23 July 2021

Failure

My space mission ended in abject failure. The space in question was the rough land between the A621 and an ancient stone circle or cairn that I had noticed in Ordnance Survey mapping. The first arrow shows where Clint was parked and the second arrow shows my intended destination. The distance was not great - less than one kilometre.

However, the map above does not tell you everything. The terrain was difficult and in full summer growth. Beneath my feet were clods of risen vegetation, grasses up to my waist, occasional rocks and swathes of heather with thorny bushes and solitary undernourished silver birches. In wet weather this land would be nigh on impossible to traverse with swampy hollows and other squelchy unknowns to contend with. People simply do not walk here and I know for sure that the ancient site is little known and rarely visited.

I had researched its exact location as much as possible, studied aerial imagery and had even written down GPS co-ordinates which, by the way,  proved to be incorrect. I even remembered my compass as I set off across that miniature wilderness. Go east young man I said to myself.

But it did not work out.  When I had crossed the space, reaching far less swampy rising ground, I became confused. Of course the summer greenery was hiding things. The walking was still so arduous with each footstep requiring twice the normal effort. I headed south instead of north. That was my big mistake. I was twenty five yards from the site but I could not see it. So close.

And when I had plodded two hundred yards south I just did not have the energy to retrace my steps. By the way, I should add that it was really hot out there - probably 88° to 90°F.

Accepting my failure, I headed down through the wooded scrubland to meet a path that runs parallel to Hewetts Bank. I could not entertain the idea of heading back across the moor the way I had come. 

A long but certain detour followed and when I reached the former site of Ramsley Reservoir a woman who was taking gear out of her black Honda said, "You look hot! Where have you been?"

I was tempted to say "Death Valley!"

I don't think it's too much to suggest that my failed space mission was like a metaphor for some of the trials that life throws up. You can see where you want to go and you know how to get there but making it - well, that can be a whole different story. Of course, I will try again another time.

22 July 2021

Spacemen

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!"
I don't know about you but the space ambitions of these three fellows leave me cold.  I would like to think that if I was fabulously rich I would rather spend my excess millions doing good for less fortunate human beings - helping the homeless, bringing clean water to villages in Africa, funding  projects that address the climate emergency. In this sense, I would be more of  a Bill Gates than a Jeff Bezos,  more of an Andrew Carnegie than a Richard Branson, more of a Jamsetji Tata than an Elon Musk. How about you?

20 July 2021

Arksey

All Saints Church, Arksey

Scorchio! Over the last few days, the weather has been sweltering in The  Yorkshire Republic. To tell you the truth, walking good distances in this kind of weather can be quite challenging but as Noel Coward sang, "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun". I made sure I had my faded sunhat from Malta with me and a big flask of cold water.

Clint agreed to transport me to the village of Arksey, north of Doncaster. I had never been there before. It's in flat agricultural land criss-crossed by languid drains, sloth-like rivers and arrow straight railway tracks. This is not an area favoured by walkers so some of the public footpaths are rarely trodden.

I came down a dusty lane to a path that hugs a currently dried up stream. It would have taken me in a big arc heading up to the former site of Thorpe Marsh power station. However, it was so overgrown with nettles and brambly briars that even Indiana Jones would have thought twice about it.  I retreated and found another way.

At home, the circular route I had planned seemed pretty straightforward  but reality on the ground can often be different and the retreat from the overgrown path was not the only issue I had to deal with. There was also a disused railway line to circumnavigate because of the jungle-like character it has now adopted.

At one remote spot, a lone red-faced man had been using a small mechanical digger in relation to embankment repairs. He was heading back to his wagon as I approached it from the other direction. He almost jumped out of his skin when he spotted me but then we had a laugh about it. He's a man who is used to working outdoors but  the morning's heat had left him physically drained.

After three and a half hours, the circle was complete. Unfortunately, "The Plough" at Arksey did not open till 5pm so the pint of bitter shandy I had been daydreaming about evaporated into the thick July air. Before setting off, I had remembered to crack Clint's windows open ever so slightly so the cockpit temperature was acceptable as we headed home again. I was well and truly bushed but pleased to have had the workout in previously unexplored territory.

19 July 2021

Freedom

Mr Bumble said that today would be our Freedom Day. The day on which Britain would break away from coronavirus restrictions.

On Saturday our new Health Secretary, Mr Spock came down with COVID-19 in spite of being double-vaccinated. Fortunately his symptoms are mild. Towards the end of last week  Spock had been in protracted close contact with Mr Bumble and our Chancellor of the Exchequer - The Pocket Dynamo. 

Following their own rules, this duo should have gone into self-isolation immediately. For thirty six hours they put about a story that they would instead join a "pilot scheme" which would not require them to self-isolate but they were rumbled. Recognising the growing public backlash they did a "U" turn and pledged to self-isolate like ordinary citizens.

A couple of months ago Britain was doing really well. Our key COVID figures were looking very promising with daily infections dropping below one thousand, hardly any new hospitalisations, the successful vaccination programme proceeding at pace and on some days there were no COVID-related deaths at all.

It's not like that now - ever since Mr Bumble failed to act decisively on the "Delta" variant that arose in India.   Our daily infection tally is now worse than anywhere else in the world. Yesterday we had 48,161 new infections - more than any other country on the planet, including India, Brazil, The USA and Russia.

Our NHS driven  vaccination programme has gone really well but several million British people remain unvaccinated. Nonetheless, just twenty five citizens died of COVID-19 yesterday which is a very low number when you consider the mushrooming infection rate.

A top epidemiologist reckons that our infection rate will climb over 100,000 a day this summer  and hospitalisations and deaths will grow correspondingly. It is all very concerning.

 At some stage in the very near future, economies must open up and we must all learn to live with COVID. It is not going away. But right now seems the wrong time for this country to ring the bells for Mr Bumble's Freedom Day.  It is a very strange kind of freedom.

18 July 2021

Summary

Friday afternoon was good. 'Twas a lovely summer's day. We drove over to Bakewell with Frances, Stewart and Phoebe. After parking, we headed straight to "The Woodyard" pub-restaurant where we had reserved a garden table overlooking The River Wye.

Great food. Good beer and good table service too. Phoebe gurgled peacefully in her pushchair as we tucked into our nosh - served on wooden bread boards.

Afterwards we meandered into the town, crossing a pedestrian bridge that is now festooned with padlocks. You know the ones I mean - where people have locked in their devotion to each other. It has become a worldwide phenomenon. The first time I ever noticed it was on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy several years ago.

I guess that the first couple who ever did this with a padlock were doing something quite unique and endearing but when you see many hundreds of padlocks clipped to the handrails of a bridge it seems a little irksome and rather odd. The uniqueness has been replaced with copycat predictability.

Bakewell is a popular town in the middle of The Peak District. We bought Bakewell puddings from Ye Olde Bakewell Pudding Shoppe but decided not to buy Bakewell tarts. It was not a market  day and the school holidays had not quite started so the place was not overwhelmed with visitors.

Yesterday (Saturday) Shirley was out all day attending a hen do organised on behalf of lovely Caroline who we have know since she was two years old.

In the late morning, after picking a bowl of raspberries from the bottom of our garden I lounged around before instructing Clint to drive me back into The Peak District. He deposited himself in the little car park by Shillito Wood and then I set off in hot sunshine on a big loop that took in one of my favourite trees. I posted pictures of it in January of this year. Go here.

When I got home, Shirley was still not back so I made my own tea - cold chicken, new potatoes and salad. The weather folk said it had been the hottest day of the year so far 32°C or 89.5° and I can well believe it. Today (Sunday) will be equally as hot so there'll be no traditional Sunday roast in the evening. I have bought all the stuff needed for a barbecue - oh and a swede for Phoebe. She's gonna love that thing.

On Saturday's walk.

17 July 2021

Blame

I got caught speeding on the motorway... Why do car manufacturers produce cars that can comfortably  travel at 100 mph?

I slipped over on an icy pavement... Why didn't the local council spread grit there?

I was late for my appointment... I knew it should have been scheduled for a later time.

My instant barbecue caused a small woodland fire... I didn't see any warning signs at the picnic site and besides who left all those dry pine needles lying around?

The doctor told me I have got lung cancer... The British American Tobacco Company knew about the carcinogenic dangers of smoking their products long, long ago. 

I was outed for posting comments about black English footballers online... It's not my fault that social media providers don't vet respondents properly - they are just asking for trouble. 

I was charged for storming The Capitol Building... President Trump had called for a response so as an American patriot it was like I was obeying his command.

I lost the presidential election.... The vote was rigged.

15 July 2021

Rowlee

The beloved granddaughter Phoebe Harriet is six months old today. What special  joy she has brought into our lives. She is the best baby ever and this week she began the process of weaning. She was very happy with broccoli but not so keen on avocado. Perhaps she had heard about  the carbon footprint of this increasingly popular fruit. I am looking forward to feeding her some mashed up swede on Sunday.

Weatherwise today was overcast at first but round about two o'clock the clouds parted to reveal our particular  star shining brightly  in an aquamarine firmament with occasional wisps of cotton wool scudding quietly by. I needed no further invitation. Soon Clint was in full harness and we galloped out to the hills.

I tethered him near Hagg Farm above the valley of The River Ashop and soon I was walking up, up to the sky. Well, not really the sky - just Rowlee Pasture - an area of open moorland above Rowlee Farm.

As I had set off so late in the day, I reduced the length of the walk in order to get home at a reasonable time to prepare our tea (evening meal). We ate it at the table on the lower decking - a simple meal of egg and bacon quiche, new potatoes, salad and coleslaw which was washed down with cans of ice cold "Bosh!" beer by "Brewdog".

I told Shirley that I had sat for a while on the moors with my back resting against a gatepost as I swigged some cold water from my flask. It had been so peaceful and so pleasantly warm  with just a few sheep and lambs bleating in the rough pastureland below me that I felt I could have  rested there till sundown. The summer's  beauty was bewitching.

And I thought of Hagg Farm - an outdoor education venue for many years. I helped with school visits there in the early eighties. It was a lovely place for urban teenagers to become more intimate with the great outdoors and spend memorable time away from home. How strange that my once sharp memories of those good old days are now faded  like ghost advertising on a gable end wall.

14 July 2021

Singalong

Written and recorded by Labi Siffre in 1971, this song was picked  up ten years later by the quirky London band - Madness. Lord knows why but it has been playing in my head the last two or three days. So please won't you join me as we sing along to "It Must Be Love":-
I never thought I'd miss you
Half as much as I do
And I never thought I'd feel this way
The way I feel
About you
As soon as I wake up
Every night, every day
I know that it's you I need
To take the blues away

It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Nothing more, nothing less
Love is the best

How can it be that we can
Say so much without words?
Bless you and bless me
Bless the bees
And the birds
I've got to be near you
Every night, every day
I couldn't be happy
Any other way

It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Nothing more, nothing less
Love is the best

As soon as I wake up
Every night, every day
I know that it's you I need
To take the blues away

It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love

13 July 2021

Mugs

Mugs? No I am not referring to Johnson and his fawning Tory cabinet but to the mugs in our kitchen cupboard mugboard. Literal ceramic drinking vessels. That kind of mug.

Can you guess how many mugs we had in our cupboard?  Well let me tell you. Twenty eight... thirty one... thirty four! That's how many. Thirty four! We may not be rich in paper money but we are rich in mugs. That is sufficient mugs for two football teams with all the named substitutes too.

Putting mugs in the cupboard has sometimes proven to be  a dangerous balancing act. In the past couple of years, two mugs plunged to their untimely deaths. You get attached to familiar mugs. The death of a favourite mug can be very distressing

Well yesterday I decided to grasp the bull by the horns or more accurately - the mugs by the handles. I lined them all up, forgetting that a few were still hiding in the dishwasher. It was time to cull them. 

We aimed to reduce our mug collection by eight. It was like picking school football teams. Shirley chose one then I picked the next  and so on until there were eight sorry mugs left behind. They had reached the end of the line. Among them were four Hull City mugs - somehow fading because of repeated visits to the dishwasher. One of them was emblazoned with "Pride of Yorkshire" reminding me of the years, earlier this century when my beloved Tigers were undoubtedly Yorkshire's top team.

Having just twenty six mugs will be a much easier situation to handle. Normally there are just two people in this house so thirteen mugs each should, I hope, cover all of our tea and coffee drinking demands. If not, we will just have to go out and buy extra mugs.

If any friends or family are reading this blogpost, please do not give us any more mugs as gifts. If you do, then shortly thereafter you  will probably find them bouncing off the tops of your heads. Don't be a mug! Don't give a mug!

12 July 2021

Afghanistan

Opinion...

With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on
 the United States. And war is what they got. - George W. Bush

The September 11th attacks of 2001 were hideous. They made decent people all over the world share a collective intake of breath. How could those bastards kill so many innocent people as well as throwing away their own lives? It was all so terrible and so shocking. There hadn't been anything like that before. America the Beautiful was traumatised from sea to shining sea.

When somebody assaults you, breaks into your home, hurts a member of your family or steals your car it is natural to want revenge. An eye for an eye. It's written in the DNA of human beings. 

Consequently, George W. Bush, spurred on by the US military and powerful Republicans looked for an enemy  who would pay the price of what happened that fateful September morning. Trouble was that the enemy did not hail from nor represent any particular country. They were just a bunch of horrible men united in their corrupt interpretation of The Qur'an, Islam's holy book. 

Some would argue that if any country deserved to suffer payback time it  would have been Saudi Arabia and not Afghanistan. However, American sights  were soon set firmly on Afghanistan because there was evidence that  the killers had undertaken training there.

What was America getting itself into and what were they hoping to achieve in Afghanistan?  In the quest for revenge the mission was never made clear. Great Britain and other  western allies hung on to America's coat tails and played their own  smaller parts  in this so-called war on terror. Revenge would be sweet, wouldn't it?

Twenty years later as America and its allies  effectively pull out of Afghanistan, it all becomes clearer.  An estimated  $2.261 trillion was  the financial cost and between 171,000 and 174,000 people died including some 47,000 Afghan civilians. America lost 2,442 military personnel and 3,846  US contractors. The Afghan army and police force lost over 66,000 people. It is a very terrible toll - especially when we recall that just 2996 people died in the attacks on September 11th 2001.

As America, Britain and the rest slip away from Afghanistan with politicians and military  spokespeople creatively  and rather desperately describing what was "achieved", The Taliban marches on reclaiming towns and villages and mountains, their Islamic fundamentalism effectively strengthened by the unwanted foreign occupation they  fought against for two  costly decades.

The youngest British soldier to die in the Afghan war was eighteen year old William Aldridge back in 2009. His mother Lucy said recently, "I'd like to see with my own eyes, what did we achieve? What was the sacrifice for? Because it's too high a price to pay."

In the meantime, Afghanistan's painful saga continues.

11 July 2021

Penalties

After ninety minutes, the score was England 1 - Italy 1. The match then went to extra time. After thirty minutes, the score was still England 1 - Italy 1. To find a winner, the game then went to penalties. Tragically, England only scored two of their five penalties but Italy scored three. Consequently, Italy have won the European Championship Cup. 

I do not begrudge Italy their victory. They played well throughout the tournament. England played well too but at the final hurdle we stumbled. I feel as sick as a parrot and that's all I have got to say. Good night.

10 July 2021

Caroline

Hands, touching hands
Reaching out, touching me, touching you
The simple picture at the top of Thursday's blogpost struck a chord with several visitors. Let me thank you for your "likes". It's always nice to be encouraged.

I took a second picture of that window, looking down the valley known as Oyster Clough. In my opinion, the second picture does not work quite as well. What do you think?

This is a lazy blogpost on a Saturday morning in which I have woken up far too early. I thought I would sleep like a log but the log next to me has, in her early sixties, decided that deep sleep should sometimes have audible accompaniment. It's a bit like trying to sleep in the engine room of an ocean liner.

England waits for Sunday evening with eager anticipation mingled with nervous trepidation. Our national football team has reached the final of the European Championship. This tournament normally takes place every four years but COVID-19 scuppered last year's schedule.

We scraped past Denmark in the semi-finals and now we 're to play Italy in the final at Wembley Stadium in London. Beating them to the trophy will be a big ask. Italy have shown themselves to be a splendid team with talent all over the pitch. However, I could say just the same of England.

I recall our last major final in 1966. I was a young lad of twelve and I followed the World Cup tournament of that summer with passion for I was quite obsessed with football. I guess I still am but not quite so much. For example I no longer stick newspaper clippings in scrapbooks and I don't wear a bobble hat with a "World Cup Willie" badge in the middle.

Bizarrely, at Wembley tomorrow night, the England fans will join together for a loud and uplifting rendition of "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. It has become our third national anthem after "God Save The Queen" and "Three Lions (It's Coming Home)". And if we beat Italy, they will sing it again even louder than before... "Good times never seemed so good".

Be still my beating heart! I need to calm down. The biggest match in more than fifty years is still thirty six hours away! Let me finish this lazy blogpost with three more calming pictures from Thursday's moorland ramble:-

Bog cotton

Oyster Clough Cabin

Guardian of Oyster Clough

8 July 2021

Thursday

The window of Oyster Clough Cabin

Today's walk was on  moorland east of The Snake Pass, before the road turns up onto Snake Pass Summit. I had parked Clint by ten fifteen. Soon I was ready to climb the long steep path northwards out of Birchin Clough through a pine plantation.

Twenty minutes later I was up in the light again clasping a detailed map of the area and ready to complete a long circular route that did not involve any proscribed public footpaths until I met Doctor's Gate south of Cowms Rocks near the old sheepfold.

You have to watch every step when walking in such terrain. Moorland vegetation can hide deep holes filled with water and there's squelchy peat and bogland to negotiate. I plod along slowly and carefully because one thing is for sure - if you have an  injurious accident out  there, there will be no good Samaritans passing by. You are as skiing aficionados might say  - off piste.

I circled the head of Birchin Clough and schlepped* over to the next major clough or valley - Oyster Clough. Previously I had noted that there's a shooting cabin near the top of Oyster Clough. I have visited  a good number of such cabins and they are normally locked up securely but this was unlocked so I went inside.

There was no evidence of grouse shooters using it but the roof and walls were well-maintained. It was very basic and there were log books dating back to 2017. I flicked through them, surprised by how many visitors there had been before me. Naturally, I left my own entry before enjoying a brief sit-down with my flask of water and three shortbread biscuits. The log books revealed that a number of visitors have slept in the cabin or sheltered from wild weather there. 

Grouse butt on Alport Moor - shooters crouch here as grouse are "beaten" towards them

I had forgotten to bring my compass but had little trouble finding my way to Cowms Rocks before descending to the old Roman track that is, as I said earlier,  known for some strange reason as Doctor's Gate. Nearly two thousand years ago Roman soldiers walked that way linking Ardotalia Roman fort near Glossop with Navio fortress at Brough in The Hope Valley.

The walk took me longer than anticipated - just over four hours . Clint admitted that he had scared off a sleek black Audi A5 who had pulled up next to him. "She said there was no way she would go out with a Hyundai i20!" he grumbled but then with a glint in his eye added, "You should have seen her bodywork!"

East of those lost hills, Sheffield was calling.

View to the old sheepfold near Cowms Rocks

* thanks to Steve Reed for this word

7 July 2021

Find...

Like most people of my generation, I have never received any lessons in how to use a computer. Everything I know I found out simply by using computers. In other words, I have taught myself.

My computer interface is kindly provided by Microsoft. I am presently writing this courtesy of Windows 10. Worldwide, 77% of computer users use Windows. The number of Apple users tarries far behind - probably because of the extra cost factor. 

The helpful advice I am about to provide is aimed squarely at Windows users who have opted for the most popular browser  - Google Chrome. Apple folk may want to look away now. In addition, I recognise that many Windows users will already be aware of the facility I am about to explain.

Please look to the top right hand corner of your screen. You should see something very like this which is a snip of my own screen:-

Click on those dots and a grey dropdown menu should appear. The tenth item on  the list will be "Find...". This is a photo of my own screen:-

Click on "Find..." and then a search box will appear:-

I was on a BBC news item about Hurricane Elsa  which is currently making its way to northern Florida. Just to illustrate this "Find" facility I decided to search the text for "Elsa". The instantaneous search told me that the word "Elsa" appeared seven times in the article with the first appearance already being highlighted in the headline. Here's a snip of some more of that item with "Elsa" highlighted by the computer:-

Now let's suppose you were investigating a long academic article but all you want to know is - has the writer referred to sulphuric acid? You can just call up the "Find..." facility, type "sulphuric acid" into the search box and the computer locates the chemical name where ever it has appeared. There have been many occasions when I have found this "Find..." facility very useful and there may be times when you can also discover its usefulness. Apologies to more advance users such as a certain female resident of Ludwigsburg, Germany.

I expect that there will be an equivalent facility within Apple systems but to me that is all as mysterious as the Mariana Trench.

6 July 2021

Questions

Two magpies

It seems that on our journeys through life, we are forever trying to make sense of things. Questions shuffle across our mindscreens about big and little things. From fairly insignificant personal stuff to enormous questions about the nature of the universe.

For the past forty years I have been a regular feeder of birds in every season and this extended experience has thrown up a whole bunch of questions...

  • Why don't magpies whistle  - instead of cackling like the three witches in "Macbeth"?
  • Can different species of bird communicate with each other?
  • Why do pigeons seem so stupid when their navigation skills are so brilliant?
  • How exactly do swallows make their way to Yorkshire from Africa each year?
  • Having never seen goldfinches in our garden how come two arrived on the very morning I put up a new feeder containing niger seeds?
  • Why do many gun crazy men in Malta and some other Mediterranean islands think it is okay to shoot birds, helping to drive them to extinction?
  • Where do birds go when it is raining?
  • How do all the other birds know to disappear when there's a sparrowhawk in our garden?
  • Why are rooks such nervous birds when they are on the ground?
  • Why have robins got red breasts?

I have asked God Google all of these questions but the answers have characteristically been unsatisfactory or inconclusive. Besides, even though the questions have arisen,  there is a sense in which I do not really want to know most of the answers.  The mystery of what is unknown can be very appealing.

Robin - I took this picture in the wintertime

5 July 2021

Switchover

For those who do not dwell on this sceptred isle, I feel I should explain this blogpost before I write it. Throughout the pandemic Britain's Health Secretary has been a cod-faced fellow called Matthew Hancock or "Matt" as he prefers to be addressed. His reign, like his marriage, came to a shuddering halt after he was photographed in a steamy clench with his political aide - Gina Coladangelo.

Then a former Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer - Sajid Javid was asked to take over Hancock's role. He has been in the job for less than two weeks now.

Hancock always said he was "following the Science" as the pandemic progressed but Sajid Javid is following something else - perhaps the Economy or possibly his own unscientific instincts. "The Science" has now been side-lined and asked to shut up as Britain approaches "Freedom Day" on July 19th. What ever happened to caution?

A Tale of Two Health Secretaries

March 2020

HANCOCK: We're following the Science.

June 2020

HANCOCK: We're following the Science.

October 2020

HANCOCK: We're following the Science.

January 2021

HANCOCK: We're following the Science.

May 2021

HANCOCK: We're following the Science.

July 2021

SAJID JAVID We're not following the Science.

4 July 2021

Onward

Harry Maguire celebrates his goal in Rome

"Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that." - Bill Shankly (legendary Liverpool F.C. Manager)

Today , Sunday July 4th, every English Sunday newspaper leads with last night's football result: England 4 Ukraine 0.  It was the last match  at the quarter final stage of the Euros - the European nations football championships which are normally held every four years. This game happened at The Olympic Stadium in Rome, Italy.

Ukraine seemed quite pedestrian and did not have an answer for the zippiness of England's attacks. Once again our lads played like a proper  team - working for each other. I was so pleased to see our captain Harry Kane score two but even happier to see ex-Hull City player Harry Maguire score a thunderous header. Same for  Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson who notched his first ever  goal for his nation. It was a moment he will always remember.

Here in Sheffield, your amiable host had his feet up  on our  reclining La-Z-Boy sofa with a cold bottle of India Pale Ale on the side table. I twitched and jerked, living each kick and tackle as my blood pressure rose and fell. This is how I feel when watching my club team - Hull City and only England can make me feel the same way.

What a brilliant performance and now we will meet Denmark in next Wednesday's semi-final.  One thing is for sure, Denmark will be nervous about playing England. Fingers crossed we will beat them and then go on to meet either Italy or Spain in the final next Sunday. For England fans like me, this is pure dreamland. COME ON ENGLAND!

2 July 2021

Hollingworth

Horse at Flaxfield Farm

For one reason or another, I had not been able to take a long walk in the countryside since last week but that changed today (Friday). I steered Clint over the hills to Hollingworth near  Glossop. On the way, rather than listening to BBC Radio 4  as usual, I decided to play  an album called "The Very Best of  Jackson Browne". I bought it in 2004 but had not listened to it in ages. These years we are living in they just flick by don't they? Before you know it another decade has gone.

I parked on a particular street in Hollingworth having previously checked it out courtesy of Google Streetview.. Then with boots on I said farewell to Clint and headed north, through woods up onto treeless moorland.

The day was dry and rather sultry but did not provide the best conditions for photography. There was a constant haze and colours were muted. I plodded constantly for three hours - passing four reservoirs  - before taking a rest on a stile south of Flaxfield Farm.

Lane north of Hollingworth

I drank my water and ate my apple and then Geoffrey appeared. He was seventy six years old and could talk the hind legs off a donkey. He was wearing navy blue shorts with a navy blue T Shirt and scarlet braces (American: suspenders). When he came close to me to look at my map, I realised that he was wearing make-up. Not the kind of OTT make-up that drag queens might wear but a light foundation cream with ruby lipstick and a little light blue eye shadow behind his silver-rimmed spectacles.

As luck would have it, he decided to walk with me for half a mile or so. I  much prefer walking on my own but it was hard to refuse him. At a path junction we separated. He was heading up to a remote triangulation pillar and I was returning to Hollingworth. Geoffrey was a nice man with a zest for life but when we parted I realised that he knew nothing about me, apart from the fact that I had driven over from Sheffield. In contrast, I knew a great deal about him - including the names of his late parents, his sister, his best friends, where he had played in a band, his pension arrangements, how he had acquired his camera etcetera. This is by no means the first time that I have had a meeting with a stranger like that. They pour stuff out and seem disinterested in anything that I might have to say.

I felt pleasantly weary when I got back to Clint - four and a half hours after I had left him  snoozing under a tree. He woke up as though emerging from a dream about Turkey where Hyundais  are manufactured for the European market. "Wh...what? Err...! Oh it's you! Let's be off!"

Bench and signpost at Higher Swineshaw Reservoir

Songs


In the happiness that being a first time grandfather brought, I was doing a lot of singing and two new songs emerged as I swung from well-known traditional ditties into my own wordplay. And there was Phoebe in my arms, feeling the vibrations of my voice, listening to the songs with no idea  what they might mean as she nonetheless continued to learn rapidly about the multi-faceted world into which her mother had pushed her on January 15th.

Making this blogpost has given me an opportunity to write these songs down for the very first time. Just the words. I have my own tunes for them but you are welcome to create your own...

One day

One day you will see the sea
Bursting on the shore
And what is more
One day you might see a starfish
Or perhaps a little crab
And he might pinch your toes
Who knows? Who knows?
One day. One day. One day...

One day you might see the stars
Travel up to Mars
If that's your dream
And up there, up there
You might float around
Never touch the ground
Or even make a sound
Who knows? Who knows?
One day. One day. One day.

One day you might climb a mountain
Right up to the top
Never have to stop
To take a breath
And up there, up there
You might see the world
Its patterns all unfurled
So green. So blue.
One day. One day. One day.
________________________________

Slumberland

Ohhhhhh! We're off to Slumberland!
We're off to Slumberland!
We're feeling very sleepy
So we're off to Slumberland!

All the little girls and all the little boys
With their bouncy balls and their shiny toys
Running to the river as happy as can be
Splashing in the water, merrily!

Ohhhhhh! We're off to Slumberland!
We're off to Slumberland!
We're feeling very sleepy
So we're off to Slumberland!

30 June 2021

Woodland

Recognise this guy? He has had an impact on all of our lives. Born in New Jersey in 1921, he died there in 2012 with  Alzheimer's clouding his mind. His name was Norman Joseph Woodland and the one big invention of his life was the barcode.

Thinking about his time as a boy scout when he learnt morse code, he made an ingenious leap of imagination in the late nineteen forties. His barcode idea could revolutionise stock control and be an enormous boon in commercial sales.

However, it took a while for other people and indeed frontline technology to catch up. Though his barcode invention was patented as early as 1952, it took a further twenty two years for it to break through into everyday use. The first item ever sold with the aid of a barcode was a pack of Wrigley's chewing gum in an Ohio supermarket. That was in June 1974. 

Barcodes enable detailed knowledge about sales and allow retailers  to  make accurate decisions about restocking. Just about everything we buy has a barcode on it from newspapers to airline tickets and from loaves of bread to refrigerators. You simply cannot get away from those black and white lines - each set different from the next.

All over the western world there are huge Amazon "fulfilment centres".  Without barcodes and associated scanners connected to computer systems, they simply could not operate in the swift and incredibly efficient manner  that most people now  take for granted.

And all of this has evolved from the inventiveness of a little known mechanical engineer from Atlantic City, New Jersey. You might say that Norman Woodland is an unsung hero. As I suggested  at the beginning of this blogpost, barcodes have affected us all - arguably in a positive, helpful manner.

29 June 2021

Report

Grealish and Kane  after the second goal

4.45pm - Just fifteen minutes to kick-off. The teams have been announced. It's amazing that Aston Villa playmaker Jack Grealish has not made the starting eleven  - nor has Manchester City's Phil Foden but I am pleased to see Arsenal's nineteen year old Bukayo Saka on the team sheet. He played so well against the Czech Republic in the group stage of the tournament. As the day has progressed, I have felt a growing nervous energy while just pottering around in the garden. Last night, as I was drinking beer with the lads up at "The Hammer" I predicted a two-nil victory for England. Hope I am right. Come on England!

4.55pm - The teams are out now. Wembley is noisy though there's only half a crowd there because of COVID restrictions. The teams are lining up. The German team are singing "Das Lied der Deutschen"... there is a lot of unsporting booing... and now "God Save The Queen". All the lads are singing. It's spine-tingling. I will write again at half time.

5.47pm - It's halftime and the score is nil-nil. Quite an even first half but in a few instances England have looked threatening. Saka is playing well but our goalscoring captain Harry Kane continues to have an unremarkable tournament. Germany's Timo Werner probably had the best chance but his attack was snuffed out by our goalkeeper - Sunderland-born Jordan Pickford. Great save! 53% possession to England. Both teams have had three shots. Even stevens but England have some fire in their bellies today. I remain hopeful but a bit worried that Kalvin Phillips might get himself sent off with a second yellow card. That would change everything.

6.50pm - The final whistle has just been blown. We have won! We have won! By two goals to nil. Now who predicted that? Goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane who headed in a cross from our charismatic  substitute - Jack Grealish. As I watch our television, the England fans are singing, "It's Coming Home! Football's Coming Home!" They played like a proper team. Together for England! Onwards to the next game - Sweden or Ukraine. Surely...surely! Come on England!

Prince William. Prince George and the Duchess of Cambridge were in the crowd

28 June 2021

Euros

In international football (American: soccer), there's a big tournament going on at the moment. It's the UEFA European Championship Finals.

We are presently through the group stages and into the knockout section of the competition. For example, last evening Belgium knocked Portugal out with a single goal scored by Thorgan Hazard. Belgium are currently ranked number one in the world but back in 2016,Portugal were the last winners of the tournament. Last night's game was played in Seville, Spain.

Here in Merry Olde England we await Tuesday evening with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Down at Wembley Stadium in London, England will be taking on Germany. We have a talented young team in which the chemistry hasn't yet fully gelled . Germany have a more experienced squad with some exciting young players. I am sorry to say that when the two teams meet, Germany have an annoying habit of  gaining the upperhand. In history, the two countries have met on thirty two occasions with Germany winning fifteen times, England thirteen times and four draws between them.

Surely this time, England will do it. English football supporters in the home country and around the world will be glued to their television screens when the match kicks off. We will be urging our lads on but well aware of the potential hurt that defeat would bring. To thousands, perhaps millions of football supporters around the world, our beautiful game matters more than religion. COME ON ENGLAND!

But...yes there has to be a but - the world is still in the grip of a deadly pandemic.  I am sure that I am not alone in feeling rather puzzled about the fact that the tournament has gone ahead. I feel the same way about other big sporting events such as The Olympic Games in Japan. Should this really be happening? Virologically speaking, is it justifiable?

So many players,  coaching  and medical staff flying around with V.I.P's, media folk and thousands of supporters. In Budapest, Hungary UEFA football matches have attracted crowds of over 50,000 on four separate occasions. That cannot be right especially when you consider that Hungary's COVID death toll is bigger than in almost any other European country - 3112 deaths per million.

I love football and want to see England victorious tomorrow night but when you stand back and consider what the coronavirus is still doing to humans around the world, you have to doubt the perspicacity of the decision makers who have allowed the UEFA Championship Finals to happen.

27 June 2021

R.E.M.

Michael Stipe

Like many people, the music that still haunts me is the music of my youth. In a way it is as if my musical tastes are more or less frozen in time. I still like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, Free and Jackson Browne, The Incredible String Band and Leonard Cohen. I associate much of "my" music with the time before adult responsibilities arrived - climbing up onto the conveyor belt of work and paying a mortgage and marriage and children.

As a consequence, I kind of missed out on a lot of great music that came along afterwards. Recently, more or less by accident, I have been paying more attention to the music of R.E.M. . For instance, there was a late night programme on the television called "R.E.M. at the BBC" and I was entranced by it.

Formed in 1980 at university in Georgia, they were a very tight band. They sought to be true to themselves and to their ideas. As most readers will know, the frontman was a wiry, elf-like fellow called Michael Stipe and as well as singing the songs he was the lyricist.  Many of his ideas were original and poetic. There was a mysterious, plaintive quality about a lot of his lines and on stage he would often appear to live them as if  mesmerised, reaching for something higher than ordinary life. It is said that Stipe came up with the band's strange  name which he spotted randomly in a dictionary.

Michael Stipe is 61 years old now. R.E.M. split up in 2011 and it is unlikely that they will ever be heard live again. If I had been ten years younger they would surely been right up there on my favourites list but I kind of missed them. Behind them the band left a long history of touring the world, wowing audiences everywhere and of course they left a catalogue of  memorable songs, like these three:-

26 June 2021

Imagery


Today's blogpost is just some pictures with some words. Above - and I love that picture - there's Uncle Ian with his niece Phoebe up in Kelso last weekend. He is a natural with small kids and there he is below, involved in a smoochy pincer movement with Phoebe's father Stewart...

From joy to tragedy. I took a Google Streetview ride along the beach at Surfside, Miami and snipped this image of a  sun-worshipping couple getting ready for a lazy morning on the beach. Behind them you can see Champlain Towers before the unthinkable happened. As I write, rescuers are still addressing the rubble hoping to save a few lives. Let's hope they do. There are some serious questions to answer surrounding this manmade tragedy.

And now on to Staffordshire and the edge of The Peak District. This is just another photograph I took on Tuesday. It shows Lower Blackshaw Farm with the rocky outcrop known as Hen Cloud beyond it...
Yesterday Britain's Health Secretary and therefore the political leader most associated with the battle to suppress COVID-19 was shown to have broken his own coronavirus rules as well as cheating on his wife. The woman he is embracing is his political aide, Gina Coladangelo - a woman he personally appointed and with whom he had a close friendship at Oxford University in the 90's. The whole thing stinks but people like Hancock and Johnson seem to think that they can get away with serious misdemeanours by  just shrugging their shoulders and moving on.
Remember when I found my Isle of Wight memorabilia? Well amidst that stuff was a copy of "The Daily Mirror" from December 10th 1980. Looking back, I think that something died in all of us the day that Mark Chapman killed John Lennon for no good reason.  Folk of my generation can all remember where we were that fateful day.

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