30 August 2015


Though I am an orphan of long standing, I sometimes experience a strong urge to speak with my parents. Dad died of a heart attack in 1979 and Mum died in an old folks' home in 2007. They were both good people and I loved them dearly as they loved me. It was mutual and natural but when I reached the lofty plateau of adulthood my relationships with them evolved beyond the loving condescension and forebearance that colours parenting in the early years. We were now much more equal and could talk together as sentient adults.

Dad was still alive when I began my teaching career. He was the headmaster of our local village primary school and enormously proud that one of his sons had followed in his professional footsteps. When the going got tough during my vocational baptism of fire at Dinnington Comprehensive School on Doe Quarry Lane, Dinnington, Dad was there to listen and to proffer advice. He gave me several useful tips even though there was a world of difference between a sweet country primary school and a secondary school in a tough mining village that accommodated over two thousand pupils.

He also taught me about growing vegetables and working with wood and he took me to my first ever Hull City football  match and he bought me my first ever bell bottom trousers and let me wear one of his old rugby shirts when I was a part-time hippy.

Mum's early journey through life was very difficult. At the age of eleven she was more or less abandoned by her hapless parents and had to walk four miles to my great grandparents' humble terraced house in Rawmarsh, holding her brother's hand. And there she lived till she was nineteen. Inspired by  a recruitment notice in 1940, she signed up with the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Airforce) and was soon posted to India where she met Dad who had left teaching the moment that war broke out to join the Royal Airforce as a meteorologist.

Mum was always on my side. No shrinking violet, she had a combative spirit. It is sometimes said that the English characteristically hide their true feelings, living in a nether world of coded messages and politeness. But that was never true of Mum. Though enormously kind, when anybody crossed her or behaved stupidly or arrogantly they met her unbridled wrath like a full broadside from "HMS Victory". She said what she meant and meant what she said.

She often said that when I was three years old I came downstairs one evening and said "Mummy can you teach me to read?" I sat on her knee for an hour or so and she taught me the rudiments of reading. After that I hardly needed any further instruction. Before going to school I could read quite fluently and was way ahead of my five year old peers when I finally joined Miss Readhead's infant class. So much for the car sticker - "If you can read this thank a teacher"!

As an adult, I could talk to Mum about relationships, politics, injustice, cooking, antiques, wallpapering, village matters, memories and our shared loathing of Margaret Thatcher and all that she stood for. When times were tough she was there at the end of the phone (Mum not Thatcher!) or in person  to listen and reply. She was a very empathetic person and it was so nice to know she was there for me.

It's not easy being an orphan. Though it is thirty six years since Dad died and eight years since Mum left us, if I close my eyes I can still hear the sound of their voices. But there is no conversation any more. There are things I want to say to them both but the words seem to shrivel inside me and turn to dust. It is so frustrating and so unfair.

29 August 2015


More pictures from my Thursday walk west of Wakefield. Please click to enlarge:-
View to Ossett from Netherton
 South of Middlestown
Disused phone box - Middlestown
The River Calder at Horbury Bridge
Horbury Bridge - "Onward Christian Soldiers"
St Peter and St Leonard's, Horbury 
Trotting through Horbury
Weir on the Calder at Horbury Junction
That corridor again
 Above and below - Broad Cut on the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal.
"The Star Inn", Netherton
That's All Folks!

28 August 2015


Above - a rather eerie walkway over The River Calder at Horbury Junction west of Wakefield. It is an integral part of the girdered railway bridge that crosses the river at this point. To me it looks as if it would be an ideal venue for a physical assault or a music video but the still photograph suggests the cover of a novel - perhaps "1984" by George Orwell.

I took over a hundred photos yesterday as I strolled out of Netherton towards Middlestown then up to Horbury Bridge and Ossett before curving back through Horbury towards Calder Grove. It was all virgin territory to me - just west of the M1 motorway. At Horbury Bridge between the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal and the River Calder itself, I spotted this fine public house - "The Bingley Arms". Naturally I thought of John Gray's recently departed old turkey over at "Going Gently" and that is why I have included this picture. Rest in peace Bingley - now gobbling in heaven.

26 August 2015


YouTube can be very helpful with regard to DIY jobs. There are thousands of short videos covering activities like wallpapering, tiling a bathroom, laying concrete etcetera. Studying them can provide helpful tips to make one's own attempts at DIY more successful.

Now over the last month I have been in DIY mode as I have sought to attend to various practical matters at our son's terraced house in Sheffield 2, near Sheffield United's football ground. Yesterday I set about sealing the edges of the bath with white silicone. It is a job I have undertaken before and it always ends up unpleasantly with silicone all over my hands and my stress level rising like the pressure gauge on a steam train.

Consequently, before returning to the house for the umpteenth time I checked out a few YouTube videos about sealing baths. A great tip I picked up was about using parallel lengths of masking tape near the joint to avoid getting the silicone on to the bath or the surrounding tiles.

I came across two Australian videos. Previously, I had thought of Australians as carefree, "can do" people with a healthy disrespect for authority and rules but watching the two videos rather altered that perception.

To remove the hard plastic top of the silicone tube, one DIY instructor donned safety gloves before taking her sharp "Stanley" knife to do the one second job. Why she held the tube in mid air I have no idea. In the other video, the fellow put safety glasses on before squeezing the silicone round the edge of the bath. Safety glasses! Was he planning to squeeze the stuff into his eyeballs? He also wore gloves when using the silicone gun (see picture).

Safety is usually a good thing. It is best not to drive the wrong way along a motorway. When scaling ladders it is best to have a heavy human being at the bottom and on building sites it is surely wise to wear hard hats. However, wearing gloves to sever a plastic top and putting on safety glasses before using a silicone gun seem very much OTT (over the top). Perhaps the pioneering Aussie spirit is transmuting into self-absorbed safety consciousness. No wonder my favourite Aussie blogging ladies have been  yelling at me not to climb the ladders! But I am Yorkshire and we are brave. I shall go up!

25 August 2015


Have you ever climbed high up a ladder? Perhaps I should change that question to - Have you ever climbed high up a ladder to do some work? It's not the nicest thing. To be thirty or forty feet above the ground holding a paint pot and a brush or leaning over a gutter to clean out leaves. It can give you the heebie geebies.

When we lived on Leamington Street in the Crookes area of Sheffield, I clubbed together with some young neighbours to buy a pair of extending aluminium ladders. The first job I planned was to paint the pebbledashed rendering on the front of the house. We weren't happy with the original pale pinky colour and decided to turn it a deep brick red. 

This was the very first time I ever worked up a ladder and I can tell you that when I reached the guttering to dab away at the rendering beneath I was almost frozen with terror but gradually my confidence grew and before too many days had passed I was scaling those ladders like a seasoned fireman. 

Soon after we left Leamington Street, I heard that a fellow who lived round the corner on Warwick Street had fallen from his ladder while painting and was now wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. My own brother - Paul fell about twelve feet from a ladder whilst at work in his mid-fifties and broke his hip. I believe that the complications with blood clots caused by that fall may well have killed him a few years later. 

We moved into our current house twenty six years ago - hell, it seems like yesterday! Soon after moving in I opened up the front room fireplace to discover the original 1925 fire behind - still intact! We could have coal and log fires! But one problem. The chimney had been capped.

Instead of paying somebody to do the job, I hired a roof ladder and hoisted it up to the eaves. Then I pushed it on its handy little wheels right over the ridge tiles before somehow clambering over the wooden guttering to get on our roof and up to the chimney. When I think of it now it makes me deduce that  I must have been stark raving mad. The neighbours were out watching the daredevil lunatic and I was determined not to have wasted my money on hiring that roof ladder. I took the cap off the chimney and five minutes later I was back at ground level. Job done. Disappointed neighbours retreating indoors.

I was much younger then. In six weeks time I will be an old geezer of sixty two. Maybe I shouldn't be going up ladders any more but at the weekend I was up those same aluminium ladders at our son's house near the Bramall Lane football ground painting the messy cement rendering at the back of the house white. I found myself getting higher and higher till there is now only about a metre more to do under the wooden guttering.

Surely I can do it - just three more rungs up the bouncy ladder but I must have somebody at ground level standing on the bottom rung. Shirley will be at work. Any volunteers? This may be my last post. Gulp!

23 August 2015


As you may recall, over at the geograph website, my winning picture of Fred Fox earned me the privilege of picking the winning photo from the Week 32 shortlist. 

In bronze medal position I chose this summery picture from North Yorkshire. A dog walker is ambling along an old railway track, heading to Fylingthorpe. The photo was submitted by Steven Ruffles:-
In silver medal position I picked this clever coastal reflection from Nairn in north east Scotland. I liked the milkiness of the colouring and the fact that we do not see the Victorian seaside villa - just its reflection. The picture was composed by Mick Garratt:-
In gold medal position and therefore my "picture of the week" came this almost surreal picture of a fish. It was taken by The Covesea Skerries near Lossiemouth, also in north eastern Scotland. The fish is a Cuckoo Wrasse and I admired the way the fish's blue markings were echoed in the marine background. It was taken by Des Colhoun:-
Kiss me mama!

22 August 2015


Once, the island of Britain was connected to mainland Europe. This was after the last Ice Age during the Mesolithic Period when the world's sea levels were significantly lower than they are today. Between what is now the east coast of England and  The Netherlands and the North Sea coasts of Germany and Denmark there were fertile plains, forests, meandering rivers, marshes and lakes.

Birds were as plentiful as the animals that roamed there for some six thousand years, until sea levels rose and a mighty tsunami caused by a huge landslip in Norway finally saw Britain cut off from the rest of the continent.

That lost land is now known as Doggerland. It lies beneath The North Sea and part of it is called The Dogger Bank which remained as a low-lying island long after the Norwegian tsunami turned Britain into an island.

Fishing trawlers from Hull, Grimsby and other east coast ports have frequently dredged up evidence of Doggerland's existence - tree stumps, animal bones, antlers, peat, seed pods and long-buried insects though of course we must remember that fishing boats are not archaeological survey vessels and so much precious evidence of the lost land bridge was simply cast back into the water, unrecorded.

In the Mesolithic Period (10,000 to 4500BC) the world's population was tiny, growing from an estimated one million in 10,000BC to around eight million by the end of the Mesolithic age. Some of these people inhabited Doggerland. They hunted and they gathered - mostly nomadic but occasionally setting up more permanent encampments where they may have even undertaken rudimentary forms of farming. I neglected to mention that the fishing trawlers also dragged up a small number of primitive stone tools - arrowheads, axe heads and even personal adornments - proof that Doggerland was indeed inhabited.

How I would love to go back to Doggerland for just one day. To walk upon its beaches, to follow its rivers and then in the hinterland to crouch upon a hillock, hidden by greenery, looking down upon a group of our ancestors, seeing the smoke rising from their fire, watching their activities at the end of the day - hearing their laughter and their singing. I cannot believe that they were grunting neanderthals with clubs in their hands. Though they couldn't see the future they were living life just like us. Food and shelter would have been the main preocupations but there would have also been time for dreams and memories, practical jokes and tears.

When I was a child, English people spoke of "visiting the continent" and by "continent" they meant Europe as if Britain somehow did not belong to Europe. But the ghosts of Doggerland confirm our belonging. Though separate we belong.

19 August 2015


Over at the Geograph website, there is a weekly photo competition. First of all, a shortlist of photos submitted the previous week is drawn up and then the last winner gets to whittle down the list and select the new winner. This year several of my pictures have been shortlisted but alas no winning photo until yesterday!

In Week 31 a total of  6269 images were submitted to Geograph but this was the picture that came out on top:-

Yes folks, it is my vulpine friend Fred in our garden, backlit by evening sunshine.

Hundreds of Geograph contributors will look at this picture while Fred himself skulks in the shrubberies or sniffs around the dustbins, totally unaware that he is fast becoming a star - one of England's most famous urban foxes.

To reward him for being the subject of my winning picture I gave him something called "chub" last evening. It's like an enormous flesh-coloured sausage and is mainly made from tripe. I wouldn't recommend it for your dinner table.

By the way, Fred is limping quite badly again and there's a big bald patch near his back end as if he has been trying to scratch away irritating parasites. He is not in a good condition but I sense his strong Yorkshire spirit and hope he will survive another winter. Even though my actions may be somehow "against nature" I shall from time to time continue to supplement the food he manages to scavenge. After all, without Fred I wouldn't have been the Week 31 Geograph winner.

18 August 2015


See how this woman's eyebrow make-over has utterly changed her appearance.
A plain and unattractive lass has been turned into a raving beauty.
On Sheffield's trendy Ecclesall Road - sometimes known as The Golden Mile - there's a new salon called "The Brow Lounge". Its focus is, as the name suggests, not upon hair or make-up but specifically eyebrows! 

Astonishing? Well maybe not. For a couple of years I have begun to notice unnaturally trimmed and shaped eyebrows - mostly on young women who seem to have endless hours to devote to  the business of beautification. You know the drill - fake tans, lipstick, eyeshadow, hair colour and eyebrows that look as if they have been created by a caricaturist!

About ten years ago my eyebrows were trimmed for the very first time. I had just had a haircut and the lady barber asked if she could trim my brows. It was most embarrassing and I probably blushed as I insisted that she didn't leave me with a bald brow. Since then I guess my eyebrows have been trimmed three or four more times though my daughter Frances often has a dig at me about my brows. The way she goes on you'd think they were shading my eyes like beaded curtains at a kitchen door.

The founder of "The Brow Lounge" is a young woman called Katie Fa-rey. Notice the stylish hyphen like a single eyebrow. I wonder if it is an affectation, breaking up the name Farey or is it a double-barreled surname? Perhaps her mother is Miss Fa and her father is Mr Rey. Heaven knows.

This is from "The Brow Lounge" website:-

We create brows and lashes to suit each individual which is why, Katie Fa-rey, known as the “Brow Queen” of Sheffield, has perfected the skill of eyebrow shaping and instant natural looking lashes.  Katie represents HD Brows at the highest level and is a qualified HD Brows Master Stylist and exclusive stockist of the recently launched HD Brows range of Make-up.

Notice that they create brows and lashes! I don't know about you but I was born with two brows and two sets of eyelashes. Nobody created them for me. They just grew - even as I was curled up in my mother's belly wondering what life might hold for me beyond the womb.

So, given the tone of this post, you will surely have already guessed that I won't be visiting "The Brow Lounge" for an eyebrow make-over any time soon. To tell you the truth, I pity people who spend their money in such establishments. There are surely many better, more worthy and less selfish things to spend money on than your ruddy eyebrows! What do you think?

16 August 2015


When I secured my first teaching post in South Yorkshire, I lived with a senior teacher for four months - in the North Nottinghamshire village of Carlton in Lindrick. Yesterday, I went back there for the first time in thirty seven years and you know what, it felt as if I had never really lived there at all. Though I remember weekend drinks in "The Sherwood Ranger" public house, I didn't know there were other pubs in Carlton.
Back then I never visited the beautiful and very ancient parish church and I didn't ramble along the various paths that radiate out from the village. I didn't know there was a village pond and a lake. It is really a very nice place and yet for years I have associated it with my first year of "proper" teaching in a "proper" comprehensive school. Carlton in Lindrick meant a cold house shared with a forty something bachelor called Bob whose interest in boys was not entirely schoolmasterly. It was where I marked books and prepared lessons late at night - trying to stop the job from drowning me. They were some of the most lonesome and challenging days of my life. Every morning the alarm clock went  telling me that yet another day of lessons and unadulterated hassle lay ahead. I was a hamster on a wheel that wouldn't stop. Surely that couldn't be life, could it?

Okay. I will stop digging into the dim and distant past. Yesterday I parked near the village pond and plodded off in the direction of Hodsock Priory. Onwards towards Forest Farm but the track, which mapping says leads down to the A1 (major road), was blocked off and overgrown. Access was impossible so this caused me a two mile detour, retracing my steps to Hodsock Lane. Most annoying and a very rare discovery.

To Spittal Farm then over the A1 to the village of Torworth which stands on what was once The Great North Road - the forerunner of the A1 which begins in London and finishes in Edinburgh. I bought a "99" ice cream in Torworth from a Manfredi ice cream van and then I continued along Billy Button Lane, past Beech Farm and back to the A1 which I dashed across as murderous vehicles approached at breakneck speed. Phew! It was a relief to get across safely.

Then to Bilby and onwards to Thievesdale Lane, passing several plantations and the site of an old World War II runway. Turning back to Wigthorpe then down Liquorice Lane and back to South Carlton where I  briefly perused the old church. I had been walking for six solid hours by this time with only one sit-down break to guzzle a bottle of water and to chomp upon a juicy apple.

Soon I was back at the car and ready for the forty minute drive back to Sheffield for a meal of fish cakes with lemon wedges and tartare sauce, garden peas and baby potatoes.

It was on this long walk that I thought of the word "hinterland" and recalled glimpses of early 1978 - Bob and his VW Beetle, the slag heap by Dinnington Pit - which was still operational in those days, schoolboys huddling behind my terrapin classroom under a blue fog of cigarette smoke, Mr Lakeland - the Head of English with scattergraphs based on exam results that would determine a pupil's streamed class position in the next school year. The very idea of mixed ability teaching seemed like an anathema to him and I seemed to have somehow landed back in the nineteen fifties. How good it was the next summer to attend a course in Cambridge run by Her Majesty's Inspectorate - "English for Average and Less Able Pupils". It proved that Mr Lakeland - perhaps like Dinnington itself - was trapped in an educational  time warp. At least, that is how it seemed at the time.
Please  click on images to enlarge

15 August 2015


Hinterland. As I was rambling through the north Nottinghamshire countryside this afternoon, that word popped into my head. It is a word I have liked since I first heard it and began to understand what it means. Hinterland sounds like Winterland but that is co-incidental.

The hinterland is the heart of a region, a continent, a country, a state. It is where you will probably find the essence of that geographical area. Perhaps it is where you will find its heartbeat - its industry, its fullest expressions of culture, its mountains. It is the core, the centre. Reality is surely to be found in the hinterland.
Figuratively, you can use "hinterland" in other, more obtuse ways. Inside all of us there is a "hinterland" - like a geographical heart. Where we keep our secrets and our deepest thoughts and feelings. Others may be unaware of what lies beneath the surface but it's there, deep in the hinterland of who we really are.

A long novel may have a hinterland. So too a century, a marriage, a period of history, a relationship, a life. It could be mysterious, difficult to define but it's always there, behind the edges and frequently unsung and quiet, like the earth beneath our feet or the gaps between the stars.

...And there were other words and thoughts and memories on my long Nottinghamshire ramble - as if the rhythm of my footsteps was drawing them to the surface like fishes but I won't bother you with those other things, not today anyway.

13 August 2015


EXAMPLE A   Interviewer: What drew you to astronomy in the first place?
Interviewee: So, it was when I was little and I first looked through my grandfather's telescope.

EXAMPLE B  Interviewer: Could you tell the listeners about your trip to Italy?
Interviewee: So we landed at the airport in Pisa on the Saturday morning.

Personally, I do not use "so" at the beginning of utterances. I never have and never will but in the last couple of years I have noticed a growing tendency for folk  to begin responses or remarks with that word. It has, I think,  become an affectation in modern conversation - especially amongst those who though reasonably well-educated still want to prove points and somehow nourish their self-importance. I hear it quite a lot in BBC interviews.

Of course we all throw random and redundant words into our talk. They create pauses for thought or help to steady confidence - erm, do you know what I mean? It's like, you know. Okay. Errr..People do not speak like books and the grammar of everyday talk is quite different from the grammar we encounter in effective writing.

Nevertheless, the modern use of "So" at the start of responses has irritated me for a while. I wondered if it bothered other people too and felt far less conspicuous in my pedantry when I came across these comments in Dictionary.com on the use of "So":-

I’m so glad to find this discussion! I HATE this new trend of using “so” to begin an answer to a question. It’s lazy and incredibly annoying. - Colleen

Whenever somebody says “so…” I promptly sing, “a needle pulling thread.” - Matt Butts

Every time someone begins a conversation with “so”, I feel confused, because it seems like I missed something, or that they began the conversation in their heads and they vocalised it in the middle of it. Also it has a complacent aura. - Kaelian

My observation is that “so” could be dispensed with when used as an introductory, as has become quite common in modern speech in the U.S.. It adds nothing to the sentence that I can detect.Take a sample of sentences that use it, then remove “so” and see if you can detect any loss of information. - Frank Haynes

The thing that annoys me is not just using “so” at the beginning of a sentence, but using it when it is not a continuation of something previously stated. I see Facebook posts all the time which stated something to the effect of “So I was driving to work today and….” I want to respond to those something like “Can you please fill me in on what happened before? Since you started with “so”, I assume that you are continuing a story.” The bottom line is that “so” should NOT be the first word in a totally new subject/thought. - Jack

Recently I noticed acting CIA honcho Michael Morrell using this “So” sentence starter often in interviews and in testimony before Congress. It is an affectation in my opinion, very off-putting and, although it may not be intended, it is a very condescending way of speaking. It is a head-fake that gives you the impression that the speaker is continuing a thought when in fact they are starting off a thought. - Joey12345

What a relief! I am not alone in my aversion to "So" as a starter. Forget about national debts, the rise of The Islamic State (Hi guys!), boat people in the Mediterranean, explosions in Chinese ports, Russian interference in Ukraine, the rise of Donald Trump etcetera - what really matters with regard to the progress of civilisation is our gathering campaign to crush the misuse of "So". Join us! Stamp out the "So" twerps!  Make them see the error of their ways! 

12 August 2015


We have received another report from the dark heart of Yorkshire where Sir Cedric Pudding, sponsored by The Royal Geographical Society,  bravely continues his exploration of the mysterious continent. On his intrepid journey, he has crossed rivers, climbed lofty hills, battled through luxuriant vegetation, seen off all manner of barking hounds, shooed away herds of dangerous bovine beasts and consorted with hostile natives.
Hoyland Hall, High Hoyland
"It was last Saturday when I set out for the remote hill village of High Hoyland where I tethered my faithful donkey by a magnificent early eighteenth century hall. It was a hot summer's day and many High Hoylanders were outside engaging in their native customs.
Bretton Hall seen across a sugar beet field  befriended by poppies
Avoiding possible confrontation, I diverted in a northerly direction towards the estate of Bretton Hall, thence to the hamlet of Haigh where a rosy-cheeked milkmaid of ample bosom gave me a beaker of milk fresh from the dairy. Fearing ulterior motivation, I quickly crossed under the M1 Motorway and followed the banks of the babbling River Dearne all the way to the settlement of Darton. To my great relief yon lusty milkmaid had not pursued me.
Cottage in the hamlet of Haigh
Church bells were ringing to announce the nuptials of a Dartonesque couple at All Saints Church - built in 1150. Not wishing to be swept along by the emotionally charged wedding party, I instead headed back across the motorway into Kexbrough, pausing for sustenance at a primitive roadside market place known as "Spar". There I purchased a "Gray" brand scotch egg and a local brew made from the kola and coca plants and presented in a tin.
Wedding Day at Darton.
"If it's too tight we can easily loosen the stays on your corset Carol!"
Onwards towards Cawthorne but I didn't dare to venture into the cannibalistic village itself. Instead I tiptoed by Cinder Hill Farm before turning north through Margery Wood. Though sunlight pierced the canopy, leafy shadows remained and my imagination was filled with visions of murder and milkmaids wielding three-legged stools. 
Cricket at Darton Cricket Club
Emerging from those arboreal nether regions, I returned to fierce sunlight in which  High Hoylanders were harvesting their humble cornfields - no doubt already considering the forthcoming privations of wintertime. Back at Hoyland Hall, my trusty steed Donny was waiting but I noticed a handwritten parking ticket roughly attached to his bridle - issued in the name of Lord Wentworth. A fine of two guineas was demanded and a further three shillings for leaving a pile of donkey excrement on the queen's highway.

Glancing furtively about me, I knew it was time to retreat to my safe encampment in Sheffield. I mounted Donny and slapped his rump. We were off."
Harvesting at High Hoyland

9 August 2015


A hush descends on Trelawnyd Village Hall as prize-winning photographer Sir Cedric Yorkshire-Pudding coughs to steady his nerves. It is the first time he has been back to Wales since his quaint holiday cottage in Rhyl was torched by The Sons of Glendower and he is very conscious of his Englishness. All eyes are upon him but he finds the penetrating stare of Aunty Gladys especially unnerving.

"It is with humility and gratitude that I accept first prize in the flower show's world famous photographic competition - "Relaxation" section. The award is a tremendous honour and one that I did not expect in my wildest dreams..."

Aunt Gladys harrumphs and exits the hall mumbling curses in  Welsh.

"...I should like to thank various people including Steven Sasson the inventor of digital photography, Johnny Gray The Trelawnyd Flower Show Secretary who encouraged me to enter the competition, my parents for skilfully conceiving me in the harsh winter of 1953, the people of Trelawnyd for vigorously supporting the Annual Flower Show and the subject of my winning photograph - an Italian vagrant who I spotted snoozing in a sunlit back street in Venice in October 2006. Lord knows where he is now. Probably at the bottom of The Grand Canal. Thank you my friends. Thank you!"

There is much foot stomping and  thunderous applause and then The Mayor of Trelawnyd Professor C. Gonefora-Burton presents Sir Cedric with the keys to a brand new VW Golf - courtesy of North Wales Volkswagen, Llandudno Junction. The paparazzi are invited to the front of the stage for an exclusive photo shoot and Sir Cedric grins like a laughing horse.
My winning photo - Trelawnyd Flower Show 2015

8 August 2015


Just about every woman who has ever figured in my life has been accompanied by a handbag. Old Nana Morris had one, Daughter Frances has one, Shirley has one, my female teaching colleagues all had handbags and my mother had one. Actually, I am lying. None of them had just one handbag. Oh no. They each owned or still own several.

As a very young boy, I was often drawn to my mother's handbag. You never knew what you might find in there. Stray boiled sweets, "Polo" mints, chewing gum, salted peanuts. But I noticed other things too. The smell of face powder and perfume. A comb, a brush, a manicure set, a diary, a bus timetable, tissues, newspaper cuttings, buttons, an emergency sewing kit and other stuff I can't remember. Her handbag bulged and it weighed as much as a chubby baby.

One of the down sides of being a loyal husband is that you sometimes find yourself temporarily holding your darling wife's handbag. This happened to me just the other day when Shirley had to try on a new item of clothing. As usual I felt like a complete berk but I was struck by the weight of said item and exclaimed, "What the hell have you got in here? A couple of house bricks?"

As a butch Yorkshireman whose veins throb with high concentrations of raw testosterone, I have never had a handbag of my own. Yet I have been thinking... Perhaps it is about time that men also carried handbags. It would be a way of expressing our continuing support for women's liberation and our belief in equality.

My handbag would be made from the bristly hide of a violent wild boar. Its tusks would be the handles and I would have "Pudding's Handbag. KEEP OUT!" tattooed on the side. But the main difficulty would be finding stuff to put inside my macho handbag. Currently I carry four things in my pockets - my wallet, some coins, a handkerchief and my keys. I don't need anything else when I step outside our house. Perhaps I'll have to put other items in the bag just to fill it up - a Swiss army knife, a truncheon, an American taser device, an emergency bottle of "Tetley" beer, a toilet roll, a pack of mini sausage rolls and a framed picture of Ken Wagstaff, the legendary Hull City striker.

How have I lived these past sixty one years without a handbag of my own?

7 August 2015


Feeding Advice for Urban Foxes

We urban foxes have numerous possible food sources. Dustbins and wheelie bins are of course a rich traditional source of nutrition for the vulpine community as our human neighbours throw away a lot of perfectly edible food. We can also scavenge behind supermarkets and other food shops where so much tasty stuff is thrown away day after day.

Fresh food is of course highly desirable. I have lost count of the number of chickens I have liberated from wire mesh hen runs. My favourite wild bird is a big fat wood pigeon. Delicious and relatively easy to catch if you are as cunning as I am. You hide in the shadows of a bush and then pounce quickly upon the stupid pigeon from behind. I have also been known to sink my teeth into unsuspecting pet cats but am not fond of fur or their needle-like talons.

Recently I have been developing a new technique in which I have targeted a particular middle aged couple whose cubs have gone. They occupy a semi-detached house in the southern suburbs of Sheffield and have a big rambling garden at the rear. At approximately six o' clock each evening, I lie on their lawn and wait till I see one of them at their kitchen window.

At this point I stand up and look directly at them, tilting my head appealingly  to one side. I make my eyes as soulful as possible and let my tongue loll from my bottom jaw as if to say "Please feed me! I'm starving!" It took a few days for my plan to work but after a while they got my message and they are now well-trained.
The bloke now even buys me dog food from the supermarket! When he opens the kitchen door and steps out into the garden, I pretend that I am a bit nervous and tiptoe behind the bracken. He puts the food on the lawn and returns indoors. Then I step out of my hiding place and gobble up whatever has been left for me. If I have already eaten, I take the food away to my various hiding places. After all, it is always nice to have a midnight supper!

If you are patient and follow my method you will establish a reliable food source that will see you through the hard days of winter. Humans are very gullible and so with just a little foxy behaviour it is easy to manipulate them. However, you must choose the humans you target with extreme care as a few  of them have a peculiar aversion to foxes. They are known as vulpophobics and might charge at you frothing at the mouth with a garden fork clasped in their hands.

Best wishes,
Fred Fox

6 August 2015


Carol in Monaco, 1991
She has gone. I only "knew" her in the online, blogging world but I still feel a genuine sense of loss. I "met" her in February last year but very quickly we "clicked". There was mischief between us.

She was only fifty one years old and she died at the hands of the beast we call Cancer. Her exotic blogging name was Molly Printemps but her real name was Carol Harrison. She lived in the village of South Cave just west of Hull with her husband Roger who she referred to as Roberto in her blog. It was only late last summer that they enjoyed a wonderful Mediterranean cruise together.

The last post she penned included a photo of a Camelia plant flowering in her garden. That was on April 6th. The next post, dated Monday August 3rd is actually by her sister Katy and is titled lovingly "Once upon a time...".  A hearfelt poem follows crafted by a sister who is not naturally one for making poems. Earlier this evening, I left this comment:-

Oh no! Oh no! I am so shocked that Carol has left the stage. I kept coming back to her "Camelia" post and wondering when she would get round to creating another blogpost. Connecting with her through blogging was fun and in a way I am glad that I didn't know she was fighting cancer. That would have impacted on our online mischief.

Katy's poem in memory of her sister is a lovely way of saying goodbye - like carving a love heart on a tree.

Farewell Molly Printemps! Farewell Carol Harrison! I send my sincere condolences to Roger and to Katy and to all who counted Carol as a friend in real life.

Love from
Neil in Sheffield (Yorkshire Pudding)

Later on, just before I began to write this post, Katy responded:-

Thank you YP, You made her laugh....a lot. She did love a bit of mischief and you certainly connected from that point of view. Not being a writer, the poem was pretty tough to do, an emotional nightmare anyway, but I could hear her shouting about my spelling and grammar, which she did to me frequently. I started deliberately misspelling in emails to her a few years ago, which I'm sure drove her nuts at first, but she said nothing and started doing it back to me, so bad that even I new it was misspelled. Thank you for keeping her laughing all the way. Katy x (Roberto Printemp and the rest of the family)

If you are reading this, I bid you a fond farewell Molly Printemps or Carol or maybe simply - Jock! Night-night!