Sunday, 31 December 2017

Rewilding Myself

I have previously, at length and loudly, said I don't like the New Year celebration. You can read why here. This year however New Year's Eve  finds me coincidentally reflective, not because of the occa
Rocher Vale, Oldham
sion just because I am. 

When I retired people spoke about retirement as a thing: something you go from your job to, something you embark upon. In reality you go from the job that, to a greater or lesser extent, defined you to this vast amorphous expanse of yourself. People tell you that you find yourself busier once retired than you were when working. This is true but I only recently understood why. 

I am a fan of post-industrial countryside. Particularly the landscape that surrounds Oldham: Park Bridge and Rocher Vale are among my favourites. Great swathes of land scarred by the iron works and coal mines that helped forge the Industrial Revolution. These are now once more areas of natural beauty  given over to nature they provide homes for an array of flora and fauna. You can see the great sandstone remains of mills and mines swathed in honeysuckle and ivy; the kingfisher and heron hunt in the river Medlock that was previously too polluted to sustain the fish that feed them.

When I retired I felt that I was giving myself my life back, surrendering it once more to its natural state where life's riches could re-inhabit it. 

Despite my hankering for nature's wildness I find myself however scrambling with the dogs over areas of Rocher Vale where nature truly has taken hold, struggling to make headway where the undergrowth is thick with brambles, and where fallen trees bar the way. After a while the going gets too tough and I seek for a way back to well-trodden paths. In reality we are only happy with so much untamed wilderness, we like a nicely maintained path that allows us to make our way with relative ease while enjoying nature having its way nearby. 

And this is the life-point I find myself at: complaining that my time is not my own, that other things have grown seemingly unchecked into areas that, with hindsight, they are not that welcome. 

So the result of this reflection is that the time is here to start identifying destinations and laying paths to get there. This means - to continue the metaphor- pulling back some of the undergrowth to reclaim some ground, and then to enjoy the wildness where I want it.

Happy new year!  

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Review: Martin Carthy, Band on the Wall.

I wouldn't go to watch Deep Purple last year, nor would I wish to watch the Rolling Stones anytime soon.

 I have the view that music evolves and grows, at least if it is alive and thriving it does. So the thought of seeing older men trying to recreate facsimiles of what they did forty years ago does not appeal. 

Martin Carthy is 75 years old, he has a musical track record of 60 years creativity with landmark examples along the way: his guitar technique, and collaborations like the Imagined Village a few years ago. 

Anyone expecting him to recreate his sparkling finger-dancing form of years gone by may have been disappointed yesterday evening. 

What we were treated to, as Martin stood alone with his two guitars on the Band on the Wall stage, was an entirely honest performance, no not performance, a sharing. 

Carthy demonstrated what age means: not some desperate scrabble to cling onto what our bodies are telling us we should let go of; but an acceptance of ourselves as we are now, and an acknowledgment of our ability to continue to offer something very worthwhile, yet different. 

The songs may have been familiar - that is in the nature of traditional music, many of these songs have been around for centuries - but the delivery was different. Not flashy but steeped in depth and wisdom. 

I find this refreshing. At 75 Carthy isn't the oldest folk singer to be performing. Shirley Collins recently returned to singing after an absence of 30 years. At 80 years Collins released her acclaimed album Lodestar last month, again a voice completely different from that we remember from Lark Rise To Candleford in 1978 yet beautiful nonetheless. 

There is hope for music; both youth and age have a part to play in keeping music alive and live. 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Don't Have Sex with Someone you Can't have a Reasonable Conversation with Beforehand

I must be getting old but I find myself less and less able to keep my mouth shut. I'm turning into my dad who shouts at the telly. This time it's the comments on social media about the Ched Evans case that have got my goat. 

I'm not going to write about the case because there is still a legal process taking place. These comments are about some of the issues that had an airing on Facebook during the furore as Oldham Athletic hummed and hawed about signing the player. 

I have two sons in their twenties, a niece who is eighteen and at university, a niece who is a teenager and a granddaughter who is one year old. My views are about the world they live in and that they are growing up in. 

A great deal has been said about the behaviour of both people in the Evans case. There was a great deal of alcohol involved and also casual sex. This sounds pretty much run of the mill for many many young people. The legal issues in the case are around the ability of someone to give true consent to sex. It is not about whether or not you should have sex with one or more strangers.

The question I pose is this: would you consider it OK for someone to have sex with your teenage daughter who, not unreasonably or unusually, had drunk herself into an almost stupor, on the basis that she seemed 'up for it' and didn't say no? 

I'm guessing the answer would be no. 

Whether someone's vulnerability is temporary and/or self-induced, the fact that they are vulnerable remains, together with their right to not have their vulnerability taken advantage of. I doubt you would think it was OK to have sex with someone who was vulnerable due to mental illness or disability. I hope. 

I guess if I was to have a father-to-son chat about the subject and wanted a pithy one-liner I'd probably say: 

'Don't have sex with someone you can't have a reasonable conversation with beforehand.' 

The Evans case is an important one not because it is high-profile but because of the issues it raises for our young people and the way they live their lives, we should watch with interest and hope that a new morality will emerge as the result. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

My New Year Bread Confession

I don't do New Year, as previous rants will demonstrate, but advancing age is perhaps mellowing me. I do understand the benefit of having a time for taking stock and reflecting. 

So what of my own stock-taking? 

Well, I have a confession: since November I have not only failed to make bread, I have on at least a few occasions bought bread from a supermarket. Moreover I have wasted part-loaves when they have collapsed in heaps of cotton wool crumbs beneath my bread knife, and I have then complained bitterly about it. 

So why this hypocritical bread-buying from the man who rails against the quality and nutritional value of factory made loaves?

In short, I have been guilty of not taking my own advice. Life's events since November meant that our routines were turned upside down and we were left trotting along in their wake trying to keep up. Rather than adapt my breadmaking routine to suit (which is what I tell people is the simple thing to do) I got cross with life and allowed sourdough cultures languish and gave Tesco my hard earned money in exchange for the crap they purport to be bread. 

Getting back to reflection and lines-in-the-sand, last week was mine. I stood staring down at the collapsed remains of a loaf that refused to be sliced owing to the almost complete absence of any gluten structure and proclaimed enough is enough. As a friend of mine likes to say, I gave my head a wobble and got baking. 

So these two small loaves - baked using the simple sponge and dough method - are my way of saying just because you can't bake the best of breads (and sourdough is definitely the best), you can always bake bread that is better than that which you buy in the supermaket. 

And this is also my way of saying, if you do go in for New Year as a time of reflection, give your own head a wobble and make 2015 a good year with great bread in it. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Family Holiday: A Rite of Passage for New Grandparents

When our twin boys were babies we were struggling for money and sanity; so our parents took us for a break  to North Wales. Their parents had done it for them when they needed it. This last week we passed on the same gift and had a week together in a beautiful Welsh cottage.

We are fairly new grandparents with a baby granddaughter and a five-years old grandson who came with his mum into our lives a few years ago.

Since our own sons became adults we've moved on a bit. We like our home when there's only us and the dogs in it. The funny thing is we've never really thought about how they live: that's their world and we only glimpse it when we help out. But being cheek by jowl with each other thrust their lives right in front of us in a way I wasn't quite ready for.

I'm a reasonable man, but how hard is it to move a nappy after you've changed it, or pick up the towels, or wash the baby's used bottle after a feed?

Then there' s breakfast.  I get up early, have a quiet breakfast with a fresh coffee and a read. So at 7.00 am when five-years-old Austin bowls into the kitchen full of fizz that by rights should have taken hours to build up I can be forgiven for it grating a little. Can't I?

'Grandad, do you know?...' He says. There follows a richly detailed description of which Power Ranger is best and why. Then the telly goes on - seriously, at that time in the morning!

Just as my umbrage is gathering steam and I'm building up to a righteously indignant but pointless inner  rant, another voice, one with an accusing tone, whispers unbidden in my ear:

'Have you really forgotten? Can you not remember how glad of the telly you were to occupy the boys when they were little? Can you not remember how grateful you were to your parents for that trip to Wales that you would otherwise not have had? Did you ever wonder how chaotic your own struggles to manage twin babies might have looked to other people?'

I had forgotten some things: how much fun cricket on the beach is, or splashing in the waves, or just listening to the innocence of children's chatter. So at 7.45 am each day I sat and watched Milkshake, and had it all explained to me in great detail. And it was great.
Arriving home at weekend it all seemed very quiet, or was it peaceful? I was exhausted but very happy to have been able to do it, and looking forward to when the grandkids have their next sleepover.  



Tuesday, 10 September 2013


In January 2007 I had my heel removed, realigned and reattached with a Titanium screw. It was encased in plaster and I was left with almost four months to discover what life was like for people who are housebound. My hospitalisation and encarcerationgave me a rich seam of experience that itched for want of someone to share my thoughts with. 

I started this blog and inadvertently, and by increments, became an avid user and consumer of a range of social media. 

Reading back over my posts now is like finding an old diary or sketch book. I smiled at memories of funny and interesting things that populated my life for the years I blogged regularly. Yes, years. My blogging continued well after my recovery, and actually for a while became part of my job. I wrote my boss's blog and advised others on blogging. 

The nature of social media is that it never rests - constantly churning and evolving to meet the changing whims of an audience addicted to easy fixes of information (or does that framing betray my getting older and ever so slightly out-of-touch?). I lost interest in my blog - it took time to craft a piece of writing and seconds to Tweet.

Social media is now an integral part of the communications industry, every business or organisation must be accessible by a range of channels. 

So where does that slick professionalisation leave my little blog? Does it matter that sometimes only half-a-dozen people read what I had written - was it worth all that effort?

Even now, years after I shared my various and sundry experiences, someone living 10 or 10, 000 miles away will occasionally pop a comment on one of my posts to say they had stumbled across it in a Google search and my experience resonated with their own. 

Hooray for the Internet that gives us the freedom to express ourselves, like any heart wrenching, hand written journal entry, yet allows each of us to reach out to, who knows where, and who knows who.

With possibly more time on my hands to come perhaps the time is right to reacquaint myself with Crofty's Blog. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sourdough at the Handmade Bakery

I don't mind admitting I'm a bread geek. Baking bread, for me, is far more than the simple combination of ingredients to form what, on the face of it, is a basic foodstuff

So you will understand why I was looking forward to my course with Dan and Johanna McTiernan at The Handmade Bakery in West Yorkshire. The course set out to dispel the myths that surround sourdough baking and that make it sound so difficult. If you've read my blog before you will know that sourdough is easy.

What I was hoping from the course was more about the pleasure of baking in a commercially run bakery with a really passionate expert. I wasn't disappointed.

Dan and Johanna weave practical baking craft with, what for me, is the heart of bread making, the social challenge of producing sustainable, local food. I couldn't help thinking though that in the case of our course he was preaching to the converted. Most of us arrived at Dan's back door because we already knew that his and Johanna's views resonated with our own. And yes, it was great to be among fellow geeks sharing pleasure in the deck ovens and the baking rotas on the walls, And it was great to ask bread-head questions and not be thought nerdy, but the challenge for all of us who feel this way about bread is to show people who probably would not usually access Dan's excellent courses that good food is a right, not a privilege.

The second challenge is to show people that they can afford really good bread by making it themselves - it's easy. 

I think though that our evangelising about real bread does not help. My colleagues sum it up when they say: 

'Crofty's bread's lovely, but I wish he wouldn't go on about it so much.' 

That then, is the answer. Let the bread do the talking. 

I heartily recommend anyone who is interested in bread to consider a course at The Handmade Bakery with Dan and Johanna - you will not be disappointed. If you do not want to become a bread geek like me, and aren't, for example,interested in where Dan got his ovens (a Greggs bakery, second hand, I loved his comment - 'it was like rescuing a battery hen'), you will come away with armfuls of absolutely delicious bread, and the means to make it for yourself.

Here's what I made. 

I made this!

If you want to know more about real bread and why it is important check the Real Bread Campaign website here.