30 June 2022


I have been watching tennis from Wimbledon today. You may not be interested in tennis but I rather like the dramatic tension of it all and the way that games can swing from one player to the other. Confidence and calmness under pressure are key features of a winning mentality.

Surely one of the finest players the world has ever seen is Rafael Nadal from Majorca, Spain. At thirty six, he is coming to the end of his career now but he remains a battler and a winner- so passionate about the game he loves and eager to win every point.

When delivering hundred mile an hour serves or receiving them, a player needs to be souped up and ready. At these moments you will see Rafael Nadal touching his face lightly in several places. It's a kind of preparation routine - getting himself in the right mental place to do his job. Other players have different habits in these key moments.

It made me think that we all have different mannerisms - not just in sport but in everyday life too. We don't decide to have them, they just come to us and they are hard to suppress or change.

When conversing with others I have always thought it to be pretty important to look at each other, make eye contact. I don't mean fixed stares because that would be unnatural and unsettling but at least in western cultures it is normal to show respect by looking at who we are speaking to.

However, this causes me to reflect on one of my own mannerisms.

Very often when I am deep in conversation with others and I am perhaps trying to express a difficult point or recall a tangled memory of yore, I look away from the person or people I am talking to, focusing perhaps on a curtain or fireplace. I find this helps me to better concentrate on what I am saying and to be honest I just can't help it. I have always done it.

It is usually surprising when the listener stops looking at me and instead follows my eye line to that curtain, that fireplace or that window. I can read their thoughts in such moments - "What's he looking there for?" and  "Why have we lost eye contact?" Sometimes I stop the conversation at that point to explain or apologise.

Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps it's just me.

29 June 2022


Ukraine June 29th 2022

Beyond the solstice there came no better truth
Just the mangled wreckage of a fallen roof
In Kremenchuk’s Amora shopping centre
Bright lives doused by a cruel tormentor… who grunts
“There are no threats to the civilian population”.

Beyond the borders in faraway lands
Ephemeral politicians wring their hands
As newspapers shift their spotlights elsewhere
If you want a disaster we’ve got one to spare
“There are no threats to the civilian population”.

Beyond the concept of imagination
The subjugation of a once proud nation
Putin studies the reflection of his face
A "Wanted" poster for this human race… and smirks
“There are no threats to the civilian population”.

28 June 2022


Accidents can happen. That is so true. 

I seem to spend a lot of my time trying to avoid accidents. I am a careful driver who avoids taking risks. And when I am out walking in the countryside I am very careful with regard to muddy paths and climbing over gates or stiles or walking through farms where dogs might be roaming.

At home, we have a rubber bath mat with suction pads in the bath where I  normally take my morning shower. On Sunday morning, I had had my shower and was drying my manly physique with a fluffy bath towel when I noticed a streak of bird shit on the window adjacent to the bath.

I had the bright idea of pouring a jug of water out of the window in the hope that it might wash the offending bird shit away. I filled the jug and then put my right foot on the rubber bath mat. I went to stand up in the bath once more but suddenly - Swwwwish! The bath mat slid towards the taps and my standing left leg was bashed violently against the side of the bath. I thought  I had done myself a nasty injury.

Fortunately, the bird shit was washed away very easily but even now my knee and upper shin are bruised and a little uncomfortable. It could have been a lot worse for my mobility has not been affected.

And then this evening. Frances and Stewart were still in Stratford-upon-Avon for the funeral of Stew's grandfather Brian. I  picked Phoebe up from her nursery school which is close by and simply carried her home. 

In the back garden there is a small raised lawn. To reach it, you have to climb over a low wall - less than a foot high and the bricks are not cemented into place. I don't know exactly what happened but I tripped and fell onto the lawn still holding Phoebe in my arms. In that split second I discovered a way of falling that would keep her safe. She was still a little shaken by the experience. Briefly, I recalled my rugby playing days when such falls were routine but back then I was normally in possession of a rugby ball and not a precious granddaughter.

Accidents can change lives. I guess I should be grateful that I have survived this week's minor accidents unscathed and so has Little Phoebe. The look upon her face when we hit the grass is now etched in my memory. Silly Grandpa!

27 June 2022


Last week I shared one of Little Phoebe's favourite YouTube videos with you - "Wiggly Woo". In the feedback, I was pointed to other videos I might introduce to her. Thanks to Ms Moon in Florida, supported by Mrs Barlow in South Carolina, for suggesting "The Duck Song", sometimes known as "Got any grapes?"

Somehow this video passed me by when it went viral a few years ago - amassing over 250 million views. It's very charming and I aim to share it with Phoebe on Wednesday of this week.

I would also like to thank Andrew in Melbourne, Australia for pointing me in the direction of a little cartoon donkey called Trotro. Again I had never heard of him but now I have watched four of his simple cartoon tales. Again - most endearing and just right for a little girl who is getting cleverer and more worldly-wise with each passing day. She will be watching Trotro on Wednesday too.

Ellen D in Illinois requested a blogpost that might cheer her up. I guess we all need cheery things these days in the light of all the bad stuff that has been happening and our shared anxieties about the future. So why not take time out to enjoy both "The Duck Song" and Trotro. Apologies to any deaf visitors.

"The Duck Song":-

Trotro (you might just want to watch the first example):-

26 June 2022


The New Zealand Quail by George Lodge

Five days past the summer solstice now and yet the sky remains little darkened at eleven o'clock. The remnants of sunset hung above High Storrs School as I walked home from another quiz at "The Hammer and Pincers". Gone are the days when local pubs would be packed out for quiz nights - when you couldn't find a table and the prize money might top a hundred pounds. Nowadays there are some nights when we wonder if the quiz might happen at all because of poor attendance.

Everybody has some general knowledge in their brains but like other members of my quiz team, I have rather a lot of it. My speciality is Geography whereas Mick knows a lot about films, dates and James Bond. Mike is good with history and Danny, the last to join the team, often surprises us with the random things he knows.

We tied for the top prize with twenty two out of a possible twenty five correct answers. This led to a tie break question which was; "In which year did the New Zealand quail become extinct?" I put 1936 but I was a long way out. It was 1875.

Before human beings first  arrived In New Zealand around 1200AD, it was an unspoilt Garden of Eden. For millennia its flora and fauna had evolved into a beauteous and balanced harmony. Every plant and creature had its place until humans arrived and that includes the Maori people who introduced the Polynesian rat.

Until tonight I had never even heard of the New Zealand quail. Well, we can't know everything, can we?

25 June 2022


© Reuters
Saturday night at Glastonbury and Paul McCartney was the headline act on the main stage. I watched his entire set live courtesy of the BBC. It lasted for over two and a half hours. He was introduced by presenter Jo Whiley as "a living legend" and that is a label it would be exceedingly  difficult to challenge.

Any recent live TV performances by Paul McCartney have been rather excruciating in my opinion - his voice a pale imitation of yesteryear when he was in his prime. I was expecting more of the same and as the set began I squirmed in my seat thinking that it was nigh time he gave up performing. After all he is eighty years old now.

However, he had surrounded himself with excellent musicians and as the carefully considered set  progressed  I warmed to what I was seeing and hearing. There were kind references to both John and George and he even played George's composition, "Something" - beginning with ukulele accompaniment. It was good to hear.
©Harry Durrant for Getty Images

Towards the end of the set, two famous American musicians joined Paul on stage - first Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame and then another living legend in the shape of Bruce Springsteen. Both had flown in specially to join Paul on stage.

Paul's rendition of "Hey Jude" was more than acceptable and his voice held up pretty well. The vast audience joined in happily and repeatedly with the "Naa-naa - naa - naa-naa - naa Hey Jude" chorus.

Paul McCartney is a good guy, someone I admire and I was pleased for him because the set went  so well and probably better than expected. He came off stage buzzing and if he never performs on a stage again, his performance at Glastonbury could easily be described as triumphant. Well done Paul! You made it!
©Getty Images

24 June 2022


Of course our Little Phoebe lives a life of innocence. She has no need for a gloom-ometer and she is utterly unaware of the war in Ukraine, Trump or Johnson, the stock market or the concept of death. At present this world is a treasure house of interest and delight. Today I held her hand as she looked at  ducks on the pond in Endcliffe Park. She was besotted and she even waved at them though they didn't wave back.

A few months ago, I sat her on my knee to watch videos of children's songs on "YouTube". She was enthralled. As her conversation skills remain rudimentary she began to signal that she wanted to watch videos by using the term "Baa-baa!" - presumably after one of her favourites - "Baa Baa Black Sheep" starring Little Tiny.

She will sometimes stand by the study door saying pleadingly, "Baa-baa! Baa-baa!". We have had to learn to limit these sessions as given half a chance she would be glued to the screen for ages.

One of her current favourites is "Wiggly Woo" about a worm that lives at the bottom of the garden. If you have been feeling gloomy, blue, anxious or angry, may I suggest that you play "Wiggly Woo" a few times and sing along.. It will make you feel a whole lot better and perhaps it will even become a favoured ear worm! Rock n Learn!

23 June 2022


In recent months, commenters on this humble Yorkshire blog have come from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Greece, France, Canada, The United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and The Isle of Man. I think that's everybody but I apologise if I have overlooked somewhere.

I wanted to ask you all about gloom. What is the current reading on your gloom-ometer? I was wondering if it was a similar reading to what we are getting in this neck of the woods.

Here, significant factors that seem to have caused the needle of gloom to rise higher include:-

  • The war in Ukraine
  • Rising prices in supermarkets
  • The rising costs of fuel and energy
  • The ongoing effects of the pandemic
  • Global warming and continuing environmental disasters
  • Having a shameless egotistical liar as our prime minister
  • The Big Brexit Mistake
The Big Brexit Mistake was pushed over the line by that same shameless prime minister and by malicious Russian interference in social media ahead of the Brexit referendum in June 2016. 

I have yet to see any benefits accruing from Brexit. So far any effects have been negative and detrimental to Britain's economic future. By the way, it is worth noting in retrospect that at the time of the vote Britain had 46 million registered voters. Only 17.4 million voted to leave The European Union. It was not as decisive by any means as Johnson and his Brexit gang have frequently suggested.

I guess I have just been on a British sidetrack but every nation has its issues - including America with its social divisions and the bitter after effects of Trump's  four years in The White House.

Perhaps my memory is faulty but looking back upon my adult life, I cannot recall a time when things felt gloomier than they are right now.  Of course I am thinking about the socio-political and socio-economic atmosphere - not about domestic life. Is my gloom-ometer faulty? 

What do you think?

22 June 2022


More pictures from Tuesday's walk in The East Riding of Yorkshire. I am particularly pleased with the photo shown above. It's very simple. I am standing near Barmston Main Drain looking back towards Barmston. The quality of light and associated colours speak clearly of the month of June. Can you see how the land rises near the woods - to the left of the path through the wheat field? That's Trusey Hill - a place where Vikings were buried. Viking invasions began around 800AD and their control of eastern England lasted for two hundred and fifty years.

The picture below was taken from the village of Barmston looking north towards Hamilton Hill.

Below, back on Ulrome Sands. This image shows the crumbly nature of boulder clay cliffs. No wonder there's no vegetation there. It just doesn't have time to get established before more stormy waves chew upon the coast.
I saw this cow parsley growing on the cliff edge above Barmston Sands.
Close by, I spotted this concrete pillbox in a field of barley. It will be a few years yet before coastal erosion causes this one to plunge to the beach as it is set back fifty or sixty yards from the cliff edge.

21 June 2022


Ulrome Church

Before visiting my dying brother today, I went for yet another country walk.

This time, Clint parked himself by the church in a coastal village called Ulrome. From there, I walked a mile to the sea.

That part of the East Yorkshire coastline suffers badly from coastal erosion. There's no bedrock to meet The North Sea just soft boulder clay deposited at the end of the last Ice Age around twelve thousand years ago. With rising sea levels more and more of the coast is being lost each winter.

I walked through a holiday caravan site then down to the sands. A concrete pillbox from World War II had ended up on the beach though I am sure it once perched on  the boulder clay cliffs. There were lots of them along this coast  looking out to sea in case of invasion. It's eighty years since they were built.

I reached the Parkdean caravan and chalet site at Barmston then headed west into the village itself. At The Primitive Methodist Chapel I proceeded south passing  a huge field of broad beans - maybe ten acres - on my way back to Ulrome.

Before seeing Simon again, Clint took me to the site of Skipsea Castle. I had seen it many times in the past but never before had I walked up the grassy mound on which one of William the Conqueror's men built a small castle from where he started to control that area of Yorkshire - known as The Plain of Holderness.

Simon was subdued and not as spiky as usual. He hasn't been eating much and does not feel very motivated to nourish himself. He says he is getting weaker and at one point asked what was the point of living like this just waiting for the end to come? I had no trite responses to give him. I left him soup, canned spaghetti, cans of "Coke" and some crunchy nut cornflakes. Oh - and I left a DIY will form too in the vain hope that he might actually fill it in and get it witnessed. This would make my job as executor so much easier when "The End" credits are played.

Cattle and Skipsea Church

20 June 2022


June is a time for flowers. Mostly, I love to see wild flowers growing randomly in hedgerows, woods or meadows. I am not really someone who habitually enthuses about garden flowers - nor shop bought cut flowers that mostly arrive in this country from commercial growers in The Netherlands.

However, at the top of this blogpost there's a photograph of a pink peony I took in the gardens of Fonthill House. Below there are two pictures of blue delphiniums that I saw in the same gardens. In the sunshine, that blue was so vivid.

In village churches you may be lucky enough to see the handiwork of unnamed and unseen amateur florists. Often this will be after or just before significant services or festivals . When I visited St Peter's Church in Swallowcliffe, Wiltshire, this corner display happened to catch my eye...

19 June 2022


Almost the longest day. I have just walked home from "The Hammer and Pincers" after the Sunday night quiz. It was all downhill and the sky contained vestiges of the day just gone with remnants of sunset peach coloured and fuzzy in the west. There will be so little truly dark night tonight - perhaps three hours at most. In Iceland there will be no darkness at all.

I love this time of year.

It was Father's Day today. We went out for breakfast with Stew and Frances and Little Phoebe. Her behaviour was as angelic as it was five hours later when we took her down to "The Dark Horse" where fathers could claim free pints.

Back home I received two Father's Day cards, six bottles of beer, a box of Maltesers and a Peppa Pig book titled "My Grandpa" which I read to Phoebe three times. For once Mistress Pudding made the Sunday dinner as I took a back seat.

I thought some more about our visit to Wiltshire . The White Horse of Westbury carved into a chalky down, the amazing craft shop in Devizes where the owner knew every item she was selling and our twelve hours in lovely Marlborough before heading home.

The White Horse of Westbury

Buttons in the craft shop in Devizes - "Make Do and Mend"

My shadow on Marlborough Common

18 June 2022


On Monday, after we had gazed upon Silbury Hill, we walked a mile further to the village of Avebury.  It was good to arrive there on foot and not in a motor vehicle.

Almost five thousand years ago, our pagan ancestors began to construct something there - something that was quite amazing. It would have involved thousands of hours of manual labour and the project evolved over hundreds of years in different phases. This was in a time of hunting and gathering, before farming took a hold and changed the landscape forever.

It was a huge stone circle surrounded by ditches, a deep moat and tall embankments. There were also avenues of standing stones that led up to the stone circle. Beyond the shielding embankment were two smaller stone circles. This was not a place of burial but a place of pre-Christian ritual. We can only guess at what happened there for no one really knows. The mysteries will never be uncovered with any certainty.

Centuries later, as memories of the true purpose of the place faded away, an agricultural village grew up right next to the stone circle and some buildings were even constructed within the great circle. A minor road also bisected the sacred site. It seems that in the middle ages, people had little regard for our pre-Christian heritage. The established church  had a vested interest in ignoring, belittling or destroying such sites because they suggested an older and more fundamental way of regarding human existence.

©English Heritage
I guess we should be grateful that the villagers of Avebury did not obliterate the ancient site entirely. Though less visited than Stonehenge, seventeen miles to the south, Avebury still attracts a lot of visitors. We modern folk wander around feeling puzzled, unable to  comprehend what it is all about. What did they think? How did they speak?  What mattered to them?

17 June 2022


On Wednesday, Little Phoebe was having dinner at our house. Spoon control was shared between my wife and the little princess herself. In the picture above you can see how she's tucking in to her dessert - banana slices in custard.
I chuckled as I observed how much dinner  had missed the cake hole. This is best seen in the next picture where evidence of her earlier lasagne bake can be seen on her nose, chin, cheeks and forehead.

It is to be hoped that by the time she reaches adulthood she will be able to hit the target with more precision.

She remains such a joy, brightening our lives as she progresses day by day. We are so privileged to see her so often and to play a significant role in her care and development. Sometimes we ache with love.

16 June 2022


Fonthill House with Poppy Neame singing on the steps

Down in Wiltshire, just north of Tisbury, there's a country estate. It is currently in the possession of  the third Baron Margadale. In the heart of the estate is Fonthill House. Surprisingly it is a fairly modern property - built as recently as the nineteen seventies. There were other grander versions of Fonthill House in the past but one burnt down and two others were demolished.

Normally Fonthill House and the lanes that wind up to it are not open to the public but on Sunday the estate hosted a charity event, raising money for young carers. Shirley and I decided to go along.

We saw Alastair Morrison - Baron Margadale (see right). In fact, I nearly told him to shift himself when he stood in front of me and Shirley as we were watching a fine performance by bubbly soprano singer Poppy Neame. Fortunately for his lordship, he moved along just as I was rising out of my garden chair to give him a hefty clout round the back of his aristocratic skull.

Back in 2016, he and his daughter Nancy were in the news in a bad way when numerous local residents complained about the din wafting over the fields and hedgerows from Nancy's twenty first birthday bash. There were big speakers, a live band and the all night event finished at eight thirty in the morning.

On Sunday, as Poppy's set was coming to an end, Lord Margadale made a special request that visitors should rise to sing the national anthem in honour of Her Majesty and in celebration of her Platinum Jubilee. It was all so terribly twee - like an echo of all our yesterdays.

As we looked around and caught snatches of conversations, we felt that we had arrived in a very different England from the authentic one we know. This was an England of privilege and chocolate coloured hunting dogs, of "Barbour" jackets, panama hats and floral fabrics by Laura Ashley, of  received pronunciation and financial security. "Did you ski this winter?", "Yes we're going up to Scotland in July", "Are they delphiniums or hollyhocks?"

Following a walk in Little Ridge Woods, behind Fonthill House, we drove on to a thatched country pub in the village of Swallowcliffe. I had spotted it during my morning walk. Sitting at an oaken table in front  of "The Royal Oak", we met Lori and John from Edmonton, Canada. They are over here on a guided ten day walking holiday with all arrangements covered by a niche holiday firm. They seemed generally thrilled to be here and it was nice to chat with them for an hour before they wandered back inside the pub for dinner.

Poppy Neame at Fonthill House

15 June 2022


Common spotted orchid near Ansty

The wedding happened last Saturday. Richard was the bridegroom - a good friend to both Frances and Stewart from their primary school days here in Sheffield. He was also our paper boy in his early teens. His bride was Tiffany from Frome in Somerset - not too far away from Tisbury - the charming Wiltshire village where the wedding took place and where we stayed in an Airbnb cottage.

Shirley and I left the wedding venue at around 6.30pm with Little Phoebe in order to bathe her and get her to bed at a suitable time. I did not consume any alcohol as I had agreed to return to the venue at midnight in order to pick up mummy and daddy. Taxis are very expensive in that neck of the woods as there are no local firms.

Besides, I really didn't mind because I was looking forward to a long country walk on Sunday morning and it is always nice to be clear-headed when out  rambling.

I set off from Tisbury soon after nine o'clock - not requiring Clint's vehicular services. What a joy it was to be out on a beautiful June morning in unfamiliar territory plodding some nine or ten miles before my circuitous route was complete.

I saw many things and felt a rush of contentment as I strolled along. There were no other walkers around and some of the paths were obviously rarely trodden. I had to keep my inbuilt satnav switched on to avoid wrong turns or unnecessary detours.

The walk left me with one regret. I passed the wooded slopes of Castle Ditches Fort but made no attempt to reach the upper plateau area which happens to be private land these days.. With a forty minute diversion I know I could have found my way up there. Castle Ditches was an Iron Age hill fort - probably constructed around 1200BC - long after Silbury Hill - but still an important ancient site. A great deal of labour must have gone into enhancing the natural defensive qualities of that hill - with ditches and encircling embankments. So many stories are concealed at Castle Ditches - never to be related.

I walked back into the Airbnb at one thirty. Frances, Stew and Phoebe had already left , heading north with Charlotte who had stayed in a different village. After a rest and some refreshment Shirley and I headed out to Fonthill House for the remainder of the afternoon. I may blog about that tomorrow.

Old Wardour Castle

A view of Ansty

Signpost in Ansty

Sunken path heading towards Castle Ditches

The font in St Peter's Church, Swallowcliffe

14 June 2022


Back from Wiltshire now. It is a four hour drive away on a good run. There's so much I could blog about but I will begin with Silbury Hill.

Have you heard of it? On a woodland walk to the south of the county, we met a charming woman in her seventies. She was Wiltshire born and bred and well-spoken but had never heard of Silbury Hill until I mentioned it to her. Of course everybody has heard of Stonehenge - including the touring Canadian couple we met outside "The Royal Oak" in Swallowcliffe but they had also never heard of Silbury Hill.

I have known of it since teenhood . However, until yesterday, I had never seen the hill - the biggest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe.

I love the fact that nobody knows why it was built over a period of a hundred years between 2400 and 2300 BC. There are plenty of theories but it seems pretty certain that it was not a burial mound. Perhaps it was a ceremonial meeting place. It is estimated that it took eighteen million man hours to build and that 248,000 cubic metres of chalky earth were used. It stands about forty metres tall and covers an area of five acres.

You just shake your head in wonder and puzzlement. Maybe you close your eyes as you try to imagine the people of pre-Christian Britain and how they tried to make sense of the stars, the way that water welled from the ground, the clouds in the sky.

They embraced the unknown mystery of it all. In contrast, modern men dug tunnels into Silbury Hill in search of solutions and maybe treasure too. They didn't find these things and then typically they forgot to backfill their digs which later caused damage to the ancient hill. Earlier, Romans had also damaged it - building a settlement close by.

Below, is the only photo in the sequence that I did not take myself - an aerial shot of the mysterious mound though the top is surely not how it would have appeared in ancient times. I feel I ought to write a poem  about Silbury Hill and maybe I will. It is a special place and yet far less visited than Stonehenge which has become a "must see" attraction for millions.

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