31 October 2016


This great picture was taken earlier this month by an acquaintance of mine - Mr Walter Baxter (aka The Baxatron). Walter lives in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders but the photo was taken many miles away in Fort William. I have blogged about Walter before. He is a brilliant photographer, specialising in capturing images of his home area. If his pictures were ever brought together in a glossy tourist brochure, The Scottish Borders would be inundated with visitors. See Walter's recent geograph submissions here.

30 October 2016


Straddling the border between the states of North Dakota and South Dakota there's a large indian reservation called Standing Rock. It has a land area of over 3,500 square miles and is an echo of times long gone when North America was home to hundreds of different native tribes - each with its own customs and lifestyle. Generally, these first people lived in peace - like the aboriginals of Australia - close to Nature and respectful of it. When white men arrived, the injustices meted out upon native Americans were unspeakable but it is a tragic story that is not over - it continues to this very day.

Standing Rock reservation is home to some eight thousand descendants of the Hunkpapa Lakota and Yanktonai Dakota Sioux tribes. The land is ancestral and it was here that their indian forefathers hunted  great buffalo herds - taking only what they needed. Despite the legacy of sadness that pervades all indian reservations, Standing Rock would no doubt have remained a quiet and forgotten corner of America until the arrival of a  company called Energy Transfer Partners earlier this year.

Their mission is to build a dirty great $3.8 billion oil pipeline all the way from North Dakota down to Illinois. The course of this pipeline passes through native American lands, very close to Standing Rock and seriously threatening the reservation's only water sources. With the support of government agencies, this company have sought to ride roughshod over any protests - legitimate or otherwise. Interestingly a certain Donald J. Trump is believed to have up to $1 million invested in ETP.

Native Americans from all over the country have arrived at Standing Rock  to populate a peaceful protest camp as ETP have used both private security guards and state troopers to ensure that the pipeline work at Standing Rock continues On Friday 141 protesters were arrested - mostly on questionable charges. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used as sections of the protest camp were destroyed by the police.

The political media organisation "Democracy Now" have been following developments at Standing Rock all this year. Their lead reporter, Amy Goodman, was even charged with riot though how anyone could riot while interviewing protesters with a microphone is beyond my understanding. It was another trumped up charge, if you will pardon the expression.

Former Vice President and thwarted Presidential candidate Al Gore has spoken powerfully in support of the Standing Rock protest. He said,  "The courage and eloquence of the Standing Rock Sioux in calling all of us to recognise that in their words, “Water is Life,” should be applauded, not silenced by those who are driven by their business model to continue spewing harmful global warming pollution into our Earth’s atmosphere."

For fuller information about what has been happening at Standing Rock, go to the Democracy Now website. 

29 October 2016


Not a half stop, a back stop, a bus stop or even a glottal stop - but a full-stop. That would be one hell of a way to leave the blogging stage. No explanations. Nothing. Just gone for good. Period.

And having made that last post, I must admit that I was somewhat tempted. Eleven and a half years of blogging - that's a substantial chunk of my life. Yet like an online anarchist, I could put it all behind me with a simple full-stop.

However, that's not what it was about. All I was doing was making a bid to get into "The Guinness Book of Records" - for creating the shortest blogpost in blogging history and you may be pleased to learn that I might have got there. In an e-mail, the guardians of this holy Irish record book have promised to consider my submission for the 2018 edition. But was it a standardised throwaway response?  I hope not.

It's amazing that the last post attracted thirty comments - even though the post consisted of just one full-stop. Unfortunately, twenty one of those comments contained bad language or unsavoury suggestions so I have been forced to delete them. May I say an ironic "thank you" to someone called "Doug" from London who threatened me with physical harm and "sorry" to the lady in Bangalore, India who ignored my full-stop post in favour of promoting her seedy escort agency.

28 October 2016

27 October 2016


A few days ago I went to the pictures to see the latest Ken Loach film. It is titled, "I, Daniel Blake". The theme of it attracted me - a working man exasperated and defeated by bureaucracy following a heart attack. While his doctors say he must not return to work, the systems of the state are just not listening.

It is like being trapped in Franz Kafka's "The Castle". No matter where Daniel Blake turns or how much he tries, he cannot find justice. He tries to jump through the official hoops but to no avail. He is plunging into a poverty trap.

Ably played by Dave Johns, Daniel befriends a young mother called Katie who has ended up in Newcastle with her two children. She too has become a victim of uncaring state bureaucracy. They stick together and help each other in different ways.

At one point, Daniel sprays a message of protest on the concrete walls of The Job Centre - "“I, Daniel Blake, demand my appeal date before I starve.” When he finally secures the desired appeal meeting, Katie accompanies him to provide moral support. In the waiting room, Daniel starts to feel unwell and never returns from The Gents. There'a sense in which he has effectively been killed by government agencies.that are meant to provide welfare to those in genuine need. It is a very modern tragedy.

This was a well-intentioned film with a powerful core message and I am aware that it won the prestigious "Palm d'Or" at Cannes this summer but I came away from the cinema feeling a little disappointed. Why didn't the police charge Daniel with criminal damage when he sprayed the wall? Why was the funeral eulogy read  by Katie and not by a family member or old workmate? Why did Katie's daughter speak without a regional accent while Katie herself had a broad London accent?

There were numerous similar irritations which I wouldn't have expected from Ken Loach. They tended to nibble away at the illusion of reality, causing unwelcome distraction. He was tackling a social theme that very few film makers would even think of exploring. The many victims of state bureaucracy - those who visit food banks and get crushed by The System desperately need champions to sing their painful songs and spark change.

25 October 2016


There are some aspects of my life that I like to keep quiet. Not least is the fact that I am a landlord. Not the landlord of "The Red Lion" or "Ye Olde Bull's Head" but a domestic landlord. I achieved this position, not through ambition but by default, when our son departed the city of his birth to live in the den of iniquity we call London. We took over his house.

For the past year the house has been occupied by two young men. They have been perfect tenants - even though they refused to doff their baseball caps to their landlord. They have kept the house nice and tidy and paid their rent on time every month.

Yesterday they reached the end of their tenancy so I went over to check out the house and collect the keys. No problem whatsoever.

One of the young men said he was moving back to his parents' house. Twice he muttered something about a medical procedure for which he'd need a lot of cash.After his third reference I lowered my voice an octave and asked what his problem was. Well, you could have struck me down with a feather when he replied he was hoping to change his gender! In other words, a sex change operation!

Growing up in East Yorkshire, I had never even heard of people opting to change gender and the idea of a sex change operation would have seemed like a notion from some twisted science fiction novel. 

Immediately, I felt a wave of pity for this pleasant and well-mannered young man. Of course all of us want happiness in our lives and need to feel comfortable within our own skins. But is a sex change operation with all of the associated medicines, gradual  physical changes and counselling sessions really going to lead him to the gates of happiness? I very much doubt it. And what will his grandparents think... and his old schoolmates? I rather fear there'll be hell to pay.

Long ago, on my South Pacific island, I taught a teenage boy called Susau. He lived in the westernmost village - Lopta. He had never seen a television or any media images of transvestites or cross-dressers. and I am sure he had never read a word about blurred gender boundaries or ladyboys.

In the school, Susau only mixed with girls. He had a strong and funny personality and was popular with all his classmates. You couldn't miss him. Back in Lopta, he spent much of his time playing with the small children or giggling with the womenfolk while other teenage boys went off into the  bush with machetes or clambered into dugout canoes with fishing spears.

Susau was accepted for who he was. How this latent femininity arose in him, I have no idea but he certainly wasn't imitating anyone else. He was just being Susau.

With our young tenant I cannot say where the drastic notion of a sex change operation came from. Such medical procedures arrived pretty recently in the great span of human history so I think it is worth considering how gender-confused people got on in the past - people like Susau. Surely they learnt to live within the bodies they had been given, allowing their hidden female or male qualities to emerge naturally or suppressing them.

It's hard to know what to think. I just know that my gut reaction was to feel very sorry for the tenant when he broke the news. Poor lad. I hope he finds happiness...one day.

24 October 2016


Welcome to "The Yorkshire Pudding Guide to Blogging", available in all good book shops for only £9.99. Today we will be looking at some technical blogging terms in order to avoid possible future embarrassment during late night conversations about the blogging business.

If you are sitting comfortably, then I shall  begin.
Let us first look at the term "blog". It is an abbreviation of an earlier term, namely "weblog". Twenty years ago, during  the infancy of the internet, a few intrepid users began to create online diaries or "logs". Through the passage of time these "weblogs" often transmogrified into something more interesting than dull diaries of daily happenings and in May 1999 the term "blog" was first coined.

It is an umbrella term for a collection of blogposts that are commonly composed on a regular if not daily basis. Usually a "blog" has just one author. For example "Hiawatha House" is a collection of regular blogposts composed by a charming fellow called Red who resides in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada with his wife - Micro Manager".

But now I can hear you asking - What is a "blogpost"? Okay, I will try to help.

A "blogpost" is a particular entry within a blog. It is normally dated. For example the blogpost you are presently reading is dated October 24th 2016  which is, incidentally, my thirty fifth wedding anniversary.

The important thing is not to confuse the terms "blog" and "blogpost". This is a common mistake. For example, Paul Hudson the lead weather presenter on the BBC Look North early evening local news programme will often announce that he has "made a new blog today". Of course he never has made a new blog - he has in fact "made" or posted a new blogpost. Silly fellow!

So that's it for today folks. Please remember that "blog" and "blogpost" have distinct and different meanings - just like chalk and cheese or Trump and Clinton. In the next chapter of "The Yorkshire Pudding Guide to Blogging" we will be delving even deeper into the forest of technical jargon that surrounds blogging, including "Compose", "Preview" and "Sign Out".  I bet you cannot wait.

23 October 2016


Marjoie was sited at The Kelham Island Museum through the summer
Being a fellow of limited means, I didn't have a cat in hell's chance of buying my wife an elephant on Thursday night. Not a real elephant you understand but a member of the 58 strong and very delightful "Herd of Sheffield" which I have blogged about before.

I did go along to the auction. It was held in The Crucible Theatre - home to World Snooker and many excellent theatrical productions. The event was introduced by BBC sports and morning show presenter Dan Walker who is the patron of Sheffield Children's Hospital Charity. There were two auctioneers - local lass Lucy Crapper ( I swear I have not made the surname up) and Charles Hanson who makes frequent appearances on BBC antiques programmes such as "Bargain Hunt".
Peace Elephant - attracted the lowest bid
The night was very well-organised but it took a long time to get through fifty eight lots and there was an interval in the middle. Successful bids greatly exceeded expectations. The cheapest elephant, one I rather liked,  cost somebody £3500 and the most expensive one - "Marjorie" by local artist Pete McKee went for £22,000. It was named after his late mother and celebrated the hard graft of Sheffield's cohorts of industrial workers - both men and women.

Altogether the auction raised £410,600 - way beyond the target sum and enough to buy the desired Multipurpose Fluoroscopy System. The director of the children's hospital charity said, “Tonight has been an absolutely spectacular finale to the Herd of Sheffield. We really can’t thank everyone enough for their generous bids; we have been overwhelmed by the amount raised and are absolutely delighted the trail will leave a lasting legacy for Sheffield Children’s Hospital.”

When I got home I discovered that a couple who live on our street - just a few doors down bid successfully for an elephant called "Holi". He or she will be delivered in the next few days and cost them £4700. Of course, I am insanely jealous.
Marjorie at Meadowhall
Top Photo of Marjorie.
© Copyright Graham Hogg and licensed for reuse under the "Geograph"Creative Commons Licence.

22 October 2016


Another visit to Houndkirk Moor on the southwestern edge of Sheffield. This time I was heading for Houndkirk Hill where rocks of millstone grit appear through the moorland vegetation. Dark clouds and sunbursts battled for supremacy but the forecast was for a dry afternoon. Over the years I have paid homage to many rocks in the Peak District. Some of them are like natural sculptures and others speak of Bronze Age habitation or historic quarrying activity.

In the changing light, I snapped several photographs up on Houndkirk Hill. Far away I could see rain moving across the landscape so perhaps I should just have returned to "Clint", parked up on Whitelow Lane. But half a mile away to the south I saw another unnamed hill and there were distant rocks that I hadn't seen before so I made my way up there along a sheep track through the dying heather.
On the unnamed hill before the rain
On the way back, the rain came. I was not dressed for it. By the time I reached sleek-silver Clint, my leonine locks were plastered to my skull, my fleece jacket was twice as heavy as normal and my trews needed hanging out to dry. Fortunately no paparazzi were around to create incriminating pictures of this bedraggled beast. 

I came home and stripped off to my red and blue striped M&S underpants, watching "Escape to the Country" with a mug of hot coffee.  What a sexy scene! Good job the BBC hadn't just filmed my own "escape to the country" or even worse, my escape from the country like a drowned rat.
50x camera zoom on The Ox Stones - over a mile away.
Other ramblers are there - no doubt in rain gear.
The depressions in the rock catch pure rainwater
which moorland grouse seek in preference to
brackish and  rather acidic drainage water.

21 October 2016


You are doing something peaceful. Perhaps reading a newspaper, watching "Escape to the Country" on the television or listening to "You and Yours" on Radio 4. And then all of a sudden you are rudely disturbed by the horrible noise of continuous mechanical suction. The vacuum cleaner has been turned on again! Oh no!

It was the same when I was a boy. There I would be happily playing with my Dinky toys on the carpet or buried in "Look and Learn" and our mother would start up the old Hoover. She would come swishing over the carpet with the thing and above the whining din I would hear her commands to move my little cars or lift my legs. I swear that in a slightly malevolent way she loved to observe the discomfiture that was caused by her frequent vacuuming.

In comparison, sweeping brushes are far quieter and more in tune with the human psyche. But a vacuum cleaner - it's like an instrument of aural torture. Over the years, they haven't got any quieter. It seems we can send men to the moon or eradicate smallpox, send Coca Cola to every corner of the planet or develop smartphone technology but we can't produce a silent vacuum cleaner.

If an inventor ever comes up with an efficient, reliable and silent vacuum cleaner, he or she should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In the meantime I guess we must continue to suppress the annoyance we feel whenever a vacuum cleaner is switched on, waiting for the heavenly feeling that returns when the power is cut.

20 October 2016


Yesterday, London-based CIA agent Steve and The Yorkshire Ambassador to Germany - Frau Meike in Ludwigsburg separately applauded a photograph I snapped in one of the gift shops at Tate Modern. There was a sepia photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe on top of a display case. Through the window behind this piece of shop furniture, I could see St Paul's Cathedral across The River Thames. It seemed as if the artist was also glancing across the river. If she had been facing the opposite way, the picture would not have "worked".

As it happens I took two photographs at the time and I think this one is better...
Miss O'Keeffe seems a little wistful. If a thought bubble was emerging from her skull it might well say, "I don't belong here in Europe. In this bustling human-infested city, looking across this mud-coloured river to Christopher Wren's great cathedral. Take me home to El Rancho de los Brujos, to Abiquiú and Taos, to my white place and my black place, where desert winds whisper and lizards dart across ancient rocks under  skies so pure and blue you might swim there, where the bones of long dead creatures turn white in the desert and days pass slowly like shadows moving across my beloved  hills..."
A view of Pedernal Mountain, New Mexico
where Georgia O'Keeffe's ashes were scattered in 1986

19 October 2016


In photographs she rarely smiles
On  October 8th, I walked through bustling Borough Market then along the south bank of The Thames, passing The Globe Theatre to reach Tate Modern. Once it was Bankside Power Station but the generators within that vast facility ceased their humming in 1981. Thank heavens the powers-that-be behind The Tate Gallery had the vision to realise that Bankside could one day become Britain's premier modern art museum.

There are permanent exhibitions there and if you have ever been sceptical about modern art, Tate Modern will open your eyes. That doesn't mean you will appreciate all artefacts that fall into the extremely broad  and convenient category known as "modern art" but certain prejudices and presumptions will fall away. You will begin to see and perhaps to connect.
Pelvic Series
All summer, Tate Modern has hosted a temporary exhibition of the work of Georgia O'Keeffe and I was keen to see it. Georgia O'Keeffe was born into a Wisconsin dairy-farming family in 1887. She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico ninety nine years later. In between she had a passionate, all-consuming love affair with art as she strove to express wonderment and beauty, seeking a world that she sometimes referred to as "The Far Away".

Most of her youth was spent in New York. There she grew as an artist, finding her "voice". She painted evocative pictures of Manhattan's canyons and played with light and shade, always experimenting, forging relationships with other artists, trying to take the next step.

By 1929, when she was in her forties, she found the place where she really belonged - the countryside of New Mexico. It had a harsh and simple beauty with echoes of Native American culture. The mountains changed with the sun's migration and in the desert lands there were more bones than flowers. They lay there bleached white so she gathered them and brought them home to her simple ranch house.
Black Mesa Landscape
She drew with pencil and charcoal. She studied and she painted several subjects over and over again - such as "the white place", "the black place", "the ghost ranch", "the road" and pelvic bones with a dazzling blue sky seen through the holes. Her art was both furious and patient for she was thrilled by the world she witnessed and she never lost her childlike wonder.

At Tate Modern I saw her journey unfolding in thirteen gallery rooms. How I would have loved to be alone there, absorbing that story without distraction but there were other visitors - lots of them from all corners of this planet. I was probably getting in their way too. This wasn't like the stillness and the solitude that Georgia O'Keeffe knew as she carried her easel to secret places in the New Mexico hills.

But it was a remarkable exhibition. Testament not just to a life lived in Art but to our world and to the fundamental delights we might all find within it as we take our own journeys to "The Far Away".
"Ranchos Church New Mexico" (1930 or 31)
I saw her image on some bookcases in the gift shop
with St Paul's Cathedral visible through the window
- on the other side of The River Thames
From the Faraway Nearby (1937)
New York "East River" (1928)

18 October 2016


Less than ten minutes from this house there's an ancient track called Houndkirk Road. It weaves its way from Ringinglow to Fox House. Once it would have known drovers with their animals and carriers with goods such as salt from Cheshire or coal from shallow pits in South Yorkshire. Nowadays it only knows the footsteps of leisure ramblers or the tyres of mountain bikers.
In recent weeks my walking has been greatly restricted by a knee injury that makes me notice every footstep. But yesterday I wasn't limping and the ongoing pain was in abeyance so I went for a short afternoon ramble along Houndkirk Road and then down Jumble Road to Sheephill Road. 

The autumn light was glorious with fine views towards the centre of Sheffield and east towards the M1 motorway that runs up the centre of England like a pulmonary artery. But long ago long distant transport was very different. Saddle bags thrown over trains of horses. Moving slowly along Houndkirk Road. Making camp. Days passing by. Robbers and rain clouds.
Jumble Road
And below another picture I took along Houndkirk Road in late September 2011. How many of those old drovers, carriers and jaggers paused here to check the miles and to let their animals drink from the moorland stream at the side of the path?

17 October 2016


I know that the revelation I am about to make will disappoint or irritate some visitors enormously. Pause for dramatic effect... Ghosts do not exist. In other words, there's no such thing as ghosts. They are  all born in the imaginings of the human mind.

For complex socio-psychological reasons, it is as if many folk actively want the delicious mysteries that ghosts represent. They want that uncertainty, that sense that there is something other than humdrum everyday reality. And perhaps belief in ghosts is connected with a deep-seated desire for there to be an afterlife - the promise that earthly life continues beyond death.

But it is all balderdash, poppycock, hornswoggle and tommy-rot.

Many's the time that I have walked alone through two local graveyards at night - a half moon turning the old gravestones silver white. Perhaps an owl will hoot from the sycamores, perhaps I will hear a noise behind me... but it's just an animal or the breeze blowing a tree limb against masonry. I could happily pitch a tent there and sleep as soundly as a baby, safe in the knowledge that no ghosts will come along to disturb me. There's as much chance of that as King Arthur arriving with Excalibur in his mitt.

I can't bear books, TV shows or films that are built on the premise that ghosts exist. They are so tiresome. One of my favourite novels is "Wuthering Heights" and there's a supernatural apparition in that but it's all  just in the mind of Catherine Earnshaw and a small feature of the novel - created for literary effect.

Long ago I was on the island of Rotuma in The South Pacific when the eye of a 120mph hurricane passed over us. Many houses were destroyed and many coconut palms were blown over like skittles. The eye arrived in the middle of the night bringing a strange calm. I said I would walk up the track to the government station at Ahau to tell them what had happened down in the village of Motusa.

Village people who were taking shelter in the house I shared with Peace Corps volunteer Richard were flabbergasted that I  had walked up to Ahau in the dead of night and returned safely. They insisted that the road was haunted but my only obstacles had been the palm trees lying across the track. I could have walked that way a thousand times in the dead of night and no ghosts would have leapt out on me or waited for me in the shadows.

Let me re-address my opening assertion... Ghosts do exist - but only in people's minds. They are not present in the world around us. They never have been out there and they never will be. The half-secret cult of the ghost is like an extended party game or a shared condition that sufferers freely subscribe to. It fulfils a need, that's all.

I look for ghosts; but none will force 
Their way to me.'Tis falsely said
That there was ever intercourse
Between the living and the dead.
William Wordsworth "The Affliction of Margaret"

16 October 2016


This weekend The Herd of Sheffield is on display at the nearby Meadowhall shopping centre. Fifty eight fibreglass elephants all individually decorated by local artists. They will be auctioned off on Thursday evening. We were hoping to bag one until I read that organisers expect the average price will be £1500 - which is much more than we are prepared to shell out.

Anyway, I drove over to Meadowhall on Friday lunchtime and saw the entire herd of pachyderms. They have delighted this city and their absence from scattered locations has left a void in Sheffielders' lives. This thoughtful and well-executed project has already raised many thousands of pounds for our children's hospital.

Human creativity is mind-blowing. At first there were fifty eight neutral elephants - blank canvases. Then the artists came along and created fifty eight unique designs. Some celebrated nature, others spoke of industry, labour or history. Some had serious points to make, others were simply frivolous. Some were abstract while others were naturalistic. Every one was different.

Farewell to The Herd of Sheffield.

15 October 2016


Hey! Who the hell do you think you are Mr Pussycat? Sylvester? Top Cat? The cat that got the cream wool?

You have clambered on to Beau's back and you are sitting there like Donald Trump, hoping to nail some birds. It is just not on you feline interloper! Get off Beau's back and start doing the things that cats are meant to do! Chasing mice, scratching furniture, leaving cat hairs on beds...but not riding into the sunset on the back of our sheep! Miaow!
Randomly re-done by Google Photos

14 October 2016


King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died yesterday. He had been on the throne for seventy years and was revered by ordinary Thai people like a god. No visit to a cinema in  Thailand is complete without a rendition of "The King's Song" and when the associated images appear on screen you must stand to attention or risk arrest. King Bhumibol Adulyadej's image is everywhere and I know that the Thai people will be hurting terribly today as they begin a period of national mourning that will last a year.
We, servants of His great Majesty,
prostrate our heart and head,
to pay respect to the ruler, 
whose merits are boundless,
our glorious sovereign ,
the greatest of Siam,
with great and lasting honour,
We are secure and peaceful 
because of your royal rule,
the result of royal protection
is people living in happiness and in peace,
May it be that whatever you will,
be done according to the hopes of your great heart
as we wish you victory, hurrah!

This what President Obama had to say about him a few hours after the king's death, "I had the honour of calling on His Majesty the King during my visit to Thailand in 2012, and recall his grace and warmth, as well as his deep affection and compassion for the Thai people. As the revered leader and only monarch that most Thais have ever known, His Majesty was a tireless champion of his country's development and demonstrated unflagging devotion to improving the standard of living of the Thai people. With a creative spirit and a drive for innovation, he pioneered new technologies that have rightfully received worldwide acclaim."

I believe that the technologies referred to were mostly to do with land drainage and the supply of electricity - subjects which fascinated the king in his younger days and you may see images in the YouTube clip associated with these very practical concerns.

13 October 2016


The Light Pyramid, Milton Keynes
MK? Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire. It grew up in the nineteen sixties as one of England's planned "new towns" and now has a population of just under quarter of a million. It sits close to the M1 motorway and is equidistant from London, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge.

I had driven past Milton Keynes many times but had never visited until Sunday evening as we were returning to The North from our weekend sojourn in London. A night in MK would break up the journey and my curiosity would be salved.
MK Rose in Campbell Park
Though three or four historic villages were blended in to the urban design, most of the town is based upon an American-style grid system with wide boulevards and thousands of trees. One of the original planning tenets was that no building in Milton Keynes should be taller than the tallest tree and indeed it still feels like a "low rise" place.
In MK Centre

Other English cities have clear historic centres - and the whole city radiates from that point but Milton Keynes is different. Instead of an obvious central focus there is instead a massive, sprawling shopping palace called MK Centre. Look to the left and the gleaming floor stretches out as far as the eye can see. Look to the right and it's the same. Countless shops and eateries.

MK also has parks and paths, housing estates and hi-tec businesses and office blocks. As I sat on the little wall that surrounds The Light Pyramid in Campbell Park, I saw a posse of runners moving up the slope towards me. "Morning", puffed the lead runner and there were other "Mornings" from some of the other runners. It seemed like a friendly place and indeed just then a scruffy black dog mounted a scruffy white dog. The black dog's owner protested, "That's rude Alfie! Get off her!" 

Parking by MK Centre cost £2 for one hour so we didn't stay long there. Why isn't it free to park? We got in the car and moved north along Watling Street to Towcester where we stopped for a stroll and sustenance in Towcester Tea Rooms before returning to the motherland - Yorkshire my Yorkshire, this beating heart of the known universe. Interestingly, it was free to park in  historic Towcester's little marketplace. Learn from this Milton Keynes instead of ripping off shoppers and inquisitive visitors from UpNorth.
Church of Christ The Cornerstone, Milton Keynes

12 October 2016


Twelve years ago we had wooden decking installed at the back of our house. We are still very happy with it. It's like the house has an extra room - but outdoors.

The trouble with decking in northern England is it needs cleaning a couple of times a year. If you don't clean it, it can become slippery in damp conditions - as a layer of lethal algae begins to form on the surface of the wood.

Ten years ago at this very time of year, I walked over our decking to right a chair that had been overturned by the wind. Standing still but bending down, my feet went from under me and in the flash of an eye I was lying on my back - as if I had been thrown to the floor by an invisible wrestler. I lay there chuckling, glad the moment had not been caught on camera. I was totally uninjured.

From that day forward, I have been pretty good about cleaning the decking and when I walk on it I will often test its slipperiness. Being a somewhat cautious kind of fellow, my shoes are all rubber-soled. However, on Monday evening this week I had another fall on the decking.

I stepped on to it to attend to our deep fat fryer - that I often place outside to avoid related kitchen smells. Then all of a sudden - wham, bang thank you man - I was sprawled on the decking once more. This time the fall was at the edge of the decking and as I fell my right elbow was slammed into the adjacent stone path.

For a moment, I thought I might have broken my arm or dislocated my elbow. Such injuries could easily happen on slippery decking. But as I lay there for a moment, no doubt looking like "a complete twat" - as some of my fellow Yorkshiremen might have remarked, I realised that I had once again escaped significant injury. 

I shall be out on that decking in the next few days in my wellies with a stiff brush, a bucket of Jeyes fluid and a power hose - to remove that layer of algae and prepare for wintertime. If you have got any wooden decking you might want to think about doing the same. If you visit a house or business that has wooden decking, please take care.

10 October 2016


Back from London. Though I have several talents, cleaning a daughter's flat is not one of them.  I would have only got in the way. Besides, it was my birthday so I left Shirley and Frances sorting the flat out and caught a bus to London Bridge. Like Steve, the mastermind behind "Shadows and Light", I was off to see the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern on the south bank of the Thames.

It was great - showing O'Keeffe's development as an artist through the twentieth century - her passions and her quest for beauty - seeking what she sometimes called "The Far Away". Maybe we are all looking for that. The one downside of this brilliant exhibition was the number of visitors. They kept getting in my way. But that's London for you. Crazy place.

Maybe I'll return to Georgia O'Keeffe another time but for now here are three pictures I snapped on Saturday afternoon, down by The Thames...
Bubbles with "The Walkie Talkie" building beyond
Under the arches at Borough Market
Tate Modern