Monthly Archives: February 2017

Paws for Thought

Noble Beast

Sally the dog looking noble.

This week’s book review is slightly different, because it’s about a book I’m still reading. In Defence of Dogs is by John Bradshaw, a biologist who specialises in dog behaviour. The book, published by Penguin Books in 2012, sets out to dispel many of the myths we have about dogs. Based on his own work and other scientific research, Bradshaw argues that we should change how we think about, and relate to, dogs. Dogs are not, he argues, wolves in dogs clothing, constantly trying to assert dominance over the humans in their pack. Nor do they have an almost human understanding of the world.


In this book Bradshaw sets out to explain how a better understanding of dogs ‘intelligence and emotional life’ will change our perception, and treatment of them. From the little I’ve read so far, it’s going to be an interesting read.

Anyway, that’s the book review bit over. This weeks post is actually a thinly veiled excuse to write about rescue dogs and the charity I volunteer for, Ryedale Dog Rescue. The picture at the top of this post is Sally, our rescue dog. She’s about nine years old, and is (we think), a cross between a Staffordshire bull terrier and a boxer. Sally’s been with us for six years now, and is a real character. She’s obsessed about food, stubborn, hates mornings, and farts and snores. For a medium sized dog, she’s powerfully built,  looks a bit imposing and was very boisterous when she was younger.

You might think she’s not much of a prospect as a pet then, but you’d be wrong. The reality is that Sally is a friendly, loyal dog, a real character and great fun.

Sally and Brindle

Sally and Brindle caught in a tender moment.

She’s a real softie:  as you can see in this picture, she spends most of her time on the settee with the cat, and loves being somewhere comfortable with people. It’s a privilege to have her around.

Sally was neglected and malnourished when she was handed into the local authority dog warden. It wasn’t a great start in life, but gradually her luck changed. The first stroke of fortune was that she was taken in by our local dog rescue charity, Ryedale Dog Rescue (RDR). Sadly, because Sally looked quite ‘fierce’, nobody wanted to rehome her and she stayed with RDR for two years. But RDR didn’t give up looking for a home for her, and finally their persistence paid off when she came to live with us. I still wonder how this happened: at the time Sally was the last type of dog we were looking for. Sometimes though, you’ve got to take a leap of faith and look below surface appearances. It’s a decision we’ve never regretted.

Unfortunately the story of Sally’s early life is a common one, and many don’t end up happily. Tens of thousands of dogs are abandoned each year. According to the charity Dogs Trust, in 2014-2015 local authorities picked up over 102,000 strays, 47,000 of which were never reclaimed by their owners. Some of those would have have been rehomed, but  over 5000  ended up being put down. That’s a lot of Sally’s who never got the chance to be a loved and loving pet.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Local and national charities like Dogs Trust and RDR, work hard to give rescue dogs a second chance. I’ve been doing voluntary work RDR for twelve months: it’s addictive and very satisfying. Over the next few weeks we’ll be running a pop-up shop and holding a sponsored fun walk to help raise funds for the charity. But fundraising and the work of rescuing, caring for and rehoming dogs goes on all year round.

There are thousands of dogs out there who need your help. If you’re thinking of getting a dog, I’d heartily recommend getting a rescue. But if you’re not in position to own a dog, why not do some voluntary work for a local or national charity, or hand over some of your hard earned cash? There’ll be someone near you happy to extract a few coins from you (actually, we’d prefer notes, big fat cheques or a massive bank transfer, but every little helps.)

So that’s it for this week, I’m off to set up shop. If you happen to be in the Ryedale area over the next two weeks, why not pop into the pop-up, or go to for more information.



The only memory of a great night out!

Hi everyone

I hope you enjoyed Robin Hood’s Bay. Maybe I ought to ask for a payment from the tourist board for the review!

It’s been a fun few days. I’m just back from a visit to my old mate John in Preston for a weekend of fun, beer and music. Friday night was planned to be a ‘documentary’ pub crawl. The idea (impromptu, I admit), was that we’d go round a few pubs, drink a beer or two and photograph the pub before moving on. It was fun. We had some great real ales, some rubbish keg beer, I was force fed Guinness, and we saw a man playing a hurdy gurdy. The problem was the documentary part. I photographed the first three pubs, then promptly forgot the rest. I can just about remember some appalling karaoke and then I can’t remember the last pub, the chips and gravy we ate, and the taxi home. One minute I was awake and drinking beer: the next I woke up fully clothed and hungover on the settee. Saturday was a nightmare hangover of epic proportions, but I fully recovered for Saturday night at The Ferret, and more beer. If you want some decent music and a good pin, you can do worse than The Ferret. The website’s here The Ferret: Homepage

So it was a great weekend. Sadly, what should have been an interesting, but slightly niche photo essay (Pub Crawl in Preston), has been reduced to the single photo of a glass of Worthington’s Bitter at the top of this post. It’s also the reason that I wasn’t really sure what the subject of this Friday’s book review would be, until I glimpsed at the book shelf on my way upstairs to write this post.

I’ve got a busy week or two helping out with my local Dog Rescue Charity – Ryedale Dog Rescue – so I think this week’s book will be dog themed. I’ll probably also throw in some cute pictures of Sally our rescue dog for good measure.






Robin Hood’s Bay

At the beginning of February Liz, Sally the dog and I went for a short break just up the coast to Robin Hood’s Bay. The North Yorkshire village is located five miles south of Whitby and 15 miles north of Scarborough. The old part of the village is picturesque, and perches at the foot of a cliff. In the nineteenth century it was an important fishing port, but now that trade has died out. It’s main business now is tourism. At the time of our visit it was all a bit grim and wintry, as you’ll see from the photo’s, but the beaches are fantastic in summer.  It’s a very low key resort, which I like: it manages to keep much of it’s character.

Robin Hood’s Bay is a popular place to stay, and has a thriving local artistic and musical community. The village is also a good place for walkers: it’s situated at the eastern end of the Coast to Coast long distance footpath and is also on the Cleveland way, which runs north to south. The village has a good website with lots of further information at

The village and surrounding area are well worth a visit if you get the chance. It wasn’t the best tourism weather when we visited, but the big advantage of visiting in winter is the peace and quiet. Robin Hood’s Bay can get quite crowded at the height of summer. The pictures below are mainly of the bay and surrounding area. If you like mist-wreathed cliffs and iron grey seas, there’s probably something here for you.

North View

A view of the northern end of Robin Hood’s Bay. A bit forbidding in winter, but perfect for sand castles in the summer.

Robin Hood's Bay Harbour

A view of Robin Hood’s Bay harbour at low tide. Hard to visualise, but it was a major fishing port in the nineteenth century.

Bay Hotel

No trip away is complete without a pub. Much used by walkers completing the Coast to Coast path. Nice beer!

Stormy Seas

A bit grim and forbidding. The harbour wall and north shore at high tide.

South Bay

Another picture of iron grey seas, spray and hazy cliffs in the distance. No paddling today!

This is the lower end of Robin Hood’s Bay. The buildings are mostly seventeenth and eighteenth century, with plenty of steep, narrow, windy streets. The upper end of the village was built mostly in the nineteenth century, with lots of smart red-brick villa’s. The railway ran through the upper village at one point and it must have been quite a prosperous place.

Bay View

A view of the bay on our only sunny day there. It gives you an idea of what it’s like in summer time.


Hi everyone

I just thought I’d put this post in as a flyer, (forgive the pun), before tomorrow’s photo’s of Robin Hood’s Bay. I saw this seagull flying over our local pond. I quite like the result.


Seagull at the pond near home, happily nicking bread off the ducks.

Dark and Stormy

Hi everyone

I hope you enjoyed the wrestling last week. It sparked off a major nostalgia fest for me: I spent four aimless, slightly drunken hours watching old British wrestling bouts on YouTube. I must have watched more wrestling in the old days than I thought: I knew all the fighters. There was Dave ‘Fit’ Finlay, and his wife and second Princess Paula; Les Kellett, who was a great comic, as well as a good wrestler, Kendo Nagasaki, who hated being unmasked and could allegedly hypnotise his opponents; and clean living Johnny Saint, who was an amazing athlete.

It brought home to me that living in the 1960’s and 70’s were far less complicated than living nowadays. Who’s to say that we’re better off now? I’m not sure the ‘digital age’ does us as many favours as we think it does.

All this crazy nostalgia stands me in good stead for the family history work I’m doing. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve dived deeply into my family’s past: there’s something extremely satisfying in unearthing long-lost relatives. Unless we’re high-born, very successful, or notorious, the chances are we’ll end up leaving few traces of who we are. I think that’s tragic, because we’ve all go a story to tell, and have the right to be heard.

Anyway, that’s enough of the profound stuff for the moment. Last week Liz and I, (not forgetting Sally the dog), went to stay in a tiny cottage at Robin Hood’s Bay for a few days. This week’s photo-essay features pictures of the bay. It was all very waved-tossed and dramatic, but I hope you like the pictures..






Edward and Edith Annie

My parental grandparents, Edward and Edith Annie, lived all their married lives in the same two-up, two-down stone terraced cottage. As a young boy I spent most Saturday afternoons there and I found the house stifling and gloomy. The furniture was old, massy and dark-wooded; the household ran to the pace of the slow-ticking mahogany cased grandfather clock; and there was nothing to do. The cottage matched the mood of only one of its inhabitants. Edward was a kindly cap-wearing pipe smoker with a sense of humour. Every year while on holiday in Morecambe, he sent my mother a saucy McGill postcard. It was their shared joke and I still have several postcards in a shoebox in the attic. By contrast Edith-Annie was as austere as her surroundings.

Early photographs of my grandmother show a substantial woman: handsome rather than pretty and with an imposing Edwardian bosom. By 1963 she was elderly, stern and stout. A working class Victorian upbringing and bleak non-conformist religious beliefs helped make her dour and humourless, but life’s experiences had really created her. In the nineteen twenties, Edward and Edith Annie worked in the cotton mills. She was a weaver and he a cotton printer, then a highly paid job. They had been affluent enough to employ a village girl to keep house for them: I have a press cutting reporting how she stole Edith-Annie’s wedding ring. During the depression of the nineteen thirties they both lost their jobs and Edward had to earn a living as water man tending the small reservoir at the top end of the village. Edith Annie stayed at home, made ends meet and brooded.

One Saturday a month Edith Annie’s sister, Aunt Ethel, made the two-bus journey from the mining town of Leigh for a visit. When seated together it was hard to tell the two sisters apart: it seemed as if their father, a miner, had hewn them from the same coalface, and they shared the same coal-black outlook on life. Both women dressed for the visit in their smartest clothes –  the only time I ever saw Edith Annie without her apron in the house – and they had identical iron-grey shampoo and set hairstyles. The visit was surprisingly formal. On arrival Aunt Ethel gave Edith Annie a small present, usually a tin of salmon, and they would exchange small talk. Around three they had afternoon tea: Ethel’s tinned salmon, salad and bread and butter. They drank strong tea and finished the meal with ‘fancies’ – small iced cakes. Apart from the small talk the visit was conducted in almost silent communion until, at three thirty, the atmosphere changed.

In 1960 a television had become a surprise addition to the cottage. The set was hardly ever used except for Saturday afternoons, when ITV showed an hour of all in wrestling. In the nineteen sixties wrestling was a popular, earthy, affair. Its fighters were heroes and Ethel and Edith Annie were in thrall to them. This hour was sacred so, with measured haste, the women cleared away the tea things whilst Edward turned on the slow warming television set. This was no place for a man, so when he’d found the channel and set two mahogany Queen Anne dining chairs out in front of the television,  Edward beat a hasty retreat. Sometimes I went with him while he walked round the village, but if it rained I was reluctantly allowed to stay for the wrestling. Tucked away unregarded in a corner, the most attention I got was to be ‘shushed’ if I was noisy.

At exactly four o’ clock the commentator, Kent Walton, gave his customary greeting ‘Good afternoon, grapple fans’, and the two old women settled down on their chairs. They sat attentively through the first couple of sporting bouts, but became tense when the Master of Ceremonies announced the final brutal fight between good and evil.

‘In the blue corner, the man you love to hate: Mick McManus’

The crowd booed McManus, who had black trunks and short cropped black hair, and he snarled back. Edith Annie and Ethel tutted their disapproval.

‘And in the red corner, all the way from Canada, Billy Two Rivers.’

Billy, a genuine Mohawk Indian, got rousing cheers from the crowd and raised eyebrows of approval from my relatives. He always entered the ring in a full feather war bonnet, and had a Mohican haircut that Edith Annie would have crossed the road to avoid on any other day of the week. On Saturdays, however, she revelled in the exotic.

The bout started warily as the two wrestlers circled each other. Billy went for a stranglehold but McManus slipped past and gave Billy two of his trademark forearm smashes, sending him into the ropes. Aunt Ethel winced at the pain, but Billy launched himself from the ropes catching McManus with his own forearm smash that made Edith Annie suck in air sharply. While McManus was recovering Billy went for a half-nelson but, unseen by the referee, the bad guy tried to gouge Billy’s eye with a knuckle, an illegal move that made Edith Annie and Ethel tut loudly. As Billy staggered round the ring rubbing his eye, McManus capitalized by kicking him on the knee, sending him face forward to the ground. Then McManus dragged Billy by the leg into the middle of the ring and got him in a painful looking knee lock.

‘Oh no.’ Ethel cried in dismay, while Edith Annie looked pained.

But Billy was strong. Slowly he crawled towards the edge of the ring and managed to grab hold of the bottom rope. McManus should have released him but he pretended that he couldn’t hear the referee’s request.

‘Let go of ‘im.’ Edith Annie called with the crowd.

Luckily the bell went for the end of round one and McManus reluctantly released Billy, who crawled back to his corner.

Billy limped out to start round two but it was a ruse. As McManus went for another kick on Billy’s weakened knee the Canadian deftly sidestepped him, grabbed his right arm and swung him hard into the corner post.

‘Go on’.  Edith Annie’s voice rose to a muted shout of encouragement, while Ethel nodded her head violently in support, threatening to dislodge her shampoo and set.

As Billy followed up with a kick to the knee, McManus dodged and managed to wrestle Billy into a headlock. Billy’s head was twisted round savagely and McManus shouted for him to submit. His muffled refusal was echoed by the two old women. Then McManus edged round until he faced away from the referee and, for the cameras, punched Billy in the face four times.  Aunt Ethel’s reserve broke first and she half-stood, screaming at the television.

‘You dirty beggar, geroff ‘im’.

Worse was to come. McManus stopped punching Billy and, still maintaining the headlock, reached his free hand down and grabbed hold of the edge of Billy’s trunks. He twisted them savagely while Billy writhed for the viewers. Edith Annie was indignant and she turned to Ethel.

‘Did you just see what he did?’ Then she began to move her lips silently while Ethel nodded in agreement. Modesty forbade them to voice the unmentionable words, so they resorted to the lip reading they had learned when they worked in the noisy weaving sheds.

Somehow, Billy managed to get a hold on McManus’s fingers and prize the headlock apart. Then moving swiftly he caught McManus’s arm and swung him into the ropes so hard that McManus went over the top rope and out of the ring.

The old women became even more excited, because they knew what was coming next. Billy was angry and when he was angry he stoked it with a war dance. The crowd screamed as Billy stomped around the ring, ululating loudly. McManus was a marked man and knew it. He had to be pushed back into the ring.

Now Billy went for a headlock on McManus and paraded him around, shouting to the crowd.

Should I? Should I?

‘Go on, do it’ they replied.

‘Yes, yes’, shouted Ethel emphatically.

Go on’, bellowed Edith Annie, the loudest voice of all. ‘Get ‘im gelded!’

McManus knew what was coming: he had one weak point and no bout was complete until the crowd heard him cry:

‘Not the ears, not the ears’.

Billy theatrically waved his open hand at the crowd and then ground his palm into McManus’s left ear, while the hated one screamed to be set free. Billy obliged him, but only so that he could grab McManus by an arm and leg and hoist him into the air for an aeroplane spin. Billy spun round three times and then threw McManus to the ground.

McManus stayed put while the referee counted to ten. He made one feeble attempt to stand but didn’t make the count. The crowd roared as the master of ceremonies shouted

‘The winner, by a knockout, Billy Two Rivers.’

Edith Annie pointed to the screen, stared at Ethel and shouted triumphantly:

‘See, see, see that’.

At that moment Edith Annie was at the ringside baying with the crowd, then on cue, Edward returned from his walk and she returned home. Neither woman spoke about the wrestling or acknowledged the release it gave them, and shortly afterwards Aunt Ethel left to catch her bus. Perhaps there was a knowing look in the half smiles they bestowed each other on parting.

Good Afternoon Grapple Fans

I hope you enjoyed last week’s review of The Maltese Falcon. If you get round to reading it, I be interested to know what you thought of it.

This Friday’s story is part biographical, part fiction. The original idea was to write a true story about my grandparents, but I found I couldn’t do it justice without introducing some fictional elements. The basis of the story is the memory of my grandmother watching the wrestling. British all-in-wrestling was a very different affair to the modern day American counterpart and, for some reason, was very popular with little old ladies.  For a lot of people, particularly women,  born in the late Victorian era, life was quite a restrained affair. Watching wrestling was one way of letting inhibitions drop.

Part of the fun of writing this story was doing the research. The two wrestlers who appear in the story are real characters and I’ve tried to describe how they actually behaved in the ring. Another enjoyable part of writing the story was trying to use fictional techniques to describe real people. It’s something I want to develop over the next year or so as I delve into our family history.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to make some tweaks to how the blog works. Some are technical, like including gallery pages for photographs and upgrading how comments are managed. There will be some changes to the content too. I’m continuing with the photo-essays and book reviews, but I’ll include a wider-range of items too, including  posts about how the family history project is going.  This means in the short to medium term at least, there will be fewer fictional short stories. I promise I’ll write and publish ‘Camel’s Revenge’ later in the year, but at the moment at least I’m more interested in writing non-fiction. There’s so many amazing true stories to write about, that it seems odd to be making things up.

Liz and I are off to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire coast for a few days. If the weather’s half-decent I hope to take some photographs, which I’ll post up next week.

All the best!