20 August 2014


Of course a philatelist is a stamp collector but what is a collector of old bottles called? Probably a numbskull who should get a life! …Whatever! I guess that it is time for me to come out of the closet, nail my colours to the mast and admit that I collect old glass bottles. I like them to be in very good condition and the glass must be green tinged. I especially like bottles from Yorkshire. They might have once contained beer, sparkling water, ink, milk or medicine. As long as they are green-tinged and fairly old, I don’t mind.

Today, after shopping at our local friendly “Lidl” store, I called in at an antiques emporium at Heeley Bottom just to see if any old bottles had turned up and I was pleased to find this beautiful baby from the 1930’s. Isn't she gorgeous?...

You might not be able to make out the embossed writing. It says “Rider Wilsons Table Water Sheffield” so I am delighted to say it’s another local bottle. It cost me £5. Collecting bottles isn’t a particularly expensive hobby and I have liberated several from derelict properties – in other words free!

If you haven’t fallen asleep yet or clicked away from this dull blogpost, here are some more of my treasured bottles:- 

This type of soda bottle (below) - the codd bottle -  takes its name from the inventor and patentee Hiram Codd, who in 1872 patented a bottle for use in the aërated water trade. It was made in Barnsley, Yorkshire. The bottle was unique; it would never need a cork inserted to form the closure because trapped in its neck the glass ball could not leave the neck chamber, or perish. This allowed the bottle to be used many times without the expenditure of a cork. The bottle was filled under gas pressure forcing the marble into the lip where it met an India rubber washer retained in a groove. The marble was forced against the washer forming a perfect air tight seal.
And this one is of course an old "Coca Cola" bottle - probably from the 1950's. I bought it in a junk shop in Panama City, Florida for one dollar. On the base you can see where it was made - in Bainbridge Georgia where a Coke bottling plant still operates today:-
I have never really stopped to consider why I like old bottles. Perhaps it's linked to my fondness for abandoned farm buildings. They speak of earlier times. They are tactile and heavy and when they were made there was no expectation that they would ever be treasured.
Some of my bottles on display at the grand entrance to Pudding Towers

18 August 2014


Over Hathersage - View along The Hope Valley yesterday afternoon
Hathersage is a smashing village. It seems to have everything. A beautiful setting in the Hope Valley, a ten minute drive into Sheffield's south western suburbs, two curry houses, a public swimming pool, a railway station, a school, Little John's grave, pubs, shops and an array of lovely houses of different sizes and ages. Yes, Hathersage is a nice place.

Of course I have been to and through Hathersage hundreds of times and oft-times when returning from The Peak District via the road to Surprise View, I have looked up to the hill that rises to the east of the village and noticed an old ruin in the middle of a field that is embraced on three sides by woodland. It's like an old friend that reminds me I am almost home. 

Nonetheless, until yesterday I had never visited that ruin. It is not close to any public rights of way. I checked access to it with the help of satellite imagery before setting off yesterday afternoon. After parking by the start of the track to Scraperlow near Higger Tor, I  headed for sloping deciduous woodland that looks down upon The Hope Valley. But instead of taking the diagonal path that leads down to Hathersage Booths through the woods, I forked right across the fields till I came to the ruins of an old farm. It must have been abandoned a long time ago and it is in the very corner of a field where two plantations meet. One of the old stone gateposts had been yanked from the ground. I swear it would take a dozen strong men to lift it. Massive.

But this was not my target. Over and under a couple of barbed wire fences, skirting the woods, past two more monumental gateposts and then my old friend came into view. Sitting in the middle of the field, looking down quizzically upon Hathersage. It was then that  the grey rain shower reached us after trundling along the valley. I sheltered beneath a beech tree and waited for the rain to pass.

The ruin has no name - at least not on maps. Why it was built there - in such an exposed place - I have no idea and why two sides were cleverly arched is also curious. Perhaps it was something other than a barn for sheep. Perhaps it was a seventeenth century gentleman's retreat. Maybe he came up here to think and get away from his household, to admire the view, to write. Whatever it was, it is a blessing that the enigmatic old ruin persists.And so after the rain, I captured it digitally. I have not been able to find any other close-up photos of the ruin. These could be the first....
Amongst the trees you can see the spire of Hathersage Church
And in my humble opinion - this is the best picture of them all. I think the grey cloud gives a bit of drama to the scene. A blue sky just wouldn't have done the same:-
Some men are drawn to motorbikes or motherboards, lap-dancing clubs, poultry, steam trains or share-dealing but for some mysterious reason I am drawn to old farm ruins. Watch this space.

17 August 2014


Above - the little fish and chip shop in the village of Grange Moor which is south east of Huddersfield and around an hour's drive from Sheffield. On Friday unforecasted rain was spitting when I parked up in Grange Moor and I was in two minds about whether to undertake the walk I had planned. Instead I went in that little takeaway place and asked for a small bag of chips.

"D'ye want bits on?" asked the middle-aged woman behind the counter. She was wearing a white catering hat - like a trilby.

For those who are not versed in the intricacies of fish and chip culture, may I explain that "bits" (called "scraps" in East Yorkshire) are  rescued small  bits of batter from the frying tank. They are golden and crunchy, very unhealthy and delicious on top of a bag of chips with a sprinkling of salt and malt vinegar,  She offered me a full scoop of "bits" but slightly horrified, as I considered such a  wave of cholesterol, I asked for half. 

I sat in my car munching those delicious chips as rain piddled down but by the time all the golden fingers had descended to Pudding's  miniature belly, the rainstorm had passed by and I decided to risk the planned walk. With boots on I set off for Cockermouth Farm on Flockton Moor, thence to Six Lanes End and onwards to the hamlet of Crawshaw. Along to Kirkby Grange Farm and Furnace Grange and then to the village of Flockton which boasts one of the oldest pubs in Britain - "The George and Dragon" - dating back to 1485. Later it became a coal mining community with functional miners' cottages spreading west from the original village.
"The George and Dragon" on a grey day in Flockton
Past the church and then northwards through New Park towards Grange Hall. At New Park, it took me a while to realise that the caravans around the big field's perimeter belonged not to middle class caravanners but to travelling families or gipsies. There were mongrel dogs on ropes and flat bed tarmac and scrap metal trucks and tree-lopping machinery. No raggle taggle gipsies here, with golden earrings dancing round a campfire to the sound of a violin.

The rain was returning by the time I reached Denby Lane but I was nearly back at my car in Grange Moor by then. Between the houses above a green I spotted this odd construction:- 
It is called "The Dumb Steeple" and intriguingly nobody is quite sure what it is or was. It was repaired in 1766 and it used to have a stone ball on its pinnacle. In the 1840's striking textile workers had rallies here and of course there was a time when there were no houses in the area. One respected Yorkshire historian claims that it was once a place of pagan worship and the current construction may have replaced a much earlier edifice. More pictures from my grey sky jaunt below:-
Near Furnace Grange
Angry sky over Flockton
Emley Moor Tower dominates the local landscape. It is the tallest free standing
structure in the British Isles and so naturally it is in Yorkshire.
Cottages at Six Lanes End

16 August 2014


I don't believe in ghosts. It's all a load of nonsense in my view. Those who believe in ghosts secretly desire something more - something beyond everyday life - and so they are receptive to ghostly ideas, ghostly stories, ghostly films. I would happily set up a tent and camp in a pitch dark graveyard, snuggled in my sleeping bag, listening to the hooting of owls and the leathery whooshing of bats' wings. I am 100% confident that I would not be disturbed by phantoms and that I would sleep soundly till dawn.

And yet at times, I feel that I am haunted. Maybe you are the same. When I was working and there were never enough hours in a day and every morning was like the beginning of  another Groundhog Day, there was hardly time to ponder. But now that I have oodles of time to spare, events and faces from the past come back to haunt me.

We are who we are and though we might be able to alter the fringes of our lives, the core human being remains unchanged. As they say, it's all in our DNA. A feature of my "haunting" is the replaying of past events - mostly when things went wrong, when I suffered injustice, when I failed to act in the way I should have done, when wrong words were spoken or the right words were unsaid. I tend to play those particular life tapes far more often than I revisit my successes, the joys that  I have known, the wonderful places I have been fortunate enough to visit, the good things I have done.

Edith Piaf memorably sang:-
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal; tout ça m'est bien égal !
Which loosely translated means:-
No, nothing of nothing
No! I don't feel sorry about anything
Not the good things people have done to me
Not the bad things, it's all the same to me.
But to me this is all pure hogwash. In reality, it is impossible to live without regrets. To "regret nothing" is an aspiration, not a believable way of living.

We are all the same in that inside our skulls there's a person that we refer to as "I" or "me". But no matter how close we get to other people, they will never know what it means to live inside somebody else's  head. The "I" that I know is very different from your particular "I". "I" is composed of our genetic make up, our experience, our diet, our physical health, the stimulation we receive from the world around us.  And for these reasons we are all different. No two "I's" can ever be the same.

What is past is past. We can't change it and yes there's probably no point in crying over spilt milk but in spite of all that, I know that I am not alone in devoting far too much emotional energy and time to past recollections that may often be tainted with regret. You can't snap out of it or prevent that kind of thinking. In the end there's no way to exorcise those metaphorical ghosts that haunt us. We must continue striving to  live with them.

14 August 2014


Our Ian at Thirty
Ian at Seven
I must be getting old because my little boy is thirty years old. It was his birthday yesterday and he managed to get time off from his busy job in London to return to his Sheffield nest. I took him out for breakfast at Jonty's on Sharrow Vale Road and then we drove to Meadowhall where he chose a nice shirt and a pair of suede desert boots as his birthday present. And in the evening, after Shirley had come home from work, we drove over to Rotherham for dinner in the excellent "Akbars" curry resaturant on Meadowbank Road. See the size of our nan bread hanging from a metal frame! Later he met up with his Sheffield friends at "The Pointing Dog" and must have sneaked home quietly some time after three in the morning. We are blessed to have such a smashing son who is generally happy and healthy, works hard,  loves life and treats other people with respect. He has far more true friends than I had at his age.
Full English birthday breakfast in Jonty's
Evening birthday curry  meal at Akbar

13 August 2014


Up until December of 1977, I had never even heard of Dinnington - a mining village in the South Yorkshire heartland.  It was then that I spotted an advertisement in "The Times Educational Supplement" for an English teacher to join the staff of Dinnington Comprehensive School. I was invited for interview and soon found myself  facing an interview panel of eight people. They were like The Spanish Inquisition.

The Chair of Governors was also a deputy at the local coal mine. He listened intently to my responses as I fielded questions from the rest of the panel and then at the end of the grilling the headteacher asked him if he had any questions. Half sneering at me, he growled, "Aye, I've just one question for thee lad. Are ye courtin'?"
I sensed the subtext immediately. He didn't want any of those gay pufta fellows coming into his South Yorkshire pit village to corrupt young boys. Notching my voice down a few octaves and scratching my testicles for good measure I reassured him that I was a red-blooded heterosexual but without going into graphic detail. It was only years later that I surmised he might actually have been angling for a date! However, he wasn't my type.
After my successful interview, the Head of English introduced me to a bachelor History teacher called Bob who lived on his own in the nearby village of Carlton in Lindrick. Apparently, Bob had helped several new teachers out by providing temporary accommodation and with Christmas right ahead of us, this seemed like the best option. Bob was in  his late thirties, with receding ginger hair and gold-rimmed spectacles. Little did I know at that point that rumours were rife amongst the pupil population that he was a "perv" who was far too interested in male pupils. Maybe that was why he ran one of the school football teams. And it wasn't long before they latched on to the fact that I was living with him. Perhaps I was also a "perv". Not really what you want when you're battling to establish yourself in a new school.
My "classroom" was really a secondhand hut that wouldn't have looked out of place in a refugee camp. It was situated well away from the rest of the English classrooms beyond a tarmac playground next to Throapham Woods. The window frames were rotting and there were just two small convector heaters to combat the January chill. But I didn't really mind. In those far off days there was no OFSTED and no real curriculum. I was trusted to deliver an English diet that would engage the children and there was nobody looking over my shoulder.

That autumn I took one of my classes out into Throapham Woods. Silently, we made observational notes about the trees, the birdlife, the smell of fallen leaves etc.. More notes were made in late December 1978 and yet more in the springtime and the summer. It was only then that I allowed them to begin their descriptive writing tasks - drawing inspiration and ideas from their notes. The resulting pieces of writing were fantastic - based not on vague thinking but on detailed observation. You could do things like that in those days. And by then I was living in Sheffield and Bob had been promoted to a school in Lincolnshire. 
During my weeks with him I ascertained that he probably was a bit of a "perv" - for I had to field several phone calls from boys - including one who said that he was "in love" with Bob. And two or three times, I heard Bob talking in hushed tones to these lads as I sat in the lounge marking exercise books.

I have many memories of Dinnington. Getting snogged at a Christmas party in The Lordens Hotel by two rampant members of the female PE staff who took my breath away. Visiting  the parents of a truanting boy and finding they kept rabbits in the sideboard in their living room. Mark Needham filling his pockets and school bag with pieces of waste coal from the slag heap before catching the bus home. Taking my seven Year 11 special needs lads in my Hillman Avenger to the museum in Doncaster - a town that none of them had ever visited before. Punting on the River Cam during a marvellous conference - "English for Average and Less Able Pupils". Writing and directing a musical play based on "The Gresford Disaster". Getting locked in the toilets of a nightclub in Worksop following a boozy male teachers' night out. Singing my heart out in the chorus of "The Mikado" while dressed as a Japanese courtier. That was Dinnington - once upon  a time.

And I was back in Dinnington yesterday. The coal mine and its associated slag heap have gone and so has my temporary hut  to the rear of the school campus. The Lordens Hotel is all closed up and falling into disrepair. Thirty six years have drifted by and times have changed but Dinnington remains an isolated settlement just far enough from Sheffield and Rotherham and Doncaster to be a law unto itself - discrete and separate. Another world. I am sure that there are still many people who live and die in Dinnington and hardly ever leave it and the echo of the pithead siren still haunts its avenues and alleyways.

11 August 2014


St John the Baptist Church in Wadworth
 Saturday 1pm. It all began so well. I had parked up in the South Yorkshire village of Wadworth close to yet another magnificent parish church - once again dedicated to John the Baptist. Two cricket teams were assembling on the village sports field ready for a lazy afternoon's play with leather upon willow and the sun had most definitely got his shiny hat on.

The intrepid Yorkshire Pudding was in shorts - designed to show off his tree trunk legs, a New York Fire Department T-shirt, white socks and size eleven boots. I struck off along Carr Lane towards Rossington where coming into view was an enormous heap of coal spoil, spreading over this ancient agricultural landscape. I double-checked my map of the area and felt that something wasn't right. The slag heap appeared much larger than the map indicated and it was perhaps at this ominous point that I should have turned back and gone home.
The enlarging coal waste tip near Rossington
New Rossington is a purpose built mining village - it grew with the pit that was sunk in 1913 but which ceased to be in the 1980's.  To the west and east of it there are railway tracks that head towards Doncaster - including the main east coast line from London. To the north the M18 motorway cuts north eastwards towards Goole and Hull.

My planned walking route, following designated public rights of way, was to lead me across one of the railway tracks to the north of Rossington but when I got there there were steel fences and a sign telling me that the pedestrian crossing was closed due to construction work. My solution was to head under the M18 to Bessacarr and use a different railway crossing - around a mile further north.

Then I skirted the Potteric Carr nature reserve heading for an underpass that allows walkers back under the M18 motorway. After the unexpected diversion this would lead me back to my intended path. But when I got there - at about four thirty in the afternoon - I discovered unscalable spiked gates and a warning sign - "No Entry - Construction Site - CCTV Security in Operation". I muttered a few choice words of annoyance such as "Gadzooks!", "Oh dash it!" and "How tiresome!"
Potteric Carr
One of the troubles with motorways is that only suicidal pedestrians should try to cross them. The next official crossing was a mile further to the west but how to get there? Lord - I wish there was CCTV coverage of the next hour of my life. 

First I had to scale an eight foot fence to enter the nature reserve. I paused at one of the bird hides and looked out over the wetland before scaling another fence and scrambling up a railway embankment and then down the other side. Over another wire fence into an overgrown and rather marshy dell before scrambling up the other side to a disused railway bed. I checked my map and realised that if I followed this old track it would loop me round to the official path I needed to reach. 

At first the brambly briars were easy to march over but after a couple of hundred yards they became so thick it was impossible to proceed. Down the other side of the disused railway embankment there was a drain - about four feet wide. I didn't want to get my boots wet so I yanked two old planks from the broken fence at the bottom of the dip and made a temporary bridge. I reckoned that if I could just get one boot in the middle I could leap across to the other bank. Thankfully it worked - just as my bridge collapsed with an almighty crack.

Then I was into a neglected and be-thistled field - maybe a hundred yards across. I had to traverse it to get to Beeston Plantation and once through that woodland I would be able to climb up to White Rose Way - a link road from the M18 into south eastern Doncaster. The undergrowth in Beeston Plantation was at first just soft ferns and bracken but this soon gave way to yet more verdant briars with their spiky tentacles reaching out menacingly like triffids. At one point I had to stop to wipe stinging perspiration from my eyes. My bare legs were becoming like those of a self-harmer - criss-crossed with red lines.

The embankment up on to White Rose Way was treacherously steep but I managed to scramble up on all fours and emerged into the sunshine like Indiana Jones. A passing and probably alarmed white van man pressed his horn as I stumbled along close to the crash barrier on the side of the dual carriageway. Then I dashed across and went down the other side to a track that leads to Loversall and then back along the A60 to Wadworth.
"The White Hart" in Wadworth
The conversations of regulars in "The White Hart" ceased suddenly when The Wild Man of the Woods entered to order a much needed pint of bitter shandy at the bar. It was one of the best drinks I have ever had - healing my dehydration like rainwater released into a dry paddy field. 

Then back to the car and the half hour drive home. It was 8pm when I crossed the threshold of our house. Shirley wept with relief - "Oh my darling Pudding, I was so worried! Thank God you are safe!" and I suggested that she should now phone to cancel the rescue services of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. It had not been the walk I was expecting. No siree. They say that the camera never lies but in this case, it does.
Ancient water fountain in Old Rossington
Betting shop in New Rossington
Rugby season ahead - Rossington Hornets friendly fixture.
Another reminder of New Rossington's coal mining heritage