30 November 2020


Roger Hargreaves

I just checked this blog's visitor stats. Regarding the English speaking world, 37% of visitors come from Great Britain, 33% from the USA, 7% from Canada, 4% from Australia and around 1% each from Ireland, New Zealand and the Isle of Man.

It occurred to me that some of you - especially in North America - may not have heard of one of England's finest writers - Roger Hargreaves (1935-88). Hargreaves was a Yorkshireman  He became the creative director of a small advertising agency in London. It was while he was in that employment that his oldest son Giles, then aged six, asked: "Daddy? What does a tickle look like?"

Hargreaves drew a simple orange figure with long arms and called him "Mr Tickle" and it was at that moment in 1971 that his famous "Mr Men" books were conceived. A few years later Hargreaves introduced the complementary "Little Miss" series of books.

Following Roger's fatal stroke in 1981, his son Adam filled his father's shoes and more Mr Men and Little Miss books were produced. Here's a list of all of the Mr Men characters:-

Mr. Bounce
Mr. Brave
Mr. Bump
Mr. Busy
Mr. Chatterbox
Mr. Cheerful

Mr. Clever
Mr. Clumsy
Mr. Daydream
Mr. Dizzy
Mr. Forgetful
Mr. Funny
Mr. Fussy
Mr. Greedy
Mr. Grumble
Mr. Grumpy
Mr. Happy
Mr. Impossible
Mr. Jelly
Mr. Lazy
Mr. Mean
Mr. Messy
Mr. Mischief
Mr. Muddle
Mr. Nervous
Mr. Nonsense
Mr. Noisy
Mr. Nosey
Mr. Perfect
Mr. Pernickety
Mr. Quiet
Mr. Right
Mr. Rush
Mr. Silly
Mr. Skinny
Mr. Slow
Mr. Small
Mr. Sneeze
Mr. Snow
Mr. Strong
Mr. Stubborn
Mr. Tall
Mr. Tickle
Mr. Topsy-Turvy
Mr. Uppity
Mr. Worry
Mr. Wrong
"Mr Tickle" was the first Mr Men book

And here are the "Little Miss" characters:-

Little Miss Awesome
Little Miss Bad
Little Miss Bossy
Little Miss Brainy
Little Miss Busy
Little Miss Chatterbox
Little Miss Calamity
Little Miss Contrary
Little Miss Curious
Little Miss Dotty
Little Miss Fickle
Little Miss Fun
Little Miss Giggles
Little Miss Greedy
Little Miss Helpful
Little Miss Late
Little Miss Lucky
Little Miss Magic
Little Miss Naughty
Little Miss Neat
Little Miss Quick
Little Miss Scary
Little Miss Scatterbrain
Little Miss Shy
Little Miss Somersault
Little Miss Splendid
Little Miss Star
Little Miss Stubborn
Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Tidy
Little Miss Tiny
Little Miss Trouble
Little Miss Twins
Little Miss Whoops
Little Miss Wise

And now we reach the interactive part of this blogpost. Which Mr Men or Little Miss character are you most like? Maybe you are a mixture of two or three. For myself I would say I am something of a cross between Mr Clever, Mr Daydream and Mr Grumpy with a soupcon of Mr Silly too!

29 November 2020



As we approach Christmas, our government's revised COVID-19 guidelines have developed dizzying levels of maze-like complexity. It's like we are all characters in a nightmarish novel by Franz Kafka - running along corridors, pushing open doors, scaling staircases, turning hither and thither. You don't know where you are.

To begin with you effectively have five governments that in most respects have not often worked together throughout the pandemic. There's the overall governance of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to contend with, then there are the devolved governments of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and finally there's the government of England which usually melds with the first.

On Wednesday, England finishes what has more or less been a four week lockdown - though schools and the majority of workplaces have been open this time round. Next we will be entering a newly edited tiering regime. Sheffield will be in the harshest tier - Tier 3 even though our infection rate has been dropping significantly. Rural Lincolnshire will also be in Tier 3 because of high infection rates in towns like Grimsby and Scunthorpe even though huge swathes of what is England's second largest county have very low infection rates. Much lower than London which is in Tier 2.

Last week our isolating prime minister attempted to explain the new guidelines via video link having put himself in a compromising position through foolishly hosting a breakfast meeting with selected members of parliament. One of them had coronavirus symptoms. They were photographed without masks on.

By the way, when I refer to official guidelines I should point out that they are in fact a mixture of laws, rules and advice. Sometimes it is impossible to differentiate. Expert commentators and politicians keep appearing on TV offering clarifications that only add to the complexities of the tangled web.

And in the middle of the dire warnings of pandemic wipeout with associated pub and restaurant closures what does the Johnson government do? They announce that the figurative tourniquet of guidelines will be relaxed for five days over Christmas! Up to three households may come together and people can travel freely between the tiered zones. We all know that this relaxation will lead to a big rise in infection rates in January with plenty of extra deaths. What the?

My daughter Frances is especially anxious to avoid coronavirus because her baby is due in the first week of January. You can imagine how different the birthing arrangements in hospital must be for women with coronavirus symptoms. Her husband Stewart would not even be allowed in the delivery room. Interestingly, government guidelines do not  refer to  expectant mothers and the  vital importance of shielding.

None of it is straightforward. Kafka wrote "The Castle" in 1922. If he were still alive today, he might be scribbling away at a new novel loosely based on this disunited country's official handling of COVID-19. Possible titles might be "The Virus" or "Piss Up in a Brewery".

28 November 2020


Window at Elkesley Manor Farm

Elkesley is a strange village. It sits right next to the A1 which is a major arterial road, connecting north and south. I have driven by it many times but I visited it for the first time on Thursday - the day I set the pigs free.

Once Elkesley must have been a pleasant, prosperous place - situated as it was on the main coaching route between Lincoln and Sheffield. Then gradually the modern world took over, stagecoaches were consigned to history and the amount of traffic on the A1 increased exponentially.

St Giles Church, Elkesley - with Clint on the far right

Though it's by the A1, it is a tricky place to access. I arrived at ten in the morning and parked Clint by the wall of St Giles's Church. What I noticed immediately was the noise that filled the air. Not twittering birds but roaring traffic thundering by on The Great North Road. It was unceasing. Huge lorries, white vans, fast cars, slow cars, motorbikes - their engines, tyres and exhausts forming a symphony of unholy muzak.

I walked away from Elkesley through the woods and across The River Poulter then along the path that leads to Bothamsall. However, before I got there I turned westward along a disused country track called West Drayton Avenue. Admittedly, I ignored the "No Public Access" and "Private" signs.

Onward, past an oil well to the Clumber Park estate, turning north to the estate village of Hardwick. Here the wooden walkway over the River Poulter was broken so I had to to splash across the cobbled ford. Looking back, I saw a cyclist following in my wake. He noticed that I had snapped a picture of him and as he rode slowly by me he said he was relieved that he hadn't fallen off. We laughed.

With all the cycle tracks, I became slightly lost in the woods east of Hardwick and missed my intended path. This caused me to wander into the farmland south of Apley Head  Farm and that's where I came across the piggery. Last night, I carefully cut out an image of one of the pigs and stuck it on some white card. It seems to remind me of someone but for the life of me I don't know who:-

27 November 2020


Another walk in the Nottinghamshire countryside. For reasons of personal preservation, I will not say exactly where I was. However, I will say that on this four and a half hour ramble I came across a thousand pigs.

They were housed in five large, muddy compounds with metal sheds for sleeping quarters. There were also huge hoppers filled with pig pellets and a constant supply of piped drinking water. Close to the sheds, there were stacks of hay and straw bales that would no doubt be used for fresh bedding.

When I lumbered up the  grassy slopes of the pig field, I looked over the perimeter fence into the first compound. The pigs within all ran away in a panic as if they had just seen Frankenstein's Monster. But it wasn't long before their curiosity got the better of them and they crowded near the fence to get a better look at me. It's very possible that they were interested in eating me. Anything for a change from pig pellets.

They were young pigs and they squealed a lot. There was nobody governing them. They just did their own thing.

The pigs made me laugh and then they made me sing. There I was singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" and I swear they were entranced. The squealing ceased as they listened and huddled round, pushing and shoving to get the best view of me that they could. Their eyes were beady. Their ears like silk purses and their skin all bristly. Many were mucky because of the mud in their compound. There was nowhere for them to take hot showers.

It was a low fence that only came up to my midriff. The panels were movable - just hooked together. To separate them all you would need to do would be to lift one panel with a bit of muscle power.

What was I thinking of? I had not planned it. It all happened on a whim, instinctively and I am not saying that I am proud of what I did. I just did it and that's that. There was no one else around - just me and the pigs.

It took me no more than twenty seconds to separate two of the panels and effectively I had created a gateway or an exit for the pigs.  A handful decided to remain in the compound but most of the pigs burst through the opening like escaped convicts and they were off. Free at last!

Some headed down to the little river that meandered through reeds at the bottom of the fields and some ran into the neighbouring woodland, their trotters thundering through the autumn leaves and brambly undergrowth. They had no idea where they were going but their joy was palpable.

I thought better of  opening the other four compounds because I was quite fearful that my key part in this great escape might at any moment be  recognised. I consoled myself in the belief that they would probably go back home at sundown - if indeed they could find their way home. What did that children's tickling rhyme say? Wee-wee-wee all the way home. Yes that's it.

I continued along a farm track through autumn stubble and in the distance I saw a posse of pigs heading east - still galloping along with their little curly tails pointing like corkscrews at the sky above.

Sometimes we do things without thinking or considering the possible consequences of our actions. I sincerely hope that none of the pigs have been killed on the roads in that locality and I further hope that in the next twenty four hours I don't hear cops knocking on our door. I find some relief in the realisation that it would be exceedingly difficult for them to track me down. However, I find much more relief in the imagined picture of half a dozen liberated pigs settling down to sleep tonight in a forest clearing after filling their bellies with acorns and beech nuts.

Who knows what adventures they may have tomorrow?

Okay. I know. "Honesty is the best policy". It was all indeed just a delicious pork-flavoured lie.

25 November 2020


Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in "The Queen's Gambit"

On Monday night, Shirley and I finished watching the seventh and last episode of "The Queen's Gambit" on Netflix. We thoroughly enjoyed the series having been led to it by a number of people including Sue in rural Lincolnshire and Mary in northern Florida.

The drama follows the stellar career of an American chess genius called Beth Harmon. Played brilliantly by Anya Taylor-Joy, Harmon is a troubled soul who grew up in an orphanage and developed addictions which included an all-consuming obsession with chess.

I will refrain from  providing any more details of the plot as I would not wish to spoil your viewing experience if you have not yet seen "The Queen's Gambit".

What I will say is that as well as being gripped by the story which is based on a 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, I was also entranced by the appearance of the drama. There was an inventive quirkiness about it all and some of the cinematography was very clever. I loved the way that Beth Harmon walked - like a cat gliding along but aware of everything around her. At times the colouration added subtly to the 1950's/60's feel of the settings.

Was it based on the life of a real person? I researched this via everyone's best friend - Mr Google. He told me - no, not really - but the writer once said that there is a lot of Bobby Fischer in Beth Harmon. Fischer (1943-2008) was also a child chess prodigy who went on to beat the Russians at their own game. Like Harmon, Fischer was similarly reluctant to dance to anybody else's fiddle and outside the precincts of chess was also adept at putting his big foot in things.

24 November 2020


Looking up from my leather La-Z-Boy throne on Sunday morning, I noticed how splendidly sunlight was spotlighting our old model of Pinocchio. He stands on the rosewood mantelpiece in our front room but for many more years he resided in my mother's display cabinet where she kept a variety of fascinating treasures.

I guess that everybody associates Pinocchio with lying. His lies caused his wooden nose to grow but in the end he learnt the errors of his ways and his embarrassingly long snout shrank back to more normal proportions.

Pinocchio's lies were never malicious. It could be argued that they were rather typical of the kind of lies that little boys and girls tell as they develop their moral senses and how to function acceptably in this social world. Ultimately, lying impacts upon our sense of self-worth though there are arguably situations in which being economical with the truth is the wisest way to proceed.

Do you lie? How do you feel about lying?

One of my pet sayings is "Honesty is the best policy" and for many years it has been one of the guiding principles of my daily life. I sleep better in my bed and feel better about myself because of this. 

Last week when walking between Everton and Gringley-on-the-Hill, I passed through a sea of ripened maize. I visualised boiled golden cobs steaming in bowls, slathered with salted butter and reached out to twist one of those cobs from the mother plant. Surely, the farmer wouldn't miss four corn cobs would he? I was about to take my "Converse" rucksack off my shoulders and put ripe corn cobs inside it when a voice inside my head said "No!"

I felt better about myself as I walked on minus the corn, realising that future munching upon stolen cobs would not sit well with me.  As I have discovered before, it is better for my mental well-being to live as honestly as possible. Replaying lies and small acts of dishonesty would be tormentuous.

None of us are saints. As human beings, we err and if you peel away the layers you will undoubtedly find that no one  is immune from lying - not even The Pope or The Archbishop of Canterbury. We might avoid the corn but deeper than that, deep inside what lies might we find?

There's more to the original Italian tale of Pinocchio than initially meets the eye. 

23 November 2020


View from Coggers Lane to Lose Hill and Win Hill

A five minute walk from this suburban mansion and you're on Ringinglow Road. Follow Ringinglow Road for half an hour passing High Storrs School, the shops at Bents Green and "The Hammer and Pincers" pub and you are out in the countryside. A further mile out of the city and you reach the tiny village of Ringinglow itself with its "round house" and "The Norfolk Arms" public house.

Half a mile beyond Ringinglow you reach Yorkshire's border with Derbyshire. It's a route I have driven many times. It takes you out to the moors, to Stanage Edge and The Hope Valley and the world beyond. If you have been a frequent visitor to this blog you will have seen pictures of the landscape I am talking about and you will have previously travelled with me along Ringinglow Road.

On Coggers Lane looking to Stanage Edge

Mostly when I get out there there's hardly anybody else about. However, yesterday afternoon it was crazy with cars, walkers and cyclists. I have never seen the area so congested before. It was because of COVID-19 and our current semi-lockdown arrangements. People need to do something at the weekend but what can they do? Drive out of the city and enjoy the countryside.

"What the hell is going on?" grumbled Clint. "Is there a pop festival?"

Cars parked on verges where I have never seen cars parked before. Cars on both sides of the road. Burbage Bridge car park overflowing. The rock climbers' car park under Stanage Edge chock-a-block. Many of the verges will have been damaged by tyres, impairing the appearance of the moorland environment.

Rainbow's end on Stanage Edge

I had been more or less housebound for two days so Sunday afternoon's nice weather was an opportunity for a constitutional walk along the narrow lanes beyond Stanage Plantation. After edging through the cars and the bloody cyclists in their space helmets and ridiculous lycra jumpsuits, I headed for a tiny gravelled pull-in where I have often parked Clint in splendid isolation but yesterday there were five other cars there.

Boots on, I plodded my familiar route. Unusually, I needed to have  my wits about me because of the coronavirus vehicles passing by. Perhaps I should have snapped potentially historical pictures of the cars and people in the photographs that accompany this blogpost but I chose to blot them out.

Clint was dozing when I completed my circle. Gently, I raised his tailgate and extracted a deckchair, a flask of coffee and a book about the English Civil Wars (1640 to 1660). And there I sat with the sun sinking over Bamford Moor, certain that a lot of the vehicles would have disappeared by the time I steered Clint home in time to prepare a roast chicken dinner.

On my route I passed North Lees Hall which Charlotte Bronte visited in the summer of 1845
and below Bronte Cottage - so named because of that visit. She was writing "Jane Eyre" at the time.

22 November 2020


Keeper's Cottage at Gringley Lock

I have a bout of blogstipation this morning. Just can't come up with anything to blog about. Either that or I am feeling too idle to bother germinating the seeds of any current ideas. Ah well, that's how it goes during a worldwide health pandemic I guess.

Consequently, I shall grasp the lazy option by sharing another batch of the photographs I took on Thursday when walking in north Nottinghamshire south of the appropriately named River Idle.

Ripened maize - still not harvested

St Peter & St Paul Church, Gringley-on-the-Hill

Park Farm amidst the maize north of Gringley

The River Idle near Misson - once it was an important inland waterway

Pear Tree House, Gringley-on-the-Hill and the view north
over former marshland towards The Humber

21 November 2020


Priti Patel with Feckless Johnson

Priti Patel  is Britain's Home Secretary. She was appointed by Feckless Johnson. Numerous complaints were made about her style of leadership - so many complaints that an official inquiry was undertaken.

That inquiry concluded that Ms Patel was at times guilty of bullying behaviour in her department - including shouting and swearing at members of the civil service. Historically, such a damning judgement would result in the spotlighted politician resigning or being fired. However, Priti Patel has neither resigned as a matter of honour nor has she been given her marching orders by Feckless Johnson.

Instead what has happened is that the senior member of the civil service tasked with actioning this inquiry has himself resigned his post. Undoubtedly, he is quite disgusted about Feckless Johnson disregarding the inquiry's findings. That fellow is called Sir Alex Allen and I applaud him for doing the right thing.

Following receipt of the inquiry's report, Feckless Johnson said he had "full confidence" in Ms Patel and that she had given a "fulsome apology". Fulsome apology? What the hell! This is what Priti Patel said:-

"I am sorry if I have upset people in any way whatsoever - that was completely unintentional."

Is that a "fulsome apology"? It does not sound like one to me. It sounds like the kind of "apology" that someone might say when they don't truly wish to apologise. It's like saying "I am sorry if you feel that I was in the wrong" - throwing it all back at the complainant - as if it was their fault in the first place.

A proper "fulsome apology" would have gone something like this: "I apologise most sincerely for my past behaviour. It was wrong of me to shout and swear at members of staff.  I shall try harder from now on to alter my managerial style and cease any swearing or shouting - even when we are dealing with stressful issues and time pressures. I should like to thank Sir Alex Allen for conducting his inquiry in  a characteristically professional manner."

Feckless Johnson didn't have the political nous to sack his senior adviser Dominic Cummings when he blatantly broke coronavirus lockdown rules in  early summertime. Now he has again shown a streak of his unlovely stubbornness - instead of doing what's right and proper. He hasn't  even released the report for others to examine.

You will now be pleased to learn that this particular parochial rant is over. My sincere and undying apologies to North American visitors, readers from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and Eswatini (the new name for Swaziland). Sorry... I really mean it.

20 November 2020


The Chesterfield Canal east of Everton
Yesterday I walked for five and a half hours. I left Clint in the village of Gringley-on-the-Hill in north Nottinghamshire and had set off by ten fifteen. The weather gods had granted me a lovely window of opportunity for plodding and though the day was chilly with a breeze from the Arctic, it was also bright with no hint of rain.

Gringley-on-the-Hill is a charming village with a long history and a population of around seven hundred souls. As its name suggests, it sits on a hill. North of the village flat farmland stretches out for several miles. Once it would have been marshland - home to reeds and wildfowl but in the seventeenth century Dutch engineers were employed to organise effective land drainage. Their hard work is visible today in the form of rich arable land.

I plodded out to The River Idle and looked across to the remote village of Misson which cut off from the rest of Nottinghamshire by the river. I was there in 2016. Go here.

Then it was along muddy lanes passing two or three remote farms and a flock of white geese or swans clustering on ploughed land.  I reached the village of Everton by two o'clock and then headed east to The Chesterfield Canal which took me eventually to Gringley Lock. The sun was sinking over the far horizon as I trudged up Wood Lane - all the way back to Clint and the journey back home.

"You took your time!" grumbled Clint as I lifted his tailgate.

"That is my prerogative," I responded. "After all, I own you!"

Clint said nothing for a while but as soon as I settled into the driver's seat he said. "You mean like a slave? You own me like a slave?"

"I guess so. I hadn't thought of it that way."

Of course Clint hummed slave songs from America's Deep South all the way home just to make me feel bad. However, it had been a grand day out. The six accompanying pictures should give you a fuller sense of the day I had.

Cottage on the edge of Everton

19 November 2020


It took me five days to read "The Salt Path" by Raynor Winn. And what a delight it was!

It is a true story about a long distant walking route in the south west of England. Beginning at Minehead in Somerset, the "salt path" or South West Coastal Path hugs the coast through Devon and Cornwall all the way to Land's End where it turns and heads east along the south coast to Poole in Dorset. Six hundred and thirty miles in total.

in 2014, Raynor Winn and her husband Moth became unexpectedly homeless. They were in their early fifties. What could they do? Despite Moth having a life-threatening condition they decided to set off walking.

They had very little money and only basic equipment, including two cheap sleeping bags. Some days they had nothing to eat and they wild camped almost all the way just to save money.

On the walk they discovered inner reserves of strength and they witnessed Mother Nature in various guises - from nocturnal badgers to Atlantic storms and from baking sunlight to cliffs abundant with fossils. It was a journey of self-discovery.

Raynor Winn's style of writing is honest, easy and observant. She focuses on small aspects of everyday life. Her love for Moth is like the chain on a mighty anchor and though times get tough she retains a priceless positivity.

When it comes to reading, we all have our own individual preferences. Maybe some would dismiss "The Salt Path" but I loved it. In this year of COVID 19 and worrisome uncertainty about the future of our planet, it was great to read a book that was so uplifting.

Though Raynor and Moth had nothing, they found something so special. Maybe there's a message there for the rest of us.

18 November 2020


When I was at secondary school in Kingston-upon-Hull I was one of the best rugby players in my year group. Our coach was an ex-player called Bill Minns. He had a habit of endowing his favourite lads with nicknames and he called me Theseus. The name stuck for a while. As far as nicknames go it wasn't a bad one to have. Better than Fatty or Beanpole or Specky Four Eyes.

In the last seventy two hours I have felt like Theseus in the Labyrinth. Behind the scenes of this illustrious blog, I have been battling with demons. Technological robo-demons that threatened to block me from my favourite websites and blogs.

"Error 401" kept raising its ugly face and I was repeatedly warned that my security had been compromised. Habitual passwords were being blocked as unfamilar dialogue boxes appeared on the screen.

All of this sent me scurrying off into a Google labyrinth of Blogger forums, YouTube help videos, techo-babble and "solutions" that turned out not to be solutions after all. It was nightmarish I tell you. On Sunday night I had little sleep as I tossed and turned, wrestling with my personal minotaur. How could I defeat it?

Today, the minotaur has slunk off into the bowels of the labyrinth for I have managed to resolve several of the blockage issues. Passwords have been changed. Caches have been cleared. Google Chrome has been reset. I am doing what I want to do on the computer again but I fear that the minotaur has not gone forever. This is just a temporary lull for the bull and the lad from Hull.

I am not a techical kind of guy. I have little idea how a car engine works and I am not interested in finding out how all that wonderful imagery appears on our television screen. Similarly, I find no pleasure in solving computer problems. I just want to press the on button, wait for it to load up and then do my stuff.

Before I leave this window of cyber-doom, may I just say that Google, Microsoft and Apple are advancing all the time. They do not stay still. They track our password choices and when their systems spot unhealthy patterns - such as repeated use of the same password - they are likely to ask questions, create barriers or block your activity. This is done via robots so you can't just phone up and speak to a human being saying something like, "Hi! I am Theseus. In error you have directed me into a labyrinth of anxiety. Now please get me out and remove the blockages. Thank you. Have a nice day."

16 November 2020


I took the picture displayed above in the graveyard that surrounds All Saints Church in Belton, Lincolnshire. You won't be able to read the inscription on the tallest gravestone but it remembers the lives of  Kelita Hall who died in 1823 and his wife Syndonea Hall who "departed this life" twenty eight years later. They certainly had first names to conjure with. I have never come across either of them before. Strange that they found each other.

Death happens. It's like we are all part of a big queue that keeps shuffling along. Every year famous people die. Sometimes you don't hear about these deaths till  long after they have occurred.  They have a habit of slipping through the net of publicity like fish.

We raise our eyebrows at different deaths and maybe they are accompanied by small clouds of sorrow too. We remember what these departed people meant to us if they meant anything at all.

This year three celebrity deaths have touched me more than others. From the world of English football we lost two of our World Cup winning team of 1966. Jack Charlton went in July and Nobby Stiles passed away at the end of October. Both were victims of dementia - probably exacerbated by heading heavy footballs during their playing careers.

I once saw Jack Charlton aboard a train leaving Sheffield for London. He was sitting in a second class carriage on the other side of the aisle. Though he was reading a book, I wanted to talk to him but what would I have said? "Once I was a twelve year old boy and I watched you live on the television raising The World Cup in Wembley Stadium. It was a most wonderful game in a  magical summer and Hull City were promoted that year too."

The third death that touched me was that of Hull-born sailor and folk singer - Jim Radford. He died on November 6th at the age of 92.  Jim was the composer of an extraordinarily  moving song called "The Shores of Normandy" that I blogged about in 2014. Go here.

Sadly, Jim was in a magistrates court in September - charged with historical sex offences against two girls. I don't know the details of the allegations but two months ago, Jim's solicitor said they would be fighting tooth and nail to have the charges quashed. It would have been good to get to the truth but now Jim Radford is dead we may never know what really happened and the two girls - now women may never find the legal resolution they were seeking.

14 November 2020


Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada

Picture a small lake with sunshine dancing on the surface of the water. Or picture ten petrol tankers proceeding along the slow lane of  a motorway. What you are also seeing is how much beer I have drunk in my life. Gallons of the stuff.

My relationship with beer began in "The Hare and Hounds" public house in the village of my birth. At fifteen going on sixteen I drank brown ale with a dash of blackcurrant.  Yuk! But before too long I advanced to traditional bitter.

In the past, when you entered a pub in Yorkshire there were really only two sorts of beer you could order - bitter or mild. You could visit any pub in the country and simply ask for "a pint of bitter" and the barman or barmaid would pull your pint with no further questions asked.

Nowadays it's different. If you go into a pub and say "A pint of bitter please" the staff behind the bar will be confused. Sometimes they will say, "Which bitter?" and in other pubs - especially Down South they may not even know what you mean by "bitter"! Crazy.

In the late sixties a pint of bitter would cost you around one shilling and sixpence - or 12½ new pence. Today in my local pub a pint of bitter costs £3.60 which is around twenty eight times more. If I could retrieve all of the money I have spent on beer I could purchase a brand new luxury car.

When I pause to reflect upon it, I could devote several blogposts to beer. Mostly it has been a friend to me, something that has lubricated many happy times. I have drunk it from South Africa to Fiji and from Washington State to Alloa in Clackmannanshire. I have drunk in several "Red Lions", "The Foaming Quart", "The Black Boy", "The Farmer's Arms", "The Nag's Head", "The John Snow" and a thousand other pubs and hotels.

Mostly beer has been a friend but in my youth it  occasionally  led me into bad behaviour and bad situations. There are several things that happened which even to this day I am reluctant to recount. Please don't ask. Let sleeping dogs lie I say. I can still hear them snoring away.

All English pubs are closed right now as we proceed through Lockdown Mark II.  For some reason, I  decided not to have any beer   during this particular lockdown. I had my last three pints  the night before it started. Two pints of "John Smith's Best Bitter" and a pint of "London Pride" in "The Robin Hood". That was on  November 4th. 

Ten days without beer.  It's not been too hard so far. After all, I  mostly associate beer with pubs, other beer drinkers and pub conversations.  Avoiding beer will help me to lose a little weight and give my liver a well-deserved rest but this wasn't a conscious and properly articulated decision. I just drifted into not drinking beer. I expect that when Lockdown Mark II is over I will hook up with my old friend again. After all, we have come so far together.

12 November 2020


All Saints Church, Belton

Clint and I were in Belton, North Lincolnshire today. I parked safely by All Saints Church and set off on an eight mile circular walk that I had worked out on Wednesday night. 

It was a lovely day for mid-November. Plenty of good light for photography. I didn't even need to wear a coat - the temperature was so balmy and there was hardly a breath of wind. 

East of Belton an obelisk was marked on the Ordnance Survey map. It was half-hidden by spindly trees. I ventured into the little wood to investigate. Though there are no inscriptions on the stonework, I later discovered that the thirty foot tower was constructed under the instructions of a Mr William Johnson in 1787.

Apparently it was built as a memorial to Johnson's favourite horse - Sir Solomon that had been euthanised following a serious hunting accident. Weirdly, it is said that Johnson shot his two favourite hounds so that they could be buried with the horse.

The Johnsons lived in a grand house called Temple Belwood that is no more. I understand that it was finally demolished when the M180 motorway was constructed in the nineteen seventies. That house took many historical secrets with it though it had been crumbling away when it received its final  coup de grâce.

Anyway, to give you a flavour of my walk I am posting five photos and the last one is of the obelisk in the woods. I wonder if Mr Johnson was as generous to his tenant farmers as he was to himself when bewailing Sir Solomon's death. Doubt it somehow.

Disused railway viaduct over South Engine Drain

Under the M180 Motorway

Doorway in  Westgate
The Obelisk


He was the younger brother of two British kings - King Edward VIII and King George VI and he was our current queen's uncle. His name was John. Prince John - the youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary of Teck.

Born in 1905 on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk he died there in 1919 at the tender age of thirteen.

For the last three years of his life, John, or Johnnie as he was known by his family, lived beyond the glare of the press and the public under the care of his nanny - Charlotte Bill. Prince John always called her "Lala".

At first John had seemed like a normal child but much of his brief life was blighted by epilepsy. Fits occurred with alarming frequency and they took a toll upon his general health. It is likely that he had other issues too - possibly autism.

Sometimes local children were brought to Sandringham to play and pass time with Prince John. He formed a special relationship with a Yorkshire lass called Winifred Thomas. She was the niece of one of the lead groomsmen in the royal stables.

Years later she recounted those times: "During the First World War I visited John nearly every day and we went on walks and took care of the garden. I remember in 1916 when the War was on John got so excited watching German Zeppelins passing over Sandringham. Father came to visit me that year and John was really happy when he met who he called 'a real, live soldier', Sergeant Frederick Thomas, my Dad. Queen Mary was always finding time to be with John and his Grandmother, Queen Alexandra also took time to visit him."

It is tantalising to imagine the hours that Winifred spent with her sickly but regal friend though we will never know for sure what they talked about and what made them laugh together. I would like to think that Winifred brought him some happiness.

Prince John is pretty much a forgotten member of the British royal family. Nowadays, with better medication and understanding of his conditions he might have lived a fuller, longer life.  He spent nearly all of his thirteen and a half years at Sandringham and died there in Wood Farm which incidentally is where our current queen's aged consort Prince Philip now resides.  It is likely that he will die there too.

Prince John is buried in Sandringham churchyard:

11 November 2020


Last Saturday Hull City beat Fleetwood in the F.A. Cup. Here players congratulate 
Reece Burke after scoring his very first goal for The Tigers. Not lockdown but scrumdown!

England is in Lockdown Mark 2 for the next month. Pubs and restaurants are closed and so are hairdressers. We are told that we can only meet up with one other person from another household but not indoors or even in our gardens. We have to meet them outside in public places, keeping two metres apart. We are advised over and over to wash our filthy hands and to wear masks to smother our viral breathing.

Okay, if this will help I am happy to "get with the program" as our North American cousins are wont to say. Anything to reduce risk and frankly to stave off the possibility of a premature death. It's awful that we cannot keep visiting our beloved daughter who is now heavily pregnant and working from home. But rules are rules.

Now here's the rub.

While Lockdown Mark 2 proceeds, live football continues. The full programme of professional games advances in almost empty stadia. Players are still hugged when they score goals. Sometimes they even pile on top of each other in heaps of joy.

Teams travel up and down the country to play their matches and the best teams board aeroplanes to fly to every corner of Europe from Finland to Malta and from Moscow to Moldova.

There are also club officials, coaches, physios, TV and newspaper reporters. For all of these  people Lockdown Mark 2 seems like an irrelevance. The games just keep happening thick and fast. The squads keep travelling.

Now I am a big football supporter. I love the game but I recognise that when it comes down to it, football is just entertainment. It is not essential. So why does it have licence to keep happening when ordinary people are receiving heavy fines for flouting lockdown rules? 

There's a hell of a mismatch. We cannot meet up with our pregnant daughter or sit in a pub but footballers can travel all over the place, score goals, shake hands, hug each other while we watch it all on TV. What kind of a lockdown is Lockdown Mark 2? The players do not even wear masks during games!

I just "justified" this text to make it line up nicely. I wish European governments would "justify" the continuation of professional football during a deadly pandemic but the truth is they probably can't. The fact that the players are tested regularly is a poor defence in my estimation. Could it really be all about the money? Surely not.

9 November 2020


I was born in the same year that our beloved queen, Queen Elizabeth II, was crowned. If I am still alive when she dies it will certainly be a momentous day. The end of an era and the final page in the life of a remarkable woman who has faithfully kept her initial promise to the British people and to its commonwealth of nations by simply doing her "duty".

I remember the day they assassinated Kennedy and I remember more clearly  the day a crazy guy killed John Lennon. Most people of my generation will say the same. However, I rather suspect that those dark days will pale in comparison with the death of our queen. And there's another future death that I anticipate with similar trepidation - the passing of Bob Dylan.

Born in May 1941, Dylan is even older than Joe Biden. His songs have been there in the background of my life since I first heard "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" in a pebble-dashed council house in my home village in East Yorkshire back in 1964.

Last month it was my birthday and the one gift I asked for was a CD version of Dylan's most recent studio album - "Rough and Rowdy Ways". When driving Clint the Capricious Car these past few weeks, I have been listening to the album over and over again becoming more and more familiar with the ten tracks it contains. With new music I find that familiarity breeds affection rather than contempt.

Disc 2 consists of one song - at 16 mins and 31 secs it 
is the longest song Dylan has ever recorded.
In some ways the "feel" of the album is that of an old man in some late night venue, looking back on his life of ups and downs, squeezing out songs that might well be his last. His voice rasps like a smoker's. There's an assuredness about his word choices and his references to modern culture and history. You find anger there as well as humour and poetry and of course he is supported by talented musicians and backing singers. They are unobtrusive - enhancing the varied bag of songs at Dylan's direction. He knows better than most how to put albums together.

Of course I realise that many who visit this blog are not Bob Dylan fans and will not have been passengers on his sixty year creative journey. But as with Queen Elizabeth II it's as if Dylan has always been around - a constant part of our lives. When he leaves us it will be a day of tremendous sorrow and reflection. Another line in the sands of history.

I leave the final words with Dylan himself from "Rough and Rowdy Ways":-

Put my hide up on a hill
Where some happiness I'll find
If I survive, then let me love
Let the hour be mine
Take the high road, take the low
Take any one you're on
I poured the cup, I passed it along
And I crossed the Rubicon

8 November 2020


Alison Steadman as Gail Reynolds in "Life"

When it comes to TV drama, I  prefer stuff that does not involve murders, shootings, detectives, science fiction or supernatural bollix. In short, I am after tales of ordinary life. Realism. Believability. Yes that is my cup of tea.

Throughout my life the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have regularly satisfied my appetite for real life drama. The number of excellent shows they have commissioned and produced is quite mind boggling. Like our wonderful National Health Service, the B.B.C. is a jewel in this nation's crown. That's what I think anyway and if you think otherwise please keep it to yourself .

Recently, Shirley and I very much enjoyed "Life" - a six part drama funded by the BBC. Written by Mike Bartlett, "Life" focuses upon the residents of a big house in the suburbs of  Manchester. Divided into four separate flats, the drama explores the tenants' very different lives .  It is as if there are four stories but they intersect and at times they meld together - especially in Episode 6.

The cast includes some very talented actors and actresses including the brilliant Victoria Hamilton, Adrian Lester, Peter Davison and the wonderful Alison Steadman who has become something of a national treasure in her own right - playing a wide range of roles with empathy and commitment. On its own, her face can speak a thousand words.

I guess this blogpost is aimed at people who live in Britain or are able to access recent BBC output from other lands. My apologies if that does not include you. All I want to say is that "Life" is a great example of BBC drama and I thoroughly recommend it. Ultimately, its message about life is hopeful. If you haven't seen it already, it provides a good way of passing six hours during this continuing pandemic with its associated restrictions upon our lives!

Adrian Lester as David Aston in "Life"

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