31 March 2024


Gracie Fields left and Vera Lynn right

Back at Bert's house yesterday afternoon. I knew that his younger son would be stewarding at the Sheffield United match. I stayed for two hours until his older son Paul arrived on his motorbike. I took him a chocolate Easter egg and a bottle of "Timothy Taylor" beer.

Conversing successfully with Bert is becoming more difficult. He forgets so much - like names and dates and even vital words in sentences. He sits there day after day, sideways on to his television and he cannot mount his steep stairs without assistance. That is what Paul was going to do yesterday - help his father up the stairs in order to have a shower.

Bert's shocking appearance - caused by an attack of shingles is now little more than a horrible memory. Sometimes he will even forget the term "shingles" but his face is now cleared up. For some bizarre reason, he always has a vile right wing news channel on on his television and I have to ask him to turn it down or better still - turn it off. He isn't really watching it anyway.

Yesterday I played around with "YouTube" on the TV set and found him two wartime songs that he would sometimes sing in the local pub. He couldn't possibly do such a search by himself. He sang along to them and asked me to play them twice. I am sure this was the highlight of his day or perhaps it was the shower that was to follow..

Bert was born in 1936. Hopefully, he will be 88 years old later this year so these old wartime songs played in the  background of his wartime childhood in London and Northamptonshire. Everybody here in Britain knew them and I can recall my mother singing them occasionally in the kitchen of my own childhood home. I feel connected to them even though I was born eight years after World War II.

First comes Gracie Fields singing "Sally" in what was I think her last public performance in 1978 and then there's Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again". Both women went out of their way to entertain troops during World War II. Another world... another time...

30 March 2024


Statue of tragic British singer Amy Winehouse in Camden, London. I 
took this picture in 2018. Amy was only 27 when she died.

Back to statues. Of course you get statues of known people but you also get more general  representative statues. Known people might include Winston Churchill or Queen Victoria while representative statues might depict coal miners or suffragettes.

A fairly recent study of American statues of known people revealed that only 7% were of women while over here in Great Britain it was not much better - with only 13% being of women. Children could easily get the wrong impression for the statue arithmetic suggests that men are inherently more important and have achieved more noteworthy things.

To accompany this blogpost I have picked six photographs of women's statues. It was pleasing to discover that there are several statues of Rosa Parks but in my opinion, the best one is in Essex County, New Jersey outside the courthouse. Rosa is clearly sitting on the bus during her famous attempted ride home on December 1st 1955. On the empty seat next to her, some of her words are inscribed: "You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right". She was very brave.

The most famous published sisters were born here in Yorkshire - Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte. Their statue stands in the garden of the old parsonage at Haworth which was their family home. To tell you the truth, I am not impressed by this statue. It seems a little amateurish to me. I think these remarkable sisters deserved something finer placed in a more prominent public  location:-
I rather like the exuberant statue pictured below. It celebrates the life of the Liverpool singer Cilla Black who was a contemporary of The Beatles. Later she was to become a much loved TV host on British television:-
Near to the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam there is a statue of Anne Frank herself. It is rather unprepossessing in my opinion. Anne was only fifteen years old when she died in the dubious care of The Nazis at the Bergen-Belsen death camp. It is wonderful that her salutary story continues to be heard:-
Finally, here's another American statue depicting a key figure in the suffragette movement. She was Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) and the statue is located in her childhood home town - Adams, Massachusetts. Though she petitioned for equality throughout her adult life, she never really witnessed her dreams come true. White women were finally enfranchised in The United States in August 1920 but remarkably  it wasn't until 1965 that all black women were finally granted the vote:-

29 March 2024


Recently, here in the blogosphere, I have noticed three people complaining about noisy electric leaf blowers. In the summer, council contractors go up and down our road cutting grass verges as though it was an Olympic event. Then they are followed by others with petrol powered leaf blowers. They blow the cut grass around in a seemingly  pointless manner while making a hell of a din.

I must confess that I own a leaf blower which I purchased twenty five years ago. However, I have not used it in over ten years, preferring to use a grass rake and a sweeping brush to create piles of leaves in the autumntime (North American: fall).

Until last week, we had a £100 stainless steel electric kettle by "Sage". We used it for around five years. It boiled water very quickly but very noisily too. It got so loud that I had to turn up the volume on our kitchen radio or if there was a conversation going on, voices had to be raised.

The dodgy electrical connection finally came to a halt and I was instructed to purchase another kettle toute suite. Our new Russel Hobbs kettle cost just £39 and though it is less powerful than the "Sage" kettle, it boils much more quietly. No need to turn up the radio any more. It's like willows whispering in the background.

Microwaves and bathroom fans can be pretty noisy too but regarding household appliances, the most annoying items in my opinion are vacuum cleaners and washing machines. They both make so much noise that they may stop you from thinking clearly. 

One would think that through the passage of time, since these appliances were invented, someone would have been able to come up with silent vacuum cleaners and  noiseless automatic washing machines. Instead, they continue whirr and blare away making you feel as though you are in the engine room of some great ocean liner.

Our "Bosch" washing machine has an extra annoying feature. When the washing cycle is over, an orange light flashes away as the machine bleats out a "Finished" signal every three minutes. The light and the alarm keep doing their thing until the operating dial is turned to "off". Surely the machine could do that itself! Would that have really been too much to ask?

There's a lot to be said for sweeping brushes and for taking baskets of laundry down to the river to wash. Much quieter.

28 March 2024


On BBC Radio 4 the other day, I listened to an item about public statues. The main nub of it was that there is a dearth of statues that honour women.

I thought to myself - Well that's no surprise! Let me explain why. In past times, women had far fewer opportunities than men  to become famous by leading armies, exploring the planet, making scientific discoveries, composing symphonies and becoming political leaders. Women invariably played supportive domestic roles - running households, raising children. There was little time left over to do anything else.

Besides, the way that societies were structured meant that men were the principal breadwinners. A woman's place was usually in the home. Here in Great Britain, ordinary women only got the vote in 1928 - less than a hundred years ago - which is like the blink of an eye in our history.

In World War One, my grandmother Phyllis White joined the war effort by working in a Sheffield munitions factory alongside hundreds of other young women. It was a dangerous, dirty occupation and yet it sent out a message to the British establishment. It said women are not stay-at-home wallflowers, they are vital players in our society and deserve equality. The times were indeed a'changing. 

Next to Sheffield City Hall there is a statue called "Women of Steel" that recognises the key role that women played in munitions and steel production during the two world wars. See the picture at the top which I snapped in 2017.

Generally, I much prefer statues that honour ordinary working people rather than specific famous individuals. The domestic duties that women undertook and continue to undertake in the majority of homes should not be sniffed at. Such work enabled societies to develop, allowing men to fight wars, build houses, make political speeches, sail ships across the seas and till the soil. Without women quietly plugging away in the background far less would have been achieved.

Rather than scraping away trying to find individual women to honour, it might be better to make statues that memorialise the underpinning but unsung domestic roles that women have played through the centuries. Here are four possibilities - thanks to A.I.:-

27 March 2024


Well since yesterday's blogpost, I have now whizzed through all eight episodes of "The Dropout" starring Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes. I guess that some visitors will have already seen it as it was released in the summer of 2022.

You have probably heard of Elizabeth Holmes. She dropped out of Stanford University in order to pursue a dream that would incidentally make her fabulously rich. That dream was of a blood testing system which, with one drop of blood, would diagnose health issues such as cancer, sepsis, diabetes, HIV and host of other conditions.

In one visit to a wellness centre, a member of the public could get answers almost immediately. The drop of blood would be on something like a credit card which would be popped into a fancy machine and - hey presto - the result would be displayed. Holmes's company was called Theranos - a combination of the words "therapy" and "diagnosis". Between 2003 and 2013, Theranos garnered a lot of investment and a lot of prestige too. It was scheduled to become the next big thing.

The trouble was that the system never worked. It was all a big lie and ultimately Holmes and her inner circle could not hide that fact. They had tried desperately to create a system that would match the dream but they always fell short and instead resorted to deception.

In the series, Elizabeth Holmes emerges as some sort of manic depressive with strong narcissistic tendencies. She comes to believe in her own hype and bubbles with hidden anger and frustration whenever anybody tries to cross her or ask searching questions.

The Theranos offices and labs are ultra-modern but also a hive of secrets and unsaid words. People get sacked and head chemist Ian Gibbons played by Stephen Fry commits suicide. The Holmes effect may bamboozle some but it riles others.

By the end of the series, the Theranos bubble has been burst and Elizabeth Holmes must at last face the law.

One of the morals of this recent commercial tale is that if you are going to build a great business you must build it on solid ground. The centre should not be hollow and internal connections should certainly be characterised by integrity, mutual understanding and a shared vision. "Follow my leader" may be a fun game for kids in a school playground  but in the working world of adults it can seem like the blind leading the blind.

In 2022, Holmes was sentenced to 11+1⁄4 years in jail for fraud. After various appeals, she finally began that sentence last November and is not expected to be released from prison until 2032. She made a lot of influential people look very stupid.
The real Elizabeth Holmes

26 March 2024


Surprise, surprise - Rotherham Council have no information about me in their archives. From the school where I worked, the records only date from 2008. The council correspondent suggested that I should get in touch with the school where I worked but it will be a miracle if they have any evidence whatsoever of my employment. forty four years ago. Acquiring the required P45 will be like locating The Holy Grail.

I can see what is going to happen. I will have to wait a further fifty minutes on the phone to get through to an HMRC adviser once again  only to tell him or her what I knew in the first place - that getting the P45 will never happen. I am pissed off because who ever was in error in the past, it was certainly was not me. There must be some way of waiving this ridiculous and historical anomaly.

Regarding my foot and the pain I was in ten days ago, may I say that the condition is most certainly not plantar fasciitis! As I indicated before, it is gout and though it has not entirely disappeared, the pain has altered its location and is much reduced. I am not limping any more. However, every morning I wake up and wonder how it will be today. Thank you for all your kind suggestions. Much appreciated. One day I hope to walk again - beyond the horizon up ahead.

Getting back to Sunday's "Quiztime" - when you are in a pub quiz you usually  have to go along with the quizmaster's answers - even though very occasionally you know for sure that you have been given a wrong answer. That doesn't matter. In Britain, I never heard of the young of foxes being referred to as "kits".  However, research tells me that although the word is not as common as "cub", "kit" is still acceptable. In other words, I am relenting and you can have a belated mark for "kit"! I am so generous - it hurts.

Moving on to television... Tonight I watched the international friendly match between England and Belgium. England were the better team but it looked as though Belgium might win until the very last seconds of the game when our star player - Jude Bellingham - steered in an equalising goal to save England's blushes in the pouring London rain.

Also on television, I am currently watching an eight part series called "The Dropout" which dramatises the growth of the failed blood testing company Theranos and its slightly deranged founder Elizabeth Holmes who currently resides in a Texan jail. I am enjoying this so far and will blog further when I have seen it all. In fact, I may watch another episode tonight after publishing this blogpost.

There - updates completed!

25 March 2024


There's a government organisation in Great Britain called HMRC which stands for His Majesty's Revenue and Customs. It is responsible for gathering taxes.

As a former government employee myself, I never needed to pay much heed to taxation for I was taxed at source and it was not necessary to submit tax forms at the end of each financial year. It was all done for me.

However, this year I have a couple of tax issues to address via HMRC. In this process I have discovered that on their system I am still listed as being employed by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. HMRC sent me a letter about the matter last week. It was a big surprise as I was employed by Rotherham between January 1978 and August 31st 1980 and never since.

Last Friday morning I tried to phone HMRC  about this but our wireless house phone ran out of charge after thirty minutes. I had been kept waiting all that time. This morning I tried again with a fully charged phone but again it ran out of charge so I tried our old wired house phone.

I sat there for fifty minutes until finally, finally I was put through to a human being in the north east of England. As I waited I listened to mind-numbing muzak and an intermittent recorded message: "Thanks for waiting. Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold. An adviser will answer your call as soon as possible". You have probably heard similar false claims yourself while waiting at the end of a call.

Earlier I had heard, "Please note, this call may be recorded for monitoring and training purposes". When I hear that I always think I should be warning them that I will be doing the same! 

Anyway the adviser with the north eastern accent dealt with the matter as best he could before telling me that I would need to get in touch with Rotherham Council myself to request a P45  termination of employment certificate - from 44 years ago!

On the internet, Rotherham Council seem to be highly skilled in hiding contact details and building "chat" systems that do not address the questions you want to ask. However, I persevered and finally managed to get through to their Human Resources department where I spoke to a helpful young man who noted my request and promised it would be dealt with in the next few days. Truthfully, I would not put much money on that happening.

The time I have spent on the phone dealing with a matter that was not of my own making is time I will never be able to get back. "All of our advisers are very busy at the moment". Well employ and train some more then!

24 March 2024



Once upon a time, when I was a teacher, the last lesson of the term would frequently involve a general knowledge quiz - just for fun. In fact the classes usually pressed me to make this happen - "Can we have a quiz sir? Please!" As years passed by, my expectations were lowered but it never ceased to amaze me what teenagers did not know. I mean, most of them had been in school for ten years and yet I sometimes wondered - what had they learnt? I guess that one of the main pre-requisites of general knowledge quizzing is curiosity - the urge to know stuff but many of my charges seemed to fully lack that trait.

I was always dumbing down because as a quizmaster you certainly do not want quiz teams to feel entirely hopeless. You want them to score with some correct answers - make them feel they're  achieving something at least.

Here are ten questions that are typical of those I used to pose in those bygone days when King Charles III was merely a prince:

  1. Prince Charles has two brothers and a sister. Please name one of them. 
  2. What is the name of the ocean between Europe and North America?
  3. In nursery rhymes who ate curds and whey while sitting on a tuffet?
  4. Who was the drummer for The Beatles?
  5. A baby dog is a puppy but what is a baby fox called?
  6. London is Great Britain's capital city but what is the capital of Scotland?
  7. Which American pop singer made  albums called "Bad" and "Thriller"?
  8. What is Fred Flintstone's wife called?
  9. Which famous English playwright wrote"Hamlet" and "Julius Caesar"?
  10. How do you say, "Thank you very much" in French?
Please have a go at these quiz questions yourself. Answers given in the Comments section. How did you do?

Entirely separate - here's a photo of Ian and his Sheffield people after brunching today in "The Wild Card" on Ecclesall Road. Phoebe, Margot, Frances and Stewart were also there as well as Sarah and Zach. It was so great that they could all get together and this picture gives me much joy. Soon afterwards, Ian had to head back to London.

23 March 2024


It was my wife Shirley's sixty fifth birthday today. The best gift of all was to have the members of  her immediate family around her. 

Yesterday, Ian and Sarah drove up from London with Baby Zachary. It was his first ever visit to Yorkshire and clearly he loved it because he couldn't stop drooling. They came up in their fairly new electric vehicle - a big black Volvo replete with technology, lights and screens. Whereas London boasts many public charging points for electric vehicles, Sheffield and indeed all other northern cities have very few facilities for such cars. However, this morning Ian located a speedy charging point by the KFC on Queens Road. It took two hours to get up to full charge.

Today we all went out to "The Rising Sun" on Fulwood Road for a late lunch. Shirley and I, Frances and Stewart, Little Phoebe and Baby Margot were of course joined by Ian, Sarah and Zach. We enjoyed tasty meals with our beers, wine and apple juice though two members of our party opted for milk. Four of us chose the homemade steak and vegetable pie with chips, gravy and mushy peas. Phoebe had beans on toast and Ian had the vegan burger with chips and salad.

How lovely it was to be with our family - all comfortable in each other's company - with our three darling grandchildren. You never know what the future might hold but today was a day to feel blessed and fortunate.

Much later, back at our house, Ian ordered an entirely vegan Chinese meal from "Wawin Chinese". It was delicious and there was plenty of it. In fact, I would say that too much was ordered. The excess is currently in the fridge and I guess we might have some of it at lunchtime tomorrow.

I am so sorry that there are no pictures of the family event. You see, because the others all have expensive camera phones, I decided to leave my own camera at home. Instead, at the top there's a picture of a removals van that Shirley snapped on Friday morning. She was helping a friend to move house. Oddly, the van had been driven over from Hull where my football team, The Tigers are based. Hull is sixty five miles from here

22 March 2024


Once, by the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand, I threw some bread into the water at a point where stone steps rise towards a riverside temple. Almost immediately, a congealing, writhing scrum of desperate, gluttonous fish rose up from the murky depths to compete for that bread. Audibly, their tails and fins slapped the brown water.

Think of Catherine Middleton as the bread and  disreputable newspapers and social media outlets as the greedy fish  - feeding with impunity. Manufacturing tales, promoting lies, endlessly speculating. Filling columns, contributing to the unholy din, mocking  and disparaging,  saying what the hell they wanted to say.

And now that Princess Catherine has told her sad and ongoing personal health tale, do any of those who were in the feeding frenzy pause for a moment to say "Sorry!"? No, of course they don't.  They would probably prefer more of the same because truth does not sit comfortably in their agendas.

Sitting on a wooden park bench, Catherine looked older and thinner as she gazed into the camera. She has obviously been to hell and back - not that the voracious fish mob would care.

I'm not a royalist and for large parts of my life I thought of The Royal Family as an archaic encumbrance that symbolised  historical privilege, preventing ordinary Britons from breaking down the barriers to success. My views have mellowed somewhat  over the years. I think of Prince William as a decent, intelligent and compassionate man who fell in love with a good woman when he was at university in Scotland. Their three children seem adorable.

William and Catherine have done their royal duties for this country. They didn't run away to California. They were steadfast and uncomplaining, supporting good causes and trying to make a difference.

The least they could have expected was some kindness, some respect, some quietness when cancer crept into their lives. Instead, they were met with a deluge of intrusive nastiness. I wish them both well and hope that with the assistance of medical people, Catherine can leave this nightmare behind her and finally get the all clear.

21 March 2024


The old photograph shown above was snapped in the summer of 1947. The location was 25 Langton Road, Norton-on-Derwent, Yorkshire. That is where my father was born in 1914 and where he spent his happy, carefree childhood.

Through the second world war, my paternal grandfather Philip had a milk round in Norton. Churns of local farm milk were brought to the family home where there was a small bottling plant. Then crates of the milk were heaved aboard the  little cart shown above before early morning deliveries were made with the kind assistance of the horse.

I suspect that the picture was taken on a Sunday - the day of rest. On the cart you can see four people and a dog. There's my father's sister Evelyn - born around 1918. Then there's my grandfather Philip holding his dog and my grandmother Margaret holding her grandson, Peter Thewliss who was Auntie Evelyn's only child . The photo was probably snapped by Frank Thewliss - Evelyn's husband.

How I would have loved to step into that scene to introduce myself but I was not yet born. I came along in October 1953 which must have brought a glimmer of joy into my father's life for his mother Margaret died in January of that year and his father Philip died in September  - just a month before I arrived into the world.

They were in their early seventies and I never met them and so sadly they played no role whatsoever in my life. They are buried in Norton Cemetery with their youngest son - my Uncle Jack who was killed on active duty with the Royal Air Force in 1940.

Co-incidentally, my daughter Frances is soon to have a long weekend break in Norton with a friend who also has two young children. Frances was surprised to learn of our strong family connection to that place and she plans to visit her great-grandparents' grave while she is there.

The milk business was taken over by my Uncle Tom and I remember standing in that same yard some twelve years after the old photo was taken. By then Uncle Tom had invested in an electric milk float. They tend not to eat hay or drop doo-doo on the street.
25 Langton Road, Norton - courtesy of Google Streetview

20 March 2024



A sweet song. A song of love and longing. Should we dissect it? Should we explain it? Or maybe we should just listen to it and let the moods of the song wash over us as our private thoughts and memories rise to the surface like fish feeding under the willows in the gloaming of a summer's day... There are two versions for you to enjoy by Jim McCann and Charlotte Church or why not follow the lyrics below and sing along...


I wish I was in Carrickfergus
Only for nights in Ballygrant
I would swim over the deepest ocean
The deepest ocean, my love to find
But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over
And neither have I wings to fly
If I could find me a handsome boatman
To ferry me over my love and I.

My childhood days bring back sweet reflections
The happy times I spent so long ago
My boyhood friends and kind relations
Have all passed on now like melting snow
I'll spend my days an endless rover
Soft is the grass and sure, my bed is free
Oh but to be back, in Carrickfergus
To strike that lonely road, down by the sea.

And in Kilkenny it is reported
On marble stone there as black as ink
With gold and silver I would support her
But I'll sing no more now till I get a drink
For I'm drunk today and I'm seldom sober
A handsome rover from town to town
Ah but I'm sick now my days are numbered
Come all ye young men and lay me down.

19 March 2024


I have no idea how much money is spent on home insurance every year but enough to build a mountain. Year after year insurance companies around the world remind us that we have to renew our insurance arrangements. 

Here at my house, our home insurance is with a well-known British company called Direct Line and to make the premiums a little cheaper our buildings insurance is married with our home contents insurance. We have been with Direct Line for ten years and have not claimed for anything.

This year I received our renewal letter and it said that the premium we paid last year - £257.60 had now risen to £303.52. This represented a rise of £46.

Anyway, I phoned Direct Line today and said that if the premium was not reduced we would be arranging our insurance with a different company. The fellow at the other end of the line left me on hold for two or three minutes and then returned to the phone with a much better deal. In fact that phone call saved me £28. But why didn't I get that deal in the first place? I suspect that some people never challenge increased premium notices and this helps to boost insurance company profits.

I wonder - does this kind of insurance chicanery happen in other countries such as America, Canada, Ireland, Australia and Germany? It seems to happen to me every year and in relation to car insurance too. It is like a game. They pump up the premium, I challenge it and then they reduce it. It is as if they are actively trying to engineer widespread fraud. They don't give a damn about loyalty. Customers are treated  like piggy banks that they shake. The more that they can get out of us the better.

18 March 2024



I was at university in Scotland between September 1973 and December 1977. Bang in the middle of that time, a song was released by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. It made Number 1 in the British charts and for many weeks was played continuously in the student union's pub - "The Allangrange".

The song was "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" and if a film was ever made of my university days and that particular  time in my life, that single would have to be the theme song. Admittedly, such a prospect seems highly unlikely unless I become a mass murderer or, more likely, assassinate Boris Johnson with a cricket bat.

I had never really analysed why I liked that song so much. After all, there's a lot of bitterness in the lyrics. Steve Harley was addressing the original members of Cockney Rebel with whom there had been a breaking up in the summer of 1974 but at the time we never knew of that background. With its pauses, its guitar solo and its Mae West-like top line it was a curiously catchy song.

Sadly, Steve Harley died yesterday morning at the age of 73. It wasn't drink, drugs or a rock star lifestyle that did for him but a cancer that he had been battling with for a few short months. Now, as the song said, "There's nothing left/All gone and run away" and Steve Harley is no more. But behind, as well as his grieving family, he leaves an army of people from my generation who danced to "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" without fully understanding what it meant though it truly did make us smile.

17 March 2024


Some visitors have been struggling with questions  from "The Hammer and Pincers" pub quiz so this week's quiz is easier. It gives you a chance to feel better about yourself. Who knows - if you really concentrate - you might be able to score ten out of ten! Once again, answers will be given in the "Comments" section but no peeping!

1. Who is the current president of the USA?

2. Wine is generally sold in two colours. One of them is red. What is the other colour?

3. Name the country at the southern tip of Africa.

4. What is the capital of Sweden? (a) Bujumbura (b) Ouagadougou  or (c) Stockholm

5. "Oui" means "yes" but in which European language?
6. 50/50 question. Which sauce is traditionally served with roast pork - apple or tartare?

7. ANAGRAM of GOD - Clue - it's a domesticated animal.

8. Standing on the Yarra River, which big Australian city beginning with the letter M is the capital of  the state of Victoria?

9. Mathematical question. How many eights are there in 56?

10. BRAIN TEASER Last year was 2023. This year is 2024. What will next year be?

16 March 2024



Superman had several special powers - from X-ray vision to the power of flight and from superhuman strength to enhanced hearing. More than that, he was an all round good guy who stood on the side of the righteous against the powers of evil.

I used to think that I was bit like Superman as I never seemed to get ill and could do almost anything that I set my mind to but recently I have been increasingly aware of my frailties. I am not really like Superman at all. I am just another seventy year old guy and my days of invulnerability are over. It is time to hang up my red cape.

You may recall me recounting my February visit to Sandy Denny's grave in south London. What I didn't say then is that my left foot began to give me some gyp that very day. There was discomfort in my heel and over the next couple of weeks that mild gyp turned into actual pain that caused me to limp.

I hadn't consciously hurt my left foot and what I thought it might be was a touch of gout in that area. After all I know what gout feels like because over the past twenty years I have infrequently suffered from it in both of my big toes and the balls of my feet.

When you have an attack of gout, it's as if it creates a strange tension in your body as a whole - not just in the affected area. Gout comes and then it goes.

In the last three weeks I haven't been able to get out and about on my customary country walks because of the heel pain . However, today I thought I would take a two mile circular walk just to test it out. I drove to Shotts Lane on the edge of the city  and then followed a route I have taken many times.

Although I wasn't limping I could still feel discomfort in my left foot with every step I took. Normally I can walk for five, ten or fifteen miles without feeling a thing. The idea of not being able to do that is a little depressing as this has become the activity I enjoy the most.

I don't suppose that Superman ever suffered from gouty pains and twinges that  made him limp. Come to think of it, did he ever have a bad cold or toothache?  Did he get sunburnt or neglect to pay his home insurance? In short, were there ever times when he was not super?

15 March 2024


In 1953, Diane Abbott was born just eleven days before me. In 1987, she became Britain's first ever black female Member of Parliament, representing the London constituency of Hackney North for the Labour Party. Like Frank Hester, I have never met Diane Abbott in person though from afar I have admired her tenacity and her willingness to fight for worthy causes.

Who is Frank Hester you may be asking. Well he is a wealthy tech-savvy businessman specialising in servicing our National Health Service. The ruling Tory or Conservative party have awarded him several lucrative contracts and he in turn has donated millions of pounds to The Tory Party. If that sounds dodgy then it probably is. A large slice of his wealth came from contracts awarded during the COVID pandemic. 

At a work meeting held in 2019, it appears that Hester, the Tories' biggest donor said that looking at Abbott makes you “want to hate all black women” and then added the MP “should be shot”. Hester does not deny making these vile remarks.

Questioned very recently about this episode, Hester said he “accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbott in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Nothing to do with her gender nor the colour of her skin? That is ridiculous! He used the word "women" and the word "black" and now he tries to water it down by saying he was just being "rude"!

It took over twenty four hours for our current prime minister to admit, through a spokesperson, that Hester's comment was both racist and sexist but nothing was made of the sinister add-on that she "should be shot".

Furthermore, this year Hester donated £15 million to The Tories and they have refused to return it. So that's okay then - fighting a general election with dirty money! In addition, it is worth noting that our current prime minister has also enjoyed some free flights in Hester's helicopter.

This all stinks and it is more than unfair on Diane Abbott. The remarks are downright dangerous. A lily-livered apology cannot negate what Hester said in the first place. That would be like Putin apologising for what he has done to Ukraine. Hollow. Bizarrely, the Tories gave arrogant Hester a richly unmerited medal in 2015 - the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) - presumably for services to his own bank account.

14 March 2024


Every state in The United States has its own official song. I have been listening to some of them recently and reading their stirring lyrics. Of course people from around the world are familiar with a good bunch of the fifty states - including California, Alaska, Texas and Florida but some other states are easily forgotten, more obscure. They include Idaho up in the north west but many miles from The Pacific Ocean.

In terms of  land area, Idaho is a little smaller than The United Kingdom with a population of just under two million. In America it is often known as The Potato State but another nickname is The Gem State - both for obvious reasons. Idaho has various state parks and boasts some of the wildest natural areas in the entire nation.

As regular visitors to this blog know, I am geographically inquisitive and rather than focusing on Idaho as a whole, I decided to dig a little deeper and picked a small settlement in the northern heart of the state called Elk City. It is located roughly at the tip of the gunman's rifle in the map shown below

Elk City did not exist until the 1860's when it became the centre of a minor goldrush. Many of those who arrived were Chinese but later the mining activity was dominated by white miners and panners seeking fortunes. Elk City serviced their needs as they fanned out to the nearby mountains. By the nineteen thirties the gold boom was more or less over. Today, the remote settlement has a population of only 170 but some gold is still found in the region. By the way, the last eighteen miles of the D14 road into Elk City from the west were not paved until 1980.

The pictures that accompany this blogpost were all snipped from Google Streetview imagery. Actually, coverage in this remote area  is surprisingly incomplete with only the main road through Elk City going blue when you move the little golden man over the map.

I would love to make my way to Elk City but I don't suppose I ever will. I would stay at the "Elk City Hotel" shown below:-
Of this establishment, a 2013 Trip Advisor contributor wrote: 
"They are not the Ritz, nor do they claim to be. It is the only functioning hotel in the city. The staff is super attentive. The room was clean. In fact my husband lost a bottle top and in his search for it he looked all around the kitchen even under the the refrigerator. It was very clean even there. Not even dust. This room could stand some remodeling. At the very least a coat of paint. The couch must have been replaced since the previous reviewer. We were tickled pink to find that it had recliners at both ends. The TV reception was fine. We didn't really have a lot of time for TV. This area is magnificent. The beauty around there is breathtaking. If you go make sure to take some drives around the area. We drove over the mountain to Selway Falls. The road is unpaved. It was only really rough for a couple of miles. The beauty abounds on the entire drive. There are two places on the drive where you feel like the king of the mountain as you can see both valleys at the same time. Elk City, Idaho is a very beautiful setting. All of the people we met there were very pleasant and helpful. We hope to go back again soon. There are so many more roads to traverse."
Homes by Main Street, Elk City

The little city still has its own post office so if I was staying in Elk I might mosey down there to post a few postcards. I guess it remains an important link to the outside world for those who dwell hereabouts.

And finally, I know that you are keen to hear the Idaho state song. It is called "Here We Have Idaho":-

You’ve heard of the wonders our land does possess,
Its beautiful valleys and hills.
The majestic forests where nature abounds,
We love every nook and rill

And here we have Idaho,
Winning her way to fame.
Silver and gold in the sunlight blaze,
And romance lies in her name.
Singing, we’re singing of you,
Ah, proudly too. All our lives thru,
We’ll go singing, singing of you,
Singing of Idaho.

13 March 2024


Our lovely daughter Frances has just landed another job. Now a mother to two beautiful little girls, she was laid off last summer when her previous company was bought out by a bigger American-based company operating in the same field. 

Like her previous firm, the new one is involved in servicing and supporting recruitment agencies. I don't fully understand it all but most of the work is computer-based.

She will be working four days a week - mostly from home but one day a week will be spent down in London and perhaps once a month, she will have to travel up to Glasgow where the company's main office is located.

The salary package is generous but in her field she is both capable and knowledgeable and the new company needed someone with her skills. As luck would have it, the new business's London arm currently consists of three people who were all in her previous company.

As women all over the world have discovered, it is not easy to maintain a career when you are also the mother of small children. There's a lot of balancing to be done and of course in the western world at least, childcare costs can be horrendous. If the truth be known, Frances would much prefer to be a stay-at-home mum but the pressures of modern living  seem to oblige most women to get back to work as soon as they can.

Besides, Shirley and I are here and most weeks Frances's mother-in-law will be around too. Such back up can provide a vital lifeline, making a return to work more possible.

Phoebe already goes to nursery school three days a week and we look after her every Thursday but soon we will be playing a bigger caring role with Baby Margot before she is ready to attend the same nursery school. 

As I said to Frances the other day, we are happy to look after our granddaughters and in fact consider this role to be a privilege. It's a type of team work and we do not resent our future involvement even though it will make us less free to get away from home whenever we want to go. The bottom line is that we love them.

When I was a lad, my mother was mostly at home though she supplemented the family income by teaching adult evening classes - specialising in "mixed crafts" - including leather work, glove making, basketry, embroidery and lampshade making. She was very talented. 

My three brothers and I did not attend any kind of nursery school because there wasn't one and there was no extended family support either  because my father's parents were both dead and our maternal grandmother lived up in Newcastle.

The world is different now. Probably more than ever before, we have got to pull together.

12 March 2024


The Greek Debt Crisis in 2013

At lunchtime today, I dropped Shirley off at the "Age Concern" charity shop where she volunteers twice a week and headed back home. As there was an empty parking space close by, I called in at our local post office to post a couple of items and buy some books of postage stamps. They are going up again next month.

Leaving the post office and heading back to Clint, I decided to do something I had not done in quite a while - buy my lunch from "Neptune's" fish and chip shop. They used to do a great lunchtime deal - £3 for mini fish and chips with mushy peas.. Of course that particular treat has also gone up.

Waiting for my battered fish to fry, I got talking to the couple who now run the establishment. They are in their late forties and came to England back in 2013 when the Greek economy was on its knees. They arrived with two young children and headed up to  Sheffield where they had a connection with another Greek family. That was eleven years ago.

Their children settled into school here and now their daughter is at university. Their son hopes to follow her. He is now eighteen  and plans to pursue a law degree.

The couple spoke warmly about how they'd been welcomed in this city and how neighbours and new friends had been so kind to them. They also spoke of how proud they are of their kids and how pleased they have been with their schooling. Though the husband and wife team still pine for their homeland, they are happy here and have no plans to return to Greece except for holidays.

It was so nice to hear their positivity and I could have stayed chatting to them all afternoon but I had a battered cod fish to eat, mushy peas and a huge pile of chips (American: fries). Actually, there were so  many chips that I saved most of them in  a casserole dish and this evening we had them with our evening meal. I tossed the cold chips in a little rapeseed oil and spread them on a baking tray before heating them for twenty minutes in the oven. They turned out perfectly.

It had been very nice to hear an immigrant story that was not wet with tears - nor pulsing with underlying resentment. They had made their brave move and then made the best of it. It would not surprise me if their two children now speak with Yorkshire accents.

"Yassou!" I said as I left. It means "Good health!"

11 March 2024


It's time to settle down in "The Hammer and Pincers" for yet another Sunday pub quiz. Has everybody got their preferred alcoholic beverages? Mary and Steve - please belt up!  Right, here we go. Answers given in the "Comments" section and  remember - You cannot cheat yourself!

1. Name one of the two South American countries that are landlocked.

2. In which Middle Eastern country was the first F1 Grand Prix held this year?

3. Which imperial measurement in equal to 30.48 centimetres?

4. In which part of the human body will you find the scaphoid, lunate and triquetrum bones?

5. Which well known British  musician worked with the lyricist Tim Rice to produce the songs that appear in "The Lion King" musical?
6. Which American film star was married to Madonna for four years in the 1980's?

7. Give the name of the French-made guided missile that means "flying fish" in French? 

8. What was the name of the dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch in Peter Jackson's film trilogy based on "The Hobbit" by J.R.R.Tolkien?

9. TRUE or FALSE? ‘The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail.’ is the first line of ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway.

10. ANAGRAM. Using these letters work out the title of a successful hit single by The Beatles:  NO WIDTH STATUS

10 March 2024


I guess, essentially, life is a tragedy, but more for some than others. 
I've never searched for any grave other than relatives, and only
 then for the genealogical information on them.
Tasker Dunham

Remember how two weeks ago I visited the grave of Sandy Denny in Putney Vale Cemetery, London? Previously I thought that paying homage like that was a perfectly normal human activity but Tasker Dunham's comment left me wondering if I am unusually morbid or weirder than I might normally admit.

In my life, I have visited the graves of various well-known people. For example, twenty five years ago, down in Dorset, I  visited the grave of Thomas Hardy in Stinsford churchyard. Actually, it's not all of him - just his heart. The rest of him is buried within the precincts of Westminster Abbey, London. The thought of the removal of Hardy's heart  is slightly disturbing.

When on holiday in Seattle in 2014 - I made a point of visiting the grave of Jimi Hendrix in the city's Renton suburb. I blogged about that here.

Down in Laugharne, South Wales I have visited the simple grave of the poet Dylan Thomas on three or four occasions. He had a way with words but of course his life was tragically short. He died at the tender age of 39,  a month after I was born. One can only imagine what else he might have written if he had lived a long life. Maybe one can absorb some of the literary genius of a man like that by simply standing at his graveside.

Another literary grave I have visited is that of Sylvia Plath. She died in 1963 and is buried in Heptonstall churchyard here in Yorkshire. She was only thirty years old when she chose to take her own life. In her memory, pilgrims have pushed dozens of pens into her grave. I blogged about my visit there in 2018. Go here.

Is it ghoulish to visit the graves of famous people you admire?  Very possibly but I can't say for sure. One grave I must visit in the next few months is that of my brother Simon who died in the summer of 2022. As the executor of his  small estate, I arranged for a gravestone to be erected above the place where he was interred - back in my home village. This job was finally completed last October. Though I have seen a couple of photos of the gravestone, I have yet to see it with my own eyes.

Finally: Have you visited the graves of any particular famous people or personal heroes? Who and where?

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