A sunny morning on the River Ure, just before we reached the Canal.

A sunny morning on the River Ure, just before we reached the Canal.

We went for a walk along the Ripon Canal the other day, starting from the point where it meets the River Ure.  Back in its heyday during the Industrial Revolution, busy as it was then, the rural towpath we walked along might not have looked so very different.  Back in its heyday, keels would have hauled coal northwards from the Yorkshire coalfields, and lead and agricultural products southwards.  The canals were the freight-haulage routes of their age, and even though they were busy thoroughfares, the whole business of passing vessels through the three locks in one direction at a time limited the flow traffic to levels well below what those of us who’ve ever been stuck in a bad-tempered rush hour traffic jam on the M1 have experienced.

Ripon Canal is not one of the country’s great canals.  There are water super-highways such as the Grand Union Canal linking London with Birmingham.  That’s 137 miles long. There’s the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.  That’s 127 miles long.  The Ripon Canal runs for just two miles, from Ripon to Oxclose Lock, where it links with the River Ure.  Like many of the country’s canals, it was built in the latter part of the 18th century, between 1767 and 1783, opening up water traffic between Ripon and York, and it eventually put the products of the Durham coalfields within Ripon’s reach.

The railways proved to be the death of canals all over England.  Ripon’s withstood the opening of the Darlington to York railway in 1841, but the Leeds and Thirsk Railway finished it off.  The railway company actually bought the waterway, to ensure local support , but they then neglected it, failing to dredge it, so that it became less and less useable.  The canal was abandoned as a waterway in 1906.

But its fortunes have changed again.  No longer a tool of the industrial revolution, the canal has become a playground for people who like ‘messing about in boats‘*.  The Ripon Canal Trust spearheaded its restoration from the 1960s, and now the whole thing is managed by the Canal and River Trust.  So whether you like boats, barges, or a stroll along a quiet backwater near town, Ripon Canal’s worth a visit.


*That’s what Ratty used to like to do in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’

Blackberries? ............ (Wikimedia Commons)

Blackberries? …………
(Wikimedia Commons)

…. or alternatively, A is for ‘attachment’, B is for ‘blog’ and C is for ‘chatroom’.

Somehow, back in January, I missed the fuss that surrounded the publication of the updated edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.  I caught up with it today, when reading an absorbing article in today’s Guardian by landscape and natural world enthusiast Robert Macfarlane.  This is what he said.

‘The same summer I was on Lewis, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark,mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. ………I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry.’

I too was dismayed.  Everywhere there is evidence that children are playing out far less than they used to, seeing green space less often than their parents did.  Perhaps more than ever they need a dictionary to help them know about  chestnuts and clover.  Since the Second World War, there have been regular complaints from teachers and others, that there are city children who don’t know that milk comes from cows, or potatoes from the earth, or that blackberries are for gathering and devouring.  Best not cut them out of works of reference too.

But then, I’m not sure how many children use dictionaries either.  I’ve seen lots of young people, including our own daughter, who will turn to an online source rather than the dictionary when needing to check a spelling or a meaning.  But really, what can be more fun than turning to a dictionary to look something up, and then becoming distracted, for more than 20 minutes at a time, by reading about words you never knew, or knew you needed to know, like ‘pursier’, or ‘grager’, or ‘chip breaker’ or ‘squaloid’?

All the same, I’m glad and relieved that my grandchildren know the meanings of all the words Macfarlane singles out, both the new edition inclusions, and the ousted ones from, apparently, a bygone age.

....or BlackBerry? (Wikimedia Commons)

….or Blackberry?
(Wikimedia Commons)

I lived in Wakefield for a few years, in the 1970s.  Back then, it was a gritty industrial town, surrounded by pit villages such as Crofton, Sharlston and Lofthouse.  It was the home of Double Two shirts, and the administrative capital of the now-defunct West Riding.  You’ll still find Wakefield Prison here, the largest high-security prison in Western Europe.  And Wakefield is still part of the unique ‘Rhubarb Triangle’, an area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell where, in the cold early months of every year, delicate pink forced rhubarb is grown in darkened sheds for a public still eager to buy.

Wakefield had its elegant quarters too, largely built round the Georgian St. John’s Church, and there was a decent market as well, and a good Art Gallery and Museum.

What it didn’t have in those days was the Hepworth Gallery.  So we paid it a visit on Sunday.  It’s on an unpromising site by a fairly unlovely stretch of the River Calder, alongside a busy dual carriageway and various semi-industrial sites.  But with its austere pigmented concrete facade, the building itself rises energetically and imaginatively from the midst of the industrial landscape in which it’s situated.  We went inside, to a cool, clean and calm space.  With an excellent café. This did seem promising.

The Hepworth Gallery.

The Hepworth Gallery.

Neither of us liked the current exhibition showcasing Lynda Benglis.  But we’d really come to see Barbara Hepworth’s work.  She was a Wakefield lass, a contemporary, friend and colleague of Henry Moore.  I’ve known and admired her work for much of my life, but most enjoyed it when visiting St. Ives some years ago.  Hepworth lived there from the 1950s till her death, and much of her work is exhibited at the Tate Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.  It was the sculpture garden that did it for us then: plants and sculpture co-exist in intimate harmony, each enhancing the other in ways that have stayed with us in the years since we were able to spend time there.

The time we spent with her work in the Gallery was enhanced by glimpses of her working life: the tough and workmanlike bench with its tools laid ready for use; the videos showing her working, or her pieces being prepared for casting in bronze in busy foundries.

Hepworth's workbench.

Hepworth’s workbench.

What makes this exhibition interesting is that most of these works are full-size prototypes, in plaster or aluminium of works that would later be realised in bronze.  It’s clear that she needed to work even at an early stage on the same scale as she would on the finished article.  What could she gain by trying her ideas out in miniature?

These pieces are reminiscent of the rolling character of the Yorkshire landscape round Wakefield.  To achieve them, Hepworth chipped, carved, smoothed and worked away at her pieces: it was solid manual labour, not so very far removed from the labour of the miners and workers who also lived in the community where she grew up.  It’s a man’s world, and Hepworth was extraordinary not only for being a woman studying sculpture, but for reviving the art of carving her own work.  In the Edwardian age, sculptors had merely moulded their maquettes and left masons to do the hard graft.


Yet her work is sensual and invites contemplation.  I relished the chance to do so in this light and airy gallery, with its backdrop of the city of Wakefield seen through the vast windows, allowing the daylight to illuminate her work.

Wakefield from the windows of the Hepworth Gallery.




I know I’ve mentioned them already, but this year’s crop of snowdrops has been quite astonishing.  Maybe they weren’t quite such a feature of our local landscape in France.  Maybe when we last lived in England,  because we were in town, we saw them only tucked into quiet corners of suburban gardens, or on occasional weekend sorties.  Perhaps snowdrops round here are always this special.  But for us, this year has been a real treat.

Snowdrops have been almost the first thing we see as we set foot outside the house.  They’ve been in dense groves in nearby woodland.  They’ve been on sheltered verges.  At first slender, pointing their sheathed leaves upwards in search of light, now they’ve opened their petals into blowsy bells and flattened  their leaves gently towards the ground beneath.  This is the sure signal that they’re on the way out.  Gardens are displaying the first of the early crocus, and even daffodils are opening in more sheltered spots.  I think snowdrops prefer to be the centre of attention, prepared to share the woodland only with occasional patches of aconites.  Now that spring is really on its way, and the birds are honing their voices in preparation for their courtship rituals, the snowdrops are preparing to allow their flowers and leaves to wither and die, as the bulbs enjoy their long and nourishing hibernation below ground.


Until the early years of the twentieth century, there had been thousands of Greeks living in Turkey, and Turks living in Greece, preserving their own culture and ways of life over many centuries.  But by the 1920s, both Turks and Greeks had been through a period of real upheaval, with a series of wars including the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922.  Senior politicians in both countries could see problems ahead if largely Muslim Turks remained in Greece, and largely Orthodox Greeks remained in Turkey.

Their solution though, was a  shocking one.  Following the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923,  thousands and thousands of Turks and Greeks were in effect deported from the lands where they and their ancestors had been living for centuries, back to their country of ethnic origin.  They were given almost no time to prepare or to pack belongings: they were displaced refugees. Large Greek communities such as Smyrna were quite simply emptied of their citizens, to be stocked with Muslim Turks and re-named Izmir .  The regional ethic mix which had prevailed for centuries ceased.

Greek refugees from Smyrna arriving at Thessaloniki 1923 (unknown source)

Greek refugees from Smyrna arriving at Thessaloniki 1923 (unknown source)

Though it’s hard to regard what happened then as anything better than ethnic cleansing, many Turks nowadays will say that now the dust has settled, and with the passage of time, both Greece and Turkey are the better for it.  Greco-Turkish relations have often been poor, and with the two populations now separated, there’s one less thing to fight over.

It’s a hugely complex issue about which I know next to nothing.  What I do know is that we spent the last morning of our Turkish holiday in Şirince, one of those villages that was forcibly de-populated, then re-populated, in this case by Turks moved out of Thessaloniki in Greece.  It’s a charming place, set on a hillside amongst olive groves and orchards; a tourist trap for Turks and foreign tourists alike.  But on a quiet warm morning in February, it was no hardship.  We used the time to sample the fruit wines for which the village is noted: mulberry, peach, morello, quince (no, we didn’t try them ALL).  We bought last-minute souvenirs: local olive oil, honey, pomegranate vinegar.  It was easy to feel, strolling through the narrow streets, that we might be in Greece rather than Turkey, even though we didn’t hear, as promised,  any of the older inhabitants speaking Greek.


It was a peaceful way to end our holiday.  We’ll be back, as independent travellers next time.  And from now, it’ll be posts from misty moisty England.  For a while at least.


Turkish flag painted on the side of a building.

Turkish flag painted on the side of a building.

The Republic of Turkey has only existed since 1923, and rapidly transformed itself under Kemal Atatürk from a failing Ottoman Empire with a glorious past, into a modern nation, looking towards Europe as it pushed through a programme of reforms. Then and now predominantly Muslim, it became an uncompromisingly secular state, in which religious symbols in schools and public buildings were forbidden, and women achieved universal suffrage by 1934.  These days, you’ll see fewer veiled Turkish women than in the average British city centre.

Look below the surface, however, and Turkish life is centred round the extended family, as it has been for centuries.

When they’re 19, Turkish young men go off to do their National Service for two years.  Those from the west serve in the east of the country, and those in the east go west.  What they’re hoping for is a nice post as a jandarm (army police) in a quiet country town, though they’ll lie through their teeth and tell anyone who asks that they were posted to the borders with Syria, Iran or Iraq.  No internet, no mobile phones, no wild social life: it’s not fun, and they count the days till their discharge, aged 22.

Back home, mother has no time to indulge in ‘empty nest syndrome’.  She has her son’s marriage to arrange.  She trawls through likely candidates, looking for a young woman from the same caste, of good family, aged about 17 – 19.  She’ll check out whether the girl can make a decent Turkish coffee and a good pilau rice, and even get the chance to appraise her naked body when they go to the Turkish baths together.  Her son will almost certainly fall in with her choice, and the girl’s family too usually agrees.

Father’s role in all this is to foot the bill for the wedding, which is cripplingly expensive, so he’ll have been saving all his married life.  Average wages in Turkey are low, and after regular bills have been met, don’t allow much slack for buying or building a home complete with fixtures, fittings and furniture, much less a new car.  This is where the wedding comes in.

Wedding gold. (altinka.net)

Wedding gold. (altinka.net)

The guest list for the ceremony will include about 2000 of the couple’s closest friends, of whom about 1,500 will actually come on the day.  And they will bring gold, which they’ll pin to the couple’s clothes.  Nobody will dare to offer a smaller amount than the person in front: social death.    This gold will be transformed into a new home, a car and all the other things the young couple might need.  Now their modest income will be enough for day-to-day life.

After the marriage, the young woman leaves her family behind.  Her new life is with the extended family of her husband.  They will all live together.  We saw whole blocks of flats, maybe 4 storeys high, which our guide assured us were likely to belong to a single family.  People buy from developers or build for themselves: renting is almost unknown.  As are planning regulations.  You can build what you like, where you like, on land that you already own or have acquired.  Surveys of the land are unnecessary, so in this earthquake prone land, many buildings are destroyed by ‘quakes or landslip, or subsidence.

Earning a living is paramount for the men. While communities will be proud of those who make it into the professions, there’s no shame in, for instance, washing cars at a petrol station: it may in fact be more lucrative than say, teaching.  Many families find ways to earn their living together, by running a shop or garage, or by working the land together.  Almost every block of flats in Turkey has shops on the ground floor.  You can be sure the business is being run by the family who lives above.

Traditional Turkish tea house: men only. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Traditional Turkish tea house: men only. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

When not actually working, men retire for the day to a tea shop.  The woman’s domain is the home, all day, and woe betide the man who reports home sick at 2.00 in the afternoon.  The average family has about 5 children, and life expectancy is 61 for men, 67 for women.  This is because health services are rudimentary and expensive.  Most families are dependent on traditional remedies, or failing that, the pharmacy.  A stay in hospital is an unthinkable expense for much of the population.

The family groupings apply to to the very many nomad familiies who still exist in Turkey.  Some families are still entirely nomadic, whilst others have a nomad existence in summer, and return to a more low-lying village in the colder months.  Most rear stock, especially sheep and goats.

A nomad tends his flock outside Bergama.

A nomad tends his flock outside Bergama.

I’m sure Turkish life is changing.  We certainly saw many Turkish women working outside the home.  But walking about the streets in the evening, it was clear that home and family is still central to everyday life here.

This is Efe.

Efe at Miletus

Efe at Miletus

Efe took time out from his job as guardian of a group of nomads and their sheep wintering in the area, to accompany us on our visit to Miletus.  He’s a kangal, and we all immediately took to this handsome, gentle and affectionate dog, one of a breed popular in Turkey for its qualities as a fine guardian of stock.

Like many Turkish dogs and cats, Efe has a home.  But many others do not.  There are hundreds and thousands of animals whose home is the street, and who are on the whole tolerated and even regarded as part of the community.  Don’t imagine that these animals are mangy and sickly, with protruding ribs and rotting yellow teeth.  They’re well fed and healthy.

Turks apparently, when planning a move to a new neighbourhood, will look and see how street dogs are treated.  If they’re friendly and companionable, then that means the neighbourhood too is friendly.  If the dogs are aggressive or fearful than it’s not a good area.  Best not to buy.

Street dogs by the sea at Ayvelik.

Street dogs by the sea at Ayvelik.

These days though, street dogs are a problem, simply by virtue of their huge numbers.  So they are tagged, vaccinated and spayed or neutered to prevent the spread of rabies and other diseases, and to limit their population.

An Ephesus resident attempts to steal the show from our guide.

An Ephesus resident attempts to steal the show from our guide.

We saw cats too wherever we went.  But never so many as at Ephesus, which is rather famous as an unofficial cat sanctuary.  Looking round the site, we once saw 14 at a single glance, and they were quite at home as they lolled on marble pillars and lounged round the library.

Ephesus cats.

Ephesus cats.

These photos of street dogs and cats are among the less expected souvenirs of our trip.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 104 other followers