A.J. Walker


It's A Holiday

It's A Holiday, Not A Bloody Staycation

There have been so many bad words and terms coined over this last 18 months or so of this pandemic - and I can probably complain noisily about many of them. But the worst of them all is that foul stench of an idea called: ‘
Staycation.’ For one slightly innocuous word it has so many slanted ideas crammed into it.

In a world full of The Entitled who feel the world owes them everything and the whole Pandemic is aimed at spoiling their day to day life it seems the word has been coined for them - the very idea of a staycation putting people out makes me want to scream. It is not a staycation. If you are going away for a few days in the UK you are on holiday. If you are sat at home watching Netflix and ordering food via Uber Eats then that may be termed a staycation - if you must - but if you are on a trip down to Cornwall, across to East Anglia, on a city break in London, or walking up hills in Snowdonia or the Western Highlands… It’s a fucking holiday. The fact you didn’t fly anywhere doesn’t make it anything less than that.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s my holidays, like so many of the people around me, were with my family in places as near flung as the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, then down to such 'exotic' locations as Devon and Cornwall. We had epic trips to caravans and bungalows in Cricceith, Abersoch, and Morfa Nefyn and stays in guest houses in Ilfracombe and Torquay in Devon, and house stays near Padstow in Cornwall. All these holidays are indelibly marked in my head: and all of us who went on the trips. There was a week here, or two weeks there. The weather did what it chose to. The places we went while on these trips were variously brilliant, boring or average. There were nice meals, average meals, ice creams, ciders, sunburn and accidents. In short: they were holidays. We were away from home - we weren’t at school and we weren’t at work. They were holidays - plain and simple - not fucking staycations. Of course they weren’t.

So if you can all do one good thing for the rest of your life… if you are away from home on a break - and have not been abducted - just say you are on holiday. A holiday be it in Algarve, the Caribbean, on Route 66 (I know: it no longer exists), or in a tent on a wet peninsula in some lonely British extreme - or within ten miles of your house or beside the M62 - it is a fucking holiday.

Never utter that word again. You know which one.

Stood Up

Stood Up, Deffed Out and Desperate

Well I was stood up, deffed out and desperate when I met this girl from Tuam. That’s how it starts. But how does it go after that?

Good question. I was going through a file with some music in the other day. And when I used to play a few songs in a band of mates in the early 90s I always needed some notes to remind me (if not the full lyric) to play through the song without bailing early. In ones I knew I would just put a key word or so from the start of the verse or the last words of some lines. That is what I found for the song “Stood Up, Deffed Out and Desperate.” This was a fun song written by your’s truly, so you’d think it I’d know the words. Well, I did. In 1993. Having found the sheet last week with the keywords on it I could only remember a couple of the verses completely. The other bits were fragments.

So it was that on Saturday I sat down with my guitar and notes and tried to fill it out. Needless to say, as well as not having the words written down I didn’t have the chords either. Yeah. Lost in the mists of time and all that.

Picked a few chords and worked on some lines and Hey Presto (or something like it), “
Stood Up...” was back. There was no #ReadMeSpeakMe this weekend so I decided to strum and sing these ancient (if amended) lyrics once again. It was the only song we did that wasn’t by someone else. Amazingly sang it at a Christmas gig we did at the Irish Centre where my mum and dad came. As well as singing Fairy Tale of New York with my cousin “You’re a bum.. you’re an old slut on drugs...’ etc I wonder what me mum thought?

Assume this is Stood Up’s last stand - after a 28 year break - and it won’t see the light of day again. Dare say it shouldn’t. But it was fun to see an almost familiar face again - even if it “
looked just like me mum.”


Glory Hallelujah

Glory, Hallelujah!

Well bloody hell, I got a great email: won tickets to see
Frank Turner in Liverpool. Now as you may well have spotted, or if you know me even a little, he’s been my favourite singer songwriters for heading towards ten years now. And I’ve been lucky enough to see him several times including the sold out Wembley Arena gig in 2012, Liverpool Academy, Bath, and two sets at Glastonbury Festival.

Watching Frank at Strummerville, Glastonbury (day before his Other Stage appearance)

And this gig in Liverpool is at a top local Brewery. Literally top:
Top Rope Brewery. They have a beer out now with Frank Turner all over it. It’s called ‘The Gathering’ which is Frank’s recent release celebrating all things about the end of lockdown and singing and getting together and having a good time and all that. It’s honestly the first time I’ve drunk a beer out of a can: and then kept the can. Hell, I told you I’m a fan.

It’s a gig by my top singer songwriter playing at a brewery. I mean come on “If Carlsberg did gigs...” well, not Carlsberg. But you know what I mean. Funnily enough last time I saw him in Liverpool it was the Academy i.e. the Carling Academy and there was a Frank Turner beer out then: '
Believe' a wheat beer brewed by Signature Brew. Because it was the Carling Academy they wouldn't stock it, so we were directed to Mojo to grab a bottle there before the gig - which I did of course (and it was Movember).

Believe (Signature Brew) in Mojo (with a Movember tash)

The Gathering is about the end of lockdown and we’re not quite there. Things won’t be normal until all restrictions are gone. Not sure when that will be now. But hopefully we are heading that way. The location and the restrictions means there will be fewer than 100 people at the gig. I mean that will mean I’ve seen him play at a packed Wembley Arena first and my latest time seeing him will be in front of 100 people. How bizarre is that? He loves gigging more than any other band or person I’ve seen. He itemises all his appearances: yesterday’s show at Download Festival was show No.2562. That is A LOT of shows. And it must have been such a release for him to perform in front of a crowd again.

At Top Rope Brewery with a can of 'The Gathering'

Wonder how many bands and singer songwriters have winked out of existence because of not being able to play live for over a year? In an industry where time is of the essence we could have lost a lot of seriously good artists. They don’t make money from plays on
Spotify or YouTube, they need gigs and merchandise to survive in these days of no longer selling physical albums.

This will be my first gig since seeing
Romeo Stodart at the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room in March 2020 (I’ve also got tickets to see The Magic Numbers in Liverpool in September), and I can’t fucking wait!

A Kilo of Beer and The Auld Enemy

Watched the England v Scotland match at home last night. Usually with a big game like that there would be a few of us out in town to watch the match. But with the current situation we were of the opinion not to go in as there was too big a risk of getting into town and then not finding anywhere to watch it. The current restrictions mean that all customers have to be seated and it’s table service etc. So most pubs were anticipating quite a high demand for the game (let’s face it, in normal times they would have been packed - especially on a Friday night) and they therefore operated a system where many, if not all, tables were bookable from earlier in the week. A few had ‘some’ walk-in availability too. But it’s a Friday night and the walk-ins could easily fill up quickly from people coming out of their offices and making a decision on the night to stay out.

I did consider popping into town and going with the flow, then coming back home if I hadn’t found at place to watch it by 7:30. But going into town for 2 hours only to come back with 30-40 minutes each way waiting for buses didn’t make sense to me. So i was that the England v Scotland match became another victim of the Covid-19 situation for me. At least all the Euro games in the UK are on terrestrial TV - that makes such a difference. That said it was on ITV, not BBC. But beggars can’t be choosers.

2 pints

As it transpired a) The Fly were calling out for ‘walk-ins’ at 7pm, so I could have got a seat to watch it, and b) it was a shite game. I was simultaneously disappointed I hadn’t gone into town for the game and happy that I hadn’t gone into town for the game. Oh, yeah... it finished 0-0. And the Scots celebrated the 0-0 like Everton would do against Liverpool.

I had a couple of beers at home including a mega (1000ml) can of
Faxe Royal (5.6%) beer I’d picked up from B&M, which I drank from my dad’s old 1 litre German glass. Dad was a Scot and he’d have been up for the match against the Auld Enemy, of course. And on a Friday night he'd have been watching it down 'the club' with his usual posse. Though I suspect my dad never actually drank anything out of this glass. He must have picked it up in one of the trips he had with my mum over to that neck of the woods. He was more likely to drink a pint of mild than two pints of lager. A litre of mild sounds a bit heavy in all respects. Not sure he’d have been too happy about the result (or the game itself). But I suppose being a Scotland fan is like supporting Everton: it’s not about winning anything, it’s about taking two points of your biggest enemy.


There's been a few good games in the Euros so far, but personally I can’t wait for the Premier League and Champion’s League to be back. Also I need to do some work on my arms if I’m going to be drinking a kilo of beer again. It's Father's Day today, so maybe I'll drink out of his old glass again; then again I also have his old tankard too - a much more manageable size.

Covid, Bars, Risk and Reward

As many of you know I do have as couple of Twitter accounts, namely: @zevonesque and @RealeLiverpool. And the latter one is almost entirely Liverpool and Real Ale related (there’s a clue in that name I think) whilst I mention beer and beer related trips on this website from time to time I haven’t really blogged about it much for years. Though if you look in the previous couple of months I’ve done a couple of blogs on the pubs that were open in Liverpool City Centre, both when it was outdoor opening only and just afterwards. I’m wondering whether to do a more regular blog, however short, on related subjects. Perhaps it’d need another section heading on the site to keep things all together; like my Health section - which I only introduced after my MS Diagnosis earlier in the year. We shall see. Could get a bit “samey’ though unless I come up with an effective list of subjects and plans for it. Or if samey turns out to be called for.

We are living in strange times and there appears to be such mixed views and reaction to the virus and all that it entails. This range of lockdown and post lockdown strategies has been messy. And of course it is warranted. There are too many people who happily write off ‘only the old’ or ‘at risk’ in the community. Bloody bastards the lot of them. And of course in reality we still don’t know what the actual long term affects of the disease will be - we can’t know what damage
Long Covid will leave us: people of all ages. Incidentally I know a couple of people (including fit people in their 20s) who got over Covid-19 in a few days: then Long Covid came out of nowhere around the corner and hit them and has left them with severe currently life affecting issues. But we can’t know how long these effects will last, nor if the current impacts will go away and then be replaced with different ones. The NHS could very well be dealing with this impacts of this pandemic for decades. In short, whatever age you are you don’t want to catch it and risk your long term health (including as yet unidentified impacts); or risk passing it on to one of your friends or family members

In the UK the currently rife
Delta variant has rapidly changed the situation here from one of finally being all sunshine & light to one of doom & gloom. The opening up of shops and bars & restaurants and the improvement on options for other social occasions beyond your single “bubble” has surely been a positive thing for people in terms of the return of some normality. But things haven’t returned to normality - and looking at how the current stats have been going (in the North West of England in particular) nor should they. Each step does need to be risk assessed on a global level right down to the individual person. You don’t cross a road without assessing the risks and addressing them and nor do you stand in traffic. And if you cross the road without doing what you should it’s not the government’s fault: it’s yours. Much of this is not “rocket science” but common sense. And while much of the UK has been vaccinated - particularly the older bastards like yours truly - not everybody has.

The opening up has in particular been good for the oldies who have been isolated to one extent or another: finally they can go out and meet & chat to other people (not everyone had or wanted to use Zoom). Meanwhile the youngsters who feel indestructible (we all did once you know) are certainly meeting in larger groups and without socially distancing AND without masks. I’m not saying that to get at the youngsters. I was young once and there are things I did when I was younger that I would think (and were) risky now (racing up scaffolding anyone?). But it is these very “indestructible” people who are told they don’t need to wear masks at school and then go on public transport without masks, then go shopping in Primark or in Next, then head to Maccy D’s and hang around town for a few hours before heading home on public transport unmasked again. Honestly I’m not getting at them. They’ve been told they don’t need masks in school with hundreds of people in: why would they think that they need one in an airy bus with twenty people on it?

Now the graphs for Covid-19 in Liverpool (for example) look horrendous in some ways - the very illustration of “exponential.” This largely comprises the younger people and either unvaccinated or “only vaccinated once” peeps. Us oldies aren’t getting it anywhere near as much - thanks to vaccination - but maybe also because we’re still trying to keep doing the distance thing and are following masking rules too (less so the over zealous sanitising hands and all that: it’s airborne and it’s indoor air, people). Hopefully these youngsters aren’t going to get too ill from it - either right now or in the months or years to come (but we can’t know). We should do all we can to limit the potential for this damnable virus to spread, whilst at the same time allowing companies to survive and ultimately flourish (or at least allow people to make a living out of it). Which leads me to pubs (yes, this was supposed to be a blog about pubs)...

My experience since pubs have reopened indoors has been good and bad in very different respects. Firstly the good: it’s good to go back to places that have been shut for five or six months and see (some) familiar faces. Been great to drink some nice beers; both local and national/familiar and unfamiliar. Been nice to increase the options of going to other places and having the different experiences on offer from them. And boss to have increased the options for meeting mates. All the real ale pubs I have been going to in town have been brilliantly run in terms of getting people to scan in to the NHS App or fill in contact details; wear masks when traversing around the pub; not letting too many people congregate or stand up in groups; and decent table service under difficult circumstances.

The bad: people... in terms of some robbing bastards either running away at the end of the night having accrued a bill on their table (horrible bastard chancers) or even lowlifes stealing glasses; these businesses (in your local community) don’t need another expense due to your obnoxious thievery. Then there’s the not letting too many people congregate or stand up in groups, and decent table service etc. Hold on, that was above in the positive bit, wasn’t it? Well yeah, it’s been good from a risk and fear factor and all that for potential customers. But the other side of that coin is that these things (just as much as stealing bastards) have significant costs for businesses just when they don’t need them (or can’t survive them):
you won’t be catching a virus in an empty pub, but they won’t be making money to survive either.

Quiet pubs may be good for me and others in the short term at least in terms of risk and getting served, but these hostelries and their suppliers can’t survive on almost empty “
but safe” rooms. The virus needs to be beaten by vaccination and short term sensible, risked-out, options, and ventilation (and maybe even masks for kids hey!?). But surely in the short term hospitality businesses need to be FULLY supported by the Chancellor. A business that can’t open fully can’t survive for long without it. There is no business model for an empty pub.

I can’t have a car accident if I don’t have a car, I can’t get a virus in an empty pub: I can’t get a drink in a pub that no longer exists: and the people who own the pub, the people who work there, and all their suppliers are out of a job too. That’s not risk management: that’s insane.

The government needs to support all these businesses. Meanwhile if you can, and are happy to, get yourself down to one of your favourite hostelries - or at least give them with good messages about going back when you are comfortable to do so. They need every bit of support you can give. Cheers and beers, people.

The Caravanette

Well when I started doing ReadMeSpeakMe at the back end of 2020 I never expected to be reading my own poems on here. And of course then it is the rest of the RMSM regulars reading your words out loud. It is an interesting experience and I'm thankful for Meg coming up with this - and for asking me to send a poem in.

Cheeses picked up at Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes

The poem chosen was 'The Caravanette' which I wrote when I was doing an Open University course a few years back. It's not a brilliant poem but I like it because it completely true and evocative of a holiday gone wrong. Be it down to inclement weather or, in this case, unrealistic expectations. It was nothing to do with the destination of Dent, which is in a lovely spot.

Monument to the geologist, Adam Sedgwick in Dent. He knew his graptolites!

The Dent Carpark

As I'd been camping this week in North Yorkshire, in Hawes, Wensleydale, I had to take the opportunity to drive to Dent so that I could read the poem in the very carpark that we ended up staying overnight - in that wee sad vehicle. After a quick pitstop into Wensleydale Creameries for some Wenselydale Cheese (and others) then I headed to Dentdale. Here is my reading of the poem, 'The Caravanette.' Enjoy.

As I've been looking at all the tweets about this poem this week, and listening to Soundcloud retellings and YouTube videos of it, I am now getting a mountain of camper van adverts when I'm on Instagram and YouTube. I've yet to see a photo of anything like what we were in though.

Thanks to everybody who got involved this week. Every one is appreciated. And I've got to give a special mention to
Swarn Gill who not only read a great version of it, he also recorded his YouTube video along with a beer and a bit of a chinwag before the poem akin to a certain somebody. Kudos! It made me smile a lot.

And lastly, but never leastly, it was great to see Sal record it too. Her first go on ReadMeSpeakMe (I've no idea, it could be the last too) and I thank her for the Special Guest appearance.





Wensleydale Camping Trip

Hawes and Semer Walk Walk

A couple of weeks ago a suggestion was made to go camping somewhere. As per usual there’s a fair group of us going to Bishop’s Castle in early July (usually the week of the Real Ale Festival). But the idea of going away to the countryside for two nights was an attractive one. After a little discussion we settled for a site at a farm on the edge of Hawes (Gayle).


Four of us went up in two separate vehicles around Tuesday lunchtime. We all arrived within a few minutes of each at around 2pm. The forecast for the the two days was grey but no rain. But there was more than enough blue sky and the sun was pretty damn warm. We’d have taken grey of course, as long as it’s not wet when you’re putting up the tent we’re happy.


It was a simple site. Just a small undulating field next to the farm entrance with a little footbridge to access it. So unlike Bishop’s Castle there’s no rucking up and planting your tent right next to your vehicle. The toilet block/shower was a one person only affair - with one female and one male. The water was hot. Decent enough. At £7 a night it was a bargain. It was just ten minutes or so to walk into the town of Hawes, which has several good pubs, and shops and a decent chippy. Between Hawes and Gayle (which to all intents could be considered the same town) is the Wensleydale Creamery, where the spirit of Wallace & Gromit permanently resides.


After pitching our tents up I barely had time to pour my traditional tent erection beer before we left on a walk over the other side of town, across the river and up to Hardraw for a pint or four in the Green Dragon. Other than Tony continually declaring he knew the way, but constantly proving otherwise, it was an uneventful but lovely walk in the sunshine with much of the walk on footpaths through farmland with sheep, cattle, and even free range hens.



The Green Dragon was lovely. We started in the back garden when the sun was half in us and we were in constant conversations with a local robin redbreast along with his juvenile compadre and several inquisitive sparrows. We moved to a table outside the front door, by the Hippies Use The Backdoor sign as the sun disappeared from the back. My drink of choice was predominantly ‘Semer Water’ from Wensleydale Brewery. We would have all liked a few more drinks but were conscious of the 45 minute walk back before eating: Jeanette had kindly sorted out a chilli the day before. We got back all happy from the beer and the pretty much constant sunshine. Whoever had posted the weather forecast was a fraud! But in a good way.



The chilli was lovely, though it had needed to be tamed for Stevie, who struggles to deal with spices. But it was good anyway. A couple of beers whilst chatting and listening to music via Spotify (yes, there was phone signal in this part of the Dales) made it a really nice night.


We hadn't made any plans in advance of the trip (unless Jeanette making a chilli counts as planning). So it was the following morning before we decided on where to go. In the end we drove a few miles to the next town of Bainbridge and parked up there before walking up north a little to Askrigg, it was virtually all footpaths rather than roads - which is of course the plan. We stopped in Askrigg for a coffee (and the other three had scones) in a cafe called Bake Well. After recharging our batteries there we turned around south and headed back across the river, passing over large stepping stones on the River Ure - the stones were marked on the footpath signs as a bridge, which is questionable. The water was crystal clear and seemed to be running slowly and relatively low. I wondered how much rain it takes to cover the stones or at least make them more slippy.

Walking up past a farm we crossed the road to head for a row of trees. passing through a field of sheep: as we were doing almost constantly for our time here. There wasn't really a clear path marked through the field and we simply headed up to the far corner of the field in a diagonal trajectory, where we could eventually see a gate through the stone wall. The other thing we saw was a large group of bullocks all crowded together. They seemed to stare at us for a while, then began to walk towards us as we continued on our path. And then we noticed they were speeding up to a trot then a canter (or whatever the bullock equivalent of cantering is). Having just had a conversation earlier in the morning when we'd gone through a field of cows and a bull about how it wasn't uncommon for people to get killed by cows crowding in on them, the view of a crowd of bullocks beginning to run after us was not a sight we wanted to see. I am not ashamed at all of beginning to run a little myself (as did Jeanette) with the main thought in my mind being I didn't need to be the first away from them, I just needed to be the last. It was a moment of fear and hilarity. The bullocks ran after the four of us, whilst Tony shouted 'Don't Run!' at us: knowing how many times Tony has ended up in hospitals around the world after various incidents I was not minded to take on the shouted advice as gospel.

Long story short: the bullocks sped up as they bounded towards us and then as they ran down a little slope they suddenly veered right and away from us. I can only guess what caused them to do this. I'm thinking there was a particularly vicious sheep in the corner we were getting to. Whatever it was it was a relief.


Hey, you don’t need to know everything do you? We climbed out through the gate, up a scree/dry water bed to beyond the tree line before taking the flat path west back towards Bainbridge. There were no more incidents with animals. The biggest danger as in fact the walls, or more precisely the narrow gaps in them. These ‘squeeze stiles’ were dangerous. Generally the safest way was to take your bag off and try and push one leg through at a time. It was impossible to turn your foot once you’d started through, which was dangerous if you’d picked a less than ideal way through: you often wouldn’t know you’d selected the wrong foot forward until you were half way through and then faced with either a trip hazard or a big drop on the other side. In theory the squeeze stiles are designed to stop livestock (other than bullocks) from getting from one field to another. In reality they must cause a lot of injuries to people too. We were lucky that it was dry, as slipping when half way through a stile could be a disaster. I only bashed one knee once, and got my foot a bit stuck once too. But there but for the grace of god and all that. It must also be a severe problem for people of the larger persuasion - if you were to start a keep fit regime by going walking in an area full of livestock and stonewalls... beware the issue of stiles.


We walked downhill back toward Bainbridge for a short while before hanging left through a particularly narrow stile. We all got through it - eventually - before heading up hill. We were now on the path toward Semer Water (we’d been drinking the beer the day before at the Green Dragon after all). We were not beside the river to begin with as the path follows the top of the hill above it and there is no access along the river. Steve manfully managed it with only a couple of stops as he is only really getting into walking a bit now and this is mostly on the flat; truth be told I was happy he stopped too (I know Tony would happily just plough on otherwise). Tony declared he had qualified as a Team Leader for outdoor pursuits back in the day. But given he’d volunteered that he had THREE maps of the area with him, but had left each and every one back at the campsite I think he may need to resit whatever non-examination was involved to class him as a Leader. Luckily I’d brought my map with me. There were enough roads and landmarks around to not require a compass; it was not orienteering, just basic map reading. We didn’t got lost for even a few metres (although there was a small panic around the whole bullock ‘almost’ incident).

Once at the top it was downhill all the way towards Semer. Steve was a little alarmed when I pointed out we had to do the same walk in reverse to get back to the car. Team Leader was disbelieving and wanted to take another route. There wasn’t one without largely walking along roads, which to me kind of defeats the object of walking in the countryside. We got to the lake, had a brief rest and then walked back. Steve managed the slope even better than on the way and it went off without incident. It had got a little cloudy, but never threatened rain. In any case the clouds, together with a nice breeze, took the edge of the sun. The weather forecast had proclaimed it was going to be grey for three days solid. As it was we each caught the sun a lot over these first two days.

Back in Bainbridge it was a Wensleydale and Ham baguette with a coffee at the Corn Mill cafe (which TL declared was known as Mrs Miggins). I know; a long walk and not a pub to end it. Who’d have thunk it?

The afternoon ended up at the campsite with a race to see who could post their photos on Instagram and (in my case) Twitter first. The TL went for a sleep in his tent - and everyone knows that the one who snoozes loses.

The night finally ended in the pub (The Fountain) after a visit to an excellent chip shop in Hawes. A few pints of Buttertubs capped a lovely day. At the campsite we quickly decamped back to our tents for a relatively early night to see how we could sleep after a few of us hadn’t got much sleep on the Tuesday night.

The final day was a short one. Breakfast was a sausage and bacon, cooked and sorted by TL and Jeanette, and a cup of coffee. The local sausages were lovely. The only plan for the day was to go to the Wensleydale Creamery to pick up some cheese and then go home. We each bought a lot of cheese: both Wallace and Gromit would have been proud and jealous. Then we got off.


I was travelling on my tod and had decided I really had to get over to Dent to record myself reading the poem which was this week’s ReadMeSpeakMe. It needed to be uploaded by Friday and I thought it would be quite cool to read it in the very car park we’d ended up in with the infamous caravanette. See the last blog...


Poetry Rules

Nine years or so ago I did an Open University course in Creative Writing. I’d had years of writing and reviewing technical reports for environmental consultancies (and before that my degree in Geology) and this meant a large number of words had been unavailable to me inside this world. In reports like this many words are absolute and description is always blandly factual; adverbs and adjectives were to not so much frowned upon as outlawed - to be fair any repors could end up in dispute or court so ‘quite blue’ or ‘very contaminated’ has to be a no-no.

Anyway I’d written some song/poem/descriptive extracts back in the early 1990s when I was strumming some songs in a band of brothers (and a cousin). But as a whole I wasn’t doing much in the way of writing outside of work. By 2010 or so I longed to get into away from technical reports. When I took the opportunity to do the OU course it was mainly to extend my writing and to take me a little outside my comfort zone. It was just one course which could have become part of an MA degree if I’d wanted to go that route and do a couple more courses, but I’d never even considered making a degree out of it - I really just wanted to give myself a bit of a nod and a nudge before taking myself off the leash with the adjectives. Honestly, that was very much the point.

At that time I hadn’t been involved in any writing groups. But once I got to the end of the course I had the confidence to join a writing group (The Poised Pen) and from there I went on to get stories published in anthologies and the like - and also find myself to be involved in the fabulous Flash Dogs.

But hang on, I’ve missed something out here: a stepping stone - Poetry. Shush! Keep this quiet.

The OU course involved a range of writing requirements, one of which was poetry. When I signed up for the course poetry was the part I was looking forward to the least. At my crappy Secondary School in Southport we’d done a cursory nod at Keats and a few other bits and bobs, but ‘Ode to a Greek Urn’ and ‘Ode to Autumn,’ whilst interesting, and indeed lovely, were not something I was wanting to build on myself.

As it transpired the poetry part of the OU Course turned out to be enjoyable. I think partly because of my love of songs, of word games and of quizzes. Writing to fit into a required number of lines or a rhythm is very much different to just writing a sentence that works to convey information. Poetry often requires every word to become part of a solution... hopefully.

So it was that I had to write poetry for the first time for an absolute age: and for a purpose (points towards the Course). One of these poems was called ‘The Caravanette’ and I’ll talk more about this at the end of the week. But needless to say it is both bizarre and cool that it has made it beyond the OU course, and my immediate family, to Twitter and the World Wide Web via the wonderful #ReadMeSpeakMe. It is going to be well weird to hear other people reading my words out loud as part of this Twitter phenomena. Get involved if you like the idea. And I’ll tell you about the poem later in the week.

But the link between the poetry and my writing as it is now? Well, before I joined The Poised Pen and then getting confidence and getting published; I used to go to watch lots of the poets at The Dead Good Poets at Blackburne House - one of the organisers of the Dead Good Poets was my local OU contacts (Sarah McLellan) - and then after several weeks observing I went up and read some of my poetry in front of everyone. That was always one of the hardest things I’ve done - there’s something about reading your own poetry which is so much more exposing than reading prose. Anyway if the poetry thing hadn’t happened, and then the confidence from reading at Dead Good Poets hadn’t then maybe I would not have moved on to write my silly stories and be confident enough to put them out there.

In summary: Poetry Rules. Or at the very least it has its place.

England and Strange Goings On

Was talking to several people about camping yesterday, which inevitably brought the conversation around to Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire. It is a camping destination for a few of us every year: usually associated with the Real Ale Festival that the village has but I also go outside of that weekend from time to time.

It reminded me of the time I went on my own for a weekend in June one year. It was a combination of walking, reading, taking it easy and some beers in the multiple lovely pubs in the village. And it was great.

The Walk From Foxholes Campsite to Bishop's Castle

But going down for a breakfast on the beautiful sunny Sunday I found I’d walked into the set of something akin to The Wicker Man. Knowing nothing about it in advance it is pretty much the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. It wasn't a set by the way, it was real life.

Just Walking Into Town - As You Do

I’d walked down from the Foxholes campsite through the Shropshire fields into the village and almost the first thing I saw was a man leaving a house with a strange bright costume and a blacked up face.

He walked ahead of me down towards the centre of the village. As I walked down several more similarly dressed men came into view. A mix of young and middle aged. I kind of shrugged it off despite being perplexed by it. What could it be? It’s only a small place and I was soon sat in the sunshine with a cup of coffee and my Kindle awaiting a bacon sandwich.

And then it got weird. Not the sandwich: the day.

Breakfast And A Kindle - Normalcy Amongst The Strangeness

Some music started. And now I can’t remember anything about that because what I saw became the focus of my tortured brain. A parade began to walk up the street towards and then past me. It was led by a religious group led by a man in a long white robe carrying a cross high in the air. Behind him were his three subordinates in blue and further cohorts in white behind them. At this point it looked like it was straight out of church - but that didn't last.

Behind the men the religious section of the parade came the women. Thankfully they weren’t wearing the black make up sported by the men, but were dressed in nice simple yellow dresses with green jackets and mixed green and yellow tights. As they danced to the tune through the village they waved their white handkerchiefs in the air to the drum. So far so normal…

The Religious Part Of The Parade

The Relatively Normal Part of The Parade (ie the women)

Not far behind were the blacked up men. Some in their multicoloured, multilayered shirts, some sporting white shirts and sashes. They all circled and dancing to a beat. Several turned to face me, smiling or pulling faces. There was even a character dressed as a woman in the style of a Monty Python sketch. The entire event was getting beyond surreal.


I can’t tell you how long the whole thing took. However long it was I’d been transported into some parallel universe or backwards through time. I never found if there was Wicker Man equivalent or where it was, but was glad not to have been chosen to be their sacrifice as the stranger in the village. The strange mix of religiosity, blacked up faces, bizarre costumes and relatively “normal” dancing women had been made all the stranger by me not knowing anything about it in advance and the wide range of people involved in it: it wasn’t a simple Morris Dancing troupe. It was a lot of people.

Who You Looking At? - Note the full on Monty Python character in the yellow…

Apparently the parade moves on to another couple of villages after Bishop’s Castle and it is something to do with celebrating the longest day of the year. The mind boggles. I wonder how many other strange local customs happen around the county that we (or at least I) don’t know about? There’s definitely a story or two in this. But maybe they're best left untold.


For the first time in an age I submitted a story somewhere. I’d started writing it for a previously mooted anthology which later passed away, as so much has in the last year or so. I was late seeing the call for this anthology but I thought the story I’d started may be an appropriate fit and would therefore save me writing something from scratch. I did a little work on it, but not much, and sent it off. I’m not anticipating an acceptance but it was good to finally submit something I’d written again. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other opportunities over the coming months.

One of the positives that has come out of it already is that a recent acquaintance volunteered to read and comment on it. He’s got a book published himself and has worked on screenplays and the like - and also has another book out for review at the moment. His review of my piece would be too late to impact on the submission but it was a lovely offer and he has now fed back comments to me. I’m not going to name him as a) I haven’t asked him if I can, and b) I don’t want him to be inundated with other works - as I may want to use his time again!

His feedback was great: asking a few questions and making some suggestions; including extending the story from the current ‘short’ (5k words) to a Novella length piece. I certainly think the story would be much better with more depth and some extension of the ideas within it. So at some point I think I will indeed extend the story. I’ll let you know if and when I do. In the meantime I think I will re-edit the first two or three chapters of my current novel (
The Wobbly Odyssey) and see what my lovely new reviewer thinks of it. The story he’s read was a horror short so seeing how the comic novel compares will be interesting. The reviewer himself deserves my grateful thank yous (and many of them). One day I may name the gent. Kudos!

Long Long Covid and All That

As we aim to get out of this virus nightmare and we see things trying to get back to some sort of normality it leaves us in a strange position of being cognisant of the risks whilst continuing with life. As someone who along with a third of the population or so who is ‘double jabbed’ up (a member of the AZ Club) it is strange. I mean this protection has been afforded to us yet we must continue to wear masks and sit in smaller groups – and not hug uncarefully.

I am happy to do this. I bought more masks this very week (and will have to get more as the ones I got were shit) and am going to wear them everywhere that I should i.e. in enclosed environments when walking around and on public transport etc. And don't get me started on the
Covidiots and Plandemic people.

When you are out and about, especially on public transport, it is clear that many people - particularly the young - do not wear masks at any time and are not attempting any kind of distancing: be it outside or on the train or bus. Of course these are the people who are almost entirely unvaccinated at the moment. There are multiple reasons for this attitude and allowances that are made, but now of course as schools are back and there is a more virulent variant of the virus (and whatever ones are coming next) it should not be presumed that these young people around us are free to catch the virus if they want, or they don’t care. There definitely is complacency in a variety of groups of people.

We should be trying to protect everyone not just the old, who are more likely to suffer dire consequences of catching it, but the young too. The catch all term of ‘
Long Covid’ is an unfortunately bland and almost meaningless name. Of course it is early days and it is impossible to know what the myriad range of issues Long Covid may leave on people: both young and old. If a youngster gets the disease now and may not even know they have it, then they could pass it on to someone who very much does get impacted, but they themselves could end up suffering consequences not now but in the years to come. These unknowns should not be shrugged off. We owe it to the children, indeed everyone, for their well being - but also what will be the long term costs of dealing with these unknowns for the NHS? It is impossible to know.

The more virulent Indian/
Delta Variant currently doing the rounds and winning in all the big statistics leagues may or may not be of genuine concern but who’s to say the next variant wont be worse still. Complacency can only make the potential impacts on us worse.

My feeling is that while there has to be a ‘life goes on’ reality that doesn’t mean that it goes on without consideration of what we do to reduce the risks for one and all; we don’t light cigarettes up on a petrol forecourt and we dont smash up asbestos cement sheets in our homes. Everybody needs to be vaccinated as soon as it can be done - and that is the one and only thing we seem to doing okay at in the UK - but it’s not a matter of clicking our fingers and it happens, and in the meantime risks can continue to be mitigated. Clearly the main issues are not the cleaning surfaces rigmarole: there is next to no evidence of anyone picking up
Covid19 from a contaminated surface. It is an airborne pathogen and mitigation is through ventilation, masks and distancing. So please continue to wear your masks, open the windows & doors, and keep up with the distancing. AND get vaccinated as soon as you can, both for you and your fellow humans.

Things ARE getting better but that should not mean you are free to get complacent. Stay safe and don’t be stupid, people.

Password Protected

I don’t have Sky Sports these days but for the nightmare year of the football season lockdown combo I’ve had BT Sports so I could at least watch Liverpool in Europe whilst everywhere where was closed. I then stooped to NOW TV on my phone for a while with a Sky Sports Pass so I could watch a couple of league games on my phone - you can’t stream to an iPad or a telly and only watch on your wee phone screen but it’s a lot cheaper than having Sky on the telly.

Season over and they’ve both been cancelled. Whilst going through the process online the
BT Sports website warned me that my account had been compromised - along with many others - and that I should change my password. Not sure I ever got me an email informing me about this compromise - and I have no idea when it occurred. Needless to say as well as saving money cancelling these two things I no longer need then I had to change several website login details.

It is inevitable as night follows day that I will forget these new logins (I’m already not entirely sure). I really need to develop my own clever/silly password generation protocol to stop me having to repeatedly go through the ‘F
orgotten Password’ rigmarole. Thinking about it now... it will be pure genius. If I can remember where I’ve hidden my genius.

I dare say if I do find my missing genius it will be password protected.