18 September 2017


Between St Edmund's Head and Hunstanton town in the county of Norfolk, there's a very interesting cliff. It is striped and it runs for almost half a mile. You might say that it is a natural monument to the geological epoch known as the Cretaceous Period. This was a time when dinosaurs were alive and the planet was generally much warmer. It lasted for seventy nine million years between the Jurassic and Paleogene periods. Of course it occurred many millions of years before the first apes appeared.

I am sure you will agree that seventy nine million years is a very long time. During those  79,000 millennia an enormous amount of plant and marine animal debris sank to the bottom of countless inland lakes and seashores gradually forming layers that were compressed and ultimately petrified.

It is those layers that we see in the striped cliff at Hunstanton. The bottom brown layer was of course laid down first. It is made up of carstone and contains very few animal fossils. The next layer is the Hunstanton Red Rock layer. It is actually chalk but was coloured red by iron pigmentation. The thicker white layer above is also chalk  and part of the Ferriby Formation. This was laid down towards the end of the Cretaceous Period.

In both the Hunstanton and Ferriby layers many primitive fossils have been found and in a lump of the red rock I quickly spotted several wormlike fossils of creatures that were wriggling around more than a hundred million years ago. They were like these:-
The first time we went to see the cliff, the tide was right in so we didn't get to see much but on the last afternoon the tide was right out and late sunshine was illuminating the striped cliff so that is how I was able to get pictures like these:-

17 September 2017


There we were walking upon Snettisham Beach by The Wash when we saw this approaching:-
Should we head back to the car park? Did we even have time? It was being blown quite rapidly in our direction. 

There were no trees. No beach huts. Nowhere to hide. We pressed on towards Heacham. And then the lashing rain struck - ice cold upon our faces. 

All we could do was crouch by some thorny bushes up on the dune path.

And as I sheltered there, what did my beloved wife do? She got out her smartphone and laughing like one of those witches in the opening scene of "Macbeth" she snapped me.

Here I am, looking at you furtively - like Big Foot:-
Fortunately, the rain didn't last very long and we continued our beachside walk with my ugly mug still trapped in the gubbins of her phone. 

16 September 2017


We were sitting in Fisher's fish and chip restaurant in Hunstanton when Shirley believed she'd spotted a familiar face. When this woman got up to leave I saw her approaching our table and blurted out, "Excuse me. Are you Cheryl?"

It was indeed Mrs Berry who had been the headteacher at my son's secondary school throughout his time there. She departed from that school round about 2001, just before our daughter went up there.

Now Mrs Berry was an unusual headteacher in that she was universally admired and respected by pupils, parents and staff alike. I remember an interview with her in the Sheffield "Star". She said that she liked to be outside her office during the school day, meeting children, talking to staff, visiting lessons. She also taught one class Mathematics every school year. Any office work she needed to do would happen when the school day had ended.

I know for a fact that this wasn't an idle boast, designed to impress because in the early nineties I had occasion to go up to that school every Monday evening and I would always see Mrs Berry beavering away in her office until perhaps eight thirty or nine o'clock.

You should understand that this was a school with a pupil population of around 1800. Being the leader of that school was like being the leader of a significant business venture. Every day brought new problems to solve, new demands on Mrs Berry's time. But she remained cheerful and approachable, refusing to surround herself with mystique or bloated self-importance like many other heads of secondary schools.

Now here's the thing. On Wednesday night she asked what our son's name was and we told her. She said that of course she remembered him but she didn't add any follow on information to confirm that knowledge. 

Afterwards, I thought - how could she remember him? He was an ordinary boy who attended school every day and was never bothersome. During Mrs Berry's ten years at the school she would have been in charge of over 4500 students and hundreds of members of staff. How could she possibly remember our Ian?

As you may recall, I was an English teacher myself and every year I taught around two hundred pupils in different classes. I saw these children for four hours a week and yet if I met one of those children's parents today it is highly unlikely that I would remember ever teaching their now grown up child.

It left me wondering if Mrs Berry always claims to remember former pupils that she chatted to in the school's corridors or engaged with ever so briefly in classrooms. Perhaps she realises it's what parents want to hear - remembrance. "Yes - I remember your little darling" and not "No - 4500 pupils passed through the school in my time. How could I possibly remember your child?"

However, I should remind myself that Cheryl was and is a remarkable human being. After leaving the local secondary school she went on to do a variety other demanding jobs and even received an M.B.E. for her services to education and young people. Maybe she did remember.

15 September 2017


St Nicholas parish church in Dersingham
We are home now after three lovely days in Norfolk. The weather was  kind to us and we saw many marvellous things.

Even though I have been an atheist since childhood, I am always drawn to churches. England has a wealth of ancient churches and each one is different from the next. Their architecture and internal fittings speak eloquently of  the past - of craftsmanship, of community, of spiritual aspiration, of wealth and poverty and of the passing of time.
Detail of the Saxon font in Castle Rising
During our days in Norfolk and south Lincolnshire we entered twelve churches and I snapped lots of ecclesiastical pictures. It was nice to find that ten of the twelve churches were open to inquisitive visitors. When I find a country church open, I usually write something like this in the visitors' book - "Thank you for leaving your wonderful  church unlocked for passing visitors to enjoy". It is important to write in visitors' books as they provide visitor data for charitable bodies that help to fund the maintenance of our old churches.

Nowadays, the number of British people who claim they have "no religion" is greater than the number of people who say they are believers. Church attendance is so low in some villages that many parish churches are now redundant. Their maintenance is an enormous challenge. Personally, I would rather see billions of pounds spent on saving our beautiful churches than on nuclear armaments that will never be used.
One of the medieval angels in the roof structure - St Nicholas's Chapel, King's Lynn
It was once the expectation that everybody in every rural community would attend church on a Sunday. Failure to attend church would not only ignite much tutting and shaking of heads, it could also jeopardise one's livelihood.
Church tower and war memorial
Our churches were packed. Hymns were sung, prayers were recited and sermons were endured. Vicars often lived in palatial homes with extensive gardens. The church was the very hub of every community. It dealt with birth, confirmation, marriage and death. It was the one place where a community came together. The church was far more influential in people's lives than secular politics.

A few more pictures:-
All Saints in the tiny village of Fring
In St Lawrence's Church - Castle Rising
Detail of  Sir Humphret Littlebury's fourteenth century
tomb in All Saints Church,Holbeach 
Hidden detail of a choir seat in King's Lynn Minster

13 September 2017


Yesterday morning we drove to "Sunny Hunny" - Hunstanton on the north Norfolk coast. Later, after lunch, we were in Holme-next-the-Sea and later still we were in Brancaster Staithe. This old musical hall chorus came to mind. It was, apparently, written in 1907 and first recorded in 1909:-

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
Oh I do like to be beside the sea
Oh I do like to walk along the prom prom prom
Where the brass band plays tiddly-om-pom-pom
As someone who dwells inland, I certainly do like to be beside the seaside. How about you?

12 September 2017


We are in north west Norfolk now. We stopped off in Sleaford, Lincolnshire on the way over. In fact we were in Sleaford for three hours. It's a charming little town with a lovely old church, dedicated  to St Denys. Apparently, he was the bishop of Paris in the third century.

Though decapitated during religious purges, St Denis/Denys allegedly carried his severed head to a place north of Paris where an abbey was established in his name. That tale explains this carving on the rood screen in Sleaford:-
I could bore you silly with the knowledge about Sleaford I acquired yesterday afternoon. We visited an antiques shop, a little art gallery, The Navigation House Museum and several shops as well as enjoying a light lunch in The Marketplace Cafe. There was also a bizarre modern building called The National Centre for Craft and Design. We found it terribly disappointing. Where was the craft? Where was the design? The buttons in the lift were worn out and the young women at the desks in the two galleries were messing about with their smartphones to relieve their obvious boredom.
It was a day of changing weather. Pouring rain turned to bright sunshine and back again as we drove across the flatlands of south Lincolnshire. You could see for miles. It must be easy to feel tiny if you live in such a landscape. We were on the A17, heading to King's Lynn.

Soon we were at our rental apartment in the Norfolk village of Dersingham. It's in the west wing of a grand house owned by a local solicitor and his rather posh wife - Sheena. She advised us against dining in either of the village's pubs saying she hadn't been in them for over twenty years while implying they were for the undiscerning hoi polloi. However, we ignored her snobbish advice and enjoyed delightful evening meals in "The Coach and Horses" surrounded by other ordinary people.
Our bedroom in Dersingham

11 September 2017


I should not be sitting on this sofa with this laptop. I should be upstairs having a shower and a shave and getting ready to travel to Dersingham in Norfolk.We are going there for a three day break and plan to visit Hunstanton and King's Lynn. We might also visit The Queen's country estate at Sandringham as it is within walking distance of Dersingham. However, I have never been overly keen on seeing the grand homes of the rich and privileged... Now, I need to get upstairs for that shower.

10 September 2017


Once, long ago, I was in the middle of a hurricane. It brewed itself near the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and then moved southwards across the South Pacific Ocean. I listened to Radio Fiji, gradually becoming aware that the hurricane was moving in our direction.

I was a VSO volunteer teacher, living in a sturdy little government house in the village of Motusa on the island of Rotuma - with my American Peace Corps friend Richard. I alerted him to the news. It seemed surreal to imagine that a hurricane was on its way when  the sun was shining and the coconut palms that fringed our island were hardly swaying in the slightest of sea breezes.

I had arrived on Rotuma only seven weeks before. It had taken three days to get there by boat from Suva which is the capital of Fiji,  Rotuma being the most northerly of Fiji's many islands.

It was as if I had arrived in paradise. Boys shinned up the palms to knock drinking nuts down as domesticated pigs frolicked in the crystal clear sea by the long white beach at Mofmanu. There were no tourists. Robert and Mojito brought us fresh paw paws and fish that they had speared on the edge of the reef. There was an aroma of roasted copra in the air and frangipani, hibiscus and orange blossom and always the sound of the ocean meeting the reef. 
The day before the hurricane struck, I learnt that it had acquired a name - Hurricane Bebe and now the Radio Fiji announcer was warning that she was likely to cross Rotuma. It was time to prepare. The weather was beginning to change and the calm ocean was starting to churn. We warned all of our neighbours to get ready. There were no telephones and most of them didn't possess radios. For decades Rotuma had avoided hurricanes and only the oldest islanders could dimly remember a similar event.

It was on the morning of October 22nd 1972 that the full fury of Bebe struck our village. The air was thick with driven rain and the wind roared like a mighty beast. We looked out of our window across the primary school field towards the ocean. Thank heavens for the coral reef. It was protecting us from mountainous waves. But as the strength of the wind reached its peak at around 130mph we saw rooftops flying - sheets of corrugated iron and planks of wood and woven palm thatches.

Our house was shaking on its concrete foundations and we feared that we would also lose our roof. Several villagers who had lost their houses rushed to our place for sanctuary. 

For an hour or so, it seemed that it would never end but then the hurricane began to subside. Soon we found ourselves in a deathly calm. The eye was passing over us. 

Richard grabbed his camera and we wandered out in the stillness. Many coconut palms had been uprooted or stripped of their leaves. The nearby methodist church was roofless as were virtually all the self-built houses in the village. This was no longer paradise. It was a scene of cruel devastation. 
We were in that silent eye for perhaps forty five minutes until the wind started to pick up again. But when it came back it was far less fierce than in the first assault.

Quite a few people were injured that day and a woman was killed in a village called Pepjei on the island's southern coast.

It was several days before any help arrived from Suva and weeks before a team of New Zealand soldiers arrived to build dozens of prefabricated new homes. In the meantime, people helped each other and began to pick up the pieces of their lives - both literal and metaphorical.
That's me at Rotuma High School after the hurricane.
All pictures by Richard J. Mehus (1947-2012)

9 September 2017


Yesterday, I scaled Win Hill once more. I hadn't been up there for twenty five years even though it has figured in plenty of my photographs of The Dark Peak.

I parked by The River Derwent near Yorkshire Bridge and began the steep three hundred metre climb through the woods up Parkin Clough. Following recent rain, the roccky path was slippery so I took my time. Apart from anything else I needed to protect my right knee and avoid a tumble. I contemplated descending via the same path and vowed to take a different, more gentle route back down - even if it was going to be longer.
One Sunday afternoon twenty five years ago, when Shirley was working at the hospital, I climbed Win Hill with my children - then aged four and nine. I took pictures of them sitting on the triangulation pillar you can see in the top photo. In those days nobody owned digital cameras and the internet was in its infancy. I still have those two pictures. They are in frames, sitting on the window sill of our landing window and as each year passes the images become slightly more faded - as if the colour is gradually being leaked out of them.
In the picture above, I am looking from the summit of Win Hill to the conical summit of Lose Hill. Between these two hills a lane links Edale with The Hope Valley. A legend says that in ancient times, before the idea of a country called England had been conceived, Win Hill and Lose Hill accommodated two warring tribes, battling for territory. The winners occupied Win Hill and the vanquished were at Lose Hill. It's probably just a fanciful tale.

Below, I have just reached the rocky summit, looking towards the triangulation pillar. The views from Win Hill are tremendous. It's a 360 degree panorama which includes The Hope Valley, Stanage Edge, The Derwent Valley and open moorland beyond which lies Cottonopolis - the fabled city of Manchester. I sat up there for ten minutes, taking it all in as a stiff breeze ruffled my hair and whispered that winter is on his way.

8 September 2017


Over the years, I have participated in countless pub quizzes. My head is filled with random bits of knowledge that I can draw upon as the questions are read out. Customarily, my quizzing partners are Mike and Mick. They have their own particular strengths as quizzers. Mick is very good at dates, music, film and anything you might like to ask him about James Bond. Mike is good at history, drama and Oldham Athletic football club. Unfortunately, we have never been asked a single question about Oldham Athletic. I specialise in geography, politics, religion, current affairs, gardening, football, rugby league, cookery, nature, wildlife, the combustion engine etc. etc.. Weekly, we have been quizzing together for over twenty years.

On Thursdays, without my regular companions,  I frequently attend another quiz at "The Banner Cross". This is an interactive quiz which involves pointing remote keypads at the television screens where the multiple choice questions are displayed. There's no time for discussion. You have to click and move on. There are about fifty questions and they include music and picture identification.

Last night I was down at "The Banner". Before the quiz began I had to tolerate a cascade of political invective from my chum Higgy. He doesn't get out much and he lives on his own. Consequently, when he gets to the pub he has a lot of stored up thinking to let out. It's a bit like eating cabbages or beans. If you didn't let the gas out you would explode!

Higgy reads "The Guardian" every day and he bristles with anger and disgust about Britain's European Union referendum result. He is appalled by the posturing of our politicians, the lies they told and continue to tell and their obvious inability to forge a Brexit deal that will be acceptable and helpful to our economic well-being. It is all an utter mess. The British people have been wilfully sold a pig in a poke.

Not only was I having to deal with Higgy's tirade before the keypad quiz, I also had to deal with it as we progressed through the fifty questions. I just wanted to relax and focus on the quiz not to simultaneously engage in an angry discussion about Brexit. He just wouldn't shut up about it. On and on.

The quiz finished. Higgy won it with me second and Steve third. Higgy had a last half pint of lager and grabbing the cushion he carries in an old plastic bag (because of his osteoporosis) he prepared to go home. No, "Nice to see you fellows!" just final thoughts about Brexit as he went out of the door. He must be suffering from Brexomania.

For Steve and I it was a great relief when he left. I mean we both love the guy but you don't come to a pub quiz to endure a one-sided political rant. We could now relax. By the way, Higgy gave me yet another clipping from "The Guardian" about Brexit. I guess it's my homework even though Brexit, like Oldham Athletic, is unlikely to come up in a pub quiz any time soon.

7 September 2017


Life existed before the internet came along. And before the Berlin Wall came down, life existed behind it.

In the summer of 1989, I volunteered to be a summer school English teacher under the aegis of The British Council. My destination was Hungary. 

The summer school took place by the shore of Lake Balaton, a vast inland lake about fifty miles south west of Budapest. My tutees were all students at The Technical University of Budapest which like many other large Hungarian organisations owned a sort of holiday-cum-conference compound by the lake.

This was the summer before TV showed images of happy Berliners hacking away the concrete. Later that same year and into the early months of 1990 we were to see the historical transformation of those old Iron Curtain states but in August 1989 it was same old same old.
Lake Balaton
The lake was lovely and warm. You could swim in it all day if you wanted to and if you could bear the mysterious muddiness beneath your feet. Half a mile from the university compound I discovered a campsite amidst the pine trees and virtually every vehicle there had come from East Germany. Did communists have camping holidays? Did they barbecue sausages and play volleyball? Did they laugh? Yes dear reader, it seems that they did.

One day, I had a ride in a mustard-coloured Trabant. It was proudly owned by one of my Hungarian teaching colleagues. I was in the back and in spite of myself I had a fit of giggles. The very idea of being crammed n the back of a Trabant as it coughed and spluttered its way along a windy Hungarian lane really tickled me for some reason. But I knew I shouldn't laugh because acquiring any kind of motor vehicle in Hungary in those days was a big deal. Understandably, my colleague was quite proud of his ill-designed East German car. He had waited more than three years to buy it on a paltry salary that made me look like a millionaire.
One day I met two children at a cafe. They were perhaps nine and eleven and surprisingly spoke enough pidgin  English for basic communication between us. Of course this was in the days before paedophilia came along. They took me through the dappled woods to a hidden rock face and there they showed me a little-visited cave that had been cut into the limestone some hundreds of years before. There were sleeping platforms and a fireplace area and tantalising images scratched upon the walls. It was very possible that this cave was prehistoric. I felt privileged to be in such a place.

One night after I had been drinking beer with a bunch of East German students at a lakeside bar,  I was approached by two furtive men. They wanted to know if I had any British or American money they could buy from me. One of them opened his wallet and showed me a huge wad of foreign currency. It was now close to midnight and very few people were around. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming premonition that they were about to mug me. They were just too pushy and besides what was in this shady deal for me? Nothing.

I indicated I needed to use the toilet and as soon as I got round the corner  I ran like the wind along the woodland track that led back to the safety of the lakeside compound. Christ Almighty, I couldn't run like that these days but I should remind myself that twenty eight years have passed by. The wall came down and countries like Hungary became "free" at last - whatever that might mean.

6 September 2017


In my previous post I showed you The Harley Hotel - the first place in which I ever slept in Sheffield. I continued walking home, Having spent five hours standing at an easel my legs felt like lead so I stopped for a rest outside The Botanical Gardens and ate my apple,

On Brocco Bank, I turned into Wiseton Road where a former large chapel is located - pictured at the top of this post. It was converted into one-bedroom flats forty years ago. In 1980 Shirley and I moved into Flat 1. Previously I had been living in a bedsitter on Harcourt Road. 

We were very happy in Flat 1 and it was behind the window on the left (below) that I asked Shirley to marry me. In the October of 1981  I met her at the altar in St Martin's Church, Owston Ferry in Lincolnshire and as luck would have it everything came together so that we could move into our first house the day after our one night honeymoon in Lincoln.
Continuing homewards, I trudged up Ecclesall Road from Hunters Bar. It is a familiar hill that I have climbed countless times before. Nearly home, I stopped to take a photograph of the newly-refurbished "Banner Cross Hotel" where I have spent a king's ransom over the past twenty eight years. It's my local:- 
 Back home, I picked two pounds of brambles (blackberries) from the bushes at the bottom of our garden and back in the kitchen I made a bramble crumble. The topping is of plain flour, soft butter, demerara sugar and crushed walnuts. I also sprinkled some caster sugar over the deep bramble base. This was our evening dessert with vanilla custard but there was plenty left for the next day. Delicious.

5 September 2017


"The Harley Hotel" and the room we stayed in.
The first time I ever came to Sheffield I was seventeen years old. With a school friend called David Shuttleworth, I had hitchhiked here from East Yorkshire. We came to see a concert in The City Hall. It was November 1971 and the concert featured Buffy Sainte Marie and Loudon Wainwright III.

We had nowhere to stay. Amazingly, that fact didn't occur to us until we were dropped off in the city centre. Outside the town hall, we spoke to the uniformed doorman. He directed us along West Street and we duly secured a room in The Harley Hotel on Glossop Road.

Little did I know that day that towards the end of the decade I would return to the city to live and to work. I have now spent most of my life here.

We had time to kill so we went to Weston Park Museum and saw an art exhibition there. We wrote down the titles of the exhibited paintings and made a poem from them. Then we walked back along West Street to The City Hall.

Both acts were very likeable. At the age of seventeen I was highly receptive to music - especially to singer songwiters. I would listen to my albums over and over - almost obsessively - till I knew every word. In musical terms, I found that familiarity bred appreciation rather than contempt. I loved Buffy Sainte Marie's trilling voice, the anger she felt about the plight of Native Americans and the crazy war in Vietnam:- 
...he looked at the sign that she carried in her hand.
It said "Fuck the war and bring our brothers home"
She was a personal hero. She wore her heart on her sleeve and she was unlike all the rest.

After the concert, David and I stood on the pavement in Barker's Pool and waited for Buffy and Loudon to leave. They sat in the back of a shiny black car and we waved at them. For a split second, just a smidgeon of a moment, Buffy's eyes connected with mine and then she was gone. 

We drifted back up West Street - perhaps stopping for a pint in "The Mailcoach" or maybe we just went back to the hotel room to finish off our art gallery poem that would later appear in "Fang" - the alternative school newspaper that I helped David and his Lower Sixth pals to develop.

I thought about that time as I walked past "The Harley Hotel" after my art workshop on Saturday. It was forty six years ago when I slept there - my very first night in Sheffield.

3 September 2017

2 September 2017


Still life arrangement from my easel
It's forty six years since I last produced an oil painting. Today I produced three. 

Back in 1971, my art teacher - Mr Doyle - asked me to create a large picture in oils for the school canteen. It was taller than me and about four feel wide. Working with a palette knife I made a picture of a woman hanging up washing on a line that had been strung across a street of terraced houses. It met with general approval.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of that painting and very much doubt that it survived various re-developments at Beverley Grammar School. In fact, I suspect that builders may have used it for mixing cement upon.. When all is said and done, all art is ephemeral.

It was at midnight last night that I clicked the button on this laptop and signed up for today's course at The Art House in the centre of Sheffield - "Introductory Workshop in Oil Painting" with Marcin Szuba. There were nine women and me.
My "sketches"
A few basic techniques were quickly described and then we had to get on with two small "sketches" based upon a still life arrangement that Marcin had set up for us. Using one of these sketches we spent the afternoon making large paintings based on preferred "sketches" from the morning session.

I enjoyed the whole process even though my finished painting is nothing special. It was a learning process. In some ways, I found the oils easier to work with than watercolour. Oil is more forgiving. You can rub it away or paint over it. You can use your fingers or a knife. You can scrape it, thin it, thicken it. 

Now I know what I will be asking for ahead of my umpteenth birthday next month - an artist's smock and one of those jaunty giant berets that were once favoured by old masters.

End result (Marcin to the right behind)
Exclusively available for sale to  Yorkshire Pudding
visitors. Bids open at only $1000 (US)

1 September 2017


In France, I snapped far fewer photographs than I would normally do. Nonetheless, I have a bunch of extra images to share with you. Perhaps it is true that every picture tells a story...
View to The Pyrenees from Robin and Suzy's house
Ian, Frances and Stewart at Mirepoix market
On the terrace with Robin at the head of the table
Ski lift and mountain bikers at Ax-les-Thermes
St Lawrence in Mirepoix
In an antiques shop in Mirepoix