Phoebe is doing well. She is putting on weight. Her eyes are clearly focusing and she is beginning to make some sense of this multi-sensory world she has now found herself in. She has not yet learnt that humans tend to sleep in the night-time and get active in the daytime but Frances is a patient and pragmatic mother. She knows that this post-natal confusion will not last forever.
"O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." - Hamlet Act II scene ii
31 January 2021
30 January 2021
Having described Americans in vivid detail, it is only fair that I should summarise The English. I am not talking about the English language but the English people. Of course Yorkshire people do not consider themselves to be fully English. We are first and foremost of Yorkshire and we trace our heritage back to Viking invaders and to the ancient kingdom of Northumbria.
No my friends, the true English live south of here in faraway counties with strange names - Surrey, Hampshire, Kent, Bedfordshire, Essex and the like. And of course that is where London is situated - the great metropolis of The English.
The English all talk as if their mouths are filled with marbles. Their vowel sounds are very similar. Favourite utterances of The English are "Gosh!", "Golly!" and "Oh, I say!"
The English send their sons to boarding schools when they are still in nappies (American: diapers) where the play rugger and cricket, learn Latin, eat from tuck boxes and suffer physical or sexual abuse at the hands of their housemasters. Meantime English daughters ride ponies at gymkhanas, take piano lessons and stomp off to their rooms yelling "It's not fair!"
The English have afternoon tea every day. Crustless salmon paste and cucumber sandwiches are presented on cake stands with iced buns, scones and jam tarts. The tea itself arrives in a china teapot with exquisite cups and saucers and silver spoons.
In the summer they attend horse racing events at Ascot or ride their own horses across The South Downs or through The New Forest, yelling "Tally-ho!"
The father of the house is called either Tarquin, Douglas or Neville . He smokes a pipe while checking how his stocks and shares are doing in "The Financial Times". On weekdays he travels into London on a crowded train wearing a bowler hat, carrying an umbrella and a leather briefcase like all the others on board.
The mother has gardening gloves and secateurs to prune roses. She is called Arabella, Fiona or Belinda and she titters behind her lace handkerchief when ever her beloved husband makes an amusing remark. At Christmas she goes wild, treating herself to a small dry sherry. She has a spaniel called Tinkle who is an "absolute darling".
The English know little of Yorkshire and the other counties "Up North". They never travel there, preferring to visit The Isle of Wight, Cornwall or The French Riviera and Tuscany for their holidays. As old maps used to say of unexplored regions - "There Be Dragons!"
The English always vote for The Conservative Party and have framed photographs of Churchill, Thatcher or John Major in their bathrooms. Presumably, this avoids any need for laxatives. Out on their manicured lawns they play croquet and down in the village they occasionally visit "The Red Lion" to guffaw under the horse brasses with a buxom landlady called Joyce who is an "absolute darling".
Obviously, I could say much more about The English. I have observed them all my life. They are the true inheritors of The British Empire. If you require further information about The English please pose your questions in the comments below.
29 January 2021
28 January 2021
Yesterday her grandfather - King Pudding de Yorkshire - sang her songs and she was bemused, lying in his arms as the vibrations of his tuneful singing were absorbed by her rib cage. She looked up with her bright blue eyes wondering, "Who is this man?" and "Can I make him a slave too?"
How heart-warming it is to observe our lovely daughter Frances taking to the role of motherhood like a duck to water. She is so patient and so loving. In spite of her tiredness there is a beatific aura about her. After all, she has been the engine of an ongoing miracle.
When we got home there was a mysterious Amazon package lying on our doormat. It was addressed to Phoebe Pudding so I guessed that it had come from someone in Blogland - but who could it be? Over the telephone, Frances gave me permission to open the package and inside were these two lovely children's books:-
But there was no note. However, later a comment in this blog revealed that the sender was none other than Mrs Jennifer Barlow of Florence, South Carolina. What a kind and generous thing to do! Once again - thank you so much Jennifer.
It is well-known over here in England that all Americans are stupendously rich. They drive around in massive cars and have massive refrigerators and every night they go to drive-in movies where they watch cowboy films on massive screens while munching huge handfuls of popcorn from massive paper buckets. Given this fact, we have decided to appoint Jennifer as Princess Phoebe's official American auntie. Henceforth she will be known to the princess as "Your rich Auntie Jennifer from South Carolina". It has nothing to do with the wealth. Honest.
27 January 2021
On and on this bloody pandemic goes. So many words spoken about it, so many words printed. Together they could make a pile that would reach the moon. A year ago, very little had been said about the virus. It was just easing itself into our consciousness - the ultimate elephant in the room.
Yesterday, Britain's official death toll surpassed one hundred thousand. Our scruffy, bumbling prime minister appeared on TV saying that he was sorry about all the lives that have been lost. Arguably, he should have also said sorry for dragging his feet at various points in this living nightmare, having the guts to admit to some of his many errors.
Incredibly, it is only now - this very day - that airport border controls are going to be beefed up to get incoming travellers from South America, Portugal and South Africa into quarantine hotels. Who is going to police them? Who is going to arrange food supplies? In past months our borders have been pretty porous with people coming and going as if there was no deadly pandemic. As I say - quite incredible and the latest initiative just seems like an attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.
A hundred thousand. So many people. Enough to fill the old Wembley Stadium in London. For them the match is over. No more flag waving. No more brass bands marching on the pitch. They have gone. Their families could not even bury them with the funeral goodbyes and the dignity their lives merited. So tragic.
As if in the aftermath of a war, let us pause to think of the hundred thousand... "At the going down of the sun and in the morning - we will remember them".
26 January 2021
The idea was to put the story into book form with illustrations. What a lovely gift this would be but who could create the necessary pictures? The blogger, Ms Meike Riley who is the custodian of "From My Mental Library" had a sudden brainwave. Yes! She would ask Grandpa Pudding over in Yorkshire, England. He could draw the pictures.
Meike offered me money to do the job but I declined and said that my preferred payment would be a copy of the book. When you are a retired teacher in a pandemic you have oodles of spare time and so I set to work, following Meike's fairly precise instructions.
To tell you the truth, I enjoyed this task and it was most delightful to receive my silver bound finished copy of "How The Cat Lost Its Thumbs" . I also received an e-mailed "thank you" message from Meike's sister who prefers to remain anonymous. It felt nice to be part of a cunning plot - just like another Yorkshireman who went by the name of Guy Fawkes.
If I am still alive when our Phoebe is two or three years old I shall put her on my knee and read the story to her. And she will look at the illustrations, pointing out the cat who lost its thumbs and maybe she will say "Again! Again!"
25 January 2021
This sunny Monday morning saw your intrepid reporter tootling north west of the city back to Damflask Reservoir. I was intent on walking round it. According to signage, the circuit is 3.5 miles in length but somehow I doubt that. I managed the whole thing at ambling pace in an hour and ten minutes.
"Oh you're back then!" said Clint as he saw me approaching along the side of Loxley Road. "Come on! Get that ignition key in - I'm bloody freezing."
"Yes master!" I replied somewhat ironically.
Now that Baby Phoebe is with us, Shirley and I along with Stewart and Frances have formed what COVID regulations call a "support bubble". We can officially be in each other's houses and of course grandparent involvement invariably eases pressure on any new parents.
Mind you, Frances and Stewart seem to be taking to their parenting role like ducks to water. The newly discovered love they feel for Phoebe is palpable. You can see it in their eyes. What they are experiencing is joy, not hassle or unwelcome inconvenience. After all, they wanted her and now she is here - to enhance their lives, not to diminish them.
Yesterday I prepared another Michelin star quality Sunday dinner. I had purchased a nice joint of beef topside which we had with savoy cabbage, roasted squash, green beans, roasted potatoes, horseradish sauce, homemade beef gravy and last but not least - the food of the gods - golden Yorkshire puddings. For dessert, Shirley had baked a light chocolate sponge which we ate with vanilla custard. That was also a tastebud hit.
Over dinner, Frances and Stewart ribbed me about my lockdown hairstyle - another brown mop of unruly hair with a fringe like an Old English sheepdog. I was unable to get an appointment with my favoured barber before the latest lockdown pulled down the shutters upon all of our nation's hairdressers. It looks like Shirley will have to get out the kitchen scissors again.
After dinner, Little Phoebe listened as I sang "Lavender's Blue" to her. I have learnt the song by heart now and of course she was mesmerised - even more than she would have been if Elvis Presley had been cradling her. She is the most beautiful granddaughter any man has ever had and she is developing nicely on mother's milk and around eighteen hours sleep a day. How wonderful it will be to watch her grow.
23 January 2021
"Are ye goin' up top?"
The words came from an elderly woman I encountered by the side of the A616 at Jackson Bridge. And yes - I was indeed "going up top" having parked Clint by Holy Trinity Church in Hepworth.
The two adjacent stone villages sit in the valley of a tributary of the River Holme. It was surging north to Holmfirth - famously connected with a long running British comedy series, "The Last of the Summer Wine". To the east of Hepworth, the land rises to a plateau. It's like you are climbing to a different climate - colder, windswept but sunlit. Hence - "Goin' up top".
21 January 2021
20 January 2021
19 January 2021
Over at the "LIDL" store on Chesterfield Road there's a sweet little shopworker called Anna from Romania. Last night, when I was at the checkout ready to pay for my shopping, Anna asked if I had "LIDL Plus" on my phone? I said that I didn't have a phone so I was excluded from using "LIDL Plus". "It is a kind of discrimination," I told her.
"Still, it must be very peaceful - not having a phone," she said.
"Yes it is. I can recommend it. Many people seem addicted to their phones. Checking them out all the time. I don't have that in my life."
Now let me rewind and explain that "LIDL Plus" is a kind of store discount card. It was introduced quite recently. However, there are no actual plastic cards - membership benefits can only be accessed via smartphones. Folk like me who do not possess smartphones are excluded from using the system.
When "LIDL Plus" first came out I had several e-mail communications with the chain's customer services - complaining about this careless discrimination but to no avail. After a while I gave up complaining but it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I have been a pretty loyal "LIDL" customer for years but my loyalty is disregarded.
It's one of the downsides of not having a mobile phone. In fact, I cannot think of many other negatives.
It's a bit weird living in a world where so many of my fellow citizens are glued to their phones. They just cannot stop looking at them.
One of the things that appals me about smartphones is the sight of young parents checking them out while pushing babies or small children along in their prams or pushchairs. It's as if they are saying - I am proud of you kid and I love you but you are not as interesting as what is on my little screen! Oh you said "birdie" for the first time as that pigeon flew by but Sandy just left me a message on Facebook so please keep schtum child!
And please don't talk to me about drivers using phones behind the wheel. That makes my blood boil with rage.
Apple, Samsung, Facebook and the rest have cunningly designed their systems to keep phone users hooked. In this sense they are bit like dealers who encourage drug addiction.
Modern humans have existed on this planet for about 200,000 years and for 199,950 of those years no one had access to mobile phone technology. People got along fine. Consequently, it makes me chuckle inwardly when anybody expresses anxiety or concern about me walking in the countryside without a phone. They are like religious converts who pray to the great god Smartphone and cannot understand why there are still a handful of non-believers out here in the wilderness.
Of course, I can see why phones are pretty much essential in various forms of work these days but in my life I have neve arrived at a point where I felt I needed one. I hope that that day never arrives but if it does then okay, I shall also join The Smartphone Cult and feel the benefits of "LIDL Plus".
18 January 2021
Last week two milestones were reached on the very same day. The official worldwide number of COVID-19 deaths hit two million and the number of visitors to "Yorkshire Pudding" since June 2005 reached the same figure. That's a lot of "hits".
It's as if the entire population of Perth (Western Australia) or Minsk (Belarus) have either died from the virus or they have visited my blog. I would like to think that the latter might have been a better choice though some contrarians might disagree with that. Ah well, I know that I tried my best.
It is likely that COVID has in fact claimed the lives of far more than two million people. Calculation in western countries is pretty comprehensive but what about more challenging, less developed countries like Malawi, Bolivia, India or Egypt? In such countries accurate tallying is far more problematic. Maybe we will never know the true death figure.
Thanks to Yorkshire Pudding visitors past and present for tarrying here from time to time. Much appreciated. Onward to three million.
17 January 2021
Lavender's blue, dilly dilly,
When I am king, dilly dilly,
You shall be queen
Who told you so, dilly dilly,
Who told you so?
'Twas my own heart, dilly dilly,
That told me so
Call up your friends, dilly, dilly
Set them to work
Some to the plough, dilly dilly,
Some to the fork
Some to the hay, dilly dilly,
Some to thresh corn
Whilst you and I, dilly dilly,
Keep ourselves warm
16 January 2021
15 January 2021
Phoebe arrived an hour ago. She weighed in at 7lb 12oz. I could hear her exercising her lungs in the background and Frances said, "She's perfect!". I will go out soon to buy two newspapers so that one day Phoebe will read about what was going on in the world and in the city of her birth the day that she was born - January 15th 2021. Let us hope that the life she paints will be long and lovely in spite of the ups and downs that are part and parcel of being human.
14 January 2021
This morning I leapt out of bed and threw back the curtains. Now that wasn't supposed to happen - Snow! And it was still falling.
After breakfast I ventured out to feed the garden birds though it wasn't long before the seeds and suet were hidden by falling snow. Our sheep - Beau and Peep - were wearing snowy blankets and our fox - Fake Fred was almost suffocating in the white stuff.
At half past ten there was a knocking on our front door. It was lovely Sophie - a thirteen year old girl who lives across the road from us. She had been sent home from school because of the snow and could not get in her house. Naturally, SuperPudding was here to save the day! Their front door lock is ridiculously stiff and it's awkward for the key to turn but with my super powers I had no difficulty.
After a BLT sandwich and a mug of coffee I decided to head out to take some photographs. Stubbornly, Moody Clint refused to take me anywhere.
"No freakin' way man!" he said. "Look at that snow! I would be skiddin' and slidin' around like a freakin' ice dancer!"
I protested, "But I own you! You do what I want. Not what you want!"
My pointless protest received a mouthful of South Korean obscenities.
Alternatively, I found myself trudging up to Ecclesall churchyard. It's somewhere I have taken pictures before in snowy weather. I gathered plenty of images but these were I believe the best:-
13 January 2021
At the back end of last year BrewDog teamed up with Bosh! to produce a new alcohol-free vegan beer. I don't like commercial advertising in this blog but on this occasion I will make an exception...
12 January 2021
I was over there today for a short walk in afternoon sunlight before our golden orb dipped below the hills. On another occasion I shall circle the entire reservoir - some 3.5 miles but today was not the time for that.
Just before I turned about, ready to head back to Clever Clint The South Korean Silver Machine, I was joined by a robin. He hung around like an old friend as I wilfully bemused him by imitating various bird calls. Slowly, I slid my camera out and managed to get several photographs of my new feathered friend. A recent poll by the RSPB (Royal Society for The Protection of Birds) revealed that the European robin is in fact Britain's favourite bird.
Here's the American robin:-
And once again, here's the little European robin that welcomed me to Damflask Reservoir:-
11 January 2021
She said that if I could zoom down to her health centre in the next ten minutes I would be allowed to receive my first anti-COVID vaccination. They had some unused vaccine left. I dithered for a moment and then declined. After all, I am enrolled at a different surgery and there was no guarantee that I would get the second inoculation in a few weeks' time. However, mostly I was thinking about my beef stew.
This may have been the most foolish and possibly most tragic decision of my life. I could have had the jab but I turned my back on it. What if I now contract the virus? What if I die? It could happen and I could have saved myself by grasping the vaccination offer with both hands.
On Saturday there was the possibility of a second chance but on that day the unused vaccine went to medical practitioners who were called in from their Sheffield homes - and quite right too. There was no vaccine left over for the spouses of health centre staff.
It is still very possible that by the end of this week I will have been vaccinated - nonetheless I reflect upon that old saying - "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". I wish I had remembered it when I was rolling dumplings in my floury palms on Friday afternoon.
What a bloody fool!
10 January 2021
Ramsley Moor is just west of the bent tree. Some moors are typically rugged upland places of heather and gorse where you may find hardy sheep grazing amidst the rocks. Other moors are flat, characterised by boggy ground and tussocks of rough grasses. Such is Ramsley Moor.
Yesterday was bitterly cold but bright and clear. I left Clint in a lay-by adjacent to the the A621 road to Baslow.
"Brrr! It's flippin' cold up here boss man! Can't you keep my engine running?" said Clint.
"Can't do that mate. I would have to leave the key in so somebody might steal you."
"How bloody compassionate! Don't mind me freezing my exhaust pipe off - just go and enjoy your ramble!"
I set off into the winter's afternoon and soon found myself at the ruins of Ramsley Lodge. Not the most picturesque of moorland ruins and later on Google could not lead me to its history. Then I was plunging through straggly trees. The path led me to what is left of Ramsley Reservoir. It served the town of Chesterfield for over a hundred years but it was decommissioned twenty years ago.
After circling the reservoir site with its remaining pools, I thought I would head past the approaching woods, reach the open moorland and then head back to Ramsley Lodge across the expanse of tussocks.
All was going well but in a fifty yard wide dip in the slight undulations of the landscape I discovered an area of boggy ground that soon revealed it was a quagmire with black pools of mud hidden beneath an icy crust that was itself camouflaged by the tussocks.
I tried to cross this unwelcoming zone in three or four places - at one point sinking to the very top of my boots. I was floundering and flailing around. If a drone with a camera had flown over me at that instant it would have gathered comedy footage of a solitary human being in a Hull City manager's coat, being beaten by boggy ground as the sun lowered itself rapidly in the west.
It was sensible to backtrack - get out of the bog and retrace my steps. Back to the trees just north of the disused reservoir. There I discovered another treacherous path with swampy ground and mossy pools amidst malnourished saplings and rotten trunks. It was like being a character in a computer game. To win the golden rings you had to traverse the danger zone. I was Sonic the Hedgehog moving at the pace of a hedgehog.
And then before you knew it I was up through the trees and back at the ruined lodge, marching along the exposed path back to Clint whose teeth were still chattering.
"G-g-get the en-en-engine run-running quick!" he pleaded.
On the way home, I stopped to take this picture from Owler Bar Road towards White Edge Lodge which is on the left...
9 January 2021
Karl has moved. For twelve years he stood upon the black marble plinth of the fireplace in our dining room but now he's in an alcove in the front room - standing upon a cabinet that an old friend called Colin Tohill made for us twenty five years ago.
Above Karl there's Fred Fox in his frame. I painted that picture myself after several trial attempts. I am rather happy with it and each day he reminds me that I should get painting again. I have a particular project in mind and have even purchased the required canvas. It's way past time to get cracking but procrastination has its delicious attractions.
We visited Goa on the west coast of India in 2008 and that is where we spotted Karl in the midst of a veritable army of carved elephants. Here's what I wrote about him in September of that year:-
8 January 2021
Last September I came across a lonely spruce tree on moorland between Sheffield and the Derbyshire village of Baslow. See here. It had been dramatically bent over by prevailing winds and I vowed to return to it from time to time to take fresh pictures.
At present, I am staying quite close to home whenever Shirley is at work. This is simply because our heavily pregnant daughter is due to give birth any day now. Yesterday, I phoned her before venturing out into the winter's day for little more than an hour. No immediate signs of impending birth so I had Frances's permission.
Here in the city, it was a beautiful blue sky January day but by the time I got to the spruce tree, clouds were swirling and a snow storm appeared to be approaching from the west. It was bitterly cold up there and I thought that I had missed an opportunity to capture the crippled tree in glorious technicolour. Fortunately, there was a five minute spell when sunshine burst through a gap in the clouds.
I have fallen head over heels in love with that tree. I ran my fingers along its bark and felt its spiny leaves. It appears to be bent at almost ninety degrees but of course things are not always as they seem. It is clear that in some hurricane or wintry blast - perhaps years ago - this tree lost its top section. A cruel beheading courtesy of Mother Nature.
Back home, I immediately phoned Frances again. Still no birth pangs. That babe is staying put for a while and I don't blame him or her one bit. It's a wild world out here as Cat Stevens warbled plaintively long ago. Snug inside a warm, watery sac dreaming dreams of the unborn may seem a better alternative.
7 January 2021
I need to blog about this for the record so that in future times I may look back upon this historical moment.
Yesterday, in Washington D.C., a mob descended upon The Capitol Building. They breached security and got inside what is in effect the beating heart of American democracy. You must have seen it on your television screen. It was as terrible as it was terrifying.
They were fired up by a rabble-rouser, someone who evidently does not care a fig for normal democratic processes. He incited the mob. In fact, he had been inciting that mob for weeks with fantastical tales of a stolen election.
When given an opportunity to subdue the mob and to get them out of The Capitol straight away, this rabble-rouser could not stop himself from repeating his lies about a stolen election. To him, the rioters were "very special" people.
After their assault on The Capitol, I had the impression that they simply walked away. It seems incredible that there were no mass arrests. Those people deserve to be apprehended, charged, brought to court and then sent to prison. What is more, their leader deserves identical treatment. Here in Britain, inciting a riot is a serious criminal offence and I understand that this is equally true in America.
Another point I would wish to make strongly is that this mass gathering of embittered bad losers in Washington happened in the teeth of a deadly pandemic when crowds are obviously discouraged because of possible COVID infection. On the day that the attack on democracy happened, 4068 more Americans died from the virus and a further 259,807 citizens became "new cases" in the country's awesome infection figures.
How wonderful it would be if Joe Biden could begin his presidency without any backwash from the last four years. With his chosen team, he has so much to do and the last thing he needs is a deranged egomaniac still shouting his head off from the sidelines, still dividing the people, still stabbing his bloody knife into the guts of American democracy.
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