30 June 2021


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


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


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


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


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.

25 June 2021


Last night my memory was jogged and I was transported back to South Africa - October 2003.

Shirley and I had met up with friends Linda and Ian in "The Greystones" for an evening of beer and conversation. We were in an alcove room left of the main bar. I noticed that there were two women at a table  in the bay window. They had a dog with them.

After an hour I put my mask on to visit the lavatory and when I returned the dog started barking like The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was then that I recognised the dog's owner though I could not remember her name. Like me. she was in a party of Sheffield teachers who visited South Africa  almost eighteen years ago.

She apologised about the dog's barking and we exchanged a few pleasantries before she and her friend left the pub. She said that she recognised me and then it clicked - South Africa 2003.

There must have been a development grant from somewhere. We were in South Africa on some sort of fact finding mission though to this day I have no idea how it was meant to impact upon our work back in Sheffield secondary schools.

I related a story to Shirley, Linda and Ian about the woman with the dog. It happened at Ogwini School in the middle of the vast Umlazi township on the edge of Durban. That impoverished estate is to Durban what Soweto is to Johannesburg. Sprawling, dirt poor and often desperate.

She was an I.T. and media teacher.  One day she thought it would be a really cool idea to lend a costly video camera to two boys - telling them to walk around the school grounds and gather some footage.

Imagine that  - teenage South African boys from tin shack homes entrusted with a camera that was worth an absolute  fortune relative to Umlazi's median household income. The temptation was too much. 

They left the school grounds and took the camera home before returning, claiming that it had been stolen from them. 

The wily headmaster was mortified but immediately saw through the boys' ruse. He quizzed them and discovered the truth then he took the main perpetrator home and spoke to his grandmother. The shock and the shame combined to give the old woman a heart attack whereupon she collapsed and died.

The headmaster retrieved the precious camera but there was nothing he could do to restore the grandmother's life. To this day, I am not sure that the woman with the barking dog even knows the full repercussions of what she did that day. Putting such temptation in the hands of the two boys was a very stupid thing to do and the unseen outcome was not only fatal but tragic as well.

I expect that the grandmother was buried or cremated. In contrast, the woman with the barking dog went on to become an I.T. adviser  for the local education authority. Such a cushy number.

24 June 2021


On Tuesday, I was listening to an item on BBC Radio 4 about meetings - specifically the business of chairing meetings. It made me think about my own experience of chairing meetings.

I suppose it began when I was seventeen and a sixth former at Beverley Grammar School in The East Riding of Yorkshire. Our debating society met every month in partnership with the sixth form of Beverley Girls' High School. Having been a noteworthy contributor at the debating society the previous school year, I was nominated to take the chair in the 1971-72 school year and accepted.

As far as I can recall, we debated topics like abortion, the existence of God, improving Beverley, trade unionism and legalising marijuana. The "motions"  always began with "This house believes...."  and there were proposers and seconders. It was all done quite formally before a vote was taken. And there I was at the centre of it all, bringing discipline to the proceedings in an uncharacteristically neutral manner.

Move on a few years to my university days. The University of Stirling was very politicised and  there were regular well-attended meetings of the students union in the biggest lecture theatre. Two hundred attendees was not unusual - often more than that depending upon current issues. 

I joined the "General Meetings Committee" which had the responsibility of organising and publicising these meetings. It was never my intention to become the chair of proceedings but that it was happened more or less by default. I found myself at the heart of angry debates about boycotting South Africa and rent rises on the university campus. There I was at the front with my notes and a microphone, following the rules, following the debates and imposing order. I was very conscious of the need to give speaking opportunities to a wide range of voices - not just the familiar politicos who often sounded like empty vessels. At first it was all extremely nerve-wracking but I got used to the role and grew in confidence.

Once I had to say to the country's future Home Secretary John Reid, "I am sorry Mr Reid but your time is up. You were warned and now could you please leave the platform!" This was followed by thunderous applause from the assembled students. Mr Reid grabbed his notes and moved sheepishly out of the spotlight that he enjoyed so much.

When I became a Head of English in Sheffield, I had to chair weekly department meetings which I enjoyed and which were straightforward  collegiate events until around 2005 when the school's new headteacher started sending members of her inner circle to all department meetings to spy on our discussions. All in the name of "school improvement". Of course none of these unwelcome visitors were English specialists.

Some time around 1995/96 I was nominated to chair whole school staff meetings. I did this for three or four years. It meant putting out agendas, chairing the meetings and publicising minutes. 

These meetings were held in a spacious classroom. At one point I decided to start arranging the seats into a massive circle  before each meeting in order to facilitate debate. No longer was it school managers effectively lecturing a fidgety, disengaged audience . I would address quiet teachers directly, "What do you think about that Bob?" or "I see you are shaking your head about that Mary. Can you please tell us why?"

I listened and showed respect for my colleagues. I sought to engage them  and to a large extent it worked. I always made sure that the meetings did not overrun as they had often done before for I knew that many staff had family duties to fulfil at the end of the school day. It would not be fair to overrun. All of this was greatly appreciated by what I used to call "shop floor"  teachers. They felt their voices were at last being heard.

So that's it.  Upon reflection, I believe I can rightly declare that chairing meetings was something that I had a talent for. It came naturally to me and that Radio 4 item brought it all flooding back. Order! Order!

23 June 2021


Field barn at Frith Bottom with Hen Cloud beyond

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. Clint was  humming old songs by Cat Stevens as we tootled along country roads all the way to Staffordshire. He delivered me to the village of Meerbrook north of Leek. It was somewhere I had never been before.

Clint decided to park next to St Matthew's Church and asked me to collapse his wing mirror. As I put my boots on, I fell into  conversation with a sturdy road maintenance man clad in orange with a white helmet and yellow ear protectors. He and his colleague were clearing out ditches to address potential flooding problems. A nice man, he has just completed forty five years of work for Staffordshire County Council and will retire this summer. Sadly, he now suffers from worsening arthritis. 

Pub sign in Meerbrook

I waved goodbye to Clint and set off on a long circumnavigation of Tittesworth Reservoir. Most of the time I could not even see the reservoir but it didn't matter because I enjoyed a lovely walk in unfamiliar territory. I saw many things and thought many thoughts and I was glad that I don't suffer from arthritis. Not yet anyway.

After three hours and forty minutes I was once more rooting in Clint's boot (American: trunk) for my driving shoes. Clint was in a happy mood and as we headed back over the hills of summer to lovely Longnor and then on to beautiful Bakewell we dueted harmoniously:-

Remember the days of the old schoolyard
We used to laugh a lot, oh don't you?
Remember the days of the old schoolyard
When we had imaginings and we had
All kinds of things and we laughed
And needed love, yes, I do
Oh and I remember you...

The old school in Meerbrook

22 June 2021


Who needs an electric burglar alarm when you can instead employ a garden gnome? 

Our home has been protected for several years by an eight inch gnome called Lars. He arrived from Liechtenstein one September morning in 2009. There was a tiny tapping on our front door and I opened it to find no one there until I looked down and there was Lars with his spade. He was looking for work.

Nowadays, he stands close to the front door which is where he has been  for eleven and a half years night and day. He has successfully deterred all intruders. Lars doesn't ask for much - an occasional "Malteser" on top of his regular gnome food* and a couple of thimbles of Tetley's bitter on a Saturday night.

Last week, I noticed that Lars's colours had more or less faded away. He was bleached by the sun and looked like a very small snowman so I decided to get out my oil paints to spruce him up. He was perfectly patient as I applied the paint.

After forty minutes he was as good as new and ready to return to duty. In contrast, this morning a neighbour's electric house alarm was wailing away for almost an hour. If this had been an American city I would have gone to my gun cabinet to grab a rifle in order to blast that bloody alarm to smithereens. As I say, a garden gnome does a much better security job without annoying the neighbours.

In the back garden we have other gnomes who may also be crying out for paint jobs. Trouble is, I can't hear them.


*i.e. pickled cucumbers,  pearl barley,  chipolata sausages &  canned peaches.

21 June 2021


America may have its Grand Canyon, its Statue of Liberty, its Golden Gate Bridge and  its  Grauman's Chinese Theatre but what it hasn't got is "Maltesers"! "Whoppers" are a pale imitation of "Maltesers". As the previous president might have said, "Whoppers are fake! Fake Maltesers!" He would have been right.

Yesterday, I received a box of "Maltesers" for Father's Day along with six bottles of beer - mostly Yorkshire brews, three cards and a new mug from our little granddaughter. She must have been saving up her pocket money.

Ian and Frances did not appear in person on Father's Day, opting instead for  a long weekend up in Kelso in the Scottish Borders. Stew and Frances drove up there on Friday afternoon with Phoebe sitting in her car seat like a princess. Apparently, she was as good as gold on the four hour journey north.

Ian and Sarah travelled up to Berwick-upon-Tweed by train on Friday morning  and then took a taxi with two other friends to Kelso. It's a journey of just over twenty miles.

This pandemic has kept most of us at home much more than normal. Getting away has been so difficult so for Ian and Frances the three nights in Kelso must have been such a comfort and a reminder of what many of us once took for granted -  breaks away from home.

One day we might get away too but I don't know where or when. We certainly wouldn't want to travel anywhere on an aeroplane any time soon. Masks, closeness to other travellers and all that COVID testing rigmarole you have to do.  No way - not yet.

20 June 2021


Bonaparte, Iowa - Riverfront area

For one reason or another, I found myself in south eastern Iowa yesterday. Specifically, I was in Van Buren County close to the state's border with Missouri. I hasten to add that I was not there physically, only virtually courtesy of  Mama Internet.

I landed in a small town by the Des Moines River. It's called Bonaparte and has a population of some 430 people. It got its odd name because one of the first white settlers - an entrepreneur called William Meek was a fan of the famous French emperor.

Meek developed a successful flour mill and later the little riverside settlement became a pottery centre too. A one lane bridge was built across the river in 1882. William Meeks had dreamt of another town being developed on the southern bank. It would be called Napoleon but that dream never came true.

Today Bonaparte seems like a sleepy place. I checked it out courtesy of Google Streetview which is the cheapest way to travel. Unfortunately, not all of Bonaparte's streets are covered with the usual imagery.  Perhaps Google could not be bothered with the town, instructing the driver of the Streetview camera  vehicle to keep going.

Houses in Bonaparte

I also checked out a happy video news item about Bonaparte resident Marie Hainline who at the age of ninety five was still working as a waitress in a family restaurant called Bonaparte Retreat located in the former flour mill which was developed by Williiam Meeks's son Robert.

I kept digging away, finding out more and more about Bonaparte - even wondering if one day I might visit this obscure settlement  - perhaps the true heart of America - the one that Paul Simon was "looking for".  After all, you will not find it in New York City or L.A.. Maybe Marie would serve me a cheeseburger with fries.
A fire in Bonaparte

And then I stumbled upon Shawn Bentler who in October 2006 shot dead his mother, his father and his three teenage sisters in their lovely home with its river view on the eastern side of Bonaparte. He needed money - possibly to support his drug habit or maybe to pay his household bills down in Quincy, Illinois where he was living and working.  What a wicked thing to do - perhaps in his crazed mind he thought he would get away with it and inherit his mother and father's estate. At his 2007 trial he received five life sentences.
The Bentler house - scene of the 2006 killings

It is sad that sleepy Bonaparte is now associated with the Bentler murders and reading about that dark moment in the town's otherwise unremarkable history rather besmirched my virtual visit to Van Buren County. Needless to say, if a rifle with bullets had not been stored in the Bentler home that poor family would almost certainly still be alive.
The Bentler sisters - murdered by their brother

19 June 2021


It's fifty years since Joni Mitchell released her most marvellous album - "Blue". I bought it as soon as it came out and listened to it over and over again. It was astonishing because of  its lyrical beauty and its emotional openness. Everything poured out of her. There were no reins to hold it back.

It was more than poetry. The melodies and the simple musical backing lifted it higher. In later years, I discovered that the songs reference Joni's love affairs with Graham Nash and James Taylor and the loss of her daughter Kelly who was fostered soon after her birth when Joni was an impoverished art student.

In 1971, none of that mattered to me because I found the songs awesome in their own right. I didn't  need to know exactly what had sparked them. She sang,:-

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh, Canada
With your face sketched on it twice

The album  was revelatory and true and it was speaking to me directly as I approached my eighteenth birthday. I always loved lyrics - from Donovan to Dylan and from Leonard Cohen to The Incredible String Band - but somehow "Blue" connected with me lyrically as no album had ever done before. Joni was so vulnerable and yet so strong to tell her tales of love like this.  Incredibly, she found the words to say it all.
These were and remain the songs on "Blue":
"All I Want", "My Old Man",  "Carey", "Little Green", "Blue", California", "This Flight Tonight", River", "A Case of You" and "The Last Time I Saw Richard". I would not even venture to say which song I loved the most. They were all so good.

Like all great Art,  the album "Blue" was all about what it means to be human. Fifty years later that statement remains as true as it was in the beginning. Thank you Joni. What more can I say?

18 June 2021


Several months ago, Shirley and I were randomly invited to participate in regular COVID-19 testing by The Office For National Statistics (O.N.S.) in partnership with Oxford University. The purpose of this on-going programme is to monitor the true progress of the pandemic with all of its ups and downs. I understand that nationwide 45,000 other people are involved in the study. Together we are like a giant litmus test.

Every three or four weeks we are visited in order to take lateral flow tests. There are also questions to answer and we have to give  blood samples too. A few days after each visit we receive our results from the O.N.S.. Occasionally, on the BBC News, there will be reference to O.N.S. testing and those changing figures are derived from the very  tests that I have described.

Being fine, upstanding citizens we were happy to join this study. We know that our participation helps to keep tabs on the coronavirus and will ultimately help to bring  down this  marauding coronavirus beast.

For every study visit, we receive a payment of £25 (US $35)  and so far we have received £500 (US $700). For tax reasons, the payment does not arrive as cash. Instead you have to opt for vouchers from a range of businesses including Britain's top supermarkets. Then you have to print them off from the internet.

A couple of weeks ago I visited Sainsburys supermarket and spent £100 on groceries but with two vouchers in hand, everything I bought was effectively half price. I also bought new printer cartridges with  vouchers we had received from The Office for National Statistics.

It is very easy money and we are not complaining. However, it would probably have been better if poor families were receiving the vouchers instead of us. Lord knows how much the O.N.S. study will have cost by the time of the final reckoning.

17 June 2021


Hymers College school badge

Arguably, the notion that life is a straight journey from A to B is illusory. As we live, our thoughts wander this way and that. We spend a vast amount of thinking time processing past events and reflecting upon  our journeys. In the nineteen sixties, a documentary film was made about Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England  It was called, "Don't Look Back" but in reality we all "look back". It happens every day.

The preamble above simply foreshadows the main content of this blogpost - a memory. I picked it from the shelves of my personal library of memories that is of course embedded in my temporal lobe.

It is one morning in September 1965 and I am riding on a double decker bus from my East Yorkshire village to the great metropolis of  Kingston-upon-Hull. I am excited and not a little nervous because this is going to be the first day of my secondary education.

Back in April of that year, I had passed the critical "eleven plus" examination with flying colours. My score had been so high that I had won a free scholarship to Hull's most prestigious secondary school - Hymers College. Most boys' families paid handsomely for their elitist education at Hymers but each year a few boys, like me, received the same service free of charge.

I was wearing a grey suit with shorts rather than long trousers. There was a red and black cap on my head and knee stockings on my feet. I had a brand new leather satchel containing such things as a pencil case and a dictionary, leaving plenty of space for the text and exercise books that would soon fill it.

It was thirteen miles into the city and when I left the bus at Paragon Station, I had to sprint for a corporation bus that would take me the extra mile down Spring Bank to Hymers. I felt very much alone and did not know one other boy in the school.

I was placed in a form group called Lower 3A. Our form teacher was Mr Gale, nicknamed Windy Gale for obvious reasons. He sucked menthol sweets and wore a black academic gown. He taught Latin.

That morning my mind was in a whirl as we followed the timetable. Most of the other boys knew each other well for they had attended the school's junior section together from the age of five. I kind of linked up with a pale lad called Andrew Wallis or simply "Wallis" as he was always known in classrooms. He was also a scholarship boy and he lived close to  Craven Park which was the former home ground of Hull Kingston Rovers rugby league club.

After lunch, Wallis and I were queuing up with the others outside our form room waiting for Windy to arrive. The fee-paying boys tended not to speak like proper Yorkshire lads. That was one discovery I had made that morning. Previously, I had imagined that I spoke English properly having never before been exposed to received pronunciation or Queen's English accents in real life. To my posh classmates, I probably sounded like a farm yokel.

Ahead of me in  the queue, a tall blonde lad was imitating my accent as his willing audience laughed uproariously. He turned to me with mockery in his eyes, still putting on a broad East Yorkshire accent. I was silent but boiling up inside with a rage I  did not recognise. Then he started to push my shoulder with  his audience still guffawing.

It was at that moment that I exploded. I punched him as hard as I could in the face and he staggered back somehow falling over in the process. And then I was upon him, my fists flailing. He had been the toughest nut in the junior school but he was at my mercy. 

Then someone said, "Mr Gale's coming!" so we jumped up, our uniforms dishevelled and the tall boy now blubbering with tears. As he took the register, Windy never twigged that there had just been a fight. After it, none of my classmates ever mimicked my accent again . I think they were slightly in awe of me. Later,  the big blonde lad and I became the best of friends. He was called Foster though he did have a first name too. It was Andrew - just like my very first secondary school chum - Wallis.

Lots of things get forgotten and never reach the library of memories but after fifty six years I remember the events I have just related very vividly indeed. For various reasons, it was a seminal moment in my life, a turning point and somehow the end of innocence. Nothing was ever quite the same after that.

16 June 2021


Cottage in East Markham

Tuxford is a small market town in Nottinghamshire. It is between two larger towns  - Worksop and Newark. Tuxford still sits astride "The Great North Road" but nowadays the settlement is bisected by the A1 motorway. 

In days gone by, The Great North Road provided the main travel link between London and the north of England. In the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries if you wished to go north or south you travelled by stagecoach. Along the way there were several places like Tuxford that provided accommodation, refreshment and more importantly fresh teams of horses and stabling. All of this was of course before railways arrived on the scene.

Ornate signpost in Tuxford

If you look carefully you can still see signs of that old stagecoaching legacy - in the wide main street and in the buildings that hug it. You may choose to close your eyes and listen to the distant thunder of horses' hooves and the cracking of whips. On a good run, it took over three days to travel from London to York.

On yet another hot June day, I parked near Tuxford Primary School where some council workmen were adding flowers to the front borders. With boots on I set off to visit the town's  Grade  I listed church. The door to St Nicholas's was open so I ventured inside. During this bloody pandemic nearly every church has been locked so it was a surprise to find this one open.

Countryside north of Marnham Road

Mr Knowall, the church warden, was inside and he engaged me in a conversation. He asked me where I was heading and I said I was going north to East Markham. "You'll have trouble doing that because it's east of here!" he chortled so I got out my map to wipe the smile from his face. He also boasted about the town's senior "academy" saying it catered for over six thousand pupils when in fact it serves just over one thousand five hundred. There were other blatant gaffes and I was glad to say goodbye to Mr Knowall.

I walked steadily across the undulating Notts landscape for four hours, pausing only once to sit for ten minutes upon a stile near Gibraltar Farm to drink water and consume my meagre lunch of a packet of plain crisps and a couple of small apples.  You may or may not  be pleased to learn that I had no encounters with beds of nettles nor inquisitive cattle.  It felt good to be alive and out there again - simply walking, one foot in front of the other...

Two Grade I listed churches - within a mile of each other

St John the Baptist Church, East Markham

St Nicholas's Church, Tuxford

13 June 2021


Like most people of my generation, I was raised on meat. It was there at nearly every meal and when it wasn't there, there was fish instead. We had bacon, liver, sausages, mince, lamb, chicken, beef, roasted pork and on Christmas Day we had a big fat turkey with all the trimmings.

As a child I never even heard of vegetarianism. It wasn't a possibility and as for veganism, well I might have thought it was some obscure eastern religion. 

Once upon a raft in the middle of an Austrian lake, I pulled in a sea line with several hooks upon it. I must have been ten or eleven years old. On every hook there was a beautiful fish, writhing in the air, their silvery scales catching the sunlight of that August morning.

I called to my brother Paul who was on the shore, "I've caught some fish! What do I do?"

"Bash 'em with the paddle! Kill 'em!" he called back.

"What? I can't do that!" I said and paddled back to the shore with the writhing fish gradually dying in the air. Back on land Paul dispatched them without hesitation. They were duly gutted and my family later ate them but I could not eat a morsel. I was thinking of the fishes' bright eyes, the metallic appearance of their scales and the desperate gulping movement of their mouths.

Killing other creatures does not sit well with me. I do not like setting traps for rodents  and I even have qualms about ending the lives of garden slugs and mosquitoes. Quite literally, I would not hurt a fly.

And yet I eat meat. It's quite a contradiction isn't it? Probably hypocritical. I guess that if I had to kill a pig  and butcher it then I would not bother with pork products or if I had to kill a young sheep to get some lamb chops, I would surely turn around. 

In supermarkets, meat is presented in such a way that you kind of forget about the slaughter of animals or their death throes. It is weighed then wrapped in plastic on polystyrene trays, not far from the yoghurts, the fresh pasta and the garlic bread. There are no protesters in the aisles waving placards or chanting, "Meat is Murder!"

Our son Ian is of course fully vegan - he practises what he preaches. Our daughter and son-in-law have vowed never to eat fish again after watching the "Seaspiracy" documentary and they only eat meat at the weekend. They are currently agonising over whether to put meat in Baby Phoebe's diet when she is older.

Shirley is more enthusiastic about following their lead than I am. My meat habit is well ingrained but at least we have been consciously reducing our meat intake and plenty of midweek meals do not involve cooking the flesh of dead animals.

The way that the meat industry works has a massive impact upon global warming and this is especially true in relation to cattle farming. I am sure that you already knew that. At a personal level I guess that we should all be doing  a bit more to address climate change and reducing our meat intake is one of the ways we can all help, even if we are not ready to be fully vegetarian or vegan.

What do you think about meat consumption?

12 June 2021


Baby weighing scales

Last evening we went over to Frances and Stew's house to weigh Phoebe. Shirley had borrowed the baby weighing scales from the health centre where she works. 

Phoebe was stripped naked and placed on the scales like a plucked turkey. She didn't seem to mind a bit as grandpa continued to sing to her like a lunatic. Her skin was flawless. Towards the end of the weighing process, she made a little waterfall, showing no embarrassment whatsoever about this. I would have been mortified myself.

She is a big, healthy baby that is for sure. She weighed in at nineteen pounds exactly. Not quite five months old, her current weight places her in the ninety eighth percentile of all babies. Her only source of nutrition so far has been her mother's milk. It is really quite miraculous.

Further north in Yorkshire we have two nephews - Edward and Philip. They are Shirley's sister's sons. Their "partners" have both had babies in the last six weeks. Edward is now the father of a little girl called Winnie and Philip is the dad of another baby girl called Reeve. She was only born on Monday of this week. Everybody's doing well.

It's all girl babies round here. What are they putting in the water?  One of Frances's best friends bore a girl very recently and her very best friend Charlotte is due to burst forth in the next two or three weeks. Surely that child will be a boy. If so, he will be called Casper. If the babe is a girl, she will be called Imelda.

In these modern times, new parents come up with many surprising name choices. Who would have ever thought that a British prince would call his children Archie and Lilibet?  These names do not seem at all regal and appear to deliberately cock a snook at tradition. Not so with Prince William and The Duchess of Cambridge's three children: George, Charlotte and Louis.

We are very happy that our bonny granddaughter is called Phoebe. It means "bright" or "shining". The name originated in Ancient Greece. We hope that she will always feel comfortable with her name. It's nice to have a first name that sits well with you and is never a source of unease or even resentment.

11 June 2021


When it comes to decluttering and reducing the volume of accumulated stuff we have gathered, I wish I could be more ruthless. On the hoarding spectrum, I guess I have a little bit of a problem because I find it pretty hard to throw things away.

In the last two days, we have had a new gas boiler fitted along with some new pipe work. Mostly this has happened in what I call "the underhouse" where I once imprisoned several parking enforcement officers. 

The underhouse is a place for tools, wood, cans of paint, garden tools, jars, old books and papers and rolls of carpet. It's a bit like the anti-Aladdin's Cave.  No treasure down there, just a mass of jumbly junk including things that our two grown up children dumped on us. I had to move it all aside so that the central heating fellows - Andy and Brett could do their work.

I came across an old folder containing the programme shown at the top. I brought it back from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 - over fifty years ago. How could I possibly throw that away?

Below you can see who played on the last night of the festival. What a line up! The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix and then greeting the dawn it was Leonard Cohen. Bloody brilliant!
Below,  inner pages from  the programme - recognising two of the festival's top acts.
The festival took place at East Afton Farm near Freshwater and I also have a copy of "The Evening Standard" from that weekend. There's Joan Baez on the front page:-

And inside the tabloid newspaper there was an aerial photo of the festival site. An estimated 600,000 people were in attendance. Many more than attended the famous Woodstock Festival of the previous year. Can you see me? I am quite near the stage - about seventy people to the right.

Okay. I guess I will keep saving this particular memorabilia but next time I descend to the underhouse I really must find stuff to throw out. As I said before,  I need  to be more ruthless. Like Attila the Hun. I bet he didn't surround himself with junk.

10 June 2021


Two blogposts for the price of one. True Yorkshiremen and women always want value for money. Thus we return to Tuesday's walking territory. Take two. Here are six more pictures with brief commentaries.

Above: Can you see the name of the cobbled path in Broadbottom? It's called Gibble Gabble - surely one of the most unusual names for a path or lane in all of England.

Below: The site of a Roman fort known as either Melandra Castle or Ardotalia. Its initial construction commenced in 78AD and the strategically important fort remained in  use for a further hundred years protecting the Pennine track that leads east to The Hope Valley.

Above: Nineteenth century dye vats near the River Etherow - associated with the booming cotton industry and the great cotton mill at Broadbottom  - later demolished. In its heyday it employed up to 1500 workers.

Below: On Hague Road near Pear Tree Farm. It was like emerging from a tunnel into the light as I pressed on to Melandra Castle near the social housing estate at Gamesley.

Above: A secret door by the cobbled lane that leads up to Mottram's parish church. The stone plaque above the door bears the date - 1769.

Below: Just after I crossed the  railway west of Broadbottom, I spotted this bench as I headed down to Hodgefold. Arresting me, it seemed simply beautiful, caught as it was  in that glorious June sunshine in the middle of  The North of England. Who would not want to sit there for a while, contemplating this curious life?

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