Why do we do things?

Roderick Strange, great name for a vicar, is at it again in Credo. Times December 14th 2019. His ordination is coming up 50 years - what made him want to be a priest? Not a mystical sense of vocation. More what he ought to do - obligation, duty and correctness. As a boy, teenager, young man where would these notions have come from? Intention and imagination come into the discussion. An aim/plan or the action of forming new ideas, images and concepts. Rod tells us that the former was behind his obligation, 'the ever deepening desire, that guides us'. It still is.
  Rod and his colleagues have a tendency to use language I don't understand. So I can only reply with my own memories of wanting to be a medic. We were all socialists in those days - 1950s, 1960s. Going to change the world, tax the rich, abolish public school and so on, the whole nine yards as they say in America. I think we had a strong sense of injustice - life chances were dictated by family wealth.

  Our family had nowt. Mum was a shop assistant and dad a bookkeeper. Dad despised the trappings of the financial elite - cars, golf clubs, big houses and the like. Two things followed. Despite issues with wealth, he had aspirations and was canny with money. Second he instilled this in older brother and myself. You had to get on. Passing the eleven plus and the 1944 Education Act gave us a lift up. There was a lot of conflict within the family, because I kept getting distracted from 'getting on' until I entered the sixth form at a boys' grammar school and became intellectually committed to biology, physics and chemistry. Teaching and medicine were the two outlets. Other than visiting my gp I had no experience of medicine, but I was aware doctors were better than the likes of us. Remote and mysterious like Denis Compton or the Royal Family. That was for me. So I chose 'seeking fame and fortune' - a mix of intent and imagination. I knew I had to have a plan of qualifications and I also had plenty of ideas of what kind of position I was going to occupy in society. But not much of a vocation beyond a misty unclear notion of saving lives which was a vague fit with socialism.
  I am not sure where Rod got his obligations from, but he is honest and straight, so maybe a bright religious family. I'm pretty sure where mine came from - sitting on my dad's knee. I did get a small sense of vocation eventually, something my pal Eric insists I have, but the majority of my commitment was pretty selfish. Each patient's problem became a puzzle to solve. I enjoyed that and maybe I was helpful as well.
  Rod describes two of his jobs and the joy he experienced in both. I had four as a junior, two as a consultant and four when I returned to work after illness when it had become a job and definitely not a joy. Selfish again - we had to finance my son's pilot training - thanks to W Yorkshire Fire and Rescue where I finished my medical life in 2011 as Brigade MO. Bags of admiration for the guys on the front line.
  My son as buzz lightyear. He likes the good things in life.

Vigilant quite old cricketer and umpire statues spot something in the undergrowth - it's emotional

What have these guys seen?

Maybe something dangerous or tempting?

Another shot at discovering what it is to be human? Our long-standing genetic story includes survival on the plains of Africa as a result of cooperation, collaboration, community, planning and looking out for each other. In very simple terms, the four 'Fs' - fight, flight, food and finding a mate - helping to keep our genes circulating through the generations. And our alarm system - emotions. Psychology Today tells us that emotions are physiological, triggered by 'disruption of familiar' during our continuous sensory surveillance of the world around us and within us. 
  I was confused when I first came across this. I thought emotions were crying and laughing and all the feelings in between. Yet they are actually triggers for behaviour which ensure that genes survive. Behaviour that needs preparation - arousal for example produces changes in muscle tone, heart rate and energy levels. Resulting behaviour could be avoid/attack from danger or approach with interest. It all originates in the limbic system - a deep seated set of brain structures common to all mammals. 
  Adult human emotions also result from thinking and imagination, part of the function of the cortical sections of the brain that sit on top of the limbic system 'like a helmet'. The mix of emotion and reason helps us make sense of our world.
  Steven Stosny then tells us that most emotions serve a useful purpose, 'foster growth and empowerment' - interest, compassion, enjoyment, conviction, shame, guilt, distress - again to protect the genes. We have all come across the less than helpful emotions however such as fear, anger and hatred. Good on the plains of Africa, but not much help in our modern world. 
  Where do feelings come in? Apart from disclosure in psychotherapy? They are our subjective experience of emotion. Our spin on what is happening to our bodies, different in different people and influenced by our histories. We attribute meanings but they are arbitrary and inconsistent. And then I read someone else and feelings/emotions get all muddled up again.
  We continuously scan our external and internal environments. We might detect a problem - as Luther would say at a crime scene 'It's not right'. We react, sometimes inappropriately, apparently helping our genes survive. Something triggered the behaviour. Does it matter? Well I guess it does or you spend half your life in complete ignorance of consequences and the other half saying sorry. Thankfully I think there are more of the positive nurturing feelings/emotions.
  Just where listening to a concert or reading a book fits in? They are behaviours ? survival of something.

Two old geezers and The Talbot Arms - 'not for the likes of us'

The Talbot, a posh pub in Malton, first seen by me in the Times review of country pubs. Stuffed grouse in display cabinets behind the bar. Wood wall panels. Warm wood fire. Comfy arm chairs.

The local brewery, Brass Castle, supplies the blonde. It's vegan. No animal clearing products here - isinglass finings the barmaid explained are fish derived. Having little positive to say about food fads, I was taken aback by this revelation. It tasted well, a tad sweet. We decanted to the bakers for lunch and meat pies.
We had an interesting journey from Huddersfield to Scarborough. Cancelled beyond York, we were guided onto a bus. The A64 was closed so the back road - Kirkby Lonsdale, Pickering etc. A bit late but very pleasant. Over the hill to Scarborough Hospital, passed GCHQ and there we were - Spenny Hill Farm and shop - their outlet on Ramshill near us on S. Cliff shut September Bank so now we know where to get our family steak pies and gammon and black pudding burgers.

The rest of our time? The Highlander, Golden Ball, Wetherspoon's and Scarborough Flyer, a full set. Food by M&S. Sleep in front of the TV. Completely 'blobbed'.

Don't let the old men in - an inspiring and affectionate tribute

Here we are in the 'bows' of the Baltic Fleet pub, across the road from the Albert Dock. It is okay over there, but take a big breath before buying beer or lager. Here is rough and ready with loads of choice of real ales and £3.50 per pint. A real fire as well.
  It's a spot we went to as students, maybe once or twice when we were on a 'firm' at the Southern Hospital. In the late 60s/early 70s. Don't ask, but yes I lived in Liverpool in the 60s. 'Free love' passed me by and I remember most of what went on so I couldn't really have been there. Today I met older brother at Lime Street and he suggested here after a mediocre coffee in Liverpool 1. Inspired choice. He is the one on the left.
  What do we talk about? - family, illness, family illness. Where did it go? Time that is. Where are we now? The Baltic Fleet. It was quiet and there were moments when we were the only ones in. We had quiet moments too. Even the barman left, though he did take the pic.    

So what's happened between then and now? GOK. 1953-2019. Work mostly. He was a Liverpool University chemist. I moved round a bit as a medic before returning home to the W. Riding.
He is now heavily involved with the scouts around Widnes and gets a lot from it. Sounds as though they get plenty of him too. I write a bit and sing a bit and try to keep out of the way. Oh, and I drink Guiness or blonde.
  It's iconic. Two old geezers in a pub down the docks.


The Mule
Clic on the link for the trailer. A Clint Eastwood film and the song 'Don't let the old man in'.
An 85 year old gets back in touch with his family after a lifetime of being away, especially when he was most needed.
And the circumstances of this epiphany? Being a drug mule for a hispanic cartel. He is just the same as always - not worried about what he says and does - missing, driving long road trips listening to country music on the radio, dancing with young and beautiful girls, referring to his new colleagues as negroes. His bumbling humanity, which makes the him difficult to track by the police, wins over the hardened criminals.
Finally he befriends the cop who is running the search for this elusive mule. Over coffee they talk families. No spoiler alert here.
The film and the song are about all of us who have at some time in our lives got the work/family balance wrong. But mostly for me it is an affectionate tribute to older men who just are. They can't help being themselves even when guess what is just around the corner.


Alison Joyce, the Times, November 23rd reflects on her experiences of caring for 'end of life', dying and funerals. 
'In a society that exalts the virtues of autonomy, independence and choice, we can find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with vulnerability ...'
'The natural process of ageing steadily erodes many of the things that we assume give us identity and a sense of worth ...'
'There is nothing romantic about the process of dying.'
Yet given these ultimata, maybe we discover what it really means to live. 'There is something profoundly human about acknowledging our need of others ...'
I agree with all of the above. Can I extend these ideas to apply to any change, but especially retirement and ageing. I think it's a tad late to wait for a terminal diagnosis to affirm relationships - even ones that we think are broken. It's also a great time to reinvent yourself and be that person you always wanted to be. Bowie said this not me.


Dated and somewhat tired hotel - a short break for us oldies who are not dated and tired, but inspirational

I'm a tad late with this offering - dealing with Amazon and our latest book.
  It was an impulse buy and paid off. That answers the question 'why were we there?' As to the other question 'why is there a hotel in the middle of nowhere?' if you can read the blurb on the flyer then you will know. A pub used to be on site and when Manchester built the reservoir (there was a lake) they had to replace it and so they did in Art Deco and amazing it is. But, it's on the road to nowhere and quite a long way down at that. Quaint basic rooms - no drawers or shelving. Wind through the metal window frames. Shutters rather than curtains. Massive bath requiring some climbing skills. Antique heating. All made up for by the ambience of the hotel, coal fires and the views, views, views. Across to Kidsty Pike and High Street.
  Autumn colours, rain and sun. Askham for a washed-out short walk and pub visit. 
  17 hotel rooms, same food in the bar and restaurant - all restaurant tables laid for two and occupied by whispering couples.
  A two hour fell walk - the childbride's knee not brilliant for balancing on bumpy rocks.
  Sunday with the papers and the cold window breeze.
  Keswick for a day out, recalling our previous visits with mum and dad. Also Steve and walking up Skiddaw and Eric on our way back to St Bees. A lake launch trip.
  Lots of rugby, but I've stopped thinking about that now.
  On the road to nowhere, a dated and somewhat tired hotel that is not going to sleep any time soon.


Who is this idiot? In summer sunshine. Half way up Skiddaw with older brother 1976. Huddersfield RUFC shirt and a battered souwester from scouts.


Can I inspire my older brethren to read Brian Cox while drinking Guinness?

Me an' our kid. Yes, we were dressed to match. Older brother with the brylcreem and me with the 'coconut' look favoured by my dad and his mail-order manual shears. Has anyone else been subjected to this abuse - a lone chair in the middle of the kitchen surrounded by pages from the Examiner? And the style is back in vogue? To the left, Willow Lane, famous for the Slubbers Arms behind us. Right, the yard behind the Engine Tavern. The yard had a communal wash house originally built as part of the public health strategy for cholera. 
The houses round the yard all had cellar dwellings. We used ours as a coal 'ole. It had a window.
There are five years between us brothers which was massive at the time of the pic. Why put this up? GOK, but thinking about what it is to be human involves a little bit of musing on life stages. Not too much, there's still a bit of future left.

The following are the titles that have brought me up to speed with some current secular thinking on what it is to be human:

How the Mind Works; Steven Pinker, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1997
A Short history of nearly everything; Bill Bryson, Black Swan, 2004
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow; Yuval Noah Harari, Vintage, 2005
Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind; Yuval Noah Harari, Vintage, 2011
Human Universe: Forces of Nature; Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen, William Collins, 2017

Whilst these titles don't easily belong to the scientific establishment, their overall message is clear. They are popular yet stir up enough to get thoughts going. There are plenty others and sorry if I have missed out your favourite. Mine is Pinker followed by Cox.

Brian Cox wrote
"What is meaning? I don't know, except that the universe and every pointless speck inside it means something to me. I am astonished by the existence of a single atom, and find my civilisation to be an outrageous imprint on reality. I don't understand it. Nobody does, but it makes me smile."

That's all right then. Brian is a smiley person. There's another volume out this week reports Tom Whipple in the Times, 9th November. Transcendence: How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty and Time; Gaia Vince, Allen Lane. These books are all part of the genre known as '30,000 foot books ... which sell an explanation of everything' - coined in an article which appeared in The New York Times Review. Books that see everything through the perspective of a 747 - miles up in the air.
  You may have some favourite bits of stuff. Here are mine I haven't forgotten yet:
  • Impossibly big and impossible small numbers.
  • The jumps in humanoid brain size - 1.8 million, 1million and 200,000 years ago. So recent then.
  • Hunter-gatherers. I love these guys.
  • Evolution is forever - natural selection. Culture arrived yesterday. Community, collaboration, planning and social skills generally helped us to use our large brains to become self-aware. History, psychology and a few other 'ologies' also arrived.
  • Sure, it's biology, physics and chemistry, but there is no need for aggressive atheism.
My pal Clive thinks computers will take the next steps in understanding what it is to be human. A machine with intelligence and self-awareness. Wow - who can that be?

When my big brother went to grammar school, within a few months he had learned everything. I got to a similar stage by 18. He'd been a university chemist for 5 years by then and what he didn't know about stuff? Ploughed different furrows since. Usual stories - bumps in the road, blind alleys, some successes. We both spent our professional lives learning more and more about less and less. For my part at the expense of more important stuff. So, catching up with the question 'What is it to be human' is a challenging and rewarding way of spending time when I'm not playing with grandchildren or going away for long weekends with the childbride or drinking Guinness.

More gardening and senior moments from an older but not too inspiring role model

That same visit to Morrison's as the wine incident, at the checkout I noticed the young lady assistant was not wearing a Halloween accessory, as many of the staff were. Seeing as it was Halloween. "Where's your hat?" I asked innocently enough. "I don't have one." No smile, no banter, just a muted tolerance. Probably eyes gazing at the heavens, but I'd ceased seeing by this time.
  What is it with young women these days?


I visited the eye clinic today. Two years since I'd been and out of the blue, an appointment dropped onto the mat - into the postbox in our case. My previous consultant left and the replacement was trying to catch up - two years. I'd been privately, so my eyes were okay, but it's £170 a pop and if I need my cataracts doing it's £1200 each. My other diagnoses for those interested are viral keratitis, astigmatism from the viral scars and mild macular degeneration. With glasses happily my eyesight is excellent.
  Today I only waited an hour to see a 15 year old lookalike who confirmed she was a consultant when I asked. She suggested I monitor my symptoms and get to her early to prevent further damage to my cornea. I didn't take offence at this. Assertively, I confirmed my familiarity with my own symptoms and any previous damage did not occur as a result of my delay. Two senior doctors got it hopelessly wrong despite me telling them the diagnosis. Anyway the right guy eventually took over and then left. So, what about trying to get an a non-routine appointment from the worst appointments department in the world? Nay the universe. "Phone my secretary," she said. So I will. My routine attendance will hopefully be in 12 months - yippee.
  She was thorough and gave as good as she got. 

I then went for a coffee - nowadays they have coffee shops in out-patients. With a young lady serving.
"I'd like a medium. How many shots is that?" 
"What sort of coffee?" 
"That's a good one, yes please." 
"Do you want milk?"
"I like to taste first."
"Is that a yes or a no?"
"It's a maybe."
She then went on at some length about levels in her cup so I concluded she didn't do maybe. Not a flicker, of annoyance even. Muted tolerance with just a hint of boredom.
  What is it with young women these days?


Finally the childbride and I went to pick up a spare wheel for our not so new car, but recent. I don't do these new-fangled blow up tyres. I thought I'd ordered one when we fetched it, but earlier this week I tried to stop something rattling around in the boot and noticed the absence of a spare tyre. Our Suzuki son-in-law was dutifully informed of this oversight at Sunday's meal and promised to rectify said issue. Hence our visit.
  Sheila parked and I went to see Matthew, the Suzuki s-i-law. We strolled down to the rear car park, him with the wheel. Boot open, Sheila about to lift whatever you call a shelf that covers a spare wheel. Bl... H... and all other swearwords beginning with 'B', if there wasn't a spare wheel, pretty as a picture. Guess what? We have two shelves that cover the spare wheel, with quite a large space in between to facilitate extra luggage when the need arises. I had only opened the top one in my search for a rattle.
  "Good job we had it in stock," said Matthew.


Two more senior moments from an ageing gardener

The garden keeps giving, from our wildflower patch to the clematis.


To date, I have not given my new hair trimmer a go, much to the amusement of Rod Gooch who gave me the idea. This weekend in Scarborough, the fear left me and off I went, following the advice of that young local hairdresser. And, small amounts appeared and my hair looked shorter. The childbride cleaned out the neck'ole. It's not as good as the hairdresser, but good enough for a few weeks before I go and get it corrected - maybe a Christmas present to myself. It is a number 4 and not quite as easy as a number 1 which is basically let's get bald. Which Rod and my son Chris are - down to the wood.
  It's a new skill.


I had a major let-off in Morrison's yesterday. Choosy with white wine, the box was empty. Underneath a new box covered with the price. Underneath again, a new available box which I raided. Then my conscience. What if others do as I did, then there could be a collapse - the full one with the price overcoming the gradual depletion beneath? Back I went and removed the one with the price followed by the one I had used. Little did I know that this latter box had a wet and hopeless bottom. It shredded when I moved it. Four bottles of Chardonnay rolled towards the checkout. Two of them had bounced. No breakages. Phew. No one clapped, but there were several startled glances. One lady did speak, with sympathy I think, but I can't remember. A dry box was available and all was well.
  What does this say about a good deed?

More advice for still-active older people - weights and stretching

Posted by Dave Walker

Just try and tell this guy he is unfit.

Peta Bee The Times Oct 12th writes that lifting lighter weights less often is the answer. Many of us oldies have been doing this for a while already. We are not looking for amazing muscle definition are we? Record-breaking? I don't think so. The article recommends a tough regime nevertheless. 3-5kg dumbbells for a biceps curl. 15-25 reps in 2-3 sets. Then increase. This is a stride above what I do, but as said previously, do something and do it regular.
  What about stretching? Peta Bee again Oct 19th. We lose elastic tissue in our support structures as we age. Ligaments and tendons get much less flexible from 40 onward. Reduced physical activity will make this worse. Consequences include poor posture and reduced movement. Maybe some restricted breathing.
  So what to do? As usual do it regularly. Pilates and related disciplines, maybe massage. Weights, more water, dancing. You can try exercises at home.


Have you seen the latest on walking speed and ageing? Slow walking in mid life can be associated with accelerated deterioration in oldies' physical and mental conditions. So reports Ana Sandoiu in Medical News Today. This continues to a apply at any age, so best to keep up your walking speeds. 2.5 to 2.8 mph in the over 70s.
  What if we don't walk a lot? Get walking of course.

Great place for older role models - Dublin 2019

From Dave Walker 24.10.2019

It's our fifth time in Dublin and never fails to charm, though it is now mostly for the tourists, like ourselves. So, for the second time, we stayed in Malahide, 30 minutes away on the 'Dart' - the local train. Malahide is the home of the Irish Cricket team, has at least two splendid pubs (Gibney's and Duffy's) and a pleasant marina. The traffic, as everywhere else in the world, was nose-to-tail.
  The hop-on-hop-off had a talented young girl student on the microphone. Lots of historical information. Reminded us on a couple of occasions that N. Ireland was a separate country. We were on the exposed top deck and got rained off in Phoenix Park, decanting to 'Nancy Hands' for a beer and lunch. Great traditional pub. Pete got off with the waitress. When we got back on, it was a tape and a not nearly as good. Veronica, our real guide, also confirmed the tourist thing. Kilmainham gaol has a three month waiting list for those booking on line. You take a punt if turning up on spec. She then finished us all off with her rendition of 'Molly Malone' - a wee tear was shed.

Our second time in the cafe, though we were too early for the band. Gabriel the waiter was super. Followed by a walk through the centre - Grafton St and performers. One girl sang Hallelujah.

The apartment had all the trimmings apart from coat-hangers, oven gloves, a mossy mouldy balcony and only one gas burner on the stove. Great location so 8 out of 10.
  We went to Gibney's for a rugby game last time we came - all the locals had their chairs reserved in front of the big screen. This time it was a second tier World Cup game which we watched over the bar. Pete pulled again - mine was better looking and more interesting.

'Jiggin' was the band. A guitar, a banjo and a bodhran. They all sang. Reels and not surprisingly jigs. There were songs from guys in the audience who rocked up and said "can we?" And we all joined in the ones we knew. 'When will they ever learn?' - a Peter, Paul and Mary tune about climate change was clever. Great craic.
  Did you know Ryanair will only give out boarding passes 48 hrs before departure? So if you miss, it's 50E fine. Thanks for the cybercafe on O'Connell St. 
  The trials of being a tourist.

Previous trips to Ireland:
2013   2014    2014    2016 

New author and great book about a crooked curate in the Holme Valley

History, crime and a crooked curate in the Holme Valley

The flyer is self-explanatory. Any further queries to the above phone numbers or shalliley@btinternet.com

visit shallileybooks.org to browse our publications

Older inspiring role models

These five blokes are referred to affectionately as the Thursday Team. Hence meeting on a Wednesday lunch time. We all retired from the NHS at the same time (late 1990s) and met for a few years at the Clothiers Arms, Netherthong on a Thursday evening. Two finance, two managers and one clinician. One of those fixed points in a week. At a time when a week could sometimes stretch out a bit. We still come together maybe four or five times a year.
  There are common interests: sports, especially soccer and golf; grandchildren; illness, controlled or in remission; medication inevitably; all the stupid stuff ranging from Brexit to why the eye department at HRI cannot organise their appointments.
  I've been in a few groups over the years, at work and in college. Mixed feelings. The meetings for  NHS management to be avoided. We had an excellent rehabilitation team  - everyone signed up to the common purpose which was largely determined by the wants and needs of the service user - the patient. We met twice a week with an extra regular session to check how the team was performing - no one had a private agenda. We had counselling groups at York St John, but by then I had other stuff and I didn't contribute or achieve a great deal. Now groups, meetings and committees are a no.
  The Thursday Team was quite different. Drinks and the quiz were the main activities and some moaning. A support group I guess. Like the leg on a table - helps to keep the thing up and running, solid and reliable. Retirement was the common factor. We all wanted it and we came together to share and listen how we were doing. Today I suspect health is the preoccupation. Not dour or depressing. More optimistic.

This is Eric, en route from Lancashire, Mirfield, Huddersfield to Lymington near Southampton. A twice a year journey. We walked together every week from 1994. And were still walking intermittently up to last year when we did the middle section of Hadrian's Wall.
  Lakes, Coast-to-Coast and Reeth weekends, otherwise Derbyshire and bits around Holme Valley, Airedale and S. Yorkshire. Common threads included books, sports, families and mental health. I had it and a he was a psychiatrist.
  An additional issue we shared was naff organisation. Booking the wrong days and wrong hotels was something we got used to. It always worked out. It was calculating our walking distances that was a serious problem as Eric is 10 years younger than me. I recall two energy-free episodes - one around Grasmere and the other at Corbridge. I made it largely because you cannot bail out up a hill, miles away from anywhere. After a few days I recovered.
  On the C2C, Eric was going through one of his reading programmes. He'd reached Wuthering Heights. While I went to bed and slept 12 hours, he spent a happy evening communing with Cathy and Heathcliffe, first in the bath and then in the bar (clic here for the link).
  We never had a cross word. Still don't. He's worried about his eyesight - a book person would. I'm still grumpy - it masks social and performance anxiety.

Older inspiring role models - we have been knocking about together for over 20 years. Not as fit today, but still active in many other ways. We haven't given up yet.

Wild flowers can be beautiful too - inspiring a review on publication.


   Delia Rotchell gave us a wild flower patch in a tin. It thrived and outgrew the tin. So I potted it on to the now defunct potato raised-bed. It is stunning.

  These are the publications to date for Shalliley Books (began 2011), including one out later this year. Sport, music and local history are our subjects, getting stuff into print that a larger publisher might not touch. They are covered in more detail at Shallileybooks website. I only have one ISBN number left, so the question is do I get some more or do I retire? I don't advertise and the projects keep arriving. It is actually time I converted a couple of my own draft books into something that is printable. What to do? It is interesting to examine how all this came about, as outlined on the website. Websites are a bit static? So maybe justifiable to duplicate. It started as a side effect of Peter Davies massive database on all things West Yorkshire cricket. I can't remember whether I volunteered, but he sent me a load of stuff. I had a basic understanding of what to do from modules at Sheffield Hallam creative writing and a short book on Almondbury Casuals CC. We used the university print shop which didn't work. Sadly Peter had to take a back seat through illness (I saw his dad recently at Lockwood park and apparently Peter is improving). So I rang up the editor of a book I'd written for who said send it to a digital printer which we did and it worked, especially after a professional proof read. Riley, Dunn and Wilson on Leeds Road and brilliant. That morphed into Jotbindery and D&M Heritage in Lockwood. Somewhere in there the asbestos police got involved and everything went quiet - we needed help from a firm in Uppermill who were poor. Today it's Amadeus in Cleckheaton. I never realised what a difficult time print companies can have. A more detailed account of various articles and publications is here, and also here.

A great wee piece on insecurity about ageing by Fleur Adcock

Not especially high and lonely but spectacular and inspiring

Insecurity about ageing

The Poetry Pharmacy, Daily Telegraph Saturday 28th Sept. The link between ageing and body image or more precisely the link with actual body shape and size - '...  we begin to see evidence that our bodies have been lived in, loved in and lost in'.
  It all pales in comparison with seeing and being in the high lonely places. Those who love us don't see size and shape, they see and hear shared happy times. If we simply let ourselves.

Happy is how I look, and that's all.
My hair will turn grey in any case,
my nails chip and flake, my waist thicken,
and the years work all their usual changes.
If my face is to be weather-beaten as well

that's little enough lost, a fair bargain
for a year among the lakes and fells,
when simply
to look out of my bedroom window at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what
my soul may wear over its new complexion.

What a walk!

It was quite a walk. Starting just off Penistone Road, into Kirkburton high street, visiting the site of an old textile mill. Then a car park and back to Kirkburton high street. The church and a bridleway, back to Penistone Road. Steep decline into Thunderbridge, an effort up into Storthes Hall woods. Visited the football foundation where a penalty shootout was taking place between two young ladies' teams. Dicing with low flying tree branches, sighting an imposing derelict building, scaling a fence which said "Keep Out" on the other side. Crossing to tufted fields and bogs, down to Penistone Road and a welcome drink at The Foxglove.
I remember two pukka paths, otherwise it was make it up for yourself.

Older people maybe have the time to write - it's inspiring and therapeutic

Writing can be inspiring and therapeutic - give it a go with a diaryWriting stuff is not for everyone. Life can be difficult enough. Who remembers the 1950s primary schools and all the mistakes we inevitably made? Red ink from 'Miss' and red faces from us. So there is something to be said for a more flexible style of learning reading, writing and arithmetic. I hope less people today arrive into adulthood, scarred and scared to death of pens and pencils. Anyone recall that crucial transition into ink? I thought it was never going to happen.

 The Outsider   Forever alone.
                          Schoolmiss kept him in pencil
                          When the rest were in ink.

  This is a haiku I wrote in the 1990s whilst studying English at Huddersfield University. I managed one year before I had to return to the real world and earn a living.
  In defence of my primary school, I passed my eleven plus, a devastating lifelong failure for some if they didn't. In addition, Miss Town read to us every Friday afternoon. Treasure Island had us all enthralled. And, incidentally, I played in a great school soccer team. And Miss Town would not forgive me for starting any sentence with 'and'.
  So you survive the obstacle course called adolescence, college, first job and career, marriage and kids (there are plenty of variations on this curve) and if you are not already writing, then you might want to have a go.
  A diary can be a private start. A record of events, a breathing space for opening up concerns and their echoes (Seamus Heaney said he wrote 'To set the darkness echoing'), and a glimpse of what might be different. Many of us have good friends who listen and that can be enough.

Three conversations last Thursday morning - are they senior moments?

It is my habit to attend Pilates at the Holmfirth Civic Hall each Thursday morning. Depending on time, a scruffy neck-hole and the contents of our fridge, I variously call for a haircut and take in the butcher on the bridge.
  This week I walked down early, there was a central empty chair at the sparsely decorated barber and I'm in. "What is it today?" asked a lad in T-shirt and shorts who didn't look much older than my grandson. "A number 4 please." Usually, after the sheet throttling and the unveiling of the clippers, the question is "What are you up to this afternoon." For me, hopelessly disorganised with lack of focus, this question simply muddles me up even further. But it didn't happen today. First of all we got onto the clippers. A tall bald tenor colleague in New Mill Choir has a great barber. It's himself - machine and a number 1, every fortnight. He's persuaded me to buy one. So I mentioned this and fair enough the lad gave me a tutorial on what size was a number 4. I told him I had wimped out. I must have a go, maybe in a couple of weeks. Could be senior moment waiting to happen.
  Then my older brother became the topic. He has recovered remarkably from chemo and radiotherapy, except that his hair has regrown curly. The lad was as pleased as punch - and it was genuine. We skirted around the detail and both flanking twosomes went quiet. We finished with how old he was - 19. "Your frontal cortex hasn't grown yet. You're barmy at that age. Brilliant." Whatever possessed me to come out with that, GOK, and it was his turn to go quiet.
  All that in five minutes. £5 for a haircut and a chat.


Then it was a dozen of Yorkshire's finest sausage and two juicy gammon steaks. The butcher I generally see tends to continue wielding his sharp knife, wearing whites, back facing the customer, speaking toward the interior wall, so I am usually served by a lady assistant who is in her prime. Today there was a second butcher who maybe has a closer association with the serving lady than the first. They both helped me out, particularly when I ordered an additional family-sized pork pie.
  "Have you seen the latest on vegan diets?" I asked.
  "You mean they get more strokes?" said the butcher. I nodded and smiled. I failed to mention that it was an observational study and did not imply cause and effect.
  "Whatever happened to a balanced diet?" he wondered. Precisely.
  "Everything in moderation," said the lady assistant.
  They looked at each other and smiled. She added "I'll be having a few drinks tonight, it's my birthday."
  I wished her well. Didn't ask her age. The pork pie was wonderful.


Stretched and a bit sore, I walked back from the Civic, and having crossed the road, noted a familiar battered campervan in the traffic queuing for the village junction lights - not an inconsiderable distance, such is the daily congestion. Tom Ashworth's. He is a member of a hard core from the choir that sets the world to rights over coffee every Thursday morning. I sauntered up to the passenger door and simply stared. Tom eventually flinched. He featured in a recent blog and wanted to add something. "I tried to put something in about aesthetics, but failed," he told me at choir practice. I'm happy not to moderate my blog, but these computers have minds of their own. The traffic wasn't moving, so I thought I'd mention I'd now added his words in. He moved across to open the passenger door - the window mechanism seemed defunct - and I began explaining what I had done as the car in front began to move. I crashed the door shut and Tom tried to get his tank into gear, not without difficulty.
  No matter, such is the daily congestion that I soon caught up with him and we tried again. I managed to get most of what I wanted to say said before more movement, followed by Tom's laboured efforts to get his motor going. We didn't try again, though we could have.
  No horns, no other signs of road rage. Fellow motorists simply put up with two old farts trying to chat through a wide open van door in the middle of a traffic jam.


Two consultations and a staff meeting. All serious stuff, yet also weird if not frankly comic.

Shallilo's garden glimpse - an overture to secular spirituality

I started with one sunflower from one of the shelves outside Aldi. The working bit went brown so I cut it off, first consulting the net. I then got loads of babies, butterfly magnets.
  Supervised by Statler and Waldorf.
  My wildflower patch is doing okay as well.

Roderick Strange wrote again in the Times recently (Aug 24th 2019) - incidentally a great name for a vicar. He quotes Paul Gifford, an Emeritus Professor, 'one may rail against affluence, professional sport, mass travel, consumer society or a culture of instant gratification ... many no longer feel any pressing need' [to ask the deeper questions]. Rod mentions science as an additional force which has pushed religion to the margins of modern life. 'Are we missing something?' he asks. A definition of spirituality is 'the quality of being concerned with the human spirit ... as opposed to material or physical things'. Or as I have tried to say previously 'personal stuff we value which does not cast a shadow'.
  I doubt many would argue with this. Even neurochemists - pleasure is a transient brain event which needs repeating regularly. Rod then says 'The witness of truly holy people helps'. Holy is defined as 'dedicated or consecrated to God' which might not go down well with non-believers like my pal Clive Hetherington, a bass in New Mill Male Voice Choir. In fairness to Rod, he thinks God might help - the notion of God is not compulsory.
  I don't take a stance against this kind of personal belief. Making sense of the world can be a confusing occupation. Clive, and I have some sympathy, would attest that organising belief into a religious movement can lead to feelings of exclusion. 'They' have hijacked all the best moves, including spiritual experience. Clive is sure anyone can have mysterious and awsome personal moments and he suggests scientific discovery is one such.
  Tom Ashworth is another New Mill bass, well-known local author and lapsed catholic. Aesthetics turn him on. A building or a painting are the things that take his breath away.
  There is the idea of secular spirituality. A search to make sense of oneself and one's personal growth, something discussed here on a number of occasions (see Lent). Clive is a computer specialist and enjoys what that science can say about being human. I have always been muddled by religious language, right from Sunday School. I attended church dutifully, a choir and youth club member. Eventually biology at High School and the study of evolution gave me the information I needed to put my thoughts in some sort of order.
  'Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind' by Tom Holland was reviewed recently in the Times (Aug 24th) by Gerard DeGroot. Whether we are paid up Christians or not we are all heavily influenced by history and the part played by religion. Sadly this includes some less than humane episodes, but these also occur in the name of other religions and totalitarian states. Another aspect of being human.
  Holland argues that tolerance and fairness were not much in evidence before Christ. This, for me, is another hijack and DeGroot agrees. Planning, cooperation and looking out for each other were learned on the plains of Africa by the hunter-gatherers, unlocking our brains in the process.
  Us non-believers can be charitable as well as challenging, part of our personal route. Clive and I tend to plough on alone. Neither of us has many opportunities or willing ears to explore these ideas with others (apart from Tom). It doesn't stop us from trying. We won't be doing much about 'professional sport, mass travel, consumer society or a culture of instant gratification'.

Tom and Clive - thoughtful basses

Awaydays in Weymouth - Shallilo travels

A week away on the south coast - somewhere we rarely visit and now we know why; it's too far. So the theme for the week was travelling. Topped and tailed by six to eight hours of driving. Down the M42 there was a car on fire and the whole motorway was gridlocked. Then very slow around Bristol. Back up the country, different route, just volume of traffic and overall quite pleasant. Loo and drink stops. Once we had arrived in Weymouth, had a beer and relaxed we determined the journey wasn't going to colour the holiday and it didn't. We were in a far better temper when we got home.
  In between times we went everywhere by bus - why not it's free. There were loads of them - covering all the local destinations and obligingly frequent. Occasionally we needed to change. Once, we transferred instead to a boat to view the Jurassic and Cretaceous coasts. Great views of the World Heritage Site which doesn't allow residential protection - some very expensive houses will eventually fall off the cliff edge. We caught the boat in the working harbour, surrounded by pubs and restaurants. Danny the dolphin swum past as the jet skiers set off. My favourite spot of the holiday. A seaport since 1250s despite modernity you sense the history.

   The bus trip to Weymouth covered a lot of the attractions. All ages catered for. Massive beach, mixed shingle and sand with breakwater and path. They are forever reinforcing the sea defences. Sea life centre which researches seahorses. George III patronised the town's Royal Hotel. He has a colourful statue in the centre next to the bus stops and a chalk horse-rider carved in the hillside at Osmington. There was a pier until 1982. Sand sculptures occupy an odd-looking building on the beach near to a super Punch and Judy show. A couple of fairgrounds and a busy theatre. Plenty of pubs, coffee and chip shops. The Georgian housing along the sea front is the town's signature. Judith and the childbride joined the crowds for a concert in Greenhill gardens - Weymouth Ukulelians - I watched England beat Wales on TV which sadly had injuries, just before a World Cup.

  It gradually dawned that this must be the worst town for traffic we had come across. In the holiday flat we were aware of the constant nose-to-tail swish of vehicles. We recognised how long travel times were for such short distances and from the pavement, the fumes and pollution were pretty obvious. They didn't penetrate the flat which was more than adequate, though the glass conservatory needed rigorous ventilation before we could use it.
  Two wet days. Dorchester has a strange welcome at the museum. It is £17 for a year's subscription and that's it. So we didn't get to mug up on Thomas Hardy, Judge Jeffries' bloody assizes or the Tolpuddle martyrs. Better in Weymouth, down near the harbour and £2 entry fee. Sections on the railway - double track to accommodate the wider Great Western. Several breweries. Black Death arrived here in 1348 - the first port of entry for the UK. Lots on Weymouth's great and good. For example Wren was the MP in 1702. He designed St Paul's Cathedral using Portland Stone, the quarries being under his control between 1675-1717. Don't forget the thousands of American soldiers who left here to go to Omaha Beach, Normandy, in 1944.

  That leaves Portland, harbour and bill, connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, part of which is Chesil Beach - 18 miles long up to Bridport and 50 feet high - a massive natural feature constructed by thousands of years. Tennis ball shingle at Portland, peas at the other end.
  We had our best change of buses on Portland. We asked our first driver to drop us off at Chesil Beach. He preferred us to catch up with the Portland Bill bus. He jumped off and ran across, got the second driver to open up and take us on. "Have an hour at the Lobster Pot," he said. This a cafe on the southernmost tip next to the three lighthouses, only one of which still works. Misinformed about the timetable we had a lot more than an hour - pleasant in the sun overlooking the channel.        
   The second driver was actually a bonus as he was also a guide. Switched the engine off, stood on the stairs and talked, twice. The London Cenotaph is Portland Stone - dug out from an exclusive quarry which shut down straight afterwards. Portland has 14000 residents, many of whom have never been to Weymouth. The roads are all wide to facilitate dragging large pieces of stone about. Used to construct Portland harbour - by convicts. Now the forth largest man-made harbour in the world. It has been a naval base along with Special Forces training, today on ex-Falkland ship Tristam, torpedo testing and lots more too numerous - same with the its use today, though special mention for the 2012 Olympic sailing regatta and regular cruise liner stopovers.
  Janice Turner in the Times August 17th asks the question whether 'Bucket lists are killing the places we love?' Her point being if everyone does it then holidays become a series of queues - eg. Mona Lisa viewing is restricted to a certain duration because of numbers. We experience this in every airport we visit, thankfully getting less often. Weymouth above was overwhelmed by cars and buses. Scarborough over the latest bank holiday was gridlocked both on the roads and the beach. Admittedly different reasons for having a break, but similar outcomes. She concludes that experiences are not about where you've been, presumably so you can compete with your friends and relatives, but how you enjoyed the time with loved ones and the odd stuff that just happens.
  So Weymouth did have its queues and it is a long way to go. Really hot too - a heat wave. Three things for me. The working harbour and a lazy afternoon watching the sea from Portland Bill and listening to a bus driver commentary, in the company of the childbride and our pal Judith.

senior moments and more encouragement for older person's exercise

just another ageing rocker

Lisa Verrico, the Times Aug 3 2019: 'After a gig; the old-timers just want a Horlicks and get to bed. There are no shenanigans ...'
  Super review of the top older rockers from Clapton and Jagger through Iggy Pop and Grace Jones. All over 70. Touring is in their DNA, but no longer with the excesses of youth. Less, more organised travelling, fewer gigs, better diets and some exercise. Jagger is OTT exercise-wise however and he never stops moving on stage whereas Clapton doesn't move a muscle.
  And they are all nicer as people.
  Whatever happened to 'Hope I die before I get old'.


Last week at Ribby Hall holiday village, Lytham, playing soccer with 6 year old Jenson, I fell over like a sack of spuds. Last year I would have rolled in mid air and landed smoothly on my back.


A bit late - Judith Woods, the Telegraph, 28 June: 'Later-life fitness is a great idea - so what is stopping us?'
  Best start when you are a bit younger - not much good for older exercise first-timers. 150 minutes a week recommended by a recent Cambridge University study (previous guidelines agree; approx half an hour 5 times a week).
  It needs a schedule - '... time spent keeping fit ... should be treated as a precious resource and allocated accordingly.'
  Physical fitness, with attention to diet, makes a major contribution to staying well - '... the most meaningful investment you can make ... '
  Clic here to review the guidelines.


I recently discovered why workers on building sites always seem to be moving rubble from one end of the site to another. It's because legal dumping costs a fortune. My chiropodist said so. Recent articles in the press suggest chiropodists are in short supply and yet are crucial to the planet. I can vouch for foot care.