Thursday, 31 December 2015

May the force be with you...

Had a few days socialising in Halifax, including seeing the new Star Wars film at the Vue multiplex cinema in town. It was… OK. It seems odd to be ambivalent about a film that cost $200 million to make, but in three weeks I will have forgotten all about it. I didn’t really care about the characters and the po-faced space politics: the good guys versus the totalitarian forces of darkness. There were a few lighter moments, thankfully…

New Year’s Eve: another midwinter ‘celebration’ I’m happy to sit out… It’s a countdown to nothing. I can’t see the point of celebrating an ‘event’ which has all the significance of watching your car’s mileometer tick over from 99,999 to 100,000. Hey, every day is new. And I’m unimpressed by the awarding of honours to successful people who, by definition, have been handsomely rewarded already…

No particular resolutions… though I hope to enlarge my portfolio of online photographs from 15,000 to 20,000 (won’t happen), and I want to get stuck into my book (will happen)…

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Floodwater...

On a day like today it doesn’t really matter where I am. The rain continues to hammer down on the roof; it feels like it could rain till doomsday, though the weather forecast suggests that it will stop tomorrow. Just seen a video on the Guardian website, showing water rushing down Bridge Gate in Hebden Bridge. It brings back memories of the floods of 2004…

Friday, 25 December 2015

Sams...

Spent Christmas Eve in Hebden Bridge. I popped into my old local, where conversations seemed to revolve around what would be the main attraction the following day: turkey, goose, pheasant, pork or - this being Hebden Bridge - lentil soup. A few folk were rehearsing the arguments they would be having in a few hour’s time, once they’d been fortified by a few glasses of Bailieys. I had an early night…

Many years ago I got sick of the ludicrous excess that typifies the average Christmas Day, and I was equally sick of the sound of my own voice whining about it. So I would put my name down for a long shift at Samaritans on Christmas Day. It was always the right place to be, never wrong. It felt realistic to acknowledge that Christmas, for many people, was a particularly unhappy time of year. Lonely people felt even more isolated. People felt obliged to spend money they hadn’t got, putting themselves into debt for months. Closetted in a room for a few hours, with too much to eat, too much to drink and festive rubbish on TV, disfunctional families were liable to implode.

Callers didn’t have to plaster on a fake smile and pretend that everything was OK. They could say how they were really feeling. It may have been as cathartic for the volunteers as it was for the people on the other end of the phone. Christmas was generally a busy time at Samaritans. I felt I was doing something useful by being there, giving callers my undivided attention. The Samaritans branch in Halifax was warm and welcoming, and I didn’t mind the decorations, the tiny Christmas tree, the biscuits, the box of Quaity Street chocolates and the cards hung around the room… many of them from people thanking us for being there when they needed us.

If there’s really such a thing as the spirit of Christmas, I found it there. I wish I was there today…

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Special...

Christmas is special. I’m not asked “where will you be?” with reference to any other day of the year, and the idea of spending the day doing nothing in particular seems, to some folk, like a crime against nature. We spend a small fortune, trying to make Christmas even more special, but where does all the money go? Presents, a meal and enough booze to sink a battleship. It’s a stressful few days, and, we suspect, if Christmas isn’t stressful then we can’t be doing it right. Everything has to be perfect, everyone must be happy; no wonder we fall short, when our expectations are so high…

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Socialising...

I’m on day three of socialising; after excellent evenings out in Coventry and York, I’m heading for Scarborough.

Today is ‘Panic Saturday’, according to the Guardian’s website, with twelve million people expected to be looking for last-minute Christmas presents (and maybe bargains too, as some shops are starting their sales earlier and earlier. At this rate we’ll soon be starting the January sales in November). Feeling the compusion to buy something - anything - for every member of the family seems like an insanely stressful way to begin the holiday season...

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Eating out...

I walk past most restaurants without wishing I was inside. Crisp white tablecloths, sparkling wine glasses, table napkins and hovering waiters do nothing for me except make me feel mildly uncomfortable. I don’t like formality, never have, never will. I don’t want deference from the people who serve me with food and drink… not least because I know I’ll have to pay for it. Anyway it’s always a pantomime of deference. The restaurant staff knows it means fuck all, except to justify higher prices; I know it means fuck all, and I don’t want to have to pretend that I’m flattered by the waiters’ attentiveness.

Posh restaurants create expectations, which fail to make the food taste any better. Even not-so-posh restaurants and gastropubs are getting in on the act these days. I don’t want to sample the wine; just pour it out (better yet, I’ll do it). I don’t want to be made to feel ‘special’ (I’ll be paying for that too). I don’t want the menu to be in a foreign language, and I don’t want to read a list of aspirational adjectives (‘natural’, ‘farm-fresh’, 'country', etc. I’ll be paying for them: a quid a time, I reckon. Has the chicken been ‘pan-fried’? Well, that’s ‘fried’, as far as I’m concerned. And 'oven-baked' is 'baked'). I don't to read a story about what I'm eating, and I don't need to know the name of the farmer who supplied it. Don't tell me the chicken's been 'corn-fed'. Don't tell me a sandwich has been 'hand-cut'. I can remember when 'artisan bread' was just 'bread'. Let's dispense with the florid, overblown lexicon of restaurant food (puffed up like the pastry pompadour on a beef-in-ale pie). I have a pretty good vocabulary for a man of my age, weight, height and disposition; don’t make me learn new words for no reason.

Don’t pile my food up into a tower; I used to do this when I was a child, and then I stopped. I want to eat the food, not dismantle it. Don’t put things in separate containers, so I have to dole them out onto my plate (chips don’t need to come in a metal pail or a miniature chip fryer. And they don’t need to be “cooked three times”. Has everyone been to the same food-serving seminars?). Don’t make eating a meal into a pointless chore. Don’t sprinkle the edges of the plate with white powder. It could be talcum powder for all I know, or care. I don’t want anything ‘drizzled’. Give me some food, on a plate (not a wooden trencher, note, or a piece of slate), then leave me alone. I don’t want to spend the last ten minutes of my meal speculating how much I should leave as a tip. And don’t give me a hot face flannel; that’s what sleeves are for.

This means that my ideal restaurant is a basic curry house in Bradford, where the curry comes in a chipped white bowl, with three chapattis and a glass of water (yes, downstairs at the Kashmir will do nicely). If you want cutlery, you have to ask for it. No-one will enquire how the meal was; you haven’t paid enough for these niceties, which is a relief. Hell, you know how it was. If it’s Madras, it’ll be quite hot; if it’s vindaloo, it’ll be very hot. If it’s a ‘meat’ curry, you can draw your own conclusions, or, better yet, no conclusions at all. If I’m in West Yorkshire, but not Bradford, then give me a portion of fish & chips & scraps (and maybe a pickled onion on the top). I’ll put the salt and vinegar on myself, thanks. Back in Yorkshire tomorrow, and one of my favourite chippies will be my first port of call. Mmmmm… I can smell newspaper soaked in vinegar - it's the English marinade - as I write…

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Xmas...

It’ll be good to see the shortest day come and go. When the weather’s gloomy, as it is today, there are only about six hours of daylight. I can edit picture on dull days, but only if I’ve taken enough pictures to make it worthwhile to fire up the computer! At least I can always do some writing.

I’ve no real complaints: the weather may be dreary, but it’s mild, and I watch Christmas approaching with a puzzled detachment. It really does look like a collective neurosis. If the festivities increased the sum of human happiness - even slightly - I’d be all for them. But they don’t. I gave up Christmas nearly ten years ago, because it had gone too far. There were withdrawal symptoms, for a year or two, but they’ve all gone now. I have a packet of turkey and stuffing flavoured crisps; I’d eat them on Christmas Day if they weren’t past their sell-by date…

Fire at the Fleece...


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Fleece, Bretforton...

Just been watching a kite. It didn’t soar on stiff wings, like a buzzard; in a strong, buffetting wind it was constantly making tiny adjustments to wings and forked tail. The red kite was re-introduced, a few years ago, at many sites around the country (including familiar territory: Harewood House, near Leeds), and I’m amazed how well they have adapted to such varied terrain, not just the mountains of Wales. This suggests that their numbers declined through being hunted to near extinction, rather than any shortage of suitable habitats or sources of food…

Called in at one at my favourite pubs today: the Fleece Inn in the village of Bretforton. It’s got a special atmosphere, helped along by having an open fire in every room: very welcome on a wet day in December. I got permission to take some pix. A guy was sitting by the fire on one of the high-backed settles. He looked great, with his pint, like this was where he belonged. I asked if I could do some pix. “No”, he said, “I’m not supposed to be here”. Shame. But I got chatting to this elderly man, who had come, with family, to have a birthday lunch. I did a pic for them - in a group - and this one for me…


Monday, 14 December 2015

Burford...

“What will you do at Christmas?”, I’m asked. I don’t know. I don’t even know where I’ll be sleeping tonight!

A ‘weeper’ at the Tanfield tomb in the parish church, Burford, Oxfordshire. Such a direct gaze... across four centuries…


Thursday, 10 December 2015

Hartley Wintney...

Enjoying some family time in Hartley Wintney, before heading north at the weekend.

A house, for sale. With Cumbria under water - again - I'm not convinced that 'Flood Cottage' is a name that will catch the eye of potential buyers...


Monday, 7 December 2015

Petersfield...

I stayed in Petersfield on Saturday night. The main streets were closed to traffic on Sunday, and were filled with Christmassy stalls. At one end of the hight street was a nativity petting zoo, with tiny goats, chickens, a shetland pony and a little fat pig, and two guys dressed up as shepherds. Next to it was a tent, with a sign inviting people to ‘come inside and pray’. A space had been left between these attractions and the rest of the market, in case all that ‘true spirit of Christmus’ stuff might infect the cheerful consumerism of the other stalls…

I liked the look of this shop in Alton...




Saturday, 5 December 2015

Krishnamurti...

I’m driving to the Krishnamurti Foundation at Brockwood Park, near Alresford, Hampshire,

My first ‘meeting’ with Krishnamurti came many years ago - 1973, I think - while browsing in a bookshop. I picked up the Penguin Krishnamurti Reader, for no reason I can recall, and began reading. What I read must have had an instant, electrifying effect because when I left the bookshop I had two of Krishnamurti’s books under my arm.

Something spoke to me, in a very direct way. Krishnamurti seemed unflinchingly honest, almost confrontational, in his refusal to offer comforting platitudes or facile promises about ‘enlightenment’. Instead of giving answers, he asked the vital questions… and invited readers to engage with this spirit of enquiry. It semed revolutionary; I felt challenged, exhilarated. He dismissed organised religions - all of them - with an airy wave of the hand, along with their rituals and practices, threats and injunctions. He skewered the guru/pupil relationship too, stressing repeatedly that he wanted no followers. Even the things I didn’t understand - and there were plenty - seemed to have the ring of truth.

“Truth is a pathless land”, he insisted: such an elegant affirmation. Ten thousand words would not be enough to provide a precis of Krishnamurti’s teachings, yet, ironically, these five words do just that… illuminating that landscape like sunlight breaking through clouds.

I learned more about Krishnamurti and read more of his books; over two summers I attended the talks in the marquee at Brockwood Park. While the talks were as difficult - and uncompromising - as the books, I was glad to see the human face behind the words. I marvelled that a man of his age could talk, without notes, with such power and intensity. I recall his stillness, on those summer afternoons, as much as the words he said. I’m glad I made the effort to attend those gatherings; they left a lasting impression.

I hesitate to say that my understanding has increased over the years. Nevertheless, something must have permeated, through a kind of cultural osmosis (whenever I think I’ve written something particularly insightful, I Google it… only to find that Krishnamurti had written it fifty years ago!). Maybe this is the way his teachings should be absorbed… not through the intellect but by living with them, through them. His words are with me every day; I return again and again to the books and talks, on audio and video, and never fail to find something new.

Bosham Harbour... where King Canute failed to stop the tide...

Friday, 4 December 2015

Langstone Quay...

The Royal Oak is on Langstone Quay, which forms part of the extensive Chistester Harbour. Plenty of birds around this morning, at low tide, including redshank, greenshank, oystercatcher, turnstone, brent geese and a lone little egret. The sky is an unclouded blue, so I’ll hope to get plenty of pix today…

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Royal Oak...

The Royal Oak is one of two waterside pubs, immediately north of the causeway to Hayling Island…


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Bagpipes...

According to the sign, as I approached Eastbourne, this is is the ‘Sunshine Coast’: an empty promise, as the day is still overcast and gloomy. Still, I had two ‘firsts’. It was the first time I’d ever seen an ‘erotic book’ section in a charity shop - though the choice was limited to shades of grey - and the first time I’d ever heard a busker playing bagpipes. There’s an old definition of a gentleman: someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.

I also found a fantastic second-hand bookshop, with books piled from floor to ceiling. The proprietor said it would be OK to take some photographs, so I’m going back, with camera and tripod…

Camilla's Bookshop, Eastbourne...

Monday, 30 November 2015

Gull...

Having ‘done’ Kent, I’m heading back west along the coast. The weather is grim, and the forecast no better…




Sunday, 29 November 2015

Red Lion...

Had a decision to make yesterday, as I drove out of Sandwich: Deal or no Deal? I decided to give Deal, Dover and Folkestone a miss, so I could have a couple more days taking pix on Romney Marsh. After editing a load of pix I drove to a tiny roadside pub, the Red Lion, near a village called Snargate, which features in my book of heritage pubs (“one of the great rural classics”, the author rhapsodised) 

I pushed open the door to find a little bar, entirely lit by candles (though it was still too dark for me to count the coins in my hand). It was like walking into some family’s front room a hundred years ago: unfortunately a rather dull and slow-witted family. There were no tables, just chairs. I had a pint of pale ale (not dispensed from the beer pumps on the marble bar-top, but from barrels on the floor) and asked if I could kip in the car-park: no problem.

Including the landlord and me, there were just six people in the pub. Two elderly women sat in one corner; one of them was asleep, the other dozed fitfully. Two old guys sat either side of the fire, discussing the pressing issues of the day: the damp conditions of the fields, the pleasures of dog ownership and what they’ll be having for Christmas dinner (turkey was the unanimous choice, unsurprisingly). One mentioned his grandchildren; the other guy trumped him with tales of his great-grandchidren. I felt I’d dropped in on a rehearsal of some Pinteresque play. For my next pint I moved on to the stronger beer, hoping it would make the conversation sound more interesting. It didn’t; I settled for an early night.

I’m intrigued by the place, though, and may call in again. The bar itself was warm and welcoming, full of nicknacks and what my book calls ‘World War II memorabilia’. ‘Memorabilia’ suggests that someone has put the cuttings on display recently, to recall wartime events, whereas the faded, yellow cuttings look like they’d been put up during the war, and they’re still there because no-one had bothered to take them down in the intervening years. The candles seemed to create more shadows than light: the chiaroscuro you find in Rembrandt portraits. I’d love to photograph the scene… though I’d settle for a pint or two, drawn straight from the barrel, and some stimulating conversation…

Whitstable...


Friday, 27 November 2015

Fairytale of New York...

It’s Black Friday today… celebrating the fact that people can be persuaded to buy things they palpably don’t need, with money they probably don't have. I’ll be staying well away from the shops for the rest of the day… thought I doubt if the charity shops of Kent will be adopting the Black Friday tactic.

I popped into a little pub last night, on the seafront in Herme Bay. I made the mistake of asking if they’d be showing the Liverpool game later; the landlady and locals let me know exactly where the fortunes of Liverpool FC stand in their list of sporting priorities. So I shut up, drank my beer and uploaded my latest batch of pix. Then a young lad walked up to the piano, sat down, lifted the lid and began to play Fairytale of New York.

The landlady said “It’s not Christmas yet”, but it doesn’t have to be Christmas to play this wonderfully bittersweet song. It’s the only ‘Christmas’ song worth listening to, I reckon, and it’s only a Christmas song because it takes place at Christmas; the lyrics are a long way from the saccharine sentiments of, say, Roy Wood’s certifiable request, I wish it could be Christmas every day. The song was a long time in the making. Full story here...

Fishing boat arriving back in Whitstable harbour...



Thursday, 26 November 2015

Retail therapy...

Darn 'ere in Kent everyone talks like ‘Arry Redknapp, as though they’re auditioning for a part in East Enders. In a charity shop a film about the Kray twins was filed under ‘documentaries’.

I called into another little shop packed to the rafters with CDs, DVDs and vinyl. Just my kind of place. Usually. “You’ve picked a bad day to call. These are all going to Thailand”, the wild-eyed shop guy said enigmatically, waving his hand over piles of dusty LPs. I think any day would be a bad day to call. There was too much stock, stacked in disorderly chaos. I couldn’t take out one DVD without topping a pile. There was so little room to move that a fellow customer had to back out of the door just so I could extricate myself and leave the shop. I was getting mild claustrophobia. Since the shop seemed to reflect the owner’s state of mind, I wouldn’t like to be inside his head on a wet Monday morning…


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Faversham...

A productive day: finishing my writing, taking pix, editing pix and uploading pix. I’m now sitting in this pub - The Sun in Faversham - next to a roaring fire, with a pint of Shepherd Neame Golden Ale. No complaints…


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Isle of Sheppey...

Visiting the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent. I chatted with a guy who was interested in buying a very small motorhome (he got the guided tour). “I’ve heard only good things about the Isle of Sheppey”, I lied. “It’s a nice place to go somewhere from”, he said...

New Romney Church... looking like the archetypal English church... 


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Electricity...

My power supply is reduced at this time of the year, because the roof-mounted solar panel doesn’t contribute as much as it does during the summer months. I have to prioritise. While off-grid I can edit pictures for about three hours before the inverter gives me a warning ‘beep’… reminding me to save what I’m working on and shut down. Camera batteries need charging, as does my tiny digital radio and my rechargeable AA and AAA batteries (used in torch, voice recorder, keyboard and mouse). When I run short of power, I have to either drive the vehicle (which charges up the two leisure batteries) or plug in at a campsite or sit in the dark and hum to myself.

One thing’s for sure: I’m careful to use as little electric power as possible. I switch a light on when I need it, then switch it off. I don’t use the heater very often, because the vehicle is so well insulated, and always a few degrees warmer than the temperature outside. The last line of defense, on a really cold night, is a warm sleeping bag and a duvet. It’s ironic that winter - the time I need more heat and light - is when my options are fewest. Never mind, I’m used to it now, and, if I’m careful, I can do everything I need to do with the power that’s available.

I listened to Desert Island Discs this morning, while writing (it was an old episode on Radio 4 Extra). The guest - comedian, song-writer and atheist, Tim Minchin - didn’t have much need for either the complete works of Shakespeare or the Bible ("kindling", he reckoned) and couldn’t decide whether his luxury would be his piano or a robot sex doll. When Kirsty Young pressed him to choose one or the other, he plumped for the robot sex doll. I would love to be on Desert Island Discs. Not just to play snippets of my favourite songs, but mainly for the opportunity to discuss robot sex dolls with Kirsty Young…

Prospect House, Derek Jarman's home on the shingle of Dungeness...


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Fairfield Church...

After an unnaturally warm start to November, the temperature has dropped. I stayed the night in Lydd, on Romney Marsh; the air was so clear, as I walked back from the pub, that I felt I could reach out and touch the red ‘stop’ sign 100 yards away, at the end of the street. The clarity was almost painful.

I played the first few minutes of Fanny and Elvis, to see if it was as bad as I remembered. It was… with the characters gurning their way through the improbable script. The fight in the pub was over in seconds - one punch from Ray Winstone was all it took - and my ‘character’ was on screen for all of five seconds. So much for fame. If I watch the film the whole way through it will probably be with chums from Hebden Bridge, to see how many locals we can spot.

After that I listened to a scientist being interviewed on the radio. He was trying to explain the beginnings of the universe for a lay audience, and not doing a very convincing job of it. The trouble is - for me, at any rate - that the big bang theory sounds no more credible than Genesis. Something infinitesimally small being transformed into something infinitely large, in a nanosecond: really? “In the beginning was the word” doesn’t sound so very different, apart from suggesting, in the next few verses, that there was a hand on the tiller…

The church at Fairfield, Romney Marsh. The village disappeared, but the church is still here, marooned by watercourses..


Friday, 20 November 2015

Fanny & Elvis...

I’m down on Romney Marsh, pie ’n’ mash country. Having picked up a couple of OS maps from a charity shop, and some brochures from the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre, I’m ready to explore the area: isolated medieval churches, the Military Canal, Dungeness, a flat landscape that’s been won from the sea. I love out-of-the-way places: the middle of nowhere, the back of beyond. The sky is still an unrelieved grey, but I’m hoping to see some sunlight soon.

Another find in the charity shop was a DVD of Fanny and Elvis, a piss-poor film shot in and around Hebden Bridge, which represents the high point of my acting career. When the call went out for extras, I joined a line of hopefuls queuing up the stairs at the Trades Club. I had my photo taken, left my phone number and thought no more about it. A few days later I had a phone call: “Could I play a man who props up the bar in a pub”. I said that with a little tuition, I probably could.

My scene was being shot in the Mount Skip Inn, high on the bluff overlooking the Caderdale valley. Big lights were shining through the windows, to give a daylight feel even when night fell, and there were more morris dancers than you’d expect to find in a Hebden Bridge pub. I didn’t do much standing at the bar; the main protagonists meet in the pub, words are said, beer is spilled and blows are exchanged. It was my job (by the time of shooting I think I’d morphed into the pub landlord) to break up the fight between Ray Winstone and Ben Daniels by grabbing one of them by his jacket collar and dragging him out the door. Cut!

We replayed the scene half a dozen times. I’ve seen fights in pubs, but they don’t usually repeat on a loop. Actors and extras were wiped down; glasses were topped up again, with fake beer; morris dancers were swapped for other morris dancers. The spare morris dancers were stored in the attic, along with the extras when they weren’t wanted. The roof beams creaked, so when shooting started we were told to stop whatever we were doing and stand as still as statues.

The argument played out again, and again, and again. This one scene took about 18 hours to film, which made the £30 paid to extras seem like small beer. But, hey, we were hobnobbing with the stars (maybe some of that celebrity stardust would rub off on us), and it was fun. A lot of Hebden Bridge folk appeared as extras; for a few weeks we basked in the faint acclaim. There was a special showing at the Hebden Bridge cinema when the film came out, giving locals the opportunity to point at the screen excitedly and say “Look… that’s me!”

I may watch the film this evening. Most of my little part was cut, I think; blink and you’d miss it. Fanny and Elvis may not have been the start of a glittering film career, but it’s a warm memory of a happy time...

Romney Marsh...

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Lewes...

I emailed my articles from a pub in Lewes: the kind of place where old geezers like me go to have a pint, read the papers and try, without any noticeable success, to chat up the barmaid. One guy was talking on the phone… except he wasn’t talking, he was bellowing. And when he’d finished with one conversation, he immediately rang somebody else. I was going to ask him to speak up a bit, because the bloke in the next room might not have caught every bit of his conversation… but he got up and left.

I hate talking on the phone in a public place, where my witless meanderings can be overheard. On the rare occasions that my phone rings, I rush to somewhere quiet where I won’t disturb anyone. And I make sure to get as few calls as possible by neglecting to charge my phone…

Friday, 13 November 2015

Odiham...

Odiham Castle, in Hampshire. "Worth seeing", as Samuel Johnson said of the Giant's Causeway, "but not worth going to see"...


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Hitchin...

Enjoyed a couple of nights out with old friends, in and around Hitchin, before travelling further south. A brief visit to the M25 was as close to London as I ventured...

Monday, 9 November 2015

Morrisons...

Getting my news this morning, as usual, from the Guardian website. I read an article about supermarkets rejecting vast amounts of vegetables which don’t meet their strict requirements for shape and size, thus adding to the pile of food we consign to landfill… either before the customer goes shopping, or after. And customers have been trained, over the years, to buy vegetables on appearance alone. Each branch of Morrisons has what they call ‘Market Street’: ersatz stalls for selling and displaying produce, having put most of the genuine food shops and stalls in the vicinity out of business. And the Guardian, in traditional fashion, spells Morrisons in three different ways - Morrisons, Morrissons, Morissons - and even manages to get the headline wrong…


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Daventry...

In Daventry this evening, feeling as rough as a badger’s arse. What do they say: “Feed a cold, half a sixpence”? I’m hoping, after a meal, that 7.30pm isn’t too early to retire to my bed…

Saturday, 7 November 2015

On the road...

Stayed in Hebden Bridge last night. Saw a few chums by accident, others by design, sitting by the fire in the Fox & Goose. I'm driving down to Coventry to see son, Chas. It’s wet and windy, which makes motorway driving miserable. I'm sitting in the motorway services, with a mug of tea; it's like the departure lounge of some tiny airport...

Friday, 6 November 2015

Autumn...

I’m back in my favourite campsite in the Yorkshire Dales… editing and uploading pix, while my clothes are whizzing around in the tumble drier. Exciting times…

The weather is damp, autumnal… but warm. It’s no great privation to walk around in shirt sleeves until my clothes are dry. The fleece will be toasty warm when I put it on..

The churchyard of St Andrew's Church in Guiseley, West Yorkshire...













Monday, 2 November 2015

Kendal...

Slept in Kendal last night, having watched half a dozen gooseanders trying to cope with the fast-flowing water. I have one more drive to do in the Lake District - and write up the notes - before heading back across the Pennines…

Arnside...









Sunday, 1 November 2015

Quakers...

Visited the Quaker Meeting house at Swarthmoor this morning - half a mile from Swarthmoor Hall and the only meeting house known to have been given to the movement by its founder, George Fox. Always good to share an hour of silence in such a historic little building.

About five years ago I wrote an essay about Quakers for a competition; though it didn't make the shortlist, it was still fun to write...   


Saturday, 31 October 2015

"Ah, Mister Bond..."...

On a whim I went to see Spectre at the multiplex in Barrow. It was showing on so many screens that you could see it throughout the evening at half-hour intervals. The film had been feted by the critics, so I was looking forward to thrills and spills and putting my brain into neutral for a couple of hours.

It’s many years since I’ve seen a Bond film. The franchise goes back such a long way; as a late developer I was fast-tracked through puberty by watching Ursula Andress striding out of the surf in her white bikini. I remember Shirley Eaton painted gold from head to toe, Sean Connery’s sauve one-liners and Roger Moore acting with his eyebrows.

The plot of Spectre is paper-thin and preposterous, of course. But it starts at a good lick, with Daniel Craig bringing the house down during Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico. He has a brief dalliance with a woman old enough to be a Bond girl’s mother. Her age is a big deal, apparently, even though, in strict chronological terms, Ian Fleming’s Bond would be about 95 by now. Having changed the course of cinema history, simply by being a women in film who’s past the first flush of youth, she makes no further appearance.

Bond then hooks up with the daughter of a guy he went to kill (though the guy pre-empts the assassination attempt by blowing his own brains out). The girl, Dr Madeleine Swann, is a bit miffed about that, but not for long, and she and Bond remain ‘an item’ for the rest of the film. The sex is entirely off-screen, with an unacceptable nipple count of nil. The girl shows she can dismantle a handgun, shoot a few baddies and keep her clothes on… but she sashays sexily down a train corridor in a silky dress. Daniel Craig’s facial expression may not change from start to finish, but the outfits do. Even in the middle of the Moroccan desert, Bond and Dr Swann can lay their hands on neatly-pressed leisurewear.

The film boasts the usual rosta of chases - cars, speedboats, planes, helicopters - and a surprisingly low-key finale. I had to look away when Bond’s jaw is punctured by remotely controlled drill-bits, and there are three or four moments in the film when I jumped out of my seat. But on the whole it’s ‘business as usual’ for Bond, and my brain was still in neutral as I sat by the fire in the pub in Biggar village, on Walney Island…

Friday, 30 October 2015

Langdale slate...

 “Someone’s happy”, says the guy relieving himself at the far urinal. I hum to myself without even realising it, but at least I’m aware of the urinal etiquette. Men never talk about it; it’s just a behaviour we learn. When confronted by a row of urinals, most men will use the one on the far left or far right, which gives the next guy the opportunity to use the urinal on the other end. With more guys, things get more complicated, as this website indicates…

There is one rule that over-rides all others: don’t invade the invisible ‘buffer zone’. So if there’s just one guy using a urinal, you must never, ever use the one next to him. It can only end badly…

Trying to find pictures in gloomy light: silver birches growing out of the slate quarrying spoil heaps, in Langdale...


























The River Brathay...

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Windermere...

It’s not so bad getting old (and definitely better than the alternative, as Woody Allen used to say). I meet a lot of people on my travels, and first impressions count. So it’s gratifying to find that people are, on the whole, very friendly. With age I think I’ve reached a plateau. Men don’t find me a threat, so it’s handshakes all round, not raised fists. I can get away with saying a lot of things that might have got me into bother thirty years ago. Women don’t see me as a source of either pleasure or pain, and are happy to chat.

I drove from Cockermouth to Windermere this morning, through heavy rain all the way. There were ‘white horses’ on Thirlmere, and Bassenthwaite Lake looked gloomy; it’s definitely not sailing weather. With poor visibility, the hills disappeared into the mist, but there was still something special about the autumn colours. The weather’s supposed to improve about lunchtime, so I may get some pix. In the meantime I’m parked up, proof-reading…

I made a classic mistake this morning. I read, on the Guardian website, that a 16-year-old schoolboy, Daniel Stroud, is being held by police in connection with the stabbing of fellow pupil, Bailey Gwynne. At the top of the article was an unflattering photograph of a teenager, which I immediately assumed to be Daniel Stroud. “Yes”, I thought, “he looks like a bit of a bully”. Then I read the caption and realised it was the boy who died. How quickly we make baseless assumptions about people…

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Candlestick...

Drove to Cockermouth today, having spent the night in Workington. I like Cockermouth (and not just for the enticing proximity of ‘cock’ and ‘mouth’). When it rains, locals must get nervous, because the town was flooded out in 2009. The shops in the broad main street have all re-opened, and many of them look even smarter than they did before the flood.

Years ago I photographed the ‘Candlestick’, overlooking Whitehaven harbour. I put the camera on the tripod as the light fell, and took a series of pix, every few minutes, for about an hour… until the ambient light was a deep royal blue, almost black. Though the illumination from the floodlights didn’t change, it seemed to get brighter as the ambient light receded. I re-did the shot last night. Not everyone would enjoy standing around, taking pictures in the gathering gloom, but it suits me…


Monday, 26 October 2015

Encounters...

Encounters tend to be brief, as I go from place to place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trivial. Met a guy this morning, in Bitts Park, Carlisle, who was walking two lively spaniel dogs. He got the dog when he lost his job, he said, and walks it every day. Today he was walking his neighbour’s dog too, and trying to keep their leads untangled. He had to hold both leads in one hand; he held out the other hand, which had stitches from the palm almost to the elbow. “Tendonitis”, he said, and hoped we’d meet again.

Ten minutes later, a man approached me, very hesitantly, on the street. “Could you…”, he said, and his voice trailed away. I gave him a pound, and he burst into tears. “I just wanted 60p”, he said. “I need to phone my dad, and I don’t have a mobile. It costs 60p to make the call, and everybody I’ve asked has just walked away”. He collapsed against the wall, and sobbed. I stayed there, in case he wanted to talk, but, after a minute, I shook his hand and walked away…

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Moral dilemmas...

The nomadic life is full of moral dilemmas. When I filled up the Romahome this morning, I saw that by buying a copy of the Mail on Sunday, I could get a reduction on my fuel of 5p per litre. 50 litres @ 5p = £2.50. So I bought the newspaper, and came out of the deal about £1 ahead… though the transaction was so confusing to the lady behind the counter (and to me) that she needed to use her pocket calculator. It was rather too early on a Sunday morning for such high finance.

So far, so good… except I was now the owner of a copy of Britain’s worst newspaper. I couldn’t even give it away to another customer - and I tried - so I put it back in the rack with all the other papers. Owning a copy of the Daily Mail, even just for five minutes, made me feel a bit grubby.
  
Buying books from charity shops doesn’t usually create much moral conflict. Except for last week when I bought a book about birds from a charity shop run by the Cat Protection League. I also bought a book by Christopher Hitchins (with one of the all-time great titles: God is not Great) from a Christian charity bookshop. I’m conflicted. I wouldn’t normally give money to Cats or Christians if someone was shaking a tin…

The church at Greystoke is very big, but the congregation, these days, is very small. Small... and cold. So the vicar has installed a small marquee, in the south aisle, which can be kept toasty warm, throughout the winter months, with a couple of electric fan heaters at either end. The marquee will stay until the weather warms up next spring.

There are, I think, about 13,000 parish churches in the country, with most of them facing similar problems. I love old churches - the smaller the better - but, on the whole, they're surplus to requirements. I wonder how many churches will still be 'open for business' in fifty years time?


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Clive James...

There’s a wintry feel to Penrith on a Saturday morning in the rain. With breakfast (and free wifi) provided by Oliver’s Tasty Bites, I read a short article, by Clive James, on the Guardian website. He has leukemia, so his writings these days have an elegaic air. When the future is curtailed, memories come to the fore; he looks out of the window, into the garden, where his Japanese maple tree is “in flame”. The bright red leaves conjure up a pleasant memory from fifty years ago. They also give him hope. “Last year”, he writes. “I saw the transformation as a sign of the end. Now I prefer to see it as a portent of spring”.

In the meantime he sees more acutely, and listens more intently; he sees things he probably wouldn’t have noticed in years gone by, when he was busy trying to make a name for himself.

This abilty to enjoy the ‘here and now’ is something we’re accustomed to hearing from people diagnosed with a terminal illness or who expected to die but were reprieved. The proximity to death makes them appreciate what they are about to lose (or what they nearly lost). We seem to accept that these feelings are conjured up only in exceptional circumstance, towards the end of life, when, in fact, they are available to anyone, anytime.

We have to want to see (that’s the easiest bit… and the hardest), and we have to be aware of what stops us seeing: hopes, dreams, memories, opinions, beliefs, convictions, certainties, the yearning for social status, to ‘be somebody’, to make our mark, etc. That’s the hardest bit… and also the easiest, since we keep these impediments in front of our eyes by an act of will. The moment we see them for what they are, gravity takes over… and they fall away, out of our line of sight. Are we willing to do without the beliefs and ideas that seem to make us what we are, even for just a short period of time? What will happen if we let go of them? Are we willing to find out?…

Friday, 23 October 2015

Booths...

After many years absence, breakfast seems to be back on the menu. I’m in Booths, in Ulverston, where, thanks to my Booths loyalty card, I can get a free cup of tea. That used to be the deal, but, apparently, people were going into the café for free tea and free wifi: hardly credible, I know. So now you have to buy something to eat before you get the free hot beverage. The next job, after scoffing my bacon sandwich, is to select the pix to go with this month’s articles, and send them off…

The inside of my head on a wet Friday morning...



Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Ticket...

A good way to start the day - like yesterday - is to make some picture sales. A bad way to start the day - like today - is to oversleep, in a car park in Ulverston, and get a parking ticket. I saw the traffic warden, goose-stepping around the car park, but too late…

I called in at the Leisure Centre, to see if any progress had been made on selling the concept of walking football to the locals. Apparently not. The guy said that only one guy had ever turned up - “a holidaymaker (ie me!) - and that the slot had been offered to a group of people with disabilities, who, with their carers, were now playing 5-a-side games.

I drove out of Ulverston and along the Coast Road, to a pull-in with a panoramic view across Morecambe Bay. The view isn’t strictly necessary, when I’m writing, but it’s calming to hear the sea and sea-birds. Also there’s a little café there - just a wooden shack - for take-away tea in paper cups...

Monday, 19 October 2015

Busy...

Busy writing articles, while the weather's poor, with a meal out in Halifax this evening. Then off to the Lakes for a few days, to get some autumnal pix...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Bedale...

Still in Bedale, while I finish off some articles. I find myself drawn to these little market towns, with their ginnels, alleyways, wide main streets and plentiful pubs. The pubs have a lot of character (the Wetherspooons corporation has yet to hoover up all the business) and, at 6pm on a Thursday, a cast of characters - mostly male - who seem to have nothing better to do than sit at the bar exchanging insults and pleasantries.

The women - in the Black Swan, at least - are busy putting up halloween decorations. Halloweeen is a event that’s passed me by: just another American import we’ve been sold. But everyone’s having such a good time, and the enthusiasm is infectious. Soon the pub is full of spiders, cobwebs, ghouls, ghosts, skulls, witches, broomsticks, other spooky stuff, and signs - Happy Halloween. Does anyone ever say that? The landlady’s son and daughter appear: the boy is dressed up, convincingly, as Count Dracula, with a cape, though he’s having trouble with the teeth. The girl has wings; maybe she’s a fairy. They’re both going to an early evening Halloween disco…

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Harlow Carr...

Spent a productive morning at Harlow Carr, the RHS gardens near Harrogate, trying to capture some autumn colours. When I sat down, a robin flew onto the arm of the bench and started singing a tiny little song. The melody seemed to be for my benefit alone, because it seemed too quiet for any other creature to hear.

In Bedale now, uploading all the pix. A small market town is probably the best place to stay the night: easy to find a parking spot, free wifi and a bite to eat…



Monday, 12 October 2015

A close shave...

I drove away from my favourite Dales campsite this afternoon, and nearly caused an accident. I waited at the main road, near Grassington, while three caravans went by, right to left. When they slowed to a crawl, I looked right and left, saw nothing moving and moved out. I missed a car coming from the left… by inches. He didn’t brake. I didn’t brake. There were no skidmarks on the road. It was just luck that there wasn’t a collision… and it would have been all my fault. It was undramatic too. He didn’t hoot or stop; he just carried on as if nothing had happened.

By the time I reached Ilkley I didn’t feel like driving any further. So I parked up in the big car park in the middle of town, and I won’t be going anywhere till tomorrow morning. Just having a beer in Wetherspoons, to calm me down a bit. And count my blessings. An email just dropped in: I’m a grandad again. Another boy. That’s enough excitement for one day…

The canal basin at Sowerby Bridge...






Saturday, 10 October 2015

Dog...

Met a couple at the Puzzle Hall Inn last night. They had a guide dog with them - a black labrador - though neither of them semed to be visually impaired. It turned out that they train guide dogs, one at a time. The training might take as much as two years, they said, before a dog was ready to be matched up with a blind person. I knew guide dogs had to be trained, but I never really thought about how it was done. And I had no idea how time-consuming it was. An interesting conversation (and a lovely dog)…

Friday, 9 October 2015

Puzzle Hall...

I was taking some pictures this morning, on the Rochdale Canal in Sowerby Bridge. The boss of the company that hires out the narrowboats passed me and said “Could send us some of the photos you take”. I said “What… for free?” He said “Yes… a lot of people send us photos. We always give them a credit if we use them”. I said “Well, my car’s over there. Maybe you’d like to wash it for me. And then I’ll tell people what a good job you did”.

A lovely day, though I didn’t take as many pix as I should have done. People were sitting out in their gardens, and butterflies were flitting from flower to flower. It’s October masquerading as August.

I took the opportunity, when staying at my favourite Yorkshire Dales campsite, to upgrade the software on my iMac and laptop, and now I can’t send emails. They’re coming in… but when I try to send an email, I’m asked for the password… which is then rejected… leaving my emails pinioned and resolutely earthbound. So if you emailed me, and are awaiting a reply, my apologies. I Googled the problem and it seems I’m not alone. That’s vaguely reassuring. If it’s a known issue, then Apple will presumably be working on a patch for OS 10.11.2 .

Off, now, to one of my favourite pubs - the Puzzle Hall Inn - hoping there might be a bit of live music. There seem to be a lot of smart new pubs in the town, so hopefully the Puzzle will still be a grubby, aspiration-free zone serving a decent pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord…

Success… There’ll be music later on. ‘Swamp rock”, I’m told. Can’t wait…

Bridge on the Rochdale Canal...



Thursday, 8 October 2015

Campsite...

Staying in my ‘go to’ campsite in Wharfedale. They know me, seem tolerably pleased to see me and I get the special ‘old geezer’ rate. I’ve upgraded computer software and uploaded loads of pix - it’s handy having a few hours of dependable wifi - and my clothes are in the on-site washing machine.

I recall staying in a campsite in Hampshire: really just a farmer’s field, with few facilities. The farmer came by to collect my pitch fee. “Do you think you’ll ever stay here again?, he asked. “Definitely”, I said. “Then I’ll just charge you the ‘regulars’ rate"…

Posters in Redcar...


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Thirsk...

Parked up in the cobbled square, Thirsk. I watch as one more small town wakes up. Shops are opening up, starting with the greengrocer. Guys are round to empty the bins and sweep the streets; they wear flourescent tabards - green and orange - which, ironically, make them almost invisible. I’ve often wondered if I should buy a day-glo tabard. It might have the same effect on me - like an invisibility cloak - which would be very useful when I'm taking 'people pix'…

Hull Marina...


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Guisborough...

I popped into the parish church at Guisborough yesterday, just to have a look round. There were some mothers and kids there - it looked like a play session - so I walked past them down the nave of the church. A couple of elderly ladies smiled, but a third lady looked horrified, like I’d walked into the church bollock naked. She rushed up to me and started jabbering about CRB checks, etc. She said she’d have to go and find someone “to accompany me” if I wanted to look around the church. I can’t remember what I said; I know what I would have liked to have said… but I’ve never sworn in church, and I hope I never will. I just turned around and walked out. What the hell is wrong with us?…

Just noticed that I've passed last year's stock pic sales, both in terms of number of licenses and total revenue. So, after a couple of years of falling prices, the price-per license seems to have stabilised. Thank goodness...


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Redcar...

Wound up in Redcar today: about as far north as I'll be going, 'cos I'm seeing friends in Scarborough tomorrow. I was lucky with the light on Redcar beach, and with this horse and trap racing through the shallows...

I bought a whippy cornet from a lady in an ice cream van on the promenade. She seemed very cheerful. “It’s the beautiful view”, she said, gazing out to see. “But I don’t like the wind turbines”. The turbines looked fantastic, I thought; the odd light made them seem very close. “Would you like raspberry sauce?”, she asked. Of course.

It reminded me of my days in a Mr Whippy van, doing the rounds in Leeds. The Guiseppe brothers, Mario and Johnny, used to give every driver a waxed paper cup (they kind they served sundaes in) filled with Martini before we toook our van out. Maybe it was to wake us up and get us going. My patch was a big estate in Seacroft, and, to make any money, I had to get round before any of my competitors.

The kids used to call me Chucky Man (not sure why). The cry would go up - “Chucky Man’s ‘ere” - and the kids would gather round. I gave them free ice cream on their birthday, though birthdays seemed to come round remarkably quickly. I’d answer their questions. “Eh, Chucky Man”, they’d say, “why are you always eating ice cream?” Because it was so damn good, that’s why, especially after a joint. “Chucky Man, how much is a fourpenny cornet?” “Can I have some broken wafers for ’t baby?”…





























Saturday, 3 October 2015

Flood barrier...


A cloudy morning in Whitby, so I’m busy editing pix…

The flood barrier in Hull...


Friday, 2 October 2015

Hull again...

Over the Humber Bridge and back in Hull. I’m revising my opinion of the place, having explored the old parts of town, where there are some great pubs, full of character…


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Humber...

Barton-upon-Humber feels like the back of beyond. It’s been cut off… not by a retreating tide, twice a day, but by the Humber Bridge, once and for all. A road leads down to the Humber and the ‘Humber Bridge Viewing Area’; it’s a cul de sac today, though it must have been a busy thoroughfare in years gone by, when it led to the Humber Ferry. There’s a house which, according to a plaque on the wall, used to be the Waterside Inn, a small coastguard station and a row of cottages built for the coastguards, but none are now used for their original purpose.

The bridge dominates the view; for those travelling across the bridge, Barton-on-Humber barely registers. I had a chat with a guy fishing from the breakwater, his regular fishing spot, who had a similar 'blind spot'; “I hardly notice the bridge any more”, he said. He had just caught a cod - “must be five pounds”, he reckoned - and was taking it home for his tea. It would feed a family…

The Humber Bridge...
























Scruffy boatyard, Barton-upon-Humber...



Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Moon under Water...

Wetherspoons have 15 pubs around the country called the Moon under Water, and one of them is in Boston, Lincolnshire. The Moon under Water was the name of George Orwell’s ideal - and imaginary - pub. Though I use the free wifi - and toilets - it’s as hard to be enthusiastic about a Wetherspoon pub as it is to be critical. They must be doing something right, as the public are voting with their feet. When other pubs are empty, Wetherspoon pubs are always busy. They really are all things to all people: a conjuring trick that they pull off with ease. Breakfast? No problem. Beer with breakfast? No problem either. You can have morning coffee, a light lunch, an afternoon session, an evening out out with the boys, or the girls, or the family or a date. If you want a meal afterwards, you can order off the menu till 11pm.

George Orwell might blanche at the way Wetherspoons have appropriated Moon under Water. His ideal pub is just about everything that Wetherspoons isn’t…


























A pub in Boston that's more to my taste...


Monday, 28 September 2015

Boston...

In Boston today I’ve heard more foreign tongues - East European, mostly - than English. The area of town around the bus and train stations is full of food shops catering for an East European clientele. I’ve never eaten Lithuanian food in a restaurant, but I could in Boston. I’m assuming - without asking anybody - that the immigrants are working in agriculture. And I have no idea how the locals get on with the in-comers, and vice-versa…