31 May 2014


Who is the world's dirtiest old man? Is it the Angolan holiday resort magnate Tom Gowans or perhaps a certain infamous resident of the city of Canton in Georgia USA? No - apparently it's the fellow pictured above. He is called Amoo Hadij and he lives on the outskirts of  Farashband in Iran. Of course I discovered this claim on a short internet surfing expedition.

Amoo Hadij, is "a peculiar 80-year-old man who has not bathed himself once in more than sixty years. He lives in a small abandoned brick hut in the village of Dezhgah, completely alone, surrounded by garbage, dirt, and animal faeces. A bit of a loner, Amoo likes to keep to himself, and rarely has the opportunity to interact with other people. This is probably due to the fact that he smells to high heaven and has the outward appearance of a troll."

"However, Amoo Hadij has no idea he’s so dirty. In fact, his less than sanitary but simple life is completely by choice. He is dirty because he has refused to bathe – not because he does not have a way of cleaning himself."

"Looking at Amoo, one can see that his skin is as thick as leather and a bit scaly, most likely due to the layers and layers of dirt and grime that have accumulated over his body over the last sixty years.

His face and beard are covered in black soot because he is a constant smoker, with his most prized possession being a broken steel pipe, which he uses to smoke animal dung on a daily basis. Though he’s technically not homeless, he often sleeps outside of his simple shelter, preferring the “fresh air,” as well as the warmth of his fire pit.

No one knows why Amoo has refused to bathe in over six decades. However, he seems to be doing fine. While it is difficult to understand why anyone would choose to live the way he does, he appears to be completely content with his primitive but personally satisfying lifestyle."

You have to feel sorry for Amoo. He clearly has mental health issues that haven't been addressed. Nonetheless his filthy lifestyle brings western obsession with personal hygiene into sharp relief. The television often seems to be bursting with commercials for various shampoos, grooming products and indeed germ busting cleansers. If you believed the legend you would imagine that little green gremlins live under every toilet seat threatening the annihilation of the human race.

When I was a small child, it was common for people to bathe just once a week and families would often share their bath water. In northern England, nobody had showers at home. They were reserved for public swimming baths. My family were lucky - we had a functioning bathroom but both my mother and father remembered tin baths on the kitchen floor - filled with hot water from their old black kitchen ranges.

Nowadays - like  most of us - I shower and shave* every day. Blessed with aroma-free armpits I nevertheless insure myself with roll-on underarm deodorant from "Lidl" (currently on offer at 55 pence). After shave spray, combing of the leonine locks and I'm done. The old tushy pegs are brushed morning and night come what may. (*Yes ladies!)

In all of this, I must admit that I am just a teensy bit jealous of Amoo. After all, his personal hygiene is much closer to the habits of our ancient ancestors who had different priorities from us. Maybe I'll join Amoo for a while in his cave in Iran - I have heard that Iran is becoming increasingly popular with package holidaymakers, eco-tourists and cruise liners. Mind you, I'm not so keen on the idea of smoking animal dung!

29 May 2014


Closer to Friday June 6th. All being well, that's when Shirley and I will be jetting to North America for a fortnight's holiday. I have planned it all and fingers-crossed everything will go swimmingly - but of course, you never know. I have carefully tailored several successful holidays in the past twenty years. We don't need travel agents any more - not with the internet grinding away in our study. In the past everything has always gone like clockwork.

We will fly from an obscure Lancashire village called Manchester all the way to Vancouver in Canada. Three nights there in a downtown  apartment. On one of the days there, we will drive up to Whistler for some whistling before moving on to Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Next we will take the ferry over to Washington State where I have booked a week's car hire. Working out insurance for this has been nightmarish because quoted car hire fees in the USA no longer appear to include basic Collision Damage Waiver insurance. In the end, I decided to get insured over here in England and shall fend off the aggressive salesmanship I expect to encounter at the Budget desk in Port Angeles.

From Port Angeles to Ocean Shores - then to Olympia - then to Portland, Oregon - then to Goldendale - then to Ellensburg before three nights in a studio apartment in a private house in Seattle. Then across Puget Sound and back to Port Angeles. Leave the car - ferry back to Victoria and the next morning bus and ferry combo back to Vancouver Airport for the long flight back to Ringway - now known as Manchester International.

It will be an adventure - especially if we are chased by bears, caught up in one of those shopping mall shootings they have in America or get to witness Mount St Helens exploding once more. Shirley and I are both unashamed Americophiles and it is a good while since we were there. Was it really the spring of 2005... California, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, The Sequoia National Forest? Nine years ago. How time flies. Unfortunately, we won't be calling in on Mr and Mrs R. Brague in salubrious Canton or checking out Ms Blawat's infamous Sloughhouse hippy commune. They're both too far away. 

O beautiful for spacious skies, 
For amber waves of grain, 
For purple mountain majesties 
Above the fruited plain! 
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea! 

Addendum: To any blogging burglars out there - if you imagine that our designer mansion is going to be left empty for two weeks you are utterly wrong. I have hired two security guards from my favourite "Lidl" supermarket and they are going to take it in turns to patrol the hallowed corridors of Pudding Towers. They have my full permission to utilise any of the various weapons we display on our walls - including my Great Uncle Walter's blunderbuss. So you enter at your peril! Be warned!

28 May 2014


Baron Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay
I live in the Sheffield Hallam parliamentary constituency and our MP is Nicholas William Peter Clegg who is also the national leader of the Liberal Democrats and the current Deputy Prime Minister. Thankfully, I have never seen him in person and of course neither he nor his fence-sitting do-gooder party have ever had my vote.

In last week's local and Euro elections the Liberal Democrats were utterly trounced - almost obliterated. Since then, there have been calls from within LibDem ranks for Nicholas William Peter Clegg to resign his leadership. He appeared on television, red-eyed and miserable still pleading that he had the right political approach. One of the loudest voices from those seeking to oust Clegg was a fellow called Lord Oakeshott or to give him his full title - Baron Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay. Under pressure, Oakeshott resigned from the Liberal Democrats earlier today.

Until 2000, this privileged chap was simply known as plain Matthew Alan Oakeshott. I wondered what he had done to become a lord of the realm with all of the associated privileges and hefty expenses. Had he raised thousands for charity? Did he invent an energy saving light bulb? Did he devote his working life to educating or helping others? Was he the author of a tide-changing book? 

None of the above. As far as I can figure out he has been a self-seeking investor in commercial property as well as the director of a large investment group. As a sideline, he dabbled in the Labour Party before switching opportunistically to the Liberal Democrats. What this Oxford-educated nitwit has done for British society I cannot tell. People like that surely bring the entire honours system into disrepute. Here's Matthew Oakeshott in his own words:-

     "My professional career is investing in commercial property, mainly shops and industrial property, all over the United Kingdom for pension funds, charities and investment trusts. I started my own business in 1986 after being a Director of Warburg Investment Management and running Courtaulds Pension Fund.

An economist by training (University and Nuffield College, Oxford), my first job was in the Kenya Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning as an Overseas Development Institute/Nuffield Fellow. I then worked as Special Adviser to Roy Jenkins from 1972 to 1976, both in opposition and in Government.

Active in politics since I was 18, I have been a City Councillor and finished a close second in both my General Election campaigns (Horsham and Crawley for Labour in October 1974 and Cambridge in 1983 for the SDP/Liberal Alliance). I was at Limehouse with Roy Jenkins for the formation of the SDP and served on its National Steering Committee and Economic Policy Committee.

I joined the Lords in May 2000."

And that's just one of the 779 people who sit in Great Britain's unelected House of Lords which still includes twenty five bishops of the Church of England and eighty eight hereditary peers. Though I am proud of our royal family and wish to see its continuation, I am not alone in believing that The House of Lords should be abolished so that undeserving figures like Matthew Oakeshott will no longer find that they have some power and  influence in national political matters.
Seagrove Bay, Isle of Wight

26 May 2014


Shatton Moor with the television relay mast
When persistent weekend rain ceased yesterday afternoon, I took my daughter to the tiny Derbyshire village of Shatton. Why it ever got that name I do not know but surely not because it was shat on in ancient times! Or maybe it was. We parked up, booted up - then headed up the long hill road to the television relay mast. Almost a mile of steady ascent - great training for her long sponsored walk in mid-June. Even the hill sheep were struggling.
Frances resting
Past the lonely mast and then round the top of Overdale to Brough Lane. No other walkers around as it was by now six o' clock in the evening. We passed The Grey Ditch. Many folk must walk by The Grey Ditch without realising that it is a manmade structure from the fifth or sixth century AD. It is generally believed that this earthwork - at least half a mile in length - was constructed to mark the boundary between the ancient kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria. They existed long before the idea of a united England was first conceived. In the vicinity of The Grey Ditch archaeologists have discovered various items that were probably connected with bloody battles - bits of sword and shield and bone.
The Grey Ditch by Brough Lane
Though I am sure that The Grey Ditch looks nothing like it would have done in say 600AD, the distinct undulation in the land speaks in tantalising tones of those far off times when most of the Peakland of Derbyshire would have been wild and forested. When there were wolves and eagles and wild boar. A time when local warlords fought to protect what was theirs for there was surely no other force they could call upon for protection. Down in the valley, closer to the village of Bradwell, the course of the ditch runs arrow straight through a farmfield. 

Past Elmore Hill Farm and down to Townfield Lane - a narrow track between verdant hedgerows that leads all the way back to Shatton - then home for roast chicken, vegetables and Yorkshire puddings.
View from Brough Lane to Win Hill
An old stone gatepost near Brough

25 May 2014


Neil Percival Young is Old. Well that's if you think that sixty eight is old. To some visitors to this blog Young will still seem, well - young.  In my last post, I referred to some famous Neils and Neil Young was prominent amongst them. I have never seen him in concert but he is coming to Liverpool in July and I just might treat myself - even though I am not fond of these cavernous multi-purpose arenas that accommodate thousands of fans who have each been obliged to shell out as much money on their tickets as they would spend on their weekly groceries.

Anyway, Neil Young... Let me remind you of just three of his most plaintive songs. Their simplicity disguises the genius that created them:-

24 May 2014


There are some daft boys' names around and many parents have a habit of saddling their male offspring with irksome lifelong  labels. Take The Beckhams for example - calling their boys Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz! Poor devils! They'd have been better off with solid English Christian names like Arthur, Bernard and Walter.

There are many other trendy boys' names around including Adrian, Robert, John and Thomas - which to me belong in the same fluffy bag as Duane, Brady, Kirk and Wesley. If you are looking for a great name for a baby boy - a solid, respectable yet imaginative name - you can't do much better than picking the name Neil.

Neil  is a highly masculine first name of Gaelic origin. The name is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic Niall which is of disputed derivation. The Gaelic name may be derived from words meaning "cloud", "passionate", or "champion" but nowadays it is generally accepted that Neil means "champion".

Many notable men have been fortunate enough to be blessed with the name Neil - including the following three - Neil Armstrong, Neil Young and Neil Diamond. You may have heard of them:-
But I understand that Neils around the world have recently been incensed by the promotional activities of a British sofa company called Sofaworks. In sponsoring the Channel 4 series "Gogglebox", Sofaworks came up with the idea of an animated sloth puppet who - apparently to great hilarity - precedes each section of the popular programme. His name is Neil which I am sure you will agree is outrageous and an insult to all the great men who have proudly borne the name Neil on behalf of the WNO (World Neil Organisation):-

22 May 2014


Woolley from Gipsy Lane
Wednesday brought sunshine  and so, in spite of experiencing lingering  twinges of gout in my right foot, I was determined to get out and about one for one of my now legendary country walks. I drove up the M1 to Junction 38 and headed east for the village of Woolley between Barnsley and Wakefield. It was a place I had only ever seen on maps and signposts before. The village is delightfully situated with solid stone houses and farms, a village green and an ancient church - but sadly no pub!

After parking, I strolled northwards till I came to Seckar Wood. The morning was hot and May blossom hung heavy in the hedgerows. My map told me there were ponds in Seckar Wood so I made my way in their general direction. Later I learnt that the wood had once belonged to a prominent late Victorian/early twentieth century photographer called Warner Gothard. When he died in 1940, he bequeathed the wood to the people of Barnsley and Wakefield. In the middle of the wood, he planned to build a walled swimming pool with a bathing house but that project was never fully realised. What remains is a peaceful yet slightly melancholy pond that nature was gradually reclaiming until The Friends of Seckar Wood volunteer group was formed.
Gothard's swimming pool in Seckar Wood
Rabbit by the old railway track
Nice house in Notton
Onwards down the course of a former railway track then south to Notton - another well-heeled and attractive village I had never visited before. Down Keeper Lane. Cross the A61 to Warren Lane and then back towards Woolley via Wheatley Wood where I spotted this majestic tree - alone in a barleyfield:-

20 May 2014


Our room in St Albans
Last Saturday, after The Tigers' sterling efforts at Wembley, Shirley, Ian and I made our way back into central London. We had a drink in a bar just off Leicester Square where we met with a delightful young lady called Danielle. Ian has been "dating" her as Americans are wont to say. I don't know what she will have made of our football shirts. Then we strolled into Chinatown for an evening meal in a pleasantly basic restaurant that Ian has visited several times. No airs and graces just wholesome Chinese food delivered with the same efficiency you will find in Hong Kong or Chinatown Bangkok.

Thence to St Pancras and a late train back to St Albans which is half an hour north of London. In the Quality Hotel on London Road we managed to catch the last half  hour of ITV's evening review of the FA Cup Final before descending to the cellars of sleep..."And it's Pudding. Yorkshire Pudding! He's only got Fabianski - the Arsenal goalie to beat! He's round him and yes! Yes! He has smashed it! What a marvellous goal! Pudding has won it for The Tigers!"

Breakfast was truly scrumptious - accompanied by the humming music of a Romanian cleaner who insisted on vacuuming the dining room carpet while guests were still eating. How thoughtful of her to bring this Romanian morning tradition to our shores.

We headed for the centre of St Albans where a service was still in progress in the historical  city's magnificent Norman cathedral. We strolled around it and visited the shrine of St Alban. He was the first British Christian martyr, and was possibly beheaded in AD 308 by Roman governor Maximian on the orders of Emperor Diocletian, who denounced Christianity and had ordered the deaths of all subjects and allies of the Roman Empire who refused to give up the faith. Legend has it that Alban's shrine and therefore the great cathedral were built on the very spot where the saint died. 
The shrine of St Alban
Medieval mural on Norman architecture
The outer fabric of the cathedral contains much flint, brick and other material taken from the Roman city of Verulamium which was once situated in the river valley close by. And that important Roman settlement was preceded by yet more ancient settlements going back through the Celtic period. St Albans is a very old place, so rich in history and Shirley and I were charmed by it. 
We ambled around the lake where coots and Canada geese were tending their young. The grassy shores of Verulamium Lake were snowy with daisies. I have never seen so many in one place. Only thirty minutes from central London and seen on a hot May morning - St Albans seemed like such a great place to live. We had refreshing drinks in "The Goat Inn" where we dipped into Sunday papers before travelling on to Redbournbury Watermill. 
Another ancient place. A mill has existed at Redbournbury for a thousand years. We bought cornbread, teacakes and a bag of  wholemeal flour - ground in that very building. And I saw a grey wagtail sitting on a fence. Then it was back in the car and up the M1 to The Promised Land - Yorkshire -  singing along to the "Sound of the Seventies" show on Radio Two:-
Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes
Have come 
With your chrome heart shining 
In the sun 
Long may you run.

19 May 2014


If you didn't know already, this was the result in Saturday's FA Cup Final:-
Nevertheless, like other Hull City supporters I was immensely proud of our team. They battled like heroes and took the mighty Arsenal to extra time. A star-studded purring limousine of a team like Arsenal should - by rights - always succumb a team like Hull City but we took them to the edge and might have won. 

Arsenal's first goal was scored by Santi Corzola who cost Arsenal £18million from Malaga, Spain. Before he took his stunning free kick he stole a metre - unseen by the referee - so that the kick was not taken from the position where the alleged offence took place. That gamesmanship probably cost us the match.

I became a Hull City supporter when I was nine years old - over fifty years ago. Back then I would never have dreamt that my team would one day make an FA Cup Final. But we were there and we were terrific and The Tigers' faithful sang their hearts out for the lads. Now excuse me while I go and sob my heart out. Rope, the car exhaust or a jar of paracetamol sir?
Shirley and Ian on Wembley Way

16 May 2014


Meersbrook Park, Sheffield on the eve of Hull City's first ever FA Cup Final appearance. Above, a man and a woman enjoy a game of bowls on one of the park's beautifully maintained greens. Below, two young men relax on a grassy knoll with the centre of Sheffield spread out before them like a jumbled oil painting.
Bill Shankly, legendary former manager of Liverpool F.C. once said: 'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.'

In the morning, Shirley and I will return to our nation's capital. We will leave the car at a hotel in St Albans before catching a train in to St Pancras. We will meet our son Ian, have lunch together and catch-up time before carrying on to Wembley once again. There we will meet my old mate Tony by the Bobby Moore statue. We have seen many games together going back over thirty years.

We are up against the mighty Arsenal. There are individual players in their squad who cost more in transfer money than Hull City's entire squad. By rights we should be beaten. We should be the also-rans but football is a funny game as Wigan proved last year. Sometimes the underdogs come out on top. Let's hope that 2014 is also one of those years. Please help by praying for a Hull City victory. Up The Tigers!

15 May 2014


Regular visitors to this humble blog may recall that last month I wrote in admiration of teenager Stephen Sutton. You can see that post here. In spite of battling deadly bowel cancer, he had decided to leave this life in joyous celebration of it. He drummed, he sang, he danced, he flew. But perhaps his most noteworthy achievement was to raise bucket loads of money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. As I write this blogpost I notice that his running total is currently £3.6 million. If you haven't already donated, please help to increase Stephen's charity legacy a little bit more. Oh, by the way, Stephen died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of yesterday morning. He was nineteen.
Daily Mirror front page, 15/5/14

14 May 2014


A true story from ten years back...

It is early summertime. I am tootling home from work. Knowing all the back roads, I avoid the city's evening traffic and as usual turn into Carr Road which leads up the hill to Walkley. There's a car coming down the hill - a silver Audi. Suddenly I have to brake hard because the Audi - instead of waiting for me to pass -  is doing a U-turn right in front of me. He pulls into a parking space and I honk my horn as I proceed up the hill.

I look in the mirror and the Audi is coming back up the hill. Instinctively, I know straightaway that I am being pursued. A quick left onto South Road and then a quick right up steeply inclining Greenhow Street. My suspicion is right. He is following me and I know exactly why. It is because I dared to show disapproval by honking my horn.

Along Bole Hill Lane to Bole Hill which is on the very edge of the city. I see the stony-faced driver behind the wheel and I see a mirror image of his registration plate - WAD 7. Living in Sheffield's suburbs there is a famous former England international footballer called Chris Waddle and his cars have always been easily spotted because they also have the personalised registration "WAD" but the guy behind the wheel of the Audi is certainly not Chris Waddle. If it had been him I could have asked for his autograph.

It crosses my mind that I could pull into the side of the road and see what my pursuer wants. "I say old chap - I do believe you are following me. Might I ask what your problem is old fruit?" But weighing it up that is a scenario I am keen to avoid. I don't know this man. He might have a weapon in the car. He might be younger and fitter than me. Even more of a thug! Besides - anybody arrogant enough to make such a thoughtless U-turn in the street thence to commence an angry car chase simply because a car horn has been pressed briefly in displeasure is not somebody you really want to tangle with.

From Hagg Hill to Stephen Lane and on to Crosspool. He is still in pursuit. Sometimes I have to stop at road junctions but he doesn't ram me or jump out of his car to hammer on my window. Perhaps he is also apprehensive - for it occurs to me that he also doesn't know the character of the other driver.

What can I do? What can I do? My heart is beating like Ginger Baker's bass drum  and I am shaky too. As I turn into Fulwood Road, an idea hatches that I will lead my pursuer to the police station yard at Woodseats. Once in the yard, I will again press my car horn but this time continuously until a copper comes outside to see what all the fuss is about. Yes. That's the best that Mr Cowardy Custard can up with.

Down the back of Endcliffe Park, along Rustlings Road. He has been pursuing me for five miles or so. Up the hill along Ecclesall Road and through the traffic lights at the top. There'a a big truck in front of us in the left hand lane. I speed in front of it and turn hard into Brincliffe Edge Road. My pursuer has to slow down to let the truck pass by and as I zoom down Bannerdale Road at fifty miles an hour I see him far behind me. Quick right into Glenorchy Road then quick right again and then screech into a random house's driveway, parking behind the tall conifer hedge. 

I wait for perhaps ten minutes, my rapid heartbeat subsiding, the shaking ceasing. Then I travel back home up the hill - still on the lookout for WAD 7 but I have done it! I have lost him! And I didn't need to reach Woodseats Police Station either.

I phone up the cops but the porcine respondent is totally disinterested. He tells me - to my amazement - that no crime has been committed. I can almost hear him yawning at the other end. I give him the pursuer's registration number and I suppose the copper may think I am jesting - trying to nail Chris Waddle just for a laugh or something. Waddle played for Sheffield Wednesday. Maybe he thinks I am a mischievous Sheffield United fan. If that call were made today, I would insist on a complaint number and would take the matter to a higher level but back then, if I am honest, I was just glad to have escaped my pursuer. 

It hadn't been at all like one of those car chases you see on the television. It was somehow scarier than that. One evening, the following September, WAD 7 was parked on Carr Road. Mysteriously and no doubt surreptitiously, it  had a potato shoved firmly into its shiny chrome exhaust pipe.

12 May 2014


Nineteenth century St George's Church in the centre of Sheffield no longer functions as a church. Several years ago it was purchased by the University of Sheffield and now operates as a lecture theatre. High on its tower a bird study group established a nesting box for peregrine falcons and in March a clutch of eggs were successfully laid there.
The eggs are now hatched and four hungry, fluffy chicks are being fed by the parents. The chicks are growing rapidly and adult plumage is beginning to appear. The bird study group attached a camera to the nest so that visitors can observe what is happening in the nestbox in real time. Yesterday, I watched the mother bring a feral pigeon back to the nest and she expertly picked this carcass apart as she fed pieces of meat to her chicks. Today the chicks seem to have migrated to the right of the nestbox - in its blindspot - which is a bit frustrating. But I am sure they'll be back in the middle section before too long.Why not check out the nestbox yourself? Go here. Then click on the picture in the right-hand margin to go to the live webcam.

10 May 2014


Peter - a true friend of  Wardsend Cemetery
They say that you can't have too much of a good thing and so today I was back at Wardsend Cemetery for a guided tour led by two of its most passionate advocates - Peter and Old George from "The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery". Peter is a craggy old Sheffielder who spent his working life in the steel industry but has always been fascinated by local history. He had many stories to tell about the cemetery and its inhabitants - including so-called ghost stories.

He drew our attention to the intricate carvings that festoon many of the gravestones. Some of the craftsmanship is quite fantastic (see below) and he also said that in the 1860's written inscriptions incurred a charge of three old pence per letter from local stonemasons.

We heard the tale of a twenty three year old amateur footballer called George Beaumont who was playing a game at Walkley on Christmas Day 1877. The ball went over the stone boundary wall - adjacent to the pitch. Poor George vaulted after it, not realising that there was a deep stone quarry on the other side of that wall. He plunged to his death. His grave includes a foot-stone with the shape of an old leather football carved upon it. Of course the game of football - as we know it today - began in Sheffield only twenty years before young George's premature demise.
Old football on the footstone of George Beaumont's grave
Old George - Craggy Peter's sidekick - told me where to look for the graves of some Sheffield Flood victims of 1864. As on Thursday afternoon,  I wandered off into the jungle of ivy, knotweed and bramble. Once again. I must have checked out thirty or forty gravestones but still I couldn't find a grave from the time of that awful and largely forgotten flood. Old George promised to email me a map with more precise directions.

Aside from the ghost stories, Peter told us about a phone call he had once  received from a local dog walker. This fellow had been startled one morning when he saw a head pop out of a grave. It was one of those graves with a vaulted stone lid. The police were called and they discovered that someone had made a sleeping place - actually inside the grave with blankets, a sleeping bag and stubs of candles. Clearly the homeless man who slept there had been in a very grave situation!

Anyway, I guess I'll be back at Wardsend - once called World's End - in the not too distant future. Third time lucky as they say - if I am going to track down the flood victims' graves. Other flood victims were buried elsewhere - including St Nicholas's churchyard at High Bradfield - so I am only expecting to find three or four graves at Wardsend. I hope that this blog is not becoming too ghoulish for you. In the midst of life we are in death - or as my old grandfather used to say - "In the midst of life we are in debt".
Other ghoulish visitors listening to Peter's tales

8 May 2014


Gravestone detail - Wardsend Cemetery
Last evening on television, comedian and professional Scotsman Billy Connolly was exploring death rituals – mostly around Los Angeles - which is his adopted city. Billy’s looking old and frail himself these days as if The Grim Reaper has already got his number.

Today I had to take my car to Earl John Gray’s old stomping ground – Hillsborough - which is a populous northern suburb of the city of Sheffield. I left my car at the “Seat” dealer on Middlewood Road and with walking boots on strolled along to the Hillsborough football stadium – home ground of Sheffield Wednesday – where I stopped to look at a simple stone monument to the ninety six football fans who were tragically crushed to death in the spring of 1989. There were various scarves and jottings, pictures and candles – like a Buddhist shrine in Thailand.
Memorial to the 96 at Hillsborough
Then I hiked past the leisure centre, the liquorice allsorts factory, Napoleon’s Casino and the Owlerton Greyhound Stadium - then past the relatively new Hillsborough College – with its uninspirational cladding and little gatherings of furtive cigarette smokers – standing as they must do these days – just outside the college entrance. Round the corner and over a little bridge that crosses the River Don and I had reached my destination. Not the scrapyard on the left but the woods ahead which conceal an old Victorian graveyard – known as Wardsend Cemetery.
In Wardsend Cemetery trees may sprout from graves
It has been disused for many years but from 1859 to 1968, it witnessed the interment of many hundreds of Sheffield people – from babies and small children to victims of the Sheffield Flood of 1864 and soldiers from nearby Hillsborough Barracks. All human life is buried there and the gravestones left behind are like a window upon the way things were – especially in the second half of the nineteenth century. Even the darkness of the stones speaks of Sheffield’s industrial past when the Don Valley was a smoky open air workshop filled with sounds of furnaces and hammers, the coughing of steel workers and the clattering of clogs on cobblestones.
Death is black and white
I wandered through the trees, the ivy and the knotweed, hoping to find a few graves of Sheffield Flood victims – though I couldn't find a single one. Some graves had trees growing right out of them - as if fed by mortal remains and a few others had received the unwelcome attention of vandals. On a path I spotted the corpse of a young blackbird. Why it had died I do not know but very gently I lifted its body to the grass at the side.

There’s an organization called “Friends of Wardsend Cemetery” and if the weather’s okay on Saturday morning, Shirley and I may return to the graveyard for a guided tour which will hopefully lead us to where some of the flood victims rest.

I had a simple lunch in “The Old Crown” on Penistone Road, investigated new bedroom curtains at Park View Soft Furnishings, sauntered round B&M and Wilco before getting back to the “Seat” dealership to discover to my delight that my car was A1 and had consequently passed its annual MOT test with flying colours.
"The Old Crown", Penistone Road

7 May 2014


To make this poem
I stitched these words together.
Some are made of cambric
And some are made of leather.
I tried to make a pattern
Pleasing to the eye
Then washed it in a babbling brook
And hung it out to dry.

But gipsies from the turnpike
Filched it off my line
To sell at Tideswell market
For a flagon of red wine.
Oh, I wondered where this poem had gone
And wished that it could be
Safe on some island faraway
In my case of  poetry.

But that spring a wainman found it
Thrown down upon the heath
Tattered and battered yet
Still in one piece – much to my relief.
Oh where have you been my bonny poem?
Speak of the things you’ve seen!
Did experience teach you anything?
Pray tell me what you mean.

6 May 2014


Afghans search for survivors after Friday's landslide buried Abi-Barik village in Badakhshan province, northeastern Afghanistan, Saturday, May 3, 2014. Afghan rescuers and hundreds of volunteers armed with shovels rushed on Saturday to help villagers hit by a massive landslide in the remote northeast a day earlier, officials said, while fears of a new torrent of mud and earth complicated rescue efforts. (AP Photo/Sayed Ibrahim)
Last Friday, after heavy rain, millions of tons of earth and shale slid down a mountainside and engulfed half of the village of Ab-Barik in Badakhshan - which is Afghanistan's most northerly province. People from the other half of the village rushed to help and then the mountain slid some more. An estimated two thousand people have lost their lives.

It didn't take long for this disaster to leave the western media's spotlight on current world events. Other, more interesting topics apparently needed reporting such as the release of a handful of international negotiators in Syria, Prince Harry breaking up with his mousey girlfriend, the arrest of Gerry Adams in Antrim and continuing political unrest in Ukraine.

I watched footage from Ab-Barik.  Exhausted and hollow-eyed mountain people seemed dazed by the horror of what had happened. Some were digging with shovels, pieces of wood or their bare hands as their neighbours lay many feet below them - entombed by earth. But as I looked at this footage I noticed a terrible absence. There were no American soldiers, no British soldiers either - even though thousands are still stationed in Afghanistan. 

How many millions of dollars and pounds and euros have been spent on the military campaign in Afghanistan? One might imagine that these troops are there to help Afghanistan towards a better future - at least that is the story we are meant to believe. But when it came to the crunch and the village of Ab-Barik needed help there was no whirring of helicopters, no foreign troops taking off their combat gear, no engineers or mechanical diggers flown in.

If they really, genuinely and truly cared about the plight of the Afghan people, Western leaders would have committed significant resources to the disaster zone. Maybe none of the victims could have been rescued but if a mountain slid down upon a village in Wales or Wyoming you bet your life it would have been the top news item for a week or more and troops would have been tripping over each other in a frantic bid to help.

It seems that The West is only there on a glorified witch hunt - chasing an ever elusive terrorist threat,  and in some twisted way avenging 9/11. They clearly don't care that those who died at Ab-Barik were people too. Well, that's my opinion. What do you think?

4 May 2014


Entering Alton
Yesterday was lovely. A sapphire blue sky with only the occasional cotton wool cloud and springtime's new growth  illuminated by a fiery orb that is thankfully 93 million miles from our planet. I was walking south of Chesterfield, having parked up by the disused methodist church in the village of Alton.

After a mile or two I found myself in the middle of a field of bright yellow rapeseed. It stood almost as tall as me and the public footpath which traversed that hillside was almost hidden by the yellowness:- 

At Holmgate, I asked an old lady where the path was. I could see it on my map. She pointed to an ancient stone stile by the edge of her extensive lawns. We stood and jawed for a while and she was one of those people that I could have comfortably conversed with for hours. We were like a pair of shoes. She was in her late eighties. She said something like this - "When you are young you waste time. You squander it. You've got to live each day - make the most of your life so that you end your days with few regrets". She was envious of my walking route in the spring sunshine and sad that she would never again enjoy such a self-propelled journey. Arthritic pain was in her eyes as well as her bones.
Holmgate House
By Stocksmoor Farm I saw a bench under an old oak tree. Carved into the top board were these words - "What is this life if full of care we have no time to sit and stare". Not "stand" but "sit". And there was also a little brass plaque with - rather oddly - a blogspot address:  http://nicksbench.blogspot.co.uk. This wasn't a memorial bench as such but a rather attractive way of marking a fiftieth birthday that passed in 2012 - Nick Luft's birthday in fact.
Nick's bench
More beautiful bluebells in woods then along by Redcar Hillside to Bole Hill. Down to the valley and to the gates of Press Manor. Somewhere amidst its stonework a vicious Jack Russell must have caught my scent or heard my footsteps on the gravel. It came sprinting like Billy Whizz, barking aggressively, completely ignoring my "good boys". I was over a stile into the adjacent field but still this little Hitler advanced. I was tempted to boot him in the air like a canine football but then I heard The Lord of the Manor behind the hedge - "Come here Rufus!" and reluctantly the betoothed mini-wolf retreated. I was saved...but so was Rufus!

Down to Press Reservoirs and through Northedge Hall Farm, passing a long-abandoned stone quarry on the way back to Alton where I spotted two manageable stone lintels in the nettles by my car. They had surely been left there long ago when the old church had been a stone mason's shed for a period of time. I weighed up the morality of the situation and then heaved them into the boot (American: trunk) pledging to give them a new life as edging stones in our garden. They were very grateful to be out of that nettle bed - lying forlorn by the side of the road for years. But now they are rescued.
Press Manor 
Track to Northedge Hall Farm