Maintaining a moral compass

I was talking to friends about ordering from Amazon and Tesco’s and they responded saying, in principle, they would never use either. I understand their reasons. It led me to think about how passive I had become in some of my ethical pathways in the last few years. I am sure there is a relationship between convenience, an important commodity when unwell, and willingness to stand up and act on your principles. Your steadfastness can be weakened by just finding ways to get through the day. I shall return below to ask how far has this occurred as I first try to reflect on the origins of my moral compass and where it came from?

As a pre-teen I attended church, Church of England by parental choice, and I went through the ‘confirmation’ process. School also taught religious studies through Christianity, as the norm, also Church of England, so I guess my initial moral code came from Church and family. Simple principles of morality, right v wrong, but it felt very laissez-faire and I do not recall any conversations which challenged my thinking. I internalised the prejudices of the day, it was the 50s and 60s, (though would not realise that until much later). For example I remember eating bread and jam often for tea, featuring the ‘golliwog’ logo and not reacting at all, nor did anyone around me tell me to react either. My parents pushed education as a route out of a lower middle/working class background and for that I am really grateful. Real awakening started for me in the sixth form with an English teacher, who introduced ideas through reading literature and poetry, the delights of DH Lawrence, Auden, Brian Patten, Philip Larkin, and Wilfred Owen particularly remain in the memory. It was to be education, specifically, higher education, which challenged my ethical thinking in a fundamental way, helping me to develop a moral code through continuous reflection, a process which goes on to the present day, in fact that is a key part of my moral compass always analysing, reflecting and reacting to new situations.

University at York brought so many questions as an undergraduate. I studied history and education. I loved what was known then as ‘intellectual’ history, the study of ideas. I was bombarded with a smorgasbord of different philosophies, from Karl Marx to Antonio Gramsci via Illich, Freire and many others. I took positions in dorm room discussions on a whole host of topics just to test out my thinking. What I had seen in the real world I could begin to relate to these ideas. But to be honest my early life now appeared relatively sheltered and reading and learning about class, privilege, poverty and discrimination opened my eyes and made me really think about the world around me for the first time. It was uncomfortable and wonderfully challenging in equal measure. I joined some marches including one against Bloody Sunday and a sit-in but the most practical outcome was focused around the rejection of teaching as a career. Influenced by the ‘de-schooling’ movement, seeing Illich speak at York being so transformative and memorable, studying ASNeill, Paulo Frieire, Montessori and others I had decided teaching was about indoctrination and I did not want to do it. This was a life-changing decision based on principles I could not ignore.

I moved to Hull University to study for social work though sponsored by the Home Office. This forced more focussed examinations of my moral compass and I began to identify my moral standpoints ironically as much by what I rejected as what I stood for. Around a broad base of socialism I began to look at ideas, mainly operationised in the criminal justice system, to identify structural disadvantage by class, race, gender, age, mental health and sexuality. Criminals, or clients as we were taught to call them then, seemed to be at the cutting edge of discrimination, disadvantage and poverty. Probation became my spiritual home. Politics felt then too Centre-right from both political spectrums and with the coming of Thatcher then Blair a place not to be. I found myself disappointed/disillusioned with the political process and so my moral compass was exercised through my work. This had its own challenges as changes in the political agenda had a negative impact on progressive practices in Probation.

I would describe my moral education as continuous, one step forward and two steps back. It involves unlearning as well as new learning. Taking ideas which were an unquestioned part of my upbringing then subjecting those ideas to interrogation and if necessary change. In this process you rarely get it right but the journey remains relevant. This has been reinforced through direct practise with clients, through work as a trainer where you seek to challenge others, in my trade union work, in my writings and then as an academic. In a long career ideas which seemed worked out at 25 were questioned and questioned again for over forty years. Class had been the dominant feature of my early thoughts but increasingly mediated through the lens of diversity, difference and discrimination.

So fast forward to today. Retired, ailing and tired, it is not always easy to retain that self-reflective lens on the world plus there is always the possibility of disillusion setting in after one too many setbacks. I have seen too many lost opportunities in the world of criminal justice as well as the political scene. How many moral challenges can you stomach when you are not feeling 100 %. I have seen some compromise evident in my personal life around ecological and environmental issues. I must confess that every new bin which arrives for the rubbish feels like a bin too far.

The exception to this passive trend is, surprisingly, politics. Disappointed across my lifetime by the failure of Labour to maintain the kind of social democratic politics which gave us the NHS, the welfare state and social housing I have stayed a little aloof from it. This was transformed by the last election campaign and the politics of Corbyn and the progressive momentum of the labour manifesto. I became excited, engaged and felt there was (is) real hope in this agenda reflected in the slogan of ‘for the many, not the few’. Facebook friends were sometimes concerned with the amount of material I shared during the election but this was the first election in which social media had a real impact and exposed the inadequacies of the mainstream media. I could not get out on the streets so I did my bit. Ideas which have driven my work, my life, were there to be fought for. I felt that my moral compass was ignited in ways which encouraged me to stay up most if election night feeling I would see the kind of government I had not dreamt was possible in my lifetime. Though falling marginally short I really hope I can see that Government happen. Have re-joined Labour and feel optimistic about real seismic political shifts.

I am still a little lazy/passive to protect my energy and will still use amazon and Tesco delivery. But the moral compass I found in the election still burns in my soul and I still get so angry at the injustice of the world around me. Sometimes my health feels like its put me on the margins but I will never soften my beliefs.

Have a lovely holiday and new year, thanks for reading and commenting. This is Blog 43. I promised a blog a week at the beginning of 2017 and fell only a bit short. In January six years since diagnosis I can’t celebrate that enough. Enjoy every day you can. Life is short but wonderful.

Recent photos

So what’s your take on Christmas?

If your first reaction to my blog title this week is a groan I guess you immediately fall into the category of people who celebrate the statutory minimum of days, perhaps in a grudging way, tut-tutting at the increasing commercialisation, and wishing it over before it starts. You may want to stop reading as I love Christmas though not everything about it as I will make clear.

So what’s not to like. Firstly I do not particularly engage with Christmas as a religious event. As a child I experienced the thrill of singing in the choir at midnight mass as a precursor to Christmas but that was as much about church going as religion. What remains strongly for me from my childhood in the 1950s is the sense of family which was the centrepiece of the day. Sitting down with my siblings, my mum and dad, my grandparents, after having opened up the presents which were meagre but no less exciting. My pillow at the end of the bed was filled with such things as an orange, a jumper, some sweets, an annual, home made toys and sundry other small presents. No iPhones, computers, or other exotic presents. This was post-war austerity when getting a turkey on the table was a major expense. It was no less exciting than receiving much more expensive presents as I went into adulthood. In fact it set the yardstick for how I have enjoyed it since. It was the ritual which was important and has always helped me look forward to it nearly every year since. I love giving presents and to see the joy on my children’s faces when they got what they had asked for and sometimes more, these are the memories which never fade.

As a piece of social engineering about the shaping of Christmas the memories of childhood, if they are good ones, are hard to let go. I know that this was not everyone’s experience but for me Christmas was without exception a great family-led time. For me the roast dinner which is often based around turkey, sprouts, roasties, loads of veg, rich sumptuous gravy followed by Christmas pudding (though I cannot stomach it) are still in one form or another the centrepiece. As many family gathered around the table as possible though the big gatherings when my children were little no longer occur but it always includes my two children as a minimum. After far too much food, in my house the Queen’s speech is ritually avoided but at some point the traditional Senior family games are played – notably ‘brains’ and when I was a child ‘consequences’ though that has disappeared in more recent times. When it has been a big family gathering everyone does their best to relax and feel the mood. There have been tense moments over the years and arguments over the games, my grandpa consulting the Junior Pears Encyclopaedia to settle the argument about tomatoes and whether it is a fruit or a vegetable. In the end the occasion kept such disputed matters to a minimum. Whether time has dulled the arguments I can only remember the sense of fun and renewal of these days in the 50s and 60s.

Christmas can also been defined by those years where normal activity are interrupted by an unexpected event. Memorable for me was the Christmas 1973 when my Dad had a heart attack I think on Christmas Eve but as well as hospital visiting we eat and opened presents and played the games. Or when I was in hospital in Christmas 82 having treatment for testicular cancer but ‘released’ for Christmas and saw the usual going on around me as I tried to eat a turkey sandwich. More recently when my daughter was in Australia for Christmas the only time we have not celebrated together but with modern technology she rang and had some contact though it wasn’t the same. And finally in 2010 when I was away from England in Hong Kong and my daughter and me celebrated in very different style, away from family including my son though a Skype conversation was had. But these are isolated years helping to define the norm.

I suppose this is about tradition though not just that imposed by external authority. It is our unique traditions which grow and change and refine over the years but at its heart, centres family, celebration and giving as well as the inevitable eating, the drinking (though I don’t now drink at all), and the silly games! I know my vision is a secular affair but I make no apologies for that. That is true to our lives and our philosophies and it would be hypocritical to pretend Christmas has the Christian connotations which it has for others. My beliefs centre around family and it starts for me around now, whatever the adverts and displays tell us.

I love the sending of cards and over the last few years have designed by own and sent through TouchNote as their production are so good. I buy less presents than the often frantic buying when my children were young but enjoy thinking about it just as much. I recall the year I was in a frantic search for Rainbow Brite doll (you know it if you are of that age). My daughter was set on it but all the stores had run out. I had given up cross that I did not start buying earlier. Working on Christmas Eve I went towards the city centre to get some lunch. In a disused department store there was a temporary shop selling Christmas goods and sat in the centre of their displays was the biggest, grandest Rainbow Brite you could imagine. I bought it making one girl very happy. That summed up the mystery, the joy of it all.

So I know the commercialisation has taken over our own thinking about Christmas and that is regrettable. But there is no right way to celebrate the day. We will do it our way again when the time comes, adapting to the changing circumstances of all our family, no matter what the commercials tell us to do. Now I must design that card.

My week in photos.

When the stress line twangs

It’s not always clear to me why I cry sometimes. It seems that it is simply an emotional outlet triggered by a range of events. It is a mixture of the good and the less good, and the trigger can come way after the event. It suggests to me that the struggle of living over the past nearly six years feels like you exist on a taut line. Most of the time I am not conscious of this tautness and just get through each day as it comes. But I become conscious of this at certain key moments which eventually trigger a necessary response.

A series of negative events, taken individually I think I appear to take quite well. But if I stopped to think my internal stress wire is being twisted ever tighter until it’s tautness is palpable. In company I rarely let this show, that is the male in me I guess, though six years of hormone therapy suggests that my ‘stiff upper lip’ is not as stubborn as it once was. At some point these events come together at a trigger, sometimes unconnected at all. It can be a TV programme going over the same kind of event, it can be a casual question from someone and for once I think and hear my answer and it saddens me. Then I feel that tear forming. It sometimes is too hard not to, though it is as likely to happen when alone as when with people.

When I am with people I am engaged and both the mundane and the heavy conversations are shared, the burden is somehow shared, and that stress wire normally does not snap. Indeed the therapeutic value of talking about some of my health issues and challenges does loosen that wire, helps me make sense of the world a little more and even a casual unrelated conversation can do that. I value talking so much.

Good things happening to me also bring the same tensions. I sometimes sense the fleeting nature of these engagements and also get into weighing up whether they will happen again. The finite nature of my life can hit me in the most odd and seemingly innocuous way. I can see an article about the next Ashes Cricket in England and think that will be great and then think but I doubt if I will make it. Of course I know I’ve been here before and got to see events I never thought I would, another Christmas, my lovely annual dinner with my kids in February, my annual BBQ now heading towards its 7th year. Yet it is this paradox which pulls on the wire and if I allow it my reflections can be more tearful than I would believe.

I think it is part of the pressing nature of illnesses like mine which force introspection and reflection and so the wires become taut and must have an outlet. I have to say this does not make me feel sad, the release of crying can be a joy which acts restoratively. It does not lead me into despair, or self-pity or depression. It is a moment where the tautness snaps and a wave of emotion occurs.

I am ever more conscious of how I spend my time each day but I am trapped by how I feel. Plans to do something, anything, seem always provisional and I simply have to recognise when it’s not happening. I think these ‘cancellations’ have increased and in that very real sense I feel some regression further into my ill health. It’s not failing yet, so I don’t want readers to take that from this piece, but I am on a continuous journey which is steadily, identifyingly, on a set trajectory. It’s uneven, it has many upturns and surprises but it’s persistence belies any false sense of overblown reality as to where I am heading. Some days the stress lines are felt and I need a release and this is when some tears will come, often unbidden and some day after the more likely triggers.

Our bodies are so complex, our emotions so conditioned by social circumstance and our mental health. I am really lucky that my body copes so well day by day that I have not felt any drift into hopelessness, nihilistic thoughts or worse. My sense of self remains quite strong and when something goes twang, ever so briefly, there is a release, a sustenance in the simplicity of tears.

I am smiling, almost laughing as I write this because my latest ‘twang’ has come and gone and I feel good again. I have had a great day overall, seeing some loyal old friends but also regretting that this was accompanied with a bad day with one of my health issues. So I guess there were two twangs happening together, the joy of reciprocal friendship and the sadness of my failing body.

I was conscious it’s two or three weeks since I blogged and I was struggling for a theme. As I was reflecting on this a trigger, unbidden, arrived. I thought I’d write to try and make sense if it. You will let me know if it has any resonance for you. For me it’s a cup of tea and a bit of TV, a rich combination which ensures I remain routed in engaging.

My week in photos


A day in my media life

On the BBC Breakfast sofa

Yesterday at around 4.20 pm I was reflecting on the second cancellation of my minor dental op at the local hospital. Inconvenient but otherwise I can live quite happily with a wait for any dental procedure. I had had a quiet day, been round the local village and took some photos but nothing remarkable in the day. The following 18 hours has proved to be a bit of a diverting rollercoaster, not without its fun but also quite exhausting. I was rung by BBC Breakfast TV asking if I would do their programme on the next day. This was on the latest developments around the probation service. I had not done TV for a long time and not much radio since I retired. I had done a lot of radio at one time, as someone pointed out, I had a good face for radio! The great thing about radio is that you can do the interviews, wearing what you want, with notes in front of you and even these days from your home or the local studios. I have been to BBC Radio Sheffield many times. 

I think my best memory was a BBC Wales interview that they wanted to do around 7 am. We were going to do it on skype, though just audio. Anyway I set my alarm for 6.45 am, staggered to the bathroom to freshen my face and wake me up and then sat on the edge of the bed with very little on! At the end of the interview I was thanked by the interviewer and he commented that he hoped I could afford a less creaky chair for future interviews. I said goodbye, turned over and went back to sleep.

This was going to be much more hardcore. They wanted me in the studio in Salford and to be on air by 7.10am. I said yes as they said they would taxi me over and back and they then went off to confirm arrangements. Before they had rung back BBC Radio 5 Live had rung asking to do a similar interview, this time at 6.40 am. They could do it by FaceTime but were in the same building as the TV show so she went off to liaise. Back came the TV person suggesting they taxi me over but without realising how early this would need to be if I was on radio too. Radio came back with a 6.40 time so the taxi was getting ever earlier. TV then suggested they could get me over by train, in an hotel overnight and as their building was just round the corner arrive there by 6.15 for make up, radio then TV. So this was agreed. 9.42 pm train out of Doncaster. 

All goes quiet and you are left with some frantic activities. Pack an overnight bag with all the survival kit in it. Iron a shirt as TV can see you. Check on some facts about the issue to be prepared. Tell people I was being whisked away overnight and what I was doing. Record the TV show so you can grinch tomorrow. Check bag again. Download stuff in case no Wi-fi on train or hotel. Have some light tea. Check bag. Leave really early so you don’t miss the train. 

The train journey should have been very easy. Just a few stops and no changes, gettting to Manchester where a pre-arranged taxi would whisk me to the hotel and bed around 11 ish. It started ok, no Wi-fi but I read what I had downloaded. As we got into Sheffield it was clear we were running late. No movement for too long and then the dreaded announcement. Due to someone being caught by a train ahead the line was closed. We were now still headed for Manchester but a new and slow route was devised via Wakefield, Huddersfield, Guide Bridge and lost of small places I did not recognise in the dark. We would be late the morose announcer intoned and then said it would be midnight before getting to Manchester. I was not the worst off, we were not going to Stockport at all and those heading for the airport were going to be on a new train from Manchester. We chugged along, I became too tired to read any more and reflected on the receding sleep time I would get.

Picked up taxi and made it my bed by 12.45. Setting the alarm for 5.45 so I could shower and be at the studios by 6.15 for make up. It was good not to have to do my own make up for once. Of course strange room, strange bed, a temperature approaching tropical and I could not sleep. I got up and messed about on computer until 2.30 am. I then managed some sleep, waking in the dark to go to the bathroom and hoping I had a couple of hours more. No just five minutes, so that was it and so decided to shower.

When I got downstairs I felt awake but not ready for eating, my stomach could not deal with such an early start. So I agreed with the hotel I would return for breakfast after the shows and at 6.10 set off in the darkness for the studios. I was met by my minder who took me through screening, made me a drink, took me through make up and to 5 Live in time for 6.40 am. In a flash that interview came and went and now I was edging nearer to the Breakfast couch with Dan Walker and Louise Minchin. A welcome cup of tea sustained me as mikes were fitted and I was shown to the couch. A perfunctory hello from the presenters who when on air clicked into gear than rushed through their papers inbetween to tee up the next item. 6 minutes and it was all over. A shake of the hand from Dan and a pleasant farewell from the producer, a tweet of the sunrise in Salford Quays and all that preparation over 13 previous frantic hours was over in a flash. What a palaver for just 10 minutes media output. And who will have heard it? 

Salford Quays

A very welcome breakfast followed and a taxi to the station and a more conventional train journey back to Doncaster. Considering they must be ferrying people in all morning the costs of the show must be staggering. It was good for our organisation to get the exposure and overall I managed to last the experience and I think did ok but that is for others to judge. I slept this afternoon very deeply indeed.

Managing the unexpected

Not long after I had published my last blog and readying myself to explore the countryside with the new ‘tank’ and the scooter I went to bed hoping that the weather would stay dry so I could get out there. In the rollercoaster ride which is my journey I was derailed by the sudden onset of pain in my left leg which was as unexpected as it was fierce. Within 24 hours I was struggling to walk at all and standing unassisted was difficult. We are still not sure what was the cause and hoping it was not cancer-related as the rest of me including my normally problematic right leg have been great recently. I thought it could be muscular having had it a couple of times before in the last few months but nowhere as severe and the GP agreed but I shall have to wait awhile for a full verdict. 

For about five days nothing else figured as I sought to first control the pain and then hope it would subside. Everyone who came into touch with me were so helpful, people are just so kind when they see you in trouble. As an example I went to the GP and she was very helpful in sorting out drugs. But waiting for the appointment when my name was called I could not get up but people helped me up. At the chemists they found me a chair whilst they sorted the prescription (and when I went in today asked how I was, how nice is that). Throughout, my son pulled me up when I could not stand, cooked me food and checked in to see I was ok. After 48 hours the pain peaked and with the help of the drugs became more manageable so that within 8 days I had stopped taking the hardcore opiate drugs and this week has been one of normalisation of activities as I try to move on. 
It is disorienting when you are in the middle of something like this. Part of you trying to carry on, part of you just wanting to sleep, hoping you can find a position, sitting, standing or lying, which is pain free . I’m not great at being a patient, though the practice I’m getting is helping me improve. I guess I don’t like feeling unable to do things for myself though I have already made so many changes and compromises in the last five years I guess I’m a long way along that road already. What hits you between the eyes is how wonderful friends, family and most surprisingly strangers can be when they see you in distress. My default position has always been to be in control, to manage my own health but I am learning fast that I can only do this with others. So, in the midst of your inner turmoil, you have to let others in and not foster a self-sufficiency which cannot be achieved anyway and embrace the help offered. Sitting alone on my bed at 4 am for an hour unable to get up to go to the bathroom is not the best way to manage the problem. But being solution-focussed we have installed a key box outside which would enable anyone to get in without breaking down the doors, every little helps.

The Man Booker shortlist

I had kept last week fairly free mainly to complete my annual Man Booker short list reading. Four down and half-way through the fifth I was well on schedule to have some 12 days to tackle the last book, an 800 page epic. For six days I had no mental energy to read a single page and the books languished in eyesight but untouched. Now I have finished the fifth and 100 pages into the last book I fear I will not finish it but as always we will have a great night with food and good company discussing the various books and agreeing, or more probably not agreeing, the eventual winner announced late evening this coming Tuesday 17th.

Max in sympathy
My fridge magnets
Cold water helps
Pre-occupied with pain killers
At a meeting in pain

I managed to get a blip out each day but the photos were just what was around me. I did not want to lose that unbroken run sine Jan 1 2014. It will happen one day but this time I got something out. I have hopes for continual improvement this year using the scooter to get out and take some half-decent pics. It is such a joy to take a pic which you look at and think that is not too bad. I am happy to settle for ‘not too bad’. I don’t have enough patience to study and learn the skills of photography. I would have loved to have discovered this much earlier in life but guess my life was pretty full and apart from holiday snaps I did not entertain photography seriously. Now time is precious so I try and improve but am not concerned about perfection – enjoyment and satisfaction will do just fine. 

BFC mascot, Toby Tyke, abseiling onto the ground

And now I feel ok, back to where I was when I signed off Blog 38. I enjoyed football yesterday although the stairs were very challenging. We have tackled BFC on their lack of concern for those struggling to get up the stairs but I took my time and we got there. Good game, in sunshine feeling good again. Today I enjoyed a lunch out with my son at Welbeck Farm Estates. Lovely place to discover. Never been there before but less than 30 minutes away and has a garden centre, a gallery and shop, a wonderful cafe and a farm shop. There are also walks but we did not explore those today. Used the scooter which made it easy to get round. The bread, made on an artisan bakery on the estate was fantastic, I need a good bakery so will return. So we start the week again, refreshed, back in ‘relative’ control, hoping for a good week. 
My week in photos

Wipe your feet
Cafe in Tickhill
Fun guy in the grass
Multi-coloured detritus of autumn
Duck resting at Mill Dam
Swan in Clumber Park
Clumber Park
Autumn in Clumber Park

Summering through cricket

Essex County Ground

So at Chelmsford this week the cricket season came to an end for me in what could have been the worst scenario as Yorkshire scraping for survival put no performance in whatsoever but a few bowling points on Day One and equally abject performances elsewhere had secured them an undeserved survival. But this blog is not just about cricket it’s taking my cricketing exploits as a metaphor for my summer to check how I am doing and what is next. Talking of what is next my car has finally arrived too late to help me over the summer but hopefully influencing my movement over the next few months, more of that below.
The Tank
Tentative first drive home
Loading the scooter

So the plan this summer was to get out and enjoy visiting picturesque Cricket grounds mainly supporting Yorkshire and my own club Tickhill. I am a season ticket holder so as any self-respecting Yorkshireman it would not be good value not to do so. But my reduced mobility and concerns around other health issues had to be set against this aspiration. I had applied for a disability grant in February but this process took time and even when successful more waiting time for the car, so the entire summer had to contend with reducing mobility and concerns about ensuring toilets were quickly available. At times I made the decision not to go out because of these concerns but tried also to plan so that I could overcome these restrictions and move beyond my armchair. Some days inertia won, at other times I found a way and managed days at Headingley, Scarborough, Lords, the Oval, Worcester and locally Whitley Hall and Cleethorpes. I missed out on some visits I had done previously notably Taunton, Southampton and Trent Bridge but won’t go to big games with large crowds as it feels too busy. Prefer the quieter county games where I can choose a good spot and have some space.
Early season at Headingley
Whitley Hall CC
Cleethorpes CC

I certainly went to more games at Leeds this year even though parking remained an issue. Difficult to get near the ground and, unless my son is with me to drop me at the ground, I face walks to the ground which have become more difficult. But I saw quite a few early season games and seemed to find a good spot with my requirements of few stairs, a nearby toilet and somewhere to get a cup of tea. Though this was the best slot until I went in the height of the summer and discovered the sun shining directly down and I over heated a bit that day and we left early. So more days at Headingley achieved but in the relative cold of April/May and September. 

Headingley through the sun glass
Ben Coad, the bright spot of the year

My best memories of the summer are usually Scarborough, I love the ground, the atmosphere and usually the Cricket (more of that below). Park and Ride gets me right to the ground which is the best solution and the Raven Hall Hotel in Ravenscar my favourite place to stay, though also the dearest. They look after you so well there, the food is great, it’s quiet and has the most sumptuous views of the coastline. Two games there, the first the chosen game for our former touring side, Yorkhull and this was good company. Then a second game which finished disastrously in two days when even the good food could not lighten the mood of the residents who like me make their annual pilgrimage to the Cricket and the hotel. Dire predictions of the future for Yorkshire were everywhere at dinner. The free day afforded by the early defeat did not bring any relief at all as it rained so hard nobody ventured out all day. But as soon as next year’s fixtures are out the Scarborough dates are high on my wish list and I hope that I can take my scooter to give me even more flexibility though next summer is still a long way away.

Quintessential Scarborough Cricket
Yorkhull lads and the view at Raven Hall
Clouds coming at Scarborough

I enjoyed my trip to Worcester, what a lovely ground it is though I saw it from the relative luxury of the Premier Inn. For just an £8 contribution to charity I get a wonderful comfy chair, a table, copious amounts of tea and a loo on hand plus a perfect view behind the bowler’s arms. Yorkshire were on the wrong end of a defeat so this took the gloss off. You have to bring your own food and I hit upon the idea of getting rolls, butter and a tin of corned beef the night before, Safe they would not go off and I could make sandwiches in my room. The bread and butter were fine but when there is no key on the corned beef tin there is nowhere to go. You cannot imagine how frustrating that is. But banana sandwiches were an adequate replacement.

New Lane, Worcester

Foolishly thinking I should book the game at the Oval for a game which would help us get the championship I booked in for all four days. I stayed at a Travel Lodge in Balham which was good as I could get from hotel room to my seat in 15 minutes. Enjoyed a meal with my daughter and M one night which was lovely. But the Oval, lovely ground though it is, was simply a batting fest. I saw few wickets as big scores nullified the threat of a result but to our credit we played well on the final day and Lees, for the only time in a poor season, and Marsh in his farewell game scoring centuries to get much needed draw points. It was expensive at the Oval, £20 with no concessions, £11.50 for fish and chips, £3.70 for just chips at 4.27p per chip. Tea at £2.70. 

Sangahera looks on as enormous pigeon invaded pitch
The Oval

So to Chelmsford to watch the new champions elect Essex against Yorkshire. Could only get to Day Three, for various reasons, by which time we had survived with bowling points and proceeded to play with all the accumulated inconsistency of our season. It is not an easy ground to get parking. I ended up in a multi storey which meant quite a long walk for me anyway. The ticket office were helpful and gave me a pass to the member’s pavilion. There I had the essential quartet of – a seat in shelter, access to tea, access to food and a toilet. So I settled in to watch my team complete their season being bowled out for 74. I slipped from the ground before the locals started their celebrations and rub in our plight even more than they had done, good natured though it was, all day long.

End of an era
Ryan doing what he does best

I had hoped to see Ryan Sidebottom play his final game for Yorkshire, an outstanding County cricketer and sometime England player. Struggling at 39 with injuries he was able to play in the last two games but will be sorely missed with his skill and temperament helping Yorkshire over many years. Have a great retirement Ryan, stay in the game.

So I have survived another summer and got a reasonable amount of games in. Hope that I can utilise my scooter and car to ease access issues into grounds and around them. It is a important marker for me of my survival the more cricket I can see live. I am hoping I will continue to be well enough for next season to see a Yorkshire revival, as though I now settle for test cricket on the TV I am not ready to give up on the joy of live cricket, even when the results make you shudder.


My week in photos.

Over the fields
Man Booker short list
Orb web spider
Sun setting
Max – cute or naughty
Bfc programme

Survival kits

It’s been a fortnight since I blogged. I’ve been very busy particularly last weekend when friends from NZ and family came and we had a really full weekend. Time for blogging disappeared. Then off to London this week to see all four days of a county championship cricket match featuring Yorkshire at the Oval against Surrey. A game for the purist because after four days it ended in a draw. So seven days of activity, challenging but I survived suggesting perhaps my new medication is helping and my systems for survival are working. More of that below.

M & K

Last Saturday was a time to celebrate my humble little town of Tickhill. M and K are on a short European tour featuring those fabulous cities of London, Edinburgh, Paris, Lisbon, Florence and Rome. Nestled in the middle was Tickhill. Once the second wealthiest town in South Yorkshire, albeit in medieval times, it offers much to see for the new visitor. Saturday saw a tour of the village which started around 3 pm and after 3 pubs, a wine bar and the cricket club, the tour of the picturesque village we got home at 10 pm for a wonderful late BBQ. Great test for the scooter as it took we round all day and was great to use the lights to find my way home so late. It was a lovely day and I was amazed I was still going way after midnight though jet lag was making it a struggle for our guests.


Next day was a late start but we went off to York, a must city if you come to Yorkshire such a beautiful place and so much to see. Unfortunately still not got my car so I tired quickly and retreated to a coffee bar whilst the rest of the group looked at the Minister, the walls, Shambles etc etc. We came home and enjoyed a lovely Italian meal to end a great weekend. Thanks to M and K, H and M and J and S. Next morning they headed for the Dales and the Lakes as their European journey continued.

Working in London on the Monday meant I was set for cricket at the Oval for the rest of the week. Important game to win for Yorkshire suddenly finding themselves in a relegation battle. I said above this was a game for the purists. Opinion is becoming divided in cricket about what is the more likely game to unfold in the future. The money, younger audiences, instant action, excitement and engagement, rests with the T20 game. Across the world fixture lists are being organised to bring central stage the major T20 tournaments like Indian Premier League, the Big Bash and in the UK, the Blast. Franchise cricket is due to arrive in the UK in 2019 when new loyalties will have to be found so we can cheer for one of 8 city teams deemed to have the finance to mount a team, composed of players from around the world who will be paid for. For many people, including myself, it is a bit of a nightmare scenario. Loyalty to your club is part of what makes sport so engrossing, why else would you spend a lifetime supporting Barnsley FC, yesterday celebrating their 130th anniversary. But Yorkshire is my cricket team not Leeds nor Birmingham nor any other make believe team, 

But the first class County game, this year marginalised to April/May, cold and wet and September colder/wetter is seen as an irrelevance almost. Different crowds appear at T20 to county matches if any crowd appears at all to the latter. And yet the excitement of a four day festival match at Scarborough is remembered long after the cheap thrills of T20 have withered away.

I know I am an anachronism in terms of the cricketing future and many sports have adapted to shortened forms of the game. But would the rugby union buff really prefer a Sevens tournament to the excitement of a Lions tour. Penalty shoot outs in football are exciting, tie breaks in tennis likewise, but you have had the full version first. What will it do to skills development? This summer we have already seen England struggling to find test quality batsmen despite the same players whacking runs with great rapidity in T20, Alex Hales for instance. I enjoyed my four day draw at the Oval. I sat through nearly every ball and though it was difficult to see Surrey get nearly 600, the centuries by Stoneman and Sangegara were a joy to watch particularly the latter. After he got his century he hit the ball with such precision it was wonderful to watch. Yorkshire battled hard and though were forced to follow on it made for a challenging, tense and interesting final day. Big record breaking partnership and centuries from return-to-form Lees and departing Aussie Marsh secured the game and I went home satisfied. 

But I can see why this form of cricket may not be viable, £20 entry with no concessions, I guess because most watching were at least over 65. Even the last day same price. Inside the pricing on the one van offering food was laughable. Fish and chips £11.50, tea £2.70. Chips alone £3.70 at 4.27p per chip. This may just have been London but wow need a mortgage to watch there regularly. Great meal out with H and J just round corner from my Travel Lodge at Balham which made access to the ground easy and quick. It is remarkable how specific dangers like terrorism can be. I travelled to the ground the morning of the Parsons Cross incident and it was not until friends texted that I was aware anything had happened.

Finally systems of survival. I now go away even for the day with such military planning and precision. Gone are the days when I simply threw a fleece in the car in case of bad weather and off we went. Now there is a checklist – medications, CPAP mask (for sleep apnoea), checked routes to ensure easy access to toilets, spare clothes just in case, testing kit for infections, card in case of sudden illness to give to paramedics, walking stick, two fleeces because get colder etc etc. I recall going out with my kids and having to pack a range of items to cover their every need now I do it for myself. When I forget panic sets in but usually my bag is full for every eventually as long as any train strike does not last for more than 48 hours! Have a good week, a bit of rest for me.

My week in Photos

From my motel window
Huge pigeon stops play

Morning has broken

I went to a concert tonight, the first time since I saw Tom Paxton about three years ago. It was called The Cat Stevens Story ( Darren Coggan, an Australian singer, sings all the numbers in an authentic Cat Stevens voice, the musicianship of the group is great and he intersperses the songs with a detailed story of the life of Cat Stevens. I went on my own which was a bit daunting but when I saw it a while back I could not think of a companion and just booked it. I am not a seasoned concert goer, far from it I am a very occasional visitor almost apologetically arriving. I worry about too many things these days unrelated to the event and nearly persuaded myself out of going a few times today. But I went and was so glad I did.

Cat Stevens is one of a handful of musicians who define my maturing self and the music has remain resonant to me to this day. I am not a clear voice when it comes to music, I do not always get music and have drifted in and out of music all my life. Even when I have a period when I am playing songs it does not last and I can go weeks without hearing any music unless it is a by-product of a TV programme or my son persuades me to have music on in the car. I have never quite got music and whilst I can identify people as favourites I have never got into anyone with sufficient depth that I cannot leave their music. Even the Beatles, who I have loved from my youth, I do not play every day but I never object to hearing their songs and I know them as much as I know any group or singer. I just do not have a definable music genre. And I don’t suppose I will ever have one now.

What inspired me about the likes of Cat Stevens, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stones, Tom Paxton and Join Mitchell amongst many others I fleetingly admired in the early 1970s was that they resonated with my student life when the big issues of love and hate, peace and war, environment, religion, politics were played out in the music. The poetry of the lyrics helped my thinking, and steered my thoughts. In the intervening forty years I cannot say what I have admired with any certainty and could not muster a more modern or contemporary list than the one above. I regret this in an undefinable way. I feel lacking, I cannot hold those conversations when people go into a reverie about Prince, Michael Jackson or the White Stripes. (I don’t really know who the White Stripes are) does it matter? I sometimes feel it does given my desire to understand the world surely I have missed a vital feature of how life is portrayed.

It’s not that I am anti-music per se or tone deaf. I played piano up to adulthood, i sang in choirs. I got music Olevel at school and will often find myself enjoying a piece of music I have never heard before. But I do not sustain this interest. I have wondered whether I have just not found the right type of music as I think folk music probably was my favourite as a young man. I have listened to jazz, classical, country and western, gospel etc and sometimes when my mood is right enjoyed all of them and at other times been irritated by them. It’s as if my connection to music is fickle, unsustainable and flawed. I went to a concert around five years ago to see Hugh Laurie. This was the one before Tom Paxton. It was brilliant. I decided I loved blues bought his albums and now rarely play them. 

It was a good night tonight reconnecting me to those days in student dorms listening to Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat and Foreigner. It transported me to those days of uncertainty, questioning, feeling out for ideas and finding a sense of belonging that accompanied student life. I shed a tear at one or two songs reminding me that music has that power to overwhelm, to draw you in. So annoying as it is, I have consistently failed to stay with music, it has always been a temporary companion, drifting in and drifting out. Even now as I sit in the silence of the house writing this I don’t play music to comfort me or inspire me. It’s a personal conundrum which I occasionally think about. And tonight as I drove the car home it came to the fore again.

I had struggled today for a theme for my blog and was resigned to missing my Sunday slot. This is a quickly written piece drawing on feelings brought up by tonight’s music. Maybe I should go more to concerts, but to what? I usually refine the blog before publishing but feel I might talk myself out of it by the morning. So here it is.
My Week in photos 

We are all Luddites occasionally

If you live a reasonably long life, and I think 65 fits that description, you can see unfold before you generational changes which are staggering. You can ride with those changes or struggle with them. You can embrace change or resist often calling on glowing references to a greater past and with Luddite proclamations regret this changing of the guard. I want to briefly reflect on three aspects of my life which have changed beyond belief and how I have dealt with those changes. These are study and technology, cricket and probation, though I hope the principle could apply to any sphere of life.

Studying in the 1970s

I think back to my university life and study. It was centred on the library, reading and noting whatever you read, painstakingly writing out your essays unless you had a typewriter and the skills, continually chasing around, frantically, for the books and hoping the journal articles were available. No photocopying, certainly no computers and lots of paper, in my case piles of mess and only a tidy mind got me through my physical disorganisation. Even in 1985 when I completed my MA dissertation I did so with a typewriter and using tippex. Once I stated writing I just carried on with the 15000 word tome no chance to move anything around or change chapters around. I wrote it down and that was it, bound and off for assessment.
The impact of technology on my life has been immense. Computers, mobile phones, and tablets transformed the way I undertook writing projects and how I thought about and constructed my approach to article writing became unrecognisable. I saw people around me staying with the familiar and at times almost being antagonistic to these changes. For me I became excited my each new change which tidied my desk and brought my tidy mind onto the pages of my computer. So when I wrote an article I could type or speak a draft on the iPad, change it, move paragraphs around, add references from a range of references stored on my iPad, check an idea on the internet and produce something which reflected that capacity for internal transformation, I could not achieve in my student days. And as a bonus my desk became clear and I moved as far as I could to a paperless world. Bliss. I regret little in those changes.

My study – I still love my books

As much as I have welcomed and embraced the changes engineered by technology I have resisted and bemoaned some of the more recent developments in the world of cricket. After Yorkshire’s record breaking T20 win last week I wrote this about it;
What a night of cricket and yet it seems a different game. I loved the raw excitement of it, the record making, the fun of it. But, and not sure I understand this but cricket for me unfolds over a number of days is attritional, climatic in small bursts, surprising, changing shape, creating records and the debacle of Yorkshire at Scarborough recently sticks more in my memory than last night will. I know I am a traditionalist, I know all the arguments but am I alone at wanting the best form of the game to prosper too? Not be squashed in between the smash and grab of T20. After all by the end of the day we could be out of this competition.’

I understand the need to promote the game to a newer population but my prediction was correct we were out of the competition the following night. This fuels my argument that it is a game which is more of a lottery, when a good display from any team can defeat the other whereas in first class cricket the better side usually wins over 3/4/5 days of attritional, and, I know it’s my view, totally absorbing play. I was struck that the audience I sat with for the T20 and for a county game were almost completely different people. The former younger, excited, cheering, whooping at every six hit but without any analysis because in some ways, in many ways it’s a simpler game. The county audience much much older, funny, analytical, they knew their cricket and patient. I embraced the excitement of technology without hesitation, here I am uncertain, unclear of what will happen to the traditional game. Like tippex will the first class game disappear in 20/30 years time, just a peculiar artefact on the newsreels?

The joy of playing on the outfield
Archetypal spectator
Lyth trying to build an innings
Sidebottom at Scarborough, last appearance there
Scarborough 2017

My third example is the world of probation and to do justice to change and continuity in this profession is extraordinarily difficult. Yet there has been massive changes since I walked through the doors of the probation service in Doncaster in 1977. At first sight it has been all about change – organisational, technological, evidential, – and yet the continuities refuse to go away – relationships, community, partnership. Change to be successful, even with a clear break which Transforming Rehabilitation has tried to be, has to be organic. Taking with it the best of current practices so that the new version builds on the knowledges of the past. Otherwise it has to be reinvented and this slows progress. Consider the importance of the professional relationship reinvented by the Offender Engagement programme, forms one of many examples. If this can produce the best of practice whatever the external changes then maybe some of the traditions will be preserved even in challenging times.

Also this may be the answer to cricket’s dilemmas. Given the first class game develops the highest quality in the players it will be important to find a way of preserving this game so those skills do not disappear. The game is at risk of being devalued if the emphasis on quick wins, instant entertainment are pursued and we settle for entertainment at the expense of core skills or am I just too old, yearning for days which won’t return.

As to technology maybe my early years of study taught me skills I have simply adapted as technology has changed. For me it suits me to use my iPad to plan and write and review, which is what I will now do before publishing! But I still plan, write and review!

My photos of the week. 

A splash of colour

Tickhill Mill Pond
Tickhill Mill Pond
Tickhill Mill Pond

Happy Yorkshire Day

Last week a friend came for a visit and during conversation asked when I first came to Yorkshire. I was mortified that my six years of exile to Suffolk in my teenage years had modified my Barnsley accent to such an extent that it was not just obvious that Yorkshire, was and is my natural home. I have delayed my blog this week to coincide with what should be a local holiday, Yorkshire Day, 1st August. I shall set out my simple argument for the joy of being a Yorkshireman, man and boy ready to represent Yorkshire at cricket at a moment’s notice, given my birth at Pinder Oaks Hospital, Barnsley in 1952. 

I have only spent six years living outside Yorkshire in my entire life having gone with the family to West Suffolk around 1964 returning to university at York, then Hull and finding a resting place in and around Doncaster, first in Conisbrough and for over 30 years in the wonderful small town of Tickhill. My first experience of Suffolk was going to the shops and finding I could not be understood. I was so upset and came home in tears. My broad accent, the Barnsley accent, one of the most distinctive in Yorkshire, perished as my teenage voice began to mimic the country twang of Suffolk, such a shame, though I think the core aspects of a Yorkshire accent have always remained.

So why is Yorkshire so attractive. For me it’s down to people, places and locations. People in Yorkshire are proud people, whether rough honed from the coal pits, the steel furnaces, the woollen mills or the country fields. Facing their fair share of poverty, disappointment and unemployment, Yorkshire people bounce back often with a humour and resilience which is awe-inspiring. In the midst of this Yorkshire produces it’s fair share of poets, artists, sculptors, authors and many many sporting heroes to represent the heart at the core of the White Rose. People are at the heart of any community and in Yorkshire there is a warmth between neighbours: who will invite you in for a cup of tea; who will support you in time of need; and who will just be there with a robust humour and a sharp word when needed to tell you what should be. People will speak their mind and not all of that is good but there is an honesty at the heart of many normal conversations. The world is more global now and people are much more travelled but this essence is still evident around the heartlands of Yorkshire. 

For me the exploits of the cricket team are at the heart of Yorkshire. A strong England team always has Yorkshire players in it as true now as it was during the heyday in the 1960s. I ensured my children were born in Yorkshire in case they were good enough to play for Yorkshire, an important action to take 35 years ago. I love watching Yorkshire play, particularly at the incomparable Scarborough Cricket Ground, and their resurgence in the last few years has been wonderful to watch.

Yorkshire CCC
The iconic Scarborough Cricket Club

The variety of place within the boundaries of Yorkshire mark it out as the county that can boast the best of places. The big cities of Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Hull and Harrogate offer contrasting treats if you like the splendour of urban living. But for me the smaller county town of York offers the most with its imposing Minster and charming centre, though admittedly overrun by tourists. But dig deeper and you will find so many delights from Bronte country and Haworth, the rural delights of Reeth in Swaledale, small towns like Skipton, Richmond, Whitby, Scarborough, Halifax, Huddersfield, Ilkley, Shipley, Ripon, Thirsk, Malton, Beverley, Barnsley and so many more. I mention Barnsley as it’s my birthplace and where I started out for my first 12 years. It retains an affection for me with its opulent town hall mentioned by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier and of course its football club for which I retain a season ticket. A life sentence when you are born here! 

The Yorkshire flag
Lifelong BFC support

And so to Yorkshire’s many wonderful locations. I have already mentioned Bronte’s countryside but I start with the two national parks in the North York Moors and my personal favourite the Yorkshire Dales. An inner calm comes across me when I drive through the Dales, through Reeth, Gunnerside, Muker and Keld in Swaledale or Leyburn and it’s surrounding villages in Wensleydale or Grassington, Bolton Abbey, Buckden in Wharfedale and the market town, the home of Wensleydale cheese in Hawes. In between splendid countryside, many small villages, good ale, with Timothy Taylor’s and Black Sheep as favourites. The dry stone walls mark out the areas as do landmarks such as Malham Cove. So much to see and do, it always repays a visit.

Gunnerside cottage
Overlooking Reeth
Aysgarth Falls

For me the other location I love is the East Coast. The area around my favourite resort and fishing village of Whitby is wonderful and I could easily move to Whitby and live there. I never tire of returning there and visiting my favourite haunts such as Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay, Sandsend, Hornsea, Filey and Flamborough Head. I can highly recommend the Magpie Cafe in Whitby and on a quiet but dry winter’s day Whitby has such a charm it is so worth a visit. Or staying at Raven Hall Hotel on the coast at Ravenscar, after completing the Lyke Wake Walk is a must. 

Flamborough Head
Flamborough Head

All in all Yorkshire could function as a devolved area with its own government. It has so much to offer and such a strong identity I love the fact I was born in it. And so let’s raise a glass of Taylor’s Landlord bitter, tuck into Yorkshire Puddings with onion gravy, fish and chips and then rhubarb, crumble, tart or pie for ‘afters’ and Wensleydale cheese and crackers with a glass or two of port. Ok it’s a stereotypical depiction of the local fare but not bad on a rainy, cloudy, windy, cold winter’s day of which there are a few. 

So excuse my wallowing in this county but on this day of all day’s why not! Happy Yorkshire Day.
My week in photos