31 October 2013


Recently an eighteen year old Sussex lad called Scott Moyse stumbled across a delightful computer glitch on the Thornton's chocolates website. Essentially, boxes of chocolates that should have cost a few pounds each were listed at only one penny per item. Quickly, Scott clicked in an order for four hundred boxes. With postage and packing the total bill came to a mere £10.90.

A few days later, four hundred boxes of chocolates were duly delivered to Scott's home in Horsham. Under ordinary circumstances, this purchase should have amounted to more than £1000. Such amazing good fortune for Scott and well done to Thornton's for doing the honourable thing in spite of their website error.

So - what did Scott do with all of those choccies? Surely, he could have earned himself a tidy profit - even if he had sold the chocolate boxes at half their retail price. But did Scott do that? No!

Instead, he dressed up as a chicken, loaded the boxes of chocolates into a shopping trolley and with his mate proceeded to the centre of Horsham where he gave his windfall out to passers-by. He said,“We thought it would make some people happy and it would be more enjoyable than just selling them.”

What a heart-warming story and this in a Sussex town that was recently identified as England's most stressed out place to live. I think they should make Scott Moyse the Mayor of Horsham. Then he could exercise his charitable instincts still further - waiving parking fines, heating old people's homes for free and teaching town councillors and special constables to do "the funky chicken" in their brand new chicken costumes. Scott for Mayor!

30 October 2013


Boastfulness is one of the least attractive human traits. I hope it is not one that I can customarily be accused of. Nonetheless, today I am in full egotistic, big-headed boasting mode. Oh look at me! Look at me! What a clever pudding I am! And why you ask  is my heart so gaily bloated this merry October day?

Well, my physically attractive visitor, it is simply because once again I have won the geograph photo of the week competition! My winning picture was picked from 4,870 eligible images. And the reward? A car? A bag of money? A Caribbean holiday? A washing machine? No my friends...much better than any of those, I get to pick the next winner!

My winning photo has already appeared within the annals of this ancient blog. It was a picture I snapped a couple of weeks ago in the hamlet of Malcoff over on "the dark side" of the Pennine hills that thankfully separate my people from the Lancashire riff-raff. The light was lovely that morning - honey sharp  in a way that midsummer light can never be. I had to crouch by the target drystone wall, in a position that would conceal a pictorially inappropriate chimney and aerial on the other side. The undulating autumnal curves of Whitemoor Clough were painted with dramatic October light.

When I got home and checked the day's photos on our computer, I thought - yes! That's a good 'un and my geograph compatriots thankfully agreed. Time for champagne methinks!...Gowans! Gowans! Bring  a jerobaum up from the cellar my good man! This is the winning picture:-

28 October 2013


Noel Harrison was born on January 29th 1934 and died just a few days ago on October 19th. He was an Olympic skier, an actor, father of five, a musician, entertainer and songwriter. The son of film actor Rex Harrison, Noel lived a full and colourful life which included National Service in the nineteen fifties and as recently as 2011 he appeared at the Glastonbury Festival. Yet he will probably be best remembered for his 1968 rendition of the oddly enigmatic song "The Windmills of Your Mind". Developed from "Les moulins de mon cœur" by the French composer, Michael Legrand, this enduring song has a melancholic, reflective mood that arguably and poetically asks us all to consider the mysterious nature of human existence...

Round like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning

On an ever-spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning
Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Like a tunnel that you follow
To a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving
In a half-forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble
Someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Keys that jingle in your pocket
Words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly?
Was it something that I said?
Lovers walk along a shore
And leave their footprints in the sand
Was the sound of distant drumming
Just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging in a hallway
Or the fragment of a song
Half-remembered names and faces
But to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over
Were you suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning
To the color of her hair?

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind...

26 October 2013


Not a Bolton Wanderer or a Wolverhampton Wanderer but a Peak District wanderer. Thursday was the best day of the week. Over to Edale once again for another superb ramble amidst those gorgeous hills and below I have selected five of the photographs I took that day to share with you. Why not click on them to enlarge:-
A view of the village of Edale in The Vale of Edale. You can see that the trees are putting on their autumnal costumes. The church tower is to the left of the scene and the little village school is just to the left of the mid-point.
This handsome ram gave me the evil eye in the pastures to the west of the hamlet of Nether Booth. "What you lookin' at Pudding?" The dark circles under his eyes suggest he had been out on the lash the night before.
I took half a dozen photos of this group of sheep near Nether Booth but this was the best one. They seemed to form themselves into the kind of tableau I was hoping for - with sunshine coming over the Great Ridge that separates the Vale of Edale from The Hope Valley.
I love to see timeless rocks like this one on the edge of the Kinder Plateau - overlooking the Vale  of Edale. See how rain, wind and harsh winters have shaped it over several millennia. Surely no human sculptor could achieve such an artefact or place it in a finer gallery than the one that Nature has provided.
Autumn colours in the valley of Grindsbrook Clough. The skyline marks the southern edge of the wild Kinder Plateau from which just last week fourteen visitors had to be rescued by the Edale Mountain Rescue team. They had been making a film and had become disoriented. Having walked across that hostile landscape myself, I know how easy it would be to get lost up there, stumbling across the "haggs" and "groughs" of that unforgiving peaty landscape.

25 October 2013


Over the years, on television, I have watched the endless denigration and mockery of secondary school teaching both through drama and documentary. Whereas medical professionals and emergency services have generally been sanctified by the media, teachers have been habitually slapped and kicked as if there were no tomorrow. Consequently, whenever I hear about a new programme that will look at secondary education, my cynicism is roused like a growling beast.

How refreshing then to have witnessed the Channel 4 series - "Educating Yorkshire". Filmed in a tough working class comprehensive school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, the programme cleverly brought out the passion, dedication, good humour and professional expertise of several members of staff. It also demonstrated that schoolchildren can be fun to work with - each one different from the next.

"Educating Yorkshire" showed the hurly burly of school life, warts and all. This wasn't Eton or Westminster -with poncey wannabe Camerons and Cleggs - this was the land of mobile phones, Facebook, broken families, racial integration, poverty, chewing gum, dyed hair and make-up - yet through it all there was a warm core of humanity. Caring for kids, being patient with them, trying to bring out the best in them. Thornhill Academy was a happy, purposeful school.

The last episode focussed largely on a lovely sixteen year old boy called Musharaf who had suffered from severe stammering most of his life. In his final school assembly, with all of his age group gathered, he stood at the front and with headphones playing music in his ears, he delivered an amazingly fluent "thank you" speech to his peers - giving special mention to his English teacher, Mr Burton, who had helped him so much with his oracy. I blubbered as much as Musharaf's classmates.

"Educating Yorkshire" brought back many memories of my own time in teaching. It was a good advert both for teachers and for Yorkshire itself and I applaud Channel 4 for the sensitive way in which they edited this engaging series. I also applaud headteacher Mr Mitchell for his common sense leadership and no-nonsense vision. There was so little jargon, so little reference to the insidious tentacles of government. It was all about the kids and the staff, knocking along together, trying to make the most of things.
Mr Mitchell with two members of his staff

23 October 2013


There was once a disused cinema on Wolseley Road, Sheffield. For many years it was then used as a makeshift mosque. Round about 2004 that decrepit building was demolished and from the ruins emerged a spanking new purpose-built mosque - funded by the local Muslim population and overseas donations. This new mosque - The Madina Masjid Mosque opened in 2006 and towers above the Heeley Bottom/Lowfields area - making an enormous statement about this city's Muslim population - mostly from Pakistan. It seems to be saying - we are here to stay, we are proud of our religion and we are are no longer poor immigrants.

I have driven by the mosque many times. About two years ago I noticed a new legal office had opened up close to the new mosque - "Ashraf and Ashraf - Immigration Specialists". I am not necessarily proud of what I am about to say but the presence of that company with its headline raison d'etre has frequently made me shake my head in exasperation. I mean what are this company about if not to make money from other people's desperation and to somehow weave around and dodge through the British government's legal red tape? They say "Ashraf & Ashraf is a professional and friendly firm fighting for you and making Immigration simple." To this I would say - why should immigration be "simple"? To me it should be pretty damned difficult. And why is there a white BMW on the pavement?

I had hoped to get a good image of  the  "Ashraf and Ashraf"  business premises with the mosque behind but this was the best I could do:-
 This is a better picture of the mosque:-
And this is the golden crescent on top of the central dome:-
Soon after taking this photograph I was invited inside the mosque by a local taxi driver. What his motivation was for inviting a total stranger and lifelong atheist inside - I have no idea. I had to take my shoes off by the lobby area and went upstairs to the main prayer room. It was empty at the time I snapped this picture of the magnificent chandelier that hangs below the central dome:-
And so I have now decided to become a Muslim myself....only kidding! This is my kind of mosque and it is here that I shall worship Bacchus:-
"The Union Hotel", Nether Edge, Sheffield

22 October 2013


Looking for an unusual holiday location? What about Africa? And specifically what about Angola? It is a beautiful country with miles of scenic south Atlantic beaches and a rich array of wildlife. Formerly colonised by the Portuguese, it still retains attractive echoes of that "benevolent" occupation. Oh, but hang on a minute, hadn't we better find out what life is like for visitors to Angola's exciting capital city - Luanda?

Let's investigate  measured and well-researched foreign travel advice from the British government:-

There is a high level of crime in Luanda. Muggings, particularly to steal mobile phones and other valuables, and armed robberies can occur in any area at any time of the day or night. Areas popular with foreigners are particular targets.

Incidents of rape have been reported in popular nightlife areas, as well as in private homes. Don’t travel alone at night.

Avoid walking around Luanda, especially after dark. Avoid wearing jewellery or watches in public places. Don’t change or withdraw large sums of money in busy public areas. Avoid walking between bars and restaurants on the Ilha do Cabo, and avoid crowded places like markets.

Theft from stationary or slow-moving cars is common in downtown Luanda. Keep valuables out of sight and don’t use mobiles or laptops while in traffic. A high proportion of the civilian population is armed.

When driving, be very wary if another car signals you to pull over. Thieves use the pretext of a minor traffic incident to get you out of your car either to steal it or to rob you.

So, Las Vegas? The Costa Blanca? A remote Greek island? No way! Reading between the lines of the carefully considered travel advice above you can see how much more exciting Angola would be as a holiday destination.

20 October 2013


Out-of-town shopping centres? (malls to our North American cousins) - I am not fond of them. There's a huge one on the outskirts of Sheffield. It is called Meadowhall. On the few occasions I have been there, I have had the strong sense that there are weird people in this world whose Meadowhall visits are of core importance to their sense of being. They have embraced the leisure shopping cult like  Mormon converts - grazing at the food court, ambling along those marble corridors to purchase designer label clothing before driving home for pizza and ready meals.

Today we were there for two reasons. One - so that Shirley could buy some new winter boots and Two - to visit the cinema to watch "Sunshine on Leith".

This engaging film has grown out of a moderately successful British musical that cleverly incorporated a handful of songs by Craig and Charlie Reid - The Proclaimers. It is a feelgood movie that weaves together three love stories and occasionally bursts into song. It is set in Edinburgh and Leith which is the Scottish capital's less well-known working class port area.

Hope and resolution are found in the final scene when the entire cast and hundreds of extras bring the gardens off Prince's Street alive with a rousing rendition of "I'm Gonna Be" (Five Hundred Miles).

Soppy sod that I am - there were several moments during today's cinema visit when tears welled up in my eyes - and not just over the outrageous popcorn prices! "Sunshine on Leith" isn't about the gritty reality of the struggle to survive on the wrong side of the Scottish tracks but it is a stirring musical film that has a lightness about it which oddly reminded me of "Slumdog Millionaire" - positive and ultimately happy. Surely that can't be bad.

18 October 2013


North of Shireoaks - colour deliberately washed out for effect
Yesterday was a little bright island in what has been a rather grey week. Naturally, I went out to get my much-needed  fix - another lovely and vigorous country walk. This involved driving over to The Hope Valley, up Winnats Pass and then across upland country to Chapel-en-le-Frith before parking in the delightful hamlet of Wash. I never knew it existed until I planned this walk.

From Wash I walked to another oddly named hamlet - Malcoff from whence I headed northwards, huffing and puffing up the valley side to Shireoaks and from there to the Pennine Bridleway that leads to South Head. From South Head passing Mount Famine I cut down to Chinley Head marching past a farm called engagingly - Peep-O-Day.

And so down to Chinley. The primary school was disgorging its pupils and numerous parents and carers were waiting in the yard for their charges. I wanted to take a few photos of this scene but thought better of it when I imagined accusations of paedophilia and a burly constable forcing my arm up my back - "You're coming with us mate!"

Onwards to New Smithy where I noticed that the Victorian pub there - "The Crown and Sceptre" - has closed its doors for good. So sad. I had been  planning to sink a foaming quart there especially for Mr Hippo in Angola. From New Smithy to Breckend and back to Wash. A four hour circuit and in case you were doubting my veracity - here is more  photographic proof:-
Whiterakes Farm - high above the valley
Millstone wall in Malcoff and view to Whitemoor
A sheep called Robert at South Head
Close up of Robert's left eye
"The Cottage" in the hamlet of Wash
Barn at Higher Ashen Clough

16 October 2013


He was born in India in 1941 but 1969 was Peter Sarstedt's year. He penned this song himself and it was No.1 in Great Britain for six weeks. Still making music to this day, he has never matched his sixties success. I think that what I mainly liked about this song was its intimate manner of address. Who is he speaking to? And he examines the pursuit of happiness - what really matters in our lives? Where exactly do you go to my "lovely" when you are alone in your bed? It was a song that really stood out amidst the more trashy hit parade offerings of 1969:-

You talk like Marlene Dietrich
And you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire
Your clothes are all made by Balmain
And there’s diamonds and pearls in your hair, yes there are.

You live in a fancy apartment
Off the Boulevard of St. Michel
Where you keep your Rolling Stones records
And a friend of Sacha Distel, yes you do.

But where do you go to my lovely
When you're alone in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head, yes I do.

I've seen all your qualifications
You got from the Sorbonne
And the painting you stole from Picasso
Your loveliness goes on and on, yes it does.

When you go on your summer vacation
You go to Juan-les-Pines
With your carefully designed topless swimsuit
You get an even suntan, on your back and on your legs.

And when the snow falls you're found in St. Moritz
With the others of the jet-set
And you sip your Napoleon Brandy
But you never get your lips wet, no you don't.

But where do you go to my lovely
When you're alone in your bed
would you Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head, yes I do.

Your name is heard in high places
You know the Aga Khan
He sent you a racehorse for Christmas
And you keep it just for fun, for a laugh ha-ha-ha

They say that when you get married
It'll be to a millionaire
But they don't realize where you came from
And I wonder if they really care, or give a damn

But where do you go to my lovely
When you're alone in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head, yes I do.

I remember the back streets of Naples
Two children begging in rags
Both touched with a burning ambition
To shake off their lowly born tags, they try

So look into my face Marie-Claire
And remember just who you are
Then go and forget me forever
But I know you still bear
the scar, deep inside, yes you do

I know where you go to my lovely
When you're alone in your bed
I know the thoughts that surround you
`Cause I can look inside your head.

15 October 2013


The conker is the fruit of the horse chestnut tree which first appeared in Great Britain five hundred years ago. It should not be confused with the sweet chestnut tree which was introduced as a nutritious winter food source by colonising Romans about 1,800 years ago. It is believed that the horse chestnut originated in The Balkans region of southern Europe.

The picture above owes much to my new camera. I was at least thirty feet from the conker pictured which was high above me in the conker tree I first planted with our son Ian - twenty seven years ago - when he was three years old. We found the successful seed on a Sunday afternoon conker collecting mission in the Ewden Valley near Stocksbridge. And we brought it to this house when we flitted from Crookes in 1989.

When hanging in trees, conkers are usually protected by their spiny outer shells but here you can see that the outer shell has already burst open and one of the conkers inside has escaped to the ground.

As a boy, every autumn, it was my mission in life to find the biggest conker of them all. With other lads from my village we would chuck sticks and stones high up into the overhanging branches of fruitful horse chestnut trees or even climb high and edge along precarious limbs in search of our holy grail. If we had fallen we would have probably died.

Conkers are fat and shiny - their surfaces like polished mahogany - until they dry out and start to shrivel after a few days have passed by. We used to play the famous game of "conkers" in the school playground - threading them with bootlaces before aiming them as hard as we could at our friends' dangling conkers. I recall the stinging knuckle pains that would usually accompany these fiercely fought conker matches.

My American friend Chris - in Ohio - had no idea what a conker was. Well there we have it Chris - and anybody else who might be vaguely interested. It is said that William the Conqueror enjoyed a game of conkers even though in 1066 there were no conker trees in Britain. Now there are a reported 432,000 in England alone - 432,001 if you include our Ian's tree.

14 October 2013


In my youth, the term "United Kingdom" appeared on the fronts of British passports and that is pretty much where it stayed - "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Back then if a foreigner asked where you were from you would say "Great Britain" and when travelling abroad we announced our homeland with "GB" stickers on our cars. Nobody ever said they were from "The United Kingdom" or worse still "The UK". When you were asked for your home country - on official forms for example - the response was always "Great Britain" - never "UK".

Since this "UK" term has filtered into common usage, I have taken to saying I'm from England - no longer Great Britain. Besides, when I think about it, I don't like being bunched together with the Northern Irish or the Scots - though I am quite happy to lie in the same bed as the cuddly Welsh! It's hard to pinpoint when widespread use of the lazy term "UK" really gained a foothold. To have the proud heritage and history of these British Isles reduced to just two letters - like a breakfast cereal or a table sauce or something - doesn't get my vote and never will.

As both an Englishman and a British citizen, I am also against the use of the term "Brit". Like "UK" it is lazy and seems to be suggesting some kind of  naff notion of modernity. Hey dude - look at me - I'm in the Brit club - like The Beatles, Mini cars, HP sauce, Carnaby Street and the hovercraft. Well I for one am not in this Brit Club and if I ever hear the word "Brit" on the radio or TV, it makes me squirm. Britt Eckland is now seventy one but she is the only "Brit" I am in favour of and she boasts a double "t"!

Language evolves and I have no problem with the majority of changes and additions that have happened in English in my lifetime but "UK" and "Brit"? Yeuch! If there was such an organisation as the Academie Anglaise, I would petition to get "UK" and "Brit" banned. They are as offensive to the ear as chewing gum on the pavement or litter in the street are to the eye. UK even sounds like "Yuk!" and as for Brit Awards? God give me strength.

And that was my latest Victor Meldrew moment. I fully realise that I am like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. Blame the bad back!

13 October 2013


Helen at "Helsie's Happenings" sowed a seed in my brain and this has now come to fruition. Yesterday morning my first ever "photobook" arrived - containing over two hundred and fifty pictures of The Peak District National Park. I am delighted with it. It is hard-backed and the quality of photo reproduction is excellent.

It was all designed at home using this site: lidl-photos.co.uk. When the A4 book design  was finished, I typed in this code - lidlboks913 - in order to benefit from a 30% discount. Then I clicked the "Send" button and waited five days for the hard copy to arrive. Now, even if our computer explodes, I know I will always have my lovely photobook. Soon I shall set myself a follow-up  task - to produce a second photobook called "Foreign Parts" in which I will marshall digital photos from various travels abroad.

The thing about digital pictures is that they mainly sit in your camera or on the hard disk of our computers. We are losing touch with that nice old habit of rifling through old snapshots or sharing photo albums with family and friends. The photobook can fill that gap. Shop around for different introductory offers. The Lidl discount opportunity may be used only once - but there are many other organisations that offer the same service. Thank you Helen for pointing me this way.
(Staircase fall update: I still have an aching back and bending down remains rather uncomfortable but fingers crossed my body is mending itself. I will just have to wait and see if there's a longterm back-ache legacy)

11 October 2013


There's a lot to be said for bungalows. They don't have staircases but our 1920's semi-detached house does have one. By my rough calculations, in the twenty four years we have lived here, I have descended that staircase 34,000 times and never once have I fallen - until today.

It was just before nine o'clock this morning. I donned my designer dressing gown and began the usual descent having already decided that today's breakfast would be "Cocopops", a banana and a big mug of tea. But half way down the stairs, I slipped and my back was suddenly slammed against the steps before I tumbled down to the hallway like a sack of potatoes. I was really shocked.

In that moment, I imagined a broken back, a wheelchair, the end of country walks, back trouble to the end of my days, a hospital visit, physiotherapy, death. I crawled into the front room and lay supine on the sofa, trying to get my breath back and to simply calm down. It wasn't how I wanted Friday to commence.

And then the phone went. It was Mike - an old teaching colleague who now lives in Devon and seldom gets back to Sheffield. He wanted to come round for a natter. I know I should have been more stoical - after all, there are worse things than falling down one's staircase - but I informed him about the accident and assured him I didn't need an ambulance.

By now, I had recovered from the initial shock. Even though I felt as if I had been kicked in the back by a seaside donkey, I ventured to the kitchen to make the mug of tea I had promised myself. I was grateful that I could walk at all and already my wheelchair imaginings were evaporating.

I had a shower and then Mike came round. It was really nice to see him. He was always such a lovely man - funny, intelligent and caring - a man who can easily talk the hindlegs off donkeys or make you forget the idea that you've just been kicked by one! And when he left I took a handful of paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets and thought I'd find out a bit more about staircase falls.

A study conducted in 2000, concluded that each year in Great Britain around 1000 people die because of tumbling downstairs and an estimated 100,000 visit hospitals with injuries caused by such falls. Some of those injuries can be life-changing. Today has been a very uncomfortable day for me but  I can walk and I haven't had to call an ambulance. It could have been a lot worse and only time will tell if this event will be followed by future back troubles.

It just goes to show. You can be trundling along merrily through your life and then wham-bam thank you man - everything could change in a trice. Our daughter Frances has just related the tale of a former work colleague who is now in intensive care with two broken arms and a suspected broken neck following a car crash up near Leeds on Wednesday night. He wasn't driving. The young professional woman who had been behind the wheel was arrested at the scene. She had been drinking.

10 October 2013


On Sunday I was walking along the course of a former railway line near to Langsett. It was constructed in the 1890's to faciliatate the construction of Langsett Reservoir - carting waste away and bringing materials and workers in. Nature has been doing a good job of reclaiming it so that at times you would be hard-pressed to recognise that it was ever a train track at all.

I took several pictures with Shirley's little Coolpix camera but the shot to the left was certainly the best. It's simple with interesting textures and dappled light patterns amidst the greenery and the tree trunks.

As Carol from Cairns recently pointed out, I have too much time on my hands these days. Time to use the on-line photo-shopping facilities of Lunapic to create first of all, this pencil drawing version of the scene:-
 Then this colour pencil sketch:-
 And finally this painting:-
But it seems like cheating somehow. Over at Katherine de Chevalle's place - The Last Visible Dog - she has recently posted two fascinating clips of real artists at work - one an oil painter and the other a watercolourist. Both clips are spellbinding. It is amazing what you can do with photo-shopping these days but when all is said and done, it's no substitute for the craftsmanship of real artists, immersed in their work and making visual choice after choice as their pictures are patiently and lovingly developed.

9 October 2013


It is reckoned that badgers have inhabited  our British Isles for over 250,000 years. I imagine them scurrying about those ancient woodlands of long ago on well-worn paths - around setts that their ancestors first excavated. As a country boy, one of the most magical memories of my boyhood was watching a group of badgers in a clearing in Colonel Wood's wood just west of our village. It was dusktime and they were already sniffing around for food - mostly earthworms and other appealing creatures they might find beneath the leaf litter. By the time we left, it was almost pitch dark and we stumbled over a ploughed field towards our bikes, blessed by what we had just seen. Beautiful badgers.

They existed here long before cattle arrived and eons before intensive dairy or beef farming appeared. But now we are meant to accept that badgers are villainous and perpetual transmitters of Bovine TB and the only solution is to shoot them dead - to obliterate the badger population in large swathes of the countryside. In the dead of night our ignoble government have been sending out secret marksmen to cull as many badgers as possible in Somerset and Gloucestershire. It is like something from a horror film. How much these marksmen are being paid - we don't know. The powers that be have planned it all like a military operation, frustrating the attempts of protesters to disrupt these murderous activities. 

There are many other ways in which this matter might have been addressed - not least of them being the inoculation of cattle. Instinctively, I cannot support what seems to be an affront to the natural environment around us and to civilisation itself. I'm with the badgers and if I could adopt a family of badgers and build a new sett for them at the top of our garden I would happily do so. Killing badgers says a lot about those who seem to rule the roost in British society. Maybe they are the ones who need culling. Up The Badgers!

8 October 2013


This wasn't meant to happen. Not to me. I was meant to be eighteen forever but I woke up this morning and realised that I was sixty. Sixty years since Mum forced me out into the world with much grunting and gasping in that Victorian school house's front bedroom with the village doctor and three kings and three shepherds in attendance. I weighed ten pounds and seven ounces.

This morning the radio alarm clock sounded at seven and Shirley gave me cards, "The Rough Guide to Yorkshire" ( I assume that means all the rough places in our county - like Leeds, prisons and abattoirs) and my new camera. It's a Sony bridge camera HX-300 which will supply wonderful results I am sure - once I have learnt to master the bare minimum of its many functions. It finally replaces the Nikon D-SLR camera that was stolen from me as I cycled around Ayutthaya, Thailand in March.

Shirley went to work and an hour later I got up, showered and then walked out to a local high street cafe for breakfast. Full English with a mug of tea, getting sweaty by the upstairs window as October sunshine beamed in. Back home Frances has sent me an ominous e-mail "...I’ll speak to you later and tell you all about our secret plan!" Oh dear, I wonder what it could be? 

I never like much fuss on my birthdays but tonight to celebrate my sixtieth, Shirley and I are going out to one of the best restaurants in the region - Fischers at Baslow Hall. Probably the one and only time I will ever eat there - using the money that I won by betting that Hull City would be promoted last season - £195 for a £15 stake.

At sixty I am presently in rude health - a full head of hair with little grey, financially solvent and no need for spectacles quite yet. I have done and seen many things in my life - and have been blessed with a lovely wife and family and some good friends. But I can't help feeling it has all gone so fast - like a travelator at an airport - it just keeps rolling me forwards even when I want to get off and just hang about for a while, chase a dream, savour a moment.

Sixty. They say it's the new forty... Now my new camera's battery appears to be fully charged I shall stroll out along the valley of the River Porter up to Forge Dam and take a few practice shots. Happy birthday to me - you old fart!

Later, I am looking across The Shepherds's Wheel Dam on the River Porter - across at the allotment gardens there. This is what I see:-
Can you see the little allotment hut to the left of the tree? Then I zoom in on it - standing in the same position. Wow! This new camera has such potential:-
And here are some beech leaves:-
 And this is the cafe at Forge Dam where I sat in the birthday sunshine with a cup of birthday hot chocolate:-

6 October 2013


Over in the Welsh metropolis of Trelawnyd, their dwells a jovial blogging fellow named John Gray. I always call him Earl - after the famous tea. You have probably been to his place and read about his menagerie, his community and his endless ravenous consumption of scotch eggs amongst other things. Now I am pretty confident that I am the only person in the world with the name that I bear behind my Yorkshire Pudding pseudonym but John Gray? Well it seems there are hundreds of them.

First of all there's the American writer who wrote "Men Are From Mars - Women are from Venus" and next to him - on the right, the English philosopher John Gray:-
Both have been extremely successful in the field of publishing but there are plenty of other John Grays who have lived less noticeable lives, including this one who attended Hull Art College in the nineteen seventies and next him yet another John Gray - an "elder" at Sycamore Creek Church in Ohio, USA:-
Suspect John Gray of Eugene, Oregon 6107
The John Gray on the right was arrested in Oregon and bears a striking resemblance to our John Gray but this one is an n'er-do-well criminal with a string of convictions behind him related to drugs, violence and the possession of weapons:-

The John Gray above left is the head of Melton Mowbray Police in Leicestershire and the fat John Gray below is a well-known New Zealand conman - also very partial to scotch eggs:-
Our John Gray - The Earl
JOHN GRAY: Led two Melbourne truckies up the garden path.
Once you start rooting around, you realise that the English speaking world really is full of John Grays. They are everywhere! Perhaps they should form a society and meet each year at Trelawnyd. Failing that, maybe the rest of us could club together and purchase a Hebridean island to be colonised by John Grays. In fact, it could even be renamed John Gray Island. Lord knows how they would get on together but one things for sure - none of them would be as pleasant as our John Gray.

5 October 2013


Back to my heartland today. Scooting across river plains on the M18 motorway and then over the Ouse Bridge at Howden to East Yorkshire. She spread before me like a magical kingdom - glistening in the sunshine - her early autumn fields like a patchwork quilt and beyond the seductive curvaceousness of the Yorkshire Wolds eased down to the wide chocolate-coloured Humber - crossed by its elegant filigree suspension bridge. I heard some sort of twinkly music - as if from a dream.

In Kingston-upon-Hull, I parked on Linnaeus Street - named after Carl Linnaeus - the famous Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature. You must have heard of him? Then strolling on to Anlaby Road past Hull Royal Infirmary and the East Yorkshire bus depot - pictured above.

From Anlaby Road fly-over, I saw our temple appearing through verdant trees - The Kingston Communications Stadium. There were ninety minutes to go but already amber and black devotees were gathering to pay homage to our team of heroes - The Tigers - our beloved Hull City A.F.C.:-
Inside the temple, the pilgrims gathered - 24,396 of us though this included a couple of thousand who worship a different god - whose garb is claret and blue and who dwells in a mysterious foreign land known as Birmingham. Even before the two lines of monks emerged from the tunnel to do battle these strange neanderthal visitors were chanting their god's name - "Villa! Villa!"
I enjoyed the game and the way our team stood up to Aston Villa - matching them all over the park. It finished nil-nil but certainly didn't appear "boring" to me. That's what the unconvincing Radio Five reporter said of the match. Sometimes a nil-nil game can be like chess - full of guile and tension - sensing that it will take just a moment for one player from either side to find the key that will unlock the stalemate. But it never came. 

Before the game I bought a new Hull City mug - with the slogan "Pride of Yorkshire" emblazoned on one side and as has often been the case at Hull City matches over the years - our massed fans sang out the simple chant "Yorkshire! Yorkshire!" We never, ever sang "Humberside!" That was an invention of the evil Tory party that dwells in the incandescent bowels of the earth.... well, London and The Home Counties!