Archive for July, 2022

The Stocks Reservoir

I play back the dashcam footage of the hill climb from Waddington, up the fell, past the ancient Walloper Well. For a time, all you can see is the road in front of you, but then it opens out, and the Forest of Bowland is arrayed like a revelation of paradise. There should be music. Vaugh Williams’ – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis would be perfect.

But the disjoint between the all seeing mind’s eye, and that cold, wide-lensed, dashcam evidence, is too great. The hills look distant and underwhelming. I made a movie of it anyway and posted it with some bouncy music that isn’t exactly Vaughn Williams. You have to drive it, really. There’s no other way to appreciate it. If you imagine it, you’ll be closer to the reality. Imagine it in a little blue car, with the top down, and the sky and light, and the scent of the moor, and the sound of birds, and you’ll be closer still.

This is one of the most beautiful roads. It takes you from the roaring ribbon of the Liverpool to York A59, and leads you through some of Lancashire’s most remote and beautiful places. Today it takes us through the still relatively thriving little town of Clitheroe, over the fell, to the Gisburn Forest, and finally the Stock’s reservoir.

Unlike the car, I’m not firing on all cylinders. I’ve had mild stomach cramps for days, also a lack of energy that’s had me nodding off in the afternoons. I’m negative for Covid, which is a plus, but whatever kind of bug it is doesn’t help. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come out but, even when you’re retired, you find some days are taken up by routine, and then you’re watching the weather forecast for the best day. It was today, or put it off until next week, and next week I have other walks planned. So here we are.

The plan is for a simple circuit of the Stocks Reservoir. It’s a popular route. The forest is also a favourite destination for cyclists, there being a multiplicity of trails here, and I did wonder if we’d struggle to park, but we arrive late morning, and all is quiet. I’ve only been able to scrape together sufficient coin for one ticket machine, which is disappointing, as I’d also wanted to park in Slaidburn, later, on the way back, for coffee. We’re in luck, though, the ticket machine here is broken. Coffee is definitely on.

Stocks Reservoir July 2022

That said, it’s not the best of days for visiting. Reservoirs are attractive when they’re swelled up with winter rains, and fully reflective of the light, but by late summer most of that has gone, and you’re left with an ugly tide line, and threats of hose-pipe bans. Judging by how low the Stocks is today, we’re not far from rationing. This is my first time in the Gisburn forest and I have the sense of having missed out. I’ll be back in the autumn, when colours will be awesome.

So, we set the route on the GPS app, and while I’m fiddling with it, Google sends me a message wanting to back up more of my phone to “the cloud”. It assures me it’s doing me a favour, that it makes things easier when you change your phone, which is true, but I’m not stupid. I give it permission anyway. They snoop on our stuff, whether we like it or not.

We don’t actually need the aid of any fancy navigation tools here. The route is well-marked, along good paths, right from the car-park, so there’s little chance of going astray. Summer is in full flush and bursting with fruit. There are wild raspberries growing in profusion, which slows progress with a little foraging by my companion for the day: number two son. I’m mindful of my naggy stomach, and manage to exercise restraint, though he declares them mouthwatering.

My head is already swimming with the heat, and the humidity. Cloud cover is more or less total, and slow moving, but with dramatic texture, and colour variation. The fells around are rendered flat and green, just the occasional pool of soft light to brighten them. There is no air. Every shot I take with the camera is off somehow. Better just plod my way round while thinking of coffee in Slaidburn, and trying not to think how empty the reservoir is.

It’s tempting to read the emptiness in a metaphorical way, possibly encouraged by my spirits, which are flattened by this bug. A broad splash of sparkling water would certainly add an attractive focus for the day. But everything about it speaks of something tired and drained. The bits of shore we can get near to, are parched, dusty and post apocalyptic. We could pile the metaphors on and say the surrounding fells are timeless, beautiful, the light ethereal, while the reservoir, man-made, is wanting and reflective of the parlous state of Albion’s future. But that’s nihilism, and if I were feeling any better, I’d say we’re all doing our best under trying circumstances, though without competent leadership. It’s possible to still be positive, but requires taking a complex position, one somewhat removed.

In the I Ching or Book of Changes, there’s a hexagram which has the image of a lake, and clouds rising over it, and it says: “the clouds rise, but no rain falls”. It’s about anticipation, and waiting on the rains, waiting for deliverance. In the meantime, there’s nothing you can do. It’s all in the hands of the gods, and we do better to spend time improving ourselves, than beating our chests over what we think is lacking in the external world.

And for me, the biggest lack is energy. At over seven miles for the circuit, I find it a long walk, and I’m very glad to return to the car. Then it’s a short drive, back to Slaidburn for coffee. Slaidburn is one of my happy places. I’d bring the kids here when they were little, and we’d picnic on the green, feed the ducks. Number two son remembers it, but vaguely. To me, it’s clear as yesterday.

We park next to a newer model of the little blue car, and admire its lines. A lady sitting out by the green with coffee says the car is hers, and how she used to have one just like mine, and how much she loved it, but it rotted away, so she got a new one. I’ve had lots of conversations like that over the years, with fellow enthusiasts, though the thought of mine rotting away does not improve my lack of spirits, having just spent a fortune on doing her up, and thinking she was looking pretty good.

Though I’m still tired and off-song, I sense something of a blessing in the afternoon, as I sit out under a now glowering sky. A deep English summer, gloomy holiday weather,… a sense of peace, a sense of anticipation too, perhaps, as the other clientele of the little café chat quietly. One man has come off the M6 at Lancaster and is working his way slowly through Bowland, looking to rejoin the M6 at the Tickled Trout. There was heavy traffic, and hold-ups, he said, and though he’d probably have been quicker sticking to the motorway, he wouldn’t be the first to have taken a detour through Bowland and arrived home late, but all the better for it.

There’s a hint of fine drizzle now, a faint but blessed cooling. There’s a movement of air, a sense of ease, and the coffee tastes like heaven. The lady with the car is moving off, and we return her parting wave. Nice car that. New fangled, of course, and I prefer the spartan technology of my own. I’m glad I did the walk, added it to the map in my head, the one Google doesn’t get to see, but if there’s a moment that drew me into the day, and made it worth the setting out, it’s this right now, sitting by the river, with coffee.

It’s coming up on worker’s home-time, and the roads are busy from Clitheroe. I’m thinking I do well to drive such an old car that’s still reliable enough to get me about, that the arm and a leg I spent on her bodywork was worth it. Then, as if to check my pride, we go hard into a roundabout and there’s a howl from the front nearside wheel. I’ve no idea what that is. It’s a wheel bearing maybe, or something wobbly with the disks. She likes to keep me on my toes, and the garage guessing. Looks like I’ll be leaving her at home next week, while I explore that one.

I’ll leave you with Vaughn Williams. He sums up the day, and all without a single word.

Thanks for listening.

Read Full Post »

Do I see only a reflection here
Of my own place in time?
Is it impenetrable,
And mirror to my whims?
Or is it a portal, a way through
To something new,
Beyond these bland, trinket-hung walls
Of an already blurred understanding?

Can I render myself small enough,
Do you think?
Atom small, let’s say,
And squeeze through?
Or might I only observe from here,
Anchored in this half seen corner
Of the world?

How can I discern the truth?
Test the evidence of my eyes?
Can I reach out,
Attempt a crossing to that other place
At risk of smeary fingerprints,
Marks of bruised rebuff upon the glass,
Witness then I could not pass,
And skittered back to grey?

Better to pretend I see nothing.
Feel nothing,
And thus guarantee,
I do nothing to offend.

Originally published as “Doing nothing to offend” at Visual Verse.

Read Full Post »

Blogging on Substack

WordPress is, and will remain, the home of the Rivendale Review for the foreseeable future. I’ve been writing here since 2008 and, though there has been a marked drop-off in footfall in recent years, it remains the place where the conversations continue to be had. I also recognise the fall off may, in part, be my own fault. Blogging, like any other conversation, is a reciprocal arrangement. If you sit mute in a corner, and do not seek others with whom to converse, you’re hardly likely to attract a wide circle that is both interesting and interested. And I have always been poor at seeking out fresh connections, mainly on account of my introverted and somewhat reticent nature, which has grown, if anything, even less gregarious as I have aged.

But if one cannot say precisely why one writes, blogs, makes up stories, or writes poems, the conversations, and the connections with other writers and readers, have been an unexpected reward, one that not only explains the attraction of personal blogging, but also the reason I think for its persistence, in spite of all reports of its demise. So, for my part, I shall be seeking to explore the vast universe of WordPress a little more, as I am sure there is much to discover. But, as independent writers and authors, we should always be open to new avenues, in case the old ones suddenly become dead ends. And to this end I’ve also been taking a look at a platform called Substack.

As I understand it, the original premise of Substack was something akin to a mailing list. You had a number of subscribers, signed up by email, and you sent your musings directly to them. Unlike other platforms, Substack didn’t own your hard-earned subscribers. You did, and you could take them with you, if you wanted to skip to another platform, or you could bring them with you from somewhere else – from WordPress, for example. You could also introduce paid subscriptions, if you thought your work was worthy of being monetised. I always felt this was unlikely in the case of an unknown scribe, but for established, or big name authors, like Salman Rushdie, for example – who currently uses Substack to post short fiction – it was a way of connecting more directly with readers. But, while Mr Rushdie might easily attract a paying audience, the Rivendale Review has never been in that category, so I’ve always thought of Substack as a bit niche.

That said, while the mailing list model still exists, I notice the platform also offers what is basically a blog, somewhat simpler in layout to WordPress, though the editor does have similarities. On the downside, options for dressing up and personalising one’s blog with a wide variety of themes and headers is limited, indeed the overall impression is rather Spartan. But on the upside, there are no adverts – even in the free version. There’s no limit on the number of photographs you can upload, and, as yet, the platform does not appear to serve the interests of a mainly commercially orientated, marketing community. Rather, it serves the interests of writers.

But the main thing of interest to any writer is footfall. How good is the platform at bringing your musings to the notice of potential readers? If no one is reading you, you might as well keep your stuff on the hard drive.

In my early days with WordPress, it took years to gain any sort of traction, even when going out of my way to butt into conversations that were nothing to do with me. Indeed, when I trawl back through the archives, here, there are things I wrote in 2008 and 2009 that didn’t garner a single view. Not so with Substack. After half an hour of fiddling around, I put up a much slimmed down version of the Rivendale Review, with a single post and, within twenty-four hours, it had been viewed sixteen times. That was unexpected for a blog that didn’t exist the day before. The same piece on WordPress, a blog that’s been going for nearly a quarter of a century, topped out at fifteen. That said, a second piece I put up garnered only four views, but that’s four more than I was expecting.

Of course, it’s not all about the views, because not all views result in reads. And Substack – admittedly very early days – has yet to solicit a conversation, or a subscriber, which one might expect to equate to an interested reader. Meanwhile, WordPress has kept me entertained with commentary, and conversation most days now for as long as I can remember. In that respect then, Substack has yet to deliver, so this post is more to mark the start of a journey rather than the end of one. The little Substack offshoot of the Rivendale Review, may lead somewhere else, or it may not. Perhaps I should call it something else, and write from a different side of me?

Speaking of journeys, my online journey began with a personal blog, hosted by the now defunct Madasafish in 1998, yet fragments of which persist, though its dues have not been collected in a decade. It seems there is a momentum to cyberspace, in which not all things disappear, when the plug is pulled. It’s the same with the name “Rivendale Review”. I can’t remember why I called it that, but the name has stuck. I think it had something to do with the Lord of the Rings, and Rivendell, the city of the Elvenkind, where great counsels were held, on matters profound. It suited my mindset at the time, which hungered after something more deep and meaningful than seemed to constitute my day to day.

Or, more simply, it might have come from Rivington, a place very much at the centre of my world, since childhood, and much loved, where also great counsels took place, in the shadow of noble hills. But these were more jolly affairs, between like-minded walkers, over mugs of tea and bowls of soup, in the Rivington Barn tearooms. Either way, it doesn’t matter. You can call your blog what you like, blog on WordPress, or Substack, or anywhere else. It’s the writing and the readers, and the conversation that matters.

So, after a bit of a ramble round the subject, what do we conclude? Well, while the journey continues, here on WordPress, I should keep an eye on Substack, and I urge other writers to check it out too, and invite you to share your thoughts on it. Meanwhile, my thanks to all for the conversation.

I very much appreciate your company.

Thanks for listening

Read Full Post »

On Brinscall moor

After several hot days, with temperatures pushing into the high thirties, we wake to grey skies and twenty degrees. Lives resumed, we venture out of doors. So, today, a short run brings us to the moor-side village of Brinscall, where we park near the Victorian swimming baths. By noon the day has grown a little sultry, but nothing on the scale of previous days, and we should be fine for a short walk.

As we make ready to change into boots, a couple of lads come walking by, early teens, singing along to a song on their phones. It’s not what one expects of kids these days. They are singing freely, and unselfconsciously, and have fine voices. The incongruence is striking. I could be cynical and say it’s the Insta generation, that everyone wants to be a pop star,… but they sing so well, indeed beautifully, so good on you, lads.

Speaking of phones, mine broke, refused to charge and now lies dead in a drawer with years of map-notes and useful waypoints entombed within it. I’d thought I was saving them to the removable card, for security, but it didn’t work, and now I’ve lost them, but I dare say I’ll manage. I have a new phone today, a waterproof one that weighs a ton, and I’m struggling to make friends with it.

It says we’re in Brinscall, which of course I already know, but I’m just testing its sense of direction. And so far, so good.

The woods here have grown thick, and dark, and eerily quiet over the summer. The balsam and the ferns are seven feet high, the latter sharply pungent. The Balsam is rampant, finding its way along the arteries of civilisation, and strangling all in its path. We are encouraged to pull it out, to stamp on it before it sets seed for next year.

We take the track up the brew as far as Well Lane. Here, over the wall, we glimpse the giddy drop and the rocky top of the Hatch Brook falls. But there’s barely a trickle, today, and it makes no sound. So, then it’s on up the little road to the moor, in search of a path I once knew, along the edge of the Brinscall fault, which leads to the Coppice Stile House.

There is not a breath of air, and it’s hot of a sudden after, that stiff ascent. The sky is heavy, and the moors are all damp grass, bilberries, and tumbled lines of ancient walls. There is a curious lack of contrast between earth and sky, such that nothing I photograph looks promising. Also, I cannot find the path.

Where are we, exactly, phone?

The phone is supposed to come on when I show it my face, show me the OS map and my position. At least that’s the deal. But it reneges, makes me punch in the pin. I can’t be bothered. I’ll manage, so navigate across the bilberries by the mind’s eye – not always a good idea in my case, since the mind’s eye is as myopic as the other two. But we find the path. It’s not used much these days, just a thin thread alongside a mostly levelled wall. But it’s clear enough now we’re on it, and we make way more confidently south.

On Brinscall moor

Over our right shoulder we have the whole of Western Lancashire, the Ribble and the Fylde. Over our left, the moor rises, Great Hill dipping in and out of view. The stillness and the silence are suddenly broken with great fuss and bother as the Lancashire Constabulary chopper comes buzzing by. It’s on a parallel course, all glittering and purposeful in its midnight blue and yellow livery. We have the unusual perspective of looking down upon it, the rooftops of the towns and villages spread beyond and below, as it patrols its patch. It seems an expensive way of going about things, in these straightened times – coppers flying about, I mean – but I suppose an eye in the sky is worth ten on the ground.

And speaking of the town, I called in on the way over, seeking miscellaneous items, but struck out on all counts. I shall have to order my things online, as usual. The old town continues to dwindle, becomes less relevant, less useful. It was with regret I noted another old café had gone. I used to treat my kids to breakfast there, on Saturdays. It doesn’t seem that long ago. It’s now another cheap boozer, flying a Jolly Jack as its calling card. Betting machines illumine the gloom, and beckon the skid-row chancers within. And slumped within these no hope saloons, a clientele, each resembling a tired iguana, with a pint pot stare. It was barely eleven of a midweek morning, and they were already on their way to a comfortable oblivion. In such places is the future glimpsed, yet at the same time so surely lost.

The moorland grasses and the rushes are slick with overnight rain. It steams gently, and finds its way through the stitching of my boots. The scent of the moor is rich and earthy. Lone uprights of gritstone appear. They are old gateposts, or the corners of enclosures, but which look to have been repurposed from prehistory, their founding myths lost to us. The Stile House, once a farm, is now just another tumulus of ruin, kept company by a twisted thorn tree. Here we intersect the broad way from White Coppice over to Great Hill, and Picadilly beyond.

We’re down hill now, down to the Coppice, and a welcome break by the cricket field. Here all is manicured perfection, in the carefully mown emerald of the sacred twenty-two yards, and then the little white cottages as spectators, in a bowl of shaggy hills. A notice tells me the team is struggling for players. I suppose it’s a commitment fewer are willing to make- to play every weekend of the season, April until September. And of course the burgeoning service industry, with its unsociable hours, is no facilitator of the traditional village cricket scene.

I was always hopeless at cricket, could never lob a ball the right way, and at the crease, with the bat, though eager enough, I always delivered it directly into the fielders’ hands. Naturally, when picking teams, no one wanted me on their side, so I dare say White Coppice can manage better without me.

So now we follow the sleepy watercourse of the Goit, back towards Brinscall, eventually to enter the steam heat of the woods again. A man could disappear for months in here, so dense has it become, a heavy green with an impenetrable and creepy shadow. Only the winter opens it up a little to scrutiny, and then it reveals the ruins of past lives, in the mossy gate posts, and the outlines of dwellings, both humble and grand. It all looks so ancient, but you can find these addresses in the census records, speak the names of the people who once leaned upon these disappeared gate posts.

The riot of spring wild-flowers is too soon a memory. The flowering of deep summer is more subtle now, save of course that blousy balsam. But of a sudden, in the secret, light-dappled parts of the wood, we discover sprays of delicate white flowers, lancing tall from the undergrowth. They seem to paint their own light, where otherwise all would be gloom. This is enchanters nightshade, Circaea lutetiana – Circaea, being from the mythical Greek enchantress, Circe, who had the knack of turning people into swine, wolves and lions.

As with all myths, there are many versions of it. Myths are meant to stimulate the imagination, and thereby live through the generations with each retelling. In my own version, Circe merely holds up a mirror, and the people transform themselves, become whatever is their base nature: swine, wolf or lion. So then the wolves eat the swine, and the lions eat the wolves, and then lions eat one another, or they just starve for having eaten everything else.

It would be a fair assessment of the human condition, and of our future, except, of course, for the memory of those kids singing, and the realisation we need not choose our base nature as our life’s vehicle. In song, in art, in culture, and in the magic of imagination, the mirror cracks, and the spell is broken.

It’s in there, in imagination, as it is when we walk that faint line of the moorland paths, even perhaps in the footsteps of our ancestors, far above the broken towns, we find another, a better way ,to see and to be.

The little blue car awaits, welcomes us back with a flask of tea.

Read Full Post »

Travels by day

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Daytime journeys lack the settled rhythm of the night trains. Indeed, the days have no rhythm, other than their beginning and an end. The in between is all white noise. Of the beginning, dawn brings an ache in the gut, a rush to shower, to breakfast and dress. In winters, of course, the journey begins before dawn, in inky black, often with sluicing rain, and visibility no wider than the thin slice of a headlight beam.

Travel is by the jittery conveyance of a motor car, and not a good one. Mine always feels a heartbeat away from breakdown, with subsequent late arrival and deranged howls of disapproval from the boss. There are trains and buses, but they are also unreliable, and dirty, and have the further disadvantage of not going remotely near where I need them to go. And the trains are expensive. I could fly to Amsterdam for the price of a ride to my nearest town. Indeed, the daytime world is more topsy-turvy, than the nighttime, though it’s becoming clear to me the lessons of neither can be learned without the taking of each other into account.

Mornings, I note, are also dangerous, and more so of late, as I sense the daytime world careening towards some sort of catastrophe. They are a kaleidoscopic rush of travellers crowding the roads and jockeying for position. Headlights, oncoming, burn the retina. Headlights fill the rearview mirror, so I must knock it aside or go blind. Vehicles swerve into gaps at the last minute, causing one to gasp and jerk upon the brakes. Others swing in at great speed from the on-slips, then zigzag precariously into the faster lanes. No ordinary mind can react so quickly as that. It is my belief the drivers are coked up, so see time differently, I suppose, that for them the split seconds are expanded into whole minutes, leaving those with slower lives and unadulterated minds to wonder at this new breed of warrior, tack sharp, but no longer quite sentient.

Thus, I arrive at the office all a tremble from the precariousness of the journey. The memory of the pandemic years are fading, but, while many employers have embraced the expedience of home working, mine did not – not even during the reaper’s grimmest days. We have all had it. The plague, I mean. Mine took six months out of me. My mentor died of it. And the reason? The boss, Cheryl.

She prefers her audience at hand, likes to perform, has her box of tricks at the ready and from which she casts her dark, abusive spells. This morning, she is a caricature of toxicity, eyes like razor blades, slashing the cheeks of those meekly gathered in her early meeting, the one in which she kicks buttocks in order to get the day going. We each bend over in turn, and take it submissively.

A well-dressed woman, no longer young, but, given the apparent immobility of her forehead, she is at pains to seem so. Blonde and bosomy, her face is hardened by both the injection and ejection of poison, also by the life she chooses, this being one of conflict, of confrontation, and foul language, which she uses as a tool to gleefully embarrass those of a more delicate disposition. I suspect a fragility underlying all this outrageous bombast, yet struggle to sympathise, or forgive. One day, I suppose I must, or my journey will end on a return ticket to nowhere.

Then, there is Nigel, her de-facto right-hand man. He is middle thirties, Marketing slash Sales. He is breathtakingly assertive, expensively suited, places his car keys upon the table to show us the emblem of the luxury brand he drives. His hair is more expensively coiffured than Cheryl’s and, though the air conditioning is always towards the arctic side of comfortable, rendering me in sweaters, he dispenses with his jacket in order to better share hints of a rippling physique, underneath his shirt.

I note he makes eyes at Brenda, who is standing in as head of HR. The actual head, Sonya, walked out in tears a few weeks ago, following a particularly brutal dressing down by Cheryl, in front of the entire gathered workforce. It was unprofessional, to say nothing of disrespectful, but sadly common in the modern small to medium enterprise, where the vast majority of us make our way. Sonya is currently indisposed.

By contrast, I find Brenda is a reticent woman of pleasant demeanour, and therefore ill suited to the role, ill suited to the toxic workplace environment. From the piecing together of various rumours, I surmise she is a bookish cat-lady, who lives with her ailing mother, and, for all her years, she is, I suspect, romantically inexperienced, thus Nigel’s flirting unsettles her.

Naturally, Nigel claims to have slept with all the females in the office, including Cheryl. Of course, the majority of these washroom boasts are fiction, yet I note the younger males are taken in. The juniors he has actually slept with are generally dismissed under some pretext. Cheryl’s reasoning in this is mysterious.

There are several others around the table, some talkers, some listeners, all anxious to show themselves to be sharp tools, and therefore indispensable to the business, which, ordinarily, I’m sure the world could well do without. But these are not ordinary times. They are intimidated, but clearly wish to emulate their tormentors and become themselves intimidators and tormentors, for such is the daytime way of things, in these non-ordinary times. I do not include Brenda in this, therefore conclude she won’t last long, which is a pity as I find, in company with her, a comparative stillness that is conducive of rest, of creativity, and productivity.

As for me, I am recently appointed head of information technology, this being on the demise of my mentor, a rotund, genially bumbling man of no relevant qualification, but of a generation in which self-taught computer literacy ran profoundly deep, at least among a certain demographic. I trained in the programming of avionics, elsewhere, but needs must, and not withstanding the fancy title, these days I do nothing but untangle sticky office laptops from the various knots their users tie them in, and then of course, I soak up my share of Cherylean or Nigelian abuse.

Cheryl does not like me. Has told me so, told me I am a poor fit for the organisation. I surmise she tells everyone this to keep them on their toes. But, so long as I am useful, and do not complain, I suppose she will keep me on. Nigel thinks me ridiculous, unpolished, timid, and old. He complains to me of the decrepit nature of his laptop and his phone, and speaks of my incompetence at dealing with such to Cheryl, who issues me with warnings and reminders of Nigel’s superior status.

There is never anything wrong with his equipment, at least that he has not inflicted himself. He merely enjoys abusing those who fix things. His favoured tactic is coming an hour before finishing time on Fridays and demanding his laptop be repaired before I go home. While he might judge this to be a fiendishly timed hand-grenade of stress, the solutions rarely take more than a minute, since he is, after all somewhat predictable in his methods of sabotage.

Anyway, after the morning’s buttock kicking, I make coffee in the small kitchen, where we also microwave our luncheons. Here I am caught staring vacantly, by Brenda, while waiting on the kettle. I am thinking of a puzzle posed by my most recent night journey. Even as the world careens towards some sort of catastrophe, the night trains seem to be taking me further, and with a purpose.

“I need to speak to you,” she says.


The tone of voice is more urgent than I am used to hearing in Brenda. Her manner is more likely to be hesitant, even timid. Anyway, I perk up, wonder if she has been sent to dismiss me, that Cheryl has put her up to it as a baptism of fire. I surmise Brenda is ill-equipped, emotionally, to dismiss anyone, that she would sooner dismiss herself, that Cheryl knows it and would enjoy inventing such a torture.

I indicate with a nod and an open palm I am receptive. If she must dismiss me, then so be it. I will not make it any more difficult for her than she makes it herself. But then we are joined by a breezy, cologne-scented Nigel.

“Now then playmates,” he says. “Not interrupting any hanky-panky, am I?”

Brenda stiffens, manages to mouth the word, “Later,” then walks away.

“Right little goer, that one, I bet.” says Nigel.

Once upon a time I would have wanted to tell him to mind his manners, to shut up. I would not actually have said it, of course, and the tension between my desire, and my lack of action would have had me loathing myself for a coward. Now, I barely register him. Even awake, he sleeps. He is a walking, talking machine, an automaton of purely programmed responses. Lacking such basic sentience, he is unworthy of being treated as such, and therefore I cannot engage with him emotionally, only functionally.

“Something you wanted, Nigel?”

“Laptop’s playing up again. Left it on your desk. Sort it, will you?”

Thus, by day, you see, the characters have the flavour of cartoons. They are simplistic, they are clichés, hard to interpret as symbols representing anything other than what they appear to be, and what they appear to be is ridiculous. Not all appear as such, of course. There are older souls to which I am drawn. I suspect Brenda may be one. But they always misinterpret my intentions. Perhaps I am too clumsy in this, perhaps I lack the experience of other lifetimes, but I have learned to keep my distance, to observe, to interpret, but to engage as little as possible.

Read Full Post »

Brennand, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire

I’ve been thinking I should be travelling a bit further out these days. It’s July after all, and seriously summer. I don’t want to waste another year’s retirement, barely venturing more than a day’s return journey outside of Lancashire. Time to book some B+B, then, and seek out those more distant places, places I don’t get to very often – say the Western Lakes, Southern Scotland or North Wales. But I’ve not done that since before Covid – stayed in a B+B, I mean – mingled with,… you know,… strangers, who might be carrying,… you know,… it,…

So far, touch wood, I’ve not caught it. But people are telling me I’m in the minority now, that I’m bound to get it, that I’m in denial if I think otherwise, so I should just go out and catch it and be done with it. I know it’s less likely to put me in hospital these days, but I also know several people who have caught it recently and it’s taking them a long time to get over it, and then it’s leaving them drained and with lingering chest problems. Getting over it sounds like a long-winded business. Hiking in the hills is about the lungs as much as the legs, and Covid seems to take both. Is it wise then to risk company, for a taste of the unfamiliar, when, to catch it might finish my summer altogether?

Or so ran my thoughts as I browsed places to stay this week, and yes, I’m starting to feel impatient for adventure, but cases are on the rise,… we’ve just reach 200,000 deaths, and in the end, I decided to play it safe.

So it is, you catch up with me today, motoring by the Inn at Whitewell, bound for Dunsop Bridge, and a day out in the Forest of Bowland. The plan is to park a little way up the Trough road, by Langden Brook, then climb the track up Ram’s Clough, to the nick between Whins Brow and Whin Fell. I’m thinking I should get a good view of The Brennand Valley from there. There are lots of stories of lost valleys, secret places, mythical places, idyllic places hidden from view in an otherwise inhospitable wilderness. The most famous perhaps is the legend of Shangri-la, while, amid the bleakness of the fells, here in the north of Lancashire, we have the seldom seen Brennand Valley.

I first came upon it many years ago, after a very long walk along a private road from Dunsop Bridge – private meaning you can walk it but not drive it. I was heading for the circuit of a hill called Middle Knoll, and wasn’t expecting the revelation of the valley on the way. After all these years, the valley is the thing I remember, while the circuit of Middle Knoll is a blank. The way up over the fell from Langden promises to be a more interesting walk, and not as long if I just nip up and down, plus, the start point puts me in the vicinity of the Langden Grill chuck wagon, of which I have heard great things.

However, I’m disappointed today to find there is no chuck wagon, so there’s no gourmet breakfast barm. But never mind, we’re here. It’s an overcast morning, a flat light, the sky mostly featureless, somewhere between Flake White and Paynes Grey. Meanwhile, the air is heavy, pungent with the smell of ferns, and the buzz of flies. The walk takes us up the Trough road a little, which, for such a lonely road, proves busy with zipping bikes and cars. If you’re on the tourist trail in Lancashire, a run through the Trough is likely to be on your itinerary. This brings about an immediate change of plan, and a commitment to not returning this way, but dropping into the Brennand Valley itself and circling back via Dunsop Bridge. It’s further than I was planning, but involves less traffic.

The Trough of Bowland

I’m determined not to get sucked into the already breathless coverage of the Conservative leadership contest. On politics, I prefer satire now to what passes for objective journalism in the UK. The satirist, John Crace, writing in the Guardian describes it all as game-show territory, and even Peter Obourne, former chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph, speaking on DDN paints us a picture of future governance that is even bleaker in prospect than the Bowland hills this morning. But I’m trying for a day without current affairs, and the little blue car agrees, its radio suddenly, and mysteriously, having refused to pick up the BBC on the drive over.

I find it’s quite a pull, up Ram’s Clough, to the top of the ridge. Considering all the hills I’ve climbed since I was a kid, you’d think they’d be getting easier now, but they never do. It’s with an air of anticipation then we crest the ridge and, sure enough, the Brennand Valley comes suddenly and dramatically into view. It’s remote and lush green against the dour, shaggy brown of the surrounding fells, a patchwork of sweet pastures fanning out from the central hub of the High Brennand Farm. It has to be one of the loneliest places in England. Alas, it’s not a dramatic light sort of day, so any pictures will be flat, even after teasing them out in post-processing. But we’ll see.

Ouster Rake, Brennand

We’re about 1400 feet up, now, so find ourselves an impressive perch to soak up the view, and settle down for lunch. Here I meet the only other walkers I’ll see all day, a sprightly Scottish couple, well into their later seventies, making an ascent of Ouster Rake. I’m curious about the rake as I’ll shortly be heading down it. It has a slightly sporting look as it cuts across the face of the hill, which appears uniformly steep, and vertical in places, so I ask if it had given them any trouble. Oh, you’ll be fine, says the lady. You’re plenty young enough. To have reached my sixties, and still be considered a young man, and without irony, by a pair of active seniors, is encouraging, that while old age can be daunting in prospect, it need not be entirely downhill. I still hope to be rambling the hills at their age. What puzzled me though was how neither seemed out of breath. I will always be found out of breath in the hills, and sitting down for a rest.

But speaking of down-hill, lunch done, and having taken our fill of the beauty of this elevated view of the valley, we make our descent into it. Ouster Rake, though a little giddy in places, at least for a wobbly head like me, was nothing but beautiful. But poor weather, and in particular, snow or ice, I think you’d have to watch your feet here. It would be a pleasure to come back when the heather is in bloom.

The way down to the farm is occasionally faint, the line of the path petering in and out, but we gradually leave behind the shaggy greens and browns of the fell, and enter the fertile grounds, as we make our way into the bosom of the valley. Looking back up the fell from here there’s a sense of regret, now, the high land only briefly graced, and a long yomp back to the car awaits us, along that private road, to Dunsop Bridge, then a little way along Langden brook.

I’m kept company from here by oyster catchers, which seem to be fishing the river. Over the moors, I’d seen and heard nothing. The Forest of Bowland can swing from an austere beauty to a terrible loneliness, in the blink of an eye, perfectly reflective of the personal predisposition, so it pays to keep your pecker up. No drifting off into depressive thinking on current affairs, or this place will crush you. Better by far to let it help you forget.

Later, as I drive home through Osbaldeston, rattling over the potholes, I note the speed camera, which was set afire, back in May, is still in a state of ruin (police seek witnesses). And as I pass the blackened mess of it – the miscreants used a burning tyre – it’s tempting to read it symbolically, as both a brazen contempt for authority, and authority’s now threadbare lack of finances to fix things when they go up in smoke. Is that the state we’re in, now? But let’s not go there. Let’s remember the day, and the beauty of Bowland.

The valley of Brennand, one of Lancashire’s least seen places, and one of its most beautiful. Yes, it would be nice to get a little further out, but there’s still plenty to be going at in the meantime, in this little corner of the North.

The Trough Road

Read Full Post »

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Another posterior vitriol detachment, this one in the right eye, leaves me with a horseshoe shaped floater in centre vision to match the one in the left eye which appeared after a retinal firework display, a few years ago. I can’t blame this latest one on weeks of close work under the kosh of earning a living, so I must simply put it down to age. I mention this only as a metaphorical illustration of how one’s view of life can change suddenly, after a shift in the mode of vision.

Meanwhile, the horseshoes dance across the white of the computer screen, disrupting the flow. They have me closing my eyes from time to time, taking refuge in darkness, and in thought. Reading books is also suddenly tiresome as they drift across the text, obscuring it and causing it to ripple. I can still walk around and drive without interference. It’s focusing close that renders their presence more brutishly real, and I like to focus. The fresh one will fade a little over time, and having one in each eye has me hoping I’m done exploring posterior vitriol detachments forever. Then again, old age never comes alone. I’m looking at the next twenty years, and hoping my travelling companion into senescence will not be blindness.

We are never just the one thing. This struck me while reading of Ouspensky’s encounter with the magician Gurdjieff, in a Moscow Café in 1915. Gurdjieff – as near as I can understand him – describes people as automatic machines, reacting to inputs, and that they are never the same person, even two days in a row. He has a point. Reading back over the Rivendale Review, I have lost count of the number of people I am, or have been. While being a distinctly human characteristic, apparently, this is not a good thing when it comes to blogging.

Blogging, I’ve read, is about setting yourself up as just the one thing, as an expert at that thing, then readers know what to expect from you, and where to come for ideas. I suppose I’m off to a bad start in that respect, then, never having considered myself knowledgeable about anything, at least not to the level of expertise. Indeed, I’ve always fought shy of it, the level of expertise being where the shouting starts, as other experts vie for eminence. No, I’m far too reticent a character to set myself up as an expert.

I have written about tinnitus, which was once a defining thing for me, and, though all of that is old material, now, it’s still a piece that’s read a lot. However, those readers hoping to find more up-to-date material on the topic, will discover I am no longer that person at all. Of late, I am a writer of mostly local adventures in the English countryside, with occasional thoughts about writing.

Writing what? Well,… fiction and ,… stuff.

I have been a writer on spiritual matters, and still am occasionally, but spiritual seekers don’t know what to make of me, as the Rivendale Review is too eclectic to tune in regularly and expect things of a similar theme on a regular basis. One week I might be blundering through Advaita Vedanta, or Zen, and the next I am scrambling down a hillside to photograph an orchid, or setting up a camera to capture an interesting sky, talking about aperture and shutter speed and focal length because I like technical things as well.

And photographers, encountering such talk, might bookmark me, only to find me writing about the demise of Hen Harriers in the Forest of Bowland next. And bird people intrigued by those avian interests will then discover me uttering dark curses over the price of fuel and butter, as if I can make a difference. I have opined on politics, but no longer have the steam to make a thing of it. Political pundit, then, I no longer am.

I have written about Chinese martial arts, about traditional Chinese medicine, and its western medical correlates, but anyone looking for my current thoughts on the subject will be confused to find I am no longer that man at all. I have explored that world, found much in it that was good, absorbed it, made peace with it, and moved on. So yes, I am pretty well aware of the shortcomings of the Rivendale Review as it glides ever so slowly into deeper levels of obscurity. However, I find I cannot let it go, or change it to more closely resemble what I’m told a blog should be. That would not be me. The Rivendale Review, should be, is, and always will be – obscure.

Gurdjieff was saying this mechanical trait in people is unconscious. We do not know who we are at any particular time, and his route to awakening was a process of stopping the flow, and remembering. That I am writing about Gurdjeff illustrates only another person in me, a man who is interested in the history of ideas, and certainly not one who is a reliable expert on Gurdjieff. Next week I will be writing about something else entirely, while hopefully remembering all these different people inhabiting my psyche are connected by a single thread, and that it is the binding thread that is the important thing.

The world is just so awesomely big. There are two ways we can deal with its daunting dimensions. We can focus down on one thing, and ignore the rest. Or we can follow the ideas of the world wherever they lead. I think the world of ideas was meant to be explored, the universe itself being one’s personal guide with its whispers and its serendipitous segues. That in itself is a kind of stopping and remembering, that while we are indeed many people, knowing that to be the case, doesn’t put us far from the wrong path. While we are none of us anybody in particular, and none of us are actually going anywhere, it does not mean we should ignore the call to journey wherever the mind takes us, and to enjoy the scenery along the way.

The Rivendale Review is just an old-fashioned blog about nothing in particular. And if it must offer anything, I suppose I would like to think that someone reading about the various eccentricities of this one obscure life, might grant permission for other obscure lives to embrace their own eccentricities, and their obscurity too. We have all of us been many people, even in the same lifetime, and none of them are who we really are. Who we are, is the thread that binds them.

Thanks for listening

Read Full Post »

After a torrid few weeks in parliament, the PM promises to step down, at some point. I think that’s what he said, anyway. Isn’t it? I should really have more to say about that than I do, but find myself peculiarly unmoved. More interesting, today, is the sight of common spotted orchids growing by the brook in Lead Mines’ Clough. It was certainly worth a bit of a scramble to get a picture, so I could confirm it through Google Lens. Ah, yes, it says, that’s a common-spotted orchid. But common or not, Dr Google, it looks exotic and beautiful.

I don’t know if something has changed in environmental practice, or I’m more attuned to picking out wild flowers, which I doubt, but it seems to have been a bumper year. In the half century or more I’ve been coming here, I’ve never seen an orchid of any variety in Lead Mines Clough before. I suppose another reason is that retirement allows one the luxury to repeat the same walk several times over the year, so you catch it at all seasons, and you’ve more chance of noticing the changes, and the wild flowers, including the orchids. When you’re working, leisure time is too short to waste on covering the same old ground, so you don’t see as much. And that’s a shame.

July is the season of long grass and horse flies. Today we also have cloud, grey-blue and sleepy in the heat, but also quite dramatic. I’ve only been out twenty minutes, and already I’ve been bitten. Covid has gifted us much by way of new knowledge. One serendipitous discovery is that hand gel, ubiquitous to every bag and purse now, is also excellent for horse fly bites. A quick dab and all would be well, except I’ve left mine in the car so the bite, microscopic though it is, itches like hell.

There are road menders down on the Parson’s Bullough Lane, repairing potholes, or to be exact they are making repairs to repairs of potholes they made not that long ago. Buy cheap, buy twice, and all that. The roads in general around here are knackered. The air was filled with the scent of fresh tar, some of which has no doubt stuck all over my newly painted wings and sills.

We’ve photographed the same scenes: the trees at Twitch Hills, and the view from the ruins of Peewit Hall. Taking lunch among the blackened gritstones of Peewit Hall, I find I much prefer my universe these days to the one I inhabited a few years ago. We all make our own reality. Readers of the Daily Mail inhabit a different world to readers of the Guardian, likewise aficionados of Fox News, or MSNBC. Both sides agree their particular version of reality is going to hell in a handcart, while disagreeing profoundly over the reasons, and even what exactly constitutes the Apocalypse in the first place.

My own apocalypse, if I must call it that, is well over £2.00 a litre for petrol. Admittedly, the little blue car, being rather old, prefers E5 – AKA rocket fuel – but it could be worse; I could still be commuting. Another shocker for me is that Lurpak butter is now so expensive they’re putting security tags on it. I like Lurpak, but I’m not paying that and shall make do with Utterly Butterly for now. The new wave of Covid is also worrying, a relative having been advised by a consultant to put off surgery for eighteen months rather than risk admission to hospital right now. The Apocalypse, then, is always personal, until it isn’t. I suspect all societies are like that, haunted by the threat of largely imagined and imminent catastrophe, while blind to the real thing, until it happens, as it does from time to time.

So the PM has gone, or rather is going, some time, at a time yet to be decided. Was that it? Is that what he said? Will that make any difference to the price of Lurpak, do you think? I hope so, but suspect not.

Anyway, good soup today. Heinz Chicken. Tescos no longer stock Heinz, of course, after a falling out over the price. I shall have to source it elsewhere. My Heinz Chicken soup is non-negotiable. Hemingway wrote that you go bankrupt two ways, first gradually, then all at once. We seem to have been doing it gradually for a long time. Maybe this is the all at once bit. And no, I don’t think a change of PM will alter any of that.

Lunch done, I head along to Lead Mines Clough, circle the head of it by the upper falls, then wander down through the docile cattle, which habitually mooch around the ruins of Old Brooks. They give me the eye, check to see if I’ve a dog with me, then carry on quietly mooching. So then its down by Abbots, to rejoin the clough. Not a long walk today. I find I’m a little tired in the heat, and after a couple of other jaunts this week totalling around fifteen miles already. And if I’m perfectly honest, the day is more about the drive. The car’s been away for a bit of welding and a re-spray, and I’ve missed her. But she’s back now and looking good. So, shall we blow a tenner on rocket fuel, and take the long way home?

Why not?

Then I suppose I should really be catching up with the news from Westminster:

(Apologies in advance, please skip the video if offended by bad language, which Pie, our fictional correspondent, uses freely and frequently from the start.)

For those not familiar with Jonathan Pie, he is the creation of Tom Walker, British comedian, actor, and satirical political commentator.

Read Full Post »

The night train

The limousine arrives after dusk. The driver is a grey-suited fellow of little conversation, his companion, a woman of middling years and magnetic presence, is equally taciturn. She steps out and opens the rear door. She wears a long, sombre dress, padded at the shoulders, forties style. There is an air of respectfulness about them, but this is not to say they are deferential. It is a professional arrangement. Their task is to collect me, and put me on the night train, as it is mine to make the journey.

There was a time when I would try to talk to them, question them, but they would close me down, with soft, short answers that explained nothing. There seemed nothing evasive in this. They knew their part and nothing more, while I knew nothing at all. Now I do not to bother them, and instead sit back and enjoy the leather-upholstered opulence of the drive, and the mystery of it.

I observe the familiar streets as they slide by, but there comes a point when we take an unfamiliar turn, like those the taxi drivers always know, and then you are in a different world, a world contained within the familiar, yet already unknown. Unfamiliarity is piled upon unfamiliarity, until one is lost in it. The north, south, east, and west-ness of it is all jumbled up, so it comes as no surprise to be finally arriving at a railway station that looks so far away in space and time, you cannot place it in your personal locality at all.

Its architecture is like that of a renovated relic from the Victorian, dramatically lit in movie noir style. It excites at once, though I cannot say why, and can only observe the emotion as it rises and falls within the breast. The car draws up, and the woman opens the door, hands over the travel documents. There is a ticket, a little cash, but neither Sterling nor Euro, also a card for major expenses, should they be required. Exactly what is required is never known, yet I have learned to trust all eventualities are catered for, so long as the guides are heeded. Guides, stewards, conductors, travellers. Each has their place.

When I first rode these night trains, it was only the driver of the limousine who would call. He would drop me at the station – smaller stations than this, to begin, just one platform and a single line. It did not matter which way I rode. Then came bigger stations with, a few platforms, different trains, a greater choice of destination, but it did not matter which I chose. I did this for years, never knowing where I’d been, or what for. I suppose it was an apprenticeship of sorts, learning to ride and to make the changes in time. But there comes a point when one’s travels need to be directed, if they are to become meaningful. I suppose that’s why there is a woman with the driver now, to get me on the right train. That’s another thing, the guides do not always advertise themselves as such and a degree of discernment is required – knowing who will set you on the right track, and who will derail you.

Tonight we are on platform two. She walks me into the station, no other souls around the giant halls, lending it a cavernous eeriness, with only the rumble of the trains and the sound of her heels to enliven it. In those earlier times the trains I rode were always short haul, the more friendly looking little two carriage Sprinters that link the local towns, towns that had a European familiarity about them, but whose names I did not know, and would always forget when the journey was done. It was as if the names of places was not the important thing in mapping out the territory.

It was as much as I dared, to begin, and there was always a sense of anticlimax, the towns seeming to stand without meaning, the night bars and restaurants I visited peopled only by the still sleeping, half-shelled forms of what I took to be my fellow men. And none engaged me. It was altogether a very shallow experience, only marginally more interesting than my travels by day.

Lately though, I have begun to travel further out, and I am sensing something in the air, something changing, particularly among the bigger city destinations. There, the denizens seem at least to notice me, but are shy of engaging, as I am shy, for fear of not possessing the necessary etiquette in foreign lands, and among foreign people whose customs may be unlike my own. And I would not like to give offence, no matter how inadvertent. But I’m still unsure if these journeys have an actual point or not, if they are leading up to something, or I am still completing some sort of probation, that to ride the night trains is to enter a temple of sorts, one where nothing is what it seems, and you must leave at the door all your preconceptions regarding the nature of travel.

At platform two, tonight, stands the biggest train I have ever ridden, and quite futuristic in its lines. It is taking on supplies just now: water, refreshment, fresh bedding for the sleeper cars. It is a train for crossing continents, and carries with it an air of anticipation, a determination to pierce distant horizons at great speed. The looks of it alone excites the senses.

My guide seeks out the carriage that is reserved for me, and opens the door. She stands back to let me into the quiet air-conditioned hum of it, herself remaining on the platform. It is a private carriage of a kind I have become more accustomed to, recently. Rather than the familiar rows of seats, there is a couch, deep buttoned and inviting, a couple of club chairs, and a stout desk. There is dark panelling throughout, oiled and richly scented. The ceiling is lined with polished copper tiling, and reflective. There are reading lamps, books,… Whilst I may still be on probation, it seems, amid all this opulence, I am allowed some symbols of advancing status, even though all of it is as yet mysterious.

She closes the door, grants me a parting smile. There is warmth, and something comforting in it. Then she walks away, leaves me to settle in. I note the shutters are drawn, which means we are going a long way, tonight. The shutters grant only a sense of motion as the town and country lights slide by. I have been advised by the stewards not to lift the shutters on such journeys, for it would only confuse me, they say. It is better to settle for the motion, and the point to pointness, I’m told, and to ignore what lies between.

I don’t know about this. I prefer to see where I’m going, but I suspect the geometry here is not of the Euclidian sort, at least not when compared with the familiar plane of living. There is another dimension to contend with, one which bends things round upon themselves, makes close neighbours of cities at opposite ends of the globe, and an impenetrable gulf between towns that are only be miles apart.

I take the couch. There is a book on the table, a slim clothbound volume. The text is Cyrillic in style and illegible to me, though the structure of the lines and heading suggests poetry. I don’t know what these clues are supposed to mean, how they are supposed to be read.

As for other travellers, I assume there are many, and that they occupy the other carriages. We do not mix, and the interconnecting doors do not open to anyone but the stewards. I suppose these others to be the more adventurous, or the more experienced, riding the train out to its furthest destinations, since the first stop of the night is always mine, and I am always alone, when I step out onto that platform.

I hear the steward approaching, the rattle and chink of his trolley being a sensory connection that helps keep me present. He is a cheery man, late middle-aged, balding, bright-eyed. The stewards are more chatty than the limousine driver, and the guide, but not overly so. Again, they have their place in the scheme of things, and know nothing beyond it. I suspect they are not fully sentient, but it would be rude of me to say so to their face. Better, more polite and productive, to play along with their script.

“Coffee, sir?”

Yes, indeed, coffee. The journey always begins with coffee. The experience of it is intense, and puts me in a receptive mood. Sights, sounds, tastes, sensations, emotions too; all are more intensely experienced here than by day. By day the seeming pace of life distracts, and waking is like stepping on an avalanche of words and sensation, the entire day being an act of permanent imbalance. The night trains, for all of their mystery, allow a period in which to gather oneself, and if such is the only purpose, it will suffice. Though I suspect there is more, much more to come.

The train departs. There is no Tannoy announcement, no shrill whistle, no scrolling of a destination board. The steward balances himself against the sudden motion, and pours. He uses a silver pot. There is a China cup and saucer. All of these things are symbolic, I know but, like the writing in the book, I do not yet know how to interpret them.

We clear the station, and I feel the train accelerating, coming up to speed.

Here we go, then,…

Read Full Post »