30 November 2014


Turn the clock back eight or nine years, maybe ten. I am a senior teacher in a tough urban secondary school and Head of the English Department but a buzzword that has begun to creep into our vocabulary is "leadership". We are no longer educators but warriors in the battle for educational progress. There must be leaders, strategists who can direct the troops and win the endless war on ignorance or more accurately improve the school's alarming GCSE results.

No longer do we have fortnightly Heads of Department Meetings, now we have weekly Leadership Team Meetings. There's a new broom in the building - a headteacher with coiffured hair, sunken eyes and manic laughter. The waxy skin of her hands is paper thin and you can see the blue veins beneath like back roads on a county map . They throb as her blood returns to what is undoubtedly a wooden heart.

Along with the other Heads of Department - sorry - Leaders - I raise my eyebrows when Her Royal Majesty sets us a task for next week. We must bring in an object that somehow represents us - something we can speak to. Of course, we leaders must know each other better and then the school will be better led and our exam results will rise magically like mighty oaks from the council estate we can see through a ten foot high security fence. Was there really any need for the razor wire on top?

Days go by. What the hell shall I bring to the party? My Hull City shirt signed by Ken Wagstaff? My guitar? A framed family photograph? I really didn't want to make it too personal and yet I was obliged to play the stupid game. Somehow. And then I had a bright idea.

I recall that we were all a bit puzzled and disappointed by the object that She Who Must Be Obeyed brought in to kick off proceedings. It was a wooden roller with little blunt spikes on it. Such instruments may be used in massage and her husband had brought it back as a present from Thailand where he had enjoyed several "holidays". By the way, a year or two later we learnt that some of these "holidays" involved seedy romps with underprivileged young Thai women. 

We went around the room. There was a tin whistle, an old copy of "Tom Sawyer", some framed family photos and a miniature painting of a white dog called Arthur. The accompanying chat taught me a great deal about my fellow leaders. I now saw them as rounded human beings and appreciated a little more of where they were coming from. Didn't I? Actually no.

But now it was my turn! Gulp! I delved into my trusty canvas school bag and pulled out...
...this rock!

I had picked it up a few years earlier from the base of Flamborough Head - when the North Sea tide was out and I had crept under the overhanging cliff - into a shallow sea cave. The rock is composed of two materials that geologically speaking will often sit side by side - chalk and flint. They are melded together in that stone as they have been for about a hundred million years.

To the flabbergasted Leadership Team, I spoke of the spine of Yorkshire and of Yorkshire values - the softness of the chalk and the hardness of the flint. I told of my East Yorkshire upbringing, embraced by the same chalky wolds that meet the sea at Flamborough and I referred to the importance of knowing what lies beneath the surface - what is true and lasting. It would have been possible to get a lot more words and ideas from that humble rock. Perhaps metaphors for life and education. Perhaps idle bullshit. It depends how you prefer to look at things.

Anyway, I look back and feel rather proud of my choice of revelatory object for that Leadership Team meeting. Pleased too that I didn't bring in a wooden massage roller. I wonder what the latest buzzwords are  in education now that most state schools have been bullied into becoming self-governing "academies" - an idea which deserves to be crushed with  fist-sized rocks.

29 November 2014


Our poppy
Last week, a long white cardboard box came to our house via the delivery company "Yodel". I opened it and was happy to discover that our ceramic poppy had arrived. I ordered it when I first heard about the art installation that was planned for The Tower of London to co-incide with national remembrance this year - "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" - an amazing sea of 888,246 ceramic poppies - one for each British fatality of World War One. Of course profits from the sale of these poppies will be shared amongst military service charities so we were happy to donate and now we have a unique ceramic poppy  allowing us to pay regular respect to the fallen. Of course we have no idea which soldier our particular poppy represents but he was somebody's son. When I put the poppy back together, I noticed that there was still soil on the metal stem - from the moat of The Tower of London but I am not complaining.

Bllod Swept Lands and Seas of Red at The Tower of London
© Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for
reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

27 November 2014


Alan Turing 1912-1954
I must say that I really enjoyed "The Imitation Game" starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. But who was Alan Turing?

Born into a wealthy Anglo-Indian family in 1912, he was very probably highly autistic and as such had an abnormal passion for mathematics and cryptanalytic problem solving. When World War II came along he found himself drafted into Britain's codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.

There his mission was to solve the Enigma Code that had been developed by Nazi Germany to transmit encrypted messages of a secret, military nature. And do you know what, he solved it! This achievement shortened the war and saved the lives of millions of innocent people.

There are many kinds of hero. Most likely we think of individual soldiers from different historical eras bravely battling forward with sword, blunderbuss or machine gun to slay the cruel enemy and thereby save his comrades in arms. We are less likely to think of a socially inadequate homosexual geek from the Home Counties messing about with a very early computer and bumbling through life. For that was Alan Turing.

Previously, I never thought much of Benedict Cumberbatch but in this film he shows a convincing allegiance with the difficult character he was portraying. Awkward and bumbling, eccentric and painfully clever - to Mr Cumberbatch I say bravo and to Mr Turing I say - thank you, thank you for your genius. You are a true British hero.

Alan Turing committed suicide in Wilmslow, Cheshire on June 7th 1954. He was forty one years old.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

26 November 2014


...and before the sun set over the Derbyshire hills, I watched two hobbies in progress. In the heather of Callow Bank, two men were operating their remote control model aeroplanes.which swooped and whizzed, curving the air. Further along the escarpment of Stanage Edge a paraglider was practising his aeronautical skills, hanging from his orange canopy on nylon strings. I watched as he sailed silently over Overstones Farm before sinking gently into the rough moorland beyond. The photographic evidence:-
And the intrepid paraglider drifts over the millstone grit of Stanage Edge before landing beyond Overstones Farm...
...as always - click on pictures to enlarge.

25 November 2014


Yesterday afternoon looking westwards from Stanage Edge.

I don't know the science behind sunsets. I don't really want to know. Isn't it better to think of  each sunset as a kind of magic emblazoned across the sky or sometimes subtly painted from a pastel palette? As the sun sinks inexorably into the western horizon, you never really know what kind of sunset you re going to get but what you do know is that as long as there have been human beings on this planet they have stood in awe of sunset scenes like this one. Leonardo? David Hockney? Vincent Van Gogh? No artist could ever paint a sunset the way that Mother Nature can.

24 November 2014


What things (apart from loved ones) do you miss from your country of birth?
We miss the rain, gloom, and cloud – but that’s great because that’s why we came here! Other than that, not very much really.

I knew Kevin years ago. He was and probably still is a lovely man. A Geography teacher who wrote poems and made maps. He visited Peru and the Hindu Kush of Pakistan. He was into mountaineering and ice camping and he lovingly restored his big stone house in Crookesmoor, Sheffield. Back then he had a girlfriend called Barbie who looked like Buffy St Marie in her prime but they broke up and he found a different life partner called Troy. He never had any kids.

After taking early retirement from Geography teaching in Sheffield, around 2005,  Kevin and Troy went to live in the Almeria region of southern Spain where they bought a country property and restored it. There they grow vines and vegetables and enjoy a sunny, expatriate life, a long way from home. Kevin, by the way, was raised in grim Grimsby on the northeast Lincolnshire coast.

Out in Almeria, Kevin spent a couple of years researching the geography, history and culture of his new home area and drawing from that research wrote a book about it. It has been moderately successful and that is why Kevin was interviewed for a website called "Spain Buddy" which appeals to Spain's large British expatriate community. The blue opening to this post was copied from that interview.
Tongue in cheek he says that they miss the rain, gloom and cloud..."other than that, not very much really". This is the crux of today's blogpost. It's not the first time I have encountered expats claiming that they don't miss anything about their homelands. To me it is as if they are partly justifying their new lives - renouncing what they once knew. I find this attitude as hollow as it is disloyal.

Perhaps Kevin could have said..."I miss the ambience of English pubs where I spent many happy hours with friends quaffing good English beer. I miss the smell of roasted chestnuts on cold winter nights and the sounds of fireworks on Bonfire Night. I miss the traditional folk music sessions I was in the habit of attending with my Irish bodhran. I miss the distinctive seasons and walks in The Lake District ticking off The Wainwright hills,  kayaking in the Western Isles and rambling in The Peak District. I miss English humour and the ability to communicate fluently in my own language where ever I go.. Meat pies and Yorkshire puddings, Indian curries and saltmarsh lamb, apples and raspberries and ice cream cones. Above all I miss the byways of my childhood and of my youth - imbued with memories of yesteryear, mum and dad, my siblings, neighbours and friends and Grimsby Town F.C.. Yes - those are the things I miss."

And I would also take issue with the reference to rain, gloom and cloud. That does not sum up English weather at all in my experience. We have many sunny days and warm spells and even as I write this blogpost it is bright and alluring outside. The randomness or unpredictability of English weather could be seen as one of our assets, You never know what you are going to get. Getting scorched on an Almerian hilltop might be seen as somehow less appealing.

Starting a new life elsewhere surely does not mean that you must disparage your motherland. Treachery has many forms.

23 November 2014


Rossington Hall south of Doncaster. We were there most of yesterday for a wedding - one of Shirley's many cousins giving marriage a third bash. 

This Victorian pile has had a varied history. For example, from 1953 to 2008 it was a special school serving boys with a range of challenging conditions - from autism to cerebral palsy. Then for three years it was watched over by security guards employed by Doncaster Council until private speculators acquired it and proceeded to turn it into a luxury hotel and wedding venue.

They are still in the expensive process of realising their dream. I noticed that some of the gilt-framed pictures on the walls were merely mass-produced prints. Even so it was a privilege to explore the place and with Shirley's Uncle Edwin I even visited the luxurious bridal suite with its ceramic bath sitting on a marble plinth as the November sunset peered through surrounding woodland.

Here's Lady Pudding from "Downton Abbey" by the wedding carriage:-
And here she is by a continental coach manufactured in 1950::-
It brought several wedding guests from a nearby and less magnificent hotel. Now ladies, please cover your eyes, for this is the gentlemen's luxurious urinal:-
And here's the drawing room complete with unoriginal prints:-
The wedding feast in the ballroom was marvellous. Doused in Tetley bitter flavoured gravy and accompanied by caramelised onions, the starter was of course the ever dependable and socially unifying  Yorkshire Pudding!

22 November 2014


Carved stone face at Somerby - St Margaret's Church
There's a big arc of chalk to the east of England. It rises gracefully above the surrounding flat lands as it curls from the white cliffs of Flamborough Head, embracing the Plain of Holderness, plunging under the River Humber and then curving southwards through the heart of Lincolnshire towards The Wash. We call these gentle chalk downs The Wolds. North of the Humber they are The Yorkshire Wolds and south of it they are - can you guess - yes - The Lincolnshire Wolds.

Can you imagine what the landscape of England was like before we were invaded by Romans and Vikings and then Normans? The population would have been much lower than today - less than one million. The flat lands of eastern England would have been undrained and marshy with reed beds and forests and rivers that simply spread out because there were no artificial  banks. One of the best locations for settlements would have been chalky downs like The Wolds. They drained naturally and allowed views of the surrounding flatlands. It would have been a good place to graze animals and raise crops, a good place to live and feel safe.

There were many small settlements up on the Lincolnshire Wolds but new approaches to farming in the Middle Ages began to change the landscape. The flatlands were being drained and their silty soils now offered greater fertility and better opportunities for successful sustenance. People began to move down from the Wolds. Sheep moved in. Today many of those original woldland settlements can only be seen in aerial photographs but on the margins various small villages remain and they can trace their origins way back in time.

On Thursday, I caught a train to Barnetby-le-Wold and undertook a long walk in the north western sector of the Lincolnshire Wolds. Five solid hours of plodding. Sadly, the sunshine that had been promised by the weatherman on Tuesday never materialised but at least it was dry and perhaps typically Novemberish - slightly chilly with thin white cloud and a mist that never fully disappeared.
Abandoned chalk quarry near Bigby
I walked from Barnetby to its abandoned Saxon church on the edge of the village before striking out to Bigby, then Somerby and Searby. The -by ending of place names is Viking in origin and this ending is predominantly restricted to Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. There are 171 settlements in Lincolnshire ending in -by.

Up to Searby Top where the fields are still speckled with bits of chalk and flint, then along to Mealand Hill and down to New Barnetby. I was back in Barnetby-le-Wold just before my train arrived at 15.53. It had been a wonderful walk even though the light was not conducive to stunning photography. It is hard to fully comprehend that those chalky wolds were once the floor of a prehistoric ocean that existed for an estimated 80 million years during The Cretaceous Period which drew to a close some seventy million years ago. Such mind-boggling periods of time.
Barnetby's old church - disused since 1972
Old chalkstone barn at Searby Top
My best photo of The Lincolnshire Wolds - taken two years ago near Caistor

21 November 2014


In my view, Twitter is for twits. It has caused so many ructions that I wonder why people bother with the nonsense. Apart from anything else, I can't abide the notion that thoughts or observations might be distilled into a mere 140 characters. This economy makes a mockery of written communication through the ages. And another thing, why would anybody want "followers"? Jesus Christ had followers and so did Adolf Hitler but personally I wouldn't want to be somebody who is "followed". They might mug me down a dark alley.

See the image above that was tweeted two days ago by the Labour Party's Emily Thornberry. She was the shadow attorney general but now - because of that tweet - she has lost her position in the shadow cabinet. Personally, I am glad she has gone. This privileged barrister, whose father Cedric was Assistant United Nations Secretary General, sent her own children to a posh school outside her London neighbourhood. She is a hypocrite. A smug metropolitan wordsmith who saw the Labour Party as a great career move. Such a contrast with the men and women who forged the Labour Party to represent the needs and aspirations of ordinary working people.

Let me explain that picture. It seems to encapsulate a widespread and rather snobbish view of the ordinary working class family in Britain today. They live in a small house and they have a white van on the block paving. There are two St George flags hanging from the windows. Their patriotism might be interpreted as a form of nationalistic bigotry - God Save the Queen but get rid of the immigrants. I have no doubt that Emily Thornberry was poking fun at the very people she is meant to represent - British workers and their families - the very people who made The Labour Party a hundred years ago. 

She may also have failed to appreciate that those flags were hanging from the house the morning after England had trounced Scotland in Glasgow in a "friendly" football international. It is very likely that the residents are simply proud England fans who put the flags out to express their sporting allegiance.

Thornberry goes to dinner parties and likes fine wines. She visits the theatre and lives the Islington high life. She reads "The Times" and still follows the intricacies of ongoing legal cases. She does not count the pennies in her purse or struggle to get the ironing done. She does not sit glued to the telly watching mind-numbing pap or hear the people next door rowing or wonder if she can afford a holiday on the Costa Blanca next summer or seek cheap house insurance on the internet or receive school reports on her children which say "disruptive" and "could do better". No, Emily Thornberry has resided in a privileged bubble. 

Though it has no accompanying words, the image she tweeted says a great deal about her and sadly it consolidates what a lot of working people have been thinking about the Labour elite. They are inauthentic and out of touch with the party's roots. I wonder if she'll tweet a picture of her crestfallen face or an apology for the damage her arrogance has done.

19 November 2014


So there I was in "The Hammer and Pincers", with my mate Mick attempting the Tuesday night quiz. We were sitting at a little table in an offshot area opposite the bar. Close behind me was another table where three or four thirty something men were socialising and beyond them another table with another bunch of thirty something men. We have been irritated by that little gang before - too loud, their laughter too false and schoolboyish as if they own the pub.

Mick and I were drinking our beer and chatting when suddenly and unexpectedly my chair was nudged forward - causing me to spill a little ale from my pint glass. It was one of the lads from The Irritators. Instead of going the very slightly longer way round back to his table he had just pushed his way through a tiny gap.

But now we come to the key reason for this blogpost. I was so instantly annoyed by the incident that without thinking or measuring my words at all, I just blasted out at this fellow, "At least say excuse me you ignorant bastard!" Oh dear! Some words are best kept inside our heads. Fortunately, the target of my unbridled blast of annoyance was clearly a wimpish fellow - probably a solicitor, a plumber or a university lecturer - something like that. There are many men who would take great exception to being called an "ignorant bastard" even when they have just acted in the manner of such a creature. He just grinned sheepishly and went back to his gang.

So I got away with that one. No bar room brawl or bloody nose. No police statement or hospital visit. It's funny isn't it. So often we journey carefully through life, often curbing our innermost thoughts and avoiding any shooting from the hip - but occasionally when all is said and done immediate  and instant reactions are sometimes the most honest kind.

17 November 2014


The clever people who produce television commercials have many weapons in their armoury. One tried and tested approach concerns celebrity endorsement of products or services. You know the kind of thing. Pick a well-known celebrity - usually from the worlds of sport or entertainment - and get him or her to endorse the thing that is being promoted.

It is important for companies to be associated with the right kind of celebrity. There are famous people who could hamper sales. For example you wouldn't want Roy Keane - the former Ireland international footballer - selling baby foods and you wouldn't want Katie Price (aka Jordan) to advertise insurance products. In each case sales would probably nosedive. It is important to get the right celebrity "fit".

Leicester-born and squeaky clean football presenter Gary Lineker is a marvellous choice for the promotion of Walkers crisps. They are made in Leicester and Gary is so inoffensive - liked by both men and women. Potential purchasers of these crisps would feel no sub-conscious animosity towards the product because of him. Quite the opposite.
Bland and irritating - Ant and Dec - advertising "Morrisons"
Uncle Len Goodman promoting "Farm Foods"
When I watch television I mostly prefer the BBC, but occasionally I will find myself switching over to commercial channels. There I have recently noticed commercials for the Yorkshire-based supermarket chain "Morrisons" and for the frozen food specialists "Farm Foods".

No doubt at huge expense, "Morrisons" are using familiar celebrity presenters Ant and Dec for the purposes of endorsement while "Farm Foods" have called upon Len Goodman the affable seventy year old head judge of "Strictly Come Dancing". You see Len pushing a trolley round a "Farm Foods" store with a huge grin on his face while he purportedly considers the savings he is making.

Morrisons ads will sometimes rely solely upon voice overs by Ant and Dec while at other times we see the Geordie pair smiling inanely as they prance about in Morrisons supermarkets or settle down to a festive meal cobbled together from the supermarket's product range.

As I watch these ads, I think "ah but!". There's absolutely no way that Len Goodman would ever shop at "Farm Foods" and I simply cannot see the millionaire Ant and Dec combo giving two hoots about saving pennies at Morrisons - again a place they will surely never visit in real life. For me these endorsers are inappropriate and instead of making me warm towards "Farm Foods" and "Morrisons", I feel slightly repulsed. The endorsements seem contrived and inauthentic so I will keep supporting German business by shopping at "Lidl" and "Aldi" - even though I have noticed musical matchmaker Jools Holland creeping into the latter's Christmas ad campaign.

16 November 2014


If you don't follow British news media you will probably never have heard of Chedwyn Evans. He is a convicted twenty five year old rapist who has just completed his sentence -  two years in prison.

Back in May 2011, he received a phone call from a friend called McDonald . Evans was invited to visit a hotel near Rhyl in North Wales - the purpose being to have sexual intercourse with a nineteen year old girl who was comatose because of excess of alcohol. McDonald had brought the girl to the hotel and had already had sex with her. Evans duly arrived at the hotel and committed the wicked deed while McDonald filmed the coupling on his mobile phone.

Oh, one thing I haven't yet mentioned about Evans is that he was a professional footballer. He played for both Manchester City and Wales before being transferred to Sheffield United whose famous Bramall Lane ground is just a mile from this keyboard.

Even when Evans was in prison, a debate began about whether or not he should be allowed to take up his footballing career when he came out. Sheffield United supporters appeared to fall into two camps. Evans supporters, who often dared to suggest that a rape hadn't happened in the first place, said that once a man has served his punishment he has the right to return to his occupation. Evans's detractors said that allowing him to play for Sheffield United again would appear to endorse the crime of rape and send out a bad message to women and young supporters alike.

Last week, Evans began training with Sheffield United once more and this has added fuel to the debate. Olympic athlete and gold medal winner Jessica Ennis has demanded that her name be removed from one of the stands at Bramall Lane if Evans ever plays for the club again. Other notable supporters have also withdrawn their patronage.Meanwhile, Evans has appeared in a video on his own website, holding his devoted girlfriend's hand while reading a script that basically says "I didn't rape that woman and I want my job back".

But what about the victim? Well she was moved from her home and family in North Wales, re-housed and given a new identity. She had become the target of vicious internet trolls. They have since discovered her new whereabouts and her new name and have outed her meaning that the authorities have had to give her a second new name and a second new location. She is still very young and at a time when she surely needs her family and friends around her her life has been thrown into chaos. It is as if she is being punished while her attacker - Evans, who has never once said sorry, expects to return to professional football.

The issue has been debated on radio and television as well as in the coffee bars and pubs of Sheffield and North Wales. You may already be able to tell where my sympathies lie for I have kept referring to Evans by his surname. He is usually known as Ched - Ched Evans. I feel for the victim and I am appalled that there are so many men who blindly believe that Evans should be allowed to lace up his boots again and run on to the pitch as if nothing had happened. Many imagine that the victim was "probably asking for it" and she got "what she deserved". I mean if a woman goes out in high heels and a short skirt then gets blind drunk, what can she expect?

If I were a young footballer getting ready for a training session, there is no way I would hang my clothes up next to the peg of a convicted rapist and there's no way I would want to pass the ball to him. Last night a fellow in our local pub suggested that men are the victims of women's protests when it comes to rape - all a woman has to do is to cry the word and the police will come running these days. But I said such cases were rare and it was much more common for women to suffer memories of rape in silence - fearing the consequences should they report their assaults.

Standing up against Evans is in my mind the equivalent of standing up for women. It is surely time to step forward into the light.

14 November 2014


Timothy Spall as Turner
On Wednesday afternoon, I went to The Showroom to see "Mr Turner" directed by Mike Leigh. It's about the last thirty years of the great English Romantic landscape painter and water colourist - Joseph Mallord William Turner. 

Born in Covent Garden London in 1775, Turner died in Chelsea in 1851. His father was a barber and wigmaker while his mother appears to have lost her mind after the death of Turner's sister and was committed to an asylum where she died years later.

The film does not set out to be an accurate biopic. It is a drama - an entertainment which draws on some of the things that are known or rumoured about Turner's life. The great artist is played by English character actor Timothy Spall who was asked by Mike Leigh to take up painting two years before filming of "Mr Turner" began. Spall is brilliant in this role. Rough and ready and somewhat piggish in his habits, he grunts and groans, spits at his paintings and rogers his housekeeper but throughout it all he reveals an all-consuming passion for his art.
We see several cinematic images of scenes that inspired some of Turner's best paintings such as " The Fighting Temeraire" (see above) - a warship that was broken up in 1839. This famous painting now resides in the National Gallery by Trafalgar Square.

Mike Leigh's portrayal of London and Margate in the first half of the nineteenth century is earthy and believable. People laugh and they fart. There are rotten teeth and thronging streets. Their clothes are not borrowed from the ITV costumes department - as if previously worn by the cast of "Downton Abbey" - they are lived in, and sometimes ill-fitting. Spall threatens to burst out of his waistcoat like Mr Creosote in "The Meaning of Life". At the Royal Academy - of which Turner was a tolerated member - there is snobbery and spitefulness, mocking laughter and pretence.

We get cameo appearances from Queen Victoria, John Constable, John Ruskin and other key figures from London life during those times but the film's focus is of course mainly upon J.M.W.Turner. We watch him being strapped to a ship's mast in order to experience a storm at sea and we witness his coughing and wheezing as he grows older and then dies before our eyes.

It is an unusual, fascinating and authentic film. One which I very much enjoyed and yet, and yet - perhaps it was because of the mood I was in - I felt that there was something missing and for the life of me I can't put my finger on it. It was really, really good but not quite in the category reserved for the great.

12 November 2014


Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Perhaps I am short-sighted, a modern day Luddite, an ostrich with his head buried deep in the sand but when I heard the news this evening that European robot probe Philae has made the first, historic landing on a comet, after descending from Rosetta - its mothership, I was not about to jump up and down with glee - even though this event happened three hundred million miles from Earth and is the culmination of twenty five years of ingenious technological and scientific team work.

At one level you certainly have to marvel at what the Rosetta team have achieved but the reason for my lukewarm response is that there is so much to do on our planet right now without pursuing sci-fi adventure fantasies in outer space. There are wars and conflicts to attend to. We have to find ways of halting or perhaps reversing  population growth. Our reliance on fossil fuels must be remedied somehow. We need to address the widening gulf between the world's have nots and its haves. We have got ebola and Islamic extremists, pollution and a polluted world banking system, child abusers and people traffickers, starvation and desertification, deforestation and diarrhoea - that scourge of infants in the so-called Third World. And another thing - as untold millions of euros, pounds and dollars have been pumped into this European Space Agency project, we still know so very little about our own oceans. These concerns are from the here and now not from some distant sci-fi fantasy world

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a lifeless lump of rock and yes - possibly ice. It has been flying through the universe for millennia and certainly does not hold the key to any of the matters I listed in the last paragraph. Getting to it has been an  indulgence for boffins - a huge scientific experiment financially underwritten by the European Union. That energy and that funding would, in my humble opinion, have been better directed elsewhere - to more earthly concerns. 

Why seek the stars when we can already see them sparkling?

11 November 2014


By the war memorial in Barker's Pool at eleven o'clock today
In the middle of Barker's Pool stands Sheffield's  unusual war memorial. It is a flag pole with the bronze statues of four soldiers at its base. Their heads are bowed. This year more citizens than usual assembled to show their respect for our war dead and to remember them at eleven o'clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month - Armistice Day. There was an unbroken two minute silence and we knew as we stood there that that silence was being replicated at thousands of memorials around the country - from St Agnes to Skaw and from Belleek to Lowestoft. 

And I thought of my paternal and maternal grandfathers - two men who didn't know each other but both fought at The Battle of the Somme. What things they must have witnessed! But like most who went to The Great War, they came home. In a sense, they are the forgotten ones. They do not belong to "The Glorious Dead" and I was thinking of them as I wrote this poem within the last hour...

Old Soldiers

For all the boys who came home
To those who could not weep
And those who could not sleep
Who trembled in dark bedrooms
Wincing at their demons
Their secret shame
Who yelled unreasonably at their kids
Fought  their frightened wives
Drank hard
Or retreated deep into themselves
Lost in no man's land alone
Who still heard the booming
Still smelled the awful gas
Shivered yet
In knee-deep mud
Twenty years past
Or thirty or more
Their names uncarved in Portland stone
We also give our thanks to you
The lucky ones
The boys who quietly came home.

9 November 2014


Some of  The Accrington Pals before The Battle of the Somme
Shirley and I stayed in darkest Lancashire last night and have survived to tell our story! Everything was in sepia. There were women in shawls and flat-capped men in clogs, their backs bent as they moved between satanic cotton mills and cramped rows of terraced houses. Their vowels were so rounded  that we could hardly understand what they were trying to say. That's Lancashire for you.
Typical housing in Lancashire - Burnley
We had travelled over the forbidden hills to watch Hull City play Burnley at their Turf Moor stadium. Their supporters huddled outside fish and chip shops and pubs, taking in their customary fuel before the match commenced. Sadly we lost by one goal to nil and I am starting to see challenging times ahead for my beloved Tigers. It was Burnley's first victory of the season.
Before the match at Turf Moor, Burnley
We stayed in a little guesthouse in Clayton-le-Moors, drank beer in "The Albion" and had a very good curry meal in the "Balti Stan " restaurant before rising this morning for a full English breakfast. After this, we drove into Accrington where I had planned that we would attend the town's Remembrance Day Service in Oak Hill Park..
Curry in "The Balti Stan"
Accrington is quite famous in Britain's long history of warfare. In late 1914, the town sought to recruit an entire battalion of volunteer soldiers who would become known as The Accrington Pals. They gathered with hope and with pride in their country and spent the next year training to go to war. It wasn't until the early morning of July 1st 1916 that The Accrington Pals entered that awful war.

That morning, the very first day of The Battle of the Somme, 584 Accrington men were slaughtered in their quest to take the German position at Serre. All that hope and all that national pride had ended in a hellish bloodbath on a day when 60,000 British troops in total died. 

Back in Accrington, when the terrible news broke, not one street was unaffected and of course everyone knew someone who had died. Curtains were drawn and there was much weeping and wailing. A generation of largely young men had gone. So much for hope and pride and so much  for benign and omnipotent deities. The killing of The Accrington Pals was emblematic, capturing in smallscale the entire nation's horror.

So we stood with the townsfolk, sang "Abide With Me" and observed two minutes' silence in the shadow of a magnificent cenotaph that was funded entirely by public subscription. An old soldier called Gordon collapsed and looked so still and grey that you thought he was dead but thankfully he recovered with the help of St John's Ambulance folk. He had come to pay his respects to The Accrington Pals and all the other young men and women who lost their lives in these seemingly endless wars. 
Old navy man waiting to place his wreath on the cenotaph
Female figure on Accrington Cenotaph
Lest we forget.

6 November 2014


"Mummy! Who's that funny man over there?...Mummy! He's got a camera. What's he doing Mummy?"
"Avert your eyes my little one for that is The Bogeyman!"
"But Mummy, why does The Bogeyman look like a great big Yorkshire Pudding?"

So here I am in the churchyard of St Alban's in Wickersley once a remote village and stopover between the medieval town of Rotherham and  Roche Abbey - an influential Cistercian outpost for four hundred years...
And here's "The Masons Arms" in Wickersley...
Now The Bogeyman is walking across fields near Ravenfield...
And this impressive facade is in Hellaby. It's a seventeenth century manor house that would once have stood in extensive parkland but now has two busy industrial estates as its neighbours and is itself merely part of a large modern hotel that the photographer has sneakily excluded...
On Monday I was south of Chesterfield. This little boat house is on The Great Pond of Stubbing...
This is an artificial lake in Wingerworth. It is known as Wingerworth Lido... Here I met a keen angler who informed me that there were 152 individual carp fish in the lake and he has patiently caught 141 of them. Apparently they each have their own names, supplied by regular anglers...including Chalky White, Plaggy Bag and Brian....
I saw this stone picture frame by the back entrance to Stubbing Court, once called Stubbing Hall...
And specially for Mr R. Brague and any other religious visitors to this blog, here is The Salem Independent Chapel in the parish of Wingerworth. It was opened in 1849 to serve the local agricultural community...