This World is Truly Barking Mad

“It is absurd to accept the weakling excuse that a world which can send men to the moon cannot join with sufficient willpower to get food to everybody who needs it.” ~ Neal Donald Walsh

Once again it’s Sunday morning and I’m in contemplative mood. Perhaps because I went to neighbours party last night and had plenty to eat and drink before walking back up the lane to our house. But once again I’m struck by the absurdity of a world where people are dying in the Horn of Africa whilst a quick Google reveals that the annual global air fresheners market will reach $8.3 billion by 2015. I dread to think what the worldwide spend on dog food is whilst  people starve.

Child in Ethiopa
A poor village boy we met in Ethiopia- Can you look him in the eye and tell him air freshener is more important?

We (mankind) really are as mad as the proverbial box of frogs.


Circular Walk from Bedd Morris to Aberfforest and Return

Another lovely sunny day, so we set off for the glorious Pembrokeshire coast for another of our walks. Although it is now the height of the holiday season here in Wales and there are more people on the beaches few people seem to venture far from the tourist spots. So it is quite possible to have this glorious countryside mostly to yourself.

This walk starts at the Bedd Morris standing stone at SN 038 365

To get there turn left off the main Newport to Dinas road (A487) immediately after leaving Newport. The road is signed Fford Bedd Morris.

Rocky Out Crop Near Bedd Morris
Rocky Out Crop Near Bedd Morris

Bedd Morris has had an eventful history since its Bronze Age origin; incorporated in the boundary of the parish of Newport, it also formed a route node for the medieval Newport-Haverfordwest highway, or ‘Ffordd Bedd Morris’, which still crosses Mynydd Carningli. In later years it is said that the name is said to derive from the bandit Morus who once lived among the rocks and robbed travellers. It is etched with a surveying benchmark and other inscriptions.

Circular Walk from Bedd Morris to Aberfforest and Return
Circular Walk from Bedd Morris to Aberfforest and Return

Park at the car park by the standing stone then walk slightly back down the road before turning left off the road at the wooden finger post towards a large outcrop of rocks (photo above). From here you can follow a well worn path that descends down toward the coast. This eventually turns into a farm track before reaching the A487. Cross the main road and proceed down a concrete track (slightly to your right after crossing the road) and go through a farm yard. Eventually, near some cottages, you will see a sign pointing you to the coastal path. Take this and turn right following the coastal path with amazing views (see photo below) until you come to Aber Rhigian.

The Amazing Pembrokeshire Coast
The Amazing Pembrokeshire Coast - as good as it gets.

When you come to a small wooden bridge leave the coastal path and follow the path inland back up a shady path. You will eventually reach another vehicular track that will bring you back to the main road. Turn left on the A487 and after fifty yards or so turn right up a small road/track towards Holm House. Follow the footpath (slightly boggy and indistinct in places) to Y Garn. Here you join and turn right onto the tarmac road for a little way before turning right at the first junction up a road that has a sign showing it is a no through road. After several hundred yards this road degenerates into a track you turn left up a footpath that brings you back onto the road to the car park where you started.

The walk is about 6 miles and will take a reasonable walker about 3 hours. We spent longer stopping for lunch and to watch the birds on the coastal cliffs.  The gradient back to the car park is not steep despite the fact that you walk from sea level to nearly 300m.


The Royal Welsh Show 2011

Well we trotted along to the Royal Welsh Show at Llanelwedd, Builth Wells yesterday. As a recent incomer to Wales and only having a smallholding I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment in detail. However, we had a great day. The peripheral car parks (park and ride) and traffic management worked great as far as we were concerned and we sailed into the show with no traffic problems (on the second busiest Tuesday ever) and that was a lot better than a previous experience at the Bath and West.

The show left me feeling very positive about about the rural community (despite me being a critic sometimes of some farming practices). In a world of ‘sleaze balls’, corruption and political chicanery (this on the afternoon parliament was investigating more wrong doing in the Murdoch empire) farmers were showing some stupendous livestock, youngsters were involved in all aspects from shearing competitions to horse riding to helping out the family look after the stock.

Sadly your ‘average city dweller’ who unwraps their pork chops out of the supermarket packaging does not have the slightest idea of the work and dedication that goes into their food. Whilst happy to whitter on endlessly about their favourite restaurant or celebrity chef it really struck home that they don’t have a clue about the really important bit at the sharp end. If farming could only do better in getting its message over and really show people how important it is to everyone.

In a whimsical moment I sometimes think it should be compulsory for ‘Joe Public’ to have to spend a month working on a farm and engage (many for the first time) with nature and where their food comes from. You don’t see too many obese sheep shearers and if you’ve ever had a go you will know that is one of the hardest, backbreaking jobs going. Perhaps a community sentence of a month’s sheep shearing would be far more beneficial for some of our criminals than the other deterrents not to mention that it would be a lot cheaper than many NHS interventions for obesity.

I was also pretty impressed by the teams of young riders on very fast ponies displaying their riding and athletic skills in a series of obstacle and relay type races (known as mounted games). I doubt if these youngsters figure too high on the ‘delinquent radar’. No doubt some will view these comments as right wing (strange as I’m usually accused of being fairly radical) but I’m just saying how I see it; that a good dose of reality amongst these hard working country folk is worth far more than the endless trivia of the celebrity obsessed, tawdry media controlled, shallow society that we have become.


Dennis Potter Must be Having the Last Laugh

Events this week are a timely reminder of the ever astute words of Dennis Potter in 1993:

“I’m going to get down there in the gutter where so many journalists crawl… what I’m about to do is to make a provenly vindictive and extremely powerful enemy… the enemy in question is that drivel-merchant, global huckster and so-to-speak media psychopath, Rupert Murdoch… Hannibal the Cannibal.”

and the famous interview just before his death


Photographing Puffins on Skomer Island

The weather recently has not been fantastic so we had been waiting for a pleasant interlude to make the trip over to Skomer Island. Skomer Island lies just off the west coast of Wales near Marloes (although the boat departs from Martin’s Haven which is too small for our Sat Nav) and is a sanctuary for birds. It is home to the largest number of Manx Shearwaters in the world and has a substantial colony of Puffins. It is the latter that many photographers go to photograph as the puffins are quite oblivious to humans (probably far more worried about those vicious gulls catching them).

Puffin With Fish For Young
Puffin With Fish For Young

Puffins start feeding their chicks around the end of May so we wanted to try to get there in June to see this.

A visit to Skomer needs a bit of planning because the boat to the island can’t sail in bad weather (particularly a strong northerly wind) and tickets are allocated on a first come, first served basis. So after a quick review of the weather forecast we got up at 6.00 a.m. for breakfast and a shower etc. before heading off to arrive at Martins Haven about 8.30 a.m. where we managed to get tickets for the first boat at 9.30 a.m.

We then headed up to ‘The Wick’ where it is one of the best places to photograph the Puffins returning with food for their chicks. Photographing them in flight is extremely difficult as they can fly very fast; they also fly very low and straight to their burrows so as to avoid the marauding gulls. This area can get quite busy with visitors to the island.

Puffin in Burrow
Puffin in Burrow

Lots of photographers there with huge long lenses, which to be honest you don’t need in most cases. You can easily photograph these Puffins here with a compact camera or a standard lens. Liz’s photo above is taken with an 85mm lens on a crop sensor SLR. The photo below was taken by John with a 300mm lens on a full frame camera. The longer lens and choice of a wider aperture gives a nice diffuse background but often I felt I needed a shorter lens and did indeed switch to my 100mm lens for some of the time as it was far more useful generally. However, you definitely do not need fancy kit to take good photos of Puffins here. Although you may need to be quick!

The next challenge is to get back and get a good shot in flight. But my goodness it’s hard (rather like trying to photograph someone throwing a cricket ball towards you!) as they travel at up to 70 m.p.h. and are not very big birds. Shooting large birds of prey in flight is a ‘doddle’ by comparison!

Puffin on Skomer Island

As well as all the other amazing bird life here the island makes a great place for a walk (approx 4 miles round). But be aware that there is no shade on the island and that there are no provisions there other than bottled water.


A ‘Real’ Sunday Morning

Got back late last night from a wedding in Bristol. This was our second foray into the big metropolis in three days having driven to Bath a day or so earlier to see Martin and Dennis in concert at the Assembly Rooms. So this was a chance to have a ‘real’ Sunday morning. By that I mean we could get up late and do absolutely nothing. ‘Absolutely nothing’ is of course a comparative term because even in doing absolutely nothing one still has to make breakfast or wash up etc. most of which usually falls to Liz (sorry).

This morning is dull and rainy; but I don’t care I never fail to wonder at how lucky we are to live here as I look out of our bedroom window.

From our Bedroom Window
The View From Our Bedroom Window on a Wet Sunday Morning

The recent trips to ‘civilisation’ just reinforce how depressing I find our culture (I’m not sure that we really have a culture here in the UK) ; shops selling the same crap and people putting up with the same old crap. On the trip to Bath I’d bought a copy of John Peel’s Autobiography/biography Margrave Of The Marshes, in a charity shop, which I’ve just finished reading this morning over my second cup of coffee. It’s great in places, weak in others but did have me laughing in fits and is a refreshing antidote to the usual famous person who is  ‘up their own backside’. Not that I’ve met many famous people or indeed read any of their autobiographies. There would seem to be little point in Super Injunctions as far as I’m concerned because I don’t even know who these people are, what they do or what they look like. Then again I could probably tell you who the original members of the Irish group Planxty were.

I wish that people would wake up. I’m sure that I’m over generalising but people seem to be content to be led like lambs to the slaughter through life. How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it! How scary it was to reread Brave New world a few months back. At least in the late 60’s and 70’s youngsters would rant against injustice and the Vietnam war. Now they are more likely to need counselling because they’ve lost their mobile phone or because Primark doesn’t have their ‘must have’ item of consumer fashion in stock.

Most times I just feel like a fish out of water when I visit the big city. Don’t get me wrong I love some cities but I can’t see the point of shopping malls that all look the same where dazed consumers add more debt to their credit cards for the short term buzz they get to escape from their day to day lives working in jobs they hate, to pay off the same credit card bill plus interest.

I can’t see the point of celebrity magazines or Big Brother or any other ‘reality TV’ (What the f**k is all that about, I just don’t get it – some misfits in a house! Why would anyone waste their time even turning it on?). I can’t understand why footballers earn more in a couple of days for kicking a pig’s bladder full of air around a grass field than a nurse gets in a year. I don’t understand why anyone (almost everyone) moans about their lot in the west and look glum when the people I meet in the ‘third world’ have virtually nothing, no running water, no health care, no job and smile all day long. Why on earth is someone now a ‘celebrity’ just because they have appeared on TV? Someone should slap these morons around the head (and the people who watch said TV) and tell them straight ‘Look love just because you’ve got big hooters and appear on TV doesn’t make you a star – it just means you’re a vacuous twat with big hooters’.

Ah well, just the rant of a grumpy old git you are no doubt thinking? You’re probably correct.


Almost Banned from B&Q

One of my (John’s) unusual traits (some would use the word puerile) is my complete hatred of corporate business and multinationals. I have on many occasions been known to take direct action in the supermarket by ‘accidentally’ knocking over some display of consumer goods that I find annoyingly blocking my genial saunter up their crappy aisles (I digress). Indeed my eldest son was particularly aghast when at a dreadful and expensive motorway service station (the type where they extort vast sums of money because there is nowhere else to go to have a leak and take a break) I pocketed an unopened bottle of tomato ketchup to use later at home because the menu helpfully exclaimed ‘free sauce’. Without any mention of a limit to this offer I felt it only fair to take them up on their largesse and get back some of the cash that they had previously extorted.

However, being a hypocrite, I do occasionally find myself ensnared in their evil clutches. So it came to pass today, when Liz and I  decided to set about building a log shelter to keep our ever increasing stack of wood from fallen branches dry for the winter. Being somewhat surprised by a pleasant sunny day (after several days of soggy rain) we set about the task only to realise that in our unpreparedness we were lacking some essentials.

Firing up the Landrover I took off to B&Q to get the missing bits and pieces. Grabbing one of those large trolleys I set off to the rear of the store only to find the aisle fairly well blocked by other trolleys of stock that the poor inmates were obviously trying to find space for in the helter skelter of having to meet the corporate sales targets handed down from ‘on high’. As I wheeled past bits of overhanging stock flew off and the staff looked on aghast particularly when I exclaimed ‘for feck’s sake’ (or words to that effect). One female inmate did start to remonstrate with me and I did, in a somewhat firm but not rude (I hasten to add), manner, inform her that they were clearly failing in their obligations under the The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 – the poor woman was somewhat taken aback to find out that the Troglodyte personage in front of her had been, in another life, an Environmental Health Officer (who had seen the light and decided any life was better than watching the clock tick by in local government – I’m digressing again) who clearly knew his stuff (even barristers do not know that The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 has an etc. at the end).

Anyway I was happily (that’s a lie I’m never happy spending my dosh in such places) collecting the things I needed when the manager appeared and asked if he could help. Luckily I refrained from one of my more obtuse replies (like could he lend me 20 quid?) as he continued to inform me that one of his female employees had been reduced to tears by my actions and that if there was any further trouble he’d have to ask me to leave the store. This left me with at least a couple of dilemmas (is that a dichotomy?); firstly should I have felt amazed that someone who deals with Joe Public all day has to go off for a cry (and probably a week’s sick leave) when they meet someone who doesn’t conform to the usual show of devotion in the temple of commerce or secondly should I just tell him that being banned from B&Q would not actually affect my life too much and I think I could exist without going there again (not to mention the revenge I could cause in other stores by ‘accidentally’ knocking over the annoying displays of consumer goods – sorry if you’re having deja vu). Anyway after I’d given him a full run down of his responsibilities, particularly the bit about safe access and egress (great word to bamboozle) under the aforementioned HASAWA (notice the sophisticated use of jargon to help confuse) he sheepishly backed down and offered me a 10 percent discount for my trouble.

After such an exciting start to the day the log shelter construction was a bit of an anti climax but it does look rather functional even if I say so myself.

Log Store
The Log Store (almost finished and sans logs)

Martin Hayes – Shores of Lough Graney now on CD

We headed off to Ireland, staying with our friend Dorothy who is great fun and who we feel runs the best B&B in East Clare (and who will always guide us to the best music) to

a) Make sure that we were out of the UK for the Royal Wedding as there was no way we could put up with all that crap about the spoilt kid of some rich old woman living in a big house getting hitched at our expense


b) much more importantly to coincide with fiddle player Martin Hayes being back in his home village for the 10 year anniversary of the death of his father P. Joe Hayes.

The latter turned out to be very special as Martin has decided to re-release (at long last) his original debut recording that he made with his father. This was originally released only on a cassette tape (which was recorded on a four track cassette recorder at the house of Pat Talty and was not very long because Martin’s father had to leave to play in a ceilidh with the Tulla Ceilidh Band).

It took me many years to find an original copy and they are as rare as ‘hen’s teeth’!

Mary MacNamara, Martin Hayes and Steeve Cooney
Mary MacNamara, Martin Hayes and Steeve Cooney

So on Friday 6th May on the 10th anniversary of P. Joe’s death a few of us were lucky enough to find ourselves in Bohan’s pub where Martin launched the CD  and played for us with friends such as Mary MacNamara, Steve Cooney, John Canney and Mark Donnellan (whose father played with Martin’s father in the Tulla Ceilidh Band). The music went on into the small hours and it was a privilege to be here listening to these great players playing in the back room. It is always a special treat to hear Martin and Mark together as they clearly love playing together and Mark is such a talented and unassuming player himself.

Martin Hayes, Mark Donellan and Pat O'Connor
Martin Hayes, Mark Donnellan and Pat O'Connor

The CD is released on a small label (Quillan Records CD 001) not Green Linnet; and I’m not sure of it’s distribution. I do know that Custys of Ennis will be stocking copies. However, the initial pressing is only 2000 copies (and you’re not having ours!). The CD contains 3 extra tracks recorded with Dennis Cahill on guitar in addition to the original recording. This was really a bit of history in the making.

This was of course only the start of a great weekend with Martin playing with the Tulla Ceilidh band on Saturday night and playing in a 3 hour session in Peppers on Sunday. For someone who would happily sit and listen to Martin tune his fiddle this was of course a fabulous weekend for us.


Then Dies Having Never Really Lived

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered

“Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”


Chasing the Light

One of the great things about retirement is the ability to devote more time to other things; particularly photography. I’ve been trying to get some decent landscapes (and I’ve never considered myself too much of a landscape photographer) for a while now that we live in such a beautiful area. However, landscape photography is all about the light (usually early in the morning or in the evening). So with Derek, the BBC Wales weatherman, forecasting a misty start followed by a sunny day we set the alarm for 5.30 and set off into the Breacon Beacons.

Brecon Beacons
The Breacon Beacons on a glorious April morning © John Burton

We were rewarded with some lovely cloud and light for about 20 minutes or so. I got one or two good shots. I’ve been trying to photograph Carreg Cennen for a while now and this is probably as good as I’ve got so far.

Castle Cennen
Carreg Cennen © John Burton

In any event it was a glorious morning to be up on the Brecon Beacons. A full English breakfast when we got home would have been heaven but Liz doesn’t allow those on health grounds!!