8 October 2015


Today, October 8th, is Great Britain's National Pottery Day.


Shards and bits of jugs
Primitive patterns cracked
And potters' fingerprints.
Still they lie
Secretly scattered
Beneath the sod
Like the whispered words of 
Some ancient god.

Countless pieces
By earth concealed
Archaeology unrevealed
Where ploughs followed hooves
Machinery moves
Over our land of memories.

From distant centuries
These fragments sing
Of life and death 
Of everything.

October 8th 2015

Photo copyright - Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society 2014

6 October 2015


Merry guard at Buckingham Palace
Carol in Cairns threw down a gauntlet after my last post. Perhaps she felt I had denigrated London unfairly. Even the title of the post - "Jungle" suggested a certain geographical bigotry. That's how it is in England. Those of us who live in "the provinces" are generally sick and tired of Londoncentricity. London gets the money and it gets the spotlight while in the nether regions of "UpNorth", The South West, Tyne-Tees and The Black Country we huddle round camp fires and eat chunks of stale bread. 

Carol wondered if I could write a more positive piece about our recent London trip - a literary counterpoint to my last post. Well here goes...

Sunday morning in our glorious capital city. In the historic and verdant oasis that is Camberwell Green, a cheerful cockney woman in a mink coat is feeding a flock of bright-eyed pigeons. It is like a scene from "Mary Poppins" As I approach I realise that she is singing quietly to herself and as I pass by her I recognise the uplifting lyric - "And was Jerusalem builded here in England's green and pleasant land?"
Morning bath-time for cheery Camberwell pigeons
It seems like an anthem for London. Beyond her, I notice that that a mischievous grey squirrel is bounding merrily towards the majestic plane tree in the centre of the green. The elderly lady gives me a disarming smile and soon we are chattering away like old friends. It seems that the old lady - Elsie  - was once a housemaid in Buckingham Palace and also spent time as a Tiller girl - kicking her legs high in the limelight of the London Palladium. 

Behind her, substantial architect-designed blocks of artisan apartments reach for the blue skies above.They are part of the Peabody housing legacy - a precious gift to the people of south London. Many of the tenants have interesting family links with exotic faraway places  like St Lucia, Ghana, Afghanistan and Canton, Georgia - bringing extra vibrancy to this happy community which has embraced them with open arms.

I hear the distant sound of a musical siren as it makes its way to prestigious Kings College Hospital on beautiful Denmark Hill. I watch as two gentle ambulance women carefully disembark an elderly patient. She is on a stretcher in the twilight years of her life. Her hair is silver and wavy. A slender arm - the colour of  Devonshire cream - extends playfully from under the angora blanket. She sees me through the hospital railing, our lives colliding for a precious moment and we grin at each other. "I'm Dame Judy Dench!" she beams. "I'm Yorkshire Pudding!" I reply. "I hope they make you better Judy! May I have your autograph?"

Ahead, an African man outside A&E is enjoying a lively conversation with three security guards and two police officers who are trying to help the fellow as much as they can. He is enjoying the banter so much that he is reluctant to depart their company. But eventually he saunters away with a friend discussing sport, music and their unexpectedly foreshortened hospital visit.

There's an excellent information sign by Camberwell Green. It tells inquisitive readers that the green was in existence as early as 1245 AD when Camberwell was an agricultural village to the south of London which would then have had a small population of some 25,000 inhabitants. So the green has endured for a thousand years as London has developed, embracing and nourishing the forlorn  little villages that once surrounded it. I see someone sleeping on a bench there. Probably a late night reveller who had enjoyed a spiffing good time, dancing through till dawn but unable to make the last few steps needed to get home to her roaring hearthside and her pet budgerigar - Adrian.

By our daughter's luxury apartment which is in a block not dissimilar to Trump Tower, I notice two Polish holidaymakers taking pictures with their hi-tech phones. What have they seen I wonder? At the corner, close to the colourful recycling bins, is someone's pet rat. Awww! He is preening himself meticulously and he is the size of a healthy wild rabbit. He is wearing a little studded red collar with a heart shaped medallion that announces his murine identity - Johnno. After I have stroked Johnno and tickled his little chin, he tiptoes away in search of  hazelnuts, fallen apples  or any other healthy snacks he might find.

Sadly, the time came to take our leave of the throbbing metropolis via historic London Bridge under which aquamarine Father Thames still flowed comfortingly. We drove past the classical stone columns of The Bank of England and The Angel, Islington, reluctantly heading homewards. The diesel-spattered sign at the start of the rutted old motorway said "M1 - The North", like the hand that pointed Greek heroes across the Styx to Hades and eternal darkness.
Proud Camberwell College of Arts
Peaceful Camberwell Green
Composed upon Westminster Bridge

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

by William Wordsworth 

5 October 2015


"The Nag's Head" on Camberwell Road
Sunday morning in The London Jungle. By a rundown shopping parade on Camberwell Road, a tall black man in a loose tracksuit is listening to music from his mobile phone. He is leaning on a wall and there is nobody else around. As I approach I realise that he is singing along to the beat and as I pass by him I hear his monotonous and desperate lyric - "Too much pressure. Too much pressure. Too much pressure."

It seems like an anthem for London. Beyond him, I notice that the sign above the launderette is missing its "d" so it reads "LAUN ERETTE" like the name of some forgotten minor film actor. Perhaps she had a role in a film titled "Too Much Pressure" about romance on a runaway steam train.

Behind her and Singhs' grocery shop and the Asante Barbers and the William Hill Betting Shop is a grim postwar housing estate in which the blocks are all named after English poets - Pope and Keats and Marvell for example. Most of the tenants are first or second generation immigrants like the "too much pressure" man. I wonder briefly if any residents have even a little cognisance of the poetry crafted by these long departed men whose names always appear on their humble addresses. I also wonder how Andrew Marvell - from East Yorkshire - might have felt to see his name on such a sad residential block in the heart of South London. What an accolade!
There are always sirens. Mostly ambulances heading for Kings College Hospital at Denmark Hill. I watch as two ambulance women unload an elderly patient. She is on a stretcher, old and frail. Her hair is white and unkempt. A bony arm - the colour of wallpaper paste - extends from the blanket. She sees me through the railing, our lives colliding for a fragment of time and we make thin smiles. She is not long for this world.

Ahead, another "too much pressure" man from another continent is arguing the toss outside A&E with three security guards and two police officers who are trying desperately not to arrest the incandescent fellow. He won't depart easily and I really cannot understand his beef but he has probably kicked off inside the hospital and has just been escorted out. Why can't he just go away? He could be mentally impaired.

There's an information sign by Camberwell Green. It tells readers that the green was in existence as early as 1245 AD when Camberwell was an agricultural village to the south of London which would then have had a meagre population of some 25,000 souls. So the green has endured for a thousand years as London has grown monstrously, devouring the small communities that once surrounded it.. I see someone sleeping on a bench there. Hood up. Can of cider on the pavement below. It was eleven o'clock in the morning.
By Camberwell Green
By our daughter's flat which is in a block not dissimilar to Marvell House or Keats House, I notice two Polish men taking photos with their camera phones. What have they seen? At the corner, close to the recycling bins,  is a healthy looking London rat. Not one of those that spouts verbiage in The Houses of Parliament or writes rubbish for "The Daily Mail" but a furry brown rat with a pink tail. He is preening himself quite brazenly and he is the size of a wild rabbit. Almost fearlessly, he takes his time to amble away in search of yet more delicious human detritus.

We exited The London Jungle via London Bridge, The Bank of England and The Angel, Islington. Riding high above the city in our "uprade" hire vehicle, I was white van man for the weekend. The sign at the start of the motorway said "M1 - The North", like the star that guided those kings to Bethlehem.
The Peabody Estate, Camberwell Green
Frances's flat is on the ground floor.
By the entrance to Camberwell
College of Arts on Peckham Road

"The Nag's Head" again with a Southwark Council rubbish sack
When I have fears that I may cease to be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pil├Ęd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

By John Keats
(1795 - 1821)

1 October 2015


As I wish to avoid a beating from the blogosphere's headmistress - Madam Lee of Tamborine Mountain - I just need to say that I will probably be "off air" for the next three or four days. Later this morning I will be picking up a hire van then driving down to Birmingham with the wife riding shotgun. We will stay in England's second city overnight to help our darling daughter to clean and vacate her flat before moving down to England's only jungle on Friday afternoon.

The jungle is called London - a vast and somewhat higgledy piggledy urban sprawl where everybody else knows where they are going as I no doubt suffer stressful palpitations just trying to edge into the correct lane. I have never been to Camberwell Green before. I am nervous in case I have to stop to ask native Londoners for directions. It is well known that they are quite aggressive and most unlike we friendly, helpful Yorkshire folk. 

It is easy to get lost forever in jungles so this might be my last post...

30 September 2015


Young men are often portrayed as sexual predators. In relationships with young women, they are apparently only after "one thing".  Drunken, leering louts, laughing about their conquests and using rude or sexist words to describe women - that's young men. Or is it?

Yesterday, I walked into the city centre to watch "Everest" at The Showroom Cinema. Just before I got there a young man came alongside me and I noticed that he was carrying a bunch of roses. He asked me the time and I told him twelve thirty.

We walked a few steps further on and cheekily, indicating the flowers, I said to him, "It's not Valentine's Day you know!"

"I know but I've got a date in Doncaster. It's our first date. I'm off to catch the train," he said.

"Is it a blind date?"

"No. I've known her a long time but only as a friend. This is different and to tell you the truth mate, I'm a bit nervous!"

"Well I hope it goes well. The fact you already know her should help. You never know, she could be Miss Right!"

"I hope so."

"Good luck!"

And I watched him scurrying onwards to the railway station, roses clasped in his right hand and the hope of love in his heart. He did not fit the caricature of a loutish sexual predator. He was vulnerable, unfulfilled and he was seeking happiness through the magic of a loving relationship. It was a morning that promised so much for him  - if she felt the same. And I do believe that that is how most young men really are.

"Everest" was a stunning film that gives the onlooker a breathtaking sense of the size, rugged  geology and inhospitable weather of that mighty mountain. It also touches upon some of the reasons that drive climbers to tackle it despite the dangers it presents. I have always liked films like "Everest" - about adventure and human beings in challenging situations - cinematic interpretations of real life stories. In contrast, I happily admit that I have never seen or wanted to see any James Bond film nor any "Star Wars" film either. Just not my cups of tea. 

29 September 2015


Paths off Hallgate Lane, Pilsley
Sometimes, when I am out and about, rambling along less trodden paths in less salubrious places, I feel a bit like an explorer of yore -  a latter day David Livingstone. But I am not bringing religion to the natives - nor coloured beads or mirrors, I am just looking to record what I see with my trusty digital camera - far quicker than a sketchbook.

Last Friday, I was back  in an area where tourists or "Berghaus" ramblers with flasks and compasses never tread - North East Derbyshire. For a hundred years this was a grim area of mining villages and smoky coking plants, railways and humble terraced homes even though all of that was layered upon a much older rural history. Now you could say that it is almost post-industrial. The mines have gone and the coking plants are wastelands.

I parked in North Wingfield opposite the  "I (Heart Shape) Hair" Salon, then set off on The Five Pits Trail to Wolfie Pond before looping back to the Chesterfield road where I confess that I purchased a small bag of chips from The North Wingfield Fisheries. Delicious and golden they were too  and so  I consumed them with greedy relish before advancing to Station Road.

Jungle drums were beating deep in the forest and the mosquitoes were like miniature Spitfires attacking exposed parts of my bodily temple as prehistoric crocodiles slid into the steamy River Rother. But I carried on determined to claim this ungodly land for Queen and Empire.

Soon I was in the dark heart of Danesmoor where I saw a visual poem of our times. On one side of the street, the old Bethel Chapel was being converted into a residential property and on the other side the presumably once popular "Parkhouse" pub was little more than a burnt out shell. Possibly an insurance job. That is how it is these days. Old ways are being buried under mountains of passing weeks and years. Perhaps it was always thus.

Then on to Hallgate Lane and Lower Pilsley. To Seanor Farm where I surprised a nervous heron in the farm pond and then over the fields and back to the car in North Wingfield. Fortunately, the native North Derbyshire-ites hadn't torched it and I was able to drive back to civilisation, like James Cook aboard "The Endeavour" after his first visit to New Zealand.

More proof that I was there:-
Wolfie Pond
Chesterfield Road, North Wingfield
Industrial wasteland between Danesmoor and North Wingfield
Impressive St Lawrence's Church, North Wingfield
Wary heron at Seanor Farm
Ode to Danesmoor. The visual poem of our times in Danesmoor - chapel being 
converted into a dwelling and the burnt out "Parkhouse" pub.

28 September 2015


Some words are pleasing to utter. They can have a mysterious or magical quality. Not so long ago I reflected on the word "hinterland" but now I am down by the sea. Yesterday, while listening to the radio, I was reminded of a lovely marine word - "spindrift". "Spindrift" is the foam that is whipped off the crests of waves during a gale. Though the word seems rather calm and homely, "spindrift" only occurs when the weather is wild and angry.

While mooching along the beach you may come across "flotsam and jetsam" - two more pleasant-sounding marine words. "Flotsam" is floating things lost from a boat but "jetsam" is stuff that was deliberately cast overboard or jettisoned into the sea. Every piece of flotsam and jetsam has a tale to tell even though it is further evidence of man's careless relationship with The Earth and its seas. Of course before ocean trade began there was no flotsam or jetsam. The terms are fairly modern - probably dating back to the seventeenth century.

Where the sea meets the land there is very often a strip of seashore that seems to belong neither to land or sea. Here there are strange seaside plants and perhaps nesting birds, pieces of driftwood and shells. Sometimes, in stormy weather, the sea may attempt to claim it just as land plants try to encroach upon  it in the growing season. This area is known as "the littoral". I love that word - "littoral" - never fixed, always subject to change - between the land and the sea. Haven't we all walked along "the littoral", humming songs or thinking secret thoughts poking around amidst the pebbles, the driftwood and those spiky maritime plants?

And thinking of maritime plants with their various names - sweet vernal grass, sea cabbage, blackthorn and lizard orchids for example - you might come across "samphire" - another pleasant word to say. "Samphire" is an edible seaside plant that belongs to the parsley family and is sometimes referred to as "sea asparagus". Curiously, around the Dee estuary in Cheshire and North Wales it is often called "sampkin" but I like the word "samphire".

It is the kind of word that belongs in a poem, along with "spindrift". "flotsam and jetsam" and "littoral" - perhaps a poem that focuses mostly upon word sounds rather than intellectual probing or philosophical suggestion that aims to "plumb the depths". Sometimes, you only want the sound of words, like healing music in your head.