Archive for February, 2023

I tested negative for COVID on day ten, so nipped out to fuel the little blue car. The drive wore me out, and my arms and legs didn’t feel like my own. I’ve been a bit cautious then, getting back into the walking saddle, so much so, today’s walk hardly counts, at barely two miles, but enough to see what’s what, and hopefully get things rolling again.

It’s one of those cold, grey, late winter days. The light is flat, the colours muted. We have clumps of snowdrops, plus the miniature daffodils are out, and the garden forsythia is showing yellow. When in doubt, I always let the car decide, and it always delivers me to the Parson’s Bullough road, by the Yarrow Reservoir, at Anglezarke. You’ve a good choice of routes from here, from the epic, to the bimbling, and I think bimbling is the more sensible choice, today. We’ll see if we can claim our legs back, and trust the rest will follow when it’s ready.

So, you catch up with me driving up Adlington’s Babylon lane. I was always going to buy a house up here, handy for Rivington and the moors, and I seem to drive it every week. I could save myself some miles. Babylon Lane is mostly old mill terraces, and can look a bit dour, but as you reach the top, and the junction by the Bay Horse, everything opens out, and the beauty of the West Pennines hits you all at once. You can travel straight on from here to Rivington, or cut left down Nickleton Brow, for Anglezarke. This is one of the most beautiful roads in the district, dropping to the bridge over the Yarrow, then up the other side, to the Yew Tree inn, and the reservoirs.

I’m not great, festering in doors for long periods. Even a few days of rain can make me twitchy, so the 10 days of self-imposed isolation was a bit of a trial, one that renders the outdoors strange, as the self-important media holds one captive, injecting its bad news, like a poison infinitely worse than COVID. In his recent piece, fellow blogger, Narayan, quoted Kurt Vonnegut as saying we are dancing animals. We are made to move, to get outdoors, to experience the world and other people. This struck a chord. Isolation, and gawping day after day at a computer screen, or doomscrolling our phones is not good for us. It is not dancing.

So, here we are, now, on the Parson’s Bullough road, looking to dance. There’s a huge flatbed truck in a little lay-by, and goodness knows how he got that up here, but it looks like they’re repairing the Allance Bridge, after a boy racer knocked the parapet off. My sense of smell has yet to make a return, so I can’t smell the leaf mould, or the moorland air, but as I crack open the door, something in the air is sufficiently welcoming, and revivifying. We step out, eager to embrace it.

In one of my early COVID reveries, I was wondering about getting a body-cam – though not because I fear assault when I’m out and about. I enjoy fiddling with clips from the little blue car’s dash cam, and wondered if a mash-up of a walk would be a fun thing to do. Of course, there are plenty of vloggers out there with the full kit and caboodle, including the buzzy drone for tracking shots that would make my efforts look childish, but still, I may have a go.

So, anyway, we’re moving. One foot in front of the other. The first test is the short, sharp hike up Hodge Brow, to where the path leaves the road, by Morrises. I was thinking it would flatten me, but we seem to have fuel in the tank. Things are looking good. The colours are so soft today, we’ll need to have a think about how to pull anything out of them with the camera, but without over-blowing it. What tends to happen is we lose detail, especially the distant woodlands blurring out, and everything looking muddy. Not a great day for the camera at all really, but we’ll try setting the upper limit on the ISO to 800, then we can get faster shutter speeds, and hopefully dissolve any noise in post-processing.

This eastern flank of the reservoir is the most attractive, the route meandering through open meadows, and quite elevated with views all around, to the moors, to the Pike at Rivington, and then out to the estuary of the Ribble. The land feels real, and comforting in its familiarity. Does that sound too obvious? But stuck at home, vulnerable to the worst of bad-news media, it’s easy to lose our way, imagining things to be important which are not. Or is it more a case of being encouraged to believe certain things are important, when they are not, in order to distract from other issues, which are.

I read this week the novels of Roald Dhal are to be censored, removing language that has, shall we say, fallen out of polite usage. The same fate is to befall Flemming’s Bond novels. The media seems made to inculcate strong opinions on such matters, and perhaps it’s because I’ve been ill, but I find it difficult to care. Philip Pullman suggests we should simply let such works go out of print if they are no longer suited to contemporary sensibilities, and I have some sympathy with that view. I’m no fan of Dhal or Flemming, but many still are. I am a fan of LeCarre, and some of his early works contain a language that was certainly of its time, so how soon before he is added to the mix. Many household names are the same. I suppose the issue is that these works still sell, and publishers are loath to let a good earner go out of print. But what do I think, urges the breathless media, you have to have an opinion. No, I don’t. Not today.

I think it was Krishnamurti who said something to the effect that the craziness only starts when men start to think, and then we argue over who’s right, even to the extent of killing one another over trifles. The natural world is not beset by such madness, which is perhaps why so many of us seek it out to regain our footing in the pell-mell of the world of men.

We come down to the southernmost point of the walk through Dean Wood, now, and the avenue of the chestnuts. When I last came this way, it was under snow. It beguiles me every time, inviting a shot, but I always struggle to do it justice. Here we pick up the track that comes up from Rivington, and we follow it around the western shore of the reservoir, first in the shadow of the Turner Embankment, named after the farm that was demolished to make way for it.

There’s a lone tree here that’s always photogenic, in any season. Again, I’ve yet to do it justice, but it’s always worth looking out for. Then the reservoir comes in to view again. There used to be a face in the wall, here, reputed to be a carving of the head of an unpopular foreman overseeing the works – this would be in the latter Victorian era. We used to have fun as kids, seeking him out on our family walks. He survived into the nineteen eighties, before disappearing, I presume stolen. I’ve often thought it telling how he survived in plain view for so long, and no one thought to steal him before.

Another landmark along this way, harder to steal, is the building we used to call the Diddy Man’s house – Ken Dodd was a mainstay of children’s TV when I was growing up. I presume the building houses a valve for the waterworks. We would knock to see if the Diddy Man was in, then press our ears against the door and hear the spilling of water. My father would tell us the Diddy Man was having a bath, so could not come to the door. He is having a bath again, today.

From the northwestern embankment we get a view down to the Anglezarke reservoir, and beyond, over the Lancashire Plain, to where the little blue car and I will shortly be returning. There’s a steep ravine here and, though I’ve walked past it hundreds of times, something about the trees overhanging it catches my eye today – the colours, the shape of them – and is certainly worth the last shot of the day. I remind myself this is all man made, and must have been a dramatic change to the landscape up here, armies of men with picks and barrows, then flooding the valleys, flooding out farmsteads and pastures. It’s been a long time coming, but there’s been a healing, and this is a landscape now much loved by many.

So now we’re back, the little blue car waiting in the layby with a flask of tea, and some lunch. The legs feel like my own again, and the mind seems capable of its usual accompanying ruminations. You know, after joining the ranks of COVID veterans, I think we’ll do. We’ll make it four miles next time. Thanks for listening.


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As we come up to the last Friday of February, I find myself reminiscing. In 2014, I took the Friday off and drove up to the old port of Glasson, on the Lancashire coast. I was driving what I used to call at times a slab grey commuter mule, at other times just “Old Grumpy”, an ’07 plate Astra which seemed to have become an extension of my being. We were both showing our age, in terms of miles on the clock. The commute, around fifty miles a day along some of the worst roads in the North West, was burning us both out. I was making plans to retire before the decade was done, and I still had fuel in the tank. I was within a shout of making it. Sadly, the same could not be said for old grumpy.

Beside me, on the waterfront, this old guy had just pulled up in a red MGB. He was wearing what looked like an Irvin flying jacket, and was clearly living some sort of Spitfire dream. I looked at that MGB and I wondered if a part of me wasn’t still missing the wreck of an MG roadster I’d given up, aged eighteen, (A) because the car had tried to kill me and (B) because I couldn’t afford the insurance, or the repairs.

2014 seems the blink of an eye, but it’s eight years and a lot of water under the bridge.

Glasson that day was more than just the drive out, of course. It was a walk down to the coast at Cockerham, then back along the coastal way. It was the biggest breakfast I’d ever put away, at Lantern O’er Lune. It was a bright, frosty morning, and spring bulbs. It was the glimpse of another way to be. It was a light at the end of the tunnel. And it was that red MGB.

Fast-forward a year to the last Friday of February 2015, and I’d bought an old Japanese roadster, spent the summer in love with it. It was no MGB, but then, for all their cult status, I’d never really rated them, mechanically. We abandoned the open-top roadster market to the Japanese in the late seventies, and in return they’d given us the infinitely superior MX5.

I’d driven to the upper Wharfe and back in it, top down all the way, and all manner of other little trips that had lit me up. There was something about getting to places in that car that was an altogether shinier and more optimistic experience than driving old Grumpy. This is hard to explain, if you’re not a motor-head, and it seemed, in the long process of growing up, I’d forgotten that I was. Most cars nowadays, in spite of the marketing, are no more than appliances, designed to be driven by people who can’t really drive, people who obsess more over the computer screen, and a car’s ability to wash its own reversing camera, than how it feels on the turn. The MX5 is spartan by comparison. It’s all clicky-turny knobs, and not a push button in sight. Such inexpensive roadsters are becoming rare, even on the second hand market, but if you’re lucky enough to find one, you discover once more the pleasures to be had in the up and the downshift, and all the little things between the A to B that still make driving a buzz.

I still have that car, still enjoy knocking about in it. It has a feel like no other vehicle I’ve ever driven. It fits like a glove, is responsive, and foot-sure, and reminds me a man should never fully grow up, that dreams – even Spitfire dreams – are nothing to be ashamed of. It costs a small fortune every year in repairs, and always has some niggle or another, but we’re a good match, and I measure its expected longevity, its aches and pains, as I measure my own. Neither of us will be around forever, but while we are, we’re going to have some fun. She’ll be a classic by the time I croak, maybe even of the same rank as that old MGB, then my kids can sell her on to some boy racer with more money than sense, and split the proceeds.

Anyway, I was looking forward to getting her out this week, fuelling up in readiness for another run to Glasson, but I’m still testing positive for damned COVID. So, it looks like the last Friday of February 2023 is going to be another dud, all of them since 2020 scuppered by COVID. Instead, I shall clean and oil the walking boots in anticipation of brighter days, and a negative test.

For now, here’s a video to remind me of the 2015 run.

And this is where I would have walked, had the walk not been interrupted.

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In the later 1890’s, the writer W Somerset Maugham was living in Paris, where he made the passing acquaintance of the occultist Alistair Crowley. The two did not hit it off, as might be surmised from this, Maugham’s 1908 novel, in which Crowley is lampooned as the repulsive “magician”, Oliver Haddo.

Having read a few of Maugham’s later stories, I began this one thinking it was going to be a deeper read than it turned out to be, and that’s a useful lesson in itself. Just because a story is an old one, written in a twiddly style, doesn’t mean they’re all going to be as literary as a Dickens or a Thackeray. It’s a mistake I often make, instead of just sitting back and enjoying what was intended as a much lighter ride, albeit in period costume. Maugham tells us he was probably trying to emulate the style of his contemporary, the popular French writer, Georges Du Maurier, in particular his successful novel “Trilby” (1894).

For our hero, we have Arthur Burdon, a well-to-do English surgeon. Then there is his fiancée, the rather too porcelain-beautiful Margaret Dauncey. We also have her friend, the confident and somewhat mannish Susie Boyd. Then there’s Burden’s fatherly mentor, Dr Porhoët, a retired surgeon and lifelong scholar of the occult. On an evening out in Paris, our friends encounter the larger than life figure of Oliver Haddo. He latches onto them, and they can’t shake him off. He’s intent on demonstrating his occult knowledge and magical powers, in the face of their scepticism. Margaret finds him particularly repulsive, while Burdon thinks him a charlatan and a liar.

The two men exchange increasingly barbed insults, which eventually come to fisticuffs, in which Haddo appears to come off significantly the worst. But it’s clear from here what a dangerous character he is, as he begins to exact a terrible revenge on Burdon, one in which Burdon’s scientific scepticism is going to be tested to the limit.

So, the story starts out as a portrait of fin-de-siècle Parisian life, at least as lived by the well-heeled. Then it sets us up with a couple of lovers who we just know are going to have a hard time of it. To which end things take a sinister turn, with Margaret apparently falling madly in love with Haddo, and unable to help herself – by dint of Haddo’s avenging occultism – then running off with him, and leaving poor old Burdon a bewildered and broken man.

What is it that makes a so-called magician tick? We might offer self belief, bordering on insanity, even a psychopath, possibly. But if a man really were to possess all the powers of the occult Oliver Haddo boasted of, what would be his ambition for them? Well, for Haddo, it was the creation of life, in the form of a so-called homunculus – a small human-like creature. Such homunculi occupied the imaginations of the early alchemists, and nineteenth century writers of horror a great deal – the creation of life by magic being to usurp the power of the gods. Margaret’s unfortunate fate as a component in Haddo’s unspeakable experiments along these lines then is the impetus that drives the story – the Hitchcockian “torture the heroine” ruse. It’s a romantic thriller, then, with a sudden turn into the realms of horror. What’s not to like? Well,…

I’m glad I read the book, and have certainly enjoyed catching up with Maugham, who I’d not read at all, until recently. But I think where the novel failed for me is that we were supposed to like Burden and his young lady. He is presented as a pillar of scientific rigour, a trustworthy, no nonsense upper class Englishman, a man you’d not hesitate to let near you with a surgeon’s scalpel. The trouble is I didn’t like him at all, Margaret neither.

Oliver Haddo, was wonderfully penned as grotesque, deeply sinister and thoroughly unredeemable. The confident Suzie had the potential to be by far the better heroine, perhaps due to her more modern outlook. Her energy and curiosity, were the main engine in the attempt to foil Haddo’s repulsive ambitions, and it was her gadfly spirit that finally brought the luckless Burden to his senses and had him finally do something other than licking his wounds and being stoic in the face of his misfortunes. Modern reviews of the story are mostly positive, and it’s certainly worth seeing what you think. For myself, it was an early book from a writer trying to find his way, and who would go on to win considerable success with other works. In later life, Maugham was also lukewarm in his affections for it, claiming to have forgotten all about it, his more mature eye finding it now “lush and turgid”.

There was one vociferous critic, writing in Vanity Fair, by the name of Oliver Haddo. Clearly, Crowley had recognised himself. In that respect at least, Maugham landed a direct hit, and unlike poor old Burden, went on to suffer no particular harm, as a consequence.

Rex Ingrams made a film of it in 1926, vaguely recognisable as being based on the novel, gloriously melodramatic, and actually quite scary. You might think it would have vanished from sight, but is, of course, on YouTube.

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Late to the party

I never was an early adopter – always a bit late to the party, so to speak. And some party it turns out to be. It starts with a dry throat, and a chesty cough. But you feel otherwise okay. By late evening, though, you’ve got the shivers, and you’re cursing the gas boiler for the dud you’ve always known it to be. Then you get the headache, and the sweats, and you’re turning the thermostat down.

After a sleepless night with a banging head, your thoughts turn to the possibility it might be COVID. So then you’re rummaging in a drawer for the last of the tests you managed to blag off HMG for free, as they were winding down their response. You can’t even remember what a positive test looks like. Damn. So, you have COVID. This thing that started life in Wuhan, finally catches up with you. Where the hell did I pick that up?

Then you’re playing it back in your head, all the places you’ve been near people in the last couple of days. Friday you were in a pub, in Hurst Green, drinking coffee, warming yourself up after a walk in the wet. Then there was Asda, to buy a loaf of bread, on Saturday. Neither venue was exactly thick with people. You kept your distance, you didn’t linger. Anyway, you let everyone you’ve been with since Friday know, then close the door and go back to bed, passing in and out of awareness as the headaches fade and sleep comes on, although you swear your head still aches in your dreams. You alternate Paracetamol and Ibuprofen, but neither seem to make an impact. Your head fills with cotton wool, the sinuses swell, and the ears ring.

You still hear of people catching it. You’ve been congratulating yourself on a careful approach. Pride before a fall, and all that. You check the NHS website to remind yourself of all that quaint COVID stuff you’ve forgotten, and which you’re likely in for over the coming week or so. You’re fully jabbed and boosted, so you should be okay. You’ll start to feel a bit better after day three or four. You can test again, but pointless before day seven, though it could be day ten before you get the all clear. So that’s the week gone, maybe next week too, and maybe a bit longer to get your legs back. But, I suppose the fact you’re writing this means you’ve escaped the worst of it, and you seem to be getting a bit of energy ba,… zzzzzzzz.

I’ve been very careful throughout, followed all the advice to the point of paranoia, had all the shots and boosters, I still carry hand-gel about, even though there’s now a general feeling we should forget about it and get on with life. And that’s fine, but it’s still out there, and it’s a wily bastard. If you turn your back on it for a second, it’ll have you.

What was it they used to say? Hands, face, space. I could add, don’t drink anything from a cup you haven’t washed yourself first.

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It was September, last year, the last time we were here. Hurst Green, that is, home to the ancient Stonyhurst College, on the edge of the Forest of Bowland. Lancashire is a county rich in history, by turns violent, mysterious, and whimsical. We have myths and monsters, we have warlords, we have a claim on Merlin and Arthur. Cromwell ran amok here, made history, shaped the future of the Kingdom by canon ball, in ways many wished he had not. We have witches, and Fortean oddness, we have bare shaggy hills, and deep vales of ancient woodland, from which the breath of the past rises like a mist from under one’s feet. And nowhere is that more apparent than in this area, just a little to the north of the Ribble.

We’ve come to have another go at Longridge fell. This is a circular walk of around nine miles, but with some variations in the route we walked last time. So, my thanks to fellow blogger, Bowland Climber for his recent piece, and whose opening to our ascent we copy today, through the lovely ravine of the Mill Wood.

It’s not the best of days. The forecast of mizzle is looking optimistic, so we set out in full waterproofs. I haven’t walked this way before, and find the wooded valley dramatic, with its lively brook running through time sculpted, mossy rocks. Poor light makes a photograph difficult without a tripod, but we give it a go. Aperture auto, lens wide open, let the ISO wantder where it will, and rely on the bright optics of modern cameras to work their miracles.

The ravine of Mill Wood gives on to a rough farm lane, and eventually we are passing the achingly romantic Greengore, a former 14th century hunting lodge, once part of the Stonyhurst Estate, but now a private residence and a grade 2 listed building. I find it very Brontyesque. If the girls never saw it, it was surely imagined into being by them as a setting for one of their dramatic stories.

Beyond Greengore, we climb to the old Clitheroe road, and pick up the first of the forest tracks that will take us to Spire Hill, the summit of Longridge. Its proximity to handy car parking is betrayed by the immediate presence of a liberal scattering of small, bright green plastic bags, containing dog turds. One explanation for the mystery of this perplexingly perennial phenomenon was that a number of miscreants, when challenged on this disgusting habit, have claimed it’s perfectly all right, since the bags are biodegradable. I must admit, however, this peculiar logic defeats me.

Unlike our last visit, when the views from Longridge were extensive, today we climb steadily into the murk. There is a cold wind too, with temperatures around five degrees, and feeling much colder in the wind-chill. There are fell ponies up here, or at least there is evidence of them in the heavily chewed gates and stiles. It is as if the beasts are hankering after greener pastures on the other side of the hill, and are gnawing their way through in order to get at it. We pause for lunch here, in the lee of a drystone wall, rendered multi-coloured by lichens, and dripping with windblown wet. Although such days as these do not fill us with ease, there is nevertheless a gritty moodiness about them that is good for the soul.

Next is the dreaded forest section, a mature plantation that has suffered badly in successive storms. Last time, our passage was made complicated by the many trees fallen across, and around, the path. But it seems more have come down since last time, and many are hanging by a thread, leaning precariously against their neighbours. All that is needed is a sigh of wind, to bring them down, too. They creak ominously, just waiting for you to step under them.

On this occasion, retreat feels like the best option. So, we zig and zag a bit, looking for a safer route, but basically back track almost to the summit, and from there, find a way down to a lower route, from which the forest has been cleared and recently replanted. The precariousness of that section truly gave me pause, and I cannot recommend it on anything but the most windless of days. Worse, the extent of the destruction, and the work required in clearing it to safety, suggests we must accept this path is now lost to all but the least risk averse. It’s such a pity, as it was otherwise a fine route.

Meandering this way and that, we eventually come down to the eastern-most extent of the ridge, ner Bleak House and Kemple End. There is a curious stone in a field here that I attempted a photograph of last time but fluffed it, and in leaning on a fence post punctured my waterproofs on a spike protruding from a curl of cunning barbed wire. I try the exact same shot today, and puncture my waterproofs again. Deja-vu. The stone has the look of something ancient, possibly from the megalithic, though with a hole through it suggestive of having been re-purposed as part of an early enclosure, or even the remains of an ancient way-cross, missing its top. I don’t know. It stands on a rise, overlooking a green vale, and commands a fine view southwards.

Below Kemple End, we follow Birdy Brow downhill, then pick up a path which brings us to Ryddings farm, and from here to the River Hodder. We follow the Hodder downstream, a meandering section of gloopy mud, and quite sporting in places, one footbridge in particular leaning at a precarious angle, as if about to topple over, and you with it. The path also brings us suddenly by one of the mysterious Stonyhurst crosses. This one is known as Hague’s cross and, curiously, is not marked in the OS map.

The main downside to this route is that after many ups and down, the way drops you firmly to the banks of the Hodder, by the empty pedestal of another cross – this one Woodward’s Cross, again, not marked on the OS maps. The downside, of course, is this next bit requires quite a pull, up to Stonyhurst, and at the wrong end of nine miles, or nearer nine and a half after all that fiddling about in the forest on Longridge.

We finish as we began, in a soft, steamy mizzle, along the last leg to the car at Hurst Green. It’s only four days, since I was around the Abbey Reservoirs, in sunshine, and with the feeling of winter lifting a little, but the weather today reminds us we have a way to go yet, that indeed, though there will be bright days, and even warm days in the weeks to come, there is yet the Lion and Lamb of March to contend with. Coffee in Hurst Green completes the proceedings.

My roofer turned up last week, full of apologies, after disappearing without word or trace, saying how he didn’t like to let people down, that he’d be round in a few days to sort out my leaking roof at last, like he promised ages ago. But he hasn’t. He has disappeared once more without word or trace. The world presents us with a pastiche of images from which to choose. Confirmation bias betrays our leanings. I could say my roofer is symbolic of the times, long on promises, short on delivery, or I could say the Long Ridge is more like it, reliable in its satisfactions, seductive in its mysteries and, when the times demand, it should be walked with circumspection, but always worth the getting out of bed for.

Nine and a half miles, around eighteen hundred feet of ascent.


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It beggars belief, but yesterday’s domestic news was dominated by our recently ousted PM’s unsubtly trailed and somewhat premature angling for a comeback. In her forty-day tenure – the shortest serving PM in history – she crashed the markets, wiped billions off investments, stunted the growth of defined benefit pensions for millions of workers, and ruined the UK’s reputation for sound financial governance. But, she writes, it was not her fault. She was badly advised. And worse, there are those within the now bitter dregs of her party who think she’s right. My heart sinks, says the leader of the opposition. Mine too, mate.

Then, political journalist, Andrew Marr, now released from the constraints of corporate news media, has been more frank and informative in his analysis of world events of late. Rumours of an early end to the war in Ukraine are premature, he says – though I must admit I had not heard any such rumours – and we should be prepared for it to go on for another five or ten years. This will cast a dark shadow over European – indeed world – affairs throughout the 20’s. But the UK is particularly exposed, it being now the worst performing of the western nations, including Russia, with stagnant growth and levels of entrenched inequality that are quite staggering. You are better off being poor virtually anywhere else in the world, than in the UK. We must expect energy and food prices to remain high, for a long time.

All of this paints a bleak picture, one that is in contrast to the positive vibes of the morning, with clear skies and the frost still lying across the meadows. We leave the car on Dole Lane at Abbey Village, and walk down to the Hare and Hounds, then strike out along the right of way whose signage does its best to say it is not a right of way, but access only to a private residence. But a right of way it is, and has been forever, so off we go.

Just a short walk today, more of a dog waking circuit for Abbey residents, and incomers like me, around the lower reservoirs, and the Roddlesworth plantations. We have no dog, but there is no shortage of yappy canine accompaniment, and our trousers are soon muddied by an over-friendly, jumpy creature, who gets a telling off by a scold-faced woman. I am ready to wave away her apology, but do not get one. Most people we meet are open and friendly, but we tend only to mark the ones who are not.

We’re planning a bigger walk in the Forest of Bowland for later in the week, when the weather is looking iffy, but today, being such a good day, it was a pity to waste it indoors, so here we are, but not wanting to wear our legs out for the upcoming epic. We have time to linger over familiar ways, to take photographs, and to ponder world affairs. As we move from winter’s dark into the first hints of post Imbolc light, and the snowdrops begin to show, there is the feeling of a weight lifted, of an optimism returning. The media, however, have other ideas and would sooner scotch all hope before it has the chance to bud.

I have the long lens today, not the obvious choice for woodland photography, but I’m looking for details in isolation with blurry backgrounds. The obvious targets are the lone juvenile copper birches, holding onto their leaves, and rising into shafts of sunlight against a backdrop of fuzzed out darker woodland. I’ve a feeling it’s a cliché, but I’m not selling photographs, so it doesn’t matter. There’s something in them that’s worth a moment of contemplation, anyway. The branches have poise, like a dancer, expressive of,… well,… something.

The big international news of course is this devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Over 5000 souls are known to be lost, so far. It’s an unimaginable and sudden tragedy that puts our European troubles into perspective. It’s also worth remembering, however, that a study by the University of Glasgow concludes we lost 335,000 souls, across the home nations, between 2012 and 2019, due to poverty alone, as caused by political austerity a fact the media seems curiously reticent about. But to dwell on these things, says our redoubtable chancellor, is to talk Britain down.

On the middle reservoir, the fly-fishermen have pulled their boats in for the winter, so the cormorants are perched instead on the mooring buoys. Patient birds, they share the character of vultures in their Victorian funeral feathers. We are also befriended by a robin which hops onto a post within arm’s reach, and eyes us cheekily. He bobs about there for ages, so enchanting we forget about the camera, and as soon as we do remember it and try to get focus, he’s gone.

Then we meet a bunch of guys we used to work with, the entire department actually, all retired, but still keeping in touch and meeting up for regular walks. It was a tonic to see them looking so hale and hearty. The chancellor scowls and tells us we are part of the problem, we, the early retired, and economically inactive, and should get back to work, along with the sick and disabled, fill in all those vacancies left by our European friends who went home post BREXIT. But the taxman still collects his dues from us, which is more than can be said for certain members of the cabinet. He will have a tough job coaxing us back into the office, should we even be wanted, which I am sure by now we are not.

We have in common our freedom from the constraints of those things we cannot alter, like the clocking machine for a start, and the daily deluge of bullshit emails. We have the freedom to focus on those things that are within our remit: to stay at home and write, do a bit of DIY, tidy the garden, come out for a walk, explore an unfamiliar part of the country, choose which lens to bring with the camera. These are small things for sure, but important all the same, if not as things in themselves, then as vehicles for exploring the deeper self. But even granted such freedom, we risk ignoring it, to go fretting instead over those things we cannot change, like what further madness the chancellor and his swivel eyed colleagues might be planning next. How about scrapping all environmental, food, employment and animal welfare standards? And making it illegal to go on strike.

I have begun a new story, about a man living alone on a remote Scottish island. He finds a humanoid robot of the type they are now developing, and hyping to a ridiculous extent, washed up on the beach. I take all the frankly improbable tech utopian projections, and bestow them in spades upon my fictional bot. It wakes up and proves itself both intelligent and an astonishingly capable companion, as well as gorgeously female in appearance. In what ways does it alter the man’s outlook on his own life?

Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic, but even as a romantic with an increasingly non-dualist perspective, I hesitate to make fun of it. It is a thing to be reckoned with and, if the impact of the Internet is anything to go by, it will render the near future unrecognisable, and in ways that are not predictable and not entirely benign either. Again, this is something we have no control over, but at least as a writer I can explore it, whilst being careful not to be too shrill in its condemnation, or as its advocate. We’re up to three chapters and the ideas are still coming, but we’ll say no more in case I jinx it.

Anyway, just two and a half miles today in frosty sunshine, then a pleasant drive back over the moors. At home, we clean and waterproof the boots for Bowland. I read on a blog recently of a method of spiritual and philosophical reflection, where we cast our minds back over the week, and ask what lessons we learned, something our former PM would do well to dwell upon. I’m not sure if I’ve heard this before – I think I might have – but it’s not something I do by habit, and it’s early in the week yet, so I hesitate to jump to conclusions.

We’ll see come Friday.

Thanks for listening


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