6 May 2021

Guest

Hewo evweybody! Itz me Phoebe! I yam neawy 4 munths hold now. Gwandpa sed I cud right a guess powst on his bog which is cold Yorkshire Pudding.

I hev had alot to lern sins I caym owt of mummy's tummy.. It  hasbeen vewwy vewy hard 4 me. At frost I dint even no wot coulors where. I dint no wot light fittins were or windoes or curtins or anyfink, anyfink at hall. I hev had 2 lern it hall an I yam still lernin evwee day. Its vewwy vewwy hard,

I like mum's milko. Its vewwy nice. Hall I hev 2 do to get my milko is 2 go gwumpy an cwy a bit. Then mummy givs me my milko.

Mummy an Daddy an gwandpa an gwanma go 2 the toy-let 2 do there buzznest but i do it in  a  dispossible nappie that mummy or gwanpa or daddy chainges  when heather it is dirty wv my poo-poo or wee=wee. Gwandpa has knot chainged me nappie yacht but he sins to me vewy nice songs wen I yam lyin in his harms. It iz vewwy suggling an nice.  An he meks upp songs jus fer me.

Gwandpa is loverly . Vewy stwong an vewy crever 2. I yam looky to hev a gwanpa lark him.

Well I  am yorking now cos I yam tyred. Time 2 go 4 asleep in my cot. Nite-nite evwybody! Hoop you larked my guess powst.

Luv

Phoebe  x

5 May 2021

Retrospect

Sometimes I could almost pinch myself. Did I really go to Easter  Island in the autumn of 2009? 

The photographs I took there prove that I did. It was a dream come true. There was nowhere on this planet that I wanted to visit more than Easter Island. You can hold a globe in a certain position and it looks as though half of Earth is The Pacific Ocean.

It is massive  and yet the tiny islands that are dotted about The Pacific were populated by Polynesians long before there had been any contact with Europeans. The most distant and remotest island they reached was Rapa Nui - later to be known as Easter Island or Isla de Pascua.

Everyone has seen pictures of the famous "moai" heads. The image is iconic. There are over nine hundred moai statues on the island  and they all faced inland - not out to the endless ocean. They were inward looking, not outward.

It was a world within a world, like a different planet. A society that thrived for perhaps three hundred years in isolation and then declined till when the first white sailors appeared its heyday was long gone. The people who made the moai were already beyond living memory.

I would go back in a heartbeat to walk about the moai once again, to hear the echoes of a lost civilisation, to look out across the wide Pacific, to close my eyes and imagine the first dugout canoes that landed there long ago. Easter Island - the stuff of dreams and legends. Yes - I was there.

3 May 2021

Ordinariness

Mark Selby v Shaum Murphy in the 2021 World Snooker final here in Sheffield

I notice how some other bloggers are more  adept than I am  at reporting  everyday ordinariness. They can make their accounts of  relative mundanity eminently readable. It's quite a skill. When you think about it most days we tick off on our private calendars are quite unremarkable. This is the essence of life - its ordinariness. Days come and days go. Most are forgotten

Today, May 3rd, was a wet day. Chilly too. Lord knows that the land is in desperate need of water because April was amazingly dry here in Yorkshire.  Desperate farmers have been praying for rain to fall. At last God responded  kindly.

I watched the second day of  the final of The World Snooker Championship on television. The spiritual home of this prestigious event  is Sheffield's own Crucible Theatre. The relentless Mark Selby came out on top, beating the spirited underdog Shaun Murphy in a best out of thirty five frames match. At times it was really  gripping stuff as rain continued to fall on our suburban street.

I made a nice evening meal - vegetable lasagne with salad and cheesy garlic bread before returning to the snooker. Did you know that this quiet game was invented in India in the second half of the nineteenth century by British army officers? Once the coloured balls were made from ivory but now they use a kind of hard plastic known as phenolic resin.

We didn't see our lovely little grandaughter today. She is going in a swimming pool for the first time tomorrow. She has taken to lying in her Moses basket, happily kicking her legs and vocalising like a baby opera singer. She is such a delight.

Oh, I almost forgot. I had my second coronavirus vaccination today in the cavernous Sheffield Arena. The male nurse who gave me my jab asked if I had had any adverse reactions to the first jab and I said - No, none at all. Then he prepared the needle before asking, "Did you have any adverse reactions to the first jab?" Eh? The same question twice in ninety seconds!

Despite its ordinariness, this can often seem like a mad world.

2 May 2021

Shuggie


Earlier today I sat out on our decking and finished reading "Shuggie Bain" by Douglas Stuart. This earthy novel was last year's Booker Prize winner. It was a book that I really warmed to as I kept turning the pages. The strapline on the front cover reads, "A novel of rare and lasting beauty" and I must admit that at first I could find little to support that claim but by the end I could see where "The Observer" reviewer was coming from.

Set in the mean streets of Glasgow, the novel is semi-autobiographical. Hugh Bain, known universally as Shuggie,  is an effeminate boy who loves his mother Agnes fiercely in spite of her alcoholism and the many issues that this causes.  Life is hard.  There's rarely any food in the cupboard and Agnes is seldom at peace with herself, her relations or her community. It is as if Shuggie has to constantly walk on eggshells.

The dialogue successfully captures the rough voice of working class Glasgow as once proud industries have declined. There are pubs and cigarettes, electricity meters to prise open, violent rows to be had, bingo halls and betting shops to visit, cans of strong lager to be hidden.  Of course such a life is especially challenging for an intelligent boy who is confused about his sexuality, only gradually realising that he is gay.

To give you a feeling for the language of the novel, here are a couple of extracts. This is the voice of one of Agnes's  male  friends - Eugene:-

“Ah have been lonely fur years now. Lonely long afore ma wife died. Don't get us wrong. She was a guid wummin, a guid wummin just like our Colleen, but we were jist stuck in our wee routine. When ye think about it, ah've been under the ground most of ma life. There wasn't much in me for sharing at the end of a day. After twenty years, what do you talk about? But she was a guid wummin. She used to make me these big hot dinners, with meat and gravy, the plate scalding hot cos she'd warm it up all day in the oven. We ate big hot dinners because we had nothing left to say. Nothing worthwhile anyway. Ah'm forty-three. That's four years older than when ma father died, so I should've been done. I should've been retiring from the pits, living the rest of ma days out with her and with nothing to say. When I saw ye I wasn't looking. I didn't know of you then, hadn't heard our Colleen lift your name. That's wummin's stuff, isn't it? They don't talk to the men about that. Gossip. Telling tales. Chapel. That's their club. All I know is when I saw you sat behind that glass, I saw someone lonely too, and I hoped we might have something to say to each other. I realised then. Ah don't want to be done.”

And this is  a short glimpse into what Shuggie's mother Agnes was like:-

“She was no use at maths homework, and some days you could starve rather than get a hot meal from her, but Shuggie looked at her now and understood this was where she excelled. Everyday with the make-up on and her hair done, she climbed out of her grave and held her head high. When she had disgraced herself with drink, she got up the next day, put on her best coat, and faced the world. When her belly was empty and her weans were hungry, she did her hair and let the world think otherwise.”

In the end I was very glad that I decided to read "Shuggie Bain". Its author, Douglas Stuart, now lives in New York City where he has worked for several years as a fashion designer.

At my Scottish university I had a friend from Kilmarnock called Hugh Lynch. We all knew him as Shuggie. Co-incidentally, because of alcohol, his life spiralled out of control and he died in Glasgow in the mid-eighties.  Another  tragic waste of a life .

My final point is about proof reading. I found several grammatical errors in this much lauded   novel.  For example "retch" -  as in vomiting - was written more than once as "wretch". Perhaps publishers place too much store in computerised spell checking software these days or employ proof readers who no longer have an eye for close detail.

1 May 2021

"Y"

Yesterday, Clint kindly transported me along The Great Yorkshire Way east of Doncaster. We were heading to Old Cantley in the eastern suburbs of the town ready for another long walk. Well I would be doing the walking, Clint would be left snoozing on Main Street with some other motor vehicles - including a sexy black VW Beetle called Deidre.

As we were travelling along The Great Yorkshire Way, I spotted a new feature in the landscape. Situated near the entrance to a new "park and ride" facility, it was a stonking great letter "Y" in yellow. The "Y" stands for Yorkshire. I resolved to drop into the "park and ride" on my way home in order to take photographs of this magnificent yellow letter.

I have driven by the east side of Doncaster countless times. Even as a young boy in the late fifties and early sixties I remember seeing a huge white water tower on the horizon. Yesterday - somewhat by accident - I found myself walking close to that landmark for the very first time and in spite of tricky light conditions I snapped it and its smaller companion several times.

Near the village of Auckley I made a long detour along the banks of The River Torne - the same river that I walked beside last Friday near Tickhill. A bank of threatening charcoal grey cloud was forming to the north as a biting Arctic  wind was stirred up. I thought I was going to get soaked but in the event there were just a few minutes of thin rain.

As is often the case, I walked further than I had intended to yesterday  but I love that feeling of exhaustion at the end of a long walk when your legs have become leaden and your pace has turned into a trudge. Clint was sweet talking with Deidre when I made it back to Old Cantley. Lord knows what they had been up to in the four and a half hours  I had been rambling. I didn't like to ask.
St Wilfrid's Church, Cantley - dating back to 1257

30 April 2021

Insurance

Insurance! I wonder if it is the same in other countries. 

If I swindled or attempted to swindle someone out of a significant amount of money - say £73 for example then I would expect to get my comeuppance in a court of law. After all The Holy Bible tells us not to steal. It is one of the ten commandments.

Three weeks ago I received my motor insurance renewal pack from a leading insurer. Nothing has changed since last year and Clint has not been involved in any accidents or scrapes. All is the same.

Last year my premium was £341.60 but this year they were going to charge me £358.40. I phoned them and after fifteen minutes waiting in a phone queue I finally got through to a young fellow called Rob. He asked me why I was phoning and I told him that I was not happy about the increased premium.

There was no argument or any further pushing from me. After two or three minutes Rob returned to the phone and said he could give me a significant discount on the quoted price. In fact he could bring the premium down to £285,60. A saving of £73 on the original quote! Nothing would be changed. The cover would be exactly the same.

I suspect that many people who receive receive renewal notices from their insurers simply pay up without question, not realising that they are the unwitting victims of daylight robbery. Insurers clearly do not care a fig about loyalty. If they can rip you off they will.

Does this ring a bell with other bloggers or blog visitors in other places?

29 April 2021

Decade

A decade ago today, I was sitting in my lovely "Lotus Room" in northern Bangkok watching live television. I had turned the magic box on because I wanted to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It was a happy, joyful event beamed to me from London on the other side of the world.

Today we are all ten years older. Normally it is hard to track the aging process after just one year but a full decade is different. Hair is perhaps lost or greyer, eyes become more tired, lines start to form, girth may increase. A decade's worth of old people will have died as a decade's worth of babies arrived to take their places. A kind of shunting along.

Prince William still seems like a really nice guy. You can see it in his eyes. There is an earnestness about him and an innate dignity. He really cares about the plights of less fortunate people. In  Catherine he found a lovely, intelligent  spouse who understands what duty means. So different from the other two who shall not be named. You know who I mean.

April 29th 2011. There was no expectation of a deadly worldwide pandemic. No idea that America would put the self-obsessed host of "The Apprentice" in The White House with his fake hair and fake views. No thoughts of "TikTok" or Ed Sheeran or Tesla cars or Greta Thunberg. Our daughter Frances was just finishing university in Birmingham and our son Ian was still slaving away in men's fashion retail. Shirley and I had not been to New Zealand or The Pacific North West or Malta or Garlieston in Wigtownshire and I had not yet begun working at the Oxfam shop where I put in  over five years of service. A full decade of life. So much water under the bridge.

In April 2011, the population of  our planet was  almost exactly 7 billion. Today Earth's population is 862 million bigger - 7,862,293, 428 as I type this full stop>.  When will this endless population explosion be meaningfully addressed?

What were you doing a decade ago and how has your life changed - just as William and Catherine said - for better or for worse?

27 April 2021

Poem

The Real England
 
Where will you find it?
The real England I mean.
Not there in those biscuit lid villages
Where camera crews are seen
And pagan barns converted
Fringe the village green.

Perhaps beside the motorway
Where HGV’s make thunder
And weary children in 
Trembling bunk beds wonder
If they’ll ever sleep again.

In the statuary of history
Or forgotten soldiers’ feet
In books by Agatha Christie
Or that multicultural beat

Amidst these rumpled hills
Or sunlight on The Shard
In the shadows of old mills
Or the wisdom of The Bard.

Perhaps beside a river bend
Where an angler waits all day
As mallards in the shallows
Watch tiny ducklings play
Regardless of danger.

Where will you find it?
The real England I mean.
Not here where keyboard keys
Strive to process what has been -
This place of hope and memory
The kingdom of a queen.

26 April 2021

Screentime

"Lad: A Yorkshire Story" - worth avoiding

As this godawful pandemic proceeds into its second year, we should give thanks for screentime. For most people in the western world watching television has been our salvation. It has helped to get us through these trying months in which normal life has been well and truly suspended.

Previously, I sang the praises of the first three series of "The Handmaid's Tale" starring Elisabeth Moss. It absorbed me for many hours thanks to our daughter Frances who signed us into her Amazon Prime account for free. She also gave us free access to Netflix.

In England on recent Sunday evenings it seems that the whole country has been glued to BBC 1 watching the sixth series of the tense police drama "Line of Duty". It contains many twists and turns and you never quite know what is coming next but I must confess that I do not see what all the fuss is about. If I never saw another episode, I would not mind at all.

On Saturday night we stumbled across a British film called "Lad: A Yorkshire Story" on Amazon Prime. We settled down to enjoy it, hoping to be thoroughly entertained for ninety minutes or so. However, it wasn't long before we were sighing with disappointment. It just lacked the important ingredient of believability and was laborious and predictable. The best aspect of "Lad" was the North Yorkshire landscape in which the dull plot unfolds. It was meant to be a light comedy but we didn't laugh once and it was a relief when the credits rolled.

One show that almost always brings me to tears is "Long Lost Family" on ITV 1. In this programme people are reunited with loved ones after patient professional research. Often the subjects were adopted as babies and they are now looking for their blood relatives. Frequently they feel painfully lonesome in this interconnected world so when they finally meet up with their blood relatives their joy is palpable. It's like coming home at last. You really feel for them and in my opinion the show handles the process with care and respect. Each story is a true one.

I think it is important to keep our television viewing in proper perspective - not allowing it to take over our lives and turn us into couch potatoes. However, to return to my original point - screentime has certainly been a blessing in these very trying times. I think it has helped us to survive and stay sane - well, relatively sane!

25 April 2021

Up

It has been a very strange football  season here in England. Thanks to coronavirus rules, games have been played in empty stadiums.

A year ago, my beloved Hull City A.F.C. were relegated from The Championship to League One. Hull City supporters far and wide felt as sick as parrots.  However, twelve months later and we are walking on air with beaming smiles. After a great season in which The Tigers have won twenty six games and scored seventy seven goals, we met fellow promotion contenders Lincoln City at Sincil Bank yesterday and beat them by two goals to one.

I have been supporting Hull City for close on sixty years. Lord knows how much money, time and emotional energy I have spent upon them. So many ups and so many downs. The progress of my club matters a great deal to me. It has been very different from supporting Liverpool or Chelsea or Manchester United. In comparison, being a fan of such clubs is so easy.

But Hull City, Scunthorpe United, Tranmere Rovers, Rotherham United, Sunderland, Reading, Bristol Rovers... - fans of clubs like these know what it means to support a proper team - taking the rough with the smooth, remaining loyal in spite of everything.

One of my biggest thrills in life is to see The Tigers score winning goals. In those orgasmic moments, the troubles of ordinary life completely disappear. The exquisite joy releases me. There is no time for dissection, no time for pondering  - the joy is everything. If you have ever supported a football team you will understand what I mean.

Congratulations to our current manager Grant McCann, his support staff and all the lads who donned the amber and black shirt this season. Maybe next season I will get to see some games back up in The Championship.  Up The Tigers!

24 April 2021

Surprise!

Kill! Kill!

Ho-ho, I had you all fooled yesterday didn't I?  I realise that this will come as a disappointment to a handful of readers but I was not trampled to death by a herd of frisky Jersey cows. I am alive and well, rejoicing in the happy news  that my football team, Hull City, have just been promoted to the English Championship following today's magnificent victory at Lincoln City.

However, it could have all been so different. 

I had parked Clint on Sunderland Street, Tickhill close to "The Scarborough Arms" pub before setting off on a seven  mile country walk under another  blue sky. No need for a jacket or sweater.

When I reached Stancil Farm, I noticed that the public footpath bisected a large cattle pasture. The herd of young Jerseys was down in the bottom corner close to The River Torne but when I was half way across the field they spotted me and headed in my direction.

Of course there was no aggression but they were investigating me with their muzzles and no matter how  much "Yaah-ing" I did along with windmill waving of my arms, they would not retreat. They surrounded me as I headed, hopefully, towards the stile which led through a hawthorn hedge to safety. Perhaps they thought I was a farmhand bringing food supplements.

New Amazon distribution centre at Rossington

I was very aware that if I had tripped up and fallen to the ground they might well have accidentally trampled me in their panic.

Normally, when I walk through cow fields, the cattle will look up with lazy indifference before returning peacefully  to their endless grass munching. That was not the case yesterday. I tell you, it was such a relief to reach that wooden stile and climb over into the next field.

Wellingley

I took a deep breath and continued with my circular walk. A brand new Amazon distribution centre has been built on the site of what was once Rossington Colliery. I also walked by the tiny hamlet of Wellesley and along  the curiously named Billy Wright's Lane before heading back to Tickhill.

"The Scarborough Arms"  was open for outdoor drinkers so I treated myself to a pint of bitter shandy with a bag of plain crisps. This was the first time I have visited a pub since November 4th last year. It was an agreeable experience but then Clint started honking his horn so I knew it was time to head home.

The 15th Century Parish Room in Tickhill

23 April 2021

Bloggered

 
Bloggered!

Earlier today, a popular international blogger  from Sheffield was trampled
to death by a frisky herd of young Jersey cows as he was walking across a field
at Stancil Farm north of  Tickhill, South Yorkshire.

Known as "Yorkshire Pudding", the 67 year old blogger was lawfully walking 
on a designated public footpath when the forty strong herd came thundering
across the field towards him.

He yelled at the young cows and waved his arms but they were not in the mood
 for mercy. They surrounded Mr Pudding nudging him and pushing heavily
against him until he stumbled and fell to the ground.

The leader of the assailants was a deranged cow called Buttercup who was 
the first to tread upon the retired teacher bringing her full weight of 
approximately 70 stones upon her screaming victim's chest. 

The other cows followed Buttercup's example and a few minutes later
Mr Pudding breathed his last breath.

Owner of the herd,  Farmer Boris Hogg of Stancil Farm  said, "I was having a 
mug of tea and reading my "Farmer's Weekly". I didn't hear a thing."

Senior Ambulance Woman, Dolly O'Toole (aged 34) attended the tragic 
scene an hour after the event and later said that Mr Pudding had been 
"flattened like a pancake - or to be more accurate like a Margherita pizza."

Yorkshire Pudding leaves a wife, son, daughter, son-in-law, two brothers 
and a baby granddaughter called Phoebe - along with thousands of 
grieving supporters and heartbroken friends from across the 
world of blogging.
The last photo - found on Mr Pudding's camera

22 April 2021

Fatherhood

When my son Ian came home recently, he gave me a "Toblerone" chocolate bar with the words "Best Dad" on one face of the famous triangular packaging. It made me smile and then think.

Am I really the "Best Dad"? Being a father is not something they teach you in school. No exam authorities offer qualifications in fatherhood. How you operate as a father comes from deep within, usually informed by your experience of your own father and observations of other male role models.

A lot of it is about gut instincts. It's not as if you work out a plan. Mostly you just go with the flow.

Nobody is perfect and I know that I made some mistakes along the way but the fact that my grown up children now love and respect me proves that I must have got most of it right.

Above everything else, I wanted them to be happy, well-rounded people  with minds of their own. I wanted them to  be respectful of others - no matter what their station in life might be and I wanted them to feel equal to all other people too. Now that they are both in their thirties, I am delighted to observe that these aspirations have been met.

I know of at least three people who regularly read this blog whose relationships with their own fathers were difficult to say the least. They look back with understandable bitterness, drawing a veil over times that are best forgotten. It is so sad and I feel for those readers, I really do. How wonderful it would be if we could all have happy, secure childhoods overseen by loving parents who treat us kindly and point us in the right direction.

My own father was like that and I thank him for showing me how to be a good father. I trusted  him, loved him and respected him. Perhaps he learnt the rudiments of fatherhood from his own father. And so it goes on through the generations. Thinking of cruel, fearsome or abusive fathers - perhaps they also inherited their loathsome habits from previous generations. That is not to forgive them, just to offer a partial explanation. 

Being a father should not be onerous. There should be much joy and laughter along the way. Fatherhood should enrich your life and not curtail it or weigh heavily upon you. I can say in all honesty that being Ian and Frances's father is the best thing that ever happened to me.

September 1988

21 April 2021

Huthwaite

More miles. More photographs. Plodding around a former coal mining  district  at  Nottinghamshire's border with Derbyshire. That was yesterday. Where once pithead wheels turned and cohorts of men trudged home with the crevices of their skin still blackened with tell-tale coal dust, now country parks, cycle ways and sprawling industrial estates fill the melancholy void that was left behind. 

I left Clint in a quiet lay-by on Blackwell Lane, just west of Huthwaite. It was another pleasant spring day though not quite as sunny as most recent days. I was wearing my Panama City Beach T-shirt that my daughter bought there when on Spring Break from Birmingham Southern Collage, Alabama in 2010.

Huthwaite is an unpretentious, unbeautiful place that still cannot hide its coal mining legacy. It is the opposite of  the vibrant multicultural England that our London-based media chirps about constantly.  Here the all-white descendants of coal mining and hosiery manufacturing families tick off the passing days on their kitchen calendars in narrow streets. They are so often cruelly forgotten.

My route was pretty much a circle round the overgrown village that was once known as Hucknall-under-Huthwaite then later Dirty Hucknall. Huthwaite means "a clearing on a hill spur" as derived from the old languages that in the course of time spawned English.

I doubt that many Peak District ramblers would be drawn to Huthwaite. No sheep on heather-clad hills. No vistas of pleasant valleys criss-crossed with drystone walls. This is a very different England with M1 motorway traffic humming constantly  from the west.  Taking things north and south.

Part of my walk was through Brierley Country Park - developed on the former site of Huthwaite Colliery. There I came across a block of concrete with the date "1919" embossed upon it without explanation. I imagined that it marked the spot where a new shaft had been  sunk to the coal seam below a century before and thought of the damage that had just been wrought upon the world by World War One. The heroes who returned from those killing fields could now descend daily into Hell to earn their daily bread. They were the real England.

19 April 2021

Message

Wood pigeon                                                                                  ©Karel Krizak

Dear Visitors,

What beautiful weather we have been having in northern England over the last ten days. Clear, chilly nights have been succeeded by bright spring days.

Our bedroom is on the west side of the house so I never know for sure what the new day will be like until I pull back the blackout curtains. And there again this morning I could see the shadow of our house with its chimney drawn upon the lawn by a bright sun rising higher in the sky. On days like this the colours of the world  are stunning.

Yesterday I dug over half of our vegetable plot taking trouble to pull out any weeds. There has been little rain of late so the texture  of  the soil was more like a friable loam than Mississippi mud pie. Because of reduced moisture, raising spadefuls of earth  was not like an Olympic weightlifting event. 

At the other end of the plot there are two rows of purple sprouting broccoli which I left in the ground over the winter. It was a good decision because plants that had given no hint of broccoli heads last summer are now providing a plentiful crop. If you cut the central florets then the side shoots will flourish a couple of weeks later.

Also yesterday I fixed a broken step on the decking and pottered around in the garden - filling little pots ready for the germination of runner beans, sweeping up and trying to improve a small stone recess under the fixed bird table. As I was doing this, a wood pigeon landed on the homemade bird table without noticing me working four feet below. Upon seeing me, it flew up into the air scattering bird seed on my head. They are pretty dumb birds.

At five, with clean trousers and a clean shirt on, I headed over to Frances and Stewart's house for Sunday dinner. Phoebe was there of course with her other grandparents who are still up here from their home in Bristol and Shirley was there as well because Clint and I had driven her over after lunch.

Stew had roasted a leg of lamb with all the trimmings followed by Shirley's chocolate pudding and ice cream.  At eight thirty we returned home to watch an ongoing  police drama - now in its sixth series - called "Line of Duty".  With all of its twists and turns and dramatic tension, it is very popular here in England but I must admit that I find it all rather underwhelming. If they said it was being taken off air I wouldn't give a toss.

Ah well, it's still sunny outside. I need a shower. Before too long I will be outside once more - digging for victory.

Kind regards,

Yorkshire Pudding

18 April 2021

Elegy


The Patriarchs – An Elegy


The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.

Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.

They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their minds
to the day’s big science and heavy questions.
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps
showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes
of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
Last of the great avuncular magicians
they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:
Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.

The major oaks in the wood start tuning up
and skies to come will deliver their tributes.
But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.


♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Written by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage upon the death of The Duke of Edinburgh who was laid to rest yesterday at Windsor. He was born seventeen days after my late mother under the same star sign - Gemini. Next month she would have been a hundred years old but died in 2007  when she was eighty six.

17 April 2021

Springtime


Yesterday, Clint agreed to take me west once more. It was another lovely spring day when the green of the fields was greener and the blue of the sky was more blue.

We were heading back to the same region I visited on Monday but a mile east of the grouse shooters' cabin. There were squares for The Geograph Project that I needed to bag. Clint parked himself on Cow Low Lane close to Cow Low Farm and immediately began napping - with his mandible relaxed, he soon began snoring quietly. Ewes with new lambs occupied the adjacent fields and some of them rushed towards me believing perhaps that I was the farmer bringing supplementary food pellets.

Hob Tor looking towards Chapel-en-le-Frith

With no public footpaths marked on my map, I headed across sheep pastures under ancient Lady Low with its Neolithic round barrow, then I found ways over or through drystone walls up to Black Edge where I was delighted to discover an unofficial but pretty well-trodden path skirting Combs Moss which is a rough and extensive grouse moor.

TP1406 Black Edge

I walked for a couple of miles towards Buxton, passing a triangulation pillar numbered TP1406 before turning back following  the little path all the way to Castle Naze - an Iron Age hill fort that now overlooks Combs Reservoir. There I found an ancient diagonal path that ran straight as an arrow down Short Edge. It must have been created by the ancients who made the hill fort or perhaps by stone quarrymen of previous centuries.

Farm cottage in Martinside

Soon I was back on Cow Low Lane trudging back to Clint who was no longer napping but singing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" to a perplexed  ovine audience. They scattered as they saw me approaching. Soon I undertook a little diversion to Martinside and on to Chapel-en-le-Frith railway station before heading east once more to prepare a nice chicken curry for Friday's "tea" - which is what northern folk tend to call their main evening meal.

When Nurse Pudding came in the house she said,  "Mmmm! Something smells nice!"

Chapel-en-le-Frith railway station

16 April 2021

Napping

In my mind I have an image of my parents in their late middle age. It is some time in the mid-seventies. We have had our evening meal and the television news is on but they are paying no attention to current affairs because they are both asleep. Mandibles relaxed, they have for a little while at least, escaped from consciousness. They're sitting in their armchairs - napping.

Now I dislike napping and try to avoid it as much as possible. For me napping is annoying because it tends to spoil my appetite for proper sleep when I finally get to bed. This is especially so late at night.

In recent weeks, I have found myself napping on several occasions. I will be watching something on the TV with my eyes getting heavier and then, gadzooks - I am asleep just like my parents. Sometimes, half an hour or more will pass before I wake up, bleary-eyed wondering how I have missed a big chunk of the show I was watching.

This happened during my first attempt to watch "The Mauritanian" and again when I was watching "Seaspiracy" - the disturbing and controversial documentary about the world's fishing industries. It was so disturbing and controversial that I fell asleep. Fortunately, both shows are on "Netflix" so I was able to successfully re-watch them.

Every time I have ever napped it was unintended and undesired - possibly with the exception of air travel. Napping seems to happen when you have had an active day and  you're warm, safe and comfortable. You don't mean to give in to sleep but it takes you anyway.

Later you may find yourself tossing and turning in bed, your head buzzing with thoughts as you are refused entry to The Palace of Sleep. The dreaded nap has taken the edge off your tiredness and you may have to get up, have a hot drink and a biscuit (American: cookie)  and do some pottering about before giving proper sleep another go.

Most of my life I have happily avoided napping but as I say, in recent weeks, I too have fallen victim to the sly, creeping condition on various occasions. Perhaps somewhere, ingenious immunologists are developing vaccines to defeat NAP-21. If so,  I will have some of that.  Napping is, in my humble opinion, the secret scourge of the western world.

15 April 2021

Solution


In November 2018, I blogged about a walk I took on Longstone Edge. There I came across a small stone platform upon which was a metal plaque that read "Ruby's Chair". You can read about it here.

It was a mystery until last weekend when the platform's maker got in touch with me and kindly provided this explanation:-

"Hi Longstone Moor Farm was run by my family from 1943 to 2020 and I have spent a lot of time up there. About 9 years ago me and my daughter who was 8 years old at the time were having a picnic on Taylor Lane. In the lane was an old broken limestone gate post and I said let's make a chair with it. So me and my daughter Ruby set to building it and she worked so hard I thought it would be nice to make a copper plaque with her name on. I fitted the plaque to the chair with two rivets with my initials stamped on N S. If you sit on the chair facing into the chair you will see an iron ring set in rock with lead on the other side of the lane. I have set 8 such rings in different parts of Longstone Moor and called them the Longstone Moor ringtones. I just wanted to leave something behind that will last a long time. I told my daughter when she holds the ring it will be like holding my hand. Hope that was interesting to you."

Well it was indeed interesting to me. The writer was a gentleman called Mr Smart - an appropriate surname for someone whose first name is also Neil.  To leave something permanent in the landscape like this seemed to me  such a beautiful thing to do. Of course Ruby, the daughter in question, will be seventeen years old now and on the verge of her adulthood. As the years go by it will be so nice for her to think of the rough chair she made with her father when she was a little girl. Maybe one day she will come back to the ridge with a child of her own and they will sit on Ruby's Chair together admiring the view, perhaps recollecting a departed man.

14 April 2021

Meeting

Every baby has two sets of grandparents. Phoebe is fortunate because all four of her grandparents are still breathing. However, until Monday of this week her other grandparents had never met her. They live two hundred miles away in Bristol and had previously only seen our little princess via "Zoom" and "Facetime". That's what COVID has done - keeping families apart, upsetting the normal order of things.

With a slackening of England's pandemic regulations this week, Stew's parents headed north and this is the very moment that they first met Phoebe in the flesh. It is a picture of joy and can you see how the beloved granddaughter is smiling for Granddad? Perhaps not - so I have snipped and enlarged that part of the photo. She will be three months old tomorrow...

 

13 April 2021

Combs

Clint was fuming. We were stuck in a long traffic jam outside the High Peak town of Buxton. Vehicles were moving forward slowly and haltingly  as we edged towards roadworks where as per usual nobody appeared to be working. We were in that jam for a full hour, doubling my anticipated journey time. I resisted Clint's urgings to "go for it" like a police driver. He promised to yell "Waah! Waah! Waah!" as we overtook the crawling line of vehicles.

Finally, finally I reached the parking spot I had identified via Google Streetview - two miles north of Buxton on the Whaley Bridge road. With brand new walking boots on, I set off on what was a chilly but bright blue sky afternoon. It was just after midday.

And what a delightful walk it was too - in an amphitheatre of north Derbyshire countryside, more or less surrounded by Combs Edge. The tops were dusted with April snow but the valley was green and fresh with new spring lambs resting or frolicking in the old sheep pastures.

The photographic highlight was the grouse shooters' cabin above Allstone Lee. I descended from there on the grouse shooters' track only to arrive at a gate at the bottom that was topped with barbed wire and padlocked. A sign had been fixed to it warning me to "turn around" and that the track now led to "private property". Bugger! Now I had to schlep back up the slope until I could circumvent the sheep pastures and find a different way down to the village of Combs. This all added an extra hour to my ramble.

Then I plodded up Lesser Lane - a steady mile and a half  all the way back to its junction with Old Road - a former Roman route in the far off days when Buxton was a Roman spa town known as Aqua Arnematiae.

I was knackered when I finally unlocked Clint's tailgate at 5pm. My new boots had been entirely comfortable as expected and it had been another really splendid walk. I decided to avoid Buxton on the drive home and headed up to Whaley Bridge instead before cutting down to Chapel-en-le-Frith and then along Rushup Edge back to The Hope Valley and home. I unlocked our front door just before six.

12 April 2021

Song

Do you know what the best selling single was on the day that you were born? In other words, what was "top of the pops"? British people born after 1947 will be able to find out here. American visitors will be able to find out here. By the way, the US billboard dates back to 1940. My apologies to citizens of other countries such as Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Bhutan. Perhaps you will be able to use your googling expertise to track down your national hit single on the day you were born

More apologies to senior bloggers and visitors whose birth dates preceded the popular music charts.

Investigating the charts I was hoping that the hit single on the day of my birth would be a deep and meaningful song like "We Shall Overcome" or even "I Believe" but instead, I discovered that it was a superficial and forgettable number by a crooning American pop singer called Guy Mitchell. It was "Look at That Girl". This formulaic song was top of the pops in Britain from September 11th 1953 to October 23rd. Mitchell had had another big hit earlier that year with "She Wears Red Feathers".

Guy Mitchell ((born Albert George Cernik;) 1927 – 1999

Here are the (cough...cough) poetic lyrics of "Look At That Girl":-

Look at the girl, she's like a dream come true
Ah look at that girl, can blue eyes be so blue
Look at the way she walks, listen when she talks
With each word my heart just skips
Oh if I could kiss those lips
Mmmm
Look at that girl, you see what I see
Oh look at that girl, she's walking straight to me
That's right, last night I held her tight
Ho ho it happens all the time
I look at that girl, and I can't believe she's mine

(Look at the girl, she's like a dream come true)
I don't believe it they're making it up
(Look at that girl can blue eyes be so blue)
But if I'm dreaming please don't wake me up
Just look at the way she walks
Listen when she talks
With each word my heart just flips
Oh if I could kiss those lips
Look at that girl, do you see what I see
Look at that girl
She's walking straight to me
That's right, last night I held her tight
It happens all the time
I look at that girl, and I can't believe she's mine

The song was created by a talented pop songwriter called Bob Merrill who was also responsible for "How Much Is That Doggie in The Window?" and "If I Knew You Were Coming I'd Have Baked A Cake". Where would we be without such aural masterpieces?

What was number one on the day you were born?

I leave you with Mr Guy Mitchell singing my  own birthday song. Take it away Guy:-

11 April 2021

Milestone

I must admit that I do not like any sports that involve animals. However, I take my hat off to Rachael Blackmore who rode Minella Times to victory in yesterday's Grand National at Aintree, Liverpool. It is the oldest and most famous annual steeplechase in the world. In coming home first, Rachael Blackmore - a 31 year old Irish jockey - became the first woman in history to win the race. After 182 years, to see a woman on the winners' podium was something really special.

Afterwards, she told a TV Interviewer, "I don't feel male or female right now. I don't even feel human."

By the way, only one horse had to be euthanised  after yesterday's taxing four mile race - a seven year old (gender unknown) called The Long Mile. May he or she rest in equine peace.

10 April 2021

Liar

The political leader of this great country is an inveterate liar. Lying comes as easily to him as breathing does to most people. His lies have been well-documented and yet he continues to get away with them. It is as if his life is charmed. He's like a roguish young lad with tousled hair denying that he scrumped the neighbour's apples even though his satchel is stuffed with the stolen fruit.

In June 2019, as Great Britain was  heading towards a general election, Johnson was asked by Talk Radio's Ross Kempsell how he likes to spend his spare time

This was Johnson's bizarre response: “I, well, I like to ... paint. Or I make things. I like to ... I make, I have a thing where I make models of, when I was mayor of London we built a beautiful – I make buses. I make models of buses. So what I do, no, I don’t make models of buses, what I do is I get old – I don’t know – wooden crates ... Right? And then I paint them. It’s a box that’s been used to contain two wine bottles, right, and it will have a dividing thing. And I turn it into a bus. I paint the passengers enjoying themselves on a wonderful bus.”

Johnson was smirking as he poured out this drivel - as if it was some kind of hilarious Old Etonian mind game. The thing is, no one has ever seen one of his cardboard buses and it is 99.9% certain that he has in fact never made one. It was all a lie. Naturally, he has never apologised for making it because he never genuinely says sorry about anything.

I remain utterly baffled as to how our country has ended up with an ego-maniacal buffoon at the top. The blatant lie that I have alluded to  here simply shows the true character of the man. There have been far more serious and impactful lies such as his three word election slogan - "Get Brexit Done". Will it ever be done?

Of course most national leaders lie strategically or cunningly twist the truth. It is part of the territory but  in a western democracy with a history of basic decency in high office, Johnson's  propensity for lying and then getting away with it is quite staggering.

9 April 2021

Encounter

Can you see the line of runner ducks walking across the lane? The picture was taken on Tuesday morning in Abney, a sleepy little Derbyshire village, seven miles south west of  our suburban home. Clint  had  kindly driven me out there for another long walk. The territory was all very familiar to me.

Descending from Offerton Moor, I saw a man, a woman and a teenage boy climbing over the stile at the bottom and heading my way up onto the moor. I was twenty yards from them when the woman greeted me by name. I had not seen her in over eleven years.

Bamford seen from Offerton Moor

I recognised her voice immediately but as she was wearing glasses and a woolly hat, I did not recognise her and at one point I even had to ask, "I'm sorry but I have forgotten your name?" Louisa was a teaching colleague for some fourteen years and though her main subject was French we had occasion to work closely together as pastoral form tutors.

Immediately, she was rapping about the school where I worked and its latest news - all the people who have left and how its challenges have intensified. To tell you the truth, I didn't really want to know. That place is way behind me now though it took  a few years to expunge its bitter aftertaste from my memory. There I often felt like a hamster on a wheel, running as hard as I could but getting nowhere. You had to be bloody tough to endure it as I know Louisa was and most probably still is. She was dogged and had patience in abundance.
Ruined barn at Banktop

I said my goodbyes as they prepared to walk up the hill. Seeing them shrinking with the perspective, I felt as though the bed of a crystal clear chalk stream had been disturbed. My mind was unexpectedly clouded with scenarios and half-remembered things and voices from long ago. It took a while to clear as I headed up to the telecommunications mast on Shatton Moor.

It is likely that I will neve see Louisa again in my life and I like it that way even though she was one of the good ones. She is now probably older than I was when I took early retirement in 2009. I wish her all the best which ever path she chooses to take.
Signpost on Abney Moor

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