"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 October 2021
30 October 2021
29 October 2021
This morning, I was sitting at this very computer when a yellow DHL van pulled up outside. A man in a DHL uniform jumped out with a package for me. He photographed it on our doorstep to prove that it had been delivered. This procedure is becoming quite common and of course the deliverers never seek permission to take those snaps.
A package for me? I wondered what on earth it might be. Inside the yellow DHL plastic bag was a cardboard box. Spotting it - that's when the penny dropped. My calendars had arrived!
I am delighted with the quality of the finished product. It's so professional. Perhaps I should have ordered more than the six I paid for. Now it's too late. The curtain has come down on the initiative which was hatched in order to boost Geograph funds.
Of course, I was obliged to include a cow...
28 October 2021
Every October, my home city - Sheffield - hosts a festival of the written word. It is called "Off The Shelf" and this is its thirtieth year. In twenty eight of those thirty years, I attended two or three events but I realised the other day that I had not been to anything this time round.
I checked out the programme and spotted something that appealed to me this evening. It was held in The Millennium Gallery in the city centre - a talk by an environmental campaigner, artist and writer called Nick Hayes. He has recently published a book titled "The Book of Trespass" and as the title suggests it focuses upon land ownership and the limited rights that people have when out and about in the countryside.
It is a topic that has interested me for a long time. How can landowners possess rivers? Why can't people automatically roam where they wish to as long as they are not causing any damage? And how, for example, did moorland get to be owned by anybody in the first place?
Nick Hayes addresses such matters in his book. However, though this evening's talk was supposed to be about the book, it tended to leap away from it from the very outset. This was partly the fault of the host presenter - a professor of chemistry at one of Sheffield's universities. He allowed the talk to stray and seemed far too keen on the sound of his own voice.
Nick Hayes referred to a ground-breaking mass trespass that occurred in The Peak District in 1932 when countless ramblers climbed up onto The Kinder Plateau which was in the possession of wealthy landowners. Several protesters were arrested and jailed but their protest was not in vain because it brought about long overdue changes in the laws governing land access.
This evening's event was well-attended but there was little time for audience questions. Maybe I will buy "The Book of Trespass" one day but I have plenty of other books to read in the interim.
27 October 2021
There was no ticket counter in 1981 - entrance was free - but in 2021 you must pay an admission fee. At the desk, I overheard talk of a roof tour and in an instant we had paid an extra £7.50 each for this privilege. Soon we were climbing spiral staircases, holding on to ropes and exploring the roof space with its medieval oak roof timbers. Of course we had a guide who was passionate about his hometown cathedral and knew a great deal about it.
Since childhood, I have lived in awe of our medieval church builders. Their ingenuity, audacity and "can do" attitude saw the construction of hundreds of fabulous village churches and several marvellous cathedrals, abbeys and minsters including Durham Cathedral, Holy Trinity Church in Hull, York Minster, Beverley Minster, Ely Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, Fountains Abbey, Westminster Abbey and Wells Cathedral. All wonderful buildings but my favourite of them all is Lincoln Cathedral.
We were so lucky that Monday was a bright, sunshiny day - rather like the one that Jimmy Cliff sang about in "I Can See Clearly Now". I wonder how many more moons will pass by before we return to Lincoln.
Before I write about our anniversary trip to Lincoln, here's a problem for you to solve...
What is this? I took the photograph in Lincoln but that is almost irrelevant. The solution will be given later today - Wednesday. In the meantime, I hope that a few of this blog's esteemed visitors will make their suggestions. No cunning use of Google please!
These are the 276 pieces of plastic that were found in the stomach of a 90 day old albatross chick that died on Midway Island in the North Pacific Ocean in 2012. They were arranged and displayed on that black background by award winning photographer and environmentalist Mandy Barker. Currently on display in The Collection gallery in Lincoln.
What have we done?
23 October 2021
Forty years ago tomorrow Shirley and I were married at St Martin's Church in the north Lincolnshire village of Owston Ferry. She was twenty two and I had just turned twenty eight.
As I recall, it was a very happy day when that virtual champagne bottle was smashed across the bow of our marriage. "God bless her and all who sail in her". It was witnessed by friends and family. A good number of the attendees are not here any more - my mum Doreen and my older brother Paul, Shirley's parents Charlie and Winnie, my grandmother Phyllis and Shirley's grandmother Minnie, my friend Ron Budd who died of alcoholism and several of Shirley's aunts and uncles. They exist only in our memories. I can hear them in the next room.
It was an inexpensive wedding. For example, the wedding breakfast was a simple buffet meal in a nearby pub and our wedding car was in fact Charlie's VW Passat driven by one of her many cousins. The weather was typical of late October - blustery but thankfully dry. Prince Charles had married Diana Spencer just four months before in St Paul's Cathedral, London. There was far, far less pomp and circumstance at our wedding. In fact there wasn't any.
We had just bought our first house in the Crookesmoor area of Sheffield. It cost us £15,250 and we picked up the keys for it on the Thursday before the wedding. There was a lot of work to do on that house before we could move in and that's the reason we didn't have a proper honeymoon.
Instead, after the wedding breakfast, we jumped in Shirley's little cream-coloured Mini and headed south to the city of Lincoln for one night. We had booked a room in the very modest St Catherine's Hotel. In the morning, after a full English breakfast, we wandered up Steep Hill to Lincoln's magnificent cathedral. Did you know that it was the tallest building in the entire world from 1311 to 1548? Furthermore, if the central spire had not been blown down in a storm, it would have remained the tallest building till 1889 when The Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris.. I find this information pretty awesome.
Anyway, me and my lovely bride are heading back to Lincoln tomorrow - this time for a two night stay in the Holiday Inn Express near Brayford Pool. We shall climb back up Steep Hill to the cathedral and if we spot a special something she wants, I will buy Shirley a gift to mark our ruby wedding anniversary. Forty years is quite an achievement - I am sure you will agree - though that blustery day in Owston Ferry, by The River Trent still seems like yesterday.
22 October 2021
As a member of the Geograph project I have a personal map that I call my red blob. Over the past twelve years my red blob has grown with every image I have captured in a different 1km square. Now I have collected 6402 different squares and submitted 15812 photographs in total. Below you can see just a section of my coverage map. As you will see, at the edges of the red blob it all becomes rather raggedy.Yesterday, I set out with my faithful companion
The accompanying pictures were all taken yesterday.
21 October 2021
Nowadays we are all anxious about climate change. We wonder what can be done to slow it down or even halt it. We wonder about how our own lifestyles have contributed to climate change as we turn off lights, recycle plastics and think about reducing the amount of meat and dairy in our weekly diets. In various ways we are all guilty but some are more guilty than others.
I have had a fantasy about a world in which we all receive environmental tokens to spend on the things we need. Everybody receives exactly the same number of tokens making the spending process equitable. Poor people get the same number of tokens as the wealthy. After all, shouldn't we all be fighting this battle together?
The domestic consequences of this would be numerous. Private jets would no longer be allowed. Nobody would have enough tokens to own more than one motor vehicle. Living in large houses or owning two or three homes would be inadvisable because of the environmental toll. There just wouldn't be enough tokens to cover the expense.
Buying new clothes or having extensive wardrobes would be a no-no as would be the replacement of electrical items without proper reason such as breakdown or irreparability. Having a lot of money stashed away should not give you licence to squander this planet's precious resources just because you can. Some things are more important than your self-gratification including ensuring the longevity of Earth for our children's children's children.
In the western world, it used to be that the majority of people dreamt of an affluent lifestyle like the rich lives we observed on our television sets - fast cars, fine clothes, big houses, posh restaurants, first class travel etcetera but when you think of it, the rich have always used far more than their fair share of environmental tokens. Arguably the time has come for them to take stock and change in order to reduce their excessive and inequitable carbon footprints.
All this being said, I am well aware that compared with many people in this world I am also stupendously rich. Generally speaking, African, Asian and South American peasant folk spend very little each year compared with me. Their environmental tokens pile up, virtually unused.
I don't believe that world leaders are truly serious about meaningful action in relation to climate change. They seem to be tinkering around at the edges playing the Green Warriors Game just because it's the flavour of the day. In the past, our own political "leader" - Johnson was very scathing about environmental campaigners and now ahead of the Glasgow summit, he expects us to believe in his newly discovered green credentials. Would he or any of his fellow leaders consider for one moment taking on the rich and curtailing their insatiable carbon appetites? I am afraid that that would only happen when it was far too late to make a difference.
20 October 2021
1st August, 1974. Lentran near Inverness
What a horrible job I have let myself in for. This morning I earned just £1.20 working from 8.30 to 2.30. As I told the man at the employment exchange - "It is slave labour". And Jesus - I was not slacking as I picked 'em.
I have begun reading "The Grapes of Wrath"by John Steinbeck. It is very readable - the slow slow life of Oklahoma in mid-century with its prejudices and its changing agricultural methods and its dust storms is well captured. It is an American novel through and through though it is interesting to discover that Steinbeck's mother was Irish.
Inverness with 46 days of the holiday left. I've covered around 1,500 miles since this holiday began in May. What is to become of me? The pain of just living - not a sharp, thrusting,ripping, bloody, cataclysmic pain but a dull, drawn, out, quiet pain. Last night I looked into the milky face of a girl from a village near York - a beautiful, delicate, mystic, milky face which smiled back on a long, slender neck which in turn swept down to the curving breasts of her ripened womanhood. The agony lay between my wanting and her denial.
(p111) "You go steal that tire an you're a thief, but he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire. They call that sound business."
(p117) "You ain't askin' nothing, you're jus' singin' a kinda song. "What we comin' to?" You don't wanna know."
Public schoolboys aged eighteen earning £1 a day by picking raspberries, complain about the poor wages and then buy a string of gin and tonics at 33 pence a piece. Public schoolboys talking politics, talking about justice when their own fathers thrive and prosper on profits made at other people's expense. They talk of flogging juvenile delinquents when that's what they are.
August 5th 1974, Lentran
Well Steinbeck's book is now read. As "The Guardian" saId - "The ultimate impression is that of the dignity of the human spirit under the stress of the most desperate conditions".
Perhaps that was the impression that Steinbeck wanted to convey above all others. At the end of the novel when Rose of Sharon suckles the starving man in the black barn, she smiles "mysteriously". That mysterious smile tells us a number of things. It tells us that despite everything the Joads and all families like them will get by, and despite all the many injustices they have suffered things will right themselves in the future. It is a smile that is smiled when the Joads have fallen to their lowest ebb. Their caravan and car are flooded and they are cold and hungry - things can only get better.
It is a smile which certifies the truth behind Casy's comments earlier in the story: "Seems to me we don't never come to nothin'. Always on the way. Always goin' and goin'". From that black barn we can be sure that the Joads will move on.
August 7th 1974, Lentran
Yesterday, I decided to walk around the municipal campsite in Inverness just in case Simon* and his pals were there. There was just a faint chance that they might be. I knew they were in Scotland but had no real idea that they would have come to Inverness. The walk to the campsite was mainly to pass time but there they were putting up their tents! Half an hour later and I'd have missed them..
Last night we had a few beers and then some better stuff that Alan had grown on their farm. We scoffed raspberries back here at the raspberry farm and Simon became paranoiac about getting into trouble and wouldn't shut up.
I slept like a log in my tent alongside this French guy who decided to move in. I don't even know his name. It's a bit of a crap really - the moving in I mean - not him. He arrived without a tent of his own and I took pity.
I'll probably still be at Lentran next Monday. "Time passes slowly up here in the mountains. We walk beside bridges and talk beside fountains...." - Bob Dylan.
*Simon - my younger brother
19 October 2021
In the summer of 1974, I was twenty years old. A lot of things happened that summer. I covered hundreds of miles through hitchhiking. I made some money working at a Butlin's holiday camp and later on at a raspberry farm that overlooked Beauly Firth near Inverness in Scotland. I attended The Cambridge Folk Festival and I also visited Ireland for the first time, carrying everything I needed in a weighty rucksack - tent, sleeping bag, camping stove, extra clothes, toiletries, everything.
On June 12th in Dublin, I bought a little notebook which I used as a journal for the rest of that summer. I was pretty good at keeping up with the days. Fortunately, I kept that notebook and rediscovered it a few weeks ago. It is the diary of another me - a sapling. A young man in search of things - for understanding, wisdom, happiness, new experiences and of course love.
By June 29th I was on Cape Clear Island off the coast of County Cork. This is what I wrote that day:-
There is a castle on an island promontory which looks out from the very edge of Europe. Years of gales and human neglect have caused its walls to crumble, so that instead of towering nobly above the mother rock, it has, rather like a chameleon, taken on an appearance that blends in with the cliffs and the rocky islets that cluster around it.
Ah, but in spite of this decline, the ancient fortress has not yet surrendered its history which the jealous rocks watched being formed. Still, still midst the tenacious rock plants in the crevices, standing there without motion you can sense times that have gone... A pirate called O'Driscoll, on those decaying stone stairs, his footsteps padding, a tankard of Spanish wine in his right fist. He stops on the parapet above that frothing sea, hacking his throat clear. He looks out through the moonless night to the horizon and his gaze stumbles upon distant torchlight upon one of his wooden ships returning from the Americas.
On that very same horizon two centuries later it's the blue and white spinnaker of an elegant French yacht which reveals itself to the island and the now crumbling castle. Oh that that man of the sea with lice burrowing in his scalp and food stains on his raggedy beard could see his proud fortress as it is today.
Perhaps standing with me in the soft summer grasses on the clifftop, his hard shell would crack and at last words would rise from his hidden heart: "I didn't know. I didn't know" and we would walk along the island's rim watching seabirds gliding to their ledges and O'Driscoll would survey it all then lean over the edge searching for his reflection in the waves below and having failed to find it he would renounce his days of power and plunder and see like me a world of waiting and wondering - not rushing to pursue foolish dreams.
Seagulls, rock plants, yachts, cliff faces, a distant lighthouse - I missed it all loading my camera.
18 October 2021
Okay. Time for another blogpost before Monday October 18th 2021 ends. Trouble is I haven't got the faintest idea what to blog about so I will just ramble on about this and that - nothing in particular. I don't feel like giving you a blow by blow account of the football match I attended on Saturday afternoon. It was a Yorkshire derby between The Tigers and The Terriers. Perhaps if The Tigers (Hull City) had beaten The Terriers (Huddersfield Town) by two goals to nil it would have been a different matter but we lost by that score.
Furthermore, having just written a glowing Trip Advisor review for our local Miller and Carter steak restaurant, I don't feel like returning to that subject. Suffice to say that it was my friend Mike's seventieth birthday and I was there with our other quiz stalwart - Mick - for a lovely meal that was made even lovelier because Mike paid the entire bill. Strangely, I think it is much more common for women friends to arrange special meals together than male friends. I asked the two Michaels to get my own seventieth birthday meal pencilled in their diaries - just two years from now. I hope I make it but if I don't at least I will save myself some money.
Here in England the news is all of the traumatic killing of a much-respected Member of Parliament. His name was David Amess. He had been a hard-working and cheery elected representative for thirty eight years. He was assassinated by a wicked nobody with a knife. It's awful to contemplate and just now I don't feel like writing any more about it. You can imagine what I might say.
On the family front, Frances, Stew and Phoebe will be sleeping in a hotel room in Ottawa, the capital of Canada tonight while our son Ian will already be sleeping in a luxurious hotel room in Dubai with his lovely girlfriend Sarah.
And that's that. Midnight is fast approaching and I need to click "Publish" before October 18th 2021 disappears forever. Hopefully, there will be better blogposts ahead.
17 October 2021
Once, before the pandemics and the third world war and all the other stuff that happened afterwards, we lived very different lives. It seems like a dream world now, a place of innocence before the collapse came.
I recall a vast flock of starlings coming back to the copse on the hilltop to roost each October evening. Hundreds of them in perfect synchronicity. They swirled in the waning light - a spectacular avian wave, a murmuration that rolled and twisted like a shoal of silvery sardines in a blue ocean. Together as one while we just stood in awe. Watching.
It’s almost gone now. All of that – that beauty. Those pristine white beaches where coconuts were washed up, pushing down roots at the tideline. That rustling of the humble hedgehog amidst crinkly leaves, its elderberry eyes and snuffling snout seeking plump worms. That eagle that hovered majestically like a kite over yon purple valleys and noticed everything.
When you consider it, we had it all. We were honoured guardians, custodians but it was a role we carried too carelessly for we were almost blind. We could not see beyond the end of the week or the end of the year. Of course it is far too late now. We are way beyond the pale. Way beyond.
There were wildebeest and orang-utans and coelacanths and deep in jungles or faraway mountains other people lived. Quiet people with whom we had had no contact. It was their world too.
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square. Little did the lyricist think that its song was in truth an alarm call. It sings no more, like the carrier pigeons and the cuckoos and the birds of paradise that danced with hope unseen in magical clearings when shafts of sunlight broke through. Golden and green.
Yes it’s misty now that happy ever after world where we once resided. We can never get it back no matter how hard we try. It’s lost between the container ports and the concrete towers, between emissions from plastics factories and the orange blue netting tangled in a young whale’s belly.
Listen and you can hear the finale with extended notes from a violin piercing the night sky, sending a message to the outermost stars: “We were here. Long, long ago. We were here.”
16 October 2021
By chance I met the landlord of "The Black Horse" in Hulland Ward. He kindly allowed me to park in his extensive car park for the duration of my walk which was to last five and a half hours. Where that time went I have no idea. I just kept plodding and only sat down once to drink water and eat my fruit in the village of Atlow.
It was six thirty in the evening when I got home feeling drained of energy but very peaceful too. I didn't sit down again until I had prepared our evening meal - roasted slices of loin pork with baked potatoes, broccoli, fried onions. and apple sauce.
15 October 2021
14 October 2021
Each time the pressure has been on to talk to the hostess - Steph McGovern while simultaneously demonstrating the preparation of a vegan dish. In my opinion they're not given quite enough time. Another minute would be a huge help, making the process less frenetic.
Today they were making pulled pork sandwiches with apple sauce and carrot crackling. Of course it's not really pork but roasted and shredded jackfruit which when suitably seasoned can take on the flavour and texture of pork. It seemed to go down a treat with Steph and her other studio guests.
By the way, the show is filmed in Leeds so Ian and Henry had to travel up from London early this morning. I have lost count of the number of times they have been on television now. With each TV experience they seem more relaxed and confident in front of the camera.
Ian knew nothing of this particular job when we saw him last weekend. This coming weekend he is off to Dubai on an all expenses paid trip - partly to promote vegan cuisine and also to play a small part in encouraging holidays to Dubai. Incidentally, I have been there twelve times but never left the airport!
13 October 2021
Being around our Ian for any length of time, you realise how important his smartphone is to him. It is like an extension of his being.
Let me tell you some of the things I witnessed this past weekend. He used the smartphone as an oven timer. He used it to take and send photographs. He used it to listen to music. He used it to pay for the parking of my car - The Clintmobile. He used it for online banking purposes and to check the weather. He used it to book and pay for theatre tickets. He used it as a spirit level. He used it to order a taxi. And would you believe it - he even used it as a telephone!
As I said on Monday, he has an electric Mini Cooper and as it will only cover 120 miles on a single charge, he needs to locate and use charging points quite regularly. The smartphone points him to where there are available charging points - not just their locations but whether or not other people are currently using them. Of course, he also uses the smartphone to pay for these charging sessions.
He is so adept with the phone, so comfortable with it and the services it can provide to facilitate and lubricate a busy modern life. In contrast, I have never possessed any sort of mobile phone and for example I have never sent a single text message in my life. If I go out into the world, I am happily uncontactable - be it on a country walk or a car journey. If I go to the supermarket, Shirley cannot phone me up and tell me to get the soap powder or toilet rolls she forgot to mention.
In this sense, Ian and I are worlds apart. I have just never felt a pressing need for a smartphone and think to myself - well I have got this far in my life without one, why bother now? I notice how obsessed millions of other people are with them. They are checking them all the time - no doubt looking at Facebook, Instagram or other social media. To me it all seems so alien and I just wouldn't wish to be hooked like that.
Nonetheless I recognise that for Ian and millions of other users, the smartphone is a vital tool both socially and for work purposes. If I felt I needed one then I would get one though I would have a lot to learn and I rather fear that my frankfurter fingers would be too big for the slippery touchscreen.
Increasingly, I notice that businesses and even governmental organisations will often assume that everybody is in possession of a smartphone. That wrong assumption will sometimes hinder or obstruct those of us who don't have them. It's a kind of discrimination born out of ignorance and it can be pretty infuriating.
12 October 2021
There are lots of ways you could kill someone...
You could throttle them with your bare hands. You could lace their porridge with poison. You could stab them or shoot them. You could drive them off the road or push them over a cliff.
And there are other ways...
You could put pollutants in their rivers and reservoirs. You could clad their high rise buildings with flammable panels. You could instigate wars. You could simply neglect them. You could delay action at the start of a deadly pandemic, perhaps imagining that everything would be okay in the end, even when the signs from abroad suggested otherwise. In mitigation, you could chant repeatedly "We're following The Science" even when "The Science" was never clear. You could transport infected hospital patients to care homes without proper safety provision or informed agreement.
Who knows how many British deaths might have been avoided if Johnson had been a wise political leader and not an unapologetic optimist and showman? His dithering and delay at the start of the pandemic caused thousands of avoidable deaths and this is the clear conclusion of parliament's Health and Social Care, and Science and Technology Committees.
Will he ever appear in a court of law to answer to the charges that should by rights be ranged against him? Never. As sure as eggs are eggs, he will get away with this unintentional mass killing scot-free. There will be weasel words and the world will move on and one day Johnson will write a book about his years in office. It will sell like hotcakes but he won't give a penny of the profits to the grieving families of his coronavirus victims. No way will he do that. He will remain a killer on the loose just like Tony Blair.
11 October 2021
Last night, we lay down on sunbeds and watched Mrs Moon rise like a tangerine over The Aegean Sea. To capture the beauty of the scene fa...
Chavs being chavvish. Just the other day, I spotted a male "chav" down by the local Methodist church. He was wearing a Burberrry ...
So there I was standing in the kitchen of our son's terraced house. Something caught my eye outside in his little urban garden. It was a...