Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘current affairs’ Category

What now shall we do,
With the red, white and the blue?
Our jolly jack, half-mast, and shredded,
Timbers liberally embedded
With grapeshot, of raking volley,
Scrap metal of corruption,
Sleaze and folly.

So many left to die, felled by cutlass
Of entitled spin and lie.
Holed below the water,
Pride of fleet adrift,
Towed out to slaughter,
No steam, no course, no captain.
No steerage in the storm,
And not a single friendly port
To call our own.

Read Full Post »

On reflection, the Covid years haven’t bothered me much. I worked through the first year, which helped retain some semblance of normality. The second year, I retired into it, and the restrictions were irksome for a time, but the local area provided sufficient diversion as things eased, and I’ve enjoyed walking, exploring Bowland and the Dales with the camera. Covid’s still around, of course, but that story has moved on, and no one’s really talking about it any more.

There are some who haven’t been so lucky. Even if you’ve avoided catching it, certain types have been plunged by fear of Covid, and by media reporting of it into an anxiety-induced agoraphobia. While others are out shopping and pubbing, the anxious ones are still shirking company. Supermarkets, pubs, and restaurants, are still a long way away off for them. We, who are inching ourselves back into some semblance of normality, need to be mindful of that.

I’ve not been without a touch of neuroticism over Covid myself. I remember now I helped pull a woman from the river, after she’d fallen in. She was freezing cold, and really struggling to get out, and I had to get a good grip, so to speak, all of which was against the very strict rules on personal contact with strangers at the time. I worried about that for days afterwards, worried about the health of the others I’d involved in the rescue, all this while it later transpired our leaders were having “bring your own booze parties”. I feel terribly foolish that I even thought about it, now.

While we hear much less about Covid, other things have rushed to fill the void. To whit, the mainstream media seem to be ratcheting up for war against a nuclear armed state. So I’m thinking about nuclear war, and it’s a long time since I did that.

I remember my father was with the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). They had a bunker up near Brindle, part of a network that covered the UK. They were there to monitor nuclear bursts, and levels of radiation. Coupled with the weather forecasts, the aim was to give HMG some element of planning around the ensuing catastrophe. He took me to see it once. Its weird concrete protuberances frightened me. It was like a ready-made grave for the duty team who would be incarcerated in it. The ROC was disbanded long before the end of the Cold War. There is no defence, no contingency, no survival, and it’s dangerous to suggest otherwise.

The bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were relatively small, compared with the weapons we have now. It would take very few to reduce the UK to an uninhabitable wasteland. We seem to have forgotten this. The danger subsided for a time, but it’s growing again, and we need to resist the media of usual suspects and their crass headlines, with a different, and more nuanced narrative. In such febrile times, the last thing we need is the equivalent of a banal Twitter spat pushing things over the edge.

But since there is nothing I can do about it, I tell myself to chill out, to read novels, watch movies – preferably without guns, or bombs, or ‘f’ words in them – and to dream dreams, as if there was no suffering in the world. Of course, there is immense suffering, but, in the long ago, we were aware of only manageable doses of it. Now we drown in it. It pours from our devices with every bleeping notification – an endless symphony of sorrowful songs, and the human psyche is only capable of so much compassion before we lose our minds.

I saw a recent interview with the former general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbchev. He spoke of the urgency of nuclear disarmament, because he says the kind of people willing to use them are still around. It was a sobering analysis. We came ever so close, during the Cuban missile crisis. It was only doubt in the mind of one Soviet officer, and his persuasiveness, that prevented the commander of his submarine from launching a nuclear torpedo against a US warship. They thought they were under attack, that world war three had started, and they should let loose Armageddon. But it was a misunderstanding, a hair’s breadth thing, so the story goes. But in a parallel dimension, the decision went the other way, and the earth is a barren cinder.

The west has been living in a blip of relative peace and security, perhaps since the later 1980s, since Gorbachev’s glasnost, and the formal ending of the Cold War. Since then, there have been good times, boom times. We have tanned our skins on the beaches of credit-card opulence, driven our SUVs with attitude up the rear end of those we see as lesser beings. But there is something in us also that seeks the periodic red-mist of war. I remember the newspapers egging on the invasion of Iraq. It seemed an easy thing to do and, given the might of the forces unleashed, it was. What came next was the disaster so many humanitarians predicted.

Thus, I pine for a more sober approach to our present predicament, for a wiser take on the inflammatory headlines of the media with its calls for even more dogs of war to be let loose than are already in the running. As if by way of reply, my phone pings with news, of today’s horrors, and what are we going to do about it? Phones were so much better in the olden days, when all you could do with them was ring people up and say hello.

We should limit our intake, do you think? Impossible, you might say. But there’s only so much we can stand. At the very least we should not be so browbeaten we are ashamed to sing, dance, and make merry, or at least switch off and read some lighter material. It does not make us bad people. What’s more important is we remain level-headed, that we might then see through the fog, as far as we possibly can, that we make sure the wasteland of our world remains in another dimension of space and time, and is never visited upon this one.

Read Full Post »

Each new day, since the invasion of Ukraine, I wake, reach for the phone, and dial up the news. The Russians have been shelling a nuclear power plant this week. It seems the height of lunacy. More recently, they have been shelling people evacuating in a ceasefire. Total bastards, then. Total bastards too, the images of entire apartment blocks felled by shelling, by rockets, or whatever. And cluster munitions – the devil’s own choice of arms. It’s not like in the movies. It’s even more depraved than anything Hollywood dare conceive. We know it is, because, if Jung is right – and I’ve always felt he was – it’s a thing lurking at the bottom of us all. That’s why we watch it. That’s why it compels us, and why it so deeply disturbs us.

Media, media, media. We might as well not bother. We know full well we must take everything with a pinch of salt. Images. Words. They mean nothing in relation to reality, and we might as well be writing our own story of events, for all it will resemble the truth of things. We know this of our slickly duplicitous media ecosphere by now, or we know nothing. Only those in the thick of it know the score, and thank God, that’s not us. But what’s the difference? A child in terror of a Russian bomb, or a child in Iraq or Afghanistan, in terror of a Western bomb? Both are children, both are innocent, both are bombs. The answer is complex, does not translate well into sound bites. The difference is time, distance, culture, the amnesia, and the vanity of the punditry, and so on and so on.

I have donated to the DEC . It pays for blankets, for medical supplies, for bottles of water or whatever, to help, in a small way, and helps me, too, with that feeling of uselessness. Please donate too, if you feel able. The total stands at eighty-five million, as I write, so we are short of neither compassion nor feelings of uselessness. But before we feel too virtuous about all that, we must ask how those Afghans felt, not long ago, but already forgotten. They were fleeing the fall of Kabul, having helped the western forces in great hope, and at the risk of their lives, only to find the plane fast departing contained a full complement of dogs, while they were left to the mercies of the Taliban? I know how I would have felt. Remember, nothing is simple, no matter how much we wish to boil it down to slogans.

So, this war in Europe, this latest spectacle. Pundits are talking about it as if it’s different to any of the other wars. I don’t know. Is it? All I want is to save a kid from crying. Others are baying for the West to do more, to enforce a “no-fly zone”. Bring it on they say, like it can be done magically, surgically, virtually, without NATO planes shooting down Russian ones, like the Cold War never existed, like there is such a thing as surviving a nuclear escalation.

Then I see images of captured Russian boys, presumably under duress, phoning their mothers. Are these tearful boys the devil, then? It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five , in which, contrary to common belief, we discover wars are not fought by men at all. Men – old men – plan them, comment on them, command them, write memoirs about them, become long distance pundits of them, or they become preening news-anchors with fancy hair, who present them as glossy, po-faced infotainment. But it is our children, our boys, who must fight them. It is our children who die in them. It is mothers, fathers, who grieve, whose lives are ended by these wars as surely as if they had caught a bullet themselves.

Stop the War? Does it even need saying? But as Vonnegut also reminds us, we might as well demand we stop the glaciers. Both are natural phenomenon, immune to persuasion, though at halting the latter we are lately proving to be more adept. Of the former, I suspect the news cycle will move on, before we see anything like the conclusion we desire.

Covid. Trump. Brexit. And even now, the shameful and ever-perplexing scandal of Londongrad grinds on. What next? Ah, all right, a war in Europe – we’ve not had one of those for a while, and a fresh media frenzy, while we’re at it, to keep us all terrified, all frozen anew. Meanwhile, we know nothing, though we like to think we do, that we keep ourselves well-informed, through our devices, through our news bulletins. But our emotions, our sense of well-being, our despair, our tears,… all are nothing, or rather all are fair game in this infotainment business. We are hijacked. We are puppets at the command of forces beyond our understanding. We know this, but we keep clicking, keep scrolling anyway. We can’t help ourselves because we don’t know what anything means any more.

If this is the harvest of the rational, the material world, then give me mysticism, give me the mystery of my dreams, give me the black tide of the occult. Let me navigate my life by way of the runes and the tarot, and the yijing, because anything is better than this massively computer programmed, semi-virtual, arrogantly scientific mechanical world that’s driving us all to slaughter. We have nothing wholesome to learn from any of the clever men bestride this world’s stage, and who would command our every heartbeat, except,…

Watch out, and what’s next?

Read Full Post »

Settle, Yorkshire Dales.

It didn’t seem possible the forecast could be right for morning. A clear day ahead, it said. Light cloud. Sunshine. But the wind was howling, there were flurries of snow, and heavy rain. I took the little blue car out the evening before to fill her up anyway. Well, I put enough in for the trip. At £1.48 per litre, my local garage is one of the cheapest, but that’s still a record high for me. I reckoned it would break £1.50 by morning.

It did.

But the weather had also changed. The wind had dropped, and it was looking like a dry day, as the forecast promised, so here we are, driving north, to Settle. But the heart is heavy, and the usual thrill at heading for the Dales is lacking. The news from Eastern Europe, this morning, is deeply unsettling.

Traffic is heavy, morning commute time. It takes half an hour to travel five miles, then an hour to cover the remaining forty. In the meadows north of Long Preston, the Ribble has flooded out, and several trees are down. The region has suffered a battering of storms, like everywhere else, these past weeks. But there are snowdrops by the wayside, radiant in the sun, offering glimmers of hope. Ingleborough, is white capped, and gleaming in the distance, a beacon drawing us in.

Settle is bustling, mid-morning. I’ve always like this town. In common with other places in the Dales, it refuses the overt touristification so many other places in national parks, like the Lakes for example, succumb to. As a consequence, it retains its authenticity, its soul. People still live here. I could live here. It is a town contained to the east by high fells, bordered by the Ribble to the west. My home village has few choices for walking, and all are dull. Here the choice is endless and grand.

It’s a good day for a walk, good light for the camera. We pick up the Ribble, and head upstream to Stackhouse, and the weir. The river is lively, and thundering. There’s a backdrop of finely textured cloud lit by a bright, low sun. Penyghent is peeping at us, snow still lying in the gullies on its western flank. The grasses are impossibly green, glowing with a promise that seems somehow inappropriate.

Then it’s Langcliffe, and the path through Dicks Ground Plantation, up the hill to Higher Winskill. The light intensifies, the clouds are moving, and the dale begins to breathe. Back in the summer, I sat here for ages, just watching the light change over Dick’s Ground, with its crazy patchwork of meadows. I try to tease back more of that memory, thinking to regain my centre by it, but it’s elusive. Finches duck about in the thorn tree at our backs. They’re telling us spring is coming. I hope they’re right. But spring will be late in the Ukraine this year, if it comes at all.

Sampson’s Toe, Langcliffe

We skip Catrigg force. I never could get a decent picture of it anyway. Instead, we head up the track towards Langcliffe scar. We’re looking for the Norber Erratics, and find a good one, a huge gritstone boulder atop the limestone. They call this one Samson’s Toe. Perched here for twelve thousand years or so, it’s seen a lot of history, most of it before we ever learned to read and write. It came from the Lake District, carried by ice. There were people around in those days, of course, but it’s anyone’s guess what they were up to, since they predate even our earliest myths. It’s likely they were making war, as we still are. Was there ever a time when we were not dangerous to one another? I presume not, but we were never so dangerous as we are now, so many ways of raining down fire on innocent heads.

We pick up the line of the craggy Attermire Scars, follow them south, towards the more gently rounded Sugar Loaf Hill. The way is of a sudden boggy here, a ring of gaspingly beautiful high dales draining into a broad, squelchy hollow, churned to a deep slime by heavy beasts. We find a dry nest of rock, and hunker down for lunch. Sugar Loaf is to our backs, the line of the Warrendale Knotts, stem to stern, for our view, and the light playing tunes along the length of it.

Warrendale Knotts

Back home, I’ve got more fence panels hanging by a thread. It’s been getting me down, this tail end of winter, but today I don’t care. Today I’m lucky my world is so safe I can be derailed by such trivia. The car ran well, made me feel good, actually, the snarl of it. Plus, of course, it’s a beautiful day, a beautiful view, and my boots haven’t leaked, yet. Still, there’s this shadow hanging over things. We think it’s one thing or another, but the shadow isn’t always a material thing. It comes out of the psyche, sometimes too out of the deeper layers, through which we’re all connected, in which case there’s a lot of people feeling the same unease as me, right now.

We pick up the ancient ways from here, beginning with the Lambert Lane track, and we come back to Settle, approaching from the south. The tracks run deep between dry-stone walls, and are flooded out in places, seemingly impassable. Walkers have taken rocks from the tops of the walls and laid them as stepping stones. These too are submerged now. The boots will surely leak at this challenge, but we arrive back at the car with dry feet, and no complaints.

Seven or eight miles round, still early in the afternoon, we top the day off with coffee, and a toasted bun, at the Naked Man café. Face masks have mostly gone now. Covid scared us all witless, two years ago. Suddenly, no one cares about it, any more.

Read Full Post »

February is blowing itself out in a whole long week of storms, one after the other. It snaps some more of my rotting fence panels, and says, there you go, suck on that. It rattles the eaves all night, and howls through the vents, keeping me awake. I put on sound-cancelling headphones, which do a good job, but then I wake at intervals with hot, itchy ears.

Mornings bring a bloodshot dawn, and days indoors, sheltering from the weather, with the mood, like the trees outside, swinging from one side to the other. The various media show me roads flooded, lorries toppling over, and all the trains are cancelled. I watch big jets on live feed, making precarious landings at Heathrow.

Now and then there is a tease of sunshine, and the wind holds its breath, tempting one to contemplate escaping out of doors. But before I’ve got my shoes on, the rain is hammering against the glass. Submit, it says, you’re going nowhere.

In one brief interlude, I cobble back the worst of the damage to the fence panels, to stop them waggling about, and creaking in the night, at least. But we’re looking at replacing them, soon, and that means finding some workmen. But workmen are difficult to find, and, when found, they are difficult to persuade to turn up, and when they are persuaded, they suck their teeth and charge the earth. Reasons are various: it’s the price of wood, you see, mate? It’s the pandemic, it’s inflation, it’s the cost of energy, it’s the lack of lorry drivers, it’s BR*XIT’s sunny uplands! All of these things, I suppose, make their contribution to these late winter blues.

It has me fretting. It disturbs my sleep as much as the wind does, this seemingly endless business of maintaining fences. Is that another panel gone? Of course, there’s more to this. Are these possibly metaphorical fences? Is it the borders of one’s-self we feel are not so secure as they were? And have we the energy to keep on renewing them? In twenty years I’ll be eighty, which is not so long, since twenty years past was five minutes ago, and I imagine that’s too old to be moithering over fence panels. We do not normally toss and turn to such thoughts. How interesting! I surmise we are actually suffering from stir craziness, or cabin fever, when a mood can be punctured by so little as dropping the end of your carefully dunked digestive biscuit into your cup of tea. And it is, after all, two weeks now, since we had a walk.

So we brave the buffeting, and take a drive to the shop for a change of scene, noting in passing petrol is once more at an all-time record high. As for the shop, the etiquette is now confusing, since Boris declared victory over Covid, having fought it on the beaches, and in the air, until it finally surrendered. I wear a mask anyway, like the health services still advise. I am alone in this, but for the other fuddy duddy, who wears his mask as a chinstrap. Half a kilogram of butter costs nearly five pounds! And wine,… well, never mind. In emergencies, cheese and wine are called for. We pick out a modestly priced French Red, and a wedge of Stilton, then head for home.

Meanwhile, Russia invades the Donbas region of the Ukraine. I did not think they would, but, in retrospect, like many things in life, I see it was now inevitable. The western press is awfully keen of a sudden to talk it up as another infotainment conflict, somehow forgetting Russia has had effective control of this region since 2014, with the result of 14,000 deaths already, and barely a peep. But I am avoiding headlines as much as I can. This is not a good time to be further oppressed by things one can do nothing about.

The house always feels cold, in windy weather. Also, since our last email from the energy company, we have set the heating to knock off early. Then again, it never does quite warm the place to cosiness, since we also set the thermostat to economy. So we read a little, we write a little. And when the cold creeps in, we toss a rug over our legs, and think of spring.

To accompany the wine and cheese, we put Amelie on the player, settle down to watch its warm, gentle whimsy. I’ve been learning French off and on for years, with the aim of one day sitting through films like this without subtitles. I find I can catch the occasional phrase, now, the occasional line, by playing them back in my head, but by then dialogue has moved on, and it’s hard to keep up. My brain is just too slow, so I put the subtitles on.

Amelie is permanently in my top ten of movies, though it must also be said my top ten has many more than ten movies in it by now. The story defies explanation, but five minutes is all it takes, and the world and the wind are forgotten.

Why fret over what we cannot fix? Those rotting fence panels? Yes, we’ll have to fix them eventually. Let the wind pick them out for us, hopefully no more than one or two at a time. But the rest of what oppresses us, the media is geared to presenting us with stuff we can do nothing about, while social media lends the illusion that by shouting about a thing, it makes a difference, when all it does is make things worse. In other news, the forecast is looking fair for Friday. We’ll pencil the little blue car in for a run to the Dales.

I think we’re overdue.

See you there.

Read Full Post »

Until now, the value of a thing for sale has always boiled down to the availability of that thing, which is determined by how rare it is, or by the difficulty of its manufacture. And then there’s the demand for that thing, whatever it is. Things that are difficult to find, or produce, and are very much in demand, command high prices. On the other hand, things that are abundant or easily mass-produced, but for which there is no demand, say because they’ve fallen out of fashion, or have become obsolete, aren’t worth anything.

These traditional laws of supply and demand have held true, until now. But now, the digital age has begun to render things that are very difficult to produce worthless, by virtue of the fact that technology enables them to be re-produced instantly, and infinitely. A practical example of this, is the chess set I’m modelling.

In olden times, my chess figures would have been hand carved, and each chess set would have been unique. In the right market, a maker of such ornate pieces could reasonably expect to make a living from it. I’m in the process of sculpting them, digitally, using a piece of software called Blender. Amongst other things, it simulates very well the process of modelling in clay. The end result is a three-dimensional digital model of whatever you care to imagine.

But what use is a digital chess set, you ask? Well, having defined their shapes digitally, as computer files, one of the things we can do is print the pieces out, using machines like this:

When they first appeared, in the late 1980s, 3D Printers were the stuff of science fiction. They cost more than a house, and only big engineering companies ran them. Now you can get one for the price of a washing machine.

There’s a lot of modelling work in each of these chess pieces, hours and hours of it, but a set made by digital methods is essentially worthless, because, once finished, the technology of 3D printing renders it easily, instantly and endlessly reproducible.

3D Printed Chess Pieces – Crealty Ender 3

I’m going to gift the set I’m making, so its value in monetary terms is irrelevant, but my little hobby here also illustrates how seriously our technology is upsetting economic norms. Capitalists are starting to worry about it too, and they’re coming up with ideas to artificially inflate the value of digital assets. To this end, we now have the Non Fungible Token, or NFT.

You may have heard about these as the latest get rich quick thing, with people trading NFTs for large sums of money. What NFTs are, in essence, is a way of offsetting the infinite reproducibility of a digital asset by registering ownership of the original file. Then, like any other artwork, you can make as many copies as you like, but there will still only be the one original. I could register myself as the original artist of my chess pieces, which would make the files I hold unique, and any copies you hold, not. You can copy and paste your files as much as you like, but the originals, in theory, retain their value – if they ever had any – because there’s a ledger out there in internet land that says they’re the original. What you buy when you trade the NFT is, if you like, the title deed that says those files once belonged to me, the artist, and now they belong to you.

But here’s the thing I don’t get about NFT’s, and perhaps someone can explain it to me. For the NFTs to be worth anything at all, be they the data for my little chess set, or the original word-files for my writings, or a doodle from a digital paint program, I’d have to be a name by other means, and much trumpeted by the machinery of name-making celebrity culture. In which case, we’re no longer trading purely on skill – say in a work of art, or a piece of music. We’re no longer manufacturing a product at all, we’re manufacturing value.

The skill is still required, a product must be produced – there’s no getting around that – but no matter how well executed, the digital product, as a thing in itself, is not worth anything. What grants it any value at all is how easily a potential consumer can be persuaded the original creator is a name whose name is worth more than other names, or is at any rate a star that is rising, so an NFT, perhaps traded modestly to begin with, might one day be worth a fortune. But this is a very strange business, that we have come to value no longer the thing in itself, but its digital seed, and in fact just one seed in particular, when, for all practical purposes, it is identical to all the others copied from it.

The owner of an original painting can take pleasure in that ownership, in its display, its history. It can be gazed upon, and appreciated as a work of art. But one does not display an NFT. It has no aesthetic value, no line, no shape at all to the naked eye. It says nothing, speaks nothing to the soul.

Capitalists have embraced all previous industrial revolutions, but it seems to me, they’re not so keen on this one, whose business it is to blur the boundaries between the physical world, and the virtual. The creative types were among its first victims, but now it’s coming for the capitalists themselves, since the basis of “capital” is becoming less tangible, infinitely reproducible, and therefore materially worthless. I may be thinking about this all wrong, but the NFT strikes me as a dubious last ditch fix, a way of holding on to a decaying system of values, and a value culture, that technology would otherwise have little trouble sweeping away. That said, what the world looks like, if we let the machines loose from the NFT noose, is anyone’s guess. It would require at the very least, a fundamental restructuring of society, how we earn, and live in an equitable fashion, but thus far, that seems not to be up for discussion.

I could create an NFT for my chess piece data, but unless I make a name for myself, or have someone else make it for me, no one’s ever going to speculate on its value, so it remains worthless. Meanwhile, more marketable NFTs change hands for tens, or hundreds of thousands of pounds. In this privileged version of the world, NFTs might mean something, but it is a world that seems designed only to give the wealthiest something to spend their money on. Meanwhile, the food charity queues grow longer, and our escalating energy prices mean people cannot heat their homes.

In the latter world, which is a big world, and getting bigger by the day, NFT’s don’t mean anything at all.

Here’s a humorous take:

Read Full Post »

Cartridge Hill, Darwen Moor

Another walk on the Darwen moors, this time taking in Lyons Den, Cartridge Hill and Hollinshead Hall

We’re standing by this small ruin on Darwen Moor. It’s a low, mossy, grass covered mound, and hard to tell if we’re looking at stone or brick underneath. We’re near the head of Stepback Brook. Lower down its steep, rocky course, is where we found the enchanting little waterfall, last time, but which is today reduced to a disappointing trickle. We’ve come up from Ryal Fold in deep shade, over a frost hardened earth, and in the teeth of a bitter wind that severely tested our resolve. Now, though, we’ve popped out into dazzling sunlight, with a bit of warmth in it, so the way is slightly more encouraging.

This is Lyons Den. I was expecting more, but perhaps less is more. I imagine it’s a fine spot in summer, with the moors dusty, under the heat of a noonday sun, and these trees providing shade for the traveller and a whisper of stories as the wind stirs their leaves, and the brook tinkles its way down the valley. Today though, even in the sun, it looks and feels rather bleak.

According to legend, it was a man called John Lyon who gave the place its name. This would be around the last decade of the eighteenth century. He lived here, not in any ordinary dwelling, but in a crude shelter made of turf. A shaggy, giant of a man, he was seen to emerge from his rustic lair on all fours, the Lyon emerging from his den, so to speak, and the name stuck with the locals, or so the legend goes. He gets a paragraph in Shaw’s 1889 book, “Darwen and its people”, which is the most definitive account I have of this enigmatic character. The place was sold on in the nineteenth century, and became the more conventional, small farm we see on the early OS maps.

Lyons Den, Darwen Moor

The maps also suggest it was less of a lonely place then. There were mines and quarries all around, and we can imagine the sound of men toiling at, and in, the earth, and the sound of carts creaking over the rutted moorland ways, with their loads. A profusion of Victorian shafts dot the moor, ominous depressions by the wayside, and caution is required. Some are fenced, others not. Shafts weren’t always securely filled from the bottom up, and that curious depression in the earth might easily conceal a rotting cap of planks, with a terrifying void lurking beneath.

The plan for the day is to take in the top of Cartridge Hill, then walk down to the woods at Roddlesworth, to the ruins of Hollinshead Hall, then circle back to the car at Ryal Fold. I’m not feeling on top form, so we’ll have to see how it goes. I have what looks like an infected tick bite on my foot, which itches like blazes. It’s been keeping me awake, so I’m tired and lacking energy. Either that or it’s the start of Lymes’. I’ve tested negative, so I know it’s not Covid.

I didn’t get to show it to the doctor, who remains elusive. I had to send the surgery a photograph instead, and the practice nurse rang me back to say it looked more like ringworm, that I need an antifungal ointment. I hope she’s right. Neither Lymes’ nor Covid are attractive alternatives, though of the two, I’d sooner take my chances with Covid.

Perhaps that’s why the moor feels strange today, empty somehow. Or it could be a bitterness over the recent party-gate revelations. I had thought I’d risen above all the polarising politics of recent years, but am occasionally brought back to the boil by its craven lunacy. Today, I’m remembering how the cops came down really hard on ordinary folk for infringement of the social distancing rules, how we were encouraged to dob our neighbours in, how lone walkers were spied upon by cop-drones, and shamed for being out of doors, “admiring the view”, like it was the new sin. It’s all proving a bit hard to swallow.

Anyway, Lyons Den is at the junction with the track coming up from Duckenshaw Clough, and which winds its way down to Hollinshead. We follow it westwards a short way, locate the path that cuts back to Cartridge Hill, then follow the line of a fence over open moor to the summit. Although an understated hill, as a viewpoint it’s outstanding, and well worth a visit. Southwards, there’s Belmont and Winter Hill. To the east, it’s the Holcombe moors. Westwards, it’s Great Hill and Anglezarke. We have a faint inversion in the valleys today, which we try to capture with the camera, but the cold soon nibbles at the fingers and has them aching for our pockets again.

I have an irrational thing about ticks. They’re a metaphor of something I can’t pin down. It’s nature, no longer welcoming, but turned predatory. If that thing on my foot is a tick bite, it can only have come from this neck of the woods, where ticks are unheard of, and it’s the middle of winter, for heaven’s sake, when ticks aren’t active. But then we have climate change, mild winters, and a burgeoning wild deer population,… I don’t know. Perhaps it’s an age thing, but there’s this sense of change, and all of it careening downhill to nothing good.

In roddlesworth woods

We retrace our steps back to the main track, then wander down to the woods at Roddlesworth. Here we seek out the extensive, and fascinating ruins of Hollinshead hall. Flattened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I’ve always found it curious that the well house remains so stubbornly intact. It’s the setting for a very fine ghost story, whose origins are the eerie memoir of Richard Robinson, of Brinscall, also known as “a moorland lad”. Out of print now, I found a pdf copy of it, titled “The Wishing Well” on the website of the Chorley and District Archaeological society, and a very good read it is too, as well as being of significant historical interest.

The Well House, by the ruins of Hollinshead Hall.

Lunch today is lentil soup, which we enjoy in the sunshine, sheltered from the wind, in the lee of a wall, whose original function we can only speculate about. Kitchen? Lounge? Study? In the seventeenth century, the hall was home to the Radcliffe family, of Royalist leanings in the civil war. There’s speculation the well house was used as a secret baptistry, the Radcliffes being of the Catholic faith, at a time when priests were being murdered by the state, and the Vatican was having to smuggle them in through Ireland. But my favourite story of Hollinshead Hall – also told by Richard Robinson in his memoir – comes from the eighteenth century, when it passed to one Lawrence Brock-Hollinshead. Brock-Hollinshead installed a special circular room, here, as part of an experiment concerning time, and determining the exact length of a calendar year. This was prior to Britain’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar, in 1752.

Britain was still relying on the less accurate Julian calendar, in spite of the rest of Europe, by that time, having changed, the result being we were 11 days behind everyone else. The experiments involved timing the sun as it shone through a series of apertures, over a period of six years. Brock-Hollinshead’s studies proved Pope Gregory was right about the precise length of the year, and the new calendar was duly adopted. This meant catching up the 11 lost days, which gave rise to riots, people believing they had been robbed of life. And on that note, given also the febrility of the present day, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn there were moves to abolish it, and have our pre Gregorian exceptionalism restored!

Hollinshead Hall 1846 – Cartridge hill in the background

So, down through the mossy woods now, to the bridge over Rocky Brook. The sun is slanting nicely through the trees, but I’m not in the mood to linger. I’m definitely feeling off, and wanting a sit down, somewhere comfy and warm, with a large mug of hot chocolate. The little blue car is up at the Royal, and it’s a bit of a pull out of the woods from here. We’ll see how we go. Itchy feet for sure, though, today, which of course could also be read as a metaphor which bodes well, for the coming year.

Thanks for listening.

References:

Image of Hollinshead Hall in 1846, reworked from a public domain print, acknowledgement www.albion-prints.com

“Darwen and its People” J.G. Shaw 1889

The wishing Well – a moorland romance. A Moorland Lad – Richard Robinson 1954

Read Full Post »

Tree and puddle

The lady in the pharmacy is upset. Her mother is ill, and struggling to get her medication. The lady wants to know if the pharmacy can arrange for her mother’s prescription to be delivered. Normally, yes, this can be arranged, but the prescription needs to be signed off by the doctor. But the lady explains, in a tone of rising desperation, that she is unable to get through to the doctor by telephone, that she has been ringing the surgery for hours to no avail. I had heard appointments were difficult to come by. Now it’s impossible even to get the surgery to answer the telephone. The pharmacist cannot help, but, unlike the doctor, she is at least available to speak to and, sadly, to field the invective she does not deserve. The lady leaves with her life still in crisis.

My own quest involves the search for Lateral Flow Tests. Last year you could order these things online, and they would be delivered, or you could walk into a pharmacy and pick up a week’s supply. Now, official online kits are as hard to come by as the proverbial manure of rocking horses, and before you can get one from a pharmacy, you needed a code from the official website. I have the code, but the pharmacist has no kits.

“We’ll get a small delivery tomorrow morning,” she tells me. “But they’ll gone in an hour.”

Looks like an early get-up then, tomorrow. I do not need them for myself. My habits are once more reclusive; I no longer work, have no elderly relatives to support, and I can keep myself to myself. But my son is working for an employer who has decided the pandemic is over, that Covid is reduced to a sniffle, and “prefers” everyone return to the office. This is notwithstanding the fact hospitals in my area have declared states of emergency.

There is nothing to be done. The world is upset and things are broken. The newspapers report our formerly free lateral flow kits are now selling online for hundreds of pounds. I don’t know if this is true, or if it’s just the newspapers being newspapers, stirring things up for the clicks.

The last word from our leadership was characteristically laissez-faire, and seemed not to take account of the rising sense of crisis, or at least as it is felt in the pharmacy queues of greater England, and more specifically, Northern England. Muddle through is the motto, and fair enough, we’re good at that. After all, things could be worse; the world is not at war, and asteroids are not falling from the sky. But the waters we must muddle through are muddier of late, and it’s harder to see the depths ahead.

Still, the sun is shining. My boots have dried out from their soaking on Withnell moor. There is a tree, and a puddle on the plain I have not visited for a while. And while the built world, the world we have thought into being, shudders and grows less sure of itself, the natural world, in pockets at least, remains to provide a clearer reflection of our true nature. That said, the potato fields are sprouting rubber gloves and face masks these days. In the coming millennia, archaeologists will scan down to the level of this detritus, and use their findings to answer the questions of how well we coped with these particular pandemic years.

These too are the years before we solved the vexed problems of perpetual war. They are the years before we stopped burning fossil fuels, and discovered how to stuff the carbon dioxide and the methane back into the earth, the years before we found our more harmonious balance with nature, cleared the oceans of plastic rubbish, greened the cities, and rewilded the wilderness, turned back the earth from grey to green, and ended poverty. It was a miracle. And how did we manage such a thing, they’ll wonder, those future archaeologists, sociologists, anthropologists and historians, for things were not at all apparent from the evidence of our times, such as they are, and from the records we left behind, including those long archived newspaper reports of black marketeering in lateral flow test kits.

I shall have to go and ask it of the tree – how we did it, I mean – because I forget now. But trees have long memories, and it might just remember how we managed to squeak through to better times.

Read Full Post »

The penultimate movie I watched, in 2021, was a darkly satirical offering called “Don’t Look Up”. Astronomers discover an asteroid on collision course with earth, a mass extinction event. But it coincides with another mass extinction event already well under way, which is the state of our political and media culture, and where it’s leading us. So far, from what I’ve read, it’s being called a sci-fi movie. It’s not. It’s very much of the moment, and what happens is eerily plausible, but then my span of life on earth includes the phenomenon that was Trump’s presidency, and the spectacle of the incumbent British administration. After that, anything will seem plausible.

The message I took from the movie, is those who can still relate to one another as human beings, still look up at the sky and know it’s real, and who value love and fellowship – well – you’d better cling to that, because it’s no small thing, even if your phone is telling you something else entirely. It’s also all you’ve got. It won’t stop you getting mown down with the rest of humanity in its stampede for the material, but you’ll be able to look back on your life, and feel it was worth something. The only other thing there is is this “culture”, for want of a better word, that we’ve built, lets say over the last twenty years, and which can have us look up at an incoming asteroid, and deny its existence, sneer knowingly at the science that’s telling us it’s coming, right up to the moment it strikes, then whimper uselessly, that we were lied to. What we’ve built, then, aspires to something stupid, and which crushes the life out of, well,… life itself.

It’s had mixed reviews, but I thought it was pretty much on the button. It was a sobering note to end the year on, but not altogether negative.

Individually, we’re all facing our own incoming asteroid, our own extinction event. There’s a line in the Chinese Book of Changes, that describes how some of us will approach this by denying its existence, by endless partying, pursuing surgery, drugs, botox and hair dye, all to maintain the illusion of eternal youth. Others will spend their lives crushed under the weight of it, bemoaning the harshness, and the futility of life, weeping over their lot at every chance they get. But to live as we should is to find another way, one that’s becoming harder, like a whisper in a room of noise, and it’s rarely taught, how to tune in how to age gracefully, how to mature as a human being. Part of it at least is to treasure the ineffable in what can be the all too transient and minuscule glimpses of a greater reality.

The movie ends with family and friends breaking bread around the dinner table, and asking the question: what was the best moment of your life? I took my cue from this and asked the question at our family Christmas lunch, not what was the best moment of your life, but of the past year. It’s tempting to see this past year, and the year before it, in purely negative terms, on account of Covid. But in spite of that, each of us could indeed pin-point a special moment, several in fact, and in that light, its not been a bad year at all, just different.

One of my special moments would be reaching the top of Pendle, in September, and having it to myself for a bit. There was something in the fall of light, in the colours of the sky, and the movement of clouds that day. We’re not always aware of it at the time. It’s only when we think back, we realise there was a special quality, a connection with something deeper than the surface of the everyday.

These are the times that give life meaning, their promise pulling us forwards, into life, though we have no idea when they will come again. They’re special because they’re reflective of something timeless, something of the immortal, a memory we are born with, and they don’t cost anything. It’s a glimpse, perhaps, of what the Hindu would call Brahman, the transcendent, or rather the divine consciousness, and that we are, each of us, “it”. What we’re seeing then, in moments like that, is a reflection of our own face in the crowd, and recognising it, even if we cannot name it.

But our vision, our ability to naturally transcend, is mostly hampered by the shallowness and the surrounding noise, and especially now, with the infernal din that is our “social” media, this thing that showed some early promise as a means of remotely connecting us, but which was captured by the big bucks machinery, and is now gamed simply to big us up with its false promises, persuade us the persona we project into it is the real “us”, but which ultimately makes an insulting zero of us all. Then there’s the unwholesome churn of our politics and news media, perpetually beamed into our heads, unsettling us, and purporting to be the only reality there is. But it’s not.

Just look up.

Here’s to 2022

And, as always, thanks for listening.

Read Full Post »

The Pike Tower, Rivington

The year has blown itself out. It’s exhausted, its dreams have turned to ash, its spirits are damp with endless rain. Whenever the phone rings, it’s to let us know someone has died. Covid Omicron is circling with bat wings and horns, and the NHS Website is glowing red with demand for boosters. The temptation is to pull up the drawbridge, and write dark poetry. But then the Met office gifts us a brief chink of sunlight, so we fill the flask, grab the camera, and head up the Pike!

Rivington Pike is beloved of millions, a distinctive pimple of a hill atop the moor, and visible for miles. It was a natural choice for one of the network of early warning beacons for the threatened invasion of 1588. Since the late seventeen hundreds, it’s been crowned with this little stone tower. Originally a hunting lodge, the structure was almost demolished by Victorian vandalism, then fortified to its present impregnable status. Its walls bear centuries of graffiti, now eaten by acid rain into deep engravings. One of my lot added their name to it in 1881.

So anyway, it’s a midweek morning, and the causeway between the Rivington and Anglezarke reservoirs is rammed to a single lane. The Rivington Barn eatery is doing a brisk trade, and the Hall avenue is solid from top to bottom with parked cars. I spent a long time working towards retirement, only to find the whole world made it ahead of me, and got the last parking space. Well, not quite – I exaggerate for effect. I got the last one.

A December sun is a peculiar thing; virtually no heat, but incredibly bright. Capturing the dynamic range of a landscape on a digital sensor is a challenge at this time of year. Anything lit by the sun tends to burn out, so I’m experimenting. Then, I post-process at home.

I’m enjoying photography more than writing fiction at the moment, seeing more in what I can bring out of images than I do in words. My characters refuse to live, as if wearied by what they’re trying to say. Thus, the work in progress languishes, limps along a little, then collapses into a heap of uncertainty. It seems at times remote and stupid, like I’m losing my mind, at other times like I’m preaching, at other times like I don’t care, and I’ll say it anyway. But it will not take on a life of its own, as it once used to do.

I used to escape into fiction as a distraction from the day-job, which, like all jobs, involves wearing a face that is to some degree invented, while keeping what I felt to be my truer self incognito. But I also write as active imagination, which is a journey to unravel further aspects of the hidden self. I think I know the nature of that journey’s end now, which is to reveal one’s original face, as they say in Zen. The stories have pointed to the gate, and all that remains is to walk through it. But I’m not sure writing stories is part of that journey any more.

I’m feeling a little strange this morning. I dreamed of a fish – well, two fishes, actually – one large, one small, living in a puddle. I drop them some food, and the little fish pushes the big one right out of the puddle, then eats the food. The big one lies there, remote, sidelined, forgotten, expiring for want of oxygen. Fishes in dreams are thoughts, or at least they seem so in mine. And if they are so, then the big ideas are getting sidelined by the trivia, which is consuming all the energy. Or you could look at it the other way and say the old and the listless is being displaced by the fresh and the new. So which is it? The dream wasn’t explicit. They never are. It just asked me to think about it.

We start our walk with a meandering ascent through the terraced gardens, gradually working up to the summit of the Pike. You can get three or four miles out of it, and seven hundred feet of ascent. It’s not a long walk then, but a fairly stiff one, if you go for the Pike.

The seven arched bridge, Leverhulme’s terraced gardens, Rivington.

The first point of interest along the way is the so-called seven arch bridge. Like everything else here, it was built in the early nineteen hundreds, purely for fancy. It’s part of the then Viscount Leverhulme’s “palace in the clouds”, a collection of now mostly grade two listed historic structures. Picks, shovels, an army of men, and horses gave shape to it, and years in the making. It was the brainchild of prolific garden designer Thomas Mawson.

Once a year, Leverhulme would throw open his garden to the hoi polloi. They’d dress in their finest, and come wander. Times change, as do fashions. Now, it’s mountain gear, like we’re ascending Everest, instead of cloth caps and gaberdine. A fuss over trifles. But at least we can come and wander whenever we please.

The Great Lawn Summer House. Rivington Terraced Gardens.

I save my soup for one of the beautifully restored summer houses. Here, also sunning himself, I recognise a man I knew vaguely from the day job, and who retired some years before me. I cannot remember his name, though. Likewise, I can tell by his expression, he thinks he should know me, but cannot remember my name either. We avoid unintentional offence by the peculiar social dance of pretending not to know one another at all or, knowing each other so well, we need no introduction beyond “owdo”. Thus girded, we pass the time of day, and in hope of the connection making itself known, but it does not. So, we comment on the brightness of the sun, and the lack of warmth when out of it, on the wetness, and the windiness of previous weeks, and what a good job the heritage trust have made of restoring the gardens. We part with a nod and a “sithi'”, still trying to remember each other’s names.

So, on to the Pike, now, always a good indication of how fell-fit one is, by the amount of puff left when you hit the final flight of steps. As usual, I’m middling, but we’ll do, and of course it does you no harm to get out of puff now and then. A mountain biker, a girl with her phone, and an elderly couple, are my companions for the moment, here, all socially distanced of course. The elderly lady wears a surgical mask. She’s taking no chances with this bat-winged, horned monster that is Omicron, and judging from the reported “R” value, I don’t blame her. I wait for them to depart before I get the camera out. The girl lingers, dreamily, lost in her phone.

The Pigeon Tower, Levelhulmes terraced gardens, Rivington.

There’s much to see from the Pike: Manchester, the Peak District, North Wales, Liverpool, the coast as far as Blackpool, the Lakes beyond that. Sometimes you’ll see the Isle of Man, but that’s very much dependent on the atmospheric conditions, and has rather the appearance of a mirage when it appears. Speaking metaphorically, it’s a pity we can’t see further out, say two years from now. But given recent events, would we really want to?

It’s a beautiful afternoon. I take the long way back: Pigeon tower, Italian lake, cross the top of the seven arched bridge, then meander down to the car. It gets late early at this time of year, and the light is turning golden, now, the sun already flirting with dusk. The phone pings a notification from the BBC, an earth-shattering announcement to be made at tea time.

It’s fine. Just some more dead catting. I’ll wait for the bullet points in the morning.

We’ll pick up wine and cheese on the way home. Celebrate the midweek, why not? There’s nothing quite like a hill for straightening you out. Dark poetry be gone.

Thanks for listening.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »