21 October 2016


You are doing something peaceful. Perhaps reading a newspaper, watching "Escape to the Country" on the television or listening to "You and Yours" on Radio 4. And then all of a sudden you are rudely disturbed by the horrible noise of continuous mechanical suction. The vacuum cleaner has been turned on again! Oh no!

It was the same when I was a boy. There I would be happily playing with my Dinky toys on the carpet or buried in "Look and Learn" and our mother would start up the old Hoover. She would come swishing over the carpet with the thing and above the whining din I would hear her commands to move my little cars or lift my legs. I swear that in a slightly malevolent way she loved to observe the discomfiture that was caused by her frequent vacuuming.

In comparison, sweeping brushes are far quieter and more in tune with the human psyche. But a vacuum cleaner - it's like an instrument of aural torture. Over the years, they haven't got any quieter. It seems we can send men to the moon or eradicate smallpox, send Coca Cola to every corner of the planet or develop smartphone technology but we can't produce a silent vacuum cleaner.

If an inventor ever comes up with an efficient, reliable and silent vacuum cleaner, he or she should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In the meantime I guess we must continue to suppress the annoyance we feel whenever a vacuum cleaner is switched on, waiting for the heavenly feeling that returns when the power is cut.

20 October 2016


Yesterday, London-based CIA agent Steve and The Yorkshire Ambassador to Germany - Frau Meike in Ludwigsburg separately applauded a photograph I snapped in one of the gift shops at Tate Modern. There was a sepia photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe on top of a display case. Through the window behind this piece of shop furniture, I could see St Paul's Cathedral across The River Thames. It seemed as if the artist was also glancing across the river. If she had been facing the opposite way, the picture would not have "worked".

As it happens I took two photographs at the time and I think this one is better...
Miss O'Keeffe seems a little wistful. If a thought bubble was emerging from her skull it might well say, "I don't belong here in Europe. In this bustling human-infested city, looking across this mud-coloured river to Christopher Wren's great cathedral. Take me home to El Rancho de los Brujos, to Abiquiú and Taos, to my white place and my black place, where desert winds whisper and lizards dart across ancient rocks under  skies so pure and blue you might swim there, where the bones of long dead creatures turn white in the desert and days pass slowly like shadows moving across my beloved  hills..."
A view of Pedernal Mountain, New Mexico
where Georgia O'Keeffe's ashes were scattered in 1986

19 October 2016


In photographs she rarely smiles
On  October 8th, I walked through bustling Borough Market then along the south bank of The Thames, passing The Globe Theatre to reach Tate Modern. Once it was Bankside Power Station but the generators within that vast facility ceased their humming in 1981. Thank heavens the powers-that-be behind The Tate Gallery had the vision to realise that Bankside could one day become Britain's premier modern art museum.

There are permanent exhibitions there and if you have ever been sceptical about modern art, Tate Modern will open your eyes. That doesn't mean you will appreciate all artefacts that fall into the extremely broad  and convenient category known as "modern art" but certain prejudices and presumptions will fall away. You will begin to see and perhaps to connect.
Pelvic Series
All summer, Tate Modern has hosted a temporary exhibition of the work of Georgia O'Keeffe and I was keen to see it. Georgia O'Keeffe was born into a Wisconsin dairy-farming family in 1887. She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico ninety nine years later. In between she had a passionate, all-consuming love affair with art as she strove to express wonderment and beauty, seeking a world that she sometimes referred to as "The Far Away".

Most of her youth was spent in New York. There she grew as an artist, finding her "voice". She painted evocative pictures of Manhattan's canyons and played with light and shade, always experimenting, forging relationships with other artists, trying to take the next step.

By 1929, when she was in her forties, she found the place where she really belonged - the countryside of New Mexico. It had a harsh and simple beauty with echoes of Native American culture. The mountains changed with the sun's migration and in the desert lands there were more bones than flowers. They lay there bleached white so she gathered them and brought them home to her simple ranch house.
Black Mesa Landscape
She drew with pencil and charcoal. She studied and she painted several subjects over and over again - such as "the white place", "the black place", "the ghost ranch", "the road" and pelvic bones with a dazzling blue sky seen through the holes. Her art was both furious and patient for she was thrilled by the world she witnessed and she never lost her childlike wonder.

At Tate Modern I saw her journey unfolding in thirteen gallery rooms. How I would have loved to be alone there, absorbing that story without distraction but there were other visitors - lots of them from all corners of this planet. I was probably getting in their way too. This wasn't like the stillness and the solitude that Georgia O'Keeffe knew as she carried her easel to secret places in the New Mexico hills.

But it was a remarkable exhibition. Testament not just to a life lived in Art but to our world and to the fundamental delights we might all find within it as we take our own journeys to "The Far Away".
"Ranchos Church New Mexico" (1930 or 31)
I saw her image on some bookcases in the gift shop
with St Paul's Cathedral visible through the window
- on the other side of The River Thames
From the Faraway Nearby (1937)
New York "East River" (1928)

18 October 2016


Less than ten minutes from this house there's an ancient track called Houndkirk Road. It weaves its way from Ringinglow to Fox House. Once it would have known drovers with their animals and carriers with goods such as salt from Cheshire or coal from shallow pits in South Yorkshire. Nowadays it only knows the footsteps of leisure ramblers or the tyres of mountain bikers.
In recent weeks my walking has been greatly restricted by a knee injury that makes me notice every footstep. But yesterday I wasn't limping and the ongoing pain was in abeyance so I went for a short afternoon ramble along Houndkirk Road and then down Jumble Road to Sheephill Road. 

The autumn light was glorious with fine views towards the centre of Sheffield and east towards the M1 motorway that runs up the centre of England like a pulmonary artery. But long ago long distant transport was very different. Saddle bags thrown over trains of horses. Moving slowly along Houndkirk Road. Making camp. Days passing by. Robbers and rain clouds.
Jumble Road
And below another picture I took along Houndkirk Road in late September 2011. How many of those old drovers, carriers and jaggers paused here to check the miles and to let their animals drink from the moorland stream at the side of the path?

17 October 2016


I know that the revelation I am about to make will disappoint or irritate some visitors enormously. Pause for dramatic effect... Ghosts do not exist. In other words, there's no such thing as ghosts. They are  all born in the imaginings of the human mind.

For complex socio-psychological reasons, it is as if many folk actively want the delicious mysteries that ghosts represent. They want that uncertainty, that sense that there is something other than humdrum everyday reality. And perhaps belief in ghosts is connected with a deep-seated desire for there to be an afterlife - the promise that earthly life continues beyond death.

But it is all balderdash, poppycock, hornswoggle and tommy-rot.

Many's the time that I have walked alone through two local graveyards at night - a half moon turning the old gravestones silver white. Perhaps an owl will hoot from the sycamores, perhaps I will hear a noise behind me... but it's just an animal or the breeze blowing a tree limb against masonry. I could happily pitch a tent there and sleep as soundly as a baby, safe in the knowledge that no ghosts will come along to disturb me. There's as much chance of that as King Arthur arriving with Excalibur in his mitt.

I can't bear books, TV shows or films that are built on the premise that ghosts exist. They are so tiresome. One of my favourite novels is "Wuthering Heights" and there's a supernatural apparition in that but it's all  just in the mind of Catherine Earnshaw and a small feature of the novel - created for literary effect.

Long ago I was on the island of Rotuma in The South Pacific when the eye of a 120mph hurricane passed over us. Many houses were destroyed and many coconut palms were blown over like skittles. The eye arrived in the middle of the night bringing a strange calm. I said I would walk up the track to the government station at Ahau to tell them what had happened down in the village of Motusa.

Village people who were taking shelter in the house I shared with Peace Corps volunteer Richard were flabbergasted that I  had walked up to Ahau in the dead of night and returned safely. They insisted that the road was haunted but my only obstacles had been the palm trees lying across the track. I could have walked that way a thousand times in the dead of night and no ghosts would have leapt out on me or waited for me in the shadows.

Let me re-address my opening assertion... Ghosts do exist - but only in people's minds. They are not present in the world around us. They never have been out there and they never will be. The half-secret cult of the ghost is like an extended party game or a shared condition that sufferers freely subscribe to. It fulfils a need, that's all.

I look for ghosts; but none will force 
Their way to me.'Tis falsely said
That there was ever intercourse
Between the living and the dead.
William Wordsworth "The Affliction of Margaret"

16 October 2016


This weekend The Herd of Sheffield is on display at the nearby Meadowhall shopping centre. Fifty eight fibreglass elephants all individually decorated by local artists. They will be auctioned off on Thursday evening. We were hoping to bag one until I read that organisers expect the average price will be £1500 - which is much more than we are prepared to shell out.

Anyway, I drove over to Meadowhall on Friday lunchtime and saw the entire herd of pachyderms. They have delighted this city and their absence from scattered locations has left a void in Sheffielders' lives. This thoughtful and well-executed project has already raised many thousands of pounds for our children's hospital.

Human creativity is mind-blowing. At first there were fifty eight neutral elephants - blank canvases. Then the artists came along and created fifty eight unique designs. Some celebrated nature, others spoke of industry, labour or history. Some had serious points to make, others were simply frivolous. Some were abstract while others were naturalistic. Every one was different.

Farewell to The Herd of Sheffield.

15 October 2016


Hey! Who the hell do you think you are Mr Pussycat? Sylvester? Top Cat? The cat that got the cream wool?

You have clambered on to Beau's back and you are sitting there like Donald Trump, hoping to nail some birds. It is just not on you feline interloper! Get off Beau's back and start doing the things that cats are meant to do! Chasing mice, scratching furniture, leaving cat hairs on beds...but not riding into the sunset on the back of our sheep! Miaow!
Randomly re-done by Google Photos