22 February 2017


LATER NOTE: Usually a poem should speak to its readers without explanation but with regard to "Poor Tree" I have something to say. The other day, in an idle moment, I realised that the term "poetry" sounds just the same as "poor tree". Why it had taken me sixty years to reach this realisation, I have no idea. 

And then I thought about the toughness of solitary moorland trees - windblown and exposed, perhaps as poetry should sometimes be. Seeking truth, seeing the world clearly, selecting the right words - all of this requires a certain hardiness - like the tree clinging on to the hill.

I could claim that this elusive poem has nothing much to do with trees. It's really about poetry and the quest for truth and understanding. In this, the tree becomes merely a metaphor for tenacity - something that endures "when all is lost".

For the illustration, I remembered a tree I had photographed in October 2013, by a track that leads up from Shireoaks Farm near Malcoff in The Peak District. It seemed to possess the character of poetry - a "poor tree" on the edge.

21 February 2017


We are thinking of visiting The Isle of Anglesey in April. We have only ever driven across it to get to the ferry port at Holyhead but have never properly visited it. Last night I was looking for accommodation - sifting through a whole bunch of listings. 

Of course, the owners want to "big up" their properties, making them seem desirable and worth booking. They often use positive, flowery language for describing both the accommodation and the surrounding area. Here was one example. I have emboldened the subtly impactful descriptive vocabulary:-

The rural village of Llanddaniel Fab is ideally situated just 2 miles from the beautiful Menai Straits, on the south coast of the delightful Isle of Anglesey, and provides a local shop and an all weather, 9 hole golf course. Discover the magnificent Llanddwyn Beach, 3 miles of golden sands boasting stunning walks and striking views across the glistening sea toward the Welsh Mountains, or explore the fascinating National Nature Reserve, renowned for its colourful birdlife, whispering forest and huge sweep of marshes and dunes. The National Trust's Plas Newydd country house and gardens is a short drive and well worth a visit.The whole of the island boasts superb watersports, fishing, diving and walking opportunities. A wonderful location for a varied and enjoyable holiday.

Just for fun, I have written an alternative, downbeat version of this blurb...

The isolated settlement of Llanddaniel Fab is located two miles from the dangerous Menai Straits. on the rocky coast of the impoverished Island of Anglesey and only has a basic local shop and a small golf course that some desperate golfers even tackle in the rain. Relieve the tedium by trudging to litter-strewn Llanddwyn Beach, three miles of monotonous sand that furtive dog owners plod along sometimes looking across the grey Irish Sea towards the equally grey and cloudy Welsh hills, or instead you might want to go to the mildly interesting National Nature Reserve, where bird spotters in khaki anoraks scribble sightings of common birds in old notebooks and where there's an impenetrable pine plantation and a large area of boggy ground with windswept sand dunes. The National Trust's expensive Plas Newydd estate house and grounds is several miles away and something to do if you can't think of anything else. At a few places on the coast of the island you can pay through the nose for watersport activities in the freezing sea. There's also fishing - but don't expect to catch anything, diving - but you won't see anything and of course long, tiring walks. A satisfactory place to go for a budget break.

But that was just an exercise. I think we'll still be going to Anglesey and have failed to persuade myself otherwise.
North Wales

20 February 2017


I wanted to begin this post with the following sentence - Last night I went to Timbuctu - but unfortunately Google Streetview vehicles have not yet been there. So instead I am going to begin this travel post with...

Last night I went to Oldham, Lancashire. Why Oldham, Lancashire? Because last year it was deemed to be the most deprived town in England. There may be other, more deprived communities such as Moorends in Yorkshire or Jaywick in Essex but as a whole borough or town, Oldham comes out on top... or bottom, how ever you might want to look at it.

My grandmother was first married in Oldham and I have been to Oldham Athletic's football ground to watch Hull City play. I also have a good friend who hails from Oldham but really I don't know the place at all. 

In the nineteenth century, it became the most productive cotton spinning town in the world but today its textile industry has more or less died away. It sits just to the north of Manchester, home to 100,000 people, 27% of whom are officially classified as "Asian" which is a direct legacy of the town's historic  textile industries.

In 1900 it had the largest concentration of fish and chip shops in the world - one for every four hundred people and as we all know the tubular bandage was invented and developed in Oldham - a "vital contribution to advancing medical science".

But that's enough factual background. Let's have a look at six random picture of Oldham. Can we see visible evidence of the town's deprivation?
Afghan Strret with nineteenth century terraces to the left and
new social housing to the right.
 "The Egerton Arms" and Egerton Estate in the St Mary's area of the town below. This is believed to be the poorest neighbourhood in Oldham with 88.4% of residents claiming at least one kind of welfare benefit.
Regency Close near Werneth Park - an area of aspiration and relative affluence.
On Yorkshire Street I spotted the Tymbuktu Health and Beauty Shop Why the
mis-spelling? I have no idea. Perhaps the "Y" adds a touch of offbeat sophistication.
An old cotton mill  on Suthers Street. Now various industrial units.
So there we have it. A little trip to Oldham. What I learnt from this exercise is that deprivation is not easy to spot. It's kind of hidden away behind closed doors and even in towns that are classed as being especially poor you will still find pockets of pleasantness - decent homes belonging to people with money in the bank and hydrangeas in their gardens.

Who knows where my next Streetview excursion will take us?

18 February 2017


Today we met up with Shirley's sister and her boyfriend. They have been seeing each other for a good few months now. The only trouble is that he lives in The Channel Islands while she lives in a village near Selby, Yorkshire. We met in Thorne and enjoyed a pleasant lunch together in "The Punchbowl Inn". He seemed like a pleasant fellow and it is great that Shirley's sister has found him. Her husband died in 2011 so it has been quite a long time since she had a man in her life.

Afterwards, Shirley and I drove to the nearby settlement of Moorends. I had an idea that we might stroll to The Humberhead Peatlands Nature Reserve but it was a bit far. We passed the site of Thorne Colliery where there is now a solar farm. I find that rather ironic.

I am sure that there are many decent and happy people in Moorends but the place itself seems desolate and unloved. The houses were nearly all built by the local council or The National Coal Board. There's a dearth of trees but  plenty of litter, broken concrete and dog faeces. Two laughing yobs careered past us in the street on exhaust belching go-karts that were probably acquired illegally. On the main street there are basic shops and takeaways - the stuff of survival, not aspiration. This is the "other" England - forgotten, neglected. Just east of Doncaster, on the wrong side of the railway track.

Where Grange Road meets Northgate, a forlorn pony was tethered to a stake on rough wasteground. I wanted to release him and lead him off into the sunset and freedom but I guess he has an important role to play as the living symbol of Moorends. Poor thing. He looked at me through his unkempt fringe as if to say "What kind of life is this?"

17 February 2017


Trump keeps banging on about "fake news" but there's plenty of fakery about him. His complexion is unnaturally bronzed - as if he applies foundation cream each morning. Then there's his weird hair. Once it was dark brown but now it's kind of blonde and it balances on his head like a Scottish sporran. Just occasionally you get tantalising glimpses of the baldness beneath the sporran. But what about his teeth? A row of ultra-white porcelain veneers that must have cost him a fortune. These are certainly not the natural teeth of a seventy year old man.

And what about his marriage? Even that seems fake to me. The Slovenian immigrant Melania languishes happily in New York City whilst "The Donald" plays up to the cameras in Washington D.C.. And whenever they meet her body language speaks volumes about the repulsion she feels deep inside. They're just playing at being President and First Lady.

One of the things I really don't get about the "fake news" accusations is that America's press and news services are pretty conservative and tend towards The Republicans. Surely it would have been in Trump's own interest to placate them and bring them on board. But at every opportunity he denigrates them just like his laughable pipsqueak of a White House press secretary - Sean Spicer.

Great to see Spicer lampooned brilliantly on "Saturday Night Live" by Melissa McCarthy. Go here.

16 February 2017


A break from decorating. So where did I go? To my painting class of course! But the painting class doesn't cover matt emulsion or the best way to use paint rollers. No. It's about Art with a big "A".

This was the last of six sessions. I am pleased to say that the class has given me a boost and I suspect and hope  I will continue with the pastime in a solitary fashion. It has been a case of rediscovering my mojo.

Meike in Ludwigsburg, Germany asked if I might make a picture of a fox for her so this evening I took along a photo of the old fox that used to come in our garden. We called him Fred Fox and this is the photograph I decided to base my painting upon:-
Working on coloured paper, this is the version of Fred Fox that I created after two hours at the final Art class. Perhaps Meike will like it but if she doesn't I will try to make her a different fox painting.

15 February 2017


Caramel Latte
Out there in the blogosphere, it may have appeared that the author of this blog has been keeping a low profile over the past few days. Such a suspicion is accurate because I have been engaged in a grim, time-consuming human activity called decorating which is only slightly less onerous than grave digging.

The target for my endeavours has been our front room or lounge or sitting room -  whatever you want to call it. Before the decorating begins there's the moving of furniture. I took most of the furniture out of the room but I was still left with two leather sofas which I placed on top of each other in the centre of the room. Of course there's also the carpet which needed to be protected from possible paint spills as we do not plan to replace it - just give it a damned good clean when the decorating is done.

Above the picture rail, I have painted the frieze areas and the ceiling almond white using brushes and rollers. Plenty of this almond white emulsion paint finished up on my hands. One substantial blob of it plopped into my right eye and a smaller blob landed on the end of my nose. When decorating I wear paint-splattered old clothes and trainers (American: sneakers) and I leave my nice wristwatch by our bed for obvious reasons. Yesterday, when I took an empty paint can out to our wheelie bin, our next door neighbour Tony grinned at my stylish apparel and asked,"What are you painting today Picasso?" Cheeky monkey!

The almond white went on top of barley white but the difference between these two colours is so slight that you can only really tell where you have painted in daylight. In electric light, the two colours appear to merge into one.

The walls have been easier in that I didn't have to balance on aluminium step ladders and also the new colour - caramel latte - is somewhat different from the previous wall colour. To get behind the central heating radiator, I used a long-armed roller which worked a treat and meant I didn't have to remove the radiator sending mucky water squirting everywhere.

The job isn't over yet. I still have to do the skirting boards, radiator, window ledge and the picture rail in white satin paint. Then time must be left for the paint to dry properly before I get the furniture back in place. As it happens, the two leather sofas which we have had for about twenty years will soon be replaced. We ordered two new "La-Z- Boy" sofas from a local department store before Christmas and they have now arrived in the warehouse earlier than expected. That is what sent me spiralling into a decorating frenzy.

When undertaking decorating projects, it used to be that I could bounce up and down like a tree frog but these days I have dicky knees and have to be careful when kneeling down or getting up again. I must always remember to use my foam rubber kneeling pads or face the consequences. Even so,  I was hobbling uncomfortably when I strolled out at lunchtime today en route to the Oxfam shop where I put a shift in with no paint pots, rollers, rags , brushes or dust sheets in sight. But they were all waiting for me when I got home.

Nevertheless, as Scarlett O'Hara correctly stated - Tomorrow is another day.
Almond White