31 December 2021
30 December 2021
29 December 2021
Shirley got a message from my younger brother Simon. He had just been watching the popular late afternoon quiz show - "Tipping Point" hosted by Ben Shephard. Apparently there had been a question about "Bosh!"
With some difficulty I located the show via the ITV catch up service. It was in the second section that Ben Shephard asked smiley contestant Naureen this: "In 2019, vegan chefs Henry Firth and Ian Theasby published a recipe book that had a three word title - "Bish! Bash!..." and?"
Naureen said "Bosh!" which was of course correct.
Then I turned to Ian and said, "That's bloody amazing! Forget everything else that "Bosh!" have achieved. Having a question asked about you on 'Tipping Point' is the pinnacle. Things don't get any better than this!"
Ian and Henry have just published their seventh book. It is called "Bosh! On a Budget". It is packed with wallet-friendly recipes, including one for a chocolate bar named after me - 'Neil's Tiger Bar'! Can you believe it? I haven't made it yet but I will be doing real soon. I am sure it will be delicious!
In other "Bosh!" news, I am proud to let you know that over all they have now sold more than a million vegan recipe books. This is truly awesome
Ian is sleeping now - upstairs in his old room with his lovely girlfriend and we are off to The Crucible theatre on Wednesday afternoon to see a musical called "She Loves Me". Unfortunately, the evening football match that we also have tickets for has been called off because of COVID amongst the players.
For me, Sheffield United versus Hull City is a home match and I was so looking forward to it. My good friend Tony was going to drive over for it from East Yorkshire but that plan has now been scuppered. Bloody, horrible, nasty, shitty, tiresome, annoying, blasted, bloody COVID! I am heartily sick of it. Perhaps I have reached my own "tipping point"!
28 December 2021
27 December 2021
I admit that I am a newsaholic. It's not something I am especially proud of but at every opportunity I check out the news - be it on this computer, via our various radios, in newspapers or on the television. Over decades I have devoted far too much attention to the news, absorbing it like human blotting paper.
That's a lot of time, a lot of concentration and a lot of mental energy that could have been devoted to better things like my own writing, reading for enjoyment or painting. I am a slave to the news and just cannot break the habit.
One thing I have noticed about the news is its transient nature. Newsworthy issues crop up, blossom for a while and are then summarily ditched - even though the original matters that attracted the spotlight may not have been resolved. In fact, things may have progressed or worsened. The cameras and the journalists often appear to have moved on - their editors blind to what's happening.
Just prior to COVID, the civil war in Syria was endlessly reported upon - day after day. You couldn't get away from it. What is happening there now? Should we assume that the strife and bloodletting are all over? No we should not. The conflict persists and ordinary people's lives continue to be shattered but news organisations apparently got bored with Syria. Let the refugees fester in their camps. Let Bashar al-Assad continue to weave his deadly spells.
Then there was the conflict in Yemen. Interestingly, it didn't get a lot of coverage in spite of what was going on but now it's as if the news media are in total denial about it. The stage curtain has come down even though the terror continues to happen with Saudi Arabia and United States weaponry still playing their deadly roles.
Unsurprisingly, I found myself in full agreement with Pope Francis when he said this on Christmas Day: "We continue to witness a growing number of conflicts, crises and disagreements. These never seem to end and by now we hardly even notice them. We have become so used to them that immense tragedies are being passed over in silence."
Closer to home, issues that have have attracted the news media for a week or two this year include the dearth of available lorry drivers to transport goods around the country. This is largely a result of the continuing Brexit fiasco which also saw problems with recruiting seasonal agricultural workers and meat processors. As news items, both issues appear to have simply evaporated even though the problems are ongoing.
How often do we learn of current affairs in Africa or South America? Whole continents are neglected for weeks on end even though newsworthy events occur there on a daily basis.
For the creators of news, the world often seems to be like a supermarket. They go in with their trolleys and pick random topics from the shelves before flagging them up to the public. Then next week there's another shopping trip as the old stuff is resigned to landfill. In fact, is it news or just another form of entertainment? Sometimes I really wonder.
26 December 2021
Christmas cracker joke:
Question: What do you call a cat in the desert?.... Answer: Sandy Claws
Christmas Day Feast 2021
Mr Yorkshire Pudding, Mrs Yorkshire Pudding, Frances, Stewart, Phoebe Harriet and Peter and Cheryl (Stewart's parents). Apologies: Ian and Sarah (COVID)
Homemade butternut squash and chestnut soup garnished with grilled pancetta and wilted sage leaves. Served with slices of Persian flatbread from our local Persian Bakery.
24 December 2021
22 December 2021
Yesterday, the promised broken sunshine never happened. A thick layer of cloud blanketed our part of the planet on what was the shortest day of the year in this hemisphere. Now, day by day, the light will return.
I drove to the foot of Mam Tor - the shivering mountain - at the far end of The Hope Valley. Clint was also shivering as I donned my walking boots and set off. "Don't be too long!" he called after me as I grinned peevishly to myself, knowing I wouldn't be back for at least two and a half hours.
Climbing up the valley side to Hollins Cross I needed to urinate so I removed my woollen, fingerless gloves and watered a lonesome sycamore tree. It may have been there that I managed to lose my left glove. No doubt I hadn't pushed it deeply enough into my coat pocket. I just hate losing things and it rarely happens.
I walked along The Great Ridge and up to the summit of Mam Tor. Often when I am out rambling in the countryside I don't see another soul but yesterday there were plenty of people about in what is one of the most popular areas in the entire Peak District.
Factored into my circuitous route, I planned to do something I had never done before - walk down Winnats Pass. It is a remarkable little valley. 340 million years ago it was in fact a gap in a primordial coral reef but now it is a solidified feature of the limestone landscape. I have driven up and down it dozens of times but never walked its entire length.
Halfway down the valley, I spotted a woollen hat that some unfortunate rambler had dropped. My moral compass said, "Pick it up and take it home!" so that is what did. Confucius say: In life one may sometimes lose a glove before finding a hat. The hat smells new and is possibly Chinese. We have many Chinese university students in Sheffield and the label on the front reads "SONG TING - The Poiener of Fhsaihno Rendts" I understand it is meant to read "The Pioneer of Fashion Trends" but hey, who cares about accuracy?
Last night, we received the glum news from London that Ian's girlfriend Sarah has tested positive for COVID so for the second year running he will not be with us for Christmas. Once again, he was so looking forward to being back in his home city and he had bought an array of gifts. In turn, I had bought the two of them football match tickets and theatre tickets too. It is now unlikely that these will be used. What a damned rotter Senor COVID has proven to be!
21 December 2021
Earlier this month, as I was walking in high countryside near the village of Flash, I found a compass made by "Silva" - a Swedish company that has been producing high quality compasses since the nineteen thirties. It is an Expedition 4 compass and it was just lying there in the rough grass on a little trodden public footpath. Lord knows how long it had lain there.
A few years ago, in a similar spot, I found another compass made by "Silva". It's the smaller blue compass that you can see in the photograph. I have never really trusted that one and when you need to check directions, a trustworthy compass is vital.
The Expedition 4 sells for around £30 (US $40) so I was faced with a dilemma. Should I attempt to track down the distraught rambler who accidentally dropped it? However, even as I contemplated this, my moral compass kicked in and said - "No! It's okay to keep it!". After all, sixty eight million people live in this United Kingdom and tracing the owner would be far more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack.
Moral compasses are very useful. They guide us, helping us to live with ourselves and sleep soundly in our beds at night. They are also useful as crap detectors or gauges, allowing us to understand more clearly what's going on around us - in our neighbourhoods and in the world at large.
Some politicians seem to have moral compasses that are very much like the blue compass I found - difficult to rely upon and liable to give false readings. A good example of this is the scallywag who currently resides in 10, Downing Street, Whitehall, London. His moral compass is all over the place.
While writing this post, I also thought of the word "encompass" which is a very nice word that doesn't get enough airtime in my view. Its meaning suggests a full understanding - getting the whole picture though of course it can also be used in more mundane ways. For example, we may talk of the Coca Cola company "encompassing" the globe with its famous fizzy drinks.
Time to stop rambling on and travel west for another ramble in the nearby countryside. I won't need my new compass today.
20 December 2021
It was of course hosted by a fellow called Andrew Marr, a Glasgow born intellectual now aged sixty two with the fearless doggedness of, well, a dog. He was not one to be fobbed off or accept deviation. He grilled them all as though he were Sherlock Holmes in pursuit of Moriarty.
in January 2013, Marr suffered a life-changing stroke but managed to fight himself back into shape and returned to the programme later that year - albeit with a severely weakened left side.
I watched all of his final show, including the interview with Britain's current Health Secretary, Sajid Javid. At the end of the programme, Andrew Marr's last words on camera were, "You stay classy San Diego!" echoing Ron Burgundy in "Anchorman".
Of course "Anchorman" was comedic but "The Andrew Marr Show" was always pretty serious. However, like Ron Burgundy, Andrew Marr was also an anchorman of sorts. It was a perfect way to sign off and maybe it contained a faintly veiled message - Let's not take ourselves too seriously.
Yes - "You stay classy San Diego!"
19 December 2021
18 December 2021
As I ramble through Britain's broad acres, I occasionally notice treehouses - usually in private gardens. Most of them are homemade wooden structures that have seen better days. Some are clearly falling apart.
It is easy to close one's eyes and imagine the construction of a treehouse - usually by fathers who were keen to express paternal love with planks of wood, boxes of nails, a hammer and a little ingenuity.
Equally, it is easy to imagine playful children entering the brand new treehouse with glee. Sharing secrets, having picnics, defending the treehouse as though it were a castle or a sailing ship. For a short while at least, a treehouse might be a treasured place, like a den hidden in the woods.
But how long do the treehouse dreams of childhood ever last? Perhaps one summer - maybe two. And then the kids outgrow it. Its novelty has evaporated. There are better things to do.
Yet the treehouse remains, blasted by weather and the ever changing seasons. Planks loosen. A rope hangs limply. Perhaps a roof panel blows off or a wooden rung on the ladder swings loose. Maybe the father who built it muses, "I must dismantle it. One day. When I have the time".
The idea of writing a poem about a neglected treehouse had been in my mind for a long while. The names of the children and the dog are shared with Enid Blyton's characters in her once supremely popular "Famous Five" books. This is not co-incidental.
Of course it might be reconsidered and edited but here's the poem that surfaced just the other day...
Those kids who used to play
In the treehouse
That soared above the hedge?
One summer’s eve they slept there
The pin-pricked canopy of night
Drinking cocoa from a thermos flask.
Julian said, “We must sleep”.
Timmy barked and Anne imagined trouble
- Something swooshing down below.
George said, “It’s nothing”.
Dick was soon asleep.
They followed their prescribed paths -
George studied law at Warwick,
Anne married a farmer
With a missing finger,
Julian lives in Oxnard, California.
Dick died on the M1
Timmy was buried in the orchard
Which is gradually rotting -
Algae feeding on the wood,
A roof panel blown away.
I wouldn’t go up there now -
It’’s not safe
Though Mr Barnard promised
It would last forever.
17 December 2021
Yesterday I was in Matlock, Derbyshire and the neighbouring settlements of Matlock Bath and Cromford. Largely hidden from view at Cromford, there is a huge limestone pit called Dene Quarry. It dates back to 1942 and ever since then men have been digging away through the layers of geological history filling huge lorries. These laden vehicles drive off with loads that are vital for road building or the manufacture of cement.
On foot, I circumnavigated the quarry and thought about the millions of years in which marine deposits settled there upon what was once an ocean floor - long. long before dinosaurs. What secrets must those lorries be carrying as they drive away?
After my walking and photo taking was done, I had an appetite for fish and chips. Matlock Bath boasts several fish and chip outlets. It was 2.30pm when I ordered mini fish and chips with mushy peas and a mug of tea in The Riverside fish and chips restaurant. What a treat!
And then Clint transported me back to Sheffield - singing "Take It Easy" together as we tootled along from Darley Dale through Chatsworth Park and Baslow all the way back to this great but often overlooked northern city. It had been another grand day out with paths to plod and sights to see but it is the quarry that I will mostly remember and the infinite layers of marine debris.
15 December 2021
14 December 2021
Looking back through my photo library, it's time to recollect 2010. Eleven years ago when coronavirus pandemics only happened in the pages of preposterous science fiction novels. My photos for that year are filed in a folder named, rather unsurprisingly, "2010 Archive".
In snowy January into February I spent forty hours or more down in our underhouse area working on a mosaic that was inspired by my trip to Easter Island the previous year. It depicts the "birdman" that I had seen carved into the rocks above the cliffs of Orongo. In competition, brave young men would swim out to those offshore islets to collect the first sooty tern eggs of the year:-
In April, Shirley and I enjoyed a short break in Valencia, Spain - flying out there courtesy of one of Britain's budget airlines. This picture shows two of the modernistic buildings in the city's science park. You can see two window cleaners at work - almost as brave as the cliff divers of Orongo:-
However, life carried on after Paul's death.
In July, before schools were out for the summer, we headed down to Cornwall in south west England. We visited my old teaching colleague Mike in Kingswear, Devon and also went to the Eden Project near St Austell, Land's End and St Ives. This is a souvenir shop window in St Ives - filled with typical tourist tat:-In September, when schools were back for the new academic year, we had a week in Albufeira, Portugal. There were some amazing sand sculptures in the town:-
And this was our hotel pool, high on the cliffs to the east of a resort that we first visited in 1982 - the year after we were married:-
13 December 2021
One often hears these passing remarks about eating - "I like my food", "He likes his food" and "She likes her food". What the? Doesn't everybody like their food? Well no, they don't. A small percentage of people struggle with eating. They realise it is necessary and that it ought to be relished but somehow when plates of food are placed in front of them, psychological alarm bells ring.
Once, I knew a petite woman who had developed an array of tactics to camouflage what I now realise was an eating disorder. To begin with, she never wanted much on her plate. Then, in company, as the meal began, she would start talking. There I would be trying to shovel spadefuls of lovely grub down the tunnel of my hunger and she would be yakking away instead of tucking in.
I noticed her tiny mouthfuls and the way she pushed food around her plate. There were always leftovers which she might attempt to hide with a paper napkin. She never fancied dessert and once I heard her vomiting in the bathroom ten minutes after eating. I did not know her well enough to quiz her about her eating habits and besides I wouldn't have known what to say.
Yesterday afternoon, I prepared yet another Sunday dinner for my COVID companions - my lovely wife, my lovely daughter, my lovely son-in-law and my lovely granddaughter. How come I am not lovely?
On the menu was a basted pork loin joint, savoy cabbage, roasted potatoes, roasted carrots, Yorkshire puddings, homemade gravy, apple sauce and a vegetable I grew on our vegetable plot this year - kohlrabi. Preparing the kohlrabi was difficult as the bulbous root vegetables - somewhat like small turnips had attracted a slug fest in the summer. The little blighters had tunnelled hither and thither, leaving hollows and deep indentations. It was all I could do to make a small pan of clean white chunks of kohlrabi. Maybe this is why I last grew it twenty five years ago.
Anyway, there were no eating disorders visible at the table. As usual, we all got stuck in. The pork was tender, the potatoes were crispy, the gravy was flavoursome and the kohlrabi was sweet and turnipy if indeed "turnipy" is a word. There was New Zealand sauvignon blanc to drink and Stew had a bottle of McEwan's best bitter. Once again, Little Phoebe enjoyed her Yorkshire pudding and of course she is one. Just like me.
Come to think of it, our esteemed prime minister could also be described as "turnipy"... Who would have ever imagined that this great nation would one day be led by a bulbous globe of kohlrabi?
11 December 2021
2 Eurasian jay
3 Common magpie
4 Carrion crow
5 Common raven
6 Red-billed chough
7 Hooded treepie
8 Rufous treepie
9 Bornean green magpie
10 Sri Lanka blue magpie
11 Pleske's ground jay
12 Florida scrub jay
13 Beautiful jay
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