31 May 2015


A wily old dog fox called Fred
Lounged on a garden shed -
Surveying the greenery,
South Sheffield scenery
And the pigeons that flew overhead.

Fred the old dog fox becomes more brazen with each passing week. Yesterday morning, Shirley came bounding back upstairs to disturb her slumbering master in a state of great excitement. I thought my luck was in or perhaps we had won the National Lottery, but no, she needed to tell me that Fred Fox was sunning himself on the roof of a neighbour's shed.

Leaving my unfinished dream of a weekend in a Swedish cabin with Ulrika Jonsson behind, I bounded downstairs in my birthday suit to retrieve my camera, not expecting to find the local vicar at the bottom of our staircase. Fortunately, he wasn't.

Back in the bedroom, I flung back the curtains. Jill next door was putting out her washing and had an unexpected and may I say rather pleasant surprise when she looked up. I waved at her as she scurried back inside clutching her peg bag.

Then I snapped these fresh  pictures of Fred Fox:-
During Saturday, I did quite a lot of garden work before watching the FA Cup Final on television - live from Wembley Stadium. I left my Bosch lawnmower out on the grass  next to two thick foam mats I use when kneeling down. After the game had finished, I went into the kitchen to make the evening meal and there was Fred Fox lying next to the lawnmower atop my kneeling mats. Now that  really is "taking the piss" as less cultured bloggers might observe.

29 May 2015


There was an old man called Sepp Blatter
To whom football just didn't matter
As long as his crime
Through the fullness of time
Made his thick FIFA wallet grow fatter.

27 May 2015


By The River Derwent in Coppice Wood
The weather forecasters got it right on Tuesday afternoon. Grey skies gave way to sunshine. After visiting my desperate friend Higgy to deliver eight cans of "Red Stripe" lager and a "Guardian" newspaper, I set off for the Derbyshire village of Grindleford - just six miles from home. It was 5pm when I got there.
Scratching post
I parked up in the recreation ground car park, donned my trusty boots and crossed the village's old stone bridge over The River Derwent. Then keeping to the river bank, I set off along the edge of sheep pastures to Coppice Wood. The lambs are growing fat now as they munch on sweet spring grass.

In Coppice Wood I reached a junction of paths and headed up towards Grindleford Station. Just after the railway bridge I saw a wonderful carpet of bluebells in ground that must have been cleared a couple of years back. This was on the edge of Rough Wood which was magical in the late afternoon sunshine. The six o'clock train from Hathersage flashed past on the nearby track - heading to Sheffield via Totley Tunnel.

The eye of an old stone gatepost near Grindleford
Then I turned left on the path that leads to Kettle House where a white horse and a little black one were feeding on a bundle of dry hay that their owner had just delivered. Back under the Hope Valley railway line and along to a farmhouse called Harper Lees. But no mockingbirds there. Some sheep were using an old stone gatepost as a scratching place. It must be infuriating not having fingers to scratch with.

Then along through more sheep pastures and back to Coppice Wood. Along the riverside I noticed pied wagtails flitting from rock to rock and a yellowy coloured bird that I couldn't immediately identify and there were wild ducks too - swimming against the current.

Back through the pastures to Grindleford. A two and a half hour ramble punctuated only by photo opportunities and by the time I got back to Sheffield, Shirley was still not home from her "super late" shift at the medical centre. I am finding that if I don't get regular walks in, it's like missing a "fix" so the Grindleford walk was probably essential for my spiritual well-being as I hadn't been out and about since last Thursday when I wandered around Darfield, Thurnscoe and Great Houghton - once the very heart of The South Yorkshire Coalfield.
A carpet of bluebells near Rough Wood. This photograph has not been touched up in any way
Old cast iron footpath sign in Grindleford
Harper Lees
At Kettle House
Derwent Valley View

26 May 2015


DIY. Not Lady Diana, The Queen of Hearts but DIY as in Do It Yourself.

This semi-detached house we inhabit in the south western suburbs of Sheffield was built in 1925. It may have been the first owner who had an obsession with embedding old bricks and stones in the garden. I have dug up hundreds of them over the years.

But just beyond our decking, there was a strip of the garden that I had never properly tackled. Grass had overgrown what had once been a rough little path. I could tell this simply by pronging my garden fork down to the hard stuff that lay just beneath the surface. It was in my mind to do something about this area last summer but I had a knee injury and it wouldn't have been wise to do too much kneeling.

However, recently I have been feeling as fit as a butcher's dog - no knee problems - and with oodles of motivation in my fuel tank, I felt ready to begin the little garden project.

With the aid of a pick axe and sledge hammer, I removed all the stones from beneath the surface. To be carried away, a few of them would have needed two men. Lord knows what they once were but the cut marks speak of far distant times. Stone endures and it tends to get recycled so that if they could speak old stones would have fascinating stories to tell. Those stones I lifted will still be going strong long after we have all passed away.

Anyway, back to practical matters. With the stones all gone I set about laying a new path with block paving stones that I had had delivered from Paget's builder's yard on Broadfield Road. As our ground is clay rich, I didn't bother with a gravel and sand bed for the pavers. They are quite heavy  and after removing the turf,  I just butted them up against each other in a kind of jigsaw. making sure they were as level as possible. 

Then I set about building a little soil retaining wall using some of the stones I had dug up and also eight Victorian edging stones that I liberated from my son's house near to the Sheffield United football ground. I also had to shift a heavy stone trough that came from Holme Farm in Gunthorpe, Lincolnshire. That was where Shirley grew up and where her father and grandfather farmed all their lives. I also made a little stone shelf for an old grindstone that I found when I kept an allotment on Hagg Hill by Rivelin Valley Road - years ago.

I rebuilt the drystone wall beneath the decking and dug over the earth that had lain beneath the buried stones. Then I forked in a couple of sacks of compost before spreading four bags of topsoil over the surface.

Now after numerous sessions of labour over a period of two weeks, we were ready for the proverbial icing on the cake. Yesterday afternoon, we drove up to Bent's Green Nursery where Shirley and Frances - who was home for the weekend - picked various bedding plants to go in what is now a sunny new flower border. Last night I was still planting up at nine o'clock and this morning I watered the new plants in. By May 26th the danger of late frosts is almost certainly gone. We are on the very verge of summer.

It's nice to have a vision of something and then to see it through to completion. I know my little DIY project is not going to make it into the pages of any glossy garden magazines. Nor do I expect a visit from Prince Charles any time soon. What I did may appear unexceptional but it has improved our tiny bit of the planet and  having done it all by myself, I am pleased as punch with the end result.

25 May 2015


"Elliott". That is the name inscribed on Ebenezer Elliott's statue in Weston Park, Sheffield. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the statue's sponsors must have imagined that his fame was such that his surname would be sufficient. This statue used to stand in the middle of the city's old marketplace near the remains of Sheffield Castle but twenty five years after its erection it was moved to Weston Park, opposite The Children's Hospital. This may have been due to redevelopment of the city centre though perhaps that theory is rather too convenient.

You have probably never heard of Ebenezer Elliott and indeed the guardians of British cultural history may have conspired to reduce him to a mere footnote. But in his day Ebenezer Elliott was a giant of the literary world and revered throughout the land as "The People's Poet" or "The Corn Law Rhymer". He was self-taught and at first his poetry focussed upon the natural world but he was born in a time of political turmoil as the working people of Great Britain began to turn against their masters and demand better working and living conditions. As a consequence his poetry began to follow that theme.

He spoke up for the downtrodden and lobbied for social change. And the working classes embraced his verse. It was recited in taverns and work places, pored over in candlelight. This was not the introspective verbal wordplay of an ivory tower poet, it was outgoing and connected to the communities he knew. It was about the repeal of unjust laws and it appealed to those in power to mend their ways. A rallying cry that was heard throughout the land and even further afield.. No wonder the burghers of Sheffield wanted to put him on a stone pedestal after he had passed away.

Born in Masbrough near Rotherham in 1781, he died on December 1st 1849 in his retirement cottage at Hargate Hill near Great Houghton which is a village to the south east of Barnsley.  He was buried in nearby Darfield All Saints churchyard which I visited last week. I would like to think that his funeral was well-attended but perhaps that winter the masses that he had spoken up for were unaware that he had been sidelined to Great Houghton where in his last years he mostly pottered about in his vegetable garden living a  humble country life that echoed his childhood.

The People's Anthem
by Ebenezer Elliott (1847)

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of mercy! when?
Not kings and lords, but nations!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
Flowers of thy heart, oh, God, are they!
Let them not pass, like weeds, away!
Their heritage a sunless day!
God! Save the people!

Shall crime bring crime for ever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, oh, Father,
That man shall toil for wrong?
"No!" say thy mountains; "No!" thy skies
"Man's clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard, instead of sighs."
God, save the people!

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of Mercy! when?
The people, Lord, the people!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
God! save the people! thine they are,
Thy children, as thy angels fair:
Save them from bondage, and despair!
God, save the people!

The poem parodies The National Anthem and quite a number of Elliott's poems were set to music. But as well as being blatantly political, he could also be sweet and domestic. Here's a sentimental poem he wrote about returning to the village of Masbrough after many years away. It reveals an interesting picture of early nineteenth century rural life before the cities and industry began their unstoppable march:-

Rural Rambles - The Village
by Ebenezer Elliott

Sweet village! where my early days were pass'd,
Though parted long, we meet, we meet at last!
Like friends, imbrown'd by many a sun and wind,
Much changed in mien, but more in heart and mind,
Fair, after many years, thy fields appear,
With joy beheld, but not without a tear.
I met thy little river miles before
I saw again my natal cottage door:
Unchanged as truth, the river welcomed home
The wanderer of the sea's heart-breaking foam;
But the changed cottage, like a time-tried friend,
Smote on my heart-strings, at my journey's end.
For now no lilies bloom the door beside!
The very house-leek on the roof hath died;
The window'd gable's ivy bower is gone,
The rose departed from the porch of stone;
The pink, the violet, have fled away,
The polyanthus and auricula!
And round my home, once bright with flowers, I found
Not one square yard, one foot of garden ground.
Path of the quiet fields! that oft of yore
Call'd me at morn on Shenstone's page to pore;
Oh! poor man's pathway! where, 'at evening's close,'
He stopp'd to pluck the woodbine and the rose,
Shaking the dew-drop from the wild-brier bowers,
That stoop'd beneath their load of summer flowers,
Then eyed the west, still bright with fading flame,
As whistling homeward by the wood he came;
Sweet, dewy, sunny, flowery footpath, thou
Art gone for ever, like the poor man's cow!
No more the wandering townsman's Sabbath smile,
No more the hedger, waiting on the stile
For tardy Jane; no more the muttering bard,
Startling the heifer near the lone farm-yard;
No more the pious youth, with book in hand,
Spelling the words he fain would understand,-
Shall bless thy mazes, when the village bell
Sounds o'er the river, soften'd up the dell.
Here youngling fishers, in the grassy lane,
Purloin'd their tackle from the brood-mare's mane;
And truant urchins, by the river's brink,
Caught the fledged throstle as it stoop'd to drink;
Or with the ramping colt, all joyous play'd,
Or scared the owlet in the blue-ball shade.
The grave of Ebenezer Elliott in Darfield churchyard
He is buried with his wife - Frances Gartside.

This post was written in honour of Ebenezer Elliott and in hope that he will still be remembered in years to come. His story, his legacy and his poetry deserve  more singing.

24 May 2015


The 24th of May. It was my mother's birthday. She would have been ninety four today. And back in 2008 it was the day on which Shirley's mother, Winnie, died. That very day Hull City made it to The Premier League for the first time - beating Bristol City in The Championship play-off final at Wembley. The 24th of May 1959 was the day that Shirley was christened. In the past, and this was something my mother was quite proud of, May 24th was celebrated throughout the British Empire for it was Empire Day - a public holiday and a day for parties. Mum said that it was on one particular Empire Day that she saw and tasted an orange for the very first time.

Back in 1819 on May 24th, Queen Victoria was born and later today - May 24th - ny team - Hull City will learn their fate for next season as they take on Manchester United in their last fixture of the season while Newcastle United take on West Ham. It is us or them but the odds are on The Tigers to go down. Boo hoo! Only a year ago we were in our first F.A. Cup Final.

Apart from the usual significant days, do you have any other special dates when things just seem to happen?

22 May 2015


In my salad days, I travelled many hundreds of miles free of charge. I stuck out my thumb and almost magically, vehicles pulled in to pick me up. Actually, it was rarely as simple as that. Often I would have to wait ages for a "ride" like the desperate chap in the picture above.

Hitchhiking out of London back to the fair land of UpNorth was always a challenge but my late and much missed brother Paul taught me what to do. You had to catch the tube to Finchley North and then jump on a particular London bus that took you very close to Junction 1 of the M1 motorway. Then after waiting on the slip road for a short while you'd be on your way out of The Smoke and back to reality.

I hitchhiked long distances - up to Inverness and to The Isle of Mull, all the way round Ireland and across to Wales. Being at university in Scotland meant I would often hitchhike up and down from Yorkshire - saving train fares and making a little money at the same time for in those days students could claim back from the local council the equivalent of three return rail fares a year.

You never knew who would pick you up. It was all so beautifully random. Lorry drivers were a favourite. Their employers hadn't thought about anti-hitchhiker regulations or insurance restrictions and many men liked to have somebody to chat with  to help the tedious miles pass by.

I could tell you a lot about hitchhiking techniques and share stories of especially kind drivers who bought me meals or went out of their way to drop me off at more convenient places or about "rides" I had in America, Iceland, France and even Easter Island where some drunken Rapa Nui natives took me across the island in a battered old Toyota that had no seats in the back - just a big brown dog called Felix who stared at me as if I were a tasty carcass. And there was that single woman by the roadside in Glencoe, Scotland with a cardboard sign that said "No Fleas!" where you might have expected "Edinburgh" or "John o' Groats".

In contrast, my son Ian has had virtually no experience of hitchhiking. It is a different world these days and you just don't see anything like the number of hitchhikers you used to do. Apart from anything else, drivers have become afraid of strangers. Hitchhikers might rob you, steal your car, engage you in unwanted sexual activity or grab the steering wheel and force the vehicle off the road. Such is the mythology. Stranger danger. As a society, we used to be so much more open and trusting.

Anyway, in the summer of 2004 Ian and I flew over to Ireland to see Paul and his family in County Clare. I had a hire car and one sunny afternoon after a trip to Galway City, just outside the village of Kilcolgan we saw an older man with his thumb out by the side of the road. I quickly assessed him -as you do - and he looked fine - a good candidate for a free lift . I guess I thought it would show Ian some of the beauty of hitchhiking - people helping one another out. Random strangers.

As soon as this grey-haired fellow got in the car I whispered "Oh no!" to myself. He was as drunk as a Tory MP after day of  grouse shooting. Pissed as a newt and angry with it. Coming from deep in the bogland of western Ireland his speech would have been hard enough to decipher at the best of times but now it was all slurred so it sounded like a foreign language. He was speaking Guinnessish.

We were just taking him back to his home on the outskirts of Ballyvaughan - ten mile away. It should have been easy but he wanted to make an argument of it and the fact that we were English seemed to wind him up no end. But this wasn't the worst of it. 

The fellow's non-hitchhiking hand was bleeding. It was wrapped in reams of toilet paper and through his jumble of indecipherable utterances I worked out that he had been in a fight in a pub in Kilcolgan. He kept putting his bloody left mitt on Ian's front seat and the head rest too. Ian was leaning forward, slightly petrified by the beer monster in the back. I think he was called Paddy.

It was an enormous relief when we dropped Paddy off and drove away. There was so much blood on Ian's seat that he got in the back. Fortunately, when we got back to Paul's house we were able to clean the blood off. The upholstery must have been protected with some kind of spray guard. I think the incident will have put Ian off ever picking up a hitchhiker in the future. Not quite what my spur of the moment act of kindness as meant to achieve.

19 May 2015


Growing up in my East Yorkshire village, I was economically disadvantaged in comparison with my teenage peers. At fifteen, nearly all of them were working - on apprenticeships or otherwise employed. They had money in their pockets having truly entered the adult world. On the other hand, I was still at school, stumbling along in the sixth form to my A level exams. I had little money.

So for about three years I became a regular babysitter. It was very easy "work". The wives left me food and drink, the children rarely woke up and I could either watch TV or get on with some homework task.

At one house there were two little girls and in all the dozens of times I undertook babysitting duties there I don't think they ever woke up. At another house, there was a little boy with a brilliant first name - Neil. Once in a while he sneaked downstairs and sat on my knee while I read him a bedtime story. Like all Neils, he was a delightful child.

Years later, that same little boy had become a strapping young man and was working as an aviation technician with the Royal Airforce. He approached me unexpectedly in a pub, so pleased to see me though at first I had no idea who he was. Touchingly, he remembered those babysitting nights with great affection, sitting on my knee sharing stories..

In those now far off days there were no mobile phones so when the parents left the house there was no way I could get in touch with them. Furthermore, in those days of yore most of us knew nothing about paedophilia. It just wasn't on our radar. So the parents who employed me as a babysitter had no worries about leaving their precious offspring in the care of a hormone-fuelled teenage lad.

Nowadays, I am very conscious of sensitivities surrounding child abuse. I have seen it in people's eyes. They don't have to say a word. Yesterday I was near a primary school in north east Derbyshire just as the children were leaving and there were several parents waiting around. As I walked by, I studiously avoided eye contact with any of the children. It's too risky to do otherwise even though the prevalence of child abuse in our society has been massively exaggerated. Ninety nine per cent of men are disgusted by the idea of paedophilia and mean absolutely no harm to any children they encounter.

Tomorrow evening I will be babysitting again for a thirty something mother who lives across the road from us. She has two delightful little girls and a not so delightful absent husband who is in the final stages of divorcing her in favour of a German dominatrix he met on a business trip to the state of Baden-Württemberg in Deutschland. No doubt Cath will give me her mobile number and though she knows me quite well, I am pretty sure that the spectre of child abuse will have fluttered briefly on her mind's screen. That's how it is these days.

18 May 2015


It was probably intended to save water and perhaps to prevent flooding in non-domestic lavatories or "washrooms". I am thinking about the push tap. You must have encountered this incredible invention yourself. Only, it is not so incredible is it?

My experience of push taps has been like this. Firstly, I have soap on my hands and I press the tap only to find that there is no delay in the system. It's okay when the tap is pressed - the water flows - but immediately upon release the water stops and you are left with soap on your hands.

Secondly, the temperature of the water may be unbearably hot so you can't wash your hands under the push tap. Thirdly, after pressing, the push tap won't stop working as the continuously flowing water gushing from it threatens to empty the local reservoir.

I can only imagine that the push tap was invented by Margaret Thatcher, Joseph Goebbels or some equally horrible individual intent on bringing misery to the western world. Another despicable invention you find in "washrooms"is the electric hand drier but please don't get me started on those damned things.

17 May 2015


Occasionally, I look at the statistics that clever Professor Blogger gathers about this blog. Here you can see this month's "pageviews"  top ten - showing countries inhabited by discerning visitors  to "Yorkshire Pudding":-
Unsurprisingly the so-called "United Kingdom" is in top place, closely followed by The United States where my nemesis dwells in the heart of Georgia. No doubt two thousand of those visits are down to him alone. I am also not surprised to see Germany, Australia and Canada in my top ten as visitors from those fine nations have, in drunken stupors, often left comments.

However, what I do find surprising is the number of hits I get from Russia and Ukraine. Nobody from either of these wonderful countries has ever left a comment or indicated that they were following this blog. 1113 Russian visitors and 758 from Ukraine this past month and that volume is not unusual.

Perhaps they are shy people or perhaps they arrived here by mistake when looking for perfect Yorkshire pudding recipes. I have heard it said that Yorkshire puddings are revered in both Russia and Ukraine where there are Yorkshire pudding palaces and restaurants that sell nothing but Yorkshire puddings. They are very cultured people.

Through this post I wish to extend a hand of friendship to all my hitherto silent Russian and Ukrainian visitors in the hope that they will reveal themselves to the blogosphere. So to all Russians out there I say:-
And to all Ukrainian visitors I say:-
For those who are not fluent in Russian and Ukrainian, the message was "Hello Russians/Ukrainians! Do not be afraid. Please leave a comment."

Who knows, if Russian and Ukrainian comments start to flood in. The United Nations might one day employ me as a mediator to sort out the Ukrainian conflict that appears to be boring Western media channels to death. It's still there but I would need a posse of bodyguards and a villa with swimming pool in the suburbs of Kiev. I could arm-wrestle with Mr Putin or pin him down and mercilessly tickle his armpits saying "I'll not stop till you've pulled your men out of Ukrainian territory!" He'd be laughing so much he'd surely wee his pants.

15 May 2015


I have known Higgy for twenty five years. For most of that time he lived with his mother in a four bedroom detached house that was in an increasing state of dilapidation. His mother Lily gradually became crippled by arthritis - surely one of God's most cruel inventions. Her hands were like frozen claws and so she could do little for herself. Higgy was her principal carer.

Lily died in 2010 and soon afterwards, Higgy moved into a two bedroom flat. A new beginning  He's fifty six now and a well -known character in our local pub. He hasn't worked for thirty years but he is excellent at pub quizzes and crosswords. He knows so much about a wide range of subjects and is far better than I am at retaining knowledge and quickly recalling it.

For some unknown reason, he took to wearing sunglasses where ever he goes. One pair is framed bright red and other pairs are white and yellow. Quite eccentric but then again he is not like other blokes. He suffers from an eating disorder and has always been painfully thin. He is also cursed with eczema. A picture of health he is not. Poor Higgy.He walks like a stick insect on spindly legs and if a stiff breeze blew he would probably fall over.

A couple of months ago he complained that his back was hurting so with some encouragement he went to his local doctor's surgery. They referred him to hospital and in the past few weeks he has had scans and  X-rays, blood tests and painkillers. I have driven him to four of his hospital appointments. Before we leave our neighbourhood we always have to call in at a local shop so that he can buy a copy of "The Guardian"and a packet of cigarettes.

On Monday, I went into his appointment with a specialist at The Northern General Hospital. Previously he had been promised that this would be the day when he found out what the problem is - osteoporosis or a "disease" (i.e. - cancer) but instead of the answer he was expecting he was told he would have to have a biopsy on the particular vertebra that is crumbling away and causing Higgy so much pain.

I could see it all on the computer screen. Amazing imagery from the CT scan. The consultant surgeon said that they couldn't insert a strengthening rod as Higgy's bones have a very low density - "like polystyrene". Probably caused by years of thinness and not looking after himself properly. By the way, he had all his teeth removed last autumn as they were starting to fall out and become infected anyway. This can't have helped his difficult relationship with food.

Like all eccentrics, Higgy has been on the receiving end of unpleasant remarks that might be construed as bullying but I have always had a lot of time for the fellow. He is kind to others, interesting to talk to and in spite of his cigarettes and "wacky-baccy" and pints of "Carling" lager, he lives a decent, unobtrusive life.

He is pretty much estranged from his elderly father who divorced his mother when Higgy was in his teenage years and he never sees his sister. He has never had a significant romantic relationship with anybody - man or woman - yet there's a lasting sense that he could have really been somebody if the path of his life had been different. Maybe his biggest achievement was gaining a degree in History from Sheffield Hallam University at the tender age of forty nine. It was a struggle but he got there in the end.

At  fifty six and with his pain, his crumbling bones and his eating disorder I doubt somehow that he will live to be an old man. He was desperate to find a job for he could see his savings draining away and numerous times I helped him with computer-related matters and job applications but it was never going to work out. He had come too far and now we wait for the big needle that will surely lead to a correct diagnosis. Osteoporosis or cancer - neither of them very nice to live with. Poor Higgy.

14 May 2015


Since I took early retirement from the wonderful world of secondary school teaching, I haven't read half as much as I imagined I would. There have been oodles of spare time and in that sense no real excuse for not reading. But often I just haven't been in the mood for it.

It has taken a good while to do but I have just finished reading "The Narrow Road to The Deep North" by Richard Flanagan. It was the winner of last year's prestigious Man Booker Prize.

The book tells the story of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted partly by a wartime love affair with his uncle's wife but mostly by his awful experiences in the jungles of western Thailand where he was involved with hundreds of other prisoners of war in the construction of the infamous Thai-Burma railway. Post war, he finds his growing celebrity as a war hero at odds with his sense of his own failings and guilt.
Little wooden crosses on a ledge in Hellfire Pass
Taking its title from  a seventeenth century haiku by Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, the novel is epic in form and chronicles an Australian century,  encompassing the post war lives of Japanese and Korean prison guards as well as Australian prisoners of war. Flanagan explores the effects of war, considers various forms of love and  ultimately investigates what it means to be a human being caught up in the worst terrors of warfare and self-doubt.

It is a very well-written novel and perhaps it's my own fault that I found Dorrigo Evans a hard character to like or even to believe in. There are really gripping passages about prison camp experience but sometimes I found the text unnecessarily verbose. arguably self-indulgent and occasionally frustrating as it switched from past to future and back again.

Nevertheless, I am glad that I chose to read it. When I was in Thailand I visited the remains of the Burma railway, walked upon the new Bridge on the River Kwai, paid homage to the dead at the military cemetery in Kanchanaburi and visited the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum near a cutting that was hewn from bare rock by malnourished prisoners of war - many of them unfortunate Australians. It was an extremely dark chapter in the history of the twentieth century and another terrible reminder of the wickedness that war will so often bring to the surface.
Hellfire Pass, Thailand. A tree has grown in the railway cutting where once
prisoners of war chipped away at the base rock with their bare hands.

11 May 2015


St Peter's Church, Tankersley. It sits in splendid isolation, away from the village it serves. I wandered around the neatly-trimmed graveyard and came across this Victorian gravestone. Between the lines it reveals the life of sorrows that must have been led by Thomas Chambers and his wife Joanna. Though he died at the age of seventy one  and she died at the age of ,fifty eight  their offspring were generally not so lucky.

The sons and daughters are all listed.
Thomas 1825-29 (Dead at 4)
Unnamed infant - born and died the same day in 1826
Mary - born in July 1827 and died in September of the same year
Catherine 1828-1830 (Dead at 1)
Henry Thomas 1830-1858 (Dead at 28)
Margaret Maria 1832-1835 (Dead at 2)
Emma - born and died in January 1834 (Dead at 11 days)
Walter - 1841-49 (Dead at 8)
Matthew -  1825-76 (Dead at 51)

Nine children and only two of them reached adulthood. Such private tragedies were not unusual in those days. Looking back from 2015 we can hardly imagine how it must have been for Thomas and Joanna. We expect our children to live. In general, death is something for old people, not for the young.

In another corner of St Peter's churchyard, there was another grave containing yet more babies. The inscription ended with a verse that says much about the stoicism of our Victorian forebears:-

I never more shall see the sun
I go where troubles cease
Father in Heaven, thy will be done
Farewell, I die in peace.

9 May 2015


On Friday it was clear that Labour had been beaten in our general election. Things couldn't get worse could they? Well, on Saturday things did get worse when my beloved Hull City lost by one goal to nil against Burnley and now seem almost certain to be relegated from  The Premiership.

Michael Dawson - ordered off the pitch to
change his shirt. Burnley's scrambled goal
was scored in his absence.
Shirley and I were there in The North Stand, close to the rowdy Burnley contingent of travelling supporters. All that there was between us and them was some sturdy netting that had been stretched across half a dozen seats next to us. The fans from The Dark Side  were noisy and several times sang in unison "In our Lancashire homes! In our Lancashire homes - we speak with an accent exceedingly rare/ The longside of Burnley will always be there, in our Lancashire homes!" Strange song.

Hull City were the better team. We hit the bar twice and created far more chances but disaster struck in the sixty second minute when Burnley scored a scruffy goal in controversial circumstances. Just before the goal our captain and elegant central defender Michael Dawson had been accidentally elbowed in the face. This caused a minor nosebleed which the referee spotted.

He ordered Dawson off the pitch to change his shirt as Burnley prepared to take a corner. It was from that corner that their goal was scored with the leader of our defence absent. It was a critical moment and it has probably condemned The Tigers to the second tier of English football. Leaving the ground and driving home I felt as glum as a lottery winner who has lost his ticket.

The afternoon had begun well with lunch in "The Woolpack" in Beverley where we met up with my old friend Tony and my younger brother Simon. Very nice food but the memory of it is already tainted by the bitter taste of what happened later at The KC Stadium. It really is a cruel game.

8 May 2015


Oh dear. I crawled to bed after 4 a.m. this morning after watching the BBC's ongoing coverage of emerging general election results. It was clear by then that Labour had been beaten and that the country had condemned itself to five more years of Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the guffawing Conservative band of Old Etonians, ex-bankers, Oxbridge rowers and a token sprinkling of county ball fillies called Lucinda or Hermione.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Five more years. But how could it have happened? How could Labour have lost it?

From my perspective there are three main reasons:-

1) All the ordinary working people who didn't bother to vote. who couldn't see what the fuss was all about and who cowered behind ignorant defensive slogans like "They are all liars" and "They are all the same". I know several people like that - who imagine that opting out is a wise path to take. It isn't.

2) Ed Miliband. As I have said before in this blog, he was always the wrong party leader. Though clever, he lacked the charisma that might have inspired more ordinary people to put their precious crosses next to the names of Labour candidates.

3) The Scottish Nationalist Party which I shall hitherto refer to as The Tartan Tories. They won nearly all the seats in Scotland, claiming  constituencies that had previously been rock solid Labour. Instead of siding with their English and Welsh brothers and sisters south of the border, ordinary working Scots have instead been conned by a nationalist pipe dream and consequently they have let The Tories in. Please excuse me for swearing but they are the  bloody Tartan Tories! Cameron and the Tories were swift to use the SNP threat as a kind of bogeyman to frighten English electors.

Here in Sheffield Hallam - Sheffield's most affluent constituency - the Labour candidate didn't do quite enough to defeat Nicholas Clegg who is the sitting MP and the current leader of The Liberal Democrats. Behind the privet hedges and the net curtains of Ecclesall and Dore and Fulwood hundreds of LibDem supporters are still lurking. The logic of why they have voted Clegg back in is beyond me. Perhaps they are blind dimwits.

So that's it. Election 2015. Though it is sunny outside, there's a horrible cloud hanging over Great Britain this morning and the people's famous  flag is currently flying at half mast, flapping in a bitter Tory wind.

6 May 2015


Coins pressed into a fallen tree in Lud's Church
West of Sheffield. Over the hills. To Bakewell and then on the back road to Monyash. Still westwards into Staffordshire at Crowdecote, over the River Dove and on to Longnor. Lovely countryside but we still weren't stopping. We were heading for Roach End and that's where we parked. May Day Bank Holiday Monday.

Boots on, we set off to to the northern slopes of The Roaches - an area known as Back Forest even though there are few trees of any note there. But it's an area that holds a secret - a natural chasm, a cleft in the earth known as Lud's Church.

It's about twenty metres deep and no more than two metres across and with a right angled bend in it, the cleft is almost a hundred metres long. There mosses and ferns grow, the rock faces drip and sunshine hardly ever warms the place. 

You could easily walk right by it and miss it but of course people have known about Lud's Church for hundreds of years. It was once a hiding place for renegades and one legend says that it was one of Robin Hood's lairs. It also may figure in the tale of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight as The Green Chapel.

The name of the "cave" may come from the Celtic god Llud, or more likely from Walter de Lud Auk, a fourteenth-century follower of John Wycliffe, an early church reformer who held illicit services here far from the prying eyes of the authorities. These followers were known as the Lollards and it is likely they were responsible for carving the steps that lead visitors out of the chasm.at both ends.
We explored it though other visitors were there on May Day rambles.. It would have been nice to have it to ourselves. There was a fallen tree limb at the bottom into which people have pressed hundreds of coins. A man said that these coins were gifts to some long forgotten pagan deity so I took a five pence coin from my pocket and pressed hard.

On the way home, we called in at Flash - the highest village in Great Britain with the highest village pub and the highest village church. Then on to Buxton and Chapel-en-le-Frith and then home via The Hope Valley.

It wasn't Copacabana Beach or The Parthenon or Sydney Opera House or The River Nile, it was Lud's Church in Staffordshire but I am glad that at long last we have been there and seen this secret corner of England - a groove in the earth that speaks silently of those who were there before us.
Shirley leaving Lud's Church

5 May 2015


This morning I had to take my car across the city to Middlewood Road, Hillsborough. That's where the "Seat" dealer is located. And as Hector - my trusty steed will be at the garage most of the day, I had to make my way back to Pudding Towers by bus.

Riding back, I was struck by the number of people I saw standing around outside shops, businesses and office buildings. They were talking with colleagues in huddles or fiddling with their damnable mobile phones or simply in awkward poses watching the traffic go by. Oh,, and I forgot one other thing - these sad people were all smoking cigarettes!

Surprising as it might seem, the author of these words was himself once a smoker. "Benson and Hedges" in golden packets was my drug of choice though in America I smoked "True Blue",  in Greece "Karelia" and in France - "Gitanes". I had a twenty a day habit - sometimes more. Pints of beer were accompanied by cigarettes in smoky pubs and the day couldn't start without my first fag (apologies to American visitors for using that last word!).

So I know all about the smoking habit. But thankfully  I gave up forever in 1988 just before my beloved daughter was born and I haven't had a single cigarette since. And now for all smoking bloggers out there I would like to help you by presenting you with The Yorkshire Pudding Guide to Giving Up Smoking. It doesn't involve any nicotine patches or nicotine chewing gum. No hypnotherapy or self-help information packs, No counselling sessions and certainly none of those execrable "e-cigarettes" that are quite prevalent these days - promoted by unscrupulous entrepreneurs solely to make money.

Giving up smoking makes sense for lots of reasons:-
a) Smoking makes you stink like an ashtray - the stale odour is in your hair and on your clothes. It hangs about you like a fart that won't go away even though you can't smell it.
b) It can cause lung cancer and heart disease.
c) It costs a lot of money that could be spent on better things.
d) It makes you breathless so climbing up hills or staircases becomes a struggle.
e) It makes you step out of work places or social venues to smoke with the other addicts instead of getting on with work or the social event you have just left.
f) Smoking causes many house fires and road accidents.
g) So  much money you spend on cigarettes goes to the government - like a voluntary extra tax. Why give them more of your hard-earned cash than you have to?
h) Much of the money you spend supports the greedy and very cunning tobacco industry.
i)  Through the vast majority of human history people haven't smoked - it's a very modern habit.

So now to The Yorkshire Pudding Guide to Giving Up Smoking. 
Are you stinky smokers ready for it? You will be surprised to discover that there are just two steps:-

1) Decide to give up smoking.
2) Give up smoking.

As those irritating meerkats might say - "Simples!" There are two important supplementary points to my master plan. Firstly - Do you really, really, really want to give up or are you kind of pretending you want to kick the habit? Secondly - giving up means just that - no "reward" cigarettes. Tell yourself - "I am now a non-smoker" and mean it! No vaporising e-cigarettes, no more links with the old habit - "I am a non-smoker". No turning back. If you do turn back and succumb to the dreaded weed once more then that is the proof that you were just pretending in the first place. But don't worry. Learn from your failure and after a couple of weeks try again but this time  with 100% determination. Thousands and thousands of others have succeeded and you my friend can also do it!

Remember my plan. In the words of John Lennon - "It's easy if you try".

3 May 2015


Roman Bridge over The River Goyt
On Friday I parked at Dore and Totley Station once more ahead of another walking adventure on The Dark Side - that mysterious land to the west of the Pennine Chain. At Bamford in The Hope Valley, an elderly couple got on the train and sat opposite me. He had a walking stick and she had the look of a hungry weasel - her beady eyes darting around behind her silver rimmed spectacles as if seeking prey.

Now some elderly people are most delightful when they engage you in conversation but the woman from Bamford certainly did not belong to that category. Oh no. It was a case of Dilys against the world and by the time we reached Marple I felt overwhelming pity for her long-suffering husband, The whole world was wrong from sheep farmers to shop keepers, train times, people who choose to buy houses near railway lines, The BBC, litter, John Lewis department stores. In fact the only haven of sanity and righteousness on this tiny planet appeared to be Dilys herself. My idea of hell would be getting trapped on a train forever with Dilys bending my ear, saying nothing nice, positive or complimentary about the world we live in and not allowing me to get a word in edgeways. So spirited but so dreadful too.

Marple. Somewhere I had never been before. It sits eight miles east of Manchester and just to the west of The River Goyt. It is a town of 23,000. Once there were cotton mills there but now it owes a lot to those who live in the town but work in Manchester. Some lovely homes and two canals that were constructed in the very early years of the nineteenth century for purposes of trade - The Peak Forest Canal and The Macclesfield Canal. Now the watery domain of leisure craft - all narrow boats and people with dreams and pots of bright paint. One narrow boat went past with an elderly man at the tiller. The name "Freedom" had been professionally painted on the side.
The Macclesfield Canal at Marple
After a pot of tea and a sausage and tomato roll, I set off on my grand tour of the area. Out of town I descended to The Goyt which I crossed via The Roman Bridge. Actually that elegant structure had absolutely nothing to do with Romans. For centuries it was a packhorse bridge and its name was, I kid you not, Windy Bottom Bridge! No wonder prudish Victorians changed it.

Under Marple Goyt Railway Viaduct and after passing Bottom's Hall, up through the woods to Mellor and Towncliffe Golf Club. Then to the curiously named  hamlet of  Whetmorhurst and into the village of Mellor. It's eye-catching church - St Thomas's - sits on a bluff above the village on a site that has known human occupation for ten thousand years. I lingered here for half an hour and photographed the grave of Thomas Brierley as well as a Saxon stone font and the oldest wooden pulpit in Britain. A very interesting place.
Under Marple Goyt Railway Viaduct
Then down to Mill Brow where an Alsatian dog barked like The Hound of the Baskervilles, eager for my blood. Its owners were nowhere to be seen - probably Manchester commuters protecting their precious property with a rabid animal. I had to take a detour to avoid the frothing creature.

From Mill Brow to Sunhill Farm where another dog took exception to my scent. Fortunately this time there was a farm labourer nearby to bring the damned thing to heel. I wanted to boot it into the sky like a rugby ball. Bark now "Good boy"!

Then to Lane Ends and Cote Green and turning back through Brabyns Park, across an iron bridge constructed over two hundred years ago. The public park was once the extensive grounds of Brabyns Hall and near the old entrance there is a pet cemetery where the wealthy family that lived in the hall laid their pooches to rest and there was also the mysterious grave of Ben Lomond the Seagull.
Cottage by Glossop Road, Lane Ends
A smashing walk but I was knackered when I got back to Marple Station. I sat there for ten minutes drinking a bottle of water and chomping on an apple, waiting for the 17.11 to Sheffield via New Mills, Chinley, Edale and Bamford. I was hoping that Dilys's husband had clobbered her with his walking stick during their leisurely shopping trip to Manchester. "No more Dilys! No more!"
In St Thomas's Church, Mellor
The oldest wooden pulpit in England. Carved from a
single piece of oak during the reign of King Edward II
Ramblers with dogs approaching Mellor Church
The grave of Ben Lomond The Seagull (1897-1912)