28 February 2023


Today I was not alone when I instructed Clint to drive to Buxton - the highest market town in England. It is around thirty two miles west of Sheffield. There is a lot to be said about Buxton and its history but I will leave most of that for another day.

Riding along in the South Korean chariot were two Michaels. That's Mick in the middle and Mike on the right. We have been quizzing together for a mere twenty five years and we had a pot of  winnings to spend from our recent victories.

The other member of our team is or was Danny on the left. Just before Christmas he moved to Buxton with the new woman in his life who works in and around nearby Stockport. The Jolly Musketeers - Aramis, Athos and Porthos are standing outside Danny's new house and the picture was snapped by D'Artagnan Pudding.

We met in "The Wye Bridge" public house and spent half of our quiz bounty on meals and drinks. Afterwards, Danny took us to a rather wondrous place - The Devonshire Dome. Though I have been to Buxton many times I did not know of the dome's existence until today.

Once part of The Devonshire Royal Hospital, it was constructed in the 1850's and at that time was the biggest free-standing dome in the world. Bigger than The Pantheon in Rome or the dome of St Peter's in the same city or the dome of St Paul's Cathedral in London.

Now under the stewardship of The University of Derby,  The Devonshire Dome is not open freely to the public. as the entire building is now occupied by students, academics and associated offices and businesses.

Probably the most amazing thing about the dome is the echo. I have never before experienced such resonance. When you stand in the very middle of the floor beneath  the dome's highest point, your voice is supernaturally  amplified. You only have to speak normally and your own voice wraps you in itself. Of course our hero D'Artagnan had to sing as well as speak and my voice seemed to fill the void. As I say - it was amazing.

Then we visited another pub before coffees were served in Danny's new abode. It was approaching six o'clock when Clint honked his horn rather impatiently and we motored back to Sheffield in darkness and drizzle. It had been a grand day out and in case you are wondering I only drank one pint of beer - Worthington's bitter with my meal at "The Wye Bridge".  

27 February 2023


Recently, when I undertook two long walks north of Huddersfield, I got chatting to a man in the car park at Scammoden. He told me that on the moorland above Deanhead Reservoir  he had just visited a long-abandoned farm - now in ruins. He became animated about it and asked me, "When you visit a ruin are you like me? You close your eyes and you think of the folk who lived or worked there? It's like they are there with you."

I beamed with delight to have encountered a like-minded soul and told him that I felt just the same. I have taken many photos of ruins because for whatever reason I am drawn to them. They sing to me and I know that this is also true for my blogging friend Meike in Ludwigsburg, Germany to whom I dedicated this blogpost. It showcases  just six of the ruins I have visited in recent years. You may recognise one or two of them if you have been coming here for any length of time.

At the top is an isolated ruin on Bradwell Moor in Derbyshire. I suspect that it was connected with lead mining in the district. Below is Piel Castle on Piel Island near Barrow-in-Furness. Shirley and I walked there last September. It was constructed in the fourteenth century to protect the Furness Abbey estate

Above is a farm ruin on The Chatsworth Estate. I took this picture just last October and below is the ruin of Girthon Church in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. This photo was taken on August 13th 2017 - my son Ian's thirty third birthday:-

Above - one of the ruined lead mine buildings at The Magpie Mine near Sheldon in Derbyshire and finally, below, the ruins of a farm between the villages of Eyam and Stoney Middleton - also in Derbyshire.
I would contend that old ruins frequently possess beauty and a certain majesty for their walls speak of those who went before us in different times - just like the man in the car park said.

26 February 2023


In England,  springtime is always heralded by snowdrops. They seem such delicate flowers - bursting as they do from small bulbs hidden beneath the surface of the soil. Snowdrops grow in people's gardens but in my view they are best seen in wild or natural environments.

Today - before preparing the Sunday roast dinner -  I drove out of the city to Shotts Lane. It is a dead end lane where I have often parked Clint and previous vehicles too - Keith, Dave the Ford Focus, Pierre and Graham the Seat Ibiza. With boots on, I set off marching my very familiar circular route. If I don't loiter or stop to take photographs, the walk takes me exactly an hour.

This morning I was slowed down by the snowdrops that gather on the banks of Redcar Brook. Such a beautiful display this year. Thousands of them. I paused to take pictures as I acknowledged their loveliness. They were so lovely that tomorrow I plan to add a poem called "Snowdrops" to this blogpost.

Googling "snowdrops", I discovered that they are not in fact native plants. They were introduced long ago - possibly during the era of Roman occupation but were certainly well-established by the sixteenth century. Interestingly, William Shakespeare never referred to snowdrops in his writings though he did remark upon  daffodils in "The Winter's Tale": "When daffodils begin to peer, - With hey! The doxy over the dale, - Why, then comes in the sweet o' the year".

Incidentally, the majority of daffodil species we know today are also not native to The British Isles. It is similarly  believed that they were introduced by The Romans around two thousand years ago.


You gather by the Redcar Brook,
A dream of drifting snow.
Everywhere that I care to look
I behold your yearly show.

Schneeglöckchen’s  what the Germans say
On account of your small white bells,

Waiting there till comes the day
To  ring fair springtime’s knells.
Or like an army one for all
Assembling in your ranks,
You hear far distant summer call
Beside the Redcar banks.

As in June we wait to see
The return of absent swallows
Oh how did we often long for thee
In winter’s frozen hollows.

25 February 2023


The other day, after rediscovering 1600 images on the memory card in my old camera, I created a blogpost titled "Seaside" showing images of North Norfolk - especially around Hunstanton. Tonight I have picked out a further seven images to share - all from the last months of 2017.

The top picture  was taken during one of my rambles in rural Derbyshire. It shows a traditional telephone box in the tiny hamlet of Dale End. I was pointing the camera towards the sun and this was the strange effect. Below Queen Victoria stands on her plinth near the main entrance to Endcliffe Park in Sheffield - half a mile from this keyboard. Though it may not look like it, the tree behind her is a copper beech in its autumn garb.
Below - a couple are walking along a snowy path in Graves Park, Sheffield. The photo was taken on December 11th, 2017:-

Above - this picture of East Wood was taken  near the village of Docking in Norfolk. The wood looks like an island floating on a sea of golden wheat stubble - just after the harvest has been brought in and I like the drama of that threatening sky. Below - I love the charming name of that track in the village of Monyash - Icky Picky Lane. It sounds as though it should lead to a goblin's house. Winter sunshine was illuminating the sign quite splendidly:-

Above - a winter walk to Pike Hall in the Peak District with a view of Oddo House Farm. Below  - abandoned millstones below the escarpment known as Stanage Edge. I am beguiled by such millstones and have taken many pictures of them.

24 February 2023



My 86 year old friend Bert has become quite unsteady on his feet. He calls it feeling "wobbly". Consequently, he has lost some of his old confidence and he hasn't been in our local pub since before Christmas. It's a long walk for him and the possibility of falling down is very real.

In the middle of last month I telephoned him and we went out for a midweek lunch after I had picked him up in the silver chariot known as Clint. We went to a pub called "The Rising Sun" in the Nether Green suburb of this great northern city. There Bert also supped three pints of "Daily Bread" - a bitter beer produced in Sheffield by The Abbeydale Brewery. Because I was driving I only had one pint.

On Wednesday of this week, I took Bert out again to a different "Rising Sun" - on Abbey Lane in the Parkhead district of the city. Again he had three pints of beer - this time "Black Sheep" from Masham in North Yorkshire. While I had a cheeseburger with chips (American:fries) Bert treated himself once again  to a lunch of haddock and chips with mushy peas.

There are 121 pubs in England called "The Rising Sun" making it number 33 on the list of most popular pub names. The top three on that list are "The Red Lion"(515 pubs) ,  "The Crown" (477)  and  "The Royal Oak" (404).

On the face of it, you wouldn't think that Bert and I would get along so well. He left school at the age of fifteen with no qualifications and was an unskilled labourer all of his working life. In contrast, I left school at the age of eighteen with A levels and later earned an honours degree in English along with  a diploma in education before embarking on a long teaching career.

Bert has a happy disposition and a good sense of humour but he also intently watches "Prime Minister's Questions" from London every week and is politically astute.  Our reactions to national politics and world events are broadly similar. He still hates Boris Johnson with a vengeance and is particularly scathing about the Brexit disaster we continue to suffer week by week. It was made possible by Johnson and probably Russian bots seeking through social media  to destabilise western Europe's  unity ahead of the war still being waged upon Ukraine.

If I don't see him in our local, I will be picking Bert up again next month and taking him to a different pub but it won't be called "The Rising Sun".

"The Rising Sun" at Nether Green

23 February 2023


Over on the west coast of Ireland my late brother Paul had two sons with his wife Josephine. Above you can see Paul's youngest son Kevin with his new baby boy - Finn who was born this very month. I love the look on Kevin's face. It seems to be saying, "I love you Finn and I will guide you and watch you grow and get money to feed you and keep a roof over your head and be the very best father I can be to you. Thank you for your arrival this very day. You are already beginning to enrich my life."

Of course Kevin's girlfriend Serena had a small part to play in making Finn happen.

It is a shame that he came into our world almost thirteen years after Paul's untimely death. Paul would have loved his first grandson with all of his heart, perhaps playing tunes on his fiddle to send the little man to sleep. 

Here's Paul's older son Michael holding his brand new nephew:-
Michael and Kevin were born within eighteen months of each other and remain very close. They are both trained electricians so as long as they avoid touching live wires they'll always be okay for work. They were always smashing little lads but of course they are grown men now. Michael was thirty one last December.

Youth evaporates but life goes on.

Welcome Finn.

22 February 2023


We live inland, seventy miles from the sea. And yet our heartbeats remind us of the rhythm of waves bursting then receding upon this island's shores. It's always nice to visit the sea. A bit like coming home. It has healing qualities and troubles seem less troublesome there.

In the autumn of 2017, I carelessly dropped my old camera and damaged it. Soon afterwards I bought a replacement camera leaving 1600 images on the memory card of the old one. It was only yesterday that I downloaded those pictures onto my desktop computer. It was good to look through images that are over five years old now - from a time before the COVID plague.

I was reminded that we visited the coast of North Norfolk in 2017 - on England's North Sea coast. We stayed in Dersingham near the royal estate at Sandringham. It wasn't far from the seaside town of Hunstanton - famously the only resort on England's east coast that  faces west and we walked on empty beaches with big skies.

It was most pleasurable to be close to the sea and to explore a corner of The Island of Britain that was pretty much unknown to us.

These photographs bring it all back - well, almost.

A detectorist
Lighthouse seen from the ruins of St Edmund's Chapel, Hunstanton
The Wash

21 February 2023


On each of the the days I visited the temple sites around Angkor Wat, I got up early at my hotel on the outskirts of the nearby modern town of Siem Reap. I travelled to "the historical park" in the back of a motorcycle tuktuk. I had the same driver each day and he was at my disposal throughout the day. Nothing seemed too much trouble to him. His name was Savuth.

In this blogpost, rather than focusing on the amazing ruins of the once forgotten city of the Khmers, I am sharing other photos I took in the area. I will leave them small but of course if you wish to enlarge any of the pictures please just click on them:-
Sad girl with coconuts

A home for the living


Girls with calves

Traditional band with a difference.
They were all landmine victims.

Young water buffalo in a muddy pond.

Visiting monks from Thailand

20 February 2023


In 1066, England was invaded from France by Normans under the leadership of William the Conqueror. It was a critical turning point in our nation's history. Even today, that year - 1066 is etched in England's collective memory for it changed everything.

At that same time and unbeknown to those who participated in The Battle of Hastings, an amazing  civilisation was thriving in south east Asia. In the middle of the Khmer Empire a huge city had grown. Some modern historians reckon that it may have had a population of around a million and it was the biggest city on the planet. It was all around the Angkor Wat temple complex in what we now call Cambodia.

In recent years, LIDAR ( Light Detection and Ranging) examination of that region has revealed evidence that the city was much bigger than had first been imagined. Of course physical evidence of wooden domestic buildings disappeared long ago for they simply rotted away.
Only the stone structures remain - mostly in ruins - and there are very many of them. Generally they are temples connected with the Hindu-Buddhist belief systems that the Khmers subscribed to.

I was lucky enough to visit the old city in the summer of 2011. I spent three full days there. Of course everybody knows about the main temple complex that appears on the modern day flag of Cambodia but around it, often still smothered in jungle greenery there are hundreds more temple sites and there are stone reservoirs, redundant water channels, streets and heaven knows what else.

It was quite breathtaking and so were the countless stone carvings I observed. It had all so clearly emerged from a civilisation that was supremely confident about its power, its beliefs and its longevity. They never expected that the Khmer Empire would one day follow the path of all other empires and fall.

Earlier today, I was looking back through the photos I snapped there back in 2011 and I have picked five of them to share with you. Please be warned that I might post some more tomorrow.

19 February 2023


Unless you are geographically illiterate, you will know that Great Britain is a maritime nation situated on the eastern side of  the North Atlantic Ocean. We are surrounded by seawater  which can be as calm as a millpond or as rough as The Drake Passage.

For centuries, our ships have ventured out into the surrounding seas - transporting goods or people, catching fish or fighting wars. Many ships and many lives have been lost. That is why, in the middle of the nineteenth century, efforts were made to find ways of informing mariners about sea conditions, including storms.

Woman cyclist near the ferry port

Linked to this ambition, surrounding waters were divided up into thirty one specific sea areas - ranging from Trafalgar in the south - off the coast of north west Spain to  Southeast Iceland in the north.

Every day of the year, the London Met office broadcasts a shipping forecast via BBC Radio that covers all thirty one of those sea areas. People of my generation grew up with those forecasts - like a continuous poem that was and perhaps remains the comfortable and reassuring bedrock of our lives...."Humber, Thames. Southeast veering southwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later. Thundery showers. Moderate or good, occasionally poor."

A birdwatcher on  the island

I think that I am right in saying that the forecast always begins off the southwest coast of Norway where there are three sea areas - Viking, South Utsire and North Utsire. Only recently did I learn that Utsire or Utsira is an island off the coast of Norway. It has a land area of some 2.5 square miles and a permanent population of some two hundred people. However, it receives a good number of visitors - partly because it is the best birding site in Norway but also because of commercial fishing and the oil industry which made Norway rich.

"Joker" - the only shop on Utsira

Given its size and remoteness it is rather surprising that a Google Streetview vehicle has covered the island's roads quite comprehensively and the pictures that accompany this blogpost have all been snipped from Google imagery to give us a clearer sense of what it's like on the island of Utsira. It's not just a strange name in our daily shipping forecast. It exists.

The only church on Utsira

18 February 2023


Glenn  Close as Mamaw and the real Mamaw - Bonnie Blanton

Well, I watched the film version of "Hillbilly Elegy" (2020) and it was okay - nothing more than that. That used to always be the case with the in-house films that Netflix churned out - just okay. It was reasonably reflective of the book though some episodes were added for effect such as JD's mother Beverly, played by Amy Adams, skating down hospital corridors while under the influence of drugs and thereby losing her nursing job. Also JD's involvement in a late night revenge vandalism spree at a local hardware and gardening depot never happened in the book.

Incidentally, the film was directed by the now legendary Ron Howard who had been looking for a story like the one that Vance had told - about the forgotten white underclass of middle America.

My appreciation of the film was lifted by the presence of Glenn Close playing Mamaw - JD's fearsome grandmother. She smokes cigarettes as vigorously as she defends her family showing both a warrior spirit and wise understanding of how humans operate. She is no fool.

So yes, I don't regret devoting two hours to viewing that film. After all it's nice to see an American film that is not all about superheroes, the super-rich or gun toting heroes. At least here there is a genuine effort to portray real people, real lives.

Today, I have found out a lot more about J.D. Vance and how he is viewed in America. I read a long article about him from "The Atlantic" by a columnist called Tom Nichols. It is titled "The Moral Collapse of J.D.Vance" and as the title suggests, it comments on his fall from grace in the past three years and how he appears to have sold his soul to the devil in order to advance his personal fortune and his future political prospects. In Vance's new world, where are the people of Jackson, Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio now? Where have they gone?

Tom Nichols says that Vance has become "a contemptible and cringe-inducing clown" and there's also this:-

My friend Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, tried to describe Vance recently and came up with “pathetic loser poser fake jerk,” but that is a lot of words. To distill the essence of Vance as a public figure, the word that enters my mind is an anatomical reference beginning with the letter a.

I am confident that you can guess what that word is.

17 February 2023



J.D. Vance, who is now a junior US senator for the state of Ohio, first published "Hillbilly Elegy" in 2016 but I have only got round to reading it this year. I guess that several literate Americans who visit this blog will have read the book long before Vance became a senator - just last year..

I found it eminently readable. It paints a picture of economic, social and cultural deprivation in Appalachian Kentucky and in the places in Ohio that attracted Kentucky job migrants towards the end of the last century. They brought Kentucky with them.

Vance's childhood was apparently  a hard one to navigate and he may have got lost without the support of his maternal grandparents - always known affectionately as Mamaw and Papaw. 

We see Vance beating the odds that were stacked against him. After high school he joined the US Marines before returning to tertiary education at Ohio State University. It was from there that he won a prestigious scholarship to Yale Law School. In spite of achieving his American dream, he never forgot where he had come from - the love and loyalty but also the drag anchors that still tend to pull down America's poor.

Politically, it's not clear to me why Vance was drawn to The Republican Party and why in particular an initial loathing of Donald Trump grew into unbridled support for that loathsome "fake"  president. Given his background, I think it would have made better sense if Vance had been attracted to The Democrats. However, I should point out that there is little reference to his personal political journey in the book. Perhaps those aspirations were hatched after  the book's first publication.

I remind myself that at 38 years old, J.D. Vance is only eleven days older than my son Ian and yet he often writes as though he has seen it all. In fact, the final draft was completed around the time of his 31st birthday.

"Hillbilly Elegy" is a mixture of memory and socio-political reflection  Here's a taster from the text...

“Social mobility isn’t just about money and economics, it’s about a lifestyle change. The wealthy and the powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. When you go from working-class to professional-class, almost everything about your old life becomes unfashionable at best or unhealthy at worst.”

I should further point out that the book is subtitled "A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis" so it is clear from the start that he was setting out to do more than just tell a personal tale of growing up in difficult circumstances.

Some commentators have suggested that Vance's book gives readers better insight into why Trump happened, why Brexit happened and why old certainties have been crumbling away in other countries too.

Reading up about Vance, I note that in 2020 he fully supported Trump's fallacious claims that the presidential election of that year was lost because of widespread voter fraud. Like Trump, he has not presented a single shred of evidence to back up that "bad loser" claim.

I found out last week that "Hillbilly Elegy" was made into a film in 2020 and it is still available on Netflix. Now that I have finished the book, I plan to check out the film and review that too.

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