30 June 2020


I first began blogging fifteen years ago. I didn't really know what I was doing or why I was doing it or whether or not I would be blogging fifteen weeks or fifteen months later. But here we are. Fifteen years of my life have passed under the bridge - much of it documented via this blog.

Here's my very first post:-
As you can see, I even attracted one comment. It was from someone called Hadashi in Japan. To receive that comment from faraway was kind of magical. Encouraging too.

Four days later I posted a picture of myself being interviewed at work and the first verse of a poem about work by the late Philip Larkin who spent his most productive days in The East Riding of Yorkshire.
That post also attracted a single comment - from Zandrea! in Brookline, Massachusetts. Zandrea! was in fact two people - Zara and Andrea. Perhaps they were lovers or someone with a split personality. They or she stopped blogging four years ago.

In fifteen years I have created 3421 blogposts, receiving 1,822,114 visits. It has been quite a journey - something to look back on with a degree of satisfaction. I did that!

Only sometimes do I pause to think: Should I have done that? All those hours of blogging and reading other people's blogs, perhaps I should have saved up that energy and poured it into writing - stories, novels, poetry. Precious time has slipped away like sand in an hour glass. Fifteen years older and the end is nigh. What is there left to say?

29 June 2020


Up North

Ragged sheep graze moortops
Midst windbent gorse and heather
Lowry figures trudge to work
Heads bowed against the weather.

Stone walls form the skeleton
Of our blue remembered hills
Where terraces crawl up valleysides
From dark satanic mills

I heard a curlew calling
Her plaintive song of yore
Above these hallowed counties
Where Vikings went before

Her chorus contained questions
Of where our truth might be
Embroidered in our accents
Or lost to history.

We are the children of Captain Cook
And of Emily Davison too
Heirs to soil and industry
In this landscape that they knew.

To grinning caricaturists
We never shall succumb
Up North is where the heart is -
Great Britain’s beating drum.


I wrote this poem today - June 29th 2020. The photograph at the top is of John Crowther Mill at Marsden near Huddersfield. It was taken on November 7th 2013.
Lowry - refers to the northern industrial paintings of L.S. Lowry (1887-1976)
Captain Cook - James Cook, the Yorkshire seafarer and explorer (1728-1779)
Emily Davison - suffragette martyr buried in Morpeth, Northumberland (1872-1913)

28 June 2020


The late Tom Petty - "I Won't Back Down"
Western leaders are meant to uphold the law, to lead by example. Somebody should have told the forty fifth president of the USA. Not only does he arrogantly refuse to wear masks in environments where masks are required, he and his support team blatantly defy music copyright laws in their efforts to whip up their circus-like rallies. They just do not seem to care that the rights to "You Can't Always Get What You Want" are owned by The Rolling Stones and the rights to "I Won't Back Down" are owned by the estate of Tom Petty.

In this matter, Trump has been legally instructed to desist before  but he appears to believe that he is above the law.

Ironically, the two songs highlighted here are most un-Trumplike. Take that Rolling Stones song. The message is that sometimes you simply have to make do, lower your expectations because life is such that "you can't always get what you want". You have to move on in spite of your frustrations. One thinks of the southern border wall which will never be completed.

The Tom Petty song blasted out at Trump's recent and embarrassing rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma is a song about digging in, holding your ground and general defiance.  Tom Petty died in 2017. His philanthropy was well-known and he supported causes that are clearly at odds with Trump's main interests - including adoption, fostering, orphans, at-risk/disadvantaged youths,  creative arts education, environment, homelessness and unemployment support.

Trump will "back down" because fair-minded Americans will vote him out in November - proving that you really "can't always get what you want".  To paraphrase The Gospel of Matthew - he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. I wonder if there's a song with that message in it. If there is, they should play it at future Trump rallies - with permission of course.

YouTube links:  "I Won't Back Down", "You Can't Always Get What You Want"

27 June 2020


They often say that some people are owls and others are larks. Larks rise with the morning light and are out and about doing things while owls languish in their beds. And while owls inhabit the night hours, buzzing with ideas and mental energy, larks slumber in their nests.

I am very much a night owl. Always have been. In this sense I am rather like my mother who always seemed to be up late making things - lampshades, leather gloves, baskets or simply knitting. All my childhood, it was my father who was up bright and early to make his sons' breakfasts. Mum was always in bed. Unsurprising really as she had probably climbed the staircase to bed in the early hours of that morning.

I like the peacefulness of the nighttime. For me it's a good time for reading, writing, surfing the internet, watching a late film or looking up at the night sky. Sometimes I will even lock our front door and toddle off on a short  night walk through the silent suburbs - with very few lights to be seen in windows. It can feel as if I own the night and everyone else has gone. A fox will dart between cars. A faraway train will rumble towards Doncaster or Derby. Perhaps an owl will swoop by - a night owl like me.

Larks might claim that the best part of the day is the early morning and may cajole night owls for missing it. But I feel no guilt for I cannot help my attraction to late nights. I haven't been to bed before midnight in a long, long time. This was even true during my working years when I needed to be up and about soon after 7am. I would have been much happier if my working day had begun at 10am and finished at 6pm but frustratingly I didn't make up the rules.

It seems to me that larks and owls are at the extreme ends of a spectrum. I guess that most people are somewhere in the middle - neither a lark that rises in the early morning nor a night owl in the moonlight. If I am right then I think those in-between people require a different bird symbol. Let's call them crows. They sit on fences between fields.

Which are you? A lark? An owl? Or a crow?

26 June 2020


I hadn't had a proper picnic in years. Yesterday, Frances, Stew and I  drove over to Redmires Reservoirs for a picnic lunch. Unfortunately, Shirley was at work - no doubt sticking needles in babies.

The three of us donned our boots and set off along the mile long track that would take us to Oaking Clough Reservoir - a tiny facility below Oaking Clough Plantation. I have been there many times but Frances and Stew had never ventured there before. There was nobody else around.

The ruinous building beside the little reservoir has two separate rooms with two separate entrances. In one of them we found a ewe with her lamb, sheltering from the thirty two degree summer heat. It must be hard having to wear a woolly coat all the time. Other sheep in the area were seeking shade by old stone walls and down in gullies that run from the moors.

We spread a blanket on the soft grass and picnicked in the sunshine. I had brought tuna mayonnaise and cucumber sandwiches made on fresh low GI cob bread, cheddar cheese crackers, ripe peaches and cold Sheffield water in flasks. Sheffield water is excellent for drinking straight from the tap and ours actually arrives from Redmires Reservoirs.

We talked over baby names even though it's early days yet and such thoughts are probably premature. Frances is very keen on Phoebe for a girl which is a name that we toyed with giving her before she was born. Stewart does not want a "biblical" name if the baby is a boy. I guess that's quite understandable as he is the son of a vicar. I suggested Steve, Dave, Bob, Graham, John, Roger or Tasker  - all names which they rejected out of hand, calling them "old-fashioned" and "silly"! And when I said the name Adrian - well they laughed like dervishes, claiming it was a girl's name anyway.

Frances and Stew had sensibly applied suncream before our lunch outing but silly me hadn't. As protection I  did wear my  sunbleached sunhat from Malta but still I ended up red-faced like a ripe tomato. You would think I might have learnt by now. After all, yesterday's temperature felt like The Australian outback, somewhere near Alice Springs.

25 June 2020


Prepositions are usually thought of as common workmanlike words that allow writing to flow. But sometimes they have surprising significance.

Let's think about coronavirus deaths and death certificates. It might be said of a victim that he or she died of coronavirus or from coronavirus. In both cases the preposition indicates that the death was down to coronavirus. It was COVID that done it.

But equally it might be said that the deceased passed away with coronavirus. In this case COVID may not be the villain. It could be some other condition that caused the death - like heart disease or cancer. Just because coronavirus was present does not mean it was to blame.

When it comes to counting the dead, the selected preposition becomes important. Increasingly, it seems that there are arithmetical disparities between nations that result in both under-counting and over-counting of the dead. A lot of this is to do with how prepositions are interpreted.

Currently, Russia is admitting to just over 600,000 COVID cases. Great Britain has had just over 300,000 cases. And yet when it comes to death tolls, Russia indicates that as few as 8513 citizens have died of the disease but Great Britain has lost 43,081 citizens. Where is the mathematical logic in that? It doesn't make sense.

Clearly Russia is playing games with the truth. Quite possibly, it is scared by the truth, fearing the vulnerability it would reveal to all and sundry.

24 June 2020


The beautiful River Wye near Litton Mill
Yesterday. Socially distanced walking with my son-in-law. We walked for eight and a half miles in beautiful summer weather. How green was Mother Nature's mantle and how pure the limestone filtered waters of The River Wye. 
Bull above Monk's Dale
Our eight and a half mile Derbyshire walk took in historic Cressbrook Mill and Litton Mill - now both converted to residential and holiday units. We saw trout in the river and up on the opposite bank of the steep-sided valley we walked a section of The Monsal Trail - once a railway from Bakewell to Buxton. Too many cyclists. Too many walkers. We soon returned to the river below.
Tideswell Church
Stew and a Dominic Cummings scarecrow in Tideswell
From the little village of Miller's Dale we slogged up The Limestone Way and then along farm tracks that led us all the way to Tideswell where Stew married Frances last August - a few months before COVID came a-creeping into our lives and our collective consciousness. Looking back upon those halcyon days, it's difficult to recognise what has happened in the intervening period of time.

The world seems fundamentally changed and you wonder if we will ever get back to where we were. Thankfully, we can still go out walking - immersing ourselves in the natural environment, forgetting for a while all the stuff that has been going on.
River Wye swans

22 June 2020


I have a confession to make. It is one of my guilty secrets. Admittedly, there are others but they will remain unspoken for the foreseeable  future.

Anyway, here goes (he gulps hard). Please don't ridicule me but I like to watch two early evening quiz programmes on I.T.V. - namely "Tipping Point" and "The Chase". At least it's not an addiction to cigarettes or heroin. Surely, it's pretty harmless.

Because I have an enormous reservoir of general knowledge and interesting trivia, I like to pit my wits against the question setters.

Hosted by the genial Ben Shephard, "Tipping Point" is the slower moving of the two quiz shows. It reminds me of  visits to seaside amusement arcades - dropping 2p coins into tipping machines. I have never been able to resist them. 

"The Chase" is hosted by cheeky chappie Bradley Walsh - a very familiar face on British television. Contestants are chased down by one of the five chasers - Paul Sinha, Jenny Ryan, Ann Hegarty, Shaun Wallace or Mark Labett (aka "The Beast").  I like the fast pace of this show and the large number of questions that are posed in each episode. There's little hanging about.

So there you have it. My guilty secret is out. One or two of you out there in the blogosphere may have imagined that I am an intellectual giant who struts around reciting lines from "Hamlet" or contemplating my own navel but such suppositions are misguided. I am just TV quiz show fodder, hooked like a rainbow trout in a Scottish river or a plastic duck at a fairground.

Do you have any guilty secrets you are prepared to share? 

21 June 2020


Until we opened the box, we didn't know. There were two mugs. One for Shirley and one for me. She removed the white tissue from hers first and then I noticed she was blubbering. Why? Then I got the tissue off mine and straightaway I knew why. We are going to be grandparents if Nature takes her proper course. 

Everybody knows now so why not share the good news with blog friends? Baby Pudding should arrive after Christmas - perhaps on the day of the next Haxey Hood on The Isle of Axholme - January 6th. It's early days yet and common sense says that a proportion of pregnancies end in tears but in spite of this we cannot help being ridiculously excited. The chain of life continues - connecting us all to the past and future.

Here are the parents-to-be yesterday afternoon - under Stanage Edge with the big smiley millstone. Maybe one day I will take my little grandson or granddaughter there. I hope so.

20 June 2020


Vera Lynn died on Thursday and with her something of England died too. She was 103 years old. Significantly, her name, Vera, meant truth. 

She was just a singer but her voice was the very soundtrack of Britain's fightback in World War II. She sang for the troops and even flew over to Burma to provide a much needed lift for military personnel sent there to push back against the Japanese.

At my mother's funeral service at The East Riding Crematorium in September 2007, the last sound we heard was Vera Lynn singing "The White Cliffs of Dover". It was a special song for my mother and father for they were both in The Royal Air Force during World War II and the "bluebirds" referred to in the song anticipated returning aircraft when the war was finally over. 

I remember sitting there in the crematorium, looking up at a beautiful stained glass window through which sunlight streamed and listening in silence to:-
There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see
Mum and Vera. They were of the same generation and many times I recall my mother singing that very song as she beat the Yorkshire pudding mixture in our kitchen  or ironed her sons' shirts. For her it would have brought back memories of fliers she knew who had died and of a terrible war that wracked the entire planet like a coronavirus pandemic.

Vera was an ordinary girl from an ordinary home in East London. Her father was a plumber and her mother was a dressmaker. That was part of her appeal and to some extent explains her ability to communicate with ordinary men and women caught up in a war that was not of their making.

It is funny that when old people die, what we mostly remember is how they looked just before they arrived at death's dark door. I think it would often be far more appropriate to remember those people as they were in their prime. See Vera Lynn's signed postcard image at the top of this post. No doubt she signed it in the very middle of that terrible war when she was the nation's sweetheart.

And so we bid farewell Vera. As your song says, "Peace ever after". Let's hope so.

19 June 2020


Frances and Ian on holiday in France in 1997
No sense of anticipation can ever match the feelings connected with a desired pregnacy. I knew it four times but two of those possible children were ectopic - affixing themselves within my wife's two fallopian tubes a few years apart. And then they were gone - almost as soon as they had announced their presence. They were unnamed and unseen and therefore their passing remains harder to mourn. They had little substance - it was really just the idea of human lives that had departed.

Fortunately, we had two normal children - whatever "normal" night mean. They were not disabled in any way. Their development was "normal" and they both  had happy childhoods in a loving family, growing into happy citizens with minds of their own and a keen sense of right and wrong. 

It was a privilege to watch them grow, to tick off the passing months and years, to witness them becoming fully fledged adult human beings. There were no problems to speak of - no problems with mental or physical health - no problems with schooling, the police, drugs or angry behaviour in the home. We were blessed and we still are.

But now I get to the main point of this post. I want to spare a thought for all those parents who find themselves raising children who have serious challenges to face. We hear about these kids all the time.

Children who are mentally impaired - who cannot speak and will never develop beyond the level of a two year old. Children who cannot walk. Children who have suffered amputations because of meningitis. Deaf, dumb and blind children. Children with cystic fibrosis. Children with severe epilepsy. Children who will never leave home to live independently.

I raise my hat to the parents of these children. Mothers and fathers who discover inner resources that they never imagined they possessed. Parents who fight for their children in spite of their disabilities and their prospects. Parents with patience and huge hearts who keep battling to beat the obstacles they meet even though the son or daughter they continue to support is unlike the child they had dreamt of.

There are so many special parents like that and to me they are absolute heroes. I am not confident that if I had been in their shoes I would have been able to do likewise. Perhaps one of those special parents is reading this blogpost. Kudos to you my friend. You deserve our respect and our admiration.

18 June 2020


Haxey St Nicholas Church - seen across The Hood Field
Haxey is a large village in the middle of The Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire. Clint whisked me over there yesterday morning to meet up with my old friend Tony for a long country walk. Tony lives in my homeland - The East Riding of Yorkshire.

As it happens, The Isle of Axholme is where my lovely wife grew up. It isn't really an island but prior to the seventeenth century it was a very watery world bounded by rivers with a few villages situated on higher ground. Villages like Epworth, Belton, Crowle, High Burnham and Haxey. By the way if there are any Methodists reading this, The Isle of Axholme was the cradle of your religion. John and Charles Wesley were born and raised in Epworth.
With boots on, we left the car park attached to St Nicholas's Church in Haxey and set off along an old railway bed to Epworth. We ate sandwiches in the delightful grounds of the main methodist church and considered the course of Britain's response to the pandemic. We agreed that our current prime minister has done nothing to dispel the conclusion that he is an egotistical buffoon. Someone who wanted the spotlight but is weak on detail and judgement. During these critical times, we needed a better-informed, wiser political leader. Plenty of glaring and indeed fatal mistakes have been made since the British lockdown began.
The best picture I took yesterday - road to Epworth Turbary
Anyway, after lunch we wandered west from Epworth to discover a new word - "turbary". It is contained in the names Epworth Turbary and Haxey Turbary. These locations were just two miles apart. One dictionary says this "turbary - the ground where turf or peat may be dug especially for fuel". The word relates to ancient land rights that were largely ignored when The Isle of Axholme was tamed by Dutch drainage experts.three hundred and fifty years ago.

Rising ground brought us through a field of maize seedlings to Westwoodside. You could see for miles. Then we passed the field where the famous "Haxey Hood" is played out each January - with teams of men from different pubs battling to bring the "hood" home. To learn more go here.

It was good to meet up with Tony. He walks at the same pace as me - in more ways than one. Weather permitting we plan to reconvene for another walk next week. However, as I sit here typing out this account, my right foot is giving me so much gyp that I had to limp downstairs this morning. Funny that. When the walk finished I felt no discomfort whatsoever. Hope it's back to normal by next week. After all, Clint loves to spend quality downtime with Tony's female car - Elsie!
Skyers Farm near Haxey

17 June 2020


Life is a Cabaret
(by John Kander & Fred Ebb)

What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come, hear the music play.
Life is a cabaret, old chum.
Come to the cabaret.
Put down that knitting, the book and the broom;
Time for a holiday.
Life is a cabaret, old chum.
Come to the cabaret.
Come taste the wine. Come hear the band.
Come blow your horn, start celebrating,
Right this way, your table's waiting.
No use permitting some prophet of doom to
Wipe every smile away.
Life is a cabaret, old chum.
So come to the cabaret!

I used to have this girl friend known as Elsie
With whom I shared four sordid rooms in Chelsea.
She wasn't what you'd call a blushing flower
As a matter of fact she rented by the hour.
The day she died the neighbours came to snicker
Well, that's what comes of too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out like a queen
She was the happiest corpse I'd ever seen.
I think of Elsie to this very day.
I remember how she'd turn to me and say:

"What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a cabaret, old chum.
Come to the cabaret.
And as for me, ha!
And as for me,
I made my mind up back in Chelsea
When I goooooooooooooooo,
I'm going like Elsie.

Start by admitting from cradle to tomb
There isn't that long a stay
Life is a Cabaret, old chum
It's only a Cabaret old chum
And I love a Cabaret!

16 June 2020


Two black British heroes have emerged in the past week - during a time when many old questions about racism are being revisited. After all, black lives really do matter.

In the picture above you can see Patrick Hutchinson carrying an injured white demonstrator away from trouble at a heated political demonstration in London on Saturday. Naturally, Mr Hutchinson is a supporter of "Black Lives Matter" but the fellow he was rescuing is a right wing counter-demonstrator who was in Parliament Square to turn up the heat with like-minded thugs who confronted the police with violent intent.

Mr Hutchinson said, “His life was under threat so I just scooped him up on to my shoulders and started marching towards the police with him. It was scary. But you don’t think about it at the time, you do what you’ve got to do.”

Even more of a hero to me is 22 year old Marcus Rashford - the Manchester United and England footballer. It would be so easy for a young fellow like that to pull down the shutters on the world outside his window, to check his bulging bank account and investments, order a new Italian sports car on a whim and forget where he came from.

But he hasn't done that. He has remembered his origins - growing up in a deprived district of Manchester in a one parent family, often not knowing where the next meal was coming from.

Even before yesterday he had raised £20,000,000 during the pandemic to support food banks and address child poverty. He is a shy, quietly-spoken young man but yesterday he graced our TV screens to urge the government to continue its food voucher scheme for poor families throughout the school summer holidays and this morning he has tweeted these challenges for everyone to read:-


1. When you wake up this morning and run your shower, take a second to think about parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown. 

2. When you turn on your kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee think of those parents who have had to default on electricity bill payments just to make ends meet having lost their jobs during the pandemic.

3. And when you head to the fridge to grab the milk, stop and recognise that parents of at least 200,000 children across the country this morning are waking up to empty shelving 

4. Recognise children around the country are this morning innocently questioning ‘why?’ 9 out of 30 children in any given classroom are today asking ‘why?’ ‘Why does our future not matter?’ 

Marcus's pleas for a U-turn on government policy will be debated in The House of Commons today. Kudos to him for sticking his head above the parapet in the cause of social justice in order to simply put food in children's bellies. He isn't carrying  a  right wing demonstrator away from a good kicking, he is doing something much more important and arguably more brave than that. After all of her struggles, his mother must be so very proud of him this morning.

15 June 2020


What is there to do on a Sunday night when there is nothing of interest on the television and you are in the fourth month of a pandemic lockdown? Of course, you google around until you find a list of the word's most critically endangered animals.

Most of the beautiful and unique creatures on that list are pretty well-known -  The Sumatran rhino, the orangutan, the hawksbill turtle, The Eastern Lowland gorilla etcetera. But there was one creature on that list that I admit I had never heard of before - the saola.

This member of the antelope and bovine families was not recorded by zoologists until May 1992. It was discovered in the forests of north and central Vietnam. Think of that... all the time The Vietnam War was being played out, shy saolas were grazing nervously in the shadows - even as helicopters whirred overhead and agent orange was raining down in the name of freedom.
There are not many decent photographs of saolas - probably because they are so rare. In December of last year it was estimated that there are only between seventy and 750 left in the wild. Even as I write this blogpost they may all be gone but I hope not. I hope that there are sections of virgin forest where they still feed and reproduce in peace.

In neighbouring Laos the creature is called the saht-supahp which means "the polite animal" - probably because of its quiet behaviour.

Saolas are herbivores. They seem to give birth to single calves. They have twin horns that sprout from the skull very close together and undoubtedly that is why they are sometimes known as "The Asian unicorn".

Like several other critically endangered animals, the saola's chief threats come from humankind. Forest habitats have been reduced or invaded by loggers and local hunters have killed them for their meat. It's the same old story. 

Bless the saola.

14 June 2020


God came through for me yesterday. Soon after pleading with him to lift the big grey cloud, it was gone. Praise The Lord! Praise him! He poured his blessings and his munificence upon me. What is more, everybody else in Sheffield's western suburbs reaped the benefits too.

Lunch was bacon sandwiches with mugs of tea. Then I saddled up Clint and we galloped off to Common Lane on the edge of the city. I tethered him there in spite of his whinnying and donned my walking boots.

I wasn't far from home but I found a couple of public footpaths that I have never walked along before and that's after living in this house for thirty one years. The sun shone and the blue firmament appeared through large holes in nonthreatening clouds that sailed by like stately galleons of yore.
Wild foxgloves were everywhere, sheltering and supported by drystone walls. Other Sheffielders were out and about, walking like me or jogging or cycling - none of us far from home. Some of them said "hello" as our paths crossed and some looked away. I always smile and say "hello" in a friendly manner whenever I pass strangers. It's the least I can do.

Soon after passing by Whirlow Hall Farm I encountered a fellow I have know for twenty five years or more. We always have a good old chinwag whenever we meet.

He's called Paul and it turns out that back in April he was in hospital for five days with COVID. His brother and sister-in-law also had it. Paul reckons that the infection occurred when he went to The Northern General Hospital upon request to pick up his aged mother. They had to transfer her to a residential home though she herself had not contracted the virus.
Paul didn't have to be attached to a ventilator but it was touch and go as he gulped breaths of pure oxygen through a mask. I made sure that I maintained a two metre distance when talking with him but even so it was nice to catch up.

By Thryft House Lane I spotted four separate rainbow stones that had clearly been painted by a child. I took photos of each one of them and joined them up for the image at the top of this page.

Thank you Almighty Father for giving me a nice afternoon that felt more like summer again. It's nice to have one's prayers answered so efficiently. More kind acts like this Lord and you will surely go to Heaven.
Sheffield's green western suburbs with Whiteley Wood Hall ahead

13 June 2020


What happened to the English summer? Who stole it?

I woke this morning to a Novembery kind of mist. You could hardly see the houses beyond our back garden. A lone crow was pecking at the stale bread I scattered on the lawn last evening.

Yesterday was bloody miserable with dribbly grey rain most of the day but lashing down  like bullets around two in the afternoon. No long country walks for me - I was trapped indoors, procrastinating like a procrastinating donkey. I watched far too much television including "Tipping Point", "The Chase" and "Celebrity Gogglebox" - interspersed with visits to my "go to" news channel - The BBC World News service. 

Tuesday June 2nd was the last lovely day we had. I was in  shorts and T-shirt up at the woodland car park at Ringinglow - just beyond the alpaca farm. In fact the other lads and I have started calling our outdoor pub "The Alpaca Arms" just for fun - but we didn't go there this past Tuesday afternoon - it was far too autumnal and wet with a thick grey blanket of cloud overhead.

Of course our gardens are loving this weather after our exceptionally dry and sunny springtime. Rain water was needed so desperately but now Almighty God we have had enough my friend. Please get your angels to unbutton the sky and let summer sunlight stream down once more from sapphire blue skies.

This is meant to be "flaming June" but since the second day of the month it has been flaming awful. Don't you think we have got enough to cope with Oh Great Jehovah? First you make BoJo The Clown our prime minister, next you dump COVID  upon us and stand back while George Floyd is cruelly murdered  by a racist policeman, then you take our blue skies away! It's not fair Lord. Please rethink your strategy sir.

Give us back our summer!
Location of "The Alpaca Arms" - courtesy of Google Streetview

12 June 2020


What's the silliest thing you have ever done? I guess you will only reveal what you want to reveal. Maybe there are even sillier things that you wish to keep secret! Silly things can be accidental or deliberate.

Years ago, after a ferry journey from Ireland and a long drive across southern Wales, we ended up at my brother Robin's house in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. I was pretty tired and it was quite late so we decided to have takeaway fish and chips for our evening meal.

There we were round the table. Our children were still very young and for a treat they were drinking squat little bottles of cola. Those bottles were very similar in size and shape to the vinegar bottle. You guessed it already. I reached out for the vinegar and ended up pouring cola all over my lovely golden cod and chips.

Everybody laughed and the moment was so deeply etched in my little daughter's mind that for years afterwards she would remind me: "You put coke on your chips!" What a silly billy I had been!

In late 1978 there was a Christmas disco party in the lower school of Dinnington Comprehensive in the heart of South Yorkshire's coalfield. It was agreed that attending staff members would don fancy dress just for fun. This was in the days before paedophilia became newsworthy.

I decided to go as a dirty old man. For some reason, I already owned a rubber mask complete with hair, a bulbous nose, warts, bushy eyebrows and wrinkles. At a charity shop I bought an old brown Macintosh coat that was grubby and a size too big for me. I put a flatcap on that my mother had previously created on her sewing machine and I stapled a rolled back cover of an old "Playboy" magazine into my coat pocket. It was a simple disguise but I really looked the part - a proper dirty old man. 

Other teachers laughed and so did the schoolchildren but as the Christmas party progressed, I noticed something weird. The kids were getting closer to me. Some started pulling at my coat and getting physical. One ripped the "Playboy" cover from my pocket. They were laughing but it was as if they forgot that there was a teacher behind the mask. I had become the dirty old man I was imitating. They had bought into the illusion.

I took the mask off and they all stepped back. I was "sir" again. Then with the mask back on the prodding and pushing restarted. I felt like Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". 

It was something but at the same time it was nothing. I have always remembered that experience from my days at Dinnington. Perhaps I should have played safe and gone to the disco party  as  Robin Hood or Hamlet or a massive banana.

11 June 2020


During World War One, thousands of young men came to the moors west of Sheffield in order to train for trench warfare. They must have had a jolly time before being transported to Flanders fields and the horrible realities of warfare. Of course, many did not return.

The training centred around a long abandoned stone quarry near the reservoirs at Redmires. If you walked by there today  you probably would not realise that stone quarrying ever happened on that raised ground or that just over a hundred years ago young men in khaki uniforms dug trenches and played war games there - where curlews cry and meadow pipits now swoop..

It has been a long time since I last investigated that hummocky ground but yesterday I was up there again. To my surprise there was a new addition to the landscape - a clever tubular shape depicting a soldier with a bowed head, a heavy pack on his back and a rifle in his hands. On the plinth he stood upon were these enigmatic words; "There But Not There".

Upon my travels to find the heart of England, I have seen figures like this before. All the same - standing in silence with bowed heads. Back home on the computer, I discovered that they belong to a commemorative art project called "There But Not There" - set up to mark the centenary of the end of that so-called "Great War". I am surprised that I did not know about this before.

Sadly or symbolically, the soldier I saw yesterday had lost his bayonet and the end of his rifle. He won't be killing anybody else in a hurry.
There But Not There

There but not there
Once here but not here
Men's voices on the wind
Where curlews now cry
Above your head
Sorry for the loss
Of innocence
And a toll of death
That made no sense
Listen - for their agonies
Are everywhere
There but not there
The glorious dead.

10 June 2020


Regarding the current debate about historical links to the slave trade, I find myself somewhat conflicted.

On the one hand, my heart was lifted when I watched moving images of the toppling of Edward Colston's statue in the city of Bristol last Sunday. To see him being roughly rolled down the street before being tossed into the dock seemed to me like poetic justice. It was from that very dock that his ships had sailed to pick up cargoes of slaves from West Africa before shipping them across The Atlantic.
Colston's statue tossed into the water like a dead African slave
On the other hand, I think to myself: Where will this end? Where do you draw the line? At what point do you say - that is the past, let us leave it sleeping?

Of the first twelve American presidents only two did not own slaves - John Adams and John Quincy Adams. All the other ten owned different numbers of slaves - most of them whilst in office. For example, Thomas Jefferson owned over six hundred slaves and it is believed that he fathered several children with slave women so he was most likely a rapist as well as a slave owner.

The father of the nation - George Washington himself was also a slave owner. At his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, agricultural and domestic labour was undertaken by an army of 317 slaves. Attempts have been made to ameliorate Washington's reputation with regard to slavery but the bottom line is that he was a slave owner. Slaves who broke the rules were often whipped mercilessly at Mount Vernon. 

Bristolians brought down the statue of Edward Colston so should Americans now pull down statues of George Washington? Should the state of Washington be renamed? Should Washington D.C. become Martin Luther King D.C.? Should the one dollar bill be reprinted with a picture of Mickey Mouse on it instead of the first president?

In a sense, there's not much difference between Colston and Washington. They both became wealthy through slavery.

We could go further back in time. Should we pull down The Great Pyramid at Giza and The Parthenon in Athens? Both were built by slaves - many of whom would have died during the construction of these great monuments to "civilisation".

I rest my case - still conflicted.

9 June 2020


Though their numbers are in worrying decline, curlews are often seen in summertime on the moors west of Sheffield. Their plaintive calls are as distinctive as their elegantly curved bills - designed for investigating mud flats or prising worms from the earth.

Yesterday, I took a short walk from Redmires to the small reservoir at Oaking Clough. I heard and then spotted a curlew in the scrubland above Rivelin Brook. My camera possesses a good zoom facility so I was able to achieve these shots quite easily. As you can see, it was not a bright, sunny day but even so I am pretty happy with these two images.
And for your interest, here's a short video of curlews complete with call sounds. I found it on the website of the R.S.P.B. (Royal Society for The Protection of Birds). Enjoy!

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