20 May 2022

Stuff


It is 11.30pm  and I have just got home from babysitting duties. Little Phoebe was no trouble at all. We have been blessed with such a lovely granddaughter - now sixteen months old. When she wakes up in her cot she waves at the cuddly toys that surround her - her favourite one being Monty the Sloth. He is very soft - just like me.

I have come home to an empty house because Shirley and her sister Carolyn are away for the weekend in a big house in Quorn, Leicestershire. There they are meeting up with ten of their cousins - all women. It has become something of an annual tradition. By the way, the village's name predates the vegetarian food company "Quorn", to which it gave its name, by a few centuries. 

On Thursday afternoon my son-in-law's grandfather Brian died at the age of ninety four down in Stratford-upon-Avon. He drove his wife to the supermarket on Tuesday.  He lived in his own home.  Brian enjoyed good health all his life but in early April he was struck down by Covid and afterwards complained of feeling more tired than usual. I imagine that there was a connection between his unexpected demise and the coronavirus but this will probably never be confirmed.

Also on Thursday my Sunday quiz team reconvened in a Toby Carvery pub-restaurant on the edge of the city  to celebrate our friend Mick's sixty fifth birthday. He is our James Bond expert and also pretty hot on pop music and film dates. It was a great slap-up meal which we all savoured. It had been a long time since any of us had had a Toby Carvery because the one just up the road from us was converted to an upmarket steak house six years ago. By coincidence I had a 50% discount voucher for Thursday's meal. Yorkshiremen love to save money whenever they can.

In relation to my brother Simon, I was pleased to make contact with the East Yorkshire MacMillan nursing service this morning. In fact, I spoke to the itinerant senior nurse who will be Simon's main contact in the weeks and possibly months ahead. She sounded lovely - experienced, very caring and capable. She plans to visit Simon next week. I hope he gets on with her.

Well that's my latest blogosphere offering  finished - my 4045th blogpost of all time.  I am trying to keep  the production line churning and not miss out many days this year.

19 May 2022

Edge

Long time visitors to "Yorkshire Pudding" may recall that one of my favourite stomping grounds in the local countryside is Stanage Edge - just over the border in Derbyshire. It is a 3½ mile millstone escarpment running north to south and over the decades I have taken many photographs there.

A few years back, another photographer who used to post to the "Geograph" website referred to me as The King of Stanage Edge and that is a sobriquet that certainly meets with my approval. 

I had another walk up there on Tuesday afternoon and of course came home with yet another set of  digital images in my Sony bridge camera. The top and bottom pictures show abandoned millstones carved long ago. It is thought that the hand carving of millstones along the escarpment had ceased by World War One. The industry was at its height in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The picture above shows a stone "window" close to Robin Hood's Cave

Stanage Edge is very popular with rock climbers. In fact, it is a veritable magnet for them. When my late brother Paul was at Liverpool Polytechnic in the second half of the  nineteen sixties, he travelled  over to Stanage more than once with other members of that institution's  climbing club. It is a pursuit that has never appealed to me because of the very real possibility of falling and ending up in a wheelchair or a cemetery.

Thinking of brothers... my younger brother Simon (aged 66) has finally been told by an oncology consultant that he has no more than six months left to live. A chemotherapy regime could perhaps extend his life for up to a year but Simon has declined that treatment. I guess he is thinking: What's the point? It is highly unlikely that he will reach his sixty seventh birthday. I am his "next of kin" so of course I need to be available for him as his life ebbs away through the coming  months. We hope and expect that he will be given expert support by MacMillan cancer nurses as he travels his final journey.

18 May 2022

Tree

Our Ian and the conker tree last weekend

It was in the autumn of 1987 when a little boy and his doting father walked along a quiet lane where horse chestnut or conker trees grew. It was in The Ewden Valley in South Yorkshire. Conkers were everywhere. Some were still in their spiky seed pods and others had bounced away after hitting the ground.

The small boy and his father gathered conkers in a shopping bag and when they got home they placed one of them in a plant pot. It sprouted the following spring and a year after that they moved house without forgetting to bring the tiny conker tree with them.

That little boy was my son Ian who will be thirty eight years old this summer and of course the doting father was me.

In thirty five years that conker tree gradually increased in size to become a giant that stood forty feet off the ground. When a tree stands just a few inches tall, you never really visualise what it might become.

Today Ian's mighty tree was brought down in three hours by a small team of tree surgeons wielding chainsaws. I asked the leader how much wood they thought they'd be removing and he said between 1.5 and 2.0 tons. To think, the original conker probably weighed no more than two ounces!

Tree surgeon at work today 

Well, we have saved some of the wood - hopefully to make into bowls and chopping boards so that Ian will always have tangible souvenirs of his special tree. Also, a friend who has a log burner asked us to save him a pile of logs. In addition, I asked the fellows to leave a six foot stump that could henceforth be used as an extra bird table.

I feel quite sad that the tree has gone. Sometimes pigeons nested in its branches. For thirty three autumns I cleared up its fallen leaves and  in thirty three springs I watched it budding and bursting into life. It's rather like parting company with an old friend, one that I will always remember fondly.

What remains

17 May 2022

"Ribbledin"

"Ribbledin" is the name that Ebenezer Elliott invented for a stream that is in reality called Black Brook. It descends from Lodge Moor to the west of Sheffield, plunging to The River Rivelin below.  It was here, in the 1830's,  that he would sit to cogitate and absorb Nature's beauty. The Scottish poet, Robbie Burns (1759-1796) is referenced in the poem. He was one of Elliott's literary heroes - another "man of the people".
Ebenezer Elliott

RIBBLEDIN; OR THE CHRISTENING 

No name hast thou! lone streamlet
That lovest Rivilin. 
Here, if a bard may christen thee, 
I’ll call thee “Ribbledin;” 
Here, where first murmuring from thine urn, 
Thy voice deep joy expresses; 
And down the rock, like music, flows 
The wildness of thy tresses. 

Here, while beneath the umbrage 
Of Nature’s forest bower, 
Bridged o’er by many a fallen birch, 
And watch’d by many a flower, 
To meet thy cloud-descended love,
All trembling, thou retirest – 
Here will I murmur to thy waves 
The sad joy thou inspirest. 

Dim world of weeping mosses! 
A hundred years ago, 
Yon hoary-headed holly tree 
Beheld thy streamlet flow: 
See how he bends him down to hear 
The tune that ceases never! 
Old as the rocks, wild stream, he seems, 
While thou art young for ever. 

Wildest and lonest streamlet! 
Grey oaks, all lichen’d o’er! 
Rush-bristled isles! ye ivied trunks 
That marry shore to shore! 
And thou, gnarl’d dwarf of centuries, 
Whose snaked roots twist above me! 
O for the tongue or pen of Burns, 
To tell you how I love ye! 

Would that I were a river, 
To wander all alone 
Through some sweet Eden of the wild, 
In music of my own;
And bathed in bliss, and fed with dew, 
Distill’d o’er mountains hoary, 
Return unto my home in heav’n 
On wings of joy and glory! 

Or that I were the lichen, 
That, in this roofless cave, 
(The dim geranium’s lone boudoir,) 
Dwells near the shadow’d wave, 
And hears the breeze-bow’d tree-tops sigh, 
While tears below are flowing, 
For all the sad and lovely things 
That to the grave are going! 

O that I were a primrose, 
To bask in sunny air! 
Far, far from all the plagues that make 
Town-dwelling men despair! 
Then would I watch the building-birds, 
Where light and shade are moving, 
And lovers’ whisper, and love’s kiss, 
Rewards the loved and loving! 

Or that I were a skylark, 
To soar and sing above, 
Filling all hearts with joyful sounds, 
And my own soul with love! 
Then o’er the mourner and the dead, 
And o’er the good man dying, 
My song should come like buds and flowers, 
When music warbles flying. 

O that a wing of splendour,
Like yon wild cloud, were mine! 
Yon bounteous cloud, that gets to give, 
And borrows to resign! 
On that bright wing, to climes of spring 
I’d bear all wintry bosoms, 
And bid hope smile on weeping thoughts, 
Like April on her blossoms;

Or like the rainbow, laughing 
O’er Rivilin and Don,  
When misty morning calleth up 
Her mountains, one by one, 
While glistening down the golden broom, 
The gem-like dew-drop raineth, 
And round the little rocky isles 
The little wave complaineth. 

O that the truth of beauty 
Were married to my rhyme! 
That it might wear a mountain charm 
 Until the death of Time! 
Then, Ribbledin! would all the best 
Of Sorrow’s sons and daughters 
See Truth reflected in my song, 
Like beauty on thy waters. 

No longer, nameless streamlet, 
That marriest Rivilin! 
Henceforth, lone Nature’s devotees 
Would call thee “Ribbledin,” 
Whenever, listening where thy voice 
Its first wild joy expresses, 
And down the rocks all wildly flows 
The wildness of thy tresses.

16 May 2022

Location


From observational notes made at Elliott's Rock, Black Brook...

A warm spring day post noon. I descend hesitantly down a precipitous path into the secret dell. Thankfully, gnarled roots and hunks of angular base rock extrude. Otherwise, the plunging path would have the profile of a long children's slide in a woodland adventure park. Sensibly, I take my time. Somewhere, south of the trees, a golfer yells "Fore!" and a metal bar is distantly clanked to warn of pedestrians crossing Hallamshire golf course.

Reaching the bottom, I notice a pair of blue-tits flitting around a tree hollow. Perhaps they are nesting for it is that time of year. Just below them, Black Brook weaves amidst jumbled rocks. It is as if they were cast down in a giants' game of dice.

Mayflies dance above the bubbling surface of the little stream that leaks out of Lodge Moor - moving in unison like a scud of mist. Momentarily they are illuminated in a shaft of amber sunlight  - as delicate as floating dandelion seeds.

Fresh emerald grasses, unfurling ferns and mossy green cushions costume the scene beneath soaring trees that cling tenaciously to the rugged undercliff. They provide lofty perches for an unseen orchestra of avian musicians - blackbird and speckled song thrush.

I sit beside that  sussurating  water mesmerised by tiny bubbles that jostle  in their  tinkly descent Above me, a sail full of wind stirs the treetops then resurges like an ocean wave before subsiding - leaving pure silence, birdsong and reverie behind.

It was here that Ebenezer Elliott wrote "Ribbledin": I am sure of it.

15 May 2022

Abortion

Frankly, what is happening in America in relation to laws that concern abortion is simply terrible.

Pro-life Bible bashers and other right wingers are turning the clock back as they seek to prevent abortion in all circumstances. That position is both cruel and ill-considered. In my opinion, there is only one abortion slogan that is worth repetition - "A Woman's Right to Choose".

When my late grandmother Phyllis was thirty two years old, she was desperate for an abortion.  Her very survival was threatened by an unwanted pregnancy. She already had two children who she had previously  been forced to send to live with her parents. A third child would have been economically disastrous.

In her desperation, she chose the back street method that involved  knitting needles. I don't know all the gynaecological details but she nearly bled to death and afterwards she was incapable of having any more pregnancies. With legal access to  a quality abortion service, my grandmother would have probably been perfectly fine and her fertility would not have been compromised.

When I think of the pro-life brigade, my mind always drifts to Malawi, to rural India, to Bolivia and Eswatini. I think of malaria and infant mortality and of babies dying because of diarrhoea and dirty water supplies. What are the American pro-lifers doing to help babies and small children in such distant lands? They claim to care about unborn children but really they are only bothered about white American babies. When all is said and done it appears to be the birth they care about - not the life that follows.

Having an abortion is not something that anyone should seek lightly. Many potential mothers who opted for abortions live with self-recrimination till the end of their days. That's just how it is. But it is not up to me, to you nor to anyone else to hinder access to safe and legal abortions nor to stand on moral high ground passing judgement on women, often young women who have been caught. History should have taught us all that if you deny a woman  a safe, legal abortion she will be driven elsewhere.

Sleepless

It is the middle of the night. Sleepless in Seattle Sheffield.

Six hours ago, Clint and I drove over to Chesterfield Road to visit our closest Lidl store. There I picked up supplies for the next three days including a basted pork loin joint for Sunday dinner, a pack of nine toilet rolls, two bags of Jersey Royal new potatoes and a pint of fresh orange juice. There were no fresh eggs.

After putting the shopping away, I went up to the top of our garden, beyond the vegetable patch, ready to light a bonfire. It was the first one I have had this year. Plenty of garden material had accumulated but it was nice and dry and I was confident the rubbish would blaze. Earlier I had split the pile in two, knowing that if I had left it as one big heap the conflagration would have too big and too unruly. with angry flames leaping twenty feet high. Since next door built a large shed at the bottom of their garden, I have had to be more careful with my occasional fires, ensuring they are well-controlled.

After the bonfire had subdued itself, I came back inside and grabbed a can of cold Dutch beer from the fridge. Shirley was in the front room watching the annual Eurovision Song Contest.

It is a strange, glitzy affair that spawns terrible songs and unmemorable acts. It has never been my cup of tea. When all the songs have been sung, the voting begins with nearly all European nations participating. This year, everything was looking good for Great Britain. We were top of the leaderboard. Then my eyes became heavy and I fell asleep, waking just before the end of the show to discover that Ukraine had leapt above us to steal the crown thereby proving that war can bring unexpected benefits.

Shirley went to bed which is what I should have done but I switched over to the BBC News Channel and promptly fell asleep once more, waking an hour later. I came into the study and tackled today's "Wordle" - achieving the solution on my third guess.

By the way, it was our friend Pat's funeral on Friday afternoon. You may remember me writing a poem for him a month ago. The local crematorium was packed to overflowing and there were many heartfelt tears. One of his six brothers, Nobby, played "Going Home" from Dvorak's "New World Symphony" on the Irish bagpipes. The service was conducted by the chaplain from the hospice where he died. Pat's  daughter, Jennifer, read the eulogy and throughout  there were  no references to any kind of god or heaven. In spite or because of his strict Roman Catholic upbringing, he did not believe in all that stuff.

I climbed the stairs to bed around two o'clock. An hour later I was still wide awake, exploring memories in my head. I had no choice in the matter. With no immediate prospect of sleep, I came back downstairs to this computer keyboard.and tapped out this blogpost. Falling asleep in front of the television can be fatal! Thankfully, this does not happen to me very often. 

It now being 04.17 on May 15th, I can see that the day that will dawn before too long is already creating a pale and ghostly lightening of the eastern sky. Maybe sleep will overcome me this time round.

Kalush Orchestra (Ukraine) Eurovision winners 2022

13 May 2022

Bench

 My mission to find Ebenezer Elliott's stone took me past this seemingly unremarkable bench high above The Rivelin Valley. Except - it wasn't unremarkable at all.

It is a memorial bench, sited here in memory of Sheffield man Nigel Bruce Thompson. He was thirty three years old when he died.

He was cruelly murdered by Islamic terrorists on the morning of September 11th, 2001. He worked for finance brokers Cantor Fitzgerald in New York City. This company occupied four floors of  The World Trade Center's North Tower. It lost 658 of its employees that fateful morning.

9/11 was not just an attack  on America. It was an attack on civilisation itself. The pain of what  happened rippled around the world, touching the lives of so many including the Thompson family in Sheffield.

And what did those cowardly attacks achieve? What did the wicked terrorists hope they  might achieve? Looking back, it all seems even more pointless than it did at the time. Nigel Bruce Thompson would have been 54 years old this year.

Nigel was a graduate of York University here in Yorkshire

12 May 2022

Pilgrim

Look closely

You might remember the poem "Footpaths" by Ebenezer Elliott. I posted it on Monday of this week.

You may also remember that I referred to Elliott's Rock and my ambition to find it. Allegedly, back in the 1830's, he would walk out of the city to a secret place by a tumbling stream  where he found peace for contemplation and the churning of creative juices.. There was a particular rock in the stream upon which it is claimed that he carved his own surname: ELLIOTT.

Well, I found that rock after carefully making my way down a precipitous path to the bottom of a little V-shaped valley that carries Black Brook down to The River Rivelin.

If Ebenezer did carve his name, it would have been one hundred and eighty years ago. Though the stream ran gently today there will have been many occasions when water flowed over Elliott's Rock with frothing ferocity.

Because of this, the carved name is not as clear as it once was and I am sure that in another fifty or sixty years it will be totally illegible.

I sat for a while in that verdant dell, beside the babbling brook making observational  notes as a cloud of tiny may flies danced upon the water's surface in a shaft of amber sunlight.

With Clint's kind co-operation, I decided to press on with my Elliott-inspired adventure and headed back into the city. I made for 22 Blakegrove Road in the Upperthorpe area. It is where Elliott lived between 1834 and 1841 and there is a blue plaque there to confirm that fact. He didn't own the house - he just rented it. In the early 1980's I visited the house several times. A man called Bill lived there with his disabled wife. He was a leading light in The British Humanist Society and we were friends for a while.

11 May 2022

Poem

 

Ukraine May 11th 2022

Summer beckons  and white storks return
Daintily picking their way  through reeds
Revealing not one smidgen  of concern
Re. visiting warriors’ barbarous deeds...
“There are no threats to the civilian population”.
 
Mykola always left them sticks for nest construction.
Often they would build on the harvester shed
Making intricate moves  of balletic seduction
Or dolorous dances to honour the dead...
“There are no threats to the civilian population”.
 
The sweet stench of putrescine cannot be forgotten
One’s neighbours interred by  concrete scree
Though their cadavers are turning  rotten,
On the wings of storks  their spirits fly free...
“There are no threats to the civilian population”.

© Photo - RSPB

10 May 2022

Diversion

 

Exactly two weeks after transporting Simon to hospital, I took him home today. He still has his two silicone stents in place - one in his trachea and the other in his oesophagus. I have no idea how long they are going to sit there, facilitating his breathing and his consumption of food. Similarly, I have no idea what the next hospital steps might be, if any, and I remain in the dark about the previously intended removal of one of his kidneys. He can be very evasive and snappy.

Anyway, he's back in his draughty old cottage now, glad to get away from bleeping hospital machines, other patients and bothersome medical staff. The nights were very long and his sleep was always fitful. He is used to his own company and quietness. The first thing he did when he got in was to roll up a cigarette. Yuk!

Travelling back through Beverley, I saw a sign up ahead nor far from Beverley Minster at the end of Keldgate. It read, "ROAD CLOSED" and there was also a yellow "Diversion" sign. Stupidly, I followed it, imagining that the diversion would be short, soon bringing me back onto Keldgate.

On the diversion by the aptly named Long Lane

Maybe I missed one or two of the yellow diversion signs or more likely they were never placed in position but I found myself on a ridiculous five mile diversion via Woodmansey and the new Beverley by-pass.

It was one of those situations where doing the right thing was not necessarily doing the best thing. I have the strong suspicion that if Clint had dodged the road closure sign we could have driven along Keldgate with no bother. After all, residents still have permission to access their street and their houses. The reason for the road closure remains a mystery.

Next time I meet a yellow diversion sign, I will have second thoughts about following it. Today's diversionary route must have been dreamt up by a practical joker. However, it wasn't funny. Fortunately, I wasn't in a particular rush to get home.

The diversion took me to Woodmansey

9 May 2022

Footpaths

Statue of Ebenezer Elliott in Weston Park, Sheffield
- Funded by public subscription after his death -

I have been interested in Yorkshire poet Ebenezer Elliott for quite a while now. He lived in a time of great social upheaval between 1781 and 1849. Whereas many poets of his era lived remote lives of leisure crafting their words like potters at wheels, Elliott was a champion of the poor and downtrodden. He was angered by social injustice and spoke up for change and the betterment of ordinary people's lives.

In the 1830's his fame grew  - spreading to continental Europe and North America.  I suspect he was seen by authorities as a dangerous man who had the ability to stir up social unrest. His most famous collected work is "Corn Law Rhymes" . The very title suggests his mission - to challenge unfairness and the suppression of the poor by the landed gentry. Ultimately, he was put out to grass on Hargate Hill near Great Houghton.

In "Footpaths",  the poem I have chosen to share with you this evening, Elliott appears to be referring to the curtailment of historic freedoms.  A man might work like a dog  in the past but at least he could find solace in walking. His way was never blocked. 

Throughout his life, Elliott himself found pleasure in walking and I understand there is a rock by a stream just west of Sheffield where he used to ponder and write after walking out of the city with its belching industrial chimneys and beehive-like activity. I have never seen that rock with the name "ELLIOTT" carved upon it but before too many days have passed I hope to find it. Maybe I will sit there and write a poem of my own. We'll  see. Through the mists of time, here's "Footpaths:-
________________________________
Footpaths

 The poor man’s walk they take away, 
 The solace of his only day, 
 Where now, unseen, the flowers are blowing, 
 And, all unheard, the stream is flowing! 

 In solitude unbroken, 
 Where rill and river glide, 
 The lover’s elm, itself a grove, 
 Laments the absent voice of love; 
 How bless’d I oft sat there with Fanny, 
 When tiny Jem and little Annie 
 Were fairies at my side! 

 O dew-dropp’d rose! O woodbine! 
 They close the bowery way, 
 Where oft my father’s father stray’d, 
 And with the leaves and sunbeams play’d, 
 Or, like the river by the wild wood, 
 Ran with that river, in his childhood, 
 The gayest child of May! 

 Where little feet o’er bluebells, 
 Pursued the sun-bless’d bee, 
 No more the child-loved daisy hears 
 The voice of childhood’s hopes and fears; 
 Thrush! never more, by thy lone dwelling, 
 Where fountain’d vales thy tale are telling, 
 Will childhood startle thee? 

 The poor man’s path they take away, 
 His solace on the Sabbath day; 
 The sick heart’s dewy path of roses, 
 Where day’s eye lingers ere it closes!

by Ebenezer Elliott
from "Corn Law Rhymes" (1834)

8 May 2022

Heads

Apart from travellers and hobos, we all live in spaces. And when we live in a space, we make decisions about it - about how it will appear. Many of these decisions emanate from the sub-conscious and some are evolutionary - taking years to manifest themselves.

I guess that in places like The Hollywood Hills or Monaco or Surrey in England, some wealthy homeowners bring in interior designers to professionally style their private residences. Maybe these "homes" end up rather like pages from a Sunday magazine - more akin to luxury hotels than places of habitation. Nonetheless, even in such spaces, as time passes, the human presence will generally  intrude and reveal itself .

I snapped the top picture in the main bathroom of the house where I stayed on Friday night. It belongs to My friends Pauline and Tony. She has lived there for thirty years. Every time I have been in that house over the past six years, those heads have been there, taking up bathroom floor-space.

I have never asked Pauline about them. Such a question might appear quite nosy. However, I appreciate their presence - gathered  there like  lost figures that could not secure admission to a museum - now trapped in an early Victorian house in Beverley - on a  road that leads up to The Westwood and the racecourse.

Perhaps they have conversations in the middle of the night - comparing notes about the challenges of living without  bodies... Talking Heads.

7 May 2022

Lund

Running down the centre of The East Riding of Yorkshire, there's a river called The River Hull. To the west of it, chalky downs known at The Yorkshire Wolds undulate gently like languorous ocean waves. To the east of the river  and composed of boulder clay deposited by the last great ice age, The Plain of Holderness stretches out to The North Sea.

Growing up east of the river meant that I was much more familiar with that landscape - Holderness. To the west there were villages that were only names and seemed unembodied - Lockington, North Dalton, Beswick, Lund and Hutton Cranswick. They were but a bicycle outing distance from my home but the river divided us.

Village green in Lund

Yesterday, I visited the charming village of Lund for the first time and walked with Tony to Kilnwick - another heard of settlement never seen. The farmland in that district was was well-drained and fertile but young barleyfields of this current era are invariably bereft of insects, birds, wild mammals or weeds. It's like farming in a factory. Old hedges ripped up and fertiliser spread by machines.  The holy grail is always abundance but where are the insects meant to live? Where our feathered friends and the hedgehogs?

In that arable desert, you sometimes see lone woods like islands in a sea of green. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon Lund Moor Wood at just the right time for native bluebells. They hung on the plantation floor like a blue-violet mist cherished rarely by passing ramblers in the month of May before their beauty evaporates like the sweet songs of youth.

It was a marvellous show though I freely admit that, partly because of the light conditions,  my images  could not begin to do them justice.

Kilnwick Beck

6 May 2022

Stents

Tracheal stent made from silicone

Another trip over to East Yorkshire today. I plan to see my brother Simon in hospital this morning and then on to Beverley to stay over night with my best friend Tony. We hope to go out for a country walk this afternoon and then we will have a meal out somewhere - maybe a curry. Tomorrow it's Hull City's last game of the season and we will be watching them play Nottingham Forest. They are entering the promotion play-offs and we avoided relegation. There's always next season to anticipate.

Simon had a stent fitted in his trachea to assist breathing earlier this week and this afternoon he is going to have another stent fitted in his oesophagus to assist eating. Over the telephone, I had a good chat with the senior nurse yesterday and she hopes that the second stent will allow him to eat solid foods once again. It has been two months since he last ate anything.

Until today I had no idea what one of these stents looks like or what it is made from. See top and bottom. Apparently they are used quite frequently to help struggling cancer patients - opening up vital tubes.

Silicone oesophogal stent removed

5 May 2022

Verge

There are little green verges outside the houses at the top of  our street. We have lived here for thirty three years and I have tended, mowed and protected our verge for all that time.  Looking back it has been a constant battle and I could write a book about it all.

There used to be a horrible, diseased tree growing in the centre of the verge. I have no idea what variety it was but it was thin and unhealthy and struggled to put out any buds towards the end of its life. 

We reported it to the council's "Streets Ahead" team and after a few months, contractors came along to remove it. Several months later they were back planting a new tree. I would have preferred a native tree but instead we  got a magnoliua kobus which has is origins in Japan. We had no say in the matter. 

It was planted in January of this year and I am happy to report that it budded successfully this spring and has put out  new leaves..We have watered it several times  to increase its survival prospects. It is also nice to have the new tree there with its supporting stakes because  I am sure that the sight of it discourages careless drivers from parking on the verge.

It has often been heartbreaking to see the grass all churned up by vehicles - like a ploughed field - especially in wintertime. Lower down our street residents have given up trying to protect their verges and some never even tried. Especially when it is wet, it looks a right mess down there.

Maybe I am sounding a bit like King Canute or Victor Meldrew in  the sitcom "One Foot In The Grave" but I don't care. I know there are much more important things to think about than a strip of grass but I am going to continue caring for that grass as long as I live here.

I was out there this morning giving it its second haircut of the year. I also do next door's strip.

Things I didn't cover in this post were litter, shitting dogs, arguments with car drivers, polite notes on windscreens, a letter from the council instructing me to remove my little white stakes, buying turf to repair damage, sowing grass seeds, using weed killer to remove kerbstone weeds, conversations with supportive neighbours and passers-by, putting grass cuttings in the wheelie bin, making signs like the one below - following the removal of the old tree. In my defence I would argue that I am caring for the environment - our immediate environment.

Written in blood

Demography

London-based media. publishers, screen and stage writers, advertisers and the rest  seem to subscribe to the notion that Britain has become a multi-cultural society. Of course that is true but to what degree?  There are many towns and villages in this country that remain as mono-cultural as Britain appeared to be in say the nineteen thirties.

Let me illustrate this by referring to "The New Inn" in the East Yorkshire village where I was born. I stayed there twice recently when visiting my brother Simon and transferring him to hospital.

On the Friday night, after a walk along Leven Canal, I returned to "The New Inn" for a couple of pints of beer and an evening meal. The place was buzzing. I would estimate there were a hundred and fifty people in there - some dining and some just drinking. 

It was a great weekend atmosphere. I am sure I observed everybody who was there and do you know what? They were all white English - no doubt mostly Yorkshire-born and bred like me. There wasn't one black or brown face amongst them.

About four years ago, we attended a wedding in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. There were around two hundred guests at the reception and apart from me, they were all white Lincolnshire folk - again not one black or  brown face.

You only have to study  our country's current demographics to realise that the vast majority of our citizens are still white British with roots that go back generations.

That does not make those people racist or unwelcoming to folk from other ethnic backgrounds. But when they look at their televisions or their newspapers, they must sometimes feel that their reality is being sidelined or unacknowledged  by those who prefer a politically correct and modish image of Britain as a rainbow, multi-ethnic nation.

3 May 2022

Annoyances

Fly-tipping I encountered on Saturday's walk - see Annoyance Number 2

My personal psychiatrist, Dr Clint Hyundai, who graduated with honours from The University of  Ulsan in South Korea  a few years back, has given me a homework task as part of my therapy. He asked me to make a comprehensive list of  all the things that annoy me.

I protested that I would be writing that list forever if I tried to cover absolutely everything. "Okay," he said, "just write down ten things that immediately come to mind. You can put them in your blog if you wish."

So here goes...

  1. The sight of  people putting their feet up on seats - say on a bus or in a pub or a cinema. Don't they know that someone else will sit there before long? You never know what dirt you might have picked up on your shoes.
  2. Fly-tipping in the countryside. When anti-social numbskulls drive to isolated locations and dump their detritus - be it household rubbish or a builder's waste. There's no need for this and who the hell do they think is going to clear up their rubbish?
  3. Single use plastics and overuse of plastic in packaging. It is about time that manufacturers became a whole lot more responsible about their use of plastic. Tragically, the planet already suffers far too much from plastic waste. At times it seems as if we are drowning in plastic.
  4. Scam phone calls and e-mails. Over the years I think I have done well to sniff out this criminality and have never fallen into any scammers' traps. Linked to this, I wonder why governments and other forces of the law are not doing more to block scammers and bring them to justice. That's annoying too.
  5. Inappropriate use of smartphones. This includes parents checking out their phones when they should be focused on their little sons and daughters. It also covers people being glued to their personal phones in workplaces - and, based on my recent hospital visits, that includes nurses in hospitals!
  6. Taxis. I said taxis, not taxes! So many taxi drivers seem to think that they should rule the roads when many of their driving habits are terrible. Pulling out from junctions causing other drivers to brake heavily, undertaking, not using their indicators, stopping at unsuitable places, honking their horns and doing U turns. Very annoying.
  7. Queue jumping. Most British people understand the unspoken rules of queuing and waiting your turn very well indeed but occasionally you encounter queue jumpers whose selfishness is infuriating. The other day I had to wait several minutes for a bus to arrive. I was first in the queue. I put my arm out to stop the bus but a young woman with headphones attached to her mobile phone jumped in front of me. I said "Excuse me!" quite loudly but her headphones were blocking out all extraneous noise.
  8. Belts that don't work or don't last. Maybe this is to do with the shape of my body but I am always having trouble with belts.  I want them to keep my trousers up and help to keep my shirts tucked in and I don't want the surface layer to disintegrate within a month of the purchase date either. Is that too much to ask for?
  9. TV commercials that break up one's concentration on a programme or film. In Britain, I guess we are quite lucky because our BBC channels contain no intermittent advertising whatsoever. I like it that way but if I happen to be watching a commercial channel, those interruptions are really very irritating.
  10. Careless parking. In particular, I am thinking here about the grass verge outside our house. For thirty three years I have striven to keep it green. I mow it. I repair it. I have painted half a dozen bricks white and placed them on the kerb stones but still we have problems with idiots parking on the verge. It's worst in winter when the verge is softer and the grass is dormant. Linked with this, I am also annoyed about the grass cutting contractors who turn up every so often and do an awful, cursory job - often scalping the grass with their unsuitable sit-on mowers.
Well, I was just getting warmed up there. I could easily have churned out a hundred more annoyances.  Perhaps you share one or two of my complaints or maybe you would like to add a pet grievance of your own. 

As Dr Clint often says in his counselling sessions, "It's good to get it off your chest!"

2 May 2022

Foxes

Frances, Stewart and Phoebe live a mile away from us in a rented terraced house. They have a small garden with a wall at the back. Beyond that there is a verdant slope that plunges down to the car park of the local "Home Bargains" store.  I suspect that there was a stone quarry there at some time in the past.

Recently, they spotted a fox cub in their garden and suspected it may have come from the slice of green wilderness just over the wall. Sure enough, a few minutes later, they watched a a vixen leap over the wall to retrieve her inquisitive cub.

Fast forward five days and Stewart happened to be beside the garden wall with his i-phone in hand. He snapped this amazing picture of the vixen with lunch in her mouth.  It's hard to tell what it is. Stewart and Frances think that it is an adult rat but I am not so sure.

On another occasion Stewart leaned over the wall and captured the following image of a young fox cub.
Who needs to go on an African safari or seek out penguins in Antarctica when you can watch the activities of urban foxes here in Merry Olde England? Their widespread presence in our cities is really a phenomenon of the past fifty years. Before that they were mainly country dwellers - so wary and so cunning that you hardly ever saw them.

Coercion

John Darwin (left) played by Eddie Marsan and Anne Darwin (middle) played by Monca Dolan

"The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe" is a four part drama documentary series produced by ITV here in Great Britain. I have watched all episodes this past week and I must say, I have been thoroughly entertained.

The show tells the story of John Darwin and his wife Anne. John was one of those guys who sought financial success but never knew how to get there. He was something of a fantasist, hatching schemes and making unwise investments. He refused to be beaten.

When his financial woes seemed to be catching up with him, he had one final cunning plan up his sleeve. Optimistically, he thought this scheme would be watertight - if you will please excuse the pun! He would take his old canoe down to the shoreline at Seaton Carew and paddle out into The North Sea - never to be seen again.  At least that was the impression he wanted to leave behind.

Later, his long-suffering wife Anne would claim thousands of pounds on his life insurance policy and they would then be walking in clover with all their worries behind them. He hatched a supplementary plan. They would go to live in Panama, buy a nice apartment and some land  and live happily ever after.

Of course things didn't quite work out that way and the couple both ended up in prison, reviled by their beloved grown up sons who were lied to throughout the process, believing that their father was dead. Can you imagine that?

The drama focuses mainly on Anne Darwin and how she was coerced by her domineering husband to go along with his crazy plans. It had been the same throughout their marriage. She was mousey and uncomplaining. It was easiest to just to submit to John's will. After all, he was her husband and he didn't hit her or bully her physically. However, it was clear that for years she had been subjected to psychological intimidation.

At her trial, the jury and the presiding judge refused to see things her way. They concluded that she was an adult and had willingly gone along with John's fraudulent  plans. She could have said "No!" at any time or owned up to the police but she chose instead to perpetuate the lies.

Near the end of her prison sentence, Anne found the courage to divorce John and try to build an independent life repairing fractured relations with her sons. He went off to The Philippines where he married a much younger woman. No doubt his fantasy life continues. He is now 71 and Anne is 70. The crazy canoe plan was hatched in 2002.

The real John and Anne Darwin in Panama

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