21 March 2018


Here in Yorkshire, the BBC sponsors a regional news programme called "Look North". Mrs P and I watch it regularly and we are very familiar with the main presenters. As is the wont of regional television news shows, "Look North" occasionally organises televisual charity-related projects.

This month "Look North" sought to mark its fiftieth anniversary by arranging a week long sofa push -taking a red sofa on a trolley to fifty different locations within Yorkshire. They are raising money for the Sports Relief charity. Yesterday they came to Sheffield.

Paul Hudson and Harry Gration

I drove up to the nearby reservoirs at Redmires and sat inside Clint reading a novel. The remains of recent snows were still  on the ground, settled in hollows and drifted up against the drystone walls. I bumped into an old friend who has finally retired. He has a rescue dog now. It was sitting in the back of his car smiling back at me. My friend said that his wife had named it Deefa which sounds like a Hindu goddess but he said it was simply a shortening of "D for dog".

Soon a colourful bunch of walkers appeared on the far side of the top reservoir. It was the "Look North" team with their support staff, cameraman and an array of local followers. As luck would have it, this little caravan stopped right in front of the spot where I was standing to take stock and prepare for the arduous climb up to Stanage Pole.

Amy Garcia
You will never have heard of these people but to us they are very familiar television celebrities. There was the cheeky weather presenter - Paul Hudson whose nightly quips are legendary. And there was the lovely Amy Garcia from Wakefield looking as fit as a fiddle but surprisingly not wearing gloves and there was the genial uncle and anchorman of thirty years - Harry Gration from York. 

A young physiotherapist began to pull up Harry's right trouser leg and he spoke directly to me, "You'd best look away now!" She was checking out his bad right knee, adjusting the knee support and blasting some magic spray at the joint. 

Soon the rest stop was over and the motley crew began their ascent up the old Roman track heading towards Stanage Edge and down to Hathersage. This would be a taxing walk at the best of times but pulling a trolley along with a red sofa aboard in wintry conditions made it much more challenging. 
Harry Gration
If any of my millionaire American, Russian, Australian, Italian and German visitors would like to donate spare money to the BBC Sofa Challenge, please go here.

20 March 2018


Let's all cheer and raise a glass. It's March 20th - St Cuthbert's Day!

In my humble opinion, St Cuthbert should be the patron saint of England and not the foreigner - St George who had as much to do with England as I have to do with Timbuktu. 

St Cuthbert was a holy man who helped the poor and lived a blameless life. He was probably born in 634 AD and died on March 20th 687 AD. His tomb is the centrepiece of Durham Cathedral though at first his remains rested on the holy  island of Lindisfarne off the Northumberland coast where he was the prior of the abbey in the last three years of his life.

When Danes and Vikings attacked the east coast of England in the ninth century, the monks of Lindisfarne exhumed Cuthbert's remains and carried him to safety. He seemed to represent the very heart of northern England and his coffin went on a long journey - resting in a variety of locations around the old kingdom of Northumbria of which Yorkshire is the major part. I have been to just a handful of the churches where St Cuthbert rested and all of those churches are named after him.

There are many stories surrounding Cuthbert including tales of miracles. When the Scandinavian threat diminished his remains were brought to Durham and for centuries his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.

I am not a religious person but most countries seem to have patron saints who come to act as symbols of a nation's character. Somewhere along the line, for reasons that are lost in the mists of history, England picked the wrong patron saint in my judgement. It should have been our own homegrown saint, a man who lived amongst us, a man of peace and hope. Happy St Cuthbert's Day Everybody! Happy St Cuthbert's Day!

19 March 2018


Snow came from the east. Then it went away. Then it came back again. This should be a time of daffodils and crocuses, a time for digging the earth ready for vegetables. Instead, there's snow on our garden once more. Silver Clint, my trusty steed, is wearing a thick white coat and our road is a treacherous ice rink. Clint is going nowhere.
Last night I noticed that icicles were forming above our back door as a wodge of snow slips slowly from our slightly angled kitchen roof. When I emerged from the snug cocoon of our winter quilt this morning I decided to photograph said icicles that have grown a little longer like super-speedy stalactites in a limestone cave.
Like a rainbow, a snowflake, a leaf, a flower-head, a seashell, a mushroom, a berry, a feather - the icicle  is a wondrous and beautiful phenomenon to behold, fashioned by Nature  for our appreciation and delight.

18 March 2018


In the British  population census of 2001, it was calculated that 15,000 Russian nationals were living in our country. By 2014, well-grounded estimates showed that there were now over 150,000 Russians living in London alone. Many of these Russian inhabitants are stupendously rich though the sources of their wealth are rarely crystal clear. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the growth of the Russian mafia meant that there was much graft and shady dealing in the years that followed. It was a dog eat dog world

It seems that Britain has welcomed Russian oligarchs, business magnates and billionaires with open arms, happily allowing them to buy up prime real estate, enrol their children in our best schools while even letting them donate many thousands of pounds to Theresa May's Conservative party.

We don't appear to welcome ragged babushkas in slippers from godforsaken post-industrial towns in Siberia or malnourished peasant farmers from the Ural Mountains or displaced steelworkers from Magnitogorsk but we have been happy to embrace bejewelled oligarchs in Bentleys.

Now when I last looked, Russia was not in the European Union and I do  not believe it has ever been a member of The British Commonwealth so as a fairly intelligent and reasonably liberal British citizen I am baffled about how all these rich Russians got to live here in the first place. Who let them in and furthermore why?

There is something quite sickening and perverse about giving rich Russians the red carpet treatment when traumatised Syrian families escaping from the rubble of their destroyed country \are denied entry or forced to get here on inflatable boats at the behest of gangsters. Ironically, Putin's forces continue to prop up Wicked Bashar al-Assad, perpetuating the Syrian conflict and the trauma.

They say that money talks and in the case of London's large Russian community that is clearly true. Normal immigration rules are shelved. The history of their dubious wealth is conveniently overlooked and we even allow them to buy Premier League football clubs, newspapers and publishing houses. Meanwhile, a Syrian child looks into the camera with bloodshot eyes, cement dust on her cheeks and memories of hellishness, fury and death seared in her mind forever.

17 March 2018


In blogging today, I was going to tell you the meaning of life. Then I thought I might give you tonight's winning National Lottery numbers. I also considered sharing the secret of eternal happiness and how to live healthily to the age of one hundred. Other blogging ideas included how to bring about peace in Syria, how to stop Saudi Arabian aggression in The Yemen, how to lace Vladimir Putin's cornflakes with nerve gas and how to lose seven pounds of excess bodyfat in a week without even trying. 
In the end, I ditched all of the above ideas in favour of sharing three more photographs I snapped last week on my circular walk around Stoney Middleton and Eyam in Derbyshire. These three pictures were all nominated in the geograph website's "picture of the week" competition though in the end I didn't bag a winner. Still, I am pretty happy with these images and I know that some of you out there like to see my various pictures from this region of England.

16 March 2018


Where did Mr Pudding go THIS time?

He went away for two nights with Mistress Pudding - to the heart of West Yorkshire.

Low mists hung over the Pennine hills and valleys. In the darkness of Wednesday night, we sped along the M62 to Junction 24. Thence to Elland, Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd before turning along a "B" road to Cragg Vale.

Then up a steep single track road intersected by drainage channels till we finally arrived at Cragg Hall. We were staying in the barn conversion next door as guests of our old friend Tony and his fairly new lady, Pauline. Tony had booked the barn for a week to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. His daughters had been there at the beginning of this week.

We were there with two other old friends - Glyn and Jackie who happen to eke out an existence in the heathen territory known as Lancashire. There be dragons!

The eco-barn was amazing. Warmed by ground-sourced heating it has a huge wall of glass that overlooks Cragg Vale. The materials and fitments used throughout are top notch and it was a delightful place to stay in spite of the low lying cloud and the hair-raising track up the hillside.
Yesterday we went into Hebden Bridge - a former milltown that is now synonymous with alternative lifestyles. Businesses here are independent - no Starbucks allowed, no Tescos etcetera but there is a small co-operative supermarket. 

We climbed higher into the mist specifically to visit Sylvia Plath's grave in Heptonstall churchyard. It wasn't easy to find but when we did light upon it we noticed that previous visitors had plunged pens into the sod that covers her. Glyn and Jackie had never even heard of Sylvia Plath but I read "The Bell Jar" and her poetry many moons ago and this was a pilgrimage I had often thought of making. 
Sylvia Plath's grave in Heptonstall
"Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted"
She was such a gifted writer. If she could only have suppressed her suicidal thoughts or perhaps sought professional help for possible postnatal depression, she might easily have become a modern day literary great. She was only thirty years old when she left us. I had nothing to put on her gravestone but a ten pence piece with a crowned lion on the reverse. We walked away leaving Sylvia behind us in the swirling Pennine mists. She died in 1963.

Last night we had pints of beer in "The Hinchliffe" before climbing the precipitous track for a late dinner of chilli, rice and jacket potatoes in the lovely barn. It was nice to spend time with people we care for and in whose company we feel very much at ease. The spooky weather didn't really matter.
Ruins of the old church in Heptonstall

14 March 2018


Two English geniuses have died this week. They occupied very different worlds but in their own ways they were both remarkable people.

Legendary comedian and variety entertainer Ken Dodd passed away on Sunday at the ripe old age of ninety. He died in the same house where he was born - in the Liverpool suburb of Knotty Ash.

With his buck teeth, his wild hair and his various costumes and tickling sticks, Ken could keep a theatre audience entertained for hours. Just one man on a stage with a vast repertoire of jokes and a fine singing voice. He was a modern day court jester. Though he starred in several TV shows, his home territory was the theatre and in his seventy year career he delivered shows on virtually every stage in the land.

He once said, "Laughter is the greatest music in the world and audiences come to my shows to escape the cares of life. They don't want to be embarrassed or insulted. They want to laugh and so do I - which is probably why it works."

Professor Stephen Hawking died this morning at the age of seventy six. He was a theoretical physicist with a brilliant mind. In addition to this he had to battle with a terrible handicap most of his adult life - namely, motor neurone disease. His familiar computer-generated monotone "voice" was operated by the blinking of his eyelids.

He wrote "A Brief History of Time" and as a gifted physicist he would most certainly have won the Nobel prize were it not that his work was principally theoretical and not always proven  in practice. Apparently, the Nobel awarding committee appreciate substance as opposed to hypothesising. 

I could not begin to understand the complex solutions to the scientific puzzles that Stephen Hawking unravelled but I loved the film about his early life - "The Theory of Everything" (2015) starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. If you haven't seen it please give it a whirl some time.

Ken and Stephen will now be queuing together outside the pearly gates and Ken will be saying... "Tonight when you get home, put a handful of ice cubes down your wife's nightie and say: 'There's the chest freezer you always wanted'." And this will surely be followed by computerised guffaws of laughter.