20 November 2017


A hermit crab on Henderson Island
Last night on "Blue Planet II", David Attenborough bewailed the presence of plastics  in our oceans. He pointed out that a hundred years ago there was absolutely no plastic there. Furthermore, he alluded to the damage that plastic is causing to our precious sealife.

Turtles get caught up in fishing lines. Fish ingest .small pieces of plastic. Seabirds are garroted by it and mother whales' milk is badly affected by it. It's a modern day horror story. Some of the plastic waste is so small that you can only see it with the aid of microscopes. 
It all brought to mind Henderson Island in the southern Pacific Ocean. That island is a powerful symbol of the effects of modern day living and the way we abuse our planet.

Though a few Polynesians once lived there, it has been uninhabited for hundreds of years. Undoubtedly, the Polynesians lived in harmony with Nature and had almost no effect whatsoever upon Henderson Island's delicate eco-systems.

Earlier this year, a study of Henderson Island was completed by The University of Tasmania in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Together, they estimated that there are currently 38 million plastic items on the island\s beaches - weighing approximately 17.6 tonnes. Very obviously this plastic flotsam has had a big and bad effect on marine life upon and around Henderson Island which I remind you has been uninhabited for very many years and should be a pristine atoll. The plastic has drifted there across the seven seas.
Plastic bottles, supermarket bags, packaging material, bits of fishing nets, bottle tops, cartons, trays, takeaway containers, discarded fishing line, plastic detritus - all speaking eloquently about the relationship between human societies and our beautiful planet.

We have been living in a throwaway, careless world. Surely it is nigh time to do something bold and brave about waste plastics. We owe it to our children and to our children's children's children and to the incredible creatures that inhabit our oceans. Henderson Island and "Blue Planet II" prove that.  But who is really listening?

18 November 2017


As I write this post, our television is showing live images of happy people in the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe. They feel they are on the threshold of a new era as they urge Robert Mugabe to do the right thing and go.

Undoubtedly, he played a big part in helping Zimbabwe to secure its independence but the past thirty seven years of his leadership have seen trying times of internecine struggle, economic incompetence,  malnutrition, graft, waste and intolerance. What was once the bread basket of Africa has become one of that great continent's basket cases.

At present, it does not appear that Mugabe has many supporters left who are prepared to fight for the continuation of his presidency. He has abused his power, amassing a huge personal fortune and the typical trappings of a multi-millionaire - while his people have suffered abysmally under his stewardship.

I am sure that we all hope that the next period of Zimbabwe's history will not be blighted by in-fighting and bloodshed. It would be so wonderful if the country could move peacefully to better times, underpinned by free and fair elections that create a new leadership  which seeks to help the ordinary people to make Zimbabwe successful again, leaving the Mugabe years behind. 

On this happy day, as Zimbabweans dance in the streets, I wish the whole country the best of luck as it steps forward into the bright unknown of the post-Mugabe years. I can hear a voice on the the radio singing: "There may be trouble ahead" but on this optimistic Saturday in the middle of November 2017 - Let freedom ring!
Enough is enough
Harare today.

17 November 2017


First there was Chaucer, then Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Shelley and Tennyson, Thomas Hardy and Ted Hughes. Now English poetry brings you Yorkshire Pudding! (Not the re-hydrating fellow in the picture below but the author of the sensitive and well-crafted ode beneath it).

Ode to Donald Trump

I would like to thump
Donald Trump
Drop the chump in the city dump
With a bump
From a battered pick-up truck
Cos who gives a flying fig
About that big ugly lump
Inflated with a hot air pump?
- Those who like Trump
Will now have the hump!
I have said enough.
New "Spitting Image" version of Trump

16 November 2017


In promoting their scrummy advent calendar, high street bakers Greggs have recently attracted a lot of criticism. Most of the complaints have come from religious groups.

You see, in creating their unique nativity scene, Greggs chose to replace  the baby Jesus with a sausage roll - as you can see in the picture above. It's sacrilegious! It's a disgrace! One complainant pointed out that Jesus was a Jew so the connection with pig products seems particularly insensitive.

Personally, I have no problem with Jesus's replacement. After all, sausage rolls are perfectly capable of walking on water and other miracles such as turning a skinny man into a sumo wrestler. As for the three wise men from the east, it is surprising that Greggs didn't replace them with meat pies or doughnuts (American: donuts)

Disclaimer: There is no known connection between "The Fish Guy" - Mr Gregg Barlow from South Carolina, USA and Greggs - Britain's favourite high street bakers.

15 November 2017


Around Britain and the British Commonwealth of nations, there are many statues of Queen Victoria. This one stands in our local park. It was commissioned by Sheffield City Council soon after her death in 1901 and was unveiled with much pomp and ceremony outside the town hall in 1905. However, it was only there for twenty five years.  Victoria was shifted to Endcliffe Park in 1930.

And ever since she has stood near the park entrance in all weathers and all seasons. She sees the early morning joggers, later young mothers with pushchairs and dog walkers too. Later still she watches the lunchtime sandwich eaters and when night comes she sees young lovers and cider drinkers, teenagers on bicycles and the traffic still circling Hunter's Bar roundabout.

She watches it all. She was The Empress of India and Queen of England for sixty four years. It was a reign that saw incredible change and massive historical steps towards the world we know today. She saw it all and her name is synonymous with that energetic age of industry, commerce, exploration and culture.

She was small of stature - just under five feet tall - but gave birth to nine children, including her successor - King Edward VII. She died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, leaving several rather odd requests for her funeral arrangements. She asked that a plaster-cast of her late husband's hand should be placed in the coffin beside her as well as one of his dressing gowns and she also asked for a lock of John Brown's hair and his mother's wedding ring too. Brown was a member of her Scottish staff with whom she enjoyed a special bond over many years. 

And now the autumn leaves frame Victoria in Endcliffe Park. Soon another winter will arrive. I hope she is wearing her thermal underwear.

14 November 2017


Down at my local Oxfam shop, the manager employs a wide range of volunteers. For example, some have mental health issues, some are asylum seekers and some are super-normal well-balanced intellectual giants like me!

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a tall and well-groomed gentleman called Aman*. He is about forty years old. I was asked to give him some till training.

After the shift, I walked homewards with Aman and he told me his story.

It turned out that he was from the city of Shiraz in Iran. Over several years, he found himself at odds with Islam even though he had grown up in a traditional Muslim home. He went through the motions but secretly he was turning to Christianity. This is not a belief system that meets with much approval in Iran - either from the hardline Islamic government or from the fervent stewardship of neighbourhood vigilantes. But Aman kept quiet, outwardly living a lie and even praying at the mosque.

Perhaps he would be all right. He had his own small business in Shiraz though I didn't find out its nature. Gradually, rumours began to spread about Aman's behaviour and the people he had been associating with. It was a scary time. Then one day, as he was heading home from work,  a young neighbour told him that the police were at his parents' house.

Aman knew that they had most probably come for him. He could easily end up being tortured or even killed. The very best he could expect would be years in prison. This is the price you pay for being a Christian in The Islamic Republic of Iran. So Aman waited till the police had gone and after tearful goodbyes with his family he fled.

He fled northwards to the border with Turkey, somehow got across it and managed to make his way to the Mediterranean port and tourist resort of Kusadasi. There he gave all the money he had to people smugglers. Late at night, he was forced into a flimsy inflatable boat at gunpoint along with thirty or more refugees from different countries.

Fortunately, the sea was calm that night and they were able to voyage safely to the Greek island of Samos. 

He remained on Samos for several months after registering with the authorities there. Aman said the conditions were awful. It was rather like being in prison but finally he gained permission to leave the island and travelled to mainland Greece. 

After Greece it took three weeks to make his way to Calais in France, through Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany.It was a terrible and challenging journey but not as frightening as the hours he had spent on the inflatable boat.

At Calais, he slept in the notorious Jungle encampment but a few days after arriving he climbed into a goods lorry that was bound for England and arrived here safely the next day. He officially sought asylum in London and was then transferred to a holding centre in Manchester or Liverpool - I forget which.

After two months there and with his asylum request now being properly processed he was able to come to Sheffield to join his brother and his sister-in-law.

It's about a mile to the top of Ecclesall Road from our house. In that distance I had heard a living, breathing, real life asylum seeker's story. There were other questions I would have liked to ask, colouring in the pictures but I haven't seen Aman since that October evening. He works on Thursdays now, still not allowed to take on a paid job because of the conditions of his asylum seeker's status.

Of course we have seen it all on our televisions. Crowded inflatables in the Mediterranean. Barbed wire camps in Greece. Massing at European borders, filthy conditions at The Jungle and desperate men trying to board lorries that would bring them to England. But to hear it all from the mouth of an asylum seeker who completed such a journey - well it made it all seem so much more real. No doubt  I will see Aman again and in spite of myself I will ask more questions. It is a hell of a story. A story of our times.

*Aman is not his real name for obvious reasons.

13 November 2017


At Dale End before The Mud
It looked fine on my map of The White Peak. I would travel via Youlgreave to Dale End, park up and walk south through Gratton Dale, thence to Elton Common and down to Elton itself before returning to Dale End via Gratton Lane.

But maps do not show everything. The first part of Gratton Dale was no problem. I passed an old lime kiln and observed the sapphire blueness of the sky as I rambled along, happy to be out in the countryside once more. 

After a few hundred yards the path through the valley started to become rather muddy. I kept to the margins sometimes striding from rocks to firm green sods. "I'll just get through this", I thought to myself, "I'll soon be back on solid ground".
The Quagmire of No Return
In Gratton Dale
I noticed hoof marks in the mud - evidence that  as well as occasional ramblers, cattle also used this this pub;ic right of way. They had really churned it up and in places the mud was knee-deep. At the sides of the path there were hawthorn and rosehip bushes, meaning there was no escape from the mud.

My progress was reduced to a snail's pace as I tried to avoid two things - the cloying mud and the very real possibility of falling down in it. When I thought I had reached the end of the mud, I looked ahead and there was more mud. It was awful. It went on for half a mile or so.

Finally, the mud began to recede as the path climbed up towards Mouldridge. What a relief! But as I turned another hawthorn bend what did I see? No! Not more mud but The Guardian of the Path!
The Guardian of The Path
It was a young bullock who had somehow got away from his little herd and appeared lost and jittery. He jumped whenever I moved and blocked my way. For a moment, I thought of turning back but another half a mile of mud! I would rather take the risk of being trampled to death by a frisky bullock.

Bravely, your intrepid correspondent edged past the snorting  Minotaur and up out of The Valley of Death in which The Quagmire of Bovine Revenge has consumed countless walkers in fancy cagoules and hiking boots.

After Gratton Dale the walking was much better and I saw some lovely sights, including these two tumbledown barns on the edge of Elton Common...