31 May 2023


Rose Dene Cottage in Sheriff Hutton

Ryedale is large administrative district in rural North Yorkshire. That's where Tony and I went walking both yesterday and today. Weatherwise, Tuesday was the better of the two days. Today (Wednesday) a blanket of cloud eased across The North Riding from The North Sea leeching colour from the landscape. But it did not rain.

On Tuesday we left our vehicles in the pub car park and set off for Thornton-le-Clay. Then west over the fields to Sheriff Hutton - a larger and more significant settlement with a long history that includes the remains of not one but two castles. It also has a magnificent old church in which I saw this marble effigy of a child from the fifteenth century... 

It is reputedly,  the tomb of Edward Prince of Wales who was the only legitimate son of King Richard III. That famous king certainly had strong associations with Sheriff Hutton but some historians have cast doubt on the centuries old local claim that this is indeed young Edward's resting place.
The second Sheriff Hutton Castle. It was a favoured residence of both Richard III and Henry VIII

Former windmill near the village of Thornton-le-Clay

Today (Wednesday) I let Tony choose the day's route. It was another eight miles but this time we set off from the charming stone village of Welburn west of Malton. The walk took in a large chunk of the Castle Howard estate. The aristocrats who developed the parkland had so much money that they were able to order the building of several follies and monuments around the estate and far from the main house. I had to make a big effort to get to this pyramid on a hilltop. It is not clear from the image but it stands about twenty five feet tall...

And here's my friend Tony. His map book is hiding someone else's name so that the inscription reads "Tony - Never known to pass a seat with a view"...
Two good days of walking and we liked our accommodation too. He had a room upstairs in the pub but I had a one-bedroom cottage in the courtyard. This morning we enjoyed fried "full English" breakfasts with toast before setting off on our second plodding adventure.

30 May 2023


I was so busy last night that I forgot to blog. This year so far I had managed to blog on every single day though mostly I publish my posts just before midnight. It puts the pressure on to press "Publish" before the witching hour.

What was I doing?

Well I was back on the scaffolding for the very last time, sealing features of our UPVC windows with a silicon gun. There was also some touching up of the paint to do. To tell you the truth, one could dab away at that whiteness forever and still find minuscule flaws.  Then there was clearing up to do. It was ten o'clock by the time I got finished. I even missed the final of "University Challenge" but I can catch up with that later.

I got changed and drove out to fill up Clint with petrol. He was very thirsty. Then I renewed my National Lottery ticket for another month and bought a two litre carton of milk. Back home I had two important e-mails to write and before you knew it midnight had passed by and I had missed the blogging deadline. Boo hoo!

I will be driving up to York before midday today. I have planned to meet up with my old friend Tony. We will be staying at a pub near the village of Flaxton north east of York. We plan to have a five or six mile walk this afternoon and another longer walk tomorrow.

The excellent weather we have been enjoying in the north of England goes on. Soon we will all be doing a rain dance.

I must dash. There are things I need to pack.

28 May 2023


Music doesn't matter to me as it did when I was young. In my teenage years and through into my twenties, the only obsession I had that could match music was girls.

I went to see as many concerts as I could, attended festivals and on at least five occasions hitchhiked all the way down to London from East Yorkshire just to see some of my musical heroes in concert.

Acts I saw in those years included Jethro Tull, Free, Grand Funk Railroad, The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Mott the Hoople, Pink Floyd,  Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, Slade , The Beach Boys, The Moody Blues, Roxy Music, The Nice, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Buffy Sainte Marie, Loudon Wainwright III, Ten Years After, Tim Hardin, Linda Ronstadt, Taste, The Who and numerous others that I cannot recall right now.

In  later life, the musical candle had not entirely gone out and I enjoyed superb concerts by The Jam, Jackson Browne, Neil Young and Keane. But it was never quite the same as when I first discovered music and listened to it obsessively.

At the end of tonight's Sunday quiz, Mike, Mick and I were comparing notes  about musical acts we saw and concerts we attended when we were young.  Not in a boastful top dog kind of manner but just out of interest. 

Like me, Mick has moved on from music - it doesn't figure in his life as it once did, On the other hand , Mike has remained very much tuned in to the world of music and it still plays a big part in his life. He listens to music daily and until very recently he was the leader of a little "Americana" band that were paid paper money for gigs. They were called Dogwood Rose. Unfortunately, his health has been blighted by a mysterious condition called myasthenia gravis that will remain with him till his light goes out.

What about you dear reader? Does music still grab you as it did when you were young or is it just something that plays in the background from time to time like muzak in a supermarket? What were the best concerts you ever attended and how do you feel about music now?

27 May 2023


Up the garden, we have an old sweeping brush. Phoebe seems to think that it belongs to her and nobody else is allowed to handle it. "Mine!" she snaps or "It's Phoebe's brush!" as she clenches it with a vice-like grip.

She had a sleep-over here last night  and was already in her cot when I  zoomed off to "Lidl" with my faithful South Korean companion - Clint. In the supermarket I spotted the child-sized sweeping brush shown above - which I bought for £4.99, thinking that it would be just right for Little Phoebe and much safer than handling an adult sized brush.

She was still awake when I got home and I showed her her new brush. She was delighted and set to straight away sweeping up her cot. I took it from her, promising she could use it today.

Downstairs, I noticed this on the shaft of the brush...
Oh dear! The sweeping brush is only intended for use by children over three years old. Phoebe is two years and four months old so by using the brush she would be endangering her life. Silly me! I hadn't realised this.

Lower down the shaft there are warnings in five languages - English, Danish, French, Dutch and German: "Warning: To be used under the direct supervision of an adult. Store out of reach of children under 3 years old. Observe the warning notices. In the event of non-compliance, injuries may occur... Do not leave the brush upside down!"

This all seems to be over the top to me. After all, it's a small brush we are talking about - not an axe or a sub-machine gun. Frances tells me that the lowest starting age for nearly all children's things appears to be 3+. We guess this excessive caution is  all to do with potential litigation.

I am happy to report that Phoebe used the 3+ brush this afternoon without any hiccoughs. She did not poke out one of Grandpa's eyes with it and she did not attempt to swallow it  - nor did she chase pigeons with it or whack our neighbour's cat - Bonkers.

26 May 2023


Most great painters produce one iconic piece that comes to symbolise their work. For Leonardo da Vinci it is "The Mona Lisa". For Vincent Van Gogh, it's "Sunflowers" and for Yorkshire Pudding, it's "Semi in the Suburbs".

Quite a few of the people who visit this blog have called for photos of my handiwork. After all, I might have just been making the whole painting project up. Anyway, I insist it was all true and here's the evidence...
Back of the house

Front of the house

Side of the house

The man-sized void at the back corner that gave me the willies

I joined the pigeons for a week

Close up of the pebble dash rendering - though painted, little craters remain

As art critic, Waldemar Januszczak said in "The Sunday Times",  '"Semi in the Suburbs" speaks powerfully of our age. It looks to the west, the east and the south and is a tribute to the endeavours of the ordinary working human and what might be achieved through determination.  It will be displayed in some of the world's leading art museums in the next two years, giving art lovers everywhere the opportunity to bask in the glaring whiteness of its haunting symbolism.'

25 May 2023


Shirley joined me on  the scaffolding this evening but you might say she cheated because she clambered out of the front bedroom window instead of climbing up the ladder like a professional.

We were both anxious about the return of the scaffolders. They dropped the scaffolding down last Friday so it's possible they could return tomorrow (Friday) to disassemble and take it all away. I don't wish to pay any more than I already am doing.

 Herself had volunteered to clean  all the windows - six in total. She did a good job of them and I was pleased to get the help. In the meantime, I was still dabbing away at the tiny crevices and holes in the pebble-dash texture of the rendering - still trying to achieve the best coverage possible.

We finished off as darkness began to descend around ten o'clock. It's only a month till the longest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere when the sun will hover over The Tropic of Cancer before migrating to The Equator as it has done each year since this planet was formed 4.5 billion years ago. 

In terms of weather, I have had a fantastic week for painting our house. There hasn't been a spot of rain and most days have been warm and sunny. To tell you the truth, I have enjoyed it. Patiently dabbing away, sometimes lying on my back or belly. Listening to birds and watching the world passing by in our street. It reminded me of that old song made famous by by The Drifters - "Up On The Roof"...

I feel I have achieved something, something that is visible and real and to tell you the truth, I am quite proud of myself. I had hoped to take photos to share with you and I will do if the scaffolders don't arrive tomorrow morning.

It was nice to have a break at teatime today. We drifted down to Frances and Stew's house for our evening meal and of course Little Phoebe was there at the head of the table. Her vocabulary and expression grow with each passing day and she remains a source of tremendous joy. She knows she has a baby brother or sister on the way.

24 May 2023


Nowadays, nights normally finish with me checking out the next day's newspaper headlines. Then I load up the latest "Wordle" puzzle courtesy of "The New York Times".  A new "Wordle" comes on line at midnight every day, replacing the previous day's puzzle.

Above you can see a snip of last night's "Wordle" and how I reached the answer which was "UTTER".  I reached it on my fifth attempt. Below is my overall record. I have only failed to reach the correct word on four occasions out of the 451 "Wordles" I have attempted so far. It's not a nice feeling when you fail to make it.

Recently, after finishing the day's "Wordle"  I have then gone on to test my geographical knowledge  by playing the day's "Worldle". It always starts with the silhouette of a country before opening up questions linked to that country. Can you guess which country is shown below?

It's Peru!

As with "Wordle", the day's new "Worldle" comes online bang on midnight.

I guess this is how retired people approaching seventy are meant to fill their time. It keeps us off the streets, occupied and out of sight. The mental exercise should help us to stave off dementia.

23 May 2023


Bob Dylan is 82 years old tomorrow, May 24th. It is my son-in-law's birthday too. It was also my mother's birthday and the day that Hull City first reached the English Premier League in 2008. It was also Queen Victoria's birthday and it is or was Empire Day. 

Getting back to the living legend who is Dylan, back in 1964 when he was still 22, he appeared on "Tonight" on the BBC, introduced rather unenthusiastically by presenter Cliff Michelmore. He sang "With God on Our Side" so purely - a bitterly ironic anthem  that was laced with accusation and hope for a better, more peaceful world. Here, rather disappointingly,  we don't get to listen to all nine verses....

Dylan's one time girlfriend Joan Baez said of this song upon first hearing it, "I never thought anything so powerful could come out of that little toad":-

Oh my name it ain't nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that the land that I live in
Has God on its side

Happy birthday Bob and Mum and Stewart and Victoria!

22 May 2023


Thelma from Todmorden  reminded me that accidents happen  in relation to ladders and DIY projects.

This is why I am being ultra-careful about climbing up onto the scaffolding that currently surrounds our house. When I am working up there, I feel very safe but getting from the ladder onto the scaffolding and vice versa gives me a small attack of the heebie-jeebies each time I do it.

Many years ago, when I lived in a bedsit on Harcourt Road, I heard a crash and someone yelling from outside. It was a Saturday morning and the live-in caretaker at the house next door had fallen a short height from a ladder while painting the canopy over the doorway.

He had been using a pot of blue gloss paint and I don't know exactly how this transpired but that paint can must have ended up on his head because when I got outside, he was sitting on the doorstep  covered in the stuff. He was like an alien and forever after that we referred to him as "The Blue Man".

Shirley was on an early shift at The Royal Hallamshire Hospital that morning and witnessed the arrival of "The Blue Man" in an ambulance. The first job the Accident and Emergency team needed to work out was how to get all that sticky blue paint off the fellow.  Fortunately, he wasn't badly injured - just some cracked ribs and a broken wrist. They sat him in a bath and cleaned him up with mild solvents and soapy water.

When Shirley and I got married in 1981, we lived in an end terrace house on Leamington Street. We didn't like the pink rendering that a builder had applied to the property so I bought some brick red masonry paint and climbed a lofty ladder to paint the front of the house. I tell you, it's no fun being at the top of a ladder with a pot of paint and a masonry brush - hanging on for dear life.

I completed the project and survived but a neighbour - just round the corner on Warwick Street - attempting a similar task -  was not so lucky. He slipped and fell and ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Today, Day Three,  I spent seven hours on the scaffold. The front  and side of the house are done with just my flaky wooden noggings to paint black. Tomorrow I won'f finish the back of the house but I hope to make good progress and in addition I plan to be extra careful at the corner where the scaffolding boards do not meet the wall, leaving a man-sized void for the unwary.

Someone asked Google at what age you should stop climbing ladders and the answer came back - 65! Errr....

21 May 2023


Up the ladder and on to the scaffolding at ten fifteen. Another lovely, summery day. Again I slapped the sun cream on and donned my stylish but sun-faded hat that I bought in Malta in 2012.

Things always seem to take longer than you expect. I spent a lot of time masking off the gutters and the brickwork I did not wish to spoil on the side of the house after more or less finishing the front. And with painting pebble dash rendering there's always more dabbing to do as you try to achieve the best coverage possible. I find that the glare of sunlight tends to hide flaws but when the sun nips behind a scudding cloud for two minutes, small unpainted crevices  shout out.

I was up there for six hours today. For the first time in ages, Shirley made the Sunday dinner in time for Phoebe's arrival with her parents in tow. Frances is looking pregnant now even though  many weeks will need to pass before Phoebe's sibling arrives.

I was miffed when Frances laughed at me after I had descended from the scaffold: "You are supposed to be painting the house, not yourself!"

Shirley had done a fine job with the Sunday dinner. Not long afterwards I cleaned my painting equipment and got ready to go up to "The Hammer and Pincers" for the regular Sunday night  quiz.

Once again we were the overall winners - gaining a score of twenty three points out of twenty five and winning a pot of £18 and four beer tokens. Here are three of the questions we answered correctly:-

5. ANAGRAM  Unravel OLD BELLY ANGLE to give the name of a film.

14. BUSINESS: In which country are the headquarters of the electronics company Samsung?

20. THE HUMAN BODY: The term "pulmonary" relates to which organs in the human body?

And so that was Sunday. Once again I neglected to go to church and I pray that Almighty God will forgive me in his merciful wisdom. I won't be there next week either. In fact, when I come to think of it, I haven't attended a Sunday church service since 1967 when I finally resigned as a choirboy.

Monday morning looms and I know that I must mount the scaffold tomorrow. It's exactly what condemned men and women thought as they languished in their cells in The Bastille.

20 May 2023


The painting project began today. I was up the ladder and on to the scaffolding at nine thirty. I didn't come down until four fifteen for a well-deserved break and then I was up again at five o'clock until seven thirty. It was a lovely day for it. In the morning, I lathered my face and arms with Factor 30 sun cream put my Malta sun hat on and got to work.

I began with the front of the house. Up there I was aware of occasional passing vehicles and pedestrians. I had three or four conversations but soon got back to my rolling and dabbing.

And as I rolled and dabbed, random thoughts crossed my mind. I thought a lot about Ms Moon in Lloyd , Florida and her comments on "Pervert" - a blogpost I published two days ago. While up on the scaffolding and in the light of what she said, I decided to slightly amend that blogpost.

When Shirley called me down for my tea at seven thirty I had almost completed painting the pebble dash rendering on the front of our house. Another hour tomorrow morning and it will be done before I start on the side of the house. I hope that I will be able to finish that tomorrow too but if I get close I will be happy enough.

I had never been on scaffolding before but as I imagined, it's a hell of a lot easier than working up a ladder.

When our lovely son Ian in London heard I was doing this, he was quite perturbed and asked me why I wasn't getting somebody in to do the job. But there's a lot to be said for doing things yourself. Though my career was in secondary school teaching, I have turned my hand to many other things such as laying paths, laying carpets, building walls, wallpapering, cultivating an allotment,  writing poems and songs and managing a blog called "Yorkshire Pudding".

Tonight, after visiting our Lidl supermarket once more,  I treated myself to a saunter down to "The Itchy Pig" micropub for two pints of Abbeydale Heathen beer - brewed here in Sheffield. I felt that I had earned them. And so to Sunday...

19 May 2023


What pray is in our black wheelie bin? Could it be general household rubbish? Perhaps it's garden waste or yet more culled books resulting from our valiant attempts to reduce the volume of stuff in our attic

No my friends, it's none of those things. I will give you a clue and that clue is King Herod. True Christians should get this easily so my apologies to Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist  visitors.

Yes my friends - it's babies! I raised the lid to empty some grass cuttings and there they were - all eight of them staring back at me. They were once Frances's dollies but she doesn't want them any more and I was told they are too grubby for Phoebe.  A lot of our unwanted stuff has gone to charity shops but apparently  these babies would not pass the sale-ability test. Also they are hardly recyclable because of the mixed materials used to manufacture them.

The new roof was completed last week and this week I have been hanging around waiting for the scaffolders to return to readjust their framework and planks so that I can get up there to paint the pebbledash rendering on our house. They finally arrived this morning so tomorrow I expect I will be up there most of the day rolling and dabbing in the sunshine. It is a slow and painstaking job but at least this time I will be on a scaffold and not on the top of a ladder. It should be easier.

The irksome bit will be getting on and off the scaffold via my ladder. I had a practice run after tea this evening. You have to swallow hard before you swing your leg over.  I promise to be careful but if this is my last blogpost you will know why.

By the way, we have had that black wheelie bin since 1993  - thirty years. I remember the day it arrived. I stuck Ian and Frances in it and wheeled them up and down the street. Oh how they laughed!

18 May 2023


I don't know if you are the same but sometimes, in idle moments, I find myself using the internet to look back on things - places I went, football games or concerts I attended, people I knew. You go down rabbit holes with side tunnels that go this way and that.

Today I thought about a secondary school teacher who was once a colleague of mine. Let's call him Chris because that was his name.  Chris was a dedicated  and hard-working member of the Maths department. A bachelor, he lived a couple of miles from the school. He was not in a relationship and it seemed that he had simply dedicated himself to teaching. An Ipswich Town fan, Chris also supported the school's P.E. department by managing one of the boys' football teams.

In that regard, back in 1988 or 1989 he  asked me if I would drive the school minibus down to Wembley Stadium in London so that his team could watch England Schoolboys play West Germany Schoolboys. It was a big ask but I said yes. Chris, who didn't possess a driving licence,  sat beside me and we chatted intermittently all the way down to Wembley and back. He was an odd fish but I kind of liked the guy.

It was a year or so after that that Chris failed to return to school following the six week summer holidays. The story went like this. He had been at the coast in the seaside town of Skegness. He was spotted on the beach, near a children's paddling pool, surreptitiously taking pictures of children. He was challenged by members of the public and the police were called. 

One thing led to another. The police searched Chris's terraced house in the north of Sheffield and there they found many photographs of children - mostly boys in different states of undress or nudity. They had been snapped over many years . It was said at the time that there were enough pictures to fill two or three plastic bin bags.

Chris ended up in court and was given a suspended prison sentence. There was never any suggestion that he had ever sexually abused any children. It was just the secret photos - hundreds of them.  Looking but as far as anybody knows - never touching. Of course that does not excuse his paedophilia in any way  though it seems that his lawyer and he himself attempted to play that card in court.

He never returned to the school. He was gone and almost forgotten. I knew that his parents lived down in Suffolk and I supposed that he had gone back there to begin a new life outside teaching.

In the intervening thirty+ years, it seems that his particular perversion continued. More photos of children were taken and of course with the advent of the internet he found another outlet for his paedophilia. 

In this millennium, down in Suffolk, he has been in court for similar reasons. He was made the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order in 2005 and was banned from possessing camera equipment or a computer.  Other offences were addressed in both 2011 and 2012 but on each occasion Chris managed to avoid jail - being given suspended sentences. Once he threatened to commit suicide if he was sent to prison where of course such men are treated very harshly by other inmates.

What made Chris a paedophile?  I have no idea but I assume that forensic psychiatrists might be able to track back through time, past experience and family history to pinpoint the key drivers. The majority of paedophiles are most likely made and not born - that's what I think anyway.

17 May 2023


For whatever reason ChatGPT won't let me in. I have tried many times to sign up with it but no - it refuses to let me in. Perhaps it recognises me as a potential threat because of my non-artificial intelligence.

Anyway, yesterday my lovely daughter Frances sent me a poem about Sheffield that ChatGPT had produced for her. It was the first AI poem I had ever read and though it was in a traditional rhyming style, it still had plenty of merit. There were a few things I might have tweaked but overall I was pretty impressed.

As you know, yesterday I blogged about a signpost in  Staffordshire so I asked Frances if she could make me a new  poem: "The poem should concern a moorland signpost at a lonely crossroads in Staffordshire". In ten seconds ChatGPT made two long poems for her but this was the one I preferred - again in a traditional format - what many people would think of as "real poetry".

I guess I am nit-picking but I am not sure what "heathered hearse" means and I would also quibble about "lost and cope" but remember these are in fact the early days of Artificial Intelligence  and ChatGPT was only launched seven months ago! Like the Sheffield poem, this "creation" also has real merit...

The Signpost

In Staffordshire's moorland, bleak and wide,
A signpost stands with quiet pride.
At a lonely crossroads, it marks its place,
Guiding lost souls through nature's embrace.

Weathered and worn, its timber frame,
Whispers stories of travelers who came.
Whence ancient footsteps wandered near,
To seek solace or destiny clear.

Its fingers point with steadfast grace,
Paths diverging in endless space.
To the left, where heather blooms entwine,
A tranquil path, where dreams align.

To the right, a rugged, winding trail,
Through untamed beauty, both rough and hale.
Where nature's secrets lie untold,
In untamed whispers of days of old.

Straight ahead, an unknown road unfurls,
Inviting wanderers to new worlds.
Adventure beckons, tempts the bold,
With mysteries waiting to unfold.

At this moorland crossroads, the winds converse,
Their tales carried across the heathered hearse.
Whispering echoes of ancient lore,
Embracing wanderers seeking more.

The signpost stands, a stoic guide,
In Staffordshire's moorland, far and wide.
Its presence kindles a flame of hope,
To those who wander, lost and cope.

So if you find yourself at this crossroads rare,
Pause and ponder, for a moment, there.
Let the signpost's wisdom be your guide,
Through Staffordshire's moorland, far and wide

16 May 2023


There is a lonesome crossroads high on the moors of Staffordshire. There stands a signpost with only three arms. It seems that the fourth arm was broken off or disappeared some years ago.. The signpost was erected by Staffordshire County Council in the nineteenth century to guide travellers.

I took a photograph of it on Saturday only to discover when I got home that I had taken a better picture of it back in November 2019. The light was quite perfect at that moment and I am rather pleased with the image. It is the one at the top of this blogpost. You can see a little badge on the post - SCC which of course stands for Staffordshire County Council.

Needless to say, one can take a photograph in different light or weather conditions, at different times of year and from different angles and viewpoints. Though photographers can be looking at the same subject, the results may be very different.

Looking through the annals of Geograph in that particular Ordnance Survey square, I found these six pictures of the same signpost snapped by different contributors.and I thought it would be interesting to compare them.

The one below captured by Brian Deegan is my favourite. It is moody and captures the wild and slightly unsettling feeling one might experience up on those moors when the sky is leaden and the wind is blowing. In comparison, my own image seems rather benign. By the way, in case you were wondering, "Royal Cottage" was once a wayside tavern by the main road between Buxton and Leek.
In order, copyright acknowledgement to Geograph contributors:  
Ian S, Peter McDermott, L.Marsden, Espresso Addict, Peter Barr and Brian Deegan.

15 May 2023


The Battle of the Somme raged between July 1st 1916 and November 18th 1916. An estimated 650,000 German soldiers were killed along with 420,000 British soldiers and 195.000 French.

Perhaps the significance of the name "Somme" is fading as the decades pass by but in my generation - born thirty to forty years after World War I, the very word "Somme" remains an irksome symbol of the futility and heartlessness of war.

Upon that terrible killing field, there were two young Yorkshiremen. As far as I know, they never met but such a meeting would have been possible. The man in the top picture is Wilfred Henry Jackson, a coal miner by trade who hailed from Rawmarsh in South Yorkshire. He was my maternal grandfather.

The man standing in the picture below was my paternal grandfather, Philip. He came from Malton in North Yorkshire. Though he was from a long line of agricultural workers, he himself  worked on the railways.
Sadly, I never met either of these men. Wilfred and my grandmother separated and later divorced in the early nineteen thirties and Philip died just a month before I was born in 1953.

Yes it is true. Not all of the men who fought at The Battle of the Somme were killed. In fact the majority came home. But what had they seen? What had they heard? How had their lives been changed?  Though physically unharmed, I wonder what price Wilfred and Philip had to pay in the years that followed The Somme.
Ailly-sur-Somme today

14 May 2023


Above is an image of the late Ruth Perry. She was the headteacher of Caversham Primary school in the suburbs of Reading. She had worked there for thirteen years. Married with children of her own, she was very anxious about her school's forthcoming OFSTED report.

OFSTED is a quango, spawned and funded by the Conservative government. It stands for Office for Standards in Education. The quango's main function is to visit schools and make intensive inspections over a week. A report is made and then the inspection team disappears from that school, never to be seen again. They make an overall judgement on the school that can be either: Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate. "Satisfactory" disappeared a few years back.

In my opinion that end judgement is far too simplistic. You might have a school that has a fine reputation for say practical science and music education but if the inspection team are concerned about breaktime supervision then that school might still be judged to be "Inadequate". And that is exactly what happened at Caversham. In its previous inspection, the school was judged to be "Outstanding" but now because the new OFSTED team spotted some issues with breaktime supervision, the school was judged to be "Inadequate".

Ruth Perry was mortified and that is why she killed herself in January . Her sister Julia said her death was the "direct result" of the pressure put on her by the "deeply harmful" inspection.

In the week that the tragic news broke, the leader of OFSTED appeared on the BBC's Sunday morning political show. Dressed in a dark and  austere outfit, the sympathy she declared with regard to Mrs Perry's death was platitudinous. She went on to defend OFSTED's judgement of the school and remarked, without evidence for saying this, that parents appreciate the headline judgements that OFSTED dish out after inspections

The leader of OFSTED is called Amanda Spielman. It is worth noting that she has never been a teacher and has never had to deal directly with the challenges that teaching can present. A couple of years ago I saw her captaining her old university team - Clare College, Cambridge -  in a Christmas edition of "University Challenge". She was quite frankly "Inadequate" in spite of her jovial captaincy. She knew much less than one might have expected from a Chief Inspector.

Surely someone who leads an organisation that inspects and judges schools should herself have some experience of working in classrooms. Without that you are hardly qualified to make those judgements. Needless to say, she was appointed by the Tory government, members of which tend to send their children to fee-paying private schools which are bypassed by OFSTED.

The death of Ruth Perry should ignite a searching  inquiry into OFSTED's methods, the way it judges schools and how it should have evolved now that we are in different times. Sadly, Spielman's instinct has been to pull up the drawbridge, admit no fault and signal "There's nothing wrong here".  It's good to know that she will have left her lucrative position by the end of this year.
Amanda Spielman

13 May 2023


Hollinsclough is one of  the most northerly villages in Staffordshire. Until today I had not been there. But I had been to the top of the limestone peak beyond the village sign. It's called Chrome Hill and millions of years ago it was a coral reef in some primordial ocean.
It was nice to see that the village's Methodist chapel (built 1801) was open to visitors. I went inside where I stood in the pulpit and opened "The Bible" at Isaiah: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"  My imaginary congregation quivered in their pews.
This is a barn door that caught my eye in Hollinsclough - mostly because of the way it was illuminated:-
And here's another view of Chrome Hill from, I think, the hamlet of Coatestown. I frequently think of our drystone walls as intricate works of art even thiugh they were made by practical men of the land to enclose fields and to keep animals in their place.
To bag one of today's less accessible "Geograph" squares I had to traipse across moorland for half a mile until I came to a tumbledown wall which I then followed north until I reached another wall that runs east. The land belongs to a mixed sheep and cattle farm called Badgers Croft with no public footpaths or roads running through it so I had pre-planned my foray to snap this picture amongst others:-
Back in Sheffield Shirley's Women's Institute were holding a plant sale to raise funds for Sheffield's main food bank. They managed to raise over £1000  partly because a day that had begun chilly and grey gradually became as lovely as the one that I experienced around Hollinsclough.

12 May 2023


At the Blackstock Road Recycling Centre I said goodbye to a thousand books this afternoon. Mostly they belonged to me though a few were Shirley's. Every one of my books had some lasting  resonance - some personal value and it was hard to ditch them. I remembered them like long lost friends.

Mostly they had just been mouldering in our attic.I hadn't even been up there in six  years until the end of last week.. It was clear that the books were just filling space.and I needed to be ruthless. But getting rid of them certainly didn't make me feel good. In fact I felt I had somehow betrayed them.

At the recycling centre there is a big green bin with a a roof and a tipping shelf. The idea is that you pop your books on that shelf  and drop them into the void. Later the books are sorted and some end up being donated to charities while others are simply pulped.

Unfortunately, as I approached the book bin I could see that it was already jam-packed. I had to borrow a long-handled brush to push the book donations deeper into the bin, creating space for my own car full. Wirh effort and will I managed to force all of my books inside. It was as if they were reluctant to go in and if they could have made noise I am sure they would have been squealing out painful  complaints.

Every book I ever read meant something to me and contributed to my development and thinking. I mourn their loss even though there are another thousand or more books downstairs - threatening to burst our other bookshelves apart.

I didn't photograph all of the books I discarded today - just a small sample of them -knowing that I would be blogging about this unremarkable but personally momentous event. The beautyful ones are not yet born. Farewell old friends and thank you!

For Margaret from Washington State

For Bruce from "Oddball Observations"

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