Archive for October, 2020

yarrow res 6I was a little out of sorts watching the mixed weather today. I both wanted and did not want to go out. Do you ever feel like that? I knew if I didn’t go I’d regret it come tea time. And the forecast for the rest of the week looked even bleaker, so it was today, or not for a long time. Still, the energy, the spirit, the confidence was lacking.

There’s a bit of “C” word fatigue creeping in here, and I have temporarily lost my magnanimity over it. I’d vented some spleen on the blog last time, after reading up on the test and trace fiasco, and for which I apologize now. I know we’re all sick of it, but I’m feeling also an irrational sense of creeping doom.

Six weeks to retirement, after forty-three years, and then he goes and catches it from a door handle, and pops his clogs. I do not want that to be my story, the story my workmates share over a glum pint in the not too distant future and I trust the universe does not have such an unfortunate sense of humour. Maybe we were always going to end up here anyway. I don’t know.

Sure, it’s the black dog. I’ve been expecting him, regular as clockwork, these late October days. But when he comes, robbing me of the will for venturing further afield, I know I can usually coax myself around the Yarrow Reservoir. The little blue car is eager to agree, so off we go. She’ll say anything for a run out.

The best of autumn is a fragile thing. It’s sudden to mature, then gone overnight in a stormy squall. Then the trees are winter-bare, their fingers left clawing the air until spring. I’d say Anglezarke is approaching full colour right now. Another week and it’ll be gone, so I was glad I talked myself into it.

I can sleepwalk this circuit, did it once at dead of night by head-torch for some daft reason. It was probably October again, same black dog, and a certain desperation on my part.

So, here we are again, Parson’s Bullough, Allance Bridge, up Hodge Brow as far as Morrises, then cut along the meadows above the reservoir. The weather is still mixed, some squally rain, some low sun lighting up the rain like silver bullets. There’s a bit of hail too. And maybe it’s something about the scent of leaf mould and mud, but the air is a tonic. Then that hail is a timely slap in the face, telling me to pull myself together, that the earth is alive, and us with it, so wake up or you’ll miss all the fun!

yarrow res 4

We’re still a couple of hours from sunset, but in the squalls the light dips to dusk and the shadows deepen. As I come down to Dean Wood, I see a fox, a fine looking fellow, big and gingery, dodging the showers. He looks wily with his ears all a twitch – white tail-tip bobbing. There are sheep grazing the meadow, none of them paying much attention to me. But as one, they stop their munching and keep a weather eye on old foxy. He pays us no attention, slips like a ghost over the wall and into the dark of the wood – a passing encounter, but the kind of thing you remember long afterwards. Nature opens her door now and then, allows a brief glimpse of her more intimate secrets. It’s a side of the world we can all too easily wipe out without even knowing it’s there.

The last fox I saw was an old vixen. It was dusk, one fine summer’s eve in Eskdale, many years ago. She’d come tiptoeing across the path behind me, thinking I wouldn’t notice. But it was that kind of evening, an electric stillness about it, and I’d felt her in the hairs on the back of my neck, and turned. Both of us froze for a moment, each staring into the other’s eyes. She’d looked hungry, and thin, I thought, tail all a-droop. She was afraid, but only for a split second, then judged me harmless and tiptoed on.

And speaking of foxes, it was this time last year, I saw the hunt, on the road up by Parson’s Bullough. I’d parked up there as is my habit, and was tying on my boots. Then the road was awash with the clippety-clop of horse and the baying of hounds – indeed, a veritable sea of hounds, and frisky too. It’s a colourful tradition, those fine Lords and Ladies, or at least their latter-day equivalent – on the trail of blood. I judge public opinion is mostly set agin ’em these days, but they’re hanging on to their pinks in spite of that, waiting for a change in the law. They were pleasant enough in passing, the master-of-hounds even tipping his shiny horn to the neb of his hat in salute. To scruffy old me. Imagine? But a frisky pack, blood-lusted, has been known to tear a man’s ear off in their enthusiasm, and I was glad when they’d gone. It is of course illegal to hunt foxes in England now, but it doesn’t stop the creatures from occasionally being torn to shreds by accident.

yarrow re 5

More rain, more hail on the return leg, then a sudden drying and a brilliant, if transient, sun. It slants low through the gold and copper-hung canopy like a revelation. The little roads hereabouts are buckling for want of repair. They’re puddled deep and slick with wet, gleaming now in a passing strobe of light, strewn here and there with mud and fallen branches churned to mulch.

A generous amount of rain these preceding weeks has topped up the reservoirs to bursting, so the spillway of the Yarrow is all a-roar. It’s a small river, the Yarrow. Once released from the reservoir, and twelve miles downstream, it runs not a few hundred yards by my house. How long for that white water leaping the spillway right now to make it all the way by my door? Days, is it? Weeks? Months? Play Pooh-Sticks with it, shall we?  I toss that imaginary stick into waters, black as stout. The small blue car is waiting, turn the key,… sounds eager for the challenge.

Read Full Post »

on pendle hill

Pendle Hill December 2019


My novel-to-be “Winter on the Hill” isn’t about Coronavirus. But then, like all other aspects of life, the virus hijacked it early on and, since then, it has become both backdrop and the occasional plot device.

Our protagonist, Rick (followers of this blog will have met him before) is a former left-wing activist and climate protester. But he gave all that stuff up on the night of the December 2019 election when the Conservative party and “market forces” swept to power. He took a look at his country then and decided he didn’t understand it any more, that while he felt he wasn’t wrong in his lefty, middling-socialist beliefs, he was indeed very much misguided in thinking he could ever change anything. So he joined a walking group and, Covid regs permitting, he’s been climbing hills all year. At first, he was angry and scathing about his fellow countrymen for being so damned irredeemably stupid, but as the story progresses, he experiences a strange mellowing when a deeper truth is revealed.

Meanwhile, the pandemic pulls the mask from the Government, exposing an avaricious face familiar enough to those who have been round the block a bit. Self-seeking, complacent, incompetent, contemptuous of the poor, fanatical only about BREXIT. They have presided over sixty thousand dead – official figures – and now seven months in, the death-rate is doubling again every two weeks.
None of this is a surprise to Rick but, in spite of the urging of his former activist colleagues, he’s too philosophical now to indulge in partisan argument, let alone direct action. Instead, he’s meditating on the nature of “truth”, and how, in a world obscured by untruths, it might be possible to live the authentic life. Or is that just for the monks, while the rest of us must construct whatever comforting false reality we can while at the same time drowning in poo?
There’s nothing truer than boots on a hill, he says. Everything is down to you – the energy, the route, the hill-craft, your eye on the weather. That’s what’ll get you up and down in one piece, not bluff and bluster. But will Rick, in his new-found mellowness, ever return to the political life? Will he return a wiser man, a man with a plan, something that will put it all right for the rest of us? Or will he let the clouds take him, and then his compassionate wisdom becomes lost to us? Has he already decided that in a world dominated by billionaire froth and spin, ever ready to smear him as a crazy-left-Marxist-Commie dooda who eats babies, does it matter what the earnest men and women of Rick’s ilk say anyway?
Let’s remind ourselves of the problem by asking a man who knows, someone very much like Rick, but who hasn’t turned away from the front lines:
I agree with George, but I would add one more thing, and perhaps not surprisingly it’s something Rick might say too. It’s gone wrong because not enough of us care about, or understand enough of what it is George is saying. We are so far down the rabbit hole, all his words can do is further polarize us – those on the left nodding in agreement, while those on the right gather their spittle. And that may be why Rick is tying on his boots and heading up into the clouds again. Election 2024? Forget it, he says. For the things that really matter, environmentally and socially, it was already too late ten years ago.
No, come on Rick. That’s not good enough. We want answers.
No you don’t, he says. All you want to know is how you can go on living a comfortable lie without the uncomfortable consequences catching up with  you.
And there, I think, after several rewrites and dunderheaded attempts, I have the closing lines, of Winter on the Hill – available from all good bookshops nowhere soon, but otherwise free. Just watch for the link in the margin.
I thank you.

Read Full Post »

winter hillTier three Covid restrictions, now – what do they mean to me? Nothing more than I seem to have been living with for most of the year, except for a brief respite in the summer when the brakes came off. But now, with the death-rate creeping up again, things look set for the foreseeable, while not ruling out the possibility of a handbrake turn. No bother. I’ve a weeks’ leave in front of me, but it’s also half-term, so I’d not be travelling out much anyway – kids and congestion and all that – though I would have liked another trip to the Dales, before we see the year out. Unlikely now, I know. Still we make do.

After a morning of torrential rain, the skies cheered up, so the small blue car and I made the short hop from the bleakly hopeless flat of the Lancashire plain – in various stages of unprecedented flood now – to the moody Western Pennines. Here, we parked up by Parson’s Bullough. There were times in the summer when you couldn’t squeeze a car in here, those long, hot, Covid days and nights, but, tier three or not, things seem to have drifted back to normal, everyone either at work by day or cramming the boozers by night.

I’m out with the camera today, looking for some magic, looking for the faery, in a sense – though not literally, of course. By the camera, I mean “the camera”, an APS-C format Nikon DSLR with a medium zoom, which makes for a serious carry, and which also means it gets left behind more often than not. But it also offers the maximum in photographic potential, given the prevailing light today, and the landscape.

Odd, I’m seven weeks out from retirement now and wondering if this’ll constitute my new routine – you know? Lie in a bit with coffee and a book, then early lunch, and out with the camera, unless I’m travelling further afield – Covid permitting? If so, it’s something to be looking forward to, and I can scarcely believe it’s within grasp. I’ve been digging this tunnel for forty-three years and I’d hate for it to collapse on me at this point. Thus I approach with caution.

Anyway, leaving the car behind, I slip up the hill by Parson’s Bullough, already with a bothersome tail. It’s a couple of off-duty coppers. I can tell from their conversation – an over-loud recounting of a recent, dramatic massed arrest and drugs-bust one of them had the pleasure of participating in. There was much bravado and mimicking the accents of the bad-guys. I sat down to let them pass. Much as I respect our boys and girls in blue, they were disturbing of the peace within a quarter mile radius, to say nothing of being indiscrete.

winter hill treeThere are a couple of trees I admire here, very photogenic, I think. I try a few shots, but the sun is shy and the light is flat. I have better luck with a shot of Winter Hill, the light hitting it just right of a sudden. There are ugly transmitter masts on Winter Hill which should ruin the shot, but they’ve been there for ever now, and we’d probably complain if they were ever pulled down.

Then I’m skirting the top of Lead Mine’s Clough, where I encounter a proper photographer with the same camera as mine, but his is set up on a tripod, and the long zoom is pointing at me as I approach. Am I his human interest within the landscape, I wonder? What with himself and the tripod, he’s blocking the path, and he only steps aside as an after-thought.

“Hope I didn’t spoil your shot,” I tell him.

He mumbles something incoherent in reply, refuses eye contact. He’s not a conversationalist, and neither am I, really, so I leave him to it.

I’ve not been out with a tripod for years – can’t be bothered with them any more. I recall I once carried a sturdy old Cullman on many a hike in the Lakes, but I was in my twenties then and pack-weight wasn’t a thing. I still have some of those shots, crisp black and whites from an Olympus OM10. Sadly, that gem of a camera was stolen from my car, but they left the Cullman behind. I still miss that OM10.

With a tripod you set up camp in a particular spot, and you wait on the light. It’s like fishing, I suppose. It slows the whole process of photography down, makes you more mindful, and of course that tripod grants you extra crispness if you’re shooting in poor light, and with a slow lens, or you’re fiddling about with high dynamic range stuff. Myself though, I prefer to shoot on the fly, otherwise it slows the walk down too much, interrupts the perambulating meditation. Plus of course, if it’s the faery you’re after, they never come out if you’re waiting for them. You only ever glimpse them in passing, and out the corner of your eye. Modern lenses usually come with image stabilization now anyway, and that lets you get away with a lot you couldn’t have imagined twenty years ago. So, tripod? No thanks.

2ZSctI0EIt’s a familiar circuit, this one, Parson’s Bullough and Lead Mine’s Clough, a little detached from the more popular West Pennine routes, but packed with interest and, even after a lifetime, it has not exhausted all its photographic possibilities for me. There’s  always something different, a different light, a different mood. I manage around thirty-six shots, the length of an old 35mm roll, then cull them when I’m home to just three that are worth a second look. Sometimes the camera sees more than you do. Sometimes it doesn’t see what you see, and that can be frustrating, but it gifts you the unexpected, which is one of the rewards of photography for me.

Coming back down through the autumnal-shaded vale, I overtake an old guy and his lady. He’s got the stiffness of gait of a man in his eighties who is contemptuous of his years, and would rather die on a hill than slumped in front of the telly. I note good-quality boots, and mountain jackets. They are veterans of the high places, this pair. It’s in their weather-worn faces and in their eyes. And it’s in their smile as we greet in passing. God willing I’ll be that guy in another twenty years, aching hips perhaps, stiff knees, fragile back, and whatever passes for the latest in amateur photographic technology slung across my back.

But definitely no tripod.

It had begun a dour, wet day, but as I return to the little blue car, the sun is slanting through autumn gold, and glittering from the surface of the Yarrow Reservoir. In company with many, my horizons have been somewhat narrowed this year, but when you can’t see far, the rewards are to be found more in the details of what’s under your nose.

Keep well.

Read Full Post »


moss1I’m struggling with my reading at the moment – a couple of difficult books on the go. One of them is Erich Neumann’s Origins and History of Consciousness. The other is Bernado Kastrup’s Decoding Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics. The Neumann is from 1949, a distillation of Jungian thinking on the nature of the unconscious. The Kastrup is a recently published book that revisits the eighteenth century idealist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

Reading books like this, way beyond my intellect, I accept I’ll only grasp them dimly and in the hope the effort goes some way towards expanding the mind, even a bit. But their greater impact is on the imagination, where even imperfectly grasped imagery can take on a life of its own, dance with images gleaned from elsewhere, and in ways the authors never intended. And there are some startling images in those books.

It’s thus, stumbling through other books, I’ve gleaned bits of metaphysical ideas over the years, and begun assembling a story that’s making sense in layman’s terms – if not in its details, then in its broad generalities. But sometimes I wonder if I’m mistaken, not so much in the truth of these matters – though there is always that of course. It’s more the question of embarking upon such a quest in the first place. Is my head, in fact, pointing in the wrong direction?

When we speak of metaphysics we’re talking about the origins and the inner workings of the universe, also its reflection in the structure and the flow of the human mind. It’s unlikely you’ll get any of this if you’re a materialist, and view the universe as comprising purely material stuff that was big-banged out of nothing. There is another view though – the idealist view – that there is no material, that what we experience in the world is a result of our being conscious within a greater consciousness, a consciousness that sets the stage, and the rules we play by.

If materialism is true, then fair enough, the game is up, life is absurdly pointless, and we’re all doomed. But with idealism, everything is still to play for, and the possibilities worth exploring. I used to be a materialist – as an engineer you more or less have to be – but that stopped making sense for me a while ago. Idealism may be wrong but it’s much more fertile ground for the imagination.

It was once intimated to me that we already know the true nature of things, but we’ve forgotten them as a precondition of being born. At some point though, when we fall asleep for good, we’ll go: “Oh yea, I remember now!” I say it was “intimated”, and the realization did feel very real at the time, but of course I’ve forgotten it all again now. However, the point is, why spend decades of your life banging away at this stuff, when you’ll be gifted it all back in crystal clarity anyway? And if such talk is nonsense – as it may well be – then it doesn’t matter either way, does it? So why the imperative to probe the metaphysical? And if it was so terribly important for us to know – I mean to help us all get along in the world – we’d be born with a greater sense of it than we have, wouldn’t we?

I don’t know. Would we? Do we, actually? Are those haunting aspects of existence, things like love and beauty, not metaphysical intimations? And what about dreams?

Are you still with me?

What I mean is, pursuing the metaphysical can be like scaling a waterfall when it’s in spate. The general flow of being is in the other direction, and perhaps we’d do better to flow with it. Maybe it’s a reaction to the chaos of a world gone mad that we’d even bother trying. Maybe it’s one’s apparent inability to effect much change or understanding of things that we want to escape from the madness. So we seek to resist the flow of life, which seems permanently bound for disaster, and swim back upstream to rest in the formless, as far away from ground zero as we can manage.

But then the chaos we see in the human world is a result of those same intrinsic energies that give vent to life. Left to itself, the natural world will thrive on those energies. It will be red in tooth and claw, and endlessly self consuming, but it will not be self-reflective. It will be ignorant of its own beauty, and that strikes me as a gap worth filling.

Self reflection is an imperfect instrument though, and comes with risks. It can distort how we see the world. Sit that on top of largely simian instincts and you can see how easily we land ourselves in trouble. If we are not to destroy ourselves, we need to wise up! But what can one do if the route to wisdom is so difficult, and only the Neumanns and the Kastrups can attempt an understanding of it, for are they not too few to form a critical mass? Must the rest of us wait for a divine transformation to enlighten us?

Imagine, jealousy, greed, hate and the evil that is lifestyle blogging, all gone in an instant. Imagine, enlightenment as instinctive as the knowledge never to wear brown shoes with blue trousers, enlightenment that we can look back upon our history with equanimity and wonder how there could once ever have been a people so benighted.

There are those in the human development movement who believe such a thing will happen, but this sounds more to me like the second coming of the Christians, a thing I suspect should be interpreted in terms rather less than literal. In other words, I’m not holding my breath. I’m reminded that in the Daoist way of thinking, mankind stands with one foot in the world, the other in the heavens. Some of us are more inclined one way or the other, but the important thing is to find a balance. Which means,…

It’s time to set the Neumann and the Kastrup aside for a bit. Instead, I’m picking up Le Carre’s “Agent running in the field“, and, delight of delights, I am to spend a week, holed up in tier three isolation, with no interruptions, and Niall Williams’ “This is Happiness.”

Let it rain!

[Unless you’ve got plans, then let it shine]

Graeme out.

Read Full Post »


The Ouroboros

With a majority of people in Lancashire County supportive of a severe “circuit breaker” shutdown to protect us against this second wave of Covid, and a majority of our local members of parliament opposing it, we are left wondering at their strategy, also – it has to be said – the common sense of those still cramming the boozers. But this piece has nothing to do with Covid, and only peripherally to do with politics. What it has to do with mainly, is the National Health Service and the determination of its professionals to keep going when everything is stacked against them. And it has to do with my work in progress, “Winter on the Hill”.

We’re nearing the end of that story now, perhaps both stories, and the protagonist, Rick, is looking for his punch-line. Where did he begin? What has he learned, and how has he changed? As a Lefty activist, he struggled with the scale of the rout in last year’s election (was it really only last year?), that is until he met Big Al and rediscovered the transcendent perspective attainable only from walking up a hill, and making love to a lusty woman. Suddenly he’s not political any more. He’s shed it like and old skin.

There, amid the mists and the snows and the winds, in the company of a crusty old walking group, he’s buried his anger, geared up and chilled out. Thereafter, he has followed the remarkable shenanigans of the UK response to the pandemic with bemusement. He has shrugged, tied on his boots and gone up another hill. He hasn’t once said “I told you so” or “you can’t run a country on lies and bluster” or “doesn’t surprise me in the least.” Rick has other things on his mind – and not just Big Al. He has become, dare I say,… philosophical? I’m not saying he doesn’t care any more, just that he’s not angry.

The moral I’m groping for I suppose, through Rick, is there’s a season for the political Left, but this isn’t it. That boat has definitely sailed. This is winter on the hill and there’s not a lot they can do about it. Anyone seriously of the left, like Rick, isn’t going to come anywhere near influencing policy for a very long time, so he might as well assume the transcendent perspective, enjoy his hills, to say nothing of the ample pleasures of Big Al, and stay the hell out of it.

Except, as I was coming to this conclusion on Monday night, tapping towards it on the keyboard, I experienced a firework display. It wasn’t a real one – more a display of lights in my eyes that would have been impressive had it not been so worrying, and no it was nothing to do with a revelation regarding the direction of the story. The lights went on all evening, and in the morning I woke to a fat black spot in my vision. Worst case scenario, a detached retina.

So I went to my local A+E department at Chorley in state of panic and dejection. But I’d forgotten how, after a long and plucky struggle, Chorley lost its A+E department earlier this year. I remembered too late those protesters stood out in all weathers with their “Save our A+E” and “honk if you agree” signs. And even though I’d honked in enthusiastic support every morning on my way to work the trust in charge shut it anyway. Clearly it takes more than honking horns to save our NHS. It takes people like Rick.

I was familiar with Chorley A+E, and grateful when on a number of occasions it had variously glued the heads and reinserted the teeth of my children. And now here I am in need of expert advice myself, and it’s,.. well,… not there any more. It’s been replaced by an urgent care centre where you can walk in, and they’ll sort out what they can, but they’re short on specialized departments they can wheel you off to – like an eye clinic for example. For that you have to drive another forty minutes in heavy traffic to the other side of Preston.

So, I felt like a fool, but the staff at Chorley were lovely, welcomed me into their bosom. The doctor who saw me was a pleasant softly spoken guy, and after telling me there wasn’t much they could do, he contacted the Preston eye clinic, who rang me straight back and told me to get down to my local Specsavers pronto for an examination. Specsavers?

So, then I’m in Specsavers, and the girl’s dilating my pupil and peering inside, and after a lot of reassurances she gives it a name – Posterior Vitrious Detatchment. This is common in speccy-four-eyes like me – especially ageing ones – though she was far too nice to say “ageing”. Downside, yes, I’ve got a new and quite prominent and permanent floater in my eye to make friends with, but the upside is it’s not a detached retina, which would have been bad. Really, really bad.

These reassurances come to me thanks to a highly trained and professional expertise, which struggled a bit with cutbacks but still formed a robust network of competent and respectful support, all of which cost me absolutely nothing – well except for a small contribution from my earnings every month, so every single one of us in the UK can benefit from that same scientifically based, high standard of medical care – albeit somewhat stretched right now. Yes, Specsavers is a private company, but the NHS footed the bill.

In America, politicians of the right denigrate this kind of thing. They call it “Socialized Medicine”, Socialized being a word not that far removed from “Socialism” which, to them, is as near as makes no difference to actual – you know – whisper the word: “Communism”, which places you in the Gulag. So don’t mention socialized medicine, right? but make sure you have your credit card on you at all times in case you’re caught up in a medical emergency and need some competent help.

So, my message to Rick now, up there on his hill, still trying to see above the fray and refusing to swear at the TV news any more, is I’m no longer of a mind to let him have his peace and quiet. Instead, I want to tell him look mate, I understand you had a kicking last year, and you’ve lost your mojo, but we need you back. Chorley wants its A+E. But I’ve a feeling the great British public, ever ready to vote against their interests, won’t even notice the NHS has gone until the ambulance man turns up with a credit card reader and tells you, while you’re lying there with your leg hanging off, to swipe before he’ll allow you on board. And by then it’s too late.

I don’t remember the names of all those who helped me out this week, but I thank every one of you. As for the future of our NHS, well, we can all see where it’s going and it’s not looking good, but I tell you what,… I’ll hike up there into the mists and have a word with Rick, see what he can do. But I warn you, he’s not really in the mood right now.

Graeme out.

[Header Pic? Sorry, you’ll have to read the story. But don’t worry,  just like the NHS, it won’t cost you anything.]

Read Full Post »

The road from lamghom avenue new cover - smallIt was a time of strangeness, one in which curious alliances were formed. People you normally steered clear of suddenly appeared in a new light. The section leader, Stavros, was one of them – a bombastic middle manager, suddenly, and to his dismay, charged with potting the lot of us. Fred Arbuckle was another, a bluntly spoken, pipe smoking detail-draughtsman with forty odd years of service. This was a man who had become painfully obsolete since they’d chucked his drawing board away and replaced it with a computer workstation, a device he struggled manfully and daily to master.

He’d been eavesdropping on my conversation with Stavros, hovering in the background as if he’d something to say that would have to wait until Stavros was out of range. I caught him looking over my shoulder later on.

“What’s up then Mike?” he said.

“Not much, Fred.”

“On lifeboat duty for old brown nose are you?”

“Stavros? Oh, he’s all right – there’s no real harm in him.”

“Suppose not – or he’d have made it to the boardroom years ago, eh? “

“So what can I do for you, Fred? “

“Well, me and a couple of lads, we’re planning a raid at dinner time – you with us?”

“A raid?”

“Sneakin in ‘t shed.”

The shed was a vast factory complex across the road from the office. It had served as Derby’s centre for production since 1910, but had lain empty since the early nineties and was now fenced off, pending demolition. And from what we’d just been told the offices were about to follow not long after.

“What do you want to go in there for?”

“One last look around. A bit of nostalgia, like.”

“Gets you nowhere, nostalgia. Nostalgia is useless.”

He shrugged as if to say it was okay, that it didn’t matter, but I had the feeling he’d been relying on me and I’d let him down. And anyway, who was I to talk, dredging up the past as I’d been doing?

“Go on then. Give me a nudge when you’re ready.”

Fred was in his sixties now. He’d walked to Derby’s every day since he was sixteen, a journey of a couple of miles, rain or shine. So far as anyone could work out he’d never had a day off sick and never had a holiday longer than a week at a time. The routine of work was the backbone of his life, and a few jokers in the office reckoned he’d be dead within six months of the place closing.

It was when walking past the shed he’d spotted a gap in the mesh fence where he told me a bloke could probably wriggle though without too much indignity. It was also off the main road and out of sight of the security cameras. At the appointed hour, I followed him through this gap. There was no one else. They’d all chickened out, he said, though I suspect now he hadn’t actually asked anyone else. The main entrance was securely boarded, but we remembered a door around the back which led onto the machine shop via a dingy cellar. It was locked but, with alarming expertise, Fred drew a crowbar out from under his overcoat and had it open in seconds.

There was light enough to see inside, though the windows were grimy and hung with cobwebs. There were workbenches and papers scattered everywhere, but amid the chaos of dereliction there lay curious islands of order. By the wall, a kettle was plugged into a socket, and a little ring of expectant mugs sat there, having waited all these years for someone brew up, not realizing the power had been cut and humans made extinct.

Fred seemed not to notice the poetry of it, and we pressed on, groping in the half light until we came out onto the machine shop. It was empty, all the decent machines having been shipped out and sold, the knackered ones dragged off screaming to the scrap man. All that remained now was a vast, echoing cavern of a place. Fred seemed to be looking for something, some specific location as he paced intensely around the oil-stained floor.

“Here,” he said, and then he handed me a camera. “Take us me picture, will ‘t?”


“Right here! I worked on a turret-lathe on this spot for twenty years. It was the first job I had when I came out me time.”

I looked around. Part of the roof had caved in and the place was hollow and cold. It felt like we were standing in the remains of a dinosaur, but Fred was seeing something else, feeling something else. It was the noise, the sense of something going on, a powerhouse, hot machines, hot metal. I remembered it too. It had been ugly and dirty, and a frightening place for a teenager, but I could not deny I’d also felt a tremendous sense of involvement in something big, something important.

I took his picture while he posed – an heroic pose, I thought, one foot up on a bucket like he’d just shot a lion. Then I laughed. “Fred in his shed, eh?”

On the way out I asked him for the camera again and I took a picture of the kettle with its cups. I expected some manly abuse, but he just waited.

“Things move on, eh Mike?”

Did they, I wondered? Was it a process of moving on, or merely one of falling apart, like in nature, a process of flowering, followed by inevitable decay? It was a kind of moving on, I suppose. But knowing that that didn’t help when you realized you were living the end game. I looked at him and I sensed he was afraid. We both were.

We build a shell around us as we grow, the older we are the thicker the shell, but deep inside, we’re all the same, all of us still children blinking wide-eyed at the world and wanting someone to take us by the hand, someone who will show us the way and tell us what it’s all about.

“You’ll be all right with your redundancy, Fred. Forty years! You’ll be a millionaire. I’ve another twenty-five to work,… somewhere.”

He laughed. “That’s right,” he said. “A fuckin’ millionaire.” But his voice rang hollow.

We’re never aware of living through change – only later, when we look back. But suddenly then, I glimpsed the enormity of the change sweeping the likes of me and Fred along, a great tidal wave. Me? I had a chance. I’d find other work, once I got my head around whatever was haunting me. But Fred? At sixty, you might say it shouldn’t have made much difference to him. You might also say he was overdue a rest and retirement to his cabbage patch. But not all the Fred’s have cabbage patches. They have routines. They have walks to work, and the company of other men.

A snippet from my story, The Road from Langholm Avenue. Get it free from Smashwords.

Read Full Post »