28 July 2017


Yesterday morning I caught the number 88 bus into town to watch "Dunkirk" at The Showroom. It had been recommended  by three influential film critics - Mark Kermode of "The Guardian", Derek Faulkner of "The Sheppey Bugle" and John Urquhart Gray of "The Trelawnyd Thunderer".

Now I am not naturally drawn to war films. There have been so many of them but I greatly admired both "Apocalypse Now" and "Saving Private Ryan" so I am not totally averse to the genre.

I sat in the darkness and observed "Dunkirk" directed by Christopher Nolan with an open mind. The first thing I should like to report is that the film is visually stunning. There were so many photogenic moments - the beach at Dunkirk and the dog fights in the sky. Surely no other film has ever conveyed air battles as convincingly as this film did.

Secondly, I would like to report some puzzlement about the state of The English Channel. Sometimes it was calm and blue under a clear sky. At other times it was grey and stormy. I wondered how it could be so changeable within a particular time slot. This was irritating.

Thirdly, I liked the way the film picked out particular strands of experience and wove them together. The terror of the evacuation was portrayed  through three or four main stories, including the progress of "The Moonstone", a civilian rescue vessel  ably skippered by Mr Dawson played by Mark Rylance.

Dialogue was pared down to a minimum. This film was more about physical and visual experience than words. It held my attention throughout and there were moments when my eyes were filled with tears such as when the small ships appeared upon the water to assist in the evacuation of over 300,000 men with "Nimrod" by Edward Elgar  humming in the background.

Yes my friends, "Dunkirk" was certainly worth the watching. And to my shy friend Lee George on Tamborine Mountain in faraway Queensland, I should like to say that her current pop hero and love object - Harry Styles - did a good job as the young private - Alex.

One film critic, David Cox, was brave enough to stick his head above the parapet and admit  that he wasn't greatly enamoured with this film. He said, "Film-makers usually instil interest in their protagonists by giving them backstories and meaningful dialogue, thereby creating characters who can be engaged in drama. In 'Dunkirk', these things don’t happen." To be frank I can see to some extent where Cox was coming from.
Harry Styles in "Dunkirk"

27 July 2017


Gay men like pink, frilly lampshades. Chinese people are yellow. French people smell of garlic. German people like sausages. Italians are great lovers. Americans are big-headed. English people are snooty. Lancashire people are as thick as pig shit. Yorkshire folk are honest. Londoners are untrustworthy. Norwegians are good at skiing. Jews are miserly. Muslims want to take over the world. Posh people like fox hunting. Working class people swear and drink beer. Builders overcharge. The police are bullies. Politicians are solely interested in their own careers. They don't care about the people who elect them. Homeless people are drug addicts. Men are insensitive. Women's conversations are fatuous. In the house women do all the work.  Men watch TV and scratch their arses. Women are caring. Men like the sound of their own voices. Black people are lazy. Australian aborigines are drunkards. The Irish are funny. Canadians are boring. On and on and on...


It's all a load of tosh. Stupid

But it's easy to do. From time to time we are all guilty of ignorant generalisation. And I am no different from the rest. If you trawled back through this blog I am sure you would find evidence of me generalising. Taking the easy route. Not stopping to think. But I do try to guard against it. Generalisation I mean.

If we know we are about to generalise we should probably preface our remarks with "Generally speaking..." or "In general I find..." or "I know it's not true of all bus drivers but..." - just to show an awareness that most generalisations are built on shaky ground.

Everybody is different. There are interesting Canadians like Red and Jenny and Joni Mitchell. In the majority of gay men's homes you will not encounter pink frilly lampshades. Plenty of dishonest Yorkshire folk now languish in prison. Some French people are not fond of garlic. Some Italians are celibate. On and on and on...


Stuff it.

26 July 2017


Up the garden path and what do we see? Yes. My compost bins. This is where I come two or three times a week with vegetable waste  from the kitchen and other suitable plant matter from the garden. I'm aiming for the big black bin. I tap on the lid two or three times.
Then I carefully remove the .lid. What do we find inside? Worms - that's what. Compost worms. Tiger worms. They congeal together like spaghetti and as I raise the lid some of them get away. Perhaps that is what they were after. Freedom.
I bash the lid to jettson the others back into the compost matter below. There they will do their job like all of the other worms in this world. Beautiful subterranean creatures moving  through the earth, They break vegetable matter down. They aerate the soil. 
Without worms we would be lost. We need worms just as much as we need bees and other pollinating insects. Let's all cheer for the worms. Hip-hip!

25 July 2017


Yesterday I felt quite bored. It was a nothing kind of day and I didn't really feel like doing anything - well nothing special. It was rather grey and chilly outside which is exactly how I felt on the inside.

Shirley left for work at 8am while I lay in bed listening to "Today" on Radio 4. They say that folk are either larks or owls and I am most definitely the latter. Generally I stay up late and that's why I do not feel a single iota of guilt about rising at nine o' clock. I had enough of  early starts in my years as a teacher. I would have much preferred it if the school day had started at 10am and finished at six. It would have suited my natural body clock much better.

Anyway, I had breakfast. Toast with peanut butter and strawberry jam with a banana and a pint of tea. I surfed the internet and emptied the dishwasher before filling it again. Then I went back upstairs to perform my usual tedious daily ablutions. It's like Groundhog Day. Shampoo, mango scented shower gel, shaving foam and razor. It never changes.

Then get dressed and make the bed, Back downstairs. A bit more internet surfing. Another scam call from an Indian call centre. I say, "Why is your number withheld?"  Then they abort the call. Christ! I am so sick of those people and it's all because of our phone and internet provider - Talk Talk. Their database was hacked into two years ago and these extremely irritating calls remain the unpleasant legacy.

I stepped into our back garden to feed the birds and later I  noticed a single grey squirrel hopping about. I wondered if he might be partial to our growing vegetables - peas and beans and courgettes. Over the past twenty eight years there have been very few squirrel sightings in our garden for which I am quite thankful.
Servants' Bell Box
Lunch was a chicken sandwich and a mug of coffee. I caught the tail end of " Bargain Hunt" on the television. One pair made £190 profit on a Victorian servants' bell box.

I just didn't feel like doing much yesterday though there were things I could have done and perhaps should have done. I felt bored and lazy but at two o'clock - just to get out of the house - I jumped in the car and headed out to Stanage where I sat in a favourite lay-by  and began to read "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead.

I had a little walk through the bracken to Sheepwash Bank and then back along the familiar lane to Clint where I read some more before heading home. Here I watched "The Chase" quiz show on TV during which Shirley got home from work. Then I made our evening meal - new potatoes, cold chicken and hot gravy, grilled field mushrooms and broccoli. 

The boredom persisted. I had nothing planned for Monday night. I watched Prince William and Prince Harry in an ITV documentary about their mother, Princess Diana and I remembered that weird day back in 1997  when  the whole country seemed overwhelmed with grief as her funeral cortege headed from London to Althorp in Northamptonshire. 

Yes. July 24th 2017 was for me a very forgettable day. Boring and bored. I guess we all have days like this once in a while. The brightest note of the day was the excellent news that Jennifer in Florence, South Carolina has landed a new job. 
Princess Diana with her sons

24 July 2017


Shhh! Let's not talk about Yemen. Let's talk about Brooklyn Beckham and BBC salaries. Let's talk about the two princes and their documentary about Princess Diana. Let's talk about Brexit and the Trump clan's links with Russia and film stars' love lives and what the weather is like outside but please, let's not talk about Yemen. Let's put it in a dark cupboard and try to forget about it.

This is Yemen:-
It sits on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. It has a population of some 25 million and it is the poorest county in the Middle East. Its history is long and complicated. A succession of "visitors" left their mark in Yemen - from the Ancient Egyptians to The British Empire. To understand the influences that have made the Yemen of today you would need to be a professor of Yemeni history and even then you would be missing something.

Oh, by the way in the early hours of this morning Saudi Arabian fighter jets  supported by the US military bombed Sanhan and Bani Bahlul districts of Sanaa province reportedly causing heavy damage to citizens' properties. In the ensuing chaos today's death toll is not yet clear. But what's new? Such attacks have been happening for months on an almost daily basis.

It is said that Saudi Arabia's persistent bombings of Yemen are connected with the power struggle between the supporters of  President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Houthi rebels who have opposed his governance. SaudiArabia believes that the Houthi rebels are backed by Iran and this is why the USA, along with Britain are quietly supporting the military action.  Only a few days after the "accidental" bombing of a big funeral in Yemen earlier this year the British government approved the sale of £283 million worth of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia.
Since Saudi Arabia began their attacks on Yemen in March 2015 more than 8000 civilians have been killed and some 44,000 have been seriously wounded. The country's fragile infrastructure is in ruins with roads, schools, hospitals and bridges destroyed along with power plants and water treatment works. It was hard enough for ordinary people to survive in Yemen before this conflict but now it is a whole lot harder. Meanwhile the United Nations stand idly by.

It is perhaps no surprise that the country is now in the throes of a terrible cholera epidemic. More than 370,000 people have contracted the disease since April of this year and an estimated 1800 have died. A quarter of these have been young children. Thank you Saudi Arabia and your shadowy backers! Great job! By the end of this year the World Health Organisation estimates that 600,000 Yemeni people will have contracted cholera in the world's biggest ever outbreak of the disease.

Instead of dropping bombs perhaps the Saudis and their western allies might consider dropping barrels of clean water instead. But shh! Let's not talk about Yemen. After all, nobody goes there for their holidays and anyway aren't the folk over there mainly Muslim?

23 July 2017


Up on Riggs High Road west of Stannington, I pulled Clint over and sat on a bench to read my book. The road runs for a mile or two between two river valleys - The Rivelin and The Loxley. In wintertime, it can be very bleak up there. The temperature can fall several degrees below the temperatures in the valleys below.

As I sat on the wooden bench, turning the pages I noticed that the skies above were brightening from the south west. Gradually the countryside was being nicely illuminated as the blue above made gaps in the clouds. I took my trusty camera from Clint's boot and snapped that black cow munching grass on the top of the ridge.

Below, I turned the other way and pointed my lens towards Hill Top and High Bradfield which sits above the Loxley Valley. I hope you will agree that it's a marvellous view:-
Looking back through photographs I have taken in the past week, I spotted this one of a marsh thistle, backlit by evening sunshine. I took it while rambling like an escaped convict on the edge of Hathersage Moor. Fortunately the bloodhounds and prison search party didn't  reach me and I was able to get away:-

22 July 2017


I decided to tell my father everything about Joseph and what he had done. But as I told him, falteringly, about what was happening.his eyes exploded with rage at my gruesome 'lie'. He 
began to shout above my pleas,then, not being able to quieten me, he slammed his fist into my mouth, splattering my lips through the gaps of my teeth. He did not want to hear it, and it only made my punishment worse.I knew then that I could never tell anyone. I was utterly alone. (p112)

This short extract is from the middle of "Gypsy Boy" by Mikey Walsh. It is a true story. Here he is eight years old and bewildered by the brutal attentions of his paedophilic Uncle Joseph. But his father Frank Walsh isn't listening. Little Mikey is used to physical punishment, including being hosed down whenever he wets the bed. His father is a fearful bully, unable to accept that his first born son will never be a gypsy prizefighter.

The book reveals some of the inner workings of Romany life. There is brutishness but there is also honour and togetherness. There are long-established moral codes and the "Gorgia" householders they live amongst are viewed with disdain and invariably downright animosity.

Mikey's father makes money by ripping off unsuspecting "Gorgia" pensioners.. He lays tarmac at massively inflated prices and the quality of his work is dreadful. He even steals the tar and grit required. Of course as Mikey grows older he ends up doing all the manual work, frequently receiving cruel beatings when his father is not happy with his work.

Entering puberty, Mikey comes to realise that he is gay which in the Romany world is simply unacceptable. Eventually he runs away to begin a new life but the joyfulness and the terror of his upbringing remains with him.

This was a very easy book to read. There is a lightness about the narration that rarely obliges the reader to ponder despite the sometimes horrific cruelties that Mikey endures. It's all so matter-of -fact. Mikey doesn't come across as embittered or psychologically damaged, he just gets on with the task of telling his story.

When I was a boy, gypsies would pass through our East Yorkshire village every year. We would run to the school gates to watch them with their horses, painted caravans and ragamuffin children. They seemed so exotic, so different - a mysterious race in our midst and I often thought of them. Even though Mikey Walsh was born as recently as 1980, his book nonetheless reveals some of the secrets of that community which persists to this day in spite of everything.