7 March 2021

Forecast

"Here is the national weather forecast from London.

Well. Yesterday was a lovely spring day wasn't it? The sun was shining across the south east and  daffodils are now blooming in gay profusion. It was a good day for changing the guards at Buckingham Palace as the high pressure indicated on the map settled over The Thames Valley. 

In Wales rain was pissing down and Up North in Yorkshire and suchlike the weather was crap. Scotland and Northern Ireland were the same but who cares? Let's get back to London and the south east where real life is lived.

Tomorrow a devastating gale will sweep across England's garden tragically bringing down trees and causing some structural damage. Please take care of yourselves. If concerned, phone the helpline shown at the end of this bulletin or listen to the prime minister's radio message to his people. Meantime, up in Yorkshire and Lancashire it might be sunny but we don't really know or care. Who would choose to live in those nether regions anyway?

On Saturday, our beloved south east will once again be bathed in golden sunshine. Good day for a picnic  in one of our lovely parks or perhaps a trip to the seaside. Her Majesty will be in residence at Windsor Castle as The Union Jack flutters above the famous Round Tower. Lambs will frolic in Windsor Great Park and all will be well with the world. Oh - I almost forgot - there will be floods Up North and severe thunderstorms in Scotland.

So that's all from me. Back to Clarence Tissington-Snodgrass in the studio."

6 March 2021

Lycidas


Yesterday I returned to Sir William Hill to undertake a longer walk. It was cloudy, chilly and few other people were out and about. I checked out a long abandoned sheep farm that I have visited before, above the Highlow valley to which I descended.

I had no map and after leaving the footbridge at Stoke Ford, I headed up the valley of Bretton Brook. The path was sometimes unclear and I had to be as alert as an Indian scout in a cowboy film. Over two streams, across boggy land and then up to ancient lead mine workings with conical spoil heaps now clothed in vegetation.

Then, in the shadow of Abney Grange Farm, I climbed up and up to the one-track lane on the ridge that took me back to Bretton Mount. That is where "The Barrel Inn" is located but shut for months because of the pandemic.

Before I reached Lord Clint of Clintshire, I passed a small stone-walled enclosure. Perhaps the original intention had been to maintain a little memorial garden but now it is wild and neglected. For the first time, I noticed a plaque on the roadside wall in memory of a gentleman called Harold Farmer of Burton-upon-Trent. Born in 1903, he died in 1984. I know nothing else about him.

In addition to his basic details, there was a piece of verse:-

Under the opening eye-lids of the morn
Oft til the star that rose, at ev'ning bright,
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new

The lines come from "Lycidas" by John Milton - written in 1634 and revised in 1645. In its day this lyrical poem was popular and famous, capturing as it did religious issues of that troubled period in our history.  But the peculiar thing about the three lines on Mr Farmer's plaque is that they do not sit together in the poem. The first line is the fourth line of  the poem's third stanza, the second line is the eighth line of that same stanza and the third line is the last line of the eleventh stanza and indeed the last line of the poem.

I am not sure that Milton would have approved of his poem being broken up in this manner but it was nonetheless nice to see poetic lines on a plaque  in the heart of the north Derbyshire countryside.

Speaking of poetry, when I got back to Lord Clint he was reciting a love poem to a cute little pink Fiat 500 who was parked in the same rough and ready lay-by:-

To bed a sweet Fiat Five Hundred
Is a fantasy I have oft wondered
To take thee to a car park late at night
And wax thy chassis with all my might

"You lecherous beast!" I  yelled, pressing the button on my electric key fob.  I could see that the Fiat 500 was trembling though I knew not if it was with fear or desire. It is so hard to read Italians.
"...a long abandoned sheep farm"

5 March 2021

Letter

 

Deer Big Bloggy Peeple,

Hell-Oh! It's me, Phoebe! Grandpa asked if I wood like to right a guessed post hear on his bog and I said yes.

I am seven weeks old today and my life has started good. I have put on five pounds since I was born - just guzzling mummy milk. It is deliccs nice but sumtimes i have to scream to get it. Mummy can be sooooo sloooow.

I am learning a lot as the days pass by. I grew in Mummy's tummy and when I came out I didn't know much. Every day there is something new. I am trying to make sense of it all - all the shapes and sounds and things like that. I did not know that there wood be colours out here. I like colours (American: colors). And I herd a siren near the suprememarket. It made me jump. Mummy said it woz an amlulance. I don't know what that is.

I have got a big giraffe, a sloth, a hedgehog and a teddy beat called Brian. I have filled lots and lots of nappies. Mummy does not like them going to Landfill but I don't know where Landfill is. Is it over the rainbow?

Daddy is vewy nice. Mummy is vewy nice. Grandma is vewy nice. Brian is vewy nice. But the nicest of all is Grandpa. He sings to me whenever I see him.

I am feeling sleepy again now. Got to go boggy peeple. Have a nice day.

Love,

Phoebe  x

3 March 2021

Mars


The stunning image shown above was taken this week  by the NASA Perseverance space vehicle on the surface of Mars. It looks lovely up there on Mars doesn't it? Perhaps in the future, human beings will take their holidays there, enjoying the raw beauty of The Red Planet.

Now I am going to confess something that will probably reveal once and for all what an ignorant fellow I truly am. I do not really approve of space exploration. There I have said it. You have licence to deride me.

Billions of dollars, roubles, yen, pounds, euros and rupees have been spent on space exploration. The current Perseverance mission to Mars will cost American tax payers at least three billion dollars. Admittedly, there are often technological spin-offs and by-products resulting from space missions but these are invariably accidental, disconnected from the project's central aims.

Instead of space exploration, what I would like to see is those resources, that human ingenuity, that passion, that incredible funding being directed to more earthbound matters. These would include advancing the development of better electric batteries for motor vehicles, slowing rampant population growth, feeding the starving, bringing clean water supplies to the needy, tackling plastic pollution, combating  global warming and so on. I am not referring to pipe dreams spawned by science fiction and academic or military curiosity but about real world concerns  - things that matter right now.

I would rather have seen the three billion Perseverance dollars spent on assisting the poor people of Yemen caught in a truly awful military conflict that was not of their making. Children are dying in Yemen while a clever space vehicle trundles around a lifeless planet.

We are meant to be excited about space travel, moon landings and the like but I just think - what a terrible waste of money. Humans should have nobler priorities - all of them on our doorstep.

2 March 2021

Extracts

Mount Kolahoi

I have now passed the halfway mark in my labour of love - typing out my father's account of his trek into the Western Himalayas in 1944. 27.000 words typed and around 25,000 to go. This process brings me closer to that young Yorkshireman. It is as if I have tuned in to the frequency of his inner radio station as he selects and moulds his words. Visitors to "Yorkshire Pudding" have previously shown heartening interest in this rebirth project so today I shall share three further extracts.

1) Animals at the head of the Lidder Valley:-

Higher up the side of the valley we discerned two little animals gazing at us with great attention and since we did not recognise them at that distance, we clambered towards them to investigate further. At a distance of some ten yards we stopped – not wishing to scare them. Their skins were a chocolate brown on the back with a lovely, creamy yellow tint on the belly. In size they were somewhat larger than English rabbits but rather like them in appearance as they sat up on their hind legs and washed their faces keeping a wary eye on us through their claws. They did not seem in the least perturbed by our presence and most certainly did not show any real signs of fear. There they sat with a sort of grin on their faces, their ears cocked and their tiny front paws weaving endless patterns abound their muzzles. 

Having read that marmots were common in the area and remembering that the description given of this cute little animal tallied with what we saw in front of us, we came to the conclusion that these little denizens of the rocky vastness of the mountains must indeed be marmots. Stealthily, we edged nearer and nearer hoping that we might even take hold of one. However, when we were five yards away they just melted into the ground. One second they were there and the next they had gone – vanished in a flash to their wee burrows beneath the rocks. We searched for a short while but futilely for there was not a trace of their whereabouts and so we retraced our steps and in a short while reached the very foot of the glacier’s remarkable snout.

2) On the Kolahoi Glacier:-

We were surrounded by a vast silence broken only by the occasional crump of an avalanche or the crash of falling ice. This quiet was almost beyond description – as if there was something missing from the alien world that now surrounded us. There was not even a breath of wind to create a faint rustling as it passed our ears. Neither animal nor bird disturbed the peaceful silence and the familiar roar of rushing water was now drowned by distance. Even our footfalls were muffled by the plasticity of the ice on which we were walking. On all sides, the gigantic rock and ice peaks hemmed us in as, hand in hand,  grandeur and silence reigned supreme.

3) Beyond the glacier heading up:-

From the moraine we climbed easily upward for roughly a hundred and fifty feet. We gripped grass and flowers to help us in our passage. Many of the weeds were of the sage variety. When they were crushed in our hands they emitted a rich and fragrant scent. Intermingled with the scents of the many alpine flowers, the aroma of these tough little shrubs made another pleasant element in our climb. Eventually, we reached the end of the easy section  and were confronted with a cliff of rock twenty feet high which appeared to end in a ledge. A careful examination  of the slopes to left and right did not give us a clue to an easier route and it seemed that there was nothing else to do but to try our skill on the rock face. Oh for a sixty foot alpine rope! 

There  seemed to be a dearth of finger and toe holds in the next twenty feet and the drop down to the moraine did not look too enticing. However, putting all thoughts of failure from our minds, we started upward once more. I remember that I stared hard and long at the rock and worked out every detail of the cracks and knobs I was going to use and where I was going to place my fingertips and my toes and in what sequence I was going to use them. Try as I might, I could not see a way of covering the last three feet to the ledge. Trusting in the belief that a closer view would surely reveal something, I placed my toe in the first crevice and took a firm grip  of a knob of rock just within reach above my head and levered myself up.

28 February 2021

Gorgeous

View to Abney Low and Abney Barn

What a gorgeous day Sunday February 28th was in this corner of Planet Earth. After breakfast and a shower, I commanded Clint to take me to the village of Grindleford. Then we ascended Sir William Hill and he parked himself four hundred yards short of the telecommunications mast.

I had planned a leisurely three  mile  walk in the early spring sunshine - giving me plenty of time to get home to prepare our Sunday dinner. It was so pleasant up on Eyam Moor that it was not long before I  started to regret wearing my big coat.

View from Eyam Moor to  Higger Tor

On my way to Grindleford, I had observed many cars parked in the north Derbyshire countryside. Hundreds of people were out and about enjoying the lovely day - walking, cycling, rock climbing. If the COVID police had arrested them all they could have filled a football stadium with miscreants.

Sir William Hill telecommunications mast and an old grouse butt

British government guidance says that we should only exercise "locally" but what does that mean? Clarification has suggested that "local" means your village, town or urban neighbourhood. If that really is the case, then no cars at all should be parked out in the countryside. The "law" is being disregarded so widely that it is in effect unenforceable. Meanwhile, PM Johnson whizzes up and down the country visiting hospitals, laboratories, factories and schools to garner as many photo-opportunities as possible. He also greets strangers with elbow pumps thereby breaking the two metre rule.

This is a mad world. It's vital to get out for exercise and what can be better than a healthful walk in the countryside?

View to Win Hill from Eyam Moor

27 February 2021

Southerly

An old song came to mind: I don't know why. It's from the north east of England - even further north than Yorkshire.. Here is the tune played so beautifully by Sheku Kanneh-Mason:-


The song is called "Blow The Wind Southerly".

I vaguely remembered that it was once recorded by the famous English contralto - Kathleen Ferrier. And as you do nowadays, I went hunting around in The Great Google Library for more information, more signposts.

Imagine my gasp of surprise when I discovered that Kathleen Ferrier died on the very same day that I was born! Additionally, just like my father her dad was also  the headmaster of a village school. She died young at 41 after a futile battle with breast cancer. She had no children and her marriage to a bank manager was by all accounts never consummated. Tragic - but in her short life she walked in the limelight, working with some of the finest musicians to emerge from World War II.

Now I am learning "Blow The Wind Southerly" to sing to Baby Phoebe as I rock her in my arms but my version will not be an exact replica of Kathleen Ferrier's haunting rendition...

26 February 2021

Released


I was like a caged beast roaring in our front room. Even the postman jumped and ran away when he spotted me there behind the bay window - roaring like a tiger with a thorn in its paw. But, yesterday (I believe in yesterday) I managed to break out of the cage in order to undertake a bracing. country walk.

Because the COVID police and COVID informers are prevalent these days, I did not dare to go far. Still within Sheffield's city limits, I parked in the hamlet of Brightholmlee near Wharncliffe Side.

Wharncliffe Side

It was a lovely day with an anticyclonic chill in the air and swathes of sunshine radiating from  a sky blue sky. With boots double-tied, I left Clint by an  old stone barn.

Being his usual charming self he muttered, "I hope this bloody barn doesn't tumble down on me while you are away frolicking in the countryside like a ruddy morris dancer!"

Soon I was down by More Hall Reservoir, marching on to Broomhead Reservoir then winding up the valley side past Raynor Hall Farm. What a trudge that was. Up and up. One of the many advantages of walking on your own is that you can take rests whenever you want. There's no need to explain.

Old guidepost in the parish of Bradfield

Then along the high level lanes between the valleys of The River Don and The River Loxley.  Very little traffic up there. Occasional isolated farms and houses. What would life be like living up there in splendid isolation? Not my cup of tea at all. Okay for a peaceful holiday week but to live there full time? No way. The caged beast would be roaring constantly- "I'm not a celebrity - get me out of here!"

By the time I crept up on Clint and shouted "Boo!"  I had walked at least six hard miles and  felt thoroughly invigorated.

24 February 2021

Gujars

Gujar woman

I have now typed twenty thousand words of my father's wartime tale of an adventure in northern Kashmir. His party has trekked beyond Lidderwat along stony tracks in the shadow of lofty mountains. They reach a high, treeless valley occupied only by Gujar shepherds and their families. This is his account.

⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛

After crossing the stream in the manner described, we found a cluster of Gujar huts. When I write “found” I am choosing my words carefully for it would have been quite easy to pass within close proximity of those huts and not notice them. Each consisted of a thick roof of logs jutting out from the wall of the valley. This was supported by uprights also made from logs of great girth and strength. The roof logs were reinforced with grass, earth and dung so that the thickness of the roof was two or three times bigger. The spaces between the upright logs were interwoven with thick grasses and all apertures were sealed with soil and dung. The huts were built in this manner so that the snow which must fall onto the roof during winter or which might avalanche would not cause the hut to collapse. The resultant disaster to Gujar inhabitants  was therefore avoided. Looking at these huts one could visualise the terrific weight of snow which they would be capable of supporting. The construction  of the walls was such that they would be draught-proof how ever much the demon winds of the valley howled around.

We entered one of these huts but the darkness, the stench and the filth caused us to give the interior only a cursory inspection. The floor was of hard stamped earth – thereby matching the ceiling and the walls. Wherever one walked, the supporting pillars for the roof impeded one’s movement. The nether wall of the hut was simply the sloping side of the valley and against this was piled a large quantity of drying wood ready for use during the ensuing winter. In the centre of the hut was an open circular hearth constructed from blackened stones. There was no outlet for the smoke and because of this there was a lingering smell of old pinewood smoke commingled with various other olfactory ingredients that together created a most powerful odour. The stink of human bodies unwashed for many months, perhaps years, the decaying flesh that clung to the sheepskins hanging over a beam, the droppings of sheep and hens that evidently lived in the hut, the odour of spilt milk long since soured, scraps of food rotting on the floor – all these combined to make the stale  air  in the hut so offensive to our nostrils that we quickly curtailed our curiosity.

The occupants of the hut seemed to be three women , about ten men and  an indeterminate number of children. All were very dirty almost beyond belief. The women wore voluminous blue smocks that covered them from the neck to the ankle. The smock was stained and dirty with the accumulation of years of spillages. Their faces were thin, hatchety and unlovely and at the time I thought of them as much like the reincarnation of my childhood idea of witches. Underneath a dirty cloth coal-scuttle hat, reminiscent of those worn  in England during the Cromwellian period,  was a tangled mass of thin, tightly-plaited hair. This hair was in such profusion that it did not take too long to notice that the women’s natural hair was interwoven with strands of horsehair and it was obvious that once plaited the hair was never unwound. Hanging from their ears were huge earrings of both silver and wood, which pulled their lobes down towards their shoulders. The men were tall in stature and they also wore smocks but of a drab stone colour. Over their shoulders they draped a loosely rolled blanket or shawl. Skull caps fitted over their closely tonsured skulls so that they had a rather monkish appearance. Their faces were a walnut brown, weathered colour with the texture of leather and they were all bearded. Apart from their unwashed state they were quite an attractive and fine set of fellows. The children would be difficult to describe for they were in a motley array of clothes or stark naked. They were thin-faced, unwashed but laughing, vigorous and with a bright, intelligent light shining in their eyes.

23 February 2021

Milkmaid


"The Milkmaid" by Johannes Vermeer was probably painted in 1658 and is displayed in The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Vermeer created several paintings that were illuminated like this one - via the window on the left. Following his death in 1675, Vermeer's paintings were  largely ignored until an influential  French art historian began to sing his praises in the 1860's.

There is a lot more that could be said about this painting including its precision, its use of colour and the Dutch tradition of making images of maids. However, what I mostly wish to say is that I greatly admire this work. Because of a framed print my parents displayed in my childhood home, I have known it all my life. It seems almost timeless and celebrates the dignity of labour though I doubt that Vermeer saw it that way.

I imagine the model may have moaned to the artist, "Mr Vermeer, how much longer do I have to hold this bloody jug?  My arm is killing me!" Little did she know that over 360 years later  her sturdy image would be world famous.

22 February 2021

Somewhere

Oh, this could be the end of everything
So why don't we go somewhere only we know?
Somewhere only we know
Somewhere only we know

Keane (2004)

White the sand and sapphire blue the ocean. The bay curves round to the headland  where pigs root in  emerald undergrowth under elegant coconut palms. The trees reach up.  Their crowns are feathery fronds that rustle on the breeze.

There is nobody else on the beach - no one at all. It's always like this at this time of day. Above, wisps of cloud move in slow motion across the endless blue canopy. 

How many centuries and how many tiny fragments of bleached shell and coral have conspired to form this fabulous beach? Uncountable. A hundred yards away, the vast Pacific booms upon the edge of the reef like a chorus of bass drums but here at Mofmanu, there is a gap. You can swim far out if you wish.

I leave "Cannery Row" with my striped towel and paddle beyond the shallows. How kind the water feels. Soon I am swimming with colourful  fishes by the wall of the reef. They dart in and out of the clefts and hollows. Some are alone and others form small shoals that catch the sunlight from above like tiny mirrors. Pieces of a rainbow. I see the arm of an octopus retracting.

As you move further out, the water deepens and the shadowy fathoms beyond the reef soon become the colour of midnight. You feel the muscular contractions of the sea. Please take care. There be sea dragons and the swells could easily dash you against this  abrasive coral.

But it's not a dragon that brushes by me. It's a reef shark - as long as I am. My heart skips a beat but with aerodynamic ease he flicks his tail and moves on - entirely at home in his aquatic universe. I head for shore. Not panicking but nonetheless disturbed. 

My body dries in  late afternoon warmth. There are no ships on the horizon because there never are. Sometimes I think of home but it is so far away that I almost believe I dreamed it. At the far end of the beach, by the promontory, the pigs are now swimming. I can see the silhouette of the boy who unlatched their gate as I head back, leaving footprints in the sand.

21 February 2021

Marathon

Elisabeth Moss in "The Handmaid's Tale"

Imagine a film that lasted for thirty four hours. Effectively, that is what I have just sat through. My viewing was completed last night.

Some of you may recall that last year I read Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale", quickly followed by its sequel, "The Testaments". I was aware that a TV version of "The Handmaid's Tale" had been made  and I was keen to watch it . As it happened, in mid-January our daughter gave us a free connection to her Amazon Prime account and upon investigation I  found the show listed there.

I put the sidelight on, turned off the main light and settled down on our Lay-Z-Boy sofa with a glass of red wine. There were just ten episodes to watch and they stuck fairly closely to the novel itself. Little did I realise that when I first set out watching "The Handmaid's Tale" there would be more than one series of it. In fact there were two more series as the show springboarded into newly imagined territory but still very much within the spirit of the original dystopian novel.

Hence, I found myself glued to the box in the corner for thirty four hours and not the ten sessions I had been anticipating. I should emphasise here that I did not watch all thirty six episodes in one continuous shift. I saw them over a period of a month.

I have no complaints. It was a wonderful show in my humble opinion. I was gripped throughout. The cinematography was excellent as was the occasional and often quirky incidental music. There were many shots from above - undoubtedly assisted by drones and the colouration often veered appropriately towards soulless monochrome. However, there was always the blood red of the handmaids' capes.

It was another incredible example of what a bunch of human beings can do when they work together  towards a shared artistic goal - all pulling in the same direction. Actors and actresses, camera and sound people, scriptwriters, production staff, directors and costumiers. Really brilliant.

My hat goes off to Elisabeth Moss  who played the central character Offred, later Ofjoseph but really June Osborne. She was on screen for the majority of those thirty four hours - enduring torment, painful flashbacks, moments of delight, rape, childbirth on her own, all-consuming fear and the strength to fight back against the oppressive pseudo-religious state of Gilead. What a tour-de-force this was. More than acting it was as if Elisabeth Moss was really living the role.

Yes. It certainly was a marathon but I shall not forget this viewing experience  in a long time. I have a few lingering questions and reservations but it would be churlish to share them. Maybe "The Handmaid's Tale" would not be everybody's cup of tea but for me it was special and I will kind of miss my late night viewing  habit - occasionally accompanied by blood red wine.

20 February 2021

Trinity

I like to get out taking pictures with my "Sony" bridge camera every week but this week has been off-putting in weather terms. Quite a lot of greyness and drizzle. This is the best picture I managed to capture all week:-

It was taken in the affluent suburb of Millhouses. During the picture editing process I had to straighten the composition so that the church tower no longer looked like The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The church is under the jurisdiction of The Church of England and it's called Holy Trinity. It has the same name as the village church where I was christened in the spring of 1954.

The Holy Trinity refers of course to Father , Son and Holy Spirit. Confusingly, all three are simply different emanations of God as this helpful diagram explains:-

Holy Trinity Church in Millhouses is not a very old church when you consider that there are countless churches in England that are  a thousand or several hundred years old. Its construction was completed in 1937 in what is known as the "arts and crafts" style. Of course, the church was locked because of the pandemic that God has sent down upon us in his gracious wisdom so I did not get to see the internal architecture, carpentry, memorials and religious artefacts within. 

Though I have been a lifelong atheist, I would list visiting churches as one of my favourite hobbies. An old church speaks of the community in which it was built - like a mirror of past times. So many funerals, weddings and christenings, so many dull sermons delivered from lofty pulpits as choirboys like me fidgeted in the pews wondering why time seemed to be standing still. Would that sermon never end?

Even Holy Trinity, Millhouses would have things to say about pre-war days, architectural fashion, craftsmanship, the suburb's affluence and parishioners who still haunt the space within.

I continue to type my father's journal and through his word choices I feel that I am drawn ever closer to him. Three times he has referred to bathing in the icy water of the rivers that churn by their valley camps and I remember him in England's Lake District urging me and my brothers to swim in a mountain stream as he held our towels. He loved to take his family to The Lakes each Whitsuntide where fading echoes of Kashmir must have still hummed in his skull like heavenly music.

19 February 2021

Woke

The English language is forever evolving. It is dynamic and open to change or addition. It always has been and I guess that it always will be. Pick it apart and you will find ingredients from all over the world and from every decade of its long and animated history.

In the last one hundred and fifty years, North America with its economic and cultural power has  been an important driver. "Jazz", "cool", "H-bomb", "far out", "mouse"(computer), "shopping mall",  "dude",  "truck",  "candy", "French fries", "hipster" and  "subway" form  just a small sample of American terms that have been absorbed into British English.

This morning I was investigating the term "woke" which has become a bit of a buzzword  in the last couple of years even though most native English speakers who are middle-aged or older may have little idea what it means and probably never use it.

"Woke" harks back to the nineteenth century when downtrodden black Americans were urged to wake up and be aware of the forces that were pressing them down. If you were "woke" you were less compliant, less blinkered - more aware of your position and the things that stopped you from being who you wanted to be - "free at last".

The word "woke" as used in relation to political awareness hung on through the twentieth century though it did not have much traction. As Wikipedia informed me, it was used in a 1971 in a play about the black political activist Marcus Garvey when one of the characters announces: "I been sleeping all my life. And now that  Mr Garvey done woke me up, I'm gon' stay woke. And I'm gon help him wake up other black folk."

It seems to me that to be "woke" is  essentially a very good thing.  To be informed about politics  and the forces that impact upon people's lives: What's wrong with that? Better than living in ignorance.  Only by knowing can one begin to press for change.

"Woke" gained currency with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was as if the word itself had been woken up. Suddenly its usage soared.

However, in the last couple of years, "woke" has attracted negative connotations - like barnacles growing on its underside. To some conservative or reactionary commenters, "woke" people are frequently seen as educated white folk who  are aware and informed of  fashionable world issues such as LGBTQ rights, environmental destruction, racism, corporate greed etc. - like being in a self-satisfied chattering movement that is somehow disconnected from reality. Those who are "woke" are likely to point fingers at others with a holier-than-thou attitude as they live their smug ethical lives in comfortable homes.

In the form to which I am referring here, I cannot say that I have ever used the word "woke" in conversation. It does not sit well with me but what I would say is that it might be nice to chisel away some of those reactionary barnacles and start to reclaim the word. Being "woke" or awake to the issues around us is, as I said before, a  laudable thing. I would rather be "woke" than ignorant and liable to sneering. at those who simply want this world to be a better place.

18 February 2021

Tears

Cathy Killick is a veteran reporter on BBC Look North (Yorkshire). Tears leaked from my eyes when I first heard this heartfelt item on the programme and they leaked again later that night when it was reshown on the late, condensed version of the show. It concerns the deaths of both of her parents through COVID-19:-

17 February 2021

Pahalgam

The Lidder river north of Pahalgam

Pahalgam is the last major settlement in Kashmir before mountain tracks take you up into The Himalyas. It is the meeting place of fast-flowing rivers and the starting point for Hindu pilgrimages to the very holy Amarnath Cave. It was here that my father and his trekking companion Arnold arrived in the springtime of 1944.

As urged by visitors to "Yorkshire Pudding", I am currently typing out and lightly editing my father's account of his trip to the Lidder Valley. So far I have managed to type twelve pages or 10,060 words. That means that I have another thirty  eight pages to go. It is a labour of love and I have enjoyed the intimate absorption of my father's  plodding expression. There's so much I would have liked to ask him about the adventure and I would have appreciated his approval of the small editorial changes I have been making.

I am determined to take this project to a proper conclusion seventy six years after my father Philip wrote about these special two weeks in his life - before marriage, before returning to post-war England, before children and before a long career dedicated to primary education here in Yorkshire.

For your interest from the typing so far - Philip and Arnold took a rickety local bus up into the hills beyond Srinagar. I found this section rather endearing - especially the sly glances at the beautiful Hindu maiden:-

I climbed into the bus and took my seat between two Hindu ladies – mother and daughter. Arnold was lucky and occupied the only “first class” seat alongside the driver and so he was not only able to stretch his legs but he was also in a position to pop off the bus at various stops while I was condemned to remain wedged in there with no room to move my legs with my knees pressed against the seat in front – painfully jolted as we drove over each bump in the road. Some compensation for my discomfort was afforded by a most interesting conversation with the older Hindu lady who spoke excellent English. She told me much of pilgrimages to Amarnath Cave, of the reasons for undergoing such a trial, of the horrible sights and sufferings along the route, of the cave and what goes on there during the “Puja” season. Today the pilgrimage is still a test of faith and physical endurance but the gradual opening up of Kashmir has enabled richer people and the less fanatical to complete the journey in a less rigorous manner. 

The younger lady spoke very little but it was quite an enjoyable experience to just look at her. She was most graceful even to the movement of her hands and her grace was rendered even more delightfully by the striking emerald silken sari that she wore. Her face was quite pale and ornamented by the customary jewel in the side of her nose and a pair of ornate diamond earrings. In the centre of her forehead was a small bejewelled caste sign. A touch of fragrant perfume had evidently completed her toilet. When she did speak, the few words she uttered were most beautifully modulated. From her demeanour I should imagine that she was a most subservient and obedient wife to some pompous Hindu merchant. It is not to be wondered at that I stole many sly glances at her while conversing with her mother.

And I found this section funny - by their campsite at Pahalgam:-

On our return we found that our camp was in a state of commotion. Sidi had purchased a duck at one of the villages on the journey up. This duck had ridden in comfort and peace in the back of the bus. On our arrival at the camping site, Sidi had tied its legs together before turning it loose on the grass. Evidently the sound of rushing water had attracted Donald, and in no way abashed by the fact that his feet were tied he had made a beeline for the water in the proverbial duck fashion. When we arrived he was sitting on a rock in midstream preening himself and quite justifiable too, for he had braved and conquered a thirty knot current of rushing, icy water. Yet however clever our duck was we could not let that save him from the warmer comfort of the cooking pot at a later date. Besides it would be suicide for him to continue testing himself against that fierce river. Consequently our Sidi, ably assisted by Lusul the cook, laid plans to recapture our webbed friend. Looking as if he had no interest in the proceedings, Lusul proceeded downstream to a place where, if need be, he could make his way to the centre of the torrent by leaping from rock to rock. Sidi meanwhile entered the water from above the duck’s position and hanging onto a staff he gently stalked the errant dinner. 

The duck continued to preen himself, apparently oblivious to the scheme that was developing with a view to recapturing him. However, when Sidi was about a yard away from him and it seemed certain that the duck was going to be a victim of his pride he suddenly without warning took to the water. Sidi gave one despairing cry and throwing caution to the four winds hurled himself at the escaping creature. In some miraculous manner Sidi seemed to get a hold of Donald and held on to him even though it meant full immersion in the stream. With a look of supreme satisfaction and triumph on his face, Sidi emerged from the water clutching the duck which quacked aloud its indignation. So our future dinner was saved and the whole incident had been a source of uproarious mirth for both Arnold and I for about a quarter of an hour. It was unfortunate that our sympathies were rather biased against Donald who had been both the source of amusement as well as the rescued main ingredient in a forthcoming meal. The direct result of the recapturing of the duck was that Sidi served our dinner that evening clad in a suit of new and impeccable white.

16 February 2021

Vaccination


Arrangements for mass-vaccination at The Sheffield Arena were impressively slick and efficient. Clint was shepherded into the car park by volunteers in day-glo tabards and then I entered the Arena itself.

There was very little waiting. I registered in the entrance lobby before I went into the vast concert space. There were twenty vaccination stations. Behind each screened area there was a vaccinator and a clerk sitting at a computer.

I was called into bay number 6. Details were checked and basic vaccination questions were asked. Then the needle went into my upper arm. Before I left the allocated station, I asked if I could have a sticker  (see top picture) telling the two women that that was the only reason I had agreed to have the vaccine. This made them chuckle.

Then I had to sit in a waiting area for fifteen minutes before returning to Clint.

"Have you had the jab then?" he asked in his curious South Korean accent.

"Yes I have thank you very much!" I replied.

There was a pregnant pause.

"When am I getting my shot then?" asked Clint.

"What?" I scowled in disbelief. "You are a motor car. They don't vaccinate motor cars."

"Well I want to be protected!" he yelled.

And before I could even strap myself into Clint's cockpit he had driven off in  a huff, leaving me in a cloud of exhaust fumes. I didn't have any money on me so I had to walk back home - almost five miles. Honestly, if Clint doesn't watch it I will have him scrapped. That will teach him!

By the way, I was given the AstraZeneca vaccine. I will get my second dose on May 3rd.  15.5 million  British citizens have now received their first shot - 29%.of the entire adult population.  The programme  is going really well and as I say, I was most impressed with yesterday's arrangements.

15 February 2021

Hunter

My  blogging chum Dave Northsider blogs out of south western Ireland in the county of Cork. Please do not imagine that that county hosts plantations of cork trees nor that its residents wear necklaces made from wine bottle corks. I have been there and I have seen.  There's no more cork there than you would see in any other Irish county.

Most weeks Dave Northsider showcases a progressive rock band - including a video of one of their little ditties. Today I am going to borrow that idea and post my own chosen rock video. The band I am thinking about is Free though I should point out you had to pay for their concert tickets. They were not free if you see what I mean.

I have blogged about Free before - back in July 2019 - but hey, as folk often  say - what goes around comes around - just like a ride at a funfair or laundry in a tumble drier.

The last time I blogged about Free, I shared their most famous song - "Alright Now" which endures to this day. Funny to think that it is over fifty years old now. Yorkshire lad Paul Rodgers - the distinctive bluesy lead singer now resides in Canada  - deep in the suburbs of Vancouver. The only other surviving member of Free - the drummer Simon Kirke - lives in New York now and has four children. Interestingly one of them is called Domino which is also the name of Mr and Mrs Northsider's cat.

The song I have chosen to share today is "The Hunter" from the band's first album - "Tons of Sobs"(1969) but this version is from a live concert held at a venue in the north east of England in January 1970. Unusually, "The Hunter" was not one of the band's many original compositions but they  certainly breathed  fresh life into it. Listening to the number now takes me back to my teenage years. I close my eyes and I am right  there.

14 February 2021

Justice

A man went into a grocery store. The store clerk believed that he had paid for his small purchases with a fake twenty dollar bill. The clerk called the police. They arrived quickly and forced the fellow to the ground in the street just outside the grocery store. They knelt on his neck and though he said repeatedly, "I can't breathe!" they killed him. He was black.

Another man organised a "Save America" rally outside The White House on the very day that Mr Biden's successful presidential bid was to be officially endorsed in the US Capitol. He fired up the crowd of malcontents, ignorant thugs and fake patriots and sent them to The Capitol. In disturbing riotous scenes, five people died including a police officer. The police did not even arrest the man. In fact, he got away with it scot free and  had the audacity to later say that he was the victim of a "witch hunt" -  flipping  morality on its head. He is - believe it or not - white. 

Yesterday, in the very same Capitol building,  a majority of senators found this guy guilty of incitement to insurrection but the dumb rules required a two thirds majority to convict the megalomaniac. 

If this is what you call justice then I am a 🍌!

13 February 2021

Appointments

I made a nice chicken curry last night with Bombay potatoes, rice and peshwari nan breads. It was ready for Mrs Pudding when she walked in from her day's work at  the health centre - just after six o'clock.

After the meal, we settled down in the front room with the television set on. I don't know how it cropped up but she suggested that I should check out the COVID vaccine booking system. Maybe they would have started  on appointments for people aged 65 to 70. To tell you the truth, I would have just waited for an official letter inviting me to have my shots via my local surgery.

Sure enough, it appeared that bookings for my age group are now being accepted. With a small amount of technical difficulty I managed to secure my first appointment on Monday afternoon. My second vaccine appointment will be on May 3rd. 

Of course I am delighted and relieved to have reached this position. My vaccinations will happen in the Sheffield Arena - a huge concert and exhibition venue in the Attercliffe area of the city.

I wonder if I can still skip? I have not tried for ages but if I can still skip I will skip into The Arena singing, "I'm getting the vaccine! La-la-la-la-la-la! I'm getting the vaccine!" And I do not care a damn if Q-Anon have put microscopic chips in the syringes to track my movements. 

My daughter and son-in-law would like to visit friends in Toronto, Canada in October but with everybody having to have two shots they may not have had theirs by October. Besides, Canada may be operating restrictions that involve quarantining. Somehow I would not put money on them being able to go.

In other "Daily Pudding" news,  I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning in the presence of Little Miss Poo-Pants and just for a change I sang "Mary Mary Quite Contrary" to her. Did you know that this famous nursery rhyme may refer to Mary Queen of Scots and the years she spent in imprisonment? However, there are other theories about its origins:-

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells
And pretty maids all in a row
And pretty maids all in a row

At the age of four weeks, Phoebe seemed unconcerned about the verse's history.

11 February 2021

Hope

View to Mam Tor (The Shivering Mountain)

We live on a hillside and our road faces north. When there is snow and icy weather - as we have had this week - the road surface can be treacherous. This is the reason why Clint has been in refusal mode.

"If you think I am going out in that you have another thing coming!" the stubborn vehicle retorted.

However, this morning he relented. We could see dry tarmacadam and a couple of vehicles passed by as I was pleading with him to take me to The Hope Valley. I was desperate for a long country walk and I reminded Clint that I  recently bought him a new "Pirelli" front tyre.

"Oh go on then!" he said.

                                See how the powdery snow is blowing on the slopes of Lose Hill

We were in the village of Hope twenty minutes later,  Clint parked himself in a sunny spot on Edale Road - then with boots on I set off across snowy fields towards Lose Hill. 

View to Hope Cement Works

It was a lovely day to be rambling in the Hope Valley though in places the snow had drifted  and I found myself knee deep in the white stuff. From Lose Hill Farm, I headed down to Castleton  before following the nascent River Derwent back to Hope.

Once there was a little antique shop near the village church -  called "Living in Hope". Sadly, that business folded some time ago. I think Hope is a great name for a village and indeed  for the  valley it sits in . Near Lose Hill Farm I took this picture of a signpost. During a deadly pandemic, we all need to find  the path to Hope...

10 February 2021

Butlin's

Back in May 2017, I wrote about holiday jobs I had during my years at university. Go here.  I referred to Butlin's - a famous holiday camp chain that bloomed in Britain in the years following World War II.  Butlin's is still  with us but in a reduced and altered form. It's nothing like the old days.

There were large Butlin's holiday camps at Skegness (Lincolnshire), Minehead (Somerset), Bognor Regis (Sussex), Ayr (Scotland) Pwllheli and Barry Island (Wales), Clacton (Essex) and Filey (Yorkshire). I worked at the last one in the summer of 1975.

These camps were self-contained. Families slept there, ate there, drank there and took advantage of the various entertainment possibilities that Butlin's provided. As all the camps were in seaside locations guests could also wander down to beaches that were fenced off for exclusive use by Butlin's visitors. One might ask if the fences were to keep strangers out or to keep holidaymakers inside the places. Entering a  Butlin's holiday camp was rather like entering a military base - such was the security.

By the early sixties working class people at last had  disposable incomes to play with - unlike their parents and grandparents who invariably lived from hand to mouth. Money in your pocket meant you could just about afford to take your family away for a week in a holiday camp and you did not have to plan your holiday very much because Butlin's did it all for you. It was easy - perhaps like the regimentation of wartime.

In my weeks at Filey, I slept in a two person chalet in the downmarket accommodation zone tolerated by the staff. It was like a refugee camp somewhere in The Middle East. I was twenty two and I was put with an Irish fellow ten years my senior. He was called Ben and not someone I would naturally have chosen as a roommate.

Though in general I am fond of the Irish people, Ben was hard to like. He was tough and rough with horrible tattoos down both arms and he happily confessed that he had spent time in prison. He spoke English with a very broad Kilkenny accent and careless enunciation.  You would not want to get on the wrong side of a bloke like that so I jollied him along. He probably thought that I was a posh English  twerp because I read books, used some big words and went to university.

Most nights Ben went to the staff bar and stumbled back into our little chalet room  around midnight - waking me up.  I was working  fourteen hours a day to maximise my income and I was not interested in the staff bar, I  just wanted to get to sleep ready for the next day.

One particular night is ingrained in my memory. Ben stumbled back into the room in the early hours with a companion - a cleaner he had hooked up with the previous summer. She was called Judy and she came from Leeds. She would not have won any kind of prize in a Butlin's Bathing Beauty competition but she was nice enough. As usual, I had to pretend I was asleep as they blundered around.

Soon the electric light was off and they were both in Ben's single bed. Ben was grunting like a wild boar and the bed springs had a squeaky musical rhythm. Judy was panting like a marathon runner. Yes you guessed it - they were making love as I lay no more than six feet away. Judy said "Oo! Ben!" and Ben kept grunting. I wanted to get up and complain vociferously, "I say old chap this is just not on! Can't a fellow get a decent night's kip without the noise of two animals coupling?" But of course, I just kept quiet. Ben had that effect on me.

After ten minutes the romantic act was over and all went quiet. What a relief! For me as well as them. Perhaps I could get back to sleep again.

Then Ben said quietly at first, "You've wet my bed!" The same declaration was made three or four times rising in volume. Pathetically, Judy protested, "It weren't just me Ben, it were you and all."

"You've wet my ****ing bed!" Ben yelled at full volume, consumed by anger.

The light went back on and there was a naked Ben and a naked Judy. I peeped through my eyelashes briefly to confirm this. 

Ben did not hit Judy but he handled her roughly and chucked her out of the chalet followed by her clothes and shoes still yelling, "You wet my ****ing bed!" as Judy sobbed, "I'm going to get security on you Ben you bastard!"

"**** off!" he yelled slamming the door in her face.

Shakespeare was right when he said that the course of young love never does run smooth. Ben flipped his mattress over and was soon sound asleep snoring like a grizzly bear in a cave. The next day he forgot to say to me, "I am sorry that I disturbed you last night!" But that was Ben for you - shy to the end. 

After all these years, I am glad that I have at last recorded that nocturnal incident in writing.  Looking back, it was all part of life's rich tapestry...

An early badge from Filey

9 February 2021

Awww!


Baby it's cold outside!  Fresh snow on  wintry Sheffield as Comrade Putin sends yet more cold wind from his Urals. Above - Shirley snapped that picture of Princess Phoebe and her doting grandpa on Sunday afternoon. She used her new-fangled smartphone - Shirley I mean - not Phoebe. She hasn't got a phone yet but she has got a rattle and a cuddly bunny rabbit. Below there's another picture of the old man and his grand-daughter. Three weeks old now. "Lavender's blue dilly dilly..."

8 February 2021

Radar

Just one of the legacies of  teaching English for most of my working life is that my ability to spot errors is laser-like. I just cannot help it. It is how my brain is wired.

I hear grammatical errors upon the tongues of TV newscasters and I see them in signage, in newspapers, in books that have been edited extremely carefully. In fact, I see mistakes everywhere - even in blogs!

Please don't get me wrong. What matters above everything is what people say - their meaning. The "how" is less important - for it is just a means to an end. Furthermore, I readily admit that I am prone to the occasional error myself - perhaps through carelessness or occasional stupidity. The old adage - "We all make mistakes" is very true when it comes to expression in the English language.

Oftentimes, people will bristle when their errors are pointed out to them. It is as  if you are challenging their very personhood. I like it when people accept correction gracefully - recognising that you are not challenging who they are, just how they have written or said something. 

Throughout my life I have had a series of "pet hates" when it comes to grammar and spelling. I wonder what your "pet hates" are? Here are three of my current "pet hates".

1)   would have..., could have..., should have... becoming  would of..., could of..., should of... Hence, "I should have posted that letter" is changed to "I should of posted that letter". Aaargh!

2)   confusing "lightning" with "lightening". "Lightning" is a zigzag of electric light in the sky as a storm approaches. "Lightening" is the opposite of "darkening" as in "Sadly, the Ugandan woman had a penchant for lightening her skin colour". The verb "to lighten" can also concern the reduction of weight as in, "Donald the donkey refused to pull the cart any further so we lightened his load ".

3)  issues with sat/ was sitting and stood/was standing.  You hear someone say "I was sat in the cinema watching a film" when what they really mean is "I was sitting in the cinema watching a film". If you had been "sat" in the cinema you would have been physically placed there by somebody else. It's the same with stood/standing. Did the climber really mean to say "I was stood on the summit for ages, admiring the view"? Who put you there my friend? Either remove the "was" or write "I was standing on the summit for ages".

My  internal radar system for inaccuracy is not something I ever chose to have planted in my brain.  It's just there and that's all there is to it. Maybe it was always there but teaching English for four decades certainly promoted this feature of my being. 

Years ago one of my teenage pupils said to me, "Sir, you talk like a book". I have always remembered that and he was right. He was sat at the back of the room!

7 February 2021

Poem

Stay Home Save Lives


It was the twelfth month.
Thousands had succumbed
Thousands upon thousands
Frantic for breath
In hygienic hospitals
Hidden from public view.
All had loved ones
And things still left to do.

We cowered inside
Peering through blinds
Attempting to hide
From the spectre that stalked
Streets far and wide
Seeking the unwary
Incessantly scary -
Envoy of death.

Lost months of lamenting,
Church bells unrelenting.
Masked men with eyes like reptiles
Raided supermarkets
Seeking solace and cider
As dread spread wider
Like a river that has burst its banks.
And we gave thanks
For life.

6 February 2021

Suburbs

Nether Green, Sheffield looking to Ranmoor

Thanks to everybody who commented on my father's  fading account of an Indian adventure he undertook in 1944. Now I am seriously mulling over the idea of editing and transcribing his original manuscript. I do not feel duty-bound to copy it out verbatim. I will give myself  licence to make judicious alterations and add a little polish to it all. It will take many hours but hey, like everyone else, I have wasted oodles of time during this damned pandemic. There's plenty of time to spare.

Yesterday, after getting my act together - emptying the dishwasher, writing that last blogpost, having a shower and a shave, making a couple of phone calls etcetera - I  was keen to get some exercise so I drove over to the neighbouring suburb of Nether Green and parked Clint on Stumperlowe Park Road.

"Where are you going this time?" he asked as I was putting my boots on.

"Oh just for a mooch round. I will be an hour or so," I smiled, patting his silver roof.

Thirty years ago, we almost bought a house in Nether Green. Our offer was accepted but two months later the deal fell through. The owners had decided to stay put after all! So for us it was back to the drawing board and we ended up buying the house we live in now.

Typical million pound house in Nether Green

I have always liked Nether Green. It is a very pleasant suburb. It has a great pub - "The Rising Sun". Set back from the main road there are a lot of million pound detached houses but there are also terraced streets where less affluent people have made their homes. There's a nice mixture of people and it feels very safe there.

I wandered through the streets taking occasional photographs until I arrived at Christ Church in the adjacent suburb of Fulwood. It was a pretty grey day but dry - not too bad for February.

In the evening I made a nice spaghetti with a cheese sauce I concocted myself and chunks of salmon, chopped mushrooms and green beans. Afterwards, I phoned my brother Robin in the countryside south of Toulouse, France.  It was the occasion of his seventieth birthday and I wanted to send him my best wishes.  Both of us are still going strong after all these years .

Is it Art?  Behind the disused sports social club at Fulwood

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