28 February 2022


In secondary school, I may have come bottom of the class in Physics and Chemistry but I was always top in Geography. It was a branch of knowledge that energised me. I cared about mountains, rivers, countries, oceans and capital cities and I still do. When I was thirteen I knew the capital city of every single country in the world and I still know the majority of them but must admit that I haven't kept up to date with all the changes.

It is interesting to me that plenty of people do not seem to care about Geography. Does it really matter that Mount Everest is in The Himalayas or that Sacramento is the state capital of California or that Africa isn't just one big country? For many this is clearly all tiresome, irrelevant knowledge. 

Here's Jay Leno in 2017 interviewing American high school students in order to test their geographical knowledge:-

The results are both funny and alarming but perhaps not surprising for there is a lot of geographical ignorance out there. Maybe the young people Jay Leno quizzed know other things that matter more to them.

Another person who has recently demonstrated that she is geographically challenged is the British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. She confused The Baltic Sea with The Black Sea and thought that Rostov was in Ukraine. It was most embarrassing. Surely one of the qualities we should look for in a Foreign Secretary is a good understanding of world geography.

If I was posing as a journalist at a press conference, I would ask Ms Truss these questions:
  • What is the capital of Romania?
  • What is India's southernmost state?
  • What is the tallest mountain in South America?
And if she didn't get them right I would ask easier questions at the next press conference, such as:-
  • What is the capital of France?
  • In which English county is Land's End?
  • What is the biggest state in The United States by land area?
And if she still couldn't answer those questions, I would ask:-
  • How many fingers am I holding up?
  • What time is it?
  • What is your name?
Elizabeth Truss

27 February 2022


The TASS building in Moscow (1979)

An internet rabbit hole found me investigating the website of The Russian News Agency - TASS. Repeatedly, in recent reports concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, TASS has bolted on this particular paragraph:-

"When clarifying the developments unfolding, the Russian Defence Ministry reassured that Russian troops are not targeting Ukrainian cities, but are limited to surgically striking and incapacitating Ukrainian military infrastructure. There are no threats whatsoever to the civilian population."

The following quotation was not created by TASS: “In war, truth is the first casualty.” It is attributed to Aeschylus,  a Greek dramatist (525 BC – 456 BC) and as events unfold in Ukraine we can see how valid that observation is. "No threats whatsoever"?  Yesterday, Ukraine's health minister said that 198 Ukrainians had been killed, including three children but the picture remains far from clear. Thousands of Ukrainians continue to head west to escape the war (Russian: a special military operation in order to protect people, denazification).

In terms of news chatter, imagery and social media input, no war in human history will be as well-covered as this one. Wars of the past often suffered from news blackouts,  secrecy and rumour but as it begins, news from this war is inescapable. It's in our faces.  Everybody apart from me has an expensive smartphone in their pocket - even in the underground stations of Kyiv. 

Of course, TASS shows no pictures from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the war that Putin has ignited.  Perhaps they are wary of the impact that truth might have upon the Russian people. Best to treat them like mushrooms. Keep them in the dark and feed them with horse shit.

26 February 2022


Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine. It is a spacious, modern city that nevertheless has a long history which reaches back at least two thousand years. By population, it is the seventh largest city in Europe. Like most cities, it looks its best in the summertime. Kyiv boasts 127 parks. Here are images of just five of them:-

Feofania Park

Kalynovka Park

Park of Miniatures

Holosiivskyi National Natural Park

Sakyra Park

Until today, I have always referred to the city as Kiev but now I realise that I was wrong because that version of the city's name is connected with the Russification of Ukraine in the twentieth century. Choosing to say "Kee-iv" is a small spoken act of solidarity with the Ukrainian people in defiance of the version promoted by Russia. I am sure that this explains why TV news journalists have altered their pronunciation of the city's name in the last few weeks.

25 February 2022


At Rufford Abbey

 After February storms, grey skies and not feeling too well either, I finally got out for another lovely walk in the countryside today. Shirley decided to come with me so Clint was on his best behaviour as we headed east into Nottinghamshire. No overtaking like a poker player on the edge and no skidding round corners at breakneck speed.

Our destination was Rufford Country Park north east of Mansfield. It was once the site of a Cistercian monastery which included an attached abbey but like many of England's great ecclesiastical buildings it was ruined under the instructions of King Henry VIII in 1536.

Lake at Rufford Abbey

Afterwards a grand country house emerged from the ruins. It was one of the ostentatious homes of  The Earls of Shrewsbury but then through marriage passed into the ownership of the Savile family. The Saviles support for Royalists  during  The English Civil War brought more troubles to the estate but they survived to tell the tale.

Leaving Clint under shady trees, we walked to Rufford Mill passing a great artificial lake created during the time of The Saviles and also the grave of a famous racehorse they owned called Cremorne. In the summer of 1872, he became the second of six horses to win both The Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris.

After watching vehicles splashing through the ford at Rufford Mill. we walked over rolling farmland to the charming village of Wellow and then headed south to North Laithes Farm with its rather unique dovecote. 

Soon we were crossing Rufford Park golf course before plodding past the chain of rather impressive homes that make up the strange  and demonstrably affluent village of Rufford itself. Of one of the houses, Shirley said, "That looks big enough to be a school or a nursing home!"

After five miles of walking in sunshine., I think we had earned our cups of tea and hot pasties which we ordered at the counter of The Coach House Cafe. Soon we were heading home courtesy of The Clintmobile who stayed calm and collected even as we patiently edged past three annoying  traffic hold-ups.

St Swithin's Church, Wellow

24 February 2022


This is a dark day for Ukraine, for Europe and for the world. The easiest prophecy to make  has now come true. Surprise, surprise, the massed Russian troops were not just engaged in military exercises within shouting distance of the border with Ukraine, they were indeed preparing for invasion.

In years to come, I will look back upon this blogpost and what I hope is this - that in the intervening time, the Russian people will have booted out the megalomaniac who is now in charge. They will have found a way of beginning a new phase in their nation's history built on truth and democracy and not upon the whims of a madman who is living in a distorted vision of the past.

Why should innocent Ukrainians and Russian soldiers die for his delusional ego?

You may say I'm a dreamer but I'm not the only one.

23 February 2022


Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Power of the Dog"

Last night, courtesy of Netflix,  I watched "The Power of the Dog" directed by Jane Campion. Set in rural Montana in the  1920's, it is a haunting, beautifully crafted and artful film.

I could summarise the plot quite easily but that would give the game away for readers who haven't yet seen "The Power of the Dog". Rough and ready rancher Phil Burbank is played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch. He is the central character - a brooding, troubled figure who lives with shadows of the past - especially an old cowboy called Bronco Henry. Of him, Phil says, "Greatest rider I ever knew...He taught me to use my eyes in ways that other people can't."

What do we want from films? Do we want clarity, resolution, explanation, certainty? If that is what you crave, you won't find such fulfilment with this film. Ultimately what you find is suggestiveness, mystery, words unspoken and rope ends not tied up. There's a sense in which you have to make your own conclusions instead of having them presented to you on a plate.

I agree with film critic David Rooney:"This is an exquisitely crafted film, its unhurried rhythms continually shifting as plangent notes of melancholy, solitude, torment, jealousy and resentment surface. Campion is in full control of her material, digging deep into the turbulent inner life of each of her characters with unerring subtlety."

Visually, it is quite stunning. Though filmed in the Otago region of New Zealand, the imagery provides an authentic  "feel" of the Montana wilderness in the early twentieth century with crumpled hills in the distance.

There was something quite surreal about it all. I found I had to suppress some nagging practical questions - such as: Where is the creek and the green woodland in relation to the grand Burbank ranchhouse?  Why is the ranchhouse so big and why does it appear so uncluttered outside?  Where is the nearby town in relation to the ranch? But in the end such queries didn't seem to matter. Best to just go with the flow and accept the separate reality of this brilliant artifice disguised as just another cowboy western.

Kirsten Dunst as Rose Gordon in "The Power of the Dog"

22 February 2022


The mask above is available online for only £2.99 plus postage and packing from the Harlequin Fancy Dress & Party Store . This is, genuinely, the accompanying text:-

Become your favourite politician! Vladimir Putin.

Mask-arade face masks are Fantastic Fun for any occasion. These flat, printed cardboard face masks are guaranteed to turn heads, create smiles and laughter and get your party off to the greatest start.

All Mask-arade stock face masks are manufactured using the latest print technology and only use responsibly sourced, high quality FSC white card. All masks come with eye holes and attached elastic.

I wonder which party they are referring to? The Communist Party?

It is rumoured that Putin has his own personal supply of these masks. If he hasn't shaved or looks bedraggled after a late vodka-fuelled night playing "Fortnite" on his phone, he simply dons a new mask. As his face is usually expressionless and his lips hardly move, nobody notices when he is wearing one of these masks.

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson masks are also available from the same supplier but for them you need an exceptionally large head - about the size of a basketball. In contrast, Putin is a weenie little fellow with wedges in his heels to make him look taller. He is exactly the same height as Adolf Hitler was. He also suffered from LMS (Little Man Syndrome).

21 February 2022


Our little semi-detached house in the suburbs this afternoon

In the past six days, three winter storms have rolled in from The Atlantic: Dudley, Eunice and Franklin. When the next storms arrive, they will be Gladys, Herman and Imani. We never used to name our winter storms but current thinking is that by giving storms names , the general public will be less blasé about responding to them. There's a certain anthropomorphism going on. 

Living here in Yorkshire on the eastern flank of The Pennines, we rarely feel the full force of Atlantic storms. By the time they reach us they have usually dissipated somewhat. The worst seems to be reserved for the south west of England, southern Wales and the north west of Scotland.

On Saturday night, I thought I might have contracted COVID for the first time because I had cold symptoms and  suspected it might have been connected with my football match attendance last Tuesday. However, a lateral flow test yesterday morning was negative. Down in London our son Ian tested positive last week and remained in home quarantine for five days. At first he felt quite poorly and took to his bed.

I made it up to "The Hammer and Pincers" last night for the Sunday quiz. My team won. It was helpful that I knew that the North American name for coriander is cilantro. We also knew that Axl Rose chose his stage name because it is an anagram of "oral sex". We won six beer tokens and £12 in cash and felt happy even as Storm Franklin was lashing about outside.

Earlier I had made yet another family Sunday dinner which was of course attended by our darling Phoebe. No longer does she grab our faces, threatening to pull them off. Instead she likes to walk us round the house as she holds on to our hands for stability. Kitchen to hallway, into the study then right past the downstairs shower room and back into the kitchen. It is a route I have now travelled dozens of times. Round and round like a teddy bear.

It seems that my younger brother Simon (aged 65) will have to have one of his kidneys removed before spring arrives. There's a tumour  but we don't yet know if it is benign.  He lives alone in a terrace of cottages not fifty yards from the bedroom in which he and I were both born in the middle of Yorkshire's East Riding.

I have already offered to bring him back to Sheffield for his recuperation period - assuming of course that the removal process is straightforward with no complications caused by possible malignancy. 

We never considered such things when we climbed trees, played football and larked about down by the canal.  And we came home to Mum and Dad, Paul and Robin and to Oscar our cat and later we laid in bed listening to the wind in the sycamores where  coal-black rooks had built their jumbled rookery.  No we never thought of kidneys or cancer, cholesterol or catastrophe as we entered sleep's gates. I whispered, "Are you awake Simon?" but there was no reply.

Hallam Towers - a new apartment block in Broomhill 
- seen from our top decking this afternoon

20 February 2022


I first heard about Wordle three weeks ago. There were bits of news about its sale to "The New York Times" so I investigated. It turns out that Wordle is a very simple word game. You have six opportunities to guess the word of the day though of course your powers of deduction come into play. Finding the answer is not entirely guesswork. To me it provides a useful bit of mental exercise. Completing a game never takes more than ten minutes.

I have played 18 games so far and I am proud to announce that I have a 1oo% success record. Eight of my correct answers came on the fourth guess, eight on the fifth guess and two on the sixth guess.

Below, a Wordle game has just begun. The first guess was "PEACE". The player knows that the letters A and C will be present in the word of the day but not in those positions. Through the second guess - "CARRY", the player knows that the second letter now presented in green is definitely "A" but the answer will not contain an "R" or a "Y"  - nor an "E" or a "P". The cogs in the player's mind are turning. He or she is already making intelligent deductions but will they reach the answer  by the sixth line?

By the way, on this occasion the word was "TACIT"...

If you fancy playing Wordle - go here - and good luck to you!

19 February 2022


An estimated 100 million cups of tea are drunk in Britain every day - that is almost 36 billion cups per year. Though coffee has continued to increase in popularity, it lags way behind tea which is still very much the nation's preferred hot drink. I myself drink four or five mugs of tea every day. I have mine strong with a glug of semi-skimmed milk and one spoonful of sugar. Like most British people, I don't go in for fancy teas - just the simple everyday tea that is now commonly referred to as "builders' tea".

I wrote this poem in praise of tea in the past forty minutes. I am sure that if a teacher was assessing it, he or she might well remark: "Could do better!". Perhaps I will try another tea poem some time soon.



Life has its ups and it has its downs
In rural parts and busy towns
But instead of crying “Woe is me!”
Head for your kitchen
To make some tea!

For tea is the elixir of human life -
A cure-all for every trouble and strife.
Make it at daybreak or late at night,
After drinking a cuppa
You’ll feel all right.

We drink tea at funerals when a human life ends
And it’s also the best way to welcome our friends.
It’s part of this nation’s proud history
Cos there’s nothing quite like
A nice cup of tea.

18 February 2022


If you are a Syrian refugee, seeking asylum in Great Britain, you have to buy a berth on a crowded inflatable boat. You climb aboard before dawn on a beach on the north coast of France. Many of you are forced aboard by people smugglers. You are frightened but hope that you will make it into British waters. Later, the authorities will process you and the lengthy asylum granting process will begin. You will have little money and officially at least you won't be allowed to work. The years ahead will be quite miserable.

If you are a rich Russian oligarch, seeking a new home in England, you will fly in aboard a private jet. Then a chauffeur-driven car will whisk you away to an expensive hotel or to the luxurious mansion you bought ahead of time.  Nobody will investigate your finances, focusing on how you actually accrued that wealth. You will have a special visa giving you residency rights and soon you will be visiting Ascot or mingling with other oligarchs in Michelin starred restaurants. Your children will attend the best fee-paying schools. The years ahead will be fine and dandy.

17 February 2022


A Syrian refugee in Lebanon
Abdul al Moamen (aged 10)    ©Paddy Dowling

Several days ago I watched a documentary piece on Channel 4 News and ever since I have been struggling to get it out my head. It concerned the plight of Syrian refugees.

As you may or may not be aware, the Syrian crisis has spawned more than six million refugees - desperate people fleeing for their lives from unspeakable horrors. Though some have made it to western countries, the vast majority find themselves in refugee camps closer to home - in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

At the start of this month, a small Channel 4 team made their way through the snowy hills of Lebanon to a remote camp where freezing families live in tents and cardboard shelters. The refugees have little food and limited access to firewood, electricity or reliable piped water.

They are also short of another important necessity - hope. It feels as if the world has abandoned them even after being driven from their homes and all that they had known by the brutal Bashar Hafez al-Assad - a cruel wolf dressed in sheep's clothing.
The part of the video that really struck home for me was when Abdullah, the father of a large Syrian family, carved up nylon insulation tiles. to put in his small iron stove to create some heat for his wife and children in their. sopping wet tent. Of course, such fuel is dangerous because as well as providing some heat, it also creates toxic fumes. These were being breathed in by a coughing baby of six weeks and Abdullah's young toddler had several swollen burns on his hands through reaching out to touch the stove.

Another crushed father, Hassan, said, "Our future has gone. There is nothing."

We don't hear much about Syrian refugees in the TV news these days. Years are passing by and the refugees remain massed in desperate camps, struggling to survive with minimal support from aid agencies and the international community. These poor Syrian people were driven from their own ruined country to find sanctuary elsewhere and what have the majority found? Hopelessness, that's all. Meanwhile...
The Presidential Palace just outside Damascus, Syria

16 February 2022


Hull City's George Honeyman and United's Conor Hourihane battle for the ball   © Simon Bellis

Last night, my friend Tony and I went to the famous Bramall Lane ground to watch our team - Hull City - play Sheffield United in a hotly contested Championship match. Of course it was also a Yorkshire derby.

It would have taken forty minutes to walk from our house to the ground but we went down in Tony's Ford Focus and parked behind the health centre where Shirley used to work. Now we only had a ten minute walk to the stadium which has hosted games since the 1870's. In fact, it is the oldest major stadium in the world still to be hosting professional association football matches. It has been the permanent home of Sheffield United since 1889.

For February, it was a pleasant evening. Balmy temperature and no rain. As we came closer to the ground, the nearby streets were filled with spectators. I bought a programme outside The Railway Hotel for £3.50. Inside that hostelry, United fans were swigging ale down their necks.

We found our way to turnstile number eighteen and queued up. A drug sniffing dog nosed along the line led by a police officer in a dayglo coat and when we reached the head of the queue we were body searched like all other "away" fans. This is something that incenses me but of course I kept my temper in check and endured the indignity. "Home" fans are not searched.

Under the Bramall Lane stand, there's a big lobby area with food and drink concessions and steps leading to allocated blocks. We were in Block 4 which meant we had to head to Gangway G. This involved pushing through two or three thousand other Hull City supporters. They were mostly younger than us and nearly all were male. They were having a wild time singing football songs, chucking beer around and laughing with mates but all Tony and I wanted to do was to make it to our seats. There were no signs of police or club stewards at this juncture and as I pushed my way through the massing fans, I naturally thought about COVID, past restrictions and the infection lottery that is still very much with us. Reaching one's seat at Hull City's MKM Stadium would not require progress through such a crowded bottleneck of supporters.

In England, it has become the custom for visiting supporters to stand up throughout the game even though they would of course be far more comfortable sitting down on their seats. People who wish to sit down - like me and Tony - are forced to stand in order to have sight of events on the pitch.

The floodlights illuminated the scene in a theatrical manner. Emerald green grass like a huge carpet and Sheffield's players in their traditional red and white stripes while our lads wore the famous amber and black of Hull.

Our team played like true Tigers against the mighty Blades who were in The Premiership just last season. They had far more possession and more shots on goal but seemed to lack the vital killer touch. It was as if our goalmouth was surrounded by an invisible force field... They Shall Not Pass! There were 27,000 people there to witness the clash.

We had breakaway opportunities and came close to scoring on three or four occasions but when the referee blew the final whistle the score remained 0-0. I turned to Tony and said, "It feels like a victory!" and he agreed.

Then we made our way back out into the bustling Sheffield night before strolling up Cemetery Road to the health centre. Tony had a ninety minute drive ahead of him - back to his home in East Yorkshire as I made it up to "The Banner Cross" pub just in time for last orders. Though it was an "away" match, it was in fact my only "home" match of the season! Up The Tigers!

The game was originally scheduled for December 29th.

15 February 2022


This city, Sheffield, is known in England as The Steel City. Not only was it the kingdom's  biggest producer of heavy steels for industry and construction, it was also famous for the manufacture of steel cutlery. Even today, the city's ice hockey team is known as The Steelers and Sheffield United football club are nicknamed The Blades. Good quality cutlery is still produced here but heavy steel production has almost gone.

I could make a whole blogpost about Sheffield's steel industry but I want to write about something else today - Sheffield Castle which existed long before the burgeoning of the steel industry.

There are around four thousand old castles in England. Some are in a fine state of repair but many are in ruins. Some are just mounds with moats around them and others, like Sheffield Castle, were razed to the ground leaving little evidence of their existence behind.

It was a big and strategically important castle, covering some four acres at the confluence of  two rivers - The Sheaf and The Don. It began its life as a simple "motte and bailey" castle soon after the Norman invasion in 1066 but by medieval times it had grown into a huge stone stronghold with residential buildings and barracks within. It was the very gateway to the north of England.

Mary Queen of Scots was detained there in the late sixteenth century and at Manor Lodge in nearby forested hunting grounds. However, less than a hundred years later, the castle was no more.  Having accommodated Royalist forces during The English Civil War, Parliament in London decided that the great fortress should be razed to the ground and that process began in earnest in 1649.

Within a few months, six hundred years of history was almost obliterated. I say "almost" because some of the castle's foundations remain to this day and following the demolition of several city centre buildings - including The Castle Market - archaeologists have scoured the castle site finding many  fascinating objects and learning more about the castle's development since the Norman mound was first raised up above the two rivers.

It is tantalising to think that Sheffield Castle would have been a tourist attraction today and it would also have reminded Sheffielders that their city  has a history that goes back much further than the age of steel. Co-incidentally the imagined Sheffield Castle at the top of this post was portrayed by the late Kenneth Steel (1906-1970) - a native Sheffield artist.

Brass crucifix found on the site of Sheffield Castle 
-  probably from the late sixteenth century.

14 February 2022


When I was an English teacher, I had endless creative ideas for engaging children as I helped them to develop their language skills. Occasionally, I would "use" the following poem by the Liverpool  performance poet Adrian Henri (1932-2000). Though I have posted it before, it seems quite appropriate to share it with you once more on Valentine's Day:-


Love is...

Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fan club with only two fans
Love is walking holding paint-stained hands
Love is.

Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don't put out the light
Love is

Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you're feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is

Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is a pink nightdress still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is

Love is you and love is me
Love is a prison and love is free
Love's what's there when you are away from me
Love is...

One of the things I would do with this poem was to get youngsters following the same simple pattern but with new titles as I helped them to a better understanding of what poetry could do. It didn't need to be high brow  stuff drifted down from some faraway ivory tower. It could be here and now and meaningful - a tool for reflecting on real life. Often I would have them writing in pairs as they approached new titles such as "War is...", "Happiness is...", "Youth is...", "Sheffield is...", "Death is..." and so on.  Many's the time I observed faces lighting up when effective four line verses had gelled  almost magically...


War is tears rolling down a face
War is a dream that tyrants chase
War is a curse on the human race
War is...

Nature is a lizard soaking up the sun
Nature is a cobweb newly spun
Nature is a precious gift for everyone
Nature is...

Joy is a light that helps you find your way
Joy is  the sound of children at play
Joy is the tune of life's cabaret
Joy is...

If you have an idle moment to spare, why not experiment yourself?

13 February 2022


Not Buffy The Vampire Slayer but Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Canadian-American singer songwriter, visual artist and activist. She was the reason I came to Sheffield for the very first time in the autumn of 1971. She appeared in concert at Sheffield City Hall, supported by Loudon Wainwright III.

I had just turned eighteen and I was obsessed with music - especially singer songwriters. In  preceding months, I had listened to two of Buffy Sainte-Marie's albums over and over again. I knew that she had effectively been blacklisted by Presidents Johnson and Nixon for her involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Her style was simple and refreshing. Her voice trembled as she sang of injustice, of love and of memory. Though she came from very humble origins - born on a Native American reservation in Saskatchewan in 1941 - she refused to be unheard and clung fiercely to her originality and to the spirit of her ancestors.

Unlike Norma Waterson and Lata Mangeshkar, Buffy Sainte-Marie is still very much alive. She will be 81 next Sunday and I understand that nowadays she lives mostly in Hawaii. She wrote "Now That the Buffalo's Gone", "Universal Soldier", "Until It's Time for You To Go" (made famous by Elvis Presley) and she also co-wrote "Up Where We Belong" for the film "An Officer and a Gentleman". Of course there are many other songs in her canon of work.

Standing on the pavement outside The City Hall in October 1971, half an hour after the concert, I watched a black limousine approaching and there was Buffy sitting in the back. For a fragment of time our eyes connected and I waved. Of course I have always remembered that moment though she would have forgotten it almost instantly before moving on to the next British city on her tour schedule.

Here she is forty years later, at the age of seventy and still beautiful, recording for the BBC with Donovan Leitch on her right:-

11 February 2022


Sheep and Postern Lodge Farm

I walked for a long time today. More than five hours of trudging along in the agricultural landscape of mid-Derbyshire and just a a handful of miles north west of the city of Derby.

Clint was left in the car park of the village hall at Hazelwood - a pleasant village oh a hill that overlooks the valley of The River Ecclesbourne. With boots on I wished him a fond farewell and set off on a day when the weather seemed so unlike February.

As I was outside The Peak District, some of the paths I walked were clearly little trodden. Finding one's way in such a landscape can be challenging to say the least.

I arrived at Postern Lodge Farm and found myself in a wet and muddy situation where cattle and tractors had turned the way ahead into an absolute quagmire. What is more, the route of the path was obstructed by barbed wire and fenceposts.

Woe was me but then a farmer arrived  in a big John Deere tractor pulling a massive red trailer behind him. He had been transferring a pile of manure to a field on the ridge. He climbed down from his cab and we spoke briefly about the path dilemma. He apologised about the barbed wire and then kindly pressed it down so that I could get across. It was an unexpected act of kindness and I thanked him for it before carrying on my way.

The Baptist Church and church hall in Windley

Windley was a beautiful little village of perhaps thirty houses, some of them very new but designed with architectural flair for owners who are "not short of a bob or two" as we sometimes say in Yorkshire.

Over fields to The Clouds and then along Burland Green Lane to Weston Underwood then east on The Centenary Way footpath to Cocks-Hut-Hill. 

Lane to Weston Underwood

I must have walked eight miles and I was feeling weary but there were two more to go. I crossed The River Ecclesbourne and then a little used railway track before climbing steadily on the margins of fields to Hazelwood Hill where I followed the lane back to Hazelwood  itself where Clint was waiting for me, ready for the ninety minute drive back to Sheffield via Wirksworth, Matlock, Chatsworth House and Grindleford..

"Did you have a nice walk?" asked Clint.

"Lovely Clint. Thanks for asking," I said as I switched on the Radio 4  news from the BBC. 

Increasingly the focus is upon Ukraine now. Everybody wonders what Vladimir Putin is up to. and what NATO can really do to respond effectively to this growing threat to Europe's peace. Must there be bombs and bullets? Must there be death? And what for? What benefits will a bloody conflict bring to anybody? Funny how Putin has chosen this particular moment to flex his muscles when the entire planet has been rocked by Covid. Nobody needs a war right now.

Gate by the drive to Flower Lillies House, Windley

10 February 2022


Hello! It's me Little Phoebe. Grandpa and Grandma look after me every Wednesday and Thursday now that Mummy is back at work. Grandpa says that I would win an Olympic gold medal if they had a crawling event for babies like me.
I like crawling. It's much safer than trying to walk like a grown up - up on your feet. I only like to walk when somebody is holding my hands. I feel much safer that way. When I try to do it on my own I am a bit wobbly and it is so easy to fall over with a bump!
Everybody agrees that I will be walking indeupendelberry on my own very soon and that's why Big Grandpa wanted to take pictures of me crawling around yesterday afternoon. 

In the next picture you can see me standing up at the bottom of the big hill that leads to a magical land called Upstairs where my teddy bear Charlie lives. I like Upstairs because you can have bubble baths there and you can look out of the window and just be happy watching the world pass by. I like to say "Dat!" and point at the cars because I am only a little girl.

9 February 2022


Illustration: Lee Martin/Guardian Design

Let me say straight off that I am an omnivore. I will eat just about anything apart from endangered animals and foie gras. I mean, the traditional  process for producing foie gras seems downright cruel to me. Yes - I draw the line at foie gras.

I suggest that every omnivore is different from the next. We each have our preferences and dislikes. I have never been fond of octopus and if I never eat it again in my life I will not be bothered. When it comes to vegetables and fruit, I will eat just about anything though I am not fond of pears. On the other hand, my wife likes a nice juicy pair pear but hates okra for some unfathomable reason. She is also not fond of fatty bacon - preferring the really lean stuff. Such idiosyncrasies are typical of omnivorous humans  - well perhaps only those of us who are fortunate to live in the affluent west.

Years ago when our Ian was but a babe in arms, we invited a family we knew round to our house for a nice Saturday evening meal.  Jazz was a teaching colleague and his wife Fiona was a part time primary school teacher. They had two small boys - one of whom, years later, tragically killed himself when he was at university.

A couple of days before the meal, Jazz informed me that he and Fiona had recently decided to become vegans.  Oh hell - I thought- for we had never consciously prepared a vegan meal before. Nevertheless, with extra effort we managed it and the vegan meal went down well though I would have liked to see a fat pork chop on my plate. Before they went home, one of the little boys told me in confidence that his parents still ate meat occasionally. After all that effort I felt we had been played. Bloody vegans!

Roll the clock forward about thirty years and our son Ian tells us he has decided to become a fully fledged vegan. Christ all bloody mighty - a flaming vegan! That's all we needed to hear.

In the last seven years, Ian has been on an astonishing journey. From starting as an unemployed vegan who could not foresee where his life was going to becoming a champion for meat and dairy-free dining. He and his old schoolmate Henry have produced six vegan cookbooks and a seventh book about vegan living called unsurprisingly, "How To Live Vegan". They have been on television numerous times and even had their own ten part TV show called "Living on the Veg".

I have observed this plant-based journey from close quarters and Shirley and I are of course immensely proud of what has happened thus far. We have also learnt a lot more about what veganism entails and what it means to be vegan. Of course, we have eaten many vegan meals.

Now I return to my first point. Just as omnivores are different, so are vegans. Some people become vegan because they hate the idea of killing animals. With others it is about making their small contribution to the battle against climate change. Less meat consumption means lower carbon emissions. Some people are just part time vegans, only consuming meat, egg or dairy dishes at the weekend. After all, veganism is not a religion. Some vegans are very strict about avoiding all animal products but others are more chilled about it. Some vegans dislike the idea of fake meat products but others embrace them, happy to admit that they enjoy those old food sensations - eating pies, burgers and sausages for example. Why not? Those fake meat products do not involve any slaughtering.

Over these past seven years when plant-based eating has grown massively in popularity, I have been surprised at the amount of angry veganismism I have encountered. It's a bit like the prejudice that is part and parcel of other -isms, like sexism for example. Just as it is wrong to paint all women or all men with the same brush, making sweeping generalisations on the basis of gender, so surely it is equally wrong to do the same thing with veganism. 

There is no typical vegan. They are all different - like people  in the omnivore world. In my estimation,  veganismism is a bad thing. Rather than blowing off about vegans, it would be better for angry veganists to consider why plant-based diets are on the increase just like vegan products in supermarkets. More and more young people are turning away from animal products in favour of plants and this is a trend that seems set to continue. Thankfully, it is no longer weird to be vegan.

8 February 2022


As I said before, the world of music lost Lata Mangeshkar very recently but a week earlier, it also lost the great English folk singer Norma Waterson. Some might say that she was the queen of English folk music. She was 82 when she died.

Norma was born in  Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire in 1939. The Watersons were a musical family and became a big presence on this country's folk circuit. In 1972,  Norma married the legendary Martin Carthy who influenced both Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. It is often claimed that the modern version of "Scarborough Fair" was down to Martin Carthy and not Paul Simon. Arguably, Carthy never got the credit he deserved.

Norma and Martin were both steeped in traditional folk music and very knowledgeable about it too. They had one child - Eliza Carthy who still follows in her parents' musical footsteps.

Remember how, a few weeks ago, I was exploring The Black Death in this corner of the blogosphere? Well it seems that the following song may have had its roots in those far distant days. Here's Norma, accompanied by her husband Martin, explaining and then singing "Death and the Lady" quite perfectly:-

Rest in Peace Special Lady - Norma Christine Waterson (1939-2022)

7 February 2022


Approaching Stanage Edge from the south

I made a simple vegetarian lunch today. Tomato soup with softened chopped onions and garlic - mopped up with fresh seeded wholemeal bread from Tesco. Despite the weather forecast, there was a big blue sky and golden sunshine outside. 

I didn't need any more persuasion. Time for another walk. Not too far away. Back to the moors and a stroll on Stanage Edge. I needed to blow the cobwebs away and add a couple more miles to my dial. But just then the telephone rang.

It was my brother Robin phoning from the L'Ariege region of southern France. Now that fellow can talk for England even though he lives in France. We always enjoy a good chinwag together, swapping news and putting the world to rights.

And when the conversation drew to a natural close, I noticed that an hour had passed by. The outside world was no longer as inviting as it had been but I still jumped into Clint's cockpit and shouted "Chocks away!"

I have been to see the millstones under the southern end of Stanage Edge many times. They were probably abandoned at the time of the first world war when thousands of men from just about every trade and every corner of the kingdom went off to fight.

I can still just about recall the first time I saw them back in 1979. I just came upon them with no prior knowledge that they would be there. It was quite a surprise. There are several other abandoned millstone workings in The Peak District complete with carved stones that never made it to their destinations for by 1918 the world had changed forever.

Back home I prepared an evening meal using the dahl curry that Shirley had made when I was at the football match on Saturday. She had carefully followed instructions set out in one of our son's "Bosh!" vegan recipe books and I must say that the end result was super tasty. 


"The Nightingale of India"

The population of India is currently 1.38 billion and rising. In the west, we are all very aware of this great and populous country with its rich and chequered history, its mysticism, its beauty, its joys and its sorrows. Yesterday, almost the entire Indian population shed collective tears over the death of  Lata Mangeshkar at 92 from COVID19.

She was a very famous "playback singer". This term describes recording artistes whose singing is pre-recorded for use in films. Playback singers record songs for soundtracks, and actors or actresses lip-sync the songs on camera; the actual singer does not appear on the screen. Lata Mangeshkar's voice was familiar to generations of Indians for she sang countless songs for the ever expanding Bollywood film industry in at least thirty six Indian languages.

She received many awards in her long career. In 2001, in recognition of her contributions to the nation, she was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour.

Visitors to this blog are nearly all westerners and I guess that most of us feel disconnected from the soundtracks of Bollywood. We don't understand the lyrics and the singing styles are strange to our ears. Nonetheless, I think it is good to pause for a little while and give Lata Mangeshkar a listen as she departs this life for the "seventh heaven" of Hinduism.

Here she is in 1963 on India's Republic Day singing "Aye mere watan ke logo" in New Delhi in the presence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was reportedly moved to tears. The Sinai-Indian War of 1962 appeared to have ended just a few months before. The first verse with English translation is printed below the video:-
ai mere vatan ke logo, zaraa aa.nkh me.n bhar lo paani
Oh, my fellow citizens! Shed a few tears.
jo shahiid hue hai.n unkii, zaraa yaad karo qurbaanii
Remember the sacrifice of those martyrs.
tum bhuul na jaao unko, is liye suno yah kahaanii
Listen to this story so that you do not forget them.
jo shahiid hue hai.n unkii, zaraa yaad karo qurbaani
Remember the sacrifice of those martyrs.

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