30 June 2023


Taormina was an hour from Mount Etna. At first, the coach driver had to  contend with thick fog or  low cloud - whichever you prefer to call it as we wound our way  to a lower altitude. Then we were off the mountain and back on the coastal motorway  heading north. 

Taormina is a small coastal city that sits on high ground above the sea. It has been a popular tourist destination since the late nineteenth century. In addition, it is a very ancient place that was settled by Greeks as early as 734BC.

Sadly, after alighting from the coach and catching a shuttle bus to the centre of Taormina, we had less than two hours of sightseeing time. I knew of the amphitheatre that was built by the Greeks and later developed during the Roman era and we headed straight there. Perhaps unfortunately, the annual Taormina film festival is still in progress and this meant that a huge silver screen and modern seating have temporarily been installed at the ancient theatre so our view of it was slightly spoilt. However, I suppose it is quite nice that the auditorium still occasionally functions as a living place of entertainment.
It was 100°F as we wandered around the theatre site. We treated ourselves to beakers of Sicilian orange juice after watching a roadside kiosk owner squeeze it from freshly sliced oranges. Heavenly nectar - making regular supermarket orange juice seem like camel piss. No wonder I rarely drink it.

Back on our coach, I finished reading "Chronicle of Death Foretold" by Gabriel García Marquez. It is really just a novella but in its 122 pages it reveals an intimate sense of community and foreboding. Good translators have helped to confirm that Marquez was a very gifted writer. He died in Mexico City in 2014 leaving behind a  bookshelf of well-crafted literature. I very much enjoyed "Love In The Time of Cholera" but I must read more.

We arrived back at our resort hotel just before seven in the evening. There was a cold bottle of Birra Messina waiting for me in our fridge. It had been a really good day out... in spite of Giovanni.

29 June 2023


That isn't Mount Etna in the top picture, it's just the site of a side eruption through a vent on the slopes of the great mountain. Most volcanoes are far more complicated than the infantile notion of a cone shaped hill with an opening at the top from which red hot molten lava occasionally flows.

Mount Etna in the north east of Sicily is the biggest active volcano in Europe. Steam  was issuing from the peak as we approached it from the south. The mountain's current altitude is 11.014 feet and its basal circumference is 87 miles. It covers an area of 459 square miles. It is certainly a big sucker.
Our hotel was sixty miles south of Etna. We boarded the tour coach at 8.15 in the morning, joining Italian and French tourists before bombing along the coastal motorway to the suburbs of the city of Catania. Then we climbed upwards along winding roads passing hundreds of humble blocks of flats where most of the ordinary citizens of Catania seem to live. Then we were passing through woodland and fertile farmland before reaching vast charcoal-coloured lava fields. By the way, our time-served tour guide was a fellow called Giovanni but more of him on another day.

At one point I spotted a small church that had been overwhelmed by a lava flow in the nineteen eighties and of course if we had been in a hire car we would have stopped to take photos of it but we were on a bus heading to the ski resort of Sapienza Refuge. There there are shops and restaurants and within easy walking distance are three or four impressive vents that we could plod around. The mannequin playing the flute was snapped at the door of one of the tourist shops.
Above you can see Crateri Silvestri which was created by the volcano in the 1890's I believe. Next to it is the Ristorante Crateri Silvestri where Shirley and I enjoyed  simple lunches of spaghetti with mixed salad, local red wine and sparkling water. Delightful. See below...
By a wall, using simple tools, I saw this young man making a carving from a chunk of the lava rock...
The image below shows the same vent pictured at the top but without any zoom on the camera. It was interesting to see how after a few years new vegetation begins to establish itself in the unpromising cooled lava and volcanic grit.
There was a lot more of Etna to see above Sapienza Refuge. In effect we were only half way up the mountain. There was a cable car to take you higher and 4x4 vehicles too but we only had three hours to spend there and we were quite satisfied with the experience. Back on the coach at two in the afternoon, it was time to head to Taormina. As clouds began to sheath the mountain in swirling mists, I realised we had enjoyed a clear window of opportunity. Many tourists  must get up there and suffer the disappointment of not being able to see anything.

28 June 2023


"H is for Hawk" by Helen Macdonald was published to much acclaim in 2014. Though there are many side-tracks, it is essentially the true story of how the author acquired and trained a young goshawk, learning to live with it, feed it and gain its trust.  This is a very emotional journey for each of them. Helen doubts herself and the tactics she employs - often based upon her extensive research  into the history of falconry but she gets there in the end. She calls her hawk Mabel.

Evolution over millennia has made Mabel an expert predator. Everything about her - from her mighty  talons to the various kinds of feathers on her back to her eyesight and her curved beak - they are all about killing her prey and surviving. Such  a bird cannot be tamed but a patient falconer might succeed in building a workable partnership.

In the spaces between the lines, the book is haunted by the memory of Helen Macdonald's late father Alisdair. He meant a great deal to her and she loved him entirely. That sense of loss is woven into her relationship with Mabel.

Okay - I could write a whole lot more about the book but suffice it to say that I finished it down by the pool this afternoon. It was a most enjoyable read. In my memory it will always be associated with Sicily.

Tomorrow - Mount Etna and Taormina if we can manage to get up in time.

27 June 2023



The only picture I took today. The view from the terrace of our ground floor accommodation. We spent the day lounging around, reading and doing crosswords together. This included the whole afternoon down at the rocky inlet where the hotel have built two platforms where guests can laze like bloated walruses and occasionally plunge into the clear blue sea. I am not complaining.

26 June 2023


Ognina - a mile along the rocky coast from our hotel campus. I broke out today in a pair of old walking boots and these were a few of the images that I collected. Above - a branch of the "Guardia Di Finanza" - a military force that is tasked with tackling money-related crime including drug trafficking. Good luck with that on an island that is still home to an active Mafia network. 
The arch in the sea near Ognina has become a symbol of the village. See the sign below...

Above - a  coastal summer house with cacti growing in the garden.

Below - harbour scene at Ognina...

25 June 2023


The letter "S" is a very useful one but unfortunately on this keyboard it does not work so I am going to have a go at writing about our holiday in Sicily without using that particular letter. It will be a challenging exercise I am sure...

Today after a hearty br... morning meal, we met up with our holiday rep to book a day trip to Mount Etna and Taormina. That will happen on the day before Friday.  A full day out but the high ticket price will not include lunch.

The night before today found my wife and I at the hotel eatery. What an amazing variety of food on offer and all of great quality too. Wine and beer were both free to people who dined.  Arenella Hotel occupancy chiefly Italian - maybe 95% of current hotel population. I rather like that fact.

After eating and drinking we watched family entertainment in the "Teatro" - all very Italian - but we enjoyed it. Quite bizzare - including a huge cuddly giraffe much loved by all the children - like a replacement for God.

Today we caught the land train down to Arenella Beach and there we lay down under a big umbrella - once in a while dipping in the  clear blue Mediterranean water. Very good to be in ocean water again propelling with arm and leg. Beautiful.

After a five hour period we packed up and headed back to the hotel area to find another place to lounge under a big umbrella near a pool. I am reading a book titled "H i. for Hawk" by Helen McDonald. Very engaging and carefully worded and I am enjoying it. Reading a book on holiday can often be a fulfilling experience without typical interference.

Tonight - another fine meal at the eating place with a big jug of Italian beer and another of local white wine. We cannot complain.

Ortigia - Duomo

24 June 2023


Ms Moon from  Lloyd, Florida asked for pictures from our week's holiday here in south eastern Sicily. I snapped these seven today when we took the  hotel's shuttle bus to  Syracuse - specifically to the island of Ortigia which is the most ancient part of that very ancient city.
Ruin of The Temple of Apollo - Greek - Sixth century B.C.

23 June 2023


Syracuse - Island of Ortigia

When we arrived at Catania airport, it was later than scheduled. This was because of a technical issue with the air bridge to our plane back in Manchester. Once we had collected our bags, we headed to the "Jet 2 Holidays" meet-up point and there we were greeted with surprising enthusiasm by Maria our Milanese holiday rep and a local taxi driver called Luigi. We were the only air passengers heading down to Arenella tonight  so we had the rather luxurious grey Audi taxi to ourselves. No dropping other holidaymakers off from a coach. We just whizzed along like VIP's. Maria and  Luigi had been happy to see us simply because they had been waiting so long and now they could see an end to Friday.

The hotel had arranged cold platter dinners for us which was  unexpected given our late arrival. Also at the reception we booked bus tickets into Syracuse for tomorrow afternoon. 

22 June 2023


Of course there was no internet, no social media, no smartphones pinging with the latest news alerts. What was external rarely intruded. We mostly lived in our own local realities. Where was New York City anyway and did we really care?

Sometimes we waited at our village phone box to receive or make calls involving friends or sweethearts from other villages. It was hard to use the house phone because somebody else would surely be listening in.

Apart from word of mouth, there were no reviews of items or services we planned to buy. To a large extent, you simply had to dive in and hope for the best. This was true of lots of things from books to holidays and from new music to forthcoming television shows.

Nobody found boyfriends or girlfriends online because "online" meant on the washing line where underwear and football shirts fluttered in the breeze like flags.  To acquire  a new sweetheart you tended to use the grapevine along which secret messages were passed or you might visit a dance at local village halls and try to catch the eye of someone you fancied. It was like fishing for an elusive rainbow trout.

It's not that "Then" was better, it was just different and arguably more innocent, less exposed to the big wide world. The Media was in its kennel and generally obeyed honourable rules of engagement. Besides, it didn't matter all that much to us for we could generally hold it at arm's length.

And we didn't travel very much. Ordinary folk never rode upon aeroplanes or took foreign holidays. Many had never even been to London. And we were not in the habit of eating out anywhere. Pubs were for adults and rarely offered food menus. There were no Indian or Chinese takeaways. The best we could hope for, once in a while,  was  fish and chips doused with vinegar and swiftly wrapped in sheets of newspaper.

That was then but this is now.

21 June 2023


I found all four of these images on Trip Advisor. They were taken by previous visitors to the VOI Aranella resort south of Syracuse in Sicily. Checking out reviews and photos on Trip Advisor can be a very helpful thing to do before you travel somewhere. However, I am always very wary of reviews posted by people who have only ever left that one review. I mean - why?  Single reviews tend to gush with positivity and praise.

The low rise nature of the accommodation appealed to us. See above. The units are well spread out over a rural campus of ten acres.

The resort is close to the sea. The beach below will be about five hundred yards from our door...
And even closer,  by a rocky cove, the resort people have erected lounging platforms with steps down into the sea. We must remember our diving shoes - bought for previous sunshine holidays...

Our reservation includes "Half Board" - breakfast and evening meal. Here's an images of a desserts table taken by a previous guest....

We will be flying out of Manchester Airport on Friday afternoon - not at some ungodly hour in the morning. However, I am guessing that we won't reach the VOI Arenella until the evening dinner service is done so we may end up going to bed hungry. Snacks in our suitcases should help us to avoid starvation.

20 June 2023


There was a burglary on our street last night. A thief or thieves got into the garden behind Gary and Lynsey's house. There they have a secure shed where Gary keeps his bicycles or should I say - he used to keep his bicycles. They have both gone now.

As you know, modern bicycles can cost an awful lot of money whether they are mountain bikes, racing bikes or partly electrified. For the price of a new bicycle you could easily cover the cost of a Mediterranean package holiday - say in Cyprus, southern Spain or perhaps Sicily!

Co-incidentally, about ten days ago building improvement work began on Gary and Lynsey's house. They are having an extension. The builders put a big plywood gate at the side of the house because they have work equipment that they want to keep as safe as possible. It seems that the dirty rotten no-good thieves bust the padlock on that temporary gate to access the back garden and the shed.

It's hard not draw the conclusion that there is some kind of link between the building work and the robbery. I am not suggesting that the builders were in any way responsible but they get stuff delivered and how would the perpetrators of the crime even know that there were two expensive bikes in that shed?

Burglaries are very upsetting for law-abiding homeowners but at least on this occasion the guilty scumbags did not enter the house. Lynsey is about to give birth to their second son - he is due any day now. The last thing she needed was  the upset that this has caused.

I am pleased to say that in our forty two years of home ownership, we have never been burgled. The worst that has happened is that when we owned a Ford Focus it was broken into three times in a year. Each time they were after the car radio/CD player. They would smash the side window to gain access  and when  they did this on the third occasion there was no radio/CD player in the slot. I guess they didn't bother looking.

We are pretty sure that our thieves were teenage boys. Shirley almost caught them one night when she went out to the wheelie bins in her house slippers. On more than one evening I grabbed a heavy torch and patrolled the neighbourhood on the lookout for these rats and for months afterwards we were forever looking up and down the street and listening for ominous sounds. It was unsettling.

Though the Ford Focus was a great car, I was kind of glad when I got rid of it. All over the kingdom they were being broken into for their radio/CD players but at the time Ford sought to downplay the issue. In the mid-nineties, it was rumoured that Ford  sound systems could be easily adapted to become satellite TV receivers.

Have you or any of your nearest and dearest been the victims of burglars?

19 June 2023


On several occasions I have come across the term "gaslighting" but have always struggled to know what it means and whether or not I should add it to my own vocabulary. I have been doing a little research.

The term is connected with a 1944 film called "Gaslight" starring Charles Boyer as Gregory Anton and Ingrid Bergman as his his wife -  Paula Alquist Anton.  Gregory secretly  searches in the attic of their inherited London home for precious jewellery and  when he puts the gaslight on up there, the lights in the rest of the house go noticeably dimmer.

When Paula mentions this Gregory dismisses her claims as nonsensical and this becomes the core of his campaign to make her think she is going crazy.

The term "gaslighting" is not in fact used in the film but it has come to be associated with psychological manipulation - undermining somebody's self-confidence and cause them to question their sense of reality.

You know when you look for a word in Google, the search engine starts to churn out related questions. I guess this is meant to be helpful though some of the questions that appear may be quite dubious. However, this came up:-

What is an example for gaslighting?
Gaslighting happens when an abuser tries to control a victim by twisting their sense of reality. An example of gaslighting would be a partner doing something abusive and then denying it happened.

"Gaslighting" was the "word of the year" for 2022 over at Merriam-Webster - the dictionary people. They defined it as "behaviour that's mind manipulating, grossly misleading, downright deceitful."

The use of "gaslighting" in conversation and print has rocketed since 202o. Back in the late nineteenth century it was only ever used to describe lighting that was literally derived from gas but modern usage is all about manipulation and control.

Although I don't like writing his name in this blog, Donald Trump has shown that regarding gaslighting there are few who can compare with him. It comes naturally - bending the truth and making people doubt themselves. He has done it a hell of a lot since he arrived on the political scene. His failing communications website - reputedly an alternative to "Twitter" - is called "Truth Social" but the notion of truth seems to run counter to the very record of Trump's life.

With regard to  ease of use, "gaslighting" does not sit well with me.  I think I would feel more comfortable using terms like "psychological control", "mental abuse" and "manipulation".  I don't find "gaslighting"  especially helpful but it is always good to try to keep up with this constantly evolving English language.

18 June 2023


Simon aged 2 - on the beach at Filey in 1958.
The image was captured by our father, Philip.

Of course the dead are dead and there's no use in appealing to them. They have gone. But if I could, I would like to say sorry to my brother Simon with regard to some photographs.

Let me explain.

For several years he lived with our aging mother following the break up of his relationship with Linda. They had bought a home together and it seemed that Linda might save him from himself. She wanted babies and a normal life in her hometown on the Yorkshire coast but Simon couldn't handle it and everything fell apart.

He went back to our mother's house and at the same time lost his job. He became reliant on Mum who gave him shelter and put food on the table. Sadly, she was rather afraid of him. He became quite nasty to her and was frequently threatening. It stressed her out but he was her youngest son and she felt it was her maternal duty to help him - come what may.

Simon as a baby in 1956 with my oldest 
brother Paul who died in June 2010

Mum died in an old folks home in September 2007 but Simon continued to live in her house and one of my other brothers was most unhappy with this arrangement and wanted Simon out so that the house could be sold. In due course that is what happened. Simon left the house in late 2010. Mum's belongings had to be stored or rescued as Simon didn't yet have another place to live even though by now he was back in full-time employment.

I picked up some of Mum's stuff and shoved it up in our attic before heading off to Thailand on my first temporary teaching contract in Bangkok. I forgot about the stuff but in early 2019, Simon began asking about it. He claimed that I had all of the family photographs and he not only wanted them, he needed them. We looked all over our house for the pictures he was talking about.

Simon as some sort of cowboy when he was perhaps four

In the last five years of his life, he never phoned me unless he wanted something so it was down to me to phone him and whenever I called him he would always bang on about those bloody pictures. I really thought he was mistaken but it turns out that I was wrong.

We did have those pictures after all. They were kind of hidden up in our attic - the jumbled contents of which we tackled just last month ahead of  the installation of our new roof. The photos were in a white plastic bag with the name "SIMON" written upon it with a permanent black marker pen.

So yes, now is the time to say "sorry" to Simon and to share with blog visitors four of the photographs I found in that bag. Sadly, I cannot turn the clock back and tell him that he had been right all along. That is how it goes.

Simon in the school football team at Beverley Grammar School 
when he was fourteen or fifteen

17 June 2023



When the day was done. I decided to treat myself by toddling  off  down to "The Itchy Pig" for three pints of "Heathen" brewed by The Abbeydale Brewery here in Sheffield. If you have drawn the conclusion that I stole that beermat then I am afraid you are wrong because I asked the barman if I could bring it home and he happily agreed.

It was a lonesome day. I spoke briefly to Jill - one of our next door neighbours and later I spoke briefly to Anna - our next door neighbour on the other side. I didn't harness Clint today. Instead, I did some maintenance work and also watched some catch-up TV.

The work included the careful reduction of our little bay tree and application of decking oil to our upper decking. There was also some extra cleaning and sanding to do before the decking oil was brushed on.

The catch-up TV was all about "The Gallows Pole" - a new BBC drama series. I have read the book that it is based upon and that was bloody good. THe drama series is a very different experience. I blogged about the novel here.

Soon, with the help of my son-in-law Stewart, I am going to have to tackle the boards on our lower decking. There are thirty three of them and they were installed twenty years ago. Some of them are clearly rotting and unsafe. I have no idea what the structure beneath them is like but I am keeping my fingers crossed on that one. New boards alone  will cost me almost £400 (US $513) thanks to Boris Johnson's Brexit.

Tomorrow is Father's Day here in Great Britain and Frances has arranged to take me and Stewart out for a fancy Father's Day Sunday dinner. I must say that I am rather pleased about that as it will save me from cooking as usual. Shirley won't be back until midday on Monday.

"Heathen" is a beer brand name that suits me well as I am a heathen just like my Viking ancestors. What beer brand name would suit your character best of all.... "Smooth Operator", "Sexy Beast", "Nasty Old Git"   or something else?

16 June 2023


I am home alone. Every year Shirley drives off somewhere for what she calls "The Cousins Weekend". She is one of many cousins and it's nice to meet up with some of them when it's not for example the occasion of a funeral.

Late this morning I decided to go for a six mile country walk in the vicinity of Bamford - a village in The Peak District. The area is very familiar to me. By a sheep pasture, I took several pictures of the same twin lambs. My favourite image is the one shown above which I have titled "Me and My Shadow"
Above you can see a stone bell-mouth in one corner of Ladybower Reservoir. Some people refer to these structures as plug holes because they do in fact serve that function when the reservoir waters are at full capacity.

Below - I was looking across the valley of The River Derwent below Ladybower. The rocks on the ridge are known as Bamford Edge where I have also rambled. You get great views from up there. I liked the larger cloud and made sure  that I caught it whole when looking through my camera's viewfinder.
In the small village of Thornhill - population 154 - I noticed that their old iconic phone kiosk now houses a defibrillator - like so many rural phone boxes in this country. It is the fashion but I wonder how many of these life-saving instruments have ever been used.
I stumbled across an area called "The Quaker Community Gardens" and within spotted this idyllic allotment - some distance from any house. To the right were small sections for vegetables and the plot seemed to be much loved. Somebody devotes many peaceful hours to the gardening here.
In Bamford I treated myself to a pint of bitter shandy and a packet of plain crisps (American: chips) in the community-run village pub. There I read a chapter from a book by TV presenter Dan Walker about elderly Margaret Keenan who in December 2020 was the first person in the world to receive a COVID vaccine.

And finally let's go back to the two lambs I showed at the top. You can see them in clearer context now but you can't hear them. They were saying, "Ma-ay! Ma-ay!" which means, "What are you looking at big boy?"

15 June 2023


Not much to report from Pudding Towers today. The weather here in South Yorkshire has continued to be quite gorgeous and I am sitting at this keyboard in shorts with my muscular legs still fully exposed expecting another sunny day tomorrow.

We looked after Little Phoebe all day today and very soon I must share some more pictures of her here on this blog. She is not a baby any more but a fully fledged toddler. Shirley took her swimming this morning while I got on with some more jetwashing.

Investing in a jetwasher was one of my wisest investments. They are so good for cleaning paving stones, brickwork and wooden decking. Weather-stained, grimy and sometimes slippery surfaces can be quickly spruced up just by blasting water at them. Not only do you make a visual impact but you also improve safety. If you don't look after them, decking boards and indeed block paving stones can be lethal - especially in wet weather.

Phoebe and her parents will be heading off to Crete next week so Shirley and I have taken the opportunity to book our own holiday abroad. We haven't flown since September 2019 when we visited Croatia and obviously that was just before the pandemic hit us all.

We thought of going further afield but in the end we have settled upon a week in Sicily. It is a last minute booking and I noticed  there were hardly any seats left on our flight from Manchester. If a day's excursion isn't too costly we hope to visit Mount Etna and no doubt we will explore the city of Syracuse. We have never been to Sicily before. It is a big island with plenty of hiding places for the local mafia. I sincerely hope that we do not run into those guys.

Here in England the news is all about Boris Johnson, his resignation as an MP. his lies and his dissatisfaction with the parliamentary committee that was charged with exploring his past conduct and rule breaking during COVID. There's something very Trumpian about him even though Johnson purports to be someone who respects  democratic processes. He has been found out and he doesn't like it. I would be very happy to jetwash him out of existence.

14 June 2023


'You asked me once,' said O'Brien, 'what was in Room 101. I told you that you
 knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 
is the worst thing in the world.' - From "1984" by George Orwell

"Room 101" is so much a part of British consciousness that we have even had a TV comedy show called "Room 101". This has now become a radio show hosted by Paul Merton. I was listening to an episode of it this very evening when the guest was another very clever funny man called Mark Steel.

The guest is asked to put five things into Room 101 - things that really annoy them or things they really do not like. Tonight Mark Steel's choices were tinned custard, unnecessary modern technology, old people who think that everything was better in the old days, people who don't get jokes and "my old angry self". Of course the guest has to present cases for each of their choices.

I was thinking - what might I choose to put into Room 101 - and came up with the following...

Jugs or teapots that do not pour properly. I mean, these everyday items have just one prime function - to pour. And yet so often they drip on the table or kitchen surface. This makes me growl every time it happens. Who designed them? They want shooting!

Boris Johnson. I have despised this puffed up Old Etonian since I first set eyes upon him on our television set.  He is an inveterate liar and hypocrite who loves the sound of his own voice. As prime minister of this kingdom, he never did his homework - preferring to wing it just as he did during his education at  Eton and Oxford.  Worst of all, he tipped the balance with regard to the Brexit referendum. Without his input, we would still be in The European Union.

Variations in airport security. Of course we need airport security but why does it vary from airport to airport? Shouldn't it be exactly the same the whole world over?  At some airports they make you take your shoes off - in others they don't.  Some security teams frisk every passenger but others never frisk anybody. In some airports you have to take laptops out of your cabin bag  while in others they insist that electronic equipment should remain in your bag. There are many other differences but I will leave it at that.

Ties (Neckties) I accept that women often have a raw deal and that historical sexism never truly went away but women were never expected to wear ties in their workplaces! The tie is a ridiculous accessory, requiring shirts to be buttoned right up to the top. Ties are often an unnecessary hazard when dining. If food drops onto a tie it is usually ruined for good as ties are not easily cleaned. Who ever imagined that ties look smart and business-like must have been completely bonkers! I say: "Ban the tie!" It's like having a noose around your neck.

Dentists  - Just as we need airport security, we need dentists. Not many of us have teeth that never require treatment. Most of the dentists I have encountered have wild eyes and bad breath. They attempt to hold conversations when your mouth has been filled with their stuff - including saliva syphons and drills that threaten to invade your hippocampus . Maybe I am a wuss but I have always been afraid of dentists and that unavoidable intimacy whenever we visit them.

What would you choose to put into Room 101?

13 June 2023


Hedge sparrow feeding a cuckoo chick
©David Kjaer

Everybody on this planet who is of sound mind - with eyes to see and ears to hear - finds birds fascinating. From the Indian peasant in his loin cloth hoeing the soil  to the jet setting entrepreneur in her high rise office building and from me to you, we all notice birds and they frequently give us pause for thought.

We don't need to be passionate ornithologists or amateur birdwatchers. We don't need to know the names of all the bird species we see. We can still notice birds and be rather enthralled by them. (By the way, this is a "We" paragraph). We can watch their acrobatics in the air. We can observe their feeding habits. We can pick up their feathers or watch their squabbles.

They are the most common wild creatures most of us ever see. They are part of our folklore and our social history. (This is a "They" paragraph!). They are feted in songs and poetry. They are cousins of dinosaurs and reptiles. They can be found on every continent on Earth.

There are about 10,000 species of birds in the world but only 405 species in Great Britain. The country with the greatest number of different birds is Colombia with 1,878 recorded species.

We moved into this humble Yorkshire home 34 years ago next month and ever since then I have fed the birds - supplementing their diet to help them survive. I feed them in every season and i guess I have spent a king's ransom on sacks of bird seed and buckets or boxes of fat balls. In addition, waste bread and scraps of meat or bacon rind end up on our lawn and not in the kitchen waste bin. For birds, this is "The Yorkshire Pudding Diner"and it's all free.

Currently our main visitors are hedge sparrows, house sparrows, wood pigeons, magpies and crows but we also get blue tits, long tailed tits, coal tits, rooks, jackdaws, wrens,  robins, jays and an occasional sparrow hawk. Once I even spotted a pheasant out there although we are a mile from open countryside. Of course the swifts, swallows and housemartins of summer disdain our avian diner as they swoop for insects in the air.

A month ago I was walking on the moors of Staffordshire when from a nearby wooded dell i heard another summer visitor - a cuckoo with its familiar and insistent repetition of it's name in song "Cuck-oo! Cuck-oo! Cuck-oo!" across the quiet heathland, calling for a mate. That precious sound - that was once heard so widely in English summers - made my heart skip a beat. 

When the last cuckoo sings - that is when England will be  lost for good.

12 June 2023


It's hard to believe that a full decade has passed by since I returned to England following a second six month teaching stint in  Bangkok, Thailand. It was June 2013 and one of the first things I did was to take a long walk in The Peak District with my friend Tony.

As I recall - and the pictures prove it - it was a lovely summery day. Above is one of the pictures I snapped at The Magpie Mine near the village of Sheldon. It is a long-abandoned lead mine but the manager's house is in good repair as you can see.
Typical limestone scenery above The River Wye with ancient  drystone walls dividing the sheep pastures while below - not far from the village of Monyash - farmers are bringing in their newly cut hay for winter fodder.
In the middle of the month, Shirley and I packed our suitcases and headed off to the islands of Malta and Gozo in The Mediterranean Sea. We had never been there before. I took a hundred photos or more and here's a random selection  of the images I brought home:-
Above I spotted that shadowy illusion while below a man sits fishing on the edge of the old salt pans. At high tide the rock pools would be filled with salt water and after the tide had receded and hot sunshine had done its job, bags of sea salt would be raked up.
Below - I took this picture on the island of Gozo and it's still my favourite image from that holiday. It must be very hard to grow vegetables on sun-baked Gozo but the men in the foreground are doing their best. On the horizon is Ta' Ġurdan Lighthouse where later that week I came across a local man shooting passing birds. Many Maltese and Gozan men call this hideous activity "sport".
Yes it was a decade ago and I was only 59 years old and there was no war in Ukraine and we had never heard of COVID and if you had told ordinary Americans that one day Donald Trump would be their president, they would have split their sides laughing.

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