands of National Health Service Personal Protection Equipment  procurers and being a part of the fight back against the virus.

Many carers, doctors and nurses are crying out for P.P.E. and there's "NewChic" merrily seeking to make money out of this awful health crisis. I believe it's not right. What do you think?

12 April 2020


Yesterday morning, Shirley and I took our permitted exercise in Ecclesall Woods – an area of natural woodland less than half a mile from this house. I made a point of passing by George Yardley’s grave. He was a charcoal burner who tragically burnt to death in his humble woodland cabin on the night of October 11th 1786. Little is known about him so I decided to make up a story… 


My name is Tom Smith. I was born in the parish of Ecclesall Brierlow, on the southern edge of Sheffield town in t’ year of our lord seventeen hundred and forty two. My father William were a besom maker afore me and twas he as taught me the business of it all and how to make a penny or two to keep t’wolf from t’door. 

We had an hovel in t’woods by t’track as leads to Beauchief Abbey an’ that’s where we worked come rain or shine, winter or summer mekkin us besoms or brooms as some calls ‘em. And they were good besoms too. Stout handle of hazel and dry birch twigs bunched at bottom tied tightly wi willow withies. No better besoms were made in all of Hallamshire. 

Them woods were allus misty wi smoke from t’charcoal burners’ mounds. They needed charcoal see for furnaces in t’valley. Charcoal’s hotter than wood. Hot enough t’melt iron ore. 

Course we knew some o’them lads – wood colliers I mean – them as made charcoal. On Friday neets me an me old man’d toddle off t’ Rising Sun pub on Abbey Lane afore headin’ home. And over years we got reet friendly wi an old lad called George Yardley. He could tell a story or two and he could sup ale like a ruddy ‘orse he could. 

He lived in a cabin int woods, on his own like. Just a short toddle from t’pub. Any money old George got he’d spend on ale or rabbits from gamekeeper Mester Glossop. 

Anyway back in 86 , George’d been in Rising Sun till chucking out time. Landlord said he were weavin’ like a sailing boat on t’sea. But that were no different from usual. 

It were a chilly autumn neet. Maybe George lit a fire afore retirin’ to his bed. Maybe it were a candle. Nobody knows for sure. But next mornin’ his cabin were burnt to ground. All black an’ smouldering it were. 

Me dad and me we were among first at t’ scene. There was nowt you could do. Nowt. George’s body were under t’ burnt roof timbers. Smell were terrible. We left it t’others t’pull the poor devil out. 

He were a good lad were George. He allus said that he wanted to be buried where he had lived and worked for nigh on fifty years. So that’s what we did. We buried him there under t’trees - waitin’ for winter snows to cover paths, waitin’ for birdsong to fill t’trees, waitin’ for t’bluebells to come again. 

It were Sampson’s notion to get a gravestone for George. We knew a young stone mason from Totley who’d do it cheap like. So that’s what we done and it’s still there to this day. I’d often walk by it when scouring for hazel and think of old George in t’Rising Sun all them years past.

11 April 2020


Brian Bradshaw
I knew things weren't right when I spotted a panda driving a bus. I rubbed my eyes and did a double take. Yes it was a panda - unless the driver had for some unknown reason decided to wear a panda costume for the day. That was it! Fancy dress. Probably raising money for a good cause. I tried to brush the memory from my mind. This was back at the beginning of March.

A couple of days later I noticed that the little golden bamboo grove at the bottom of our garden had been decimated but I could see no sign of a pest infestation or disease. Some of the bamboo canes appeared to have been uprooted. Mysterious.

And then - round about March 18th I was walking in the Derbyshire countryside when I saw a panda strolling towards me on his hind legs. As he passed me by he raised his trilby hat and said "Good morrow!" What the? Had somebody spiked my water bottle?

I thought I was going mad - hallucinating. Then  when I got home Shirley said she had seen a family of pandas entering the old cemetery near her health centre. 

We kept spotting them. Pandas stacking shelves in the supermarket. Our weekly refuse collection was undertaken by a team of pandas and there were pandas driving past in Fiat Pandas. There was even a pair of pandas in uniform - sitting in a police panda car drinking coffee from Starbucks unrecyclable beakers. The world appeared to have gone bonkers!

And to cap it all on April 1st, Huw Edwards had been replaced as the BBC newsreader at six o'clock. In his place there was a dirty great panda  - a giant panda in fact. He said his name was Brian Bradshaw (see top picture) and the leading news item was that the government had officially declared a pandemic. Oh            my           God!

Brian said, "And let's go over to Downing Street for the latest from our political correspondent Polly Panda". As Polly was prattling, the famous black door of Number 10 opened and instead of the usual  blonde scarecrow figure with  piggy eyes, another panda emerged with a bunch of fresh bamboo shoots in his mitt. He marched up to the microphone and confirmed that we were indeed in a pandemic and we should expect to see thousands more pandas. while waiting to reach the peak of the pandaemic.

10 April 2020


Last evening at 8pm prompt, Shirley and I were in front of our house. I had a saucepan and a wooden spoon. We were out there to applaud key workers during this lockdown - especially National Health Service workers on the front line. Not just doctors and nurses but porters, technicians, cleaners, nursing auxiliaries, maintenance teams and admin staff too.

Nearly all of our neighbours were out in the street with us, clapping and showing solidarity. It was the same last week and the previous Thursday too. The whole country is doing it - showing our gratitude to The National Health Service and to other key workers like refuse collectors and supermarket staff. All of our neighbours know that Shirley is a nurse nearing retirement after 44 years so on our street she kind of represents all other nurses in this besieged kingdom.

After I had made what I thought was my final beat with the spoon, I went through our house to the back garden where I had  been working much of the day. And as I stood there, I realised that the evening air was still filled with the sounds of applause and drums and saucepans being beaten with wooden spoons. The sound was coming up from the valley and over Dobbin Hill - layers of applause and some cheering voices and a trumpet too. It was very moving. We are all together in the face of a cruel, indiscriminate enemy.

Some of us won't make it. 7,798 dead in Britain now or 118 in a million. It is The National Lottery in reverse. Until it is over, 8pm every Thursday is spoken for.

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