31 August 2020


... and while we are on the subject of music... I have been experiencing what I believe is called an "earworm" these past few days. Even as I was preparing yesterday's traditional Sunday dinner I was singing... "Ah but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

For those who are familiar with Bob Dylan's song-smithing, you will recall that the line is from "My Back Pages" - written in 1964. It first appeared on the album "Another Side of Bob Dylan" though Dylan never performed it live until 1988.

What does the line mean?  "Ah but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now"?  There have been different interpretations. To me it's Dylan looking back on earlier times, earlier songs and saying that he is not as certain of things as he once was. Previously he was the voice of a generation - seen as a protest singer - but now he's entering a new phase in which the world is a forest of complexity. He is not saying that angry protesting is wrong, just that it's not as straightforward as it once appeared.

Another of my favourite songwriters is the Californian - Jackson Browne. Here he is with Joan Osborne, revisiting "My Back Pages" and breathing new life into it in 2008. Together they approach the lyrics with reverence and awareness of their almost mystical reach, paying homage not just to Bob Dylan but to the lines themselves:-

30 August 2020


Fifty years ago this very weekend I was on The Isle of Wight. The music festival of 1970 attracted over 600,000 attendees. It was a bigger event than the more famous Woodstock Festival that had happened the previous summer. Fifty years? Wow! As Bonnie in Kansas City might reflect - it seems like yesterday.

I was sixteen coming on seventeen. With my friend Lee, I hitchhiked from Yorkshire on the Wednesday before the festival began. We had rucksacks, sleeping bags and an old tent. We didn't quite know what to expect but we had the best weekend ever. At that impressionable age we were both in love with the music of our generation. Not catchy pop music that appeared in the singles charts but proper, progressive music. Music with depth and integrity. We absorbed it.

But being there on The Isle of Wight was more than the music. It was about the people and the youth culture that was emerging in the western world, following "flower power" and The Beatles with "All You Need Is Love" and the anti-Vietnam movement and "Ban the Bomb" and long hair and the birth control pill. World War Two had finished twenty five years before and Harold Wilson spoke of "the white heat of  technology". It was 1970.

I realise that I have written about The Isle of Wight Festival before but after half a century please allow me this nostalgic self-indulgence. It had a big impact upon me. I stood in the middle of that great field at East Afton Farm and saw the throngs of people around me - like a great medieval army resting in the sunshine before battle resumed. It was a battle for peace and love. We were together. We were so young.

I witnessed so much great music - mostly on the main festival stage though there were some side venues too. My main regret was that I slept through The Doors' entire set but I did see: Joni Mitchell, Donovan, John Sebastian, Free, Ten Years After, Chicago, Tiny Tim, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Family, Procol Harum, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Who, Sly and the Family Stone, Melanie,  The Moody Blues and Jethro Tull.

And the Sunday night into Monday morning was something very special. This was the line-up: Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen and as the sun rose over the hummocky downs, Richie Havens: 

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from my home...

Of those four legends, only Joan Baez is still alive now. She'll be eighty next January. The Isle of Wight Festival of 1970 is also disappearing into history like a war or a great grandparent. One's memory is embroidered with dreams and imaginings:
Freedom, freedom, freedom

29 August 2020


Late Thursday afternoon driving down to London in a Vauxhall Vivaro van courtesy of Enterprise Van Hire. One's concentration had to be turned on to full intensity because of the inclement weather.

Rain fell heavily all the way and reduced speed limits were in force for each one of the hundred and seventy miles. The surface water was sprayed up like a fog and getting past slow moving heavy goods vehicles was rather nightmarish. I gripped the steering wheel, listened to Radio 4 and hoped for the best, arriving in Wood Green, London four hours after setting off.

We went straight out to "Capital" - one of the big Turkish restaurants on the high street. As usual, the food was delightful. Frances's belly is now bulging for she is half way through her pregnancy. It was bulging a little more when we left "Capital".

Friday morning was sunny and dry. I stirred later than I had intended. Stewart was already loading the van but I was soon out there carrying boxes and bags. He did a good job of squeezing it all in - making maximum use of the space available.

At half past ten they locked their London flat and with three of us in the front of the Vivaro we set off back to the land of Up North. There were a few mysterious hold ups on the M1 and at a couple of points we ended up stationary but we were back in Sheffield by two thirty.

They are renting a house in the suburbs - about a mile from where we live while their London flat is rented out to two friends. I think it was COVID19 that drew Frances and Stew back from London. For months they were trapped in their flat. It became a place not just to live but to work too. Frances found that working from home could be just as effective as working in her office with colleagues around. 

London's transport system became a no-go area and they were cut off from friends. In this climate and with a baby on the way, the idea was hatched to get back to their home city. It seems that they have no intention of returning to London even though it was the availability of decent paying jobs that pulled them there in the first place. It's a huge decision inspired by their COVID experience. 

Sheffield will be a better place for our first grandchild to be born and raised and I keep my fingers crossed that in the post-Brexit, ongoing COVID world their work situation will be buoyant. Sometimes you just have to be brave and dive or you'll remain shivering on the diving board forever.

27 August 2020


The red line describes my route
Clint is all filled up with a dismantled cot bed that I collected from a rich family's house at Dore. You can see that well-heeled suburban village  on the map above.

Consequently, when I got up yesterday morning I was reluctant to drive my moody vehicle out of the city for the purpose of taking a walk. Instead, I caught the 10.05 number 272 bus to Hathersage and alighted outside The George Hotel.

I had the idea of simply walking back to our house in Sheffield - a distance of almost ten miles. The terrain was varied and the route took me by North Lees Hall, over Stanage Edge to Stanage Pole and across boggy moorland. Then I descended the valley of The River Porter to Forge Dam where I climbed out of the valley along Ivy Cottage Lane. Onward to Bents Green and then past High Storrs School where both my son and daughter were pupils. Almost five hours after setting off I was back home feeling delightfully weary.

I made myself a mug of tea and a bacon and egg sandwich before settling down on the sofa to review the few photographs I had taken in geographical squares that are all very familiar to me. Later today I will be heading down to London in a hire van. Frances and Stewart are coming back to Sheffield where their baby will arrive in the same city where they were both born. This is in effect a side benefit of COVID: Frances can work here as effectively as she used to do in her fancy London office.
Three sheep on Stanage Edge

Historic North Lees Hall - visited by Charlotte Bronte

Hood Brook Valley - looking towards Hathersage

25 August 2020


Bottoms Reservoir and Tintwistle

At 3pm yesterday I met up with "the lads" once again at "The Hammer and Pincers". I have never been a daytime beer drinker but I am starting to get used to these leisurely Monday afternoon sessions that have arisen because of COVID. 

In two hours, we talked about a range of things from Mike's failing right eye to Mick's experience of selling vibrators at the Bowshaw car boot sale to Danny's grandson's circumcision in peculiar circumstances in Chicago. His son married into an American  Jewish family though he is of Irish Catholic descent. Apparently, the circumcision happened without his knowledge or permission. Utterly flabbergasting. I might make a blogpost about male circumcision some day soon. That's something to look forward to isn't it?

When I was able to get a word in edgeways, I talked briefly about the ramble I enjoyed yesterday morning before our afternoon session. 

I had got up early to fire up Clint's engine before driving over The Snake Pass to Glossop. Then I turned right at the crossroads there before leaving my silver beast tucked up against a wall in the village of Padfield which is right next to the village of Hadfield.

"I think I'll have a kip," he said as I rooted around in his rear end for my boots. "I'm not used to early starts you know!" 

Above Valehouse Reservoir

Hilary MantelI descended into the great valley of Longdendale which is home to a row of Victorian reservoirs. Back in 1877, they represented the largest man-made body of water in the world. That water was ingeniously harnessed to serve the endless thirst of the burgeoning city of Manchester. From east to west the reservoirs are called Woodhead, Torside, Rhodeswood, Valehouse and Bottoms. The engineer behind this ambitious scheme was John Frederick Bateman (1810-1889).

There weren't many people around - just a few dog walkers. Because of the pub gathering at three, I knew I would have to get back to Clint by around one thirty so there was little time for inquisitive diversions. However, I did discover that the award winning historical novelist Dame Hilary Mantel spent the first eleven years of her childhood in Hadfield and after leaving the reservoirs behind, I marched down a street called Brosscroft specially to take a photograph of Number 20.

Hilary Mantel's childhood home

There was no need to race home over The Snake Pass. Sensibly, I had given myself enough time. That road can be very frustrating with its bends, hills and narrow stretches. There is often no opportunity for overtaking so if you have a slow vehicle in front of you you might just have to patiently bear it for ten or twelve miles. As it happened I had a grey Nissan Micra in front of me and the guy's speed kept fluctuating unintelligibly. Sure enough after he had slowed to 20mph I decided to pass him just as he suddenly decided to speed up to forty. Pillock!

"Nice one!" whooped Clint as we got by. "To infinity and beyond!"

Pedestrian tunnel beneath the disused
Sheffield to Manchester Woodhead railway line

24 August 2020


Shirley and I are not really certifiable  hoarders but in our house there's a lot of stuff that we have struggled to cast out. It's up in our attic. It's in the underhouse room. It's in our drawers and cupboards. Lots of stuff.

The stuff ranges from old correspondence, unused and used screws in different sizes, pencils and pens, football programmes, cassette tapes, pieces of cloth, buttons, clothes, ornaments, children's things, pots of paint. The list is endless.

At the weekend Shirley mustered the energy to venture up into our attic to do some clearing out. We managed to rid ourselves of three old suitcases and filled them with various half-forgotten items that have lain up in the attic for years.

She brought down some baby things. The picture at the top of this blogpost is all that remains of an old push toy made by "Tomy". You pressed the plunger on the top and the carousel inside the transparent  plastic chamber went round with tinkly music. Our son, Ian, played with it when he was a baby thirty five years ago. But now it has gone.

Shirley also found two plastic pull toys. One is an orange duck and the other is a bee. The orange duck belonged to Ian, the bee to Frances. You pulled the cord and the duck slowly flapped its wings as the tune of "Frère Jacques" played in music-box style.

We simply could not bring ourselves to throw those toys out. They still work. The orange duck is special in our memory because of something that happened when Ian was around ten months old. We were riding home from Shirley's parents' farm in Lincolnshire when a little voice piped up from the baby seat in the back of our red Ford Fiesta. He was effectively voicing the frequently heard tune of "Frère Jacques". We were both gobsmacked. This happened before he had yet said an intelligible word. How could we throw that toy away?

I might have asked about your relationship with "stuff" and your attitude to discarding it but some visitors might have imagined it was another tricky philosophical question like the one I innocently asked in my last blogpost. How could I have been so stupid?

23 August 2020


From time to time we all do stupid things. I guess that this is part of being human. Whereas some self-deprecating people seem to imagine that it is their stupid actions that define them, others go into denial when quizzed about stupidity. If you asked a leading politician, "What are the most stupid things you have ever done?" they would not be up front. They would squirm and cunningly try to twist the question to their advantage.

How about you?  What are the most stupid things you have ever done? At least - the things you are prepared to admit. Here's a few of mine...

  • I once poured coke on a plate of fish and chips - thinking that it was a bottle of malt vinegar. (My daughter has never let me forget this!)
  • When I was eighteen I went on an LSD trip the weekend before my Art A level plant drawing practical exam on Monday morning. The result was most unimpressive.
  • I once went to see a Scottish folk band at the McRobert Centre in Stirling, Scotland. Before the concert I was talking to a fellow at the bar. He asked me what I thought of The Boys of the Lough and I said they were a bit too staid and traditional for my liking. Later I saw him on stage. He was Aly Bain, fiddle player of The Boys of the Lough.
  • Ten years ago I fell down our stairs while tying the belt of my dressing-gown. Fortunately I was not seriously injured but it was a huge shock. Since then I have been scrupulous about holding on to handrails and banisters.
  • In 1990 I hired a roof ladder and climbed up on our house roof to remove the metal cap from one of our chimneys. When I think of swinging that ladder over the eaves and hooking it on to the ridge tiles I still shudder. Why the hell didn't I just pay somebody to go up there? Again, fortunately, I was not hurt.
  • Last year I lost the accommodation key at our daughter's wedding and though all was okay in the end, losing that key really spoilt my wedding morning preparations - both practical and emotional. It's hard to forget.
  • In Lautoka, Fiji in 1973 I got talking to a beautiful Fijian woman in a late night bar  and before long two of her male friends came to join us. The three of them robbed me - taking my wallet and watch which to my amusement had got water in it from when I went swimming a couple of days before. It was no longer working and there were only about ten Fijian dollars in my wallet. Poetic justice!

Now I come to think about it, there are plenty of other stupid times I could recount though some others remain forever vetoed. Over to you...

21 August 2020


On Sponds Hill with Manchester beyond
"Yesterday...all my troubles seemed so far away". Because of the rosy weather forecast, I had been looking forward to a good, long walk. I was up, showered, breakfasted and off before nine thirty.

Clint kindly transported me through The Hope Valley then on to Chapel-en-le-Frith, Whaley Bridge and Kettleshulme before I parked by a single track lane that leads eventually to Bollington. Once again, Google Streetview had been most helpful in identifying somewhere I could safely park my silver beast.

With boots on, I plodded along The Gritstone Trail, heading north to Bowstonegate before descending into the extensive grounds of Lyme Park - former stomping ground of The Laird of Eagleton. Lyme Park is the largest and most significant stately home in Cheshire. I took pictures of the house from Knightslow Wood but did not have time to explore the grounds nor visit the house itself. After all, I had ten miles to plod.

Lurking in a hollow I stopped to take a photograph of a photogenic shed but needed to wait till the sun emerged from behind a summery cloud. A lone female walker froze with obvious concern - as if I might be the bogeyman of her worst midnight fears. I explained why I had stopped there and she was reassured. We walked on together for a little while till I found another image to focus upon.

Up there on the moors above Bollington there used to be small coal mines and stone quarries but that activity ceased many years ago. Still there are scars and signs in the landscape despite Mother Nature's incredible healing processes.

At Brink Farm hundreds of sheep had been corralled. I stopped to take some pictures and should have taken more. They were writhing and panicking, not used to being herded together like that even though they are flock creatures. Why they were there I am not sure. Perhaps they were about to be driven to an abattoir. They certainly looked sheepish.

At three o'clock I reunited with Clint before our hour long journey back to Sheffield.

"Did you have a nice walk?" asked Clint.

"Sure did my friend," I replied. 

At Brink Farm

20 August 2020


Above - that's Bob Ross. I suspect that most North Americans will find his face and afro hairstyle familiar. He was the talented star of an American art programme on television called "The Joy of Painting".

Bob approached blank canvases with quiet confidence and juvenile enthusiasm. Working swiftly - using a technique that is often known as "wet on wet" - he developed fantastic landscapes that were much influenced by the years he spent stationed in Alaska when he was a military man. 

As he painted, he hummed and mused, chuckling to himself and encouraging his audiences to be bold in their use of paint and brushes and palette knives. He was such a cool guy that if he had been any more laid back he would have fallen over.

Born in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1942, he died 52 years later in Orlando, Florida - having been fatally afflicted by lymphoma.

Recently the BBC have been showcasing "The Joy of Painting" and I have watched several episodes. It is really mesmerising to see the landscapes develop. There's never any sense that Bob ever makes a mistake. He just breezes through - ad-libbing like a jazz musician - totally at one with his medium.

To see Bob Ross at play, go here:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOD-2UeYwI0  I  apologise in advance for the ads that interfere with Bob's performance - just skip them.
"Mountain Splendour" by Bob Ross

19 August 2020


Cricket is just one of several sports that were effectively invented here in England. What could be more English than a game of cricket played upon a village green? The players all dressed in white as bats made of willow strike red leather balls. And then at four thirty the teams break for afternoon tea before the game reaches its conclusion in evening sunlight.

I love the picture displayed above. It is a photograph of one of England's most famous cricketers - the inimitable W.G.Grace. William Gilbert Grace lived between 1848 and 1915 and by all accounts was an outstanding cricketer - a legend in his own time. He was a free scoring batsman who loved the game with all his heart and played for both the England national team and his home county - Gloucestershire. In fact, he played the game for forty four seasons in a row - only pulling down the shutters on his career when he finally admitted to himself that as a fielder he had become a hefty passenger - hardly able to run for a ball any more.

He played 22 test matches - mostly against Australia and scored over 55,000 first class runs. In his younger days, he was also an effective bowler but it was with the bat that he excelled - putting the fear of God into many of the bowlers he faced.

As the famous cricket commentator John Arlott reported more than once, the following notice allegedly appeared outside several cricket grounds in the late Victorian - early Edwardian era:- 

Admission 6 pence
If W. G. Grace plays
Admission 1 shilling

18 August 2020


One of the terrible things that this damned pandemic has done is to disrupt children's formal education. Essentially, British schoolchildren have not attended their schools since the middle of March. This means that kids in their mid-teens have not sat public examinations (GCSE) and those aged eighteen have not sat their A level and BTEC exams.

In normal years, the results of those exams come out in mid-August but this year's process has ended in pure chaos or what most newspapers have called a "fiasco".

You would have thought that Johnson's government working with examination boards would have determined an acceptable solution to this difficult situation. After all, they have had plenty of time in which to do that - some five months.

Faulty computer algorithms have been applied to known data and the flawed results that have been issued have caused a furore amongst parents, pupils, schools and universities. It was always going to be tricky but if the issues had been properly thought through  with clear communication then we would not be in the mess that has resulted.

At the heart of it all is a floundering, hapless Minister of Education who I am ashamed to say is a Yorkshireman. He is called Gavin Williamson and if he were a football referee, the crowd would be singing, "You don't know what you're doing!" His arrogance has been breathtaking.

There have been many tears with heartbroken teenagers denied the academic futures they had been anticipating.  University admission teams have had their careful procedures upended. As I say, it's utter chaos.

I was a GCSE  examiner for twelve years and as the Head of English in a challenging secondary school, I was very familiar with the system and how exam results impacted on children and the schools they attended. Now, by being forced into utilising classroom teachers' grade predictions to determine final results there is a likelihood that awarded grades will be heavily inflated. The results for 2020 will be out of synch with previous years and years to come. This could have all been avoided with practical foresight, planning and healthy two-way communication with schools.

Williamson, Johnson and the exam boards owed it to young people - not to let them down in this terribly disrupted COVID year but that is precisely what they have done. And one of the main casualties is trust.
Gavin Williamson caricatured in "The Times" this morning

17 August 2020


Ronnie O'Sullivan winning his sixth world snooker title in Sheffield yesterday evening

Saturday was overcast but dry. Sunday was overcast, miserable and wet. Not a weekend for walking in the countryside.

After the recent hot weather, I spent a couple of hours on Saturday watering parts of our garden. The courgettes (American: zucchini) received a good soaking as did the runner beans. The wilting leaves of the blue hydrangea told me that it was also in need of a good drink. It perked up in super fast time.

If I had known for sure what Sunday would bring, I wouldn't have done any watering at all. I could have saved myself the bother of unwinding those fifty metres of hosepipe and soaking my shoes.

It was an unmemorable weekend. On Sunday afternoon, just for something to do, I headed into the city centre. There were a couple of things I wanted to check out at the Wickes D.I.Y. store and I also thought I would venture on to The Moor. I could do with a new pair of shoes and I thought that Atkinsons department store might be open but it wasn't.

I noticed a handful of furtive homeless people about, looking unwashed and aimless or sheltering in shop doorways from the persistent rain. Even ten years ago you would not have seen such sights in Sheffield.

A familiar feeling came over me. You may have experienced it yourself. Quite simply, I needed to use a toilet. But where could I go? There was nowhere. Atkinsons have customer toilets but the store was closed and the public lavatories at the bottom of The Moor were shut down five years ago for economic reasons. It would be a long walk to the nearest McDonalds.

In a civilised society, the ability to access public toilets should be a human right and it is a stain upon all of us when citizens have nowhere to go. Back in Victorian times, British cities had many well-serviced public conveniences but nowadays it is their absence that is noteworthy.

Because I could not wait, I ended up relieving myself round the back of some wastebins near a shop loading bay. Quite humiliating really - and nowhere to wash my hands. It shouldn't have to be this way.

With thin rain still falling, I decided to head home where I watched the World Snooker Final for an hour - coming live from The Crucible Theatre in this very city. Ronnie O'Sullivan was well on top heading to his sixth world title.

Around four thirty I began preparing our Sunday dinner. A nice wedge of silverside beef with homegrown runner beans, potatoes, courgettes and carrots with small Yorkshire puddings and onion gravy. There was also bramble crumble and custard - using brambles I had picked from the bottom of our garden on Saturday.

At nine o'clock I headed out to the local pub to meet up with Steve and Bert and four pints of Tetley's bitter. A live Manchester United match was on the big TV. They were playing Sevilla in the Europa Cup. In spite of their dominance United managed to engineer a defeat. "The best team lost", remarked their captain - Sheffield lad Harry Maguire. Ah well, there's always next season.

And that was the weekend done. As I write this treatise on Monday morning, the weather remains grey with a thick blanket of cloud separating our small part of the planet from the blue skies and the golden orb concealed above. The 3,489th week of my life is just beginning.

16 August 2020


That's Miss Readhead's class circa 1959. And there we all are squinting in the sunshine. I am the boy with the big head in the middle of the front row and somehow my younger brother Simon has managed to get himself in the picture too -  even though he's only three years old and not in school yet. There are advantages to being one of the sons of a village headmaster who is also the school photographer.

I can still name a lot of those children. Behind me there's John Hugill, Richard Kilvington, John Whitehead and John Brocklebank but I  can't remember the name of the boy in the middle. Sitting next to me is Jennifer Stevenson and at the end of my row is Derek Fisher. Susan Dean, the first girl I ever kissed, is on the back row third from the left and  Michael Swan is standing next to Miss Readhead.

Every summer the school held a big internal  sports day and children were allocated to four different "houses" - Trinity, Downing, Buckingham or Wembley which was always my house and was appropriately represented by the colour red.

Following our internal sports day, selections were then made for the school team which would go on to represent our village in The Holderness Village Schools Annual Sports Day.

Our village won in 1963. There I am on the back row right behind our house captain - Susan Dean who was also in the first picture. She was a few months older than me and was probably going on to secondary school that very year. I kissed her on the back row of a bus - travelling to Whitby for our annual school trip the year before. On reflection, I was probably batting out of my league. She had grown taller than me by then.

I remember my primary school years with great affection but as the years have passed many memories have faded away and some names are lost to me. It was a privilege to grow up in a happy, law-abiding rural community in the heart of East Yorkshire with children who were not just my classmates - they were my friends. We shared the same world and lived in the same time.  Though mono-cultural, it helped to provide a splendid, solid foundation on which to build the rest of my life.

15 August 2020


Back in the eighties I read "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson. I remembered her excellence - crafting language with consummate skill. It was a novel about three generations of women and their quests for meaning and identity. There was a haunting beauty about that novel and that is what I mostly remembered.

And so I turned to her second novel - "Gilead" with hope and expectation that it would enthral me as "Housekeeping" had done thirty eight years ago. I finished reading it in peace and quiet at the top of our garden just yesterday evening.

Perhaps the fault was with me, but I am sad to report that I found "Gilead" pretty tiresome even though it won the Pulitzer prize for fiction back in 2005.

Essentially, the entire novel is a letter to a young son written by a rural clergyman in a small town in Iowa. He is very aware of his mortality and anticipates that death might be just round the corner. His wife, the boy's  mother, is much younger than him.

The very notion that a father might write a two hundred and thirty page letter to a six year old son seemed quite absurd to me and I couldn't help feeling that The Reverend John Ames was suffering from an acute  bout of self-importance. What he has to say to the boy isn't especially earth-shattering or wise. Gilead itself is a dull town on the prairie where nothing of real note has ever happened.

John Ames knows his Bible well and has sought to live a pious life, guided by the scriptures.. As you might imagine, biblical references figure significantly in his rambling address to the boy. As a lifelong atheist, I found the endless biblical references immensely tedious - belonging to a mindset that in everyday life is quite alien to me.

In Marilynne Robinson's defence, the words are as well-crafted as in "Housekeeping" and you can admire her linguistic artistry. It's just that for me the subject matter was underwhelming. It was difficult to care very much about the lives of the characters who inhabit this book. They live in obscurity and seem unremarkable.

Reading should be joyous and engaging but I was relieved when I reached the very last sentence of "Gilead":- "I'll pray and then I'll sleep." Phew!

14 August 2020


Somehow Britain's famous red phone boxes said something about who we were as a nation. They were strong, permanent structures made from iron and boldly painted red. They had glass panes for there was confidence that law-abiding citizens would not break them. And they were a visible declaration of our belief in both new technology and communication. 

Every community of any size had its own red phone box and you would also find them at remote crossroads in the countryside or in banks of half a dozen in busy city centres. They had pierced royal crowns beneath domed roofs and the word "telephone" appeared on all four sides - illuminated at night like a beacon.

The iconic K2 design was the brainchild of one of this country's leading architects - Giles Gilbert Scott back in the mid-nineteen twenties. From London, the phone boxes spread all over the kingdom like an army of red-coated guards. They were reassuring and as I say very solid on their concrete plinths. In contrast, so much that we now have in the modern world is flimsy, with  limited lifespans - disposable, plastic, tissue-thin. The K2 phone kiosk was not meant to be like that. It was made to last in a time when nobody predicted personal portable communication devices.

This blogpost was inspired by the content of  "Shadows and Light" this very morning so thanks to Steve Reed. Looking back through my "geograph" library, I see that I have taken more than fifty pictures of red phone boxes on my many rambles. Whenever I spot an old phone box, I am tempted to snap it in the belief that next time I walk there the box may be gone. 

In practical terms, we do not need them any more. We hold them in affectionate regard partly because they have come to represent a golden time in our history. A simpler time between the wars, a time of carthorses, unlocked doors, endless summers and upright pianos when swallows cavorted over barley fields and Britannia still believed that it ruled the waves.

How sad to see them rusting now, paint peeling, wreathed in cobwebs, converted into toolsheds, showers, homes for defibrillators, community libraries, phones ripped out, "Telephone" no longer lit up, places where men urinate or prostitutes leave calling cards, places for litter and invading ivy. By these boxes memories were made - of love  and friendship and family connections to faraway places. It's not the same now. The world has changed.


Phone kiosks from top to bottom: Elsham (Lincolnshire), Fenny Bentley (Derbyshire), Kersall (Nottinghamshire) South Wingfield (Derbyshire) Whaley Bridge (Derbyshire).

13 August 2020


Assarts Farm, Meden Vale

No doubt this will come as a huge surprise to "Yorkshire Pudding" visitors but I confess that I made up the Robin Hood story. Guilty your honour. It was all a product of my fecund imagination. My apologies to all those readers I deceived but in my defence I would say two things.

Firstly, there is a sense in which all fiction is deception - great big lies. Ironically, though creative writers habitually seek to unveil  truths, the means by which they do that include craftiness, falsehood and trumpery. My Robin Hood lie is no different from any other.

Secondly, I did go to Market Warsop on Monday and I did venture into the forest, enjoying the cool shade of the trees on a summer's day we must have borrowed from South East Asia. So hot and clammy.

The River Meden

A funny thing happened when I returned to Cherry Grove off Sherwood Street. As  is my wont, I was leaning upon Clint's hatchback boot (American: trunk) changing out of my trusty walking boots into my driving shoes when a thirty something young woman emerged from the nearby house and called over her garden.

"Are you all right duckie?"

She was talking to me.

"Yes fine thank you! I have just been on a long walk and I'm changing out of my boots. Very kind of you to ask though!"

And we smiled at each other and raised hands of friendship. By the way, in Nottinghamshire the nouns "duck" and "duckie" are commonly used as social terms of endearment just as in Sheffield the term "love" is widely used when addressing strangers. You won't hear these friendly terms in London or anywhere else that is Down South.

Abandoned chicken farm near Meden Vale

After my eight or nine mile walk I headed back to Sheffield ready to make Nurse Pudding's evening meal so I did not have to invent excuses for staying out all night eating wild boar and carousing with outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Quite simply, it didn't happen! I made it up.

St Peter and St Paul Church, Church Warsop

12 August 2020


Edmund George Warren's painting of The Merrie Men in Sherwood Forest (1859)

They bullied me along various tracks until we arrived at the merry men's encampment in the heart of Sherwood Forest. A fire was burning in the hearth and above it, the sizzling carcass of a plump wild boar roasted on a stout stick. There was an apple in his mouth.

Several rustic hammocks had been strung between the trees and bows and arrows were propped up against a big rock - most likely an erratic deposited here during the last Ice Age. Two black dogs were sleeping in the shade of a holly bush but they began to growl when I was pushed into the clearing.

Someone stirred in one of the hammocks and a man in Lincoln green clambered out. He was clearly their leader - Robin Hood. The legendary outlaw who famously stole from the rich to help the poor. A true man of the people. One of his front teeth - an incisor - was golden. It flashed momentarily in a beam of sunlight that had pierced the canopy above.

"Now my merry lads, what be this thou hast brought me?"

"It be Ye Olde Puddinge of Yorkshire!" said the fat monk."Allan-a-Dale found him by Hanger Hill."

"Unbind him Little John!" commanded Robin. "I shall parley with Ye Olde Puddinge. See what he knoweth.  I also hail from Yorkshire - from Loxley near Sheafeld and I trust Yorkshire folk more than ye Nottinghamshire louts!"

The merrie men and Marian guffawed in unison.

Robin led me to a shady bower and gave me water from a wooden bowl. We sat on logs watched by the two curs under the holly bush. The merry men busied themselves with camp duties or sat about in idle conversation.

Robin was an easy fellow to get along with. Though almost half my age he was sharp-witted and wise beyond his years. I explained to him that in modern times he had become a sort of mythical hero who featured in book and film and song. He was gratified to hear this but could not grasp the concept of film.

He asked many questions about future times and was saddened to learn that as centuries had passed by the rich had only got richer and the poor had become poorer. I told him about childhood mortality, malaria, access to clean water and hunger. We also got round to talking about Trump and the coronavirus pandemic which Robin likened to plagues of the medieval period. In return he told me about some of the robberies he had planned and successfully executed. He equated Trump with his nemesis - the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham.

"It were all for the ordinary folk!" smiled Robin. "My people!"

Maid Marian came into the bower carrying a flagon of wine and for a while she sat at Robin's feet looking dreamily into his eyes as her chest heaved beneath a laced bodice. It was impossible to avert my eyes.

We spoke so long that evening had begun to fall. A warm August night lay ahead.

It was time to feast. Roasted wild boar, hunks of bread, sweet apples  and goblets of red wine. Allan-a-Dale played merry songs of yore as the tongues of flame in the fireplace shrank into embers. Robin led Maid Marian back to the bower as I fell into a slumber on the forest floor close by the dying fire, surrounded by other members of the band of merry men - including Will Scarlet, David of Doncaster, Robert de Brague and Much the Miller's Son.

I slept soundly - like one of the logs by the fire. With daylight, I was woken by doves in the treetops and as is often the case when we wake up, I had completely forgotten where I was. I opened my eyes to find myself in a forest clearing by the ashes of a woodland fire.

But the thing was - nobody else was there. No Merrie Men. No Robin Hood. Not even any bows and arrows. Just the bones of the roasted pig and some apple cores. 

I urinated close by the holly bush where the dogs had been and then stumbled around, trying to find my way out of the dense forest. Before long I discerned a narrow path that eventually led to a wider track that took me to Meden Vale. I still had my A4 map in my rucksack and after half an hour I was back on Cherry Grove in Market Warsop. It was where I had parked Clint the previous day.

"You dirty stop out!" he exclaimed as I approached. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Please don't ask Clint!" I said.

We drove back to Sheffield in silence as jumbled images from the night before mingled together upon my mind's screen.

Feared by the bad, loved by the good 
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood

11 August 2020


At first I thought that it was just in my imagination but as I proceeded along the forest path I became more and more certain. It was the sound of a mandolin being played with some aplomb. This sweet music mingled with the sounds of the greenwood - cooing wood pigeons, cawing rooks and the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker.

I was in what remains of Sherwood Forest having plodded in there from Nottinghamshire's smallest town - Market Warsop. Another sub-tropical day in August - it was good to be in the shade of the oaks, the beeches and the ash trees. To my left I thought I saw a young deer leaping almost silently through the shady undergrowth. 

The music was closer now. I knew that there was a junction of forest paths up ahead. The mandolin player began to sing:

Alas my love you do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously;
And I have loved you oh so long
Delighting in your company.

And there he was sitting on a log with his eyes closed in a manner that is typical of many traditional folk singers. This gave me chance to observe his strange attire. All greens and browns with pointy felt shoes and a jaunty felt hat with a pheasant's feather at the side - pointing backward.

I was as quiet as a mouse but clearly he sensed my presence and the music ceased immediately. He leapt to his feet, casting aside his mandolin while simultaneously grabbing a staff that had lain at his feet. He brandished it aggressively.
"Who art thou?"
"I beg your pardon?" I grinned.
"Thy name stranger! Thy name?"
I decided to give him my blog name for personal security reasons.
"They call me Yorkshire Pudding!"
"Pudding of Yorkshire! Dost thou know who I am? Dost thou know the band to whom I have sworn my allegiance?"
"Nope! Can't say I do mate!"
"I am Allan-a-Dale - official minstrel to Mr Hood and his Merry Men!"

Allan made one of those piercing whistles using finger and thumb in a clever technique that I have never managed to master. The sound echoed deep into the trees.
In less than thirty seconds, I was surrounded by a gang of similarly attired men. They appeared as if by magic. One of them must have been almost seven feet tall and there was a fat monk in a brown robe. They were joined by a beautiful damsel with golden hair who said her name was Marian - "...spelt with two a's!"

They were keenly interested in my walking boots, my Swiss watch and Japanese camera and in the contents of my "Converse" rucksack. You should have seen their mouths fall open when I showed them my huge banana! I had the impression that none of them had ever seen a banana before.

"Bind him!" said the giant with the big beard. "We shalt taketh this pudding to Robin. Robin shalt decide what shalt become of this strange creature!"

"Strange creature?" I protested but the giant was having none of it. 

He clouted me unceremoniously with his bear-like paw and I was subdued.

Whatever it was that was happening had not been on my radar when I set off from Market Warsop that morning. I felt as if I had entered some kind of time warp. But how the hell was I going to get out of it... back to the future?

10 August 2020


The internet will lead you down so many rabbit holes. Listening to Bob Dylan last week got me thinking about his younger brother David Benjamin Zimmerman. As far as I know, Dylan has never spoken about his brother in public and has never written about him either.

He's five years younger than his famous sibling and at 74 years old I believe that he currently lives in Hanover, Minnesota - a small city to the northwest of Minneapolis. Once he was a high school teacher but later he worked in the music industry - in production and management. It is widely acknowledged that David was responsible for breathing fresh life into Dylan's brilliant 1975  album - "Blood on the Tracks". He persuaded Bob to use Minneapolis-based musicians and fresh recordings happened in that city ahead of the album's release.

Having a very famous sibling cannot be easy for anyone. There may be feelings of jealousy, self-doubt or plain annoyance. It's probably best that for the past sixty years David Zimmerman has remained in the shadows - able to live an ordinary life in relative obscurity. If you google his name, you will find very few pictures of him and hardly any biographical information.

Some say that Dylan is occasionally seen in Hanover but there's so much mythology about the guy and parts of his life are shrouded in mystery. Even before he dies, it is as if his life has entered a world of half-truth, rumour and make-believe. This is somewhat ironic as it seems to me that the purpose of his songs has been to seek truth, to bare the human soul, to shine light in the shadows.

Close to The Crow River in Hanover lives a man called David B.Zimmerman and his wife Gayle J. Zimmerman. They are both 74 years old. I could tell you their address, even show you a picture of their house and name their now grown-up sons but that would be like breaking a confidence. They have guarded their relative anonymity all these years, shunning the limelight cast by David's brother and no doubt seeking to forge a wholesome "normal" life of their own. I will leave them be. Time to cease my rabbit hunt.

9 August 2020


Americans call them trailers but here in Great Britain we call them caravans. My parents bought their first caravan in 1955. It was a Lynton Triumph and its walls were composed of a kind of compressed cardboard. It was a heavy, ugly beast but it gave my family the opportunity to get away on memorable holidays at little cost. I suspect that that grey beast was manufactured between the two world wars. It's possible that the army used it as a tank! Significantly, when searching for an image to accompany this blogpost, I could not locate a single picture of a Lynton Triumph.

The first caravan holidays I remember were all in this country. For three or four summers in a row, we headed down to Pentewan in Cornwall and then at Whitsuntide we laboured up to a village called Braithwaite in The Lake District. It was quite cramped in the grey beast - Mum and Dad and my three brothers and I but we were a family. We got along in spite of our differences.

They were simple, economical holidays albeit it in cramped accommodation. We never dined out. Mum gathered groceries in cardboard boxes - starting weeks before departure. In Cornwall, the biggest treat might have been  a round of "Kelly's" ice cream cones. And up in The Lake District on warm evenings we might stroll to "The Swinside Inn" where my brothers and I would drink pop (soda) and munch potato crisps while sitting on the pub wall. In those days, children were most definitely not allowed in pubs.

In 1959 or 1960, Mum and Dad plucked up the courage to take the grey tank further afield. Dad was the village headmaster and so in the summer he had the rare luxury of  six weeks' holiday. All packed up like gypsies, we journeyed down to Dover - long before this country even had motorways. An overnight stop needed to be factored in before we reached the south coast.

Then we crossed the channel to France and took our grey beast hither and thither. There were border control posts at each border - Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany. Mum and Dad's passport pages were stamped over and over again. At border petrol stations, children could get their own pretend passports stamped and at "Agip" stations there were little free gifts too.

One summer - perhaps it was in 1963 - with September fast approaching, the groceries were running out and it was time to head back to Blighty. We were in northern France on a sunny Sunday afternoon - passing through  an unremarkable village when disaster struck.

A dirty great builders' lorry (American: truck) came careering down the main street straight towards us. He wasn't stopping and the vehicle was on the wrong side of the road. It narrowly missed our car but crashed into the cardboard caravan with an almighty thud , ripping off the entire left-hand side. The lorry ended up on its side in a ditch by a farm with the drunken driver emerging from a side window.

Concerned villagers came to our aid and later both the mayor and the local gendarmerie arrived. The lorry driver was hauled off to the nearby town to face charges.  A French farmer helped to shore up the side of the now broken caravan  Naturally, there was much form-filling to be done but we were just happy to be alive. I can still picture that lorry heading our way as though in a nightmare. 

We were lucky but the old Lynton Triumph wasn't. Back in Yorkshire it had to be scrapped and the following year, as I recall, Mum and Dad invested in a secondhand Sprite Alpine caravan that had not seen war service and had walls made from sheet metal rather than compressed wood. The new caravan was not an embarrassment from a caravan museum. In fact it looked as though it even belonged in the modern world. Of course there were plenty more caravan adventures to come but fortunately they did not involve runaway lorries nor Frenchmen who had supped too much wine over their plat-du-jours.

8 August 2020


At Heyworth level crossing

I was out in the heat again yesterday - the second Friday in a row. The heat was so thick and chewy that it reminded me of the tropics. Not a breath of wind. Swallows panting on telephone lines. Drainage channels dried up. Grain crops turning golden in the fields.

Clint had been tied up by a gateway to the east of the village of Moss, ten miles north of Doncaster. Setting off towards Fenwick, I realised that the fifteen mile walk I had planned might not be a good idea in that heat. I perused my map and found a way of reducing the distance to around ten miles.

It was easy going - all flat and some of the walk was on very quiet lanes where not a single vehicle passed me by. I disturbed two or three hares that scooted off as if I was the devil incarnate. 

Near Fenwick, a herd of young black cattle watched me from behind their electric fence. Though they had water there was not one patch of shade.

Twice I had to cross the main east coast rail line that runs up from London to Doncaster before surging on to York, Newcastle and Edinburgh. The trains zoom by like rockets and at each of the crossings there were old railway houses - still occupied. Imagine that every half hour - thunderous machines passing within two metres of your living room. It would help to be stone deaf.

Lounge for horse riders at Moseley Farm

Onward to Askern, a former coal mining village. Somewhere I had never been before. I sat on a bench by the children's playground guzzling cold water and eating my usual walking lunch - an apple and a banana. I realised that I might have looked like a paedophile on the prowl but all I needed was that bench to rest upon for five minutes. Fortunately, I was not surrounded by a baying mob.

Moss is an odd place. If it ever had old buildings they all appear to be gone. Now there are numerous palatial houses with railings, automatic gates and stone lions or horses' heads on gateposts. The village has no community facilities - no shop, no school, no church, no village hall. Nothing. Even with a big, magazine-style mansion it is not a place that would ever appeal to me.

And then there he was - my South Korean travelling companion - fuming in the gateway.

"You didn't even rub any sun lotion in my bodywork!" he moaned. "It has been bloody scorching!"

As we  set off, "Blind Willy McTell" by Bob Dylan was playing on the sound system but Clint said he would prefer something called K-Pop. That term means nothing to me. By Doncaster, Dylan was singing "Dignity". It's a three CD compilation album that showcases the brilliance of Minnesota's revered minstrel...

So many roads, so much at stake
Too many dead ends, I'm at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it's gonna take
To find dignity.
In Askern near Doncaster

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