23 July 2017


Up on Riggs High Road west of Stannington, I pulled Clint over and sat on a bench to read my book. The road runs for a mile or two between two river valleys - The Rivelin and The Loxley. In wintertime, it can be very bleak up there. The temperature can fall several degrees below the temperatures in the valleys below.

As I sat on the wooden bench, turning the pages I noticed that the skies above were brightening from the south west. Gradually the countryside was being nicely illuminated as the blue above made gaps in the clouds. I took my trusty camera from Clint's boot and snapped that black cow munching grass on the top of the ridge.

Below, I turned the other way and pointed my lens towards Hill Top and High Bradfield which sits above the Loxley Valley. I hope you will agree that it's a marvellous view:-
Looking back through photographs I have taken in the past week, I spotted this one of a marsh thistle, backlit by evening sunshine. I took it while rambling like an escaped convict on the edge of Hathersage Moor. Fortunately the bloodhounds and prison search party didn't  reach me and I was able to get away:-

22 July 2017


I decided to tell my father everything about Joseph and what he had done. But as I told him, falteringly, about what was happening.his eyes exploded with rage at my gruesome 'lie'. He 
began to shout above my pleas,then, not being able to quieten me, he slammed his fist into my mouth, splattering my lips through the gaps of my teeth. He did not want to hear it, and it only made my punishment worse.I knew then that I could never tell anyone. I was utterly alone. (p112)

This short extract is from the middle of "Gypsy Boy" by Mikey Walsh. It is a true story. Here he is eight years old and bewildered by the brutal attentions of his paedophilic Uncle Joseph. But his father Frank Walsh isn't listening. Little Mikey is used to physical punishment, including being hosed down whenever he wets the bed. His father is a fearful bully, unable to accept that his first born son will never be a gypsy prizefighter.

The book reveals some of the inner workings of Romany life. There is brutishness but there is also honour and togetherness. There are long-established moral codes and the "Gorgia" householders they live amongst are viewed with disdain and invariably downright animosity.

Mikey's father makes money by ripping off unsuspecting "Gorgia" pensioners.. He lays tarmac at massively inflated prices and the quality of his work is dreadful. He even steals the tar and grit required. Of course as Mikey grows older he ends up doing all the manual work, frequently receiving cruel beatings when his father is not happy with his work.

Entering puberty, Mikey comes to realise that he is gay which in the Romany world is simply unacceptable. Eventually he runs away to begin a new life but the joyfulness and the terror of his upbringing remains with him.

This was a very easy book to read. There is a lightness about the narration that rarely obliges the reader to ponder despite the sometimes horrific cruelties that Mikey endures. It's all so matter-of -fact. Mikey doesn't come across as embittered or psychologically damaged, he just gets on with the task of telling his story.

When I was a boy, gypsies would pass through our East Yorkshire village every year. We would run to the school gates to watch them with their horses, painted caravans and ragamuffin children. They seemed so exotic, so different - a mysterious race in our midst and I often thought of them. Even though Mikey Walsh was born as recently as 1980, his book nonetheless reveals some of the secrets of that community which persists to this day in spite of everything.

21 July 2017


I wrote this poem earlier this week - specially for Jenny's "Poetry Monday" feature in her blog - "Procrastinating Donkey". I was remembering a painful time long ago and simultaneously thinking of Sue's daughter in Australia. She has recently separated from her boyfriend of many years. We all think of love - whatever it might be. We all want to love and be loved. It's the secret undercurrent of everything. Well, that's what I think anyway.

My apologies to the APA? Are you a secret member of it? (APA = The Anti-Poetry Army).

20 July 2017


Norma moved into our street when she was four years old. Next month she will be ninety two. 

She married a Czech refugee towards the end of World War Two. He was called Pavel. They had just one child - a son who must have been pretty brainy because he became a vet with his own animal practice near Preston in Lancashire.

I often talked with Pavel at his garden gate but in the last few years of his life dementia was taking a hold. In contrast, Norma has always been as sharp as a pin, even as her body was failing her. She had both hips replaced and needed a mobility scooter to get out and about. 

She was fiercely independent and it was only in the last year that she needed carers to support her. With Pavel, it was the brain that let him down but with Norma it was the body.

Recently she became so physically weakened that she ended up in hospital. She will never go back to the house where her mother died and where she lived for eighty eight years. After  temporary care in a local residential home she will transfer to a more permanent home in Lancashire - not far from her son's house.

The other day her favourite handyman was clearing out her house ahead of its sale. I asked him if he'd give Norma a "Good Luck" card from me and he agreed so I bought one at the post office and wrote a nice message inside it. 

Yesterday I received a return message from Norma who is passing time and getting a little stronger before she moves over the hills to Lancashire. Here's her note:-
Where indeed have all the years gone? It's not every day that you get a fluent  little letter from a ninety two year old woman. Hell - when she moved in to our street not one family owned a car and the milk was delivered by horse and cart. Nobody had central heating but every house had a coal fire. As Norma leaves us a piece of social history also departs. I am sorry that I have no photographs of her.

19 July 2017



Yes, I remember Adlestrop -
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

By Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

- written after an unscheduled stop
at a rural railway station on June
24th 1914 - six weeks before the
outbreak of World War One.

18 July 2017


Last weekend we were at a big family party. It was an afternoon event out in Lincolnshire and it was held in a rambling old vicarage owned by one of Shirley's aunties. What a marvellous place - so spacious! And what a marvellous spread of food her auntie provided - including huge joints of tender ham and beef, melt-in-the-mouth Lincolnshire new potatoes, dressed salads and homemade lasagne.

She is in her early seventies and divorced. She has two sons. One of them got married and moved away but the other one - now around forty five years old - still lives at home with his mother. He never moved out and still works in association with his father who is a major landowner in the area, overseeing several arable farms. Hence the big house.

With the son, it is as if the train pulled out of the station but he was left at the platform. You could say that life passed him by, This may be linked to his parents' separation but whatever the reason he sleeps in the same room he slept in when he was a schoolboy.

It is a phenomenon I have noticed before - grown up children still living in the family home. I  can only imagine the tensions that this must sometimes cause. The son or daughter frustrated by what they may see as their failure to catch the train and the parents being reminded on a daily basis that their chick failed to fly the nest. It's not what you expect when you bring a child into the world. You must sometimes wonder - what did we do wrong?

Of course nowadays an increasing number of grown-up children continue to live in the family home simply because of financial pressures but this was never the case with Shirley's cousin. He had the economic power to move away and make a new life. I don't know if he ever had a girlfriend or indeed whether or not he is a gay man in denial. But looking in from the outside I find the situation rather sad.

Not only is he stranded in the vicarage but the years are ticking by and the die seems well and truly cast. It is unlikely that anything will change until his mother departs this earth and even then he'll probably continue to rattle around in that big country house surrounded by the ghosts of old times and lost opportunities.

17 July 2017


I wouldn't want to be a rock climber. I am too much of a coward. The idea of falling from a rock face gives me the willies. However, I can "get" the appeal of rock climbing. Your body versus the rock. Mind over matter. Edging patiently upwards. Your fingers seeking handholds, your feet seeking footholds. The adrenalin pumping. Aware of the danger but determined to make it to the top.

The millstone edges west of Sheffield are a mecca for rock climbers. People arrive at these edges from all over the country and indeed from other countries too.
Yesterday I was out there again and with it being a sunny Sunday afternoon, the rock climbers were out in force with their ropes and chalk bags, carabiners and hammers. It is a fraternity but there are plenty of female rock climbers too. They are lithe, light and muscular and they hug the rocks they ascend. Rock climbers belong to a sub-culture with their own vocabulary and shared goals. They know what it means to cling to a rock just as much as mariners understand what it means to face a storm at sea.

You may have expected me to snap some pictures of the rock climbers. You were right.