31 December 2021

Awards

Over the years, The Laughing Horse Awards Ceremony has involved much merriment, dancing and the quaffing of alcoholic beverages by the gallon. However, this year because of The Great Plague and almost insurmountable barriers to international travel, it was decided that the much anticipated 2021 ceremony would all happen via "Zoom". And so it came to pass witnessed by a massive worldwide audience that was described by Eric Yuan, the founder of "Zoom", as "the biggest for any world event ever and an enormous challenge to our technical infrastructure".
Bloggers from around the world attended The 2021 Laughing Horse Awards Ceremony via "Zoom"

As you will be aware, The Awards Committee always present a handful of sub-awards or "commendations" before reaching the orgasmic moment when the overall winner is declared. The sub-awards are chosen for different reasons each year and in 2021 only five "COMMENDED" widgets  have been granted. Receiving a "COMMENDED" award means you are entitled to copy and paste a precious Laughing Horse widget into your sidebar. This year's prize-winners may choose from either the regular full-sized widget or the smaller, perhaps more discreet mini version:-
or

COMMENDED IN 2021:-

BEST BLOGGER IN YORKSHIRE 
Tasker Dunham for "A Yorkshire Memoir". The Awards Committee said, "It is a rather quirky but well-written blog. Topics addressed  are generally varied and often unexpected. In 2021. most of Mr Dunham's loyal followers loved his fifteen part Icelandic saga recalling his explorations of that "land of ice and fire" back in the nineteen seventies. Mr Dunham normally deals thoughtfully and pleasantly with visitors' remarks and wears the same cultivated mantle when visiting  other people's blogs. Many of his posts look back sweetly on past times. This special commendation is richly deserved."

RESILIENCE THROUGH BLOGGING (Special  Award)
The Committee said this: "As well as writing blogposts, bloggers also have regular lives to lead and sometimes big difficulties arise in daily life. Managing a blog can provide a helpful release valve plus a means of articulating and sharing troubles and awkward feelings."

Residing near Edmonton in Canada is a dedicated cancer nurse known as Nurse Lily or Pixie. For understandable professional and indeed private reasons, she prefers to keep her real name  hidden from view. Her blog tracks how challenging 2021 has been for her. "MyLifeSoFar" is the commended blog and The Committee applauds its author's continuing  resilience.

EVOCATIVE WRITING AWARD
Ms Mary Moon, the author of "Bless Our Hearts" was The Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year in 2018. Through 2021, she has continued to write in very engaging ways about her life in Lloyd, Florida. The Committee said: "Ms Moon is self-deprecating. She articulates often tricky thoughts and feelings with intense honesty and good humour. In another writer's hands her largely domestic subject matter might prove tedious but she is very skilled at making ordinary topics seem as delicious as her famous sour dough bread. It is a privilege to peep into her daily life and the way she sees it all."

CONTINUED BRILLIANCE THROUGH BLOGGING
John Gray from Trelawnyd, North Wales was The Blogger of the Year back in 2010. He wears his heart on his sleeve as he blogs away daily from his cottage or his i-phone. Those who follow "Going Gently" have witnessed his personal ups and downs, his good humour and his spats with awkward visitors. Looking in on his village community has been like living in a Welsh version of  "The Archers". John has brought joy to many and has an army of followers who drop in most days. Though eleven years have passed since his Laughing Horse triumph, The Awards Committee felt that his  continuing brilliant work deserved extra recognition.

NICEST BLOGGER AWARD
There are plenty of really nice people in the blogosphere. Their tendency is to be well-mannered, kind and supportive. If there's something they disagree with then they either don't say anything or they measure their responses carefully. It's so pleasant to have such good people around. Nice bloggers are arguably the oil that lubricates the medium.

Several bloggers were nominated for this new award including Dave Northsider, Meike Riley,  ADDY, Jennifer Barlow and Debby from "Life's Funny Like That" but in the end The Awards Committee picked Kylie, an Australian blogger who is responsible for "Eclectica" from the suburbs of Sydney. This is also a nice blog to visit. In it, Kylie reflects on her family, her dog, work and health issues. Her kindness, common sense and optimism shine through. Earlier this year she gave us a fascinating series of blogposts that exercised her talent for writing haiku verses. She occasionally acts as a doula - partnering women through childbirth and is active in The Salvation Army. Very deserving of the very first "Nicest Blogger" award.

πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜

BLOGGER OF THE YEAR 2021:-

The golden envelope has been opened. The trumpets have been blown and the drums have ceased. The overall "Blogger of the Year" for 2021 is none other than Andrew De Melbourne for "High Riser". Car horns beep and a shaft of sunshine pierces the clouds, illuminating the balcony of his luxury penthouse apartment in downtown Melbourne, Australia. There he resides with his longtime partner of British descent -  the legendary "R".

Andrew has been creating blogposts on a very regular basis since September 2004. He writes with affection about his extended family and his home city which he knows like the back of his hand. He takes us hither and thither like a tour guide. 

The Chair of the Laughing Horse Awards Committee said this of Andrew's blog: "Essentially, it is a nice blog to visit. It has a light touch. Though Andrew can express anger and annoyance about things, he tends to be easygoing. He handles visitors' comments thoughtfully - often with  smidgens of humour. He can laugh at himself and his partner "R" who is always lurking in the shadows of  'High Riser' like a taxman. Andrew is a great advocate for Melbourne and a proud Australian too but he is well-travelled and interested in many things - including transport, street art, food and architecture. After seventeen years of blogging he thoroughly deserves recognition and we  at Laughing Horse are delighted to acknowledge his services."

As far as can be determined there are no photos of Andrew De Melbourne in the entire blogosphere. He likes to maintain a degree of privacy. However, another Melbourne source recently informed me that he once appeared in advertising for Akubra - a company that specialises in bush gear for The Outback - especially hats. Here, allegedly,  is Andrew a few years back, dressed to kill:-
Congratulations on your award Andrew. Please choose one of these widgets to post into your sidebar and then lay back  and bask in the glory of your deserved success:-

 or

30 December 2021

Exultation


Some blogs endure and some fall by the wayside as the art form known as "blogging" advances through the years. Recognition is important in any industry and The Laughing Horse Blogging Awards have become something of  a highlight as each blogging year draws to a close. Even as I write these words, The Awards Committee are in a huddle, debating sub-awards and commendations as well as fixing on the blog that will  take the ultimate prize - "Blogger of the Year for 2021".

To refresh your memory, here's a list of past winners:-

2008 – Arthur Clewley for “Arthur Clewley”

2009 – Daphne Franks for “My Dad’s a Communist”

2010 – John Gray for “Going Gently”

2011 – Ian Rhodes for “Shooting Parrots”

2012 – Kate Steeds for "The Last Visible Dog"

2013 – Tom Gowans for “A Hippo on the Lawn”

2014 – Meike Riley for “From My Mental Library”

2015 – Lee George for “Kitchen Connection”

2016 – Steve Reed for “Shadows and Light”

2017 - Keith Kline for "Hiawatha House"

2018 - Mary Moon for "Bless Our Hearts".

2019 - Jenny O'Hara for "Procrastinating Donkey"

2020 - Cro Magnon for "Magnon's Meanderings"

Monsieur Magnon's reign will end as this troubled year also reaches a shuddering halt. He has worn the "Blogger of the Year" crown with dignity and pride, waving gracefully to jubilant crowds as he travelled to and from LeClerc each week. More recently, he has wowed the burghers of Brighton and Hove with his swashbuckling tales. The Laughing Horse Committee wish to put on record  their gratitude and admiration for the way in which  Cro Magnon has conducted himself these past twelve months. It will be a hard act to follow - that's for sure.

29 December 2021

Pinnacle

Ian and Sarah managed to make it up to Sheffield yesterday. Their COVID isolation period was over. Neither of them had had any COVID symptoms but Sarah had tested positive twice. Like God, this damned virus moves in mysterious ways.

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

Gauguin

Paul Gauguin – "Women of Tahiti" or "On the Beach" – 1891

It was in April 1891 when Paul Gauguin set sail for Tahiti. He had just broken up with his Danish wife and was in search of something new and vibrant that could inform his painting. He thought he might find it in  faraway Tahiti. He was forty three years old.

The painting shown above was created a couple of months after his arrival. Two Polynesian women are sitting on the beach with Pacific Ocean rollers behind them. The woman on the right appears to be weaving strands of coconut palm. The two figures seem somehow separate, distant from each other. It is a quiet, reflective moment without words.

In 1892, Gauguin painted a very similar canvas which is titled "Parau Api". It was as if this particular composition had remained with him and required further exploration.

During his life, Gauguin befriended Vincent van Gogh and was also close to Pissaro and Degas. The long sojourn in Tahiti cemented his position in the history of art. The style he developed there and his original use of colour influenced a number of important artists who came after him - including Picasso.

in May 1903, Gauguin died on  Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands. He was 54 years old. Like Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin was also a paedophile. Living in eastern Polynesia in the last years of the nineteenth century allowed him to pursue his unwholesome attraction to pubescent girls with minimal constraint. At his death he was almost certainly syphilitic, his general health ruined.  Should this negate his art? I am not sure.

27 December 2021

Transience

Syria today:Aida al-Hassan, 44, poses for a photo at Sarjableh  
©Khalil Ahawai (Reuters)

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

Menu

New garden gnome named Joe (after Joe Biden) - Thank you Frances, Stew and Phoebe
πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

Christmas cracker joke: 

Question: What do you call a cat in the desert?.... Answer: Sandy Claws

πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

Christmas Day Feast 2021

Roll call

Mr Yorkshire Pudding, Mrs Yorkshire Pudding, Frances, Stewart, Phoebe Harriet and Peter and Cheryl (Stewart's parents). Apologies: Ian and Sarah (COVID)

Starter

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.

Main Course

Roasted turkey
Pigs in blankets (small sausages  wrapped in smoked bacon)
Roasted potatoes - cooked in duck fat and garnished with rosemary
Roasted carrots
Roasted leeks
Roasted parsnips
Garden peas
Red cabbage
Brussels sprouts with crushed chestnuts and lardons
Yorkshire pudding - golden and sexy as a Hollywood film star
Homemade bread sauce
Homemade sausage meat stuffing
Homemade chestnut stuffing
Sage and onion stuffing
Cranberry sauce
Homemade turkey gravy

Dessert

Homemade Christmas pudding (vegan) with brandy butter, brandy sauce, white sauce and/or double cream
or
Homemade apple and almond flan with vegan vanilla ice cream.

Staggering time to front room

18 to 37.5 seconds
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24 December 2021

Bird

It's not The Serengeti Plain but out there in our suburban back garden I have seen plenty of wildlife over the years. Mammals have included hedgehogs, foxes, a badger, American grey squirrels, rats and  field mice. However, as you can imagine, the real stars of the show are birds - those amazing flying creatures that live amongst us.

This Christmas Eve morning, I pulled back the curtains and saw a mischief of magpies - nine of them hopping around near the feeding station. I have also seen our native robins, thrushes, crows, rooks, blackbirds, wood pigeons, collared doves, hedge sparrows, a pheasant, blue tits, coal tits, long tailed tits, goldfinches, Eurasian jays, a sparrow hawk, swallows, house-martins and starlings and I am sure I have missed a couple out.

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, I was puzzled to see an unfamiliar bird in the garden. She was mostly black with white head markings and she was sitting near the top of a small sycamore tree watching the world go by. 

I came downstairs and riffled through a drawer to find our binoculars. Invariably, it is at such a moment that target  birds  choose to depart but fortunately I was able to observe this  one for a full minute before if flew away.
It had a pointy beak typical of the woodpecker family - good for extracting insects and grubs from trees. I am 99% certain that the bird was a female lesser spotted woodpecker. The males have small red crowns but females are just black and white. It is the smallest and indeed the rarest woodpecker to be found in Britain. The RSPB (Royal Society for The Protection of Birds) estimates that are between 1000 and 2000 pairs of lesser spotted woodpeckers in the entire kingdom.

I will keep looking out for her and wishing her well. Her appearance was a welcome early Christmas present and a reminder that we should treasure our avian neighbours. Please don't let them go the way of the dodo.
πŸ”˜πŸ”˜πŸ”˜
Meanwhile, high in Yorkshire Pudding Towers, the jury is already in a huddle as they deliberate once again through the Christmas period over who will be prize winners at the annual Laughing Horse Blogging Awards Ceremony. Above all, they are considering who will be The Blogger of the Year for 2021. Watch this space and please have a HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

22 December 2021

Fhsaihno

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.

Winnats Pass

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?

Cow grazing on the slopes of The Hope Valley

It was 3.45pm when I returned to Clint and the longest night of the year was already beginning to seep over the hills. It had not been a great afternoon for photography but at least I got some good exercise ahead of the excesses of Christmastime.

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!

The entrance to Speedwell Cavern - a limestone show cavern at the bottom of Winnats Pass

21 December 2021

Compass

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

Marr

For the past seventeen years, there has been a political programme on the BBC called "The Andrew Marr Show". Aired on Sunday mornings, the show included searching interviews with a wide range of politicians from Tony Blair to Barack Obama and from Vladimir Putin to Boris Johnson.

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

O'Micron


This is Paddy O'Micron. He lives under that rickety old bridge between the town and the green pastures on the hillside. It is where our animals fatten themselves in the summertime and where I have enjoyed many a happy picnic. I may have seen you frolicking there.

It is reported that Paddy O'Micron has been scaring the be-jabbers out of folk who cross "his" bridge which was in fact built by the town council.

He shouts up, "Who's that criss-crossing my bridge?"

The other day, I yelled back, "It's me, the great big Yorkshire Pudding! I'm going up the hillside to lie in the lush green grass. Maybe I will write a poem about a treehouse or a leprechaun who lived under a rickety old bridge!"

And Paddy O'Micron yelled back, "Well oim a nasty leprechaun and oim going to eat you for my supper!"

But when his ugly old head appeared above the parapet of the bridge, he caught sight of me with my muscular bulk and thought better of his murderous threat. He retreated to his dank and shadowy hollow like a cowardy custard.

All I am saying here is beware of Paddy O'Micron if you happen to cross "his" bridge. His appetite is rumoured to be insatiable and he's out to get us all. It is further rumoured that his cousins Pi, Rho and Sigma will soon be paying very unwelcome visits. Such jolly capers we shall have.

18 December 2021

Treehouse

Old tree house in Norfolk  ©David Pashley 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...

⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛⚛

The Treehouse
Where have they gone
Those kids who used to play
In the treehouse
That soared above the hedge?
One summer’s eve they slept there
Whispering beneath
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.
 
Life moved on as it is wont to do.
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
Near Lutterworth.
Timmy was buried in the orchard
Years ago.
 
And a rope still hangs from the treehouse
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

Quarrying

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?

In Matlock, looking to the tower of what was once Smedley's Hydro

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

11/12

Phoebe Harriet is eleven months old today. I know that some of you out there in Blogland have been keen to see new pictures of our little princess and here she is. All photographs are taken from my daughter's Instagram site and all were first posted there just an hour ago.

14 December 2021

2010

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:-


In 2010, I kept walking in the countryside. There are countless pictures that evidence that habit and then early one morning at the end of June the telephone rang. It was my brother Paul's wife, Josephine, calling from western Ireland. She had just woken up and found Paul motionless beside her - as dead as can be. He was only sixty two. We had to make swift arrangements to get over there because traditional Irish funerals happen very soon after death has occurred. The cursory postmortem said that an undiagnosed heart condition had killed him but even now I am not so sure. The photo at the top of this blogpost  shows a green butterfly that mysteriously appeared on a sunny wall at their house on the morning of his funeral. Never seen before and never since. Below, local men - all of whom Paul knew - back-filling  his country grave. He was a very special, lovable man.


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:-


Another autumn came along and I kept walking as Christmas appeared on the horizon once again. This time there would be no Christmas Day telephone conversation with Paul.  I took this last picture on December 3rd 2010 in nearby Ecclesall churchyard and I still love the way the fresh snow was wreathed around Malcolm's angel - whoever Malcolm might have been:-

13 December 2021

Food

I feel sorry for people who have a difficult relationship with food. Fortunately, this is not something that has ever afflicted any members of my family as far as I know. We sit down to meals with delighted anticipation, our taste-buds drooling.

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

CORVID19

1  Rook

©Wikipedia

2  Eurasian jay

©Wkipedia

3  Common magpie

© birdfact.com

4 Carrion crow

© Harewood House

5 Common raven

©HistoricUK

6 Red-billed chough

© Ricardo Salgueiro

7 Hooded treepie

©Alex Berryman

8 Rufous treepie

©charismaticplanet.com

9  Bornean green magpie

©Wikipedia

10 Sri Lanka blue magpie

©Koshy Koshy

11  Pleske's ground jay

© Mehdi Ghorbani

12 Florida scrub jay

©Cassidy Flickr

13 Beautiful jay

© Chris Bell

14 Transvolcanic jay

©Gonzalo Zepeda MartΓ­nez

15  Stresemann's bush crow

©Sandy Watt

16 Little Crow

©Ian Colley
17 Black-chested jay

©Neil Orlando Diaz Martinez

18 Jackdaw

©Tim Oram

19  Pied Raven (Extinct)

  © Erik Christensen

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