A couple of months in the ups and downs

An old English folk song inspired the title. And to cheer you into this largely pictorial post here it is, sung by Steeleye Span.

Those ups and downs are NOT the kind I’m referring to – I’ve never asked a young man to tie my garter and gone off with him to be naughty in an apple orchard. Well, not recently.

Moving on…

It’s been a while since I posted.

My typing fingers have been still. I’ve been loathe to engage with the news, what’s happening in the prof’s world, or friends. I’ve been – well let’s just say, I’ve not been in the mood.

The last two months I’ve felt as if I’m living by a large, dark lake dotted with glistening islands. The lakeshore being life in general, the glistening islands escapes and evasions.

Evasions don’t work. Nor do escapes. The lake and its shore are still there when I get back. But at least I can see them shining over the murk.

Now, though, it’s time to move on.

By way of catching up I’m posting a series of captioned pictures, taken on my glistening islands. Fast forwarding to the present.  And since some of you seem to like joining me on my rambles, I’d welcome your company.

My thanks to the weather gods who have smiled on us here in the rainy north west for the last few weeks. And my apologies to my blogging friends. I’ve not been commenting lately, I’m sorry. I hope to be back soon 🙂

Strands – and stranded


Way back in April I walked further along our local beach  than I’ve ever yet ventured – and it was glorious.

Lunching in the car, while male lifeguards wait for the female lifeguard to dress Yes that’s the only reason I took this picture showing half naked men


The view behind me after 20 minutes

A scattering of sea coal along the edge of the high tide

About 40 minutes from the car, utterly beautiful view to Formby around the point, but getting thirsty  so have to turn around



In May we went out early one morning, the prof and I and found a fisherman stranded, waiting for the tide.

The tide is out. Far out!

What’s going on? Is it shrimp fishing?

Oh dear no, he’s stranded. Was supposed to be 25 miles offshore now, fishing over one of the coast’s many wrecks

The tractor can’t get him out, they have to wait till the next high tide, still five hours away



Solitary, another day, I walked on our local estuarial marshes accompanied by a musical guard of honour from the skylarks. What a privilege.

Although this is green, it is a fisherman’s path and the tide does come right in sometimes. This is on the Ribble Estuary and way in the distance Blackpool is glistening across the other side

Five seconds-worth of larks ascending:


When all else fails, we have the longest iron pier in the country in the middle of town. It runs out across the main Southport beach, which often appears to stretch out to infinity. The beach is notorious for the sea being out of reach. But that and its hard-packed nature mean it has been important in the history of aviation and racehorse training.

The legendary racehorse Red Rum trained on the beach.

During World War II, Spitfires and Anson Bombers, repaired at nearby Hesketh Park aerodrome, took off from the beach. Dick Merrill made two transatlantic flights from the beach, in 1936 and 1937. Read the fascinating story of one of them here.

And I’ve written before about our spectacular annual air shows .

Sometimes essential for seeing the sea

Heading back to town and the marine lake

Elegance for dark days and nights

Dune world

My neighbours, Carole and John, introduced me to the dunes that wrap around us, amid the golf course which I wrote about here – and now I’m hooked. Carole recently told me I could start from the other direction, Ainsdale village – it’s wonderful!

We have precious few hills around here, so sand dunes are good training ground. The soft sand makes them doubly tough on flat-surface-walkers’ muscles

On one side of the path, nature resplendent…

… on the other, manicured golf world (I think it’s Hillside golf course which abuts Royal Birkdale)

But golf-world also allows this glorious bank of gorse and pine

Magical slacks (pools),  filigree branches, reflections and shadows amid spring’s burgeoning greenery

I was so thrilled to see these – having nearly stepped on them

Can you smell it? Ahhh!

The dandelion clock says it’s time to stop

Hills and witches

Pendle Hill has been a looming, brooding presence in my life for as long as I can remember.

The hill and its surrounding villages are associated with the infamous witch trials of 1612. A brief account of them, on Lancaster Castle’s website, can be found here.

For me, part of the superstition was that the hill was unclimbable. I suspect that was my parents trying to avoid having to do it. Now I have scaled the beast and crikey, it is a beast! I’m not a big walker, it took us four and a half hours to climb, recover, eat our sandwiches and get back down. Our knees and muscles made themselves known next day.

Picture from last June when we decided against the climb…

A good hiding place for a witch’s familiar?

It is spring, after all, so we must have lambs

Through several farms, thinking – it’s further than I thought… But definitely on the witches’ trail

Uphill becomes a little steeper now and a warning to heed

Nearly there, one of many catching-my-breath stops

A panorama:

This couple with the sheepdog found the best spot for lunch

The other side of the hill – a view from our lunch spot

Breaking my self-imposed rule by posting a picture of myself, but I was just SO proud I made it!

About a third of the way down the ‘easy’ route down the main slope. See those people up there, marked by the little arrow I drew? They scrambled straight down the hillside… bonkers

Meadows and woods

One of my ‘charms’ – the special places I  wrote about earlier this year, is Lunt Meadows, a Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

I’ve learnt, in the last year, to accept that special places set aside by humans for ‘nature’ will sometimes be managed – aka brutalised – and then I need to give them a break. Lunt Meadows is one such. But now it’s recovering from savage cutting-back and drainage management. And it’s a wonderful place to be on a quiet day with the birds of the air calling – and the wind in my newly-short hair.

A big drainage ditch – rather lovely I think, especially as the swifts and swallows squeal up above

Drainage ditches are essential to this meadow environment where cows often graze

Path to who knows what – for elves and pixies, satyrs and dryads

The joy of small things that pass and change and keep the world turning

And so back to the car park and the material world…

Romans and rivers

Ribchester in Lancashire is well known by northern Roman history enthusiasts – and possibly by others too 😉 My father’s friend and erstwhile headmaster at St Mary’s College Blackburn, Father Philip Graystone, wrote books on Roman roads (they are still for sale in the museum there). As a child I clearly remember scratching my head on a rusty barbed wire fence as we went on yet another picnic with him, looking for Roman remains.

It’s a beautiful area. We were lucky, recently to stay on the edge of the village, on the banks of the River Ribble from which the village gets its name. The ‘chester’ bit being from the Roman for camp – castra.

The Roman name of the garrison and civilian settlement, which was subordinate to Chester and lasted from 70 AD to the fourth century, was Bremetennaceum.

Looking towards Pendle on the banks of the Ribble not far from our b&b

Doves seeking shade at Stydd Gardens, a lovely relaxed restaurant in old glasshouses near the village

The Roman bath house at dusk – not a great picture, sorry

Did a little princess leave this slipper after bathing?


Roman granary behind the church

Tombstone of an Asturian cavalryman

Lice, nit combs and something phallic 😉


Here’s the eerily lovely Ribchester Parade helmet – a replica – rotating in its display case. The real thing is in London of course 😦

River Ribble a short walk over the other side of our b&b

A perfect Sunday morning in England, sun shining church bells ringing:


And finally, for those who believe Lancashire is all mills and clogs. Clitheroe, on a sunny Sunday morning in May, clog dancers at t’owd mill

Tall ships sailing

I’ll leave the day I spent on a typesetting course for another time – if you’ve made it this far I’d be surprised!

To finish with, then, please enjoy last Monday’s glorious, sunny spectacle – the Tall Ships ‘a-leaving of Liverpool’ and setting off for Bordeaux. Lowry would have loved it. And yes, he painted the sea, the seaside and landscapes – not just matchstick men.

One of Anthony Gormley’s Iron Men kindly acting as a seagull perch

Wheely good fun

Bon voyage!

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Liverpool | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

“O Word of Fear”

It’s been a very long time. Not since the mid-1990s in fact. And that was at a small, rural sewage treatment works in Wiltshire.

Rural sewage treatment works tend to be havens for wildlife – and also quiet, hard to find (no sat navs then) and occasionally it’s only possible to depart by reversing down winding, hedge-blinkered, narrow lanes.

In days of yore, figs and tomatoes often grew at rural works, thanks to processes of nature we can all imagine. And before the days when time was money, some of the men who worked the works grew fruit and vegetables with duly aged ‘manure.’

But what I experienced in Wiltshire that memorable day was not the sight of a rare flower (as there are at some sites), nor of a small, rare four-legged animal (ditto) but a sound. The sound of an elusive creature I could not see.

A cuckoo.

Yesterday, somewhat depressed, as seems to be my fate these last few weeks (don’t mention the kitchen) I took myself out to the local sand dunes, adjoining Royal Birkdale Golf Club.

We’re lucky here, the entire coastal fringe of Sefton is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest – an SSSI.  For which we partly have our famous links golf courses  to thank, for keeping them unbuilt-upon.

The afternoon was moving on to evening, but still the spring sun poured warm libations onto my head as I strode past windswept trees and into the warm, grass covered mounds.

The fence is there because sometimes cattle or sheep are brought in to graze

The sand was soft and golden underfoot. Walking was hard work. But the world was beautiful.

A mile or so down the coast by the beach at Ainsdale this is how the dunes look

Bluebells danced their tethered dance, dappled through trees with leaves unfurling fresh and lush with sap.

Tawny tassels swung from birches. Pink-and-white blossom itched to break free.

Birds sang, dogs ran. People said ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ – or even, ‘good afternoon’.

Then I reached a place where no-one was. No dogs. No people. Just trilling birds, stands of gorse emitting waves of sharp, coconut-like scent. And me.

And then came a sound.

A word of fear, “unpleasing to a married ear.”

A cuckoo.

I thought it would be a fleeting call – that it would stop the instant I heard it, But no.

Cuck-oo, cuck-oo.

And I was back in the parquet-floored assembly hall of St Cuthbert’s Junior School, Bradford. Singing:

“When daisies pied and violets blue

And ladies smocks all silver white

And cuckoo buds of yellow hue

Do paint the meadows with delight,

The cuckoo then, on every tree,

Mocks married men;

For thus sings he,


Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear

Unpleasing to a married ear.”

[Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost, Act V Scene ii]

And I was happy.

But even better, the invisible singer cuckooed on.

I lifted the little red picture machine clasped in my hand, pressed ‘record’ – and hoped for the best.

Which is why, today I can share my burst of joy with you all.

Relish the moment.

I still do.

Happy May day, one and all.



Posted in Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Over on my nerdy site…

I’ve published a post on my other site, the one where I express my nerd-like interest in things being made or done in Britain, about a printing company in Lancashire that has the last Intertype line-casting machine ever made. A machine which was in use with the Guardian newspaper till 1987. It’s not only a rare beast, but rarer still to find anyone who can operate it. Plus, it’s being used to typeset my Little Match Girl story. Which will then be letterpress printed.

Here’s the link if you’re interested:


That’s all!


Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teamwork, followers? A ‘doing good things’ idea

Hello everyone.

A very short post today with one question about this charitable scheme which helps entrepreneurs in ‘developing’ countries and only requires small, returnable donations to work:


would you be interested in joining a team if I set one up?

Thanks to Jill Dennison, of Filosofa’s Word, for stimulating me into action with her ‘Good People Doing Good Things posts.

I bet this Zambian woman selling their famous metre wide mushrooms would have an entrepreneurial idea

Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Bush fires, long spoons and lightning

The old Coca Cola chiller was a solid red beast of a thing. No see-through door on the side –  no door at all – just a lid on the top.

It hadn’t worked for years, what with it being paraffin-fuelled and no-one knowing how to start it. But it kept our nets of fat avocados and glossy ripe tomatoes safe.

Safe from rodents, mongooses, baboons – anything wild with an interest in nibbling human-destined food.

The fridge stood under a canvas awning attached to a caravan. Which the Americans among our volunteers called a trailer.

It was one of those volunteers, Fred, over seventy and fully recovered – we hoped – from a bypass operation, who got the old metal cabinet chilled out again.

For what seemed like hours Fred lay on his stomach, after carefully pouring in paraffin. The paraffin itself had come from the nearest petrol station, an hour-or-so’s drive from our wildlife-reserve base, below the mountains bordering Mozambique.

It was a tricky business, lighting the flame, getting the refrigerant moving, but he did it.

We kept it up for a while after he left – the volunteers only stayed for two week stints – but then it lapsed and went back to being a food store. Which was fine by me.

Being fine by me was important. Because I was in charge of the food. Of cooking. Of catering.

At one stage, that summer, I had 24 people to feed.

I say ‘I’ – but I was lucky to have the help of Dudu. A ‘maid’ in the parlance of the time and place, she was a trained primary school teacher.

Thanks to Dudu I learned how to use the stove – an open fire. A large open fire.

No control knobs. Just a shovel, a cast-iron witch’s cauldron, a long spoon – and a red face.

There was also a ‘braai’ area – for men will always be men and want to flip meat. But banish images of sleek steel and aluminium. This was a stolid concrete block, with a recess in the top, over which a grate could be laid.

Embers from the main fire would be shovelled onto it and beastburgers – made from minced, culled wildebeest or, at a pinch, impala – grilled almost to extinction.

They tasted great with those glossy ripe tomatoes, sliced. On bread rolls brought from Mbabane, several hours’ drive away, stored in plastic bags.

We also used the braai to boil kettles in the morning – and hard-boil eggs for lunch.

The cold, scraped-out ashes formed a heap near a place we all liked to sit at the edge of the escarpment on which our camp was perched. It had tremendous views.

At breakfast, as the steam from tin mugs of tea or Ricoffy rose to wet our noses, we could watch impala or zebra roaming.


I offer this only so you can see the view from the campsite, looking down to what we called ‘cocktail rock. The man on the right is the one I arrived with and the woman to his left was a friend of mine from Boston who later married him – so, all’s well that ends well, eh?

Under the massed stars of chilly nights, it was close to the fire.

It was after dinner and after dark, as I watched the living fairy lights – my first fireflies – that the rodents came.

They weren’t as scary under milky-way skies as in suburban world. But still, they were large, furry creatures and we slept on sun loungers, close to the ground.

I tried not to think about them as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, under the plastic sheet which kept off the heavy dew, on top of the sleeping pad which insulated the lounger against the chill night air.

Each morning, my pillow wet around the dry imprint of my head, I was up before everyone else. Except Dudu.

Our first task was to resurrect the fire to boil kettles. Water was piped up in great long hoses from a railway siding on the other side of the escarpment. There steam trains stopped for refills on their way to and from Mozambique.

For hot water, there was a separate pipe going to this oil drum which was then heated over a fire. We bathed in tin baths on a ledge overlooking the bush below. Baboons stole our soap if we left it out

The water was treated, safe to drink – or so we were told. I’m still here, so perhaps it was.

While Dudu tended the fires, I’d decide on breakfast.

Everyone made their own toast. Peanut butter was popular. There were eggs – but since we had them hard-boiled with our packed lunches, the day often began with a liberal serving of hot baked beans.

We made sandwiches for lunch. Packed cheese triangles and flasks of hot water – yes, hot – for drinks.

My kitchen

When the others left, I often went with them, to dig, or explore.

Flames, smoke – not good inside a Land Rover we jumped out pretty damn quickly & the prof used tape to isolate the offending wires so we could drive on…

There’s a cave behind all that dark stuff

The prof & I centre,inside the cave, ‘digging’ (can’t remember names of the other 2, sadly) & getting on famously – no idea where the guy I arrived in Swaziland was at this point! Ahem.

Me, taking a break and reading Brideshead Revisited, loaned me (I still have it) by William

The prof, lounging (yes he does have shorts on)

William. Who wore espadrilles, Where are you now, I wonder?

But sometimes I stayed back. Watched in awful fascination as huge, seething hornets made great mud nests.

I helped Dudu with the dishes. Read, sunbathed, slept.

Shredded hard white cabbage and carrots for the evening salad, served in a washing-up bowl.

Chopped tomatoes for the guacamole a certain young American (now prof) would make as our evening snack. Alternating days with sardines and Tabasco on crunchy Provita biscuits.

I learned a little Siswati from Dudu, who laughed like a drain at my pronunciation.

And then it all changed.

I’ve written before about my hasty, ignominious departure.

I was exiled here at Jenny’s place, a farm, and occasionally a visitor like the prof-in-the-making would pop by – it wasn’t all bad!

But what about Dudu’s departure?

She had worked and lived with us privileged western folk for a few months. But we had houses – bricks and mortar, stone and wood – waiting for us when we ended our dalliance with ‘wild’ bush life.

She lived in a straw hut. And straw huts are vulnerable to lightning. Which is how Dudu died.

Much later, when I returned to that campsite, memories of my earlier banishment conveniently brushed into the ash pile, I missed her.

I missed her giggle, hidden behind her hand. Her slow and steady pace. Her amusement at my ineptitude.

I see her face still. And it makes me smile.

She was one like so many women, working so hard, living in huts, carrying water for miles, with no electricity. Cooking with lung-clogging smoke over open fires.

But that’s not a thirty-year-old memory. It’s still reality in large parts of many African countries.

And the picture I bought in a friend’s shop – Tishweshwe – in Malkerns, all those years ago, has a powerful, seemingly eternal message.

Its title:

Why do women carry such heavy burdens?

The title, Why do women carry such heavy burdens?, in pencil, has faded, unlike the reality of such backbreaking chores for women all over Africa




Posted in Socks, spoons, stones and sunsets, Swaziland, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Dogs, logs – and more important things

It was a two walk weekend, after a week of only one. And that one was to the shops. With a brief diversion into the cemetery. Those angels. They need watching over.

Angels and crosses

Something about having strangers working in the house makes me want to stay in – not because I don’t trust them, I do. But it’s as if I’m in a real office with people who aren’t home from work, but people who are at work. Like me.

As a result I’ve done more work than usual and even – the prof will never believe it (he’s in Ghana) – done some filing. I can see the floor. Most of it.

But back to the walks.

The sun shone both days. I felt grateful to Nature for smiling on me. And it was good to be free.

It took a while to break the invisible chains. My metaphorical apron strings? There’s certainly lots of cleaning to do 😦

I left the house as Saturday afternoon threatened to turn to evening and returned to the local sand dunes.

Despite all the foot-and pawfall, it feels remote and quiet

It was more perfunctory this time, exercise with a little observation thrown in, rather than the other way round.

As I set out, after several cheery hellos, I thought, ‘this has to be the friendliest place to walk.’

Little did I know the extremes that friendliness would reach …

It wasn’t every dog (the Labradors abstained).

Most of them were small and their enthusiasm reached no further than my knees or thighs. And as it hadn’t rained, the paw marks – being sandy – rubbed off.

But the biggest one was big. Very big. And VERY friendly. So friendly it came close to knocking me over – just before it licked my face.

I had to laugh. I’m not a dog person, but they do have a special something. Well, some of them.

A survivor

Which creatures are so tall they can play netball with this hoop?

Look at the curl in that trunk!

The wind section of the coastal orchestra – where’s the conductor?


That was Saturday’s walk, then, with added dogs.

Yesterday the dogs were at loggerheads. The humans were at Loggerheads too, but not at loggerheads with each other. Although they were with each other – the humans – at Loggerheads. Just not at loggerheads.

It was only the dogs who were really at loggerheads at Loggerheads. Snarling and barking and fighting

I was at Loggerheads, but not with anyone, I was alone. So I was at Loggerheads but not at loggerheads.

You’ve probably guessed by now, Loggerheads is a place. In Wales. People go there on sunny Sundays, even when the clocks have gone forward, to walk. Some with angry dogs.

The walk was a tad more strenuous than anticipated. I knew there’d be a climb, but wasn’t quite prepared for the steepness.


But I made it to the top.

The Clwydian hills

Then spent the next mile recovering as I walked through the woods and back down along the river.

A family of lost limbs in a tree caress, as the fungi begin their work

Snowdrops gone, I suspect wild garlic will be pungent soon

A reminder we’re in Wales

There are many logs at Loggerheads.

I could have been a log lady if I’d picked one up.

I was fascinated by the Log Lady in Twin Peaks.  RIP, bless her. She made such a poignant appearance in the latest series.

But I left the logs behind.

They line the paths by the river

Make interesting patterns (well I think so)

Mourn their lost body parts


We’d have been at loggerheads if I’d seen the human who left this log adornment

Drove on to Ruthin intending to eat, buy someone a birthday present. But the crafts were expensive and the café … I just thought, I’d rather go home. So I did.

And once home (delayed by horrendous traffic jams in my home town) I put my ready meal in the tiny, counter-top oven and set to thinking of more important things.

Two people in particular brought me back to reality from my self-indulgent introspection this weekend.

Blogging friend Ardysez wrote a post – do read it – about the #MarchForOurLives.  The song she posted had me in tears.

Then my sister-in-law sent these, from recently terrorised Austin, Texas – where she’d been on a #MarchForOurLives march.

It says: I call B.S.

I’m so humbled by the young people who have created this great movement.

They’ve plainly said to their government, don’t tell us you can’t, you CAN do something.

We DON’T have to allow people to buy these weapons of mass destruction.

That’s what they are – aren’t they?

Watch this, if you haven’t already. Be patient, watch it right through – you can spare six minutes, can’t you? –  and see what I mean.

This young woman stunned me. The bravery, at her age, to stand before a massive crowd and speak – but even more bravely, stand silent. And how powerful, that silence.

All of which reminded me that I – we – should pay attention to our world. Not because we can do things, always – which is what sometimes makes me turn from the news, feeling I can’t do anything.

But by supporting those who do take action – with praise, funds, our voices whenever we can use them – that’s better than doing nothing. If we all shout, the people who can do something will eventually hear – and recognise a voter’s anger.

Though there are those, like Old Jules, who take a more cycnical view.*

*[Edit: in my haste to add his interesting views, I did misrepresent Old Jules – see his comment below. ]

But I’m eschewing cynical. And writing in Britain, where guns – and death by gun – are rare, I’ve always been appalled by the USA’s NRA.

No citizen needs an assault weapon.

It’s time to call time on the casual acceptance of mass murdering wepaons by adults who should know better. It’s as simple as that.


I’ll get back to coherent, thought-through posts one day.

Meanwhile. Welcome to summer time.




Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Texas, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

That little girl in red sandals

OK, so my last post was:


(no need to delete as appropriate).

On the plus side, in one comment, the seer said he could see the little girl I portrayed, running around in her pretty dress, red sandals and white ankle socks.


Exploiting the positive, then, and by way of counteracting the Dark Triad, I thought I’d post two pictures of little-me in a pretty dress (no sandals or white ankle socks visible, sorry). Plus one of several little people, including little-me, eating lunch with a big person.

After which, normal service (trees and walks and rants and things) (and relative anonymity) will be resumed.

The pictures were taken at nursery school. Probably the last time I posed for a picture and enjoyed it (going by the look on my face – I have no memory of it being taken).

I hate having my photo taken so you won’t find many of me online and where you do you will find it hard to see what I look like.

In these pictures  I was three, or thereabouts. My mum had been taken into hospital for an operation, which went wrong and rendered her deaf in one ear.

For little-me it meant that one day I was sitting on the breakfast table enjoying ‘listen with mother,’ as she drank milky coffee, next day I was all alone in the company of a load of other little human beings. And one big one. It was all rather unexpected and frightening.

Some days were good, some days were bad. I never slept during afternoon nap time, when Miss Tickell would sometimes put her stockinged feet under my little blanket as she knitted.

I was often rather scared, used to hide in the lavatory when the nit nurse came.

And I think the introspection may have started here, judging by photo two.

I have since stopped licking my plate, which was occasionally permitted. Which sounds unlikely, I know. Perhaps it wasn’t and I was just being treated with extra tolerance.

Miss Tickell is the tall one. I am beside her on the right of the picture and not yet at plate-licking stage. Bill Bull (you can tell which one he is, can’t you?) is wearing red sandals. Like we all did. (You’re welcome, seer)

I have also stopped playing the triangle. And the bang-them-together-in-time-with-the-music sticks. Things it is hard to do wrong. But odd to do alone.

One’s creative world does not always change for the better, does it?

And I still yearn for red sandals. But not white ankle socks.


Posted in Britain now & then, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments