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Big Red Mercedes-Benz.

A Zen Master is driving his little car back into his home village. The road is narrow, and traffic is calmed to 20 MPH. He needs to make a sharp left turn over a little bridge. Care is needed here, in case there’s another car coming over in the opposite direction, because there’s no room to pass. Sometimes there are pedestrians and cyclists. He slows, indicates in a timely fashion, peeps around the corner. All is clear, light touch on the gas, the little car moves sedately from the main village thoroughfare, and safely onto the bridge,…

PAAARRRRPPP!

A huge red, Mercedes-Benz has been following, and is apparently enraged at the Zen Master’s cautionary pace, slowing up the already sedate thoroughfare. The Zen Master catches his breath in surprise. He stalls the car on the bridge, looks around as the Mercedes-Benz accelerates aggressively into the village. The passenger, a young, male, backwards-hatted, sneers. 20 MPH is clearly for the little people.

Question: would a Zen Master have been so alarmed? They fit very, very loud horns to big Mercedes-Benz. For the sake of argument, let’s say even someone as calm as a Zen Master can be startled by a sudden, very loud noise, when no noise is expected. But what does the Zen Master do next? Well, he starts the car and proceeds on his way. The incident is forgotten, or rather, it is let go of at once.

What he does not do is instantly think of giving the finger, only to discover he is so confused and angry, he can’t remember where his fingers are. Nor does he feel insulted. He does not inflate himself with self-righteousness. He does not wish a tyre iron into his hands, and the time, to say nothing of the agility, to spring out and smash all the glass on the offending, big, shiny, opulent, rich, smug bastard’s car. It might have wiped the smile off the backwards-hatted young man’s face,… just prior to him reaching for a baseball bat, and matters escalating from there.

No, I didn’t take a tyre iron to the rude man’s car. For all I know he might have been the local drug baron. So, I weathered the insult as best I could, but not like a Zen Master would. Clearly, a Zen Master, I am not. I just write about stuff that happened. Maybe I hold onto things for longer than I should, but that means I can squeeze them dry for all they’re worth first.
Anyway:

There was a young man thought profound
For wearing his hat ‘wrong way round,
But then it seemed all he said,
Came out the back of his head,
So clearly his plan was unsound.
Bah bum!

Big Red Mercedes-Benz, and backwards hatted, obnoxious persons, feel the stinging lash of my pen! Ouch!

Drive safely. And be patient.

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Pendle Hill, from Downham

At 1827 feet, Pendle is a hill of considerable stature. It’s also a shape-shifter. From the A59, as you zip by Whalley, it calls, to my mind, the shape of a crouching lion. From the east, say from Barley, I think it has more the profile of a whale. From Downham though, where we’re heading today, it looks more like one of those Pictish hog’s back stones, complete with mysterious pictograms.

The simplest, and most direct route to the top of Pendle is from Barley, up the big end, but I have a vague notion of trying something more meandering today. I say ‘vague’ because it’s a mystery how I come to be here at all, actually. The original plan was to meet a friend in Kendal, but he was pinged at the last minute by the test and trace app, so he’s in isolation now. I’d thought to head over to the Dales instead, which, when in doubt, is what I usually do. That was definitely the plan on setting out but, as is sometimes the case, the grand old lady Pendle seduced me in passing, so the little blue car and I found ourselves swinging off the A59 at Chatburn. Now we’re on the car park, at Downham, just coming to our senses, and with the feeling of having been bewitched.

Downham is an unusual place, at least now, in twenty-first-century, rural Lancashire. It’s an estate village, owned in its entirety by the hereditary Baronet, Lord Clitheroe, who also owns the hill. What strikes you about the place is not what is present, but what is missing – no telegraph poles, no road signs, indeed nothing that speaks of any modernity beyond the nineteenth century, and with only the passing cars to reassure you you’ve not fallen through a timeslip, into an alternate universe. The way to the car-park is also secret, and unsigned, except at the last minute, and then only discreetly. You either know your way, in Downham, or you don’t.

So anyway, here we are.

The light is stunning at this time of year. Photographers have a thing about the golden hour – this being the hour before sunset, when shadows run long, and the light becomes dreamy. Some would never think to get their cameras out at any other time of day. But in September, the golden hour lasts from dawn till dusk, so long as the sun is shining. And it’s shining today. The colours are rich, the contrasts deep, and there’ the sense of the year holding its breath, holding on to the very best of things, as the leaves hover on the edge of crispness. It’s been a long time coming, a long time building, and here it is: the year’s perfection, golden and gorgeous. The oppressive heat has gone out of it, the air is fresh for walking – a beautiful day to be on the hill, or indeed anywhere out of doors.

Worsaw End Farm

The map tells us the way is clear enough. We take the path that runs by Worsaw hill, one of Pendle’s many curious little limestone outliers. Then it’s down by Worsaw End farm, famous as the main location for the 1961 film “Whistle Down the Wind” which starred a young and ruggedly bearded Alan Bates, and an even younger Hayley Mills. From here we follow the narrow lane, which peters out into a track and then becomes a path up the moor, meandering at first, then arrow straight, as it joins the curiously named Burst Clough. The contours are close together here and the path intersects them at right angles, so the going is very, very steep.

I remember coming down this way, late one winter’s afternoon, with a weak sun putting in its first appearance as it dropped below the level of the clouds, yet with only minutes from setting. The light was eerie, and I’ve never forgotten it, nor have I forgotten how glad I was not to be going up by this route. Now here I am, over a decade later, going up. But it’s a glorious day, much earlier in the day, the sun is dipping in and out of the clouds, and the undulations of the land are preening cat-like, as the dynamic shadows stroke it.

I don’t know what it is about hills. I’ve not been doing too bad this year, tackling the more substantial climbs in my locale, but I never seem to hit a peak of fitness, when a climb like this wouldn’t be a struggle, one that involves several stops to admire the view and to catch the breath. Maybe if I climbed a few thousand feet every other day, I might make it to the supreme level of fitness that seems to come easy to others, who only walk a big one once a year. I think they call it mountain form, and I suspect no matter how many miles I put in, mine will always be middling. You have it or you don’t. And if you don’t, you just do the best you can.

The path eventually cuts the contours at a less punishing angle, and we reach the massive Scouting Cairn, a hard one to miss, even in atrocious weather. Here, the vast plateau that Pendle hides, become evident, and mercifully level. The path from here hugs the edge of the hill, takes us north-east, then east, with stunning, airy views of the Ribble Valley, the Bowland Hills and the Dales. Ingleborough, where we were a few weeks ago, is glimpsed now through a buttery haze.

The going is easy on the legs now, and impressive, ample reward for that slog up Burst Clough. Eventually we meet another distinctive path coming more directly from Downham. We’ll be using this on return, but for now, while we’re so near the big end, we’ll strike a bearing south for the main top – not that we need to strike a bearing here, not even in mist, I imagine. The paths here are broad as day, and easy to follow.

Pendle summit

I’ve seen only a few people on the hill, and likewise even manage to get the summit trig-point to myself for a bit. It’s good to welcome back that old rush you get from making the top. But it’s more than that. For a time, on a big hill, with all the land spread out below your feet, there is a sense of transcending the every-day. You think and feel differently on a big hill.

I don’t know where I would have ended up if I’d carried on to the Dales – Malham probably, Pikedaw, possibly, and a good day would have been had, because all days in the Dales are good days. But Pendle made her play, for reasons best known to herself, and I was not disappointed.

The way down seems a long one, as it always does, when one turns for home. We can see the village of Downham miles away, pinpointed by the prominent tower of St. Leonard’s Church and, on wearying legs, we wonder if we will ever reach it. But the way is pleasant, first the meandering path across the moor, then the greener, meadow ways, by Clay House. Then it’s Downham’s timeless and ever gorgeous welcome, and those last few strides to the car. I’m glad to have the little blue car back on the road, after a few weeks of uncertainty. Runs out to places like this really aren’t the same without her.

But the day goes to the grand old lady, Pendle herself. She’s beautiful, at times mysterious, occasionally treacherous, but forever beloved of Lancashire. If you’re not from Lancashire, and you wonder what we sound like here, I can do no better than refer you to Whistle Down the Wind. I can’t believe we were really as innocent as this in the ’60’s, and the kids so sweet, but I was there, and I have a feeling, actually, we were.

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The little blue car at home

The little blue car has been feeling poorly for a few weeks now. She developed a strange sound, like running on a flat tyre, but only when she’d warmed up. I noticed it first returning home after a longish drive. Once upon a time I would have had the wheel off, checked the brake pads for wear and so on. But I’m out of the habit of actually tinkering with cars. Instead, I did the lazy thing and booked it into the local workshop. But they didn’t warm it up enough because they were too busy to mess about, and as a consequence they couldn’t repeat the noise, let alone diagnose it. They had it briefly on the ramps, checked underneath, and spun the wheels.

“Brakes are fine,” they said. “Bearings are fine. Nothing loose. Bring it back when it’s doing it all the time.”

I drove away feeling like a bit of a clueless, fussy Freddy. But I grew up around cars, mainly old, rusty cars, spent whole weekends of my teens getting oily in my uncle’s backstreet garage, and I knew something was definitely off. I was also losing it, losing confidence, and not just in the car, but in my ability to just do stuff. This is a feeling that comes and goes.

Anyway, I was thinking that’s it. The car’s getting on a bit now, it’s always been a reliable little thing, but I couldn’t really trust it now to get me any distance, when I didn’t know what this noise was. What else could it be? Gearbox? Drive-shaft? Differential? Any one of those, and the car’s a scrapper, given it’s worth next to nothing, now. Plus, I mean, come on. Maybe I shouldn’t be expecting to get about much in a car that’s nearly 20 years old. I’m emotionally attached to it, and that’s never a good thing, but even with 95K on the clock, it’s still the best car I’ve ever driven, old or new.

All good things come to an end, though,…

The little blue car, Slaidburn, November 2014

Anyway, I was giving my garage a clean out, and came across a shiny new spider wrench – one of those cross shaped things with a different sized wheel-nut socket at each corner. That’s odd, I thought. I don’t remember owning one as posh as that. It must belong to one of my sons who’d dumped there, rather than having it rattling about in his car. Either that,… or the wheel-nut fairy left it for me as a hint to buck my ideas up.

I wondered if it would fit the wheel-nuts of the little blue car, so I give it a try, and it did. In the process of trying it out, I also discovered the wheel nuts were loose, and I mean all four nuts on all four wheels. Well, they weren’t loose exactly, just barely nipped up. So I tightened them properly, and gave the car a spin, got her good and warm. Problem solved. No more strange sounds. The little blue car is back!

But now I have another problem. Well, it’s more of a mystery, really. I’ve never heard of wheel nuts coming loose on their own. I calculate the last time the wheels were off the car would have been nearly a year ago, during a service, when the workshop cleaned and checked the brakes, and I find it hard to imagine I’ve driven around in it since then, the mechanic perhaps having forgotten to torque them up properly. I’m not about to accuse them of it anyway.

My wheels aren’t fancy – just factory fitted aluminium ones, so I find it hard to imagine someone tried to pinch them, then got bored, having partly undone all the nuts. And then even less likely, I hope, that it’s a thing now, strange people going around with a set of spider wrenches, loosening peoples’ wheel-nuts as a sinister prank.

I’ll most likely never know.

I’ve been thinking back to all the runs I’ve made in the car this year, many of them at high speed up and down the M6 and the A59, and the possibility I did it all with slack wheel-nuts. I’ll be having sleepless nights for a while on account of that one. But we’re on the road again, and all thanks to the wheel-nut fairy, for that gift of a shiny new spider wrench, and the hint to get my mojo together, and my hands dirty now and then, instead of running to a mechanic at every squeak and rattle. I’ll be checking the wheel-nuts with it regularly, from now on.

Just out of curiosity, has anyone else had their wheel (hub) nuts come loose on their own?

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It’s two years since I was in the Lakes. Today doesn’t count, because I’m not walking; I’m delivering family to their hotel, so it’s more a kind of taxi service. Timings require a drop-off at 2:00 PM, which is late in the day to be arriving for anything recreational, so I have left the walking gear at home to make way for luggage. It’s a wet day, anyway, so no regrets. I’ll just turn around and come straight back.

Traffic is heavy on the M6 in the usual places: the crazy merge with the M61, the pull up the hill before the Tickled Trout, and then the mad lane-switching frenzy of the junction with the M55. Beyond that it’s just rain and spray, and the usual last-minute Larrys playing Russian roulette, crossing all the lanes, at speed, for the off-slips.

I know my driving has slowed, as my reactions have dimmed with age. 55-60 MPH in the slow lane is fine by me, but especially in these conditions. Others are less cautious, having learned their driving at the school of floor-it and pray. I can only hope their eyesight is good. Observation, however, supports the theory the worst offenders are merely coked to the gunwales.

We pick up the Lake District tourist-grind on the downhill into Windermere town – the A591 – this being the main route for all central destinations, and generally busy, but especially so today, it being a Saturday and holiday change-over day. From here, it’s stop-start to Ambleside, and it rains like it can only rain in the Lakes. Everything is glistening with a dark sheen of wet, under heavy skies, and the mist is down on the Lake, ghost boats emerging from the shifting grey. And yes, it’s beautiful. All right, it’s a little dispiriting if you’re beginning a holiday, but the forecast for the coming week isn’t too bad. Mixed. That’s the Lakes at its dramatic best. That’s the stuff that inspires poetry.

I make the drop-off in Grasmere in good time. In spite of the torrential wet, visitors are still falling from the pavements here, their flimsy waterproofs saturated. There is no point trying to find a parking slot for coffee. Next to Bowness, this is the busiest place in the Lakes, apart from Ambleside, and Keswick. For the introvert, Hell is always going to be other people, so I point the car for home, and head back along the A591, making just the one brief call at the garden centre in Ambleside to answer an urgent call of nature.

It seems we are now split evenly between the masked, and the unmasked. The emporia are also split evenly between those who say it’s up to you, and those who ask you to continue wearing one out of common sense, politeness and respect for others. I still wear one, but without the legality of compulsion, and the mixed messaging, it’ll peter out. You’ll set out for the shops one day and find you’ve left your mask at home, and you’ll think: oh well, it doesn’t matter, does it?

I’m hoping they do not disappear altogether, though. As a fashion accessory for the ladies, I find them attractive now, drawing attention – as they do – to the eyes. Or is that just a personal peccadillo, not shared by many, and better I kept quiet about? I find I am still covid-twitchy, so avoid the temptation of the indoor café, though the scent of coffee is impossibly alluring. Instead, I purchase marmalade and mint-cake, this being out of guilt for the free parking and a quick pee.

I note in passing the garden centre is also selling tweed jackets for £250 – reduced. I do like a Harris Tweed, but not at that price. Mine cost me a fiver from the charity shop and, Harris Tweed being what it is, and in spite of indeterminate age, it’s not in bad nick. I fancy a tweed waistcoat to go with it – you know, that old writerly vibe – but they were £150 – reduced. If these are garden centre prices, I shudder to think what they’re charging on Saville Row these days. I know it’s the Lakes, which is renowned for joke pricing, but we must be seriously down on foreign visitors this year – these being the only ones with that kind of money. Except, of course, the seriously monied Brits are slumming it at home this year as well, so maybe those fine tweeds won’t be gathering dust for as long as I’m thinking. Go on, you fools, cheap at twice the price. You know it makes sense!

From here it’s an hour back to the M6, then home. Five hours in the car all told. It’s a long time since I did that. The little black car did well, this being a 2012 plate 1.4 litre Corsa with just over 40K on the clock, borrowed from my good lady. And, like my good lady, it’s looked after me very well – the Corsa for the last eighteen months, my good lady for the last thirty-two years, God bless her, and long, I pray, may both persevere with my eccentricities.

The touristy bits of the Lakes looked a little shot at, and terribly busy, of course. Home territory it might be, and forever well-loved in its intimacy, but Switzerland it ain’t. If I come back this year, it won’t be until the autumn, and then to somewhere well away from the main drag, somewhere you can park the car for free, if you’re bright and early, and you can get on the hill without having to queue.

I’ve not done a video for a while, but I gave it a shot from the dashcam – not a brilliant device on the little black car, but serviceable enough for emergencies. Things have moved on a pace since I last had a crack at movie-making. Windows movie-maker has bitten the dust, so I used a free app called Video Pad. Then I found YouTube wouldn’t let me get at my account, where I host my dashcam edits, unless I divulged my mobile number first. So, I thought, yea, right. I’ve moved to Vimeo, now, which seems to render videos in much greater detail anyway. They let you upload around 500Mb per week, so short vids only, which is fine. The backing music is either a catchy or an annoying little number, depending on your taste. I got it from Bensound; it’s called “beyond the line” – and all due courtesies and acknowledgements etc. to them for that.

Bye for now, and,…

Thanks for listening.

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mazzy at rivington

I broke cover from Covid and drove thirty miles to Glasson. It’s the furthest I’ve been all year. I was there for nine, and the car park was empty, but by mid-afternoon it was full. I did a walk through the meadows to Cockerham, then back along the Lancashire coastal way. It was hot and humid. The Cockerham leg was quiet, but on the meadow by the abbey, I hit the crowds coming the other way.

By now I imagined there’d be a vehicle parked within a wafer of mine, and a big ding in my door because that’s what I assume most people are like – gormless, and void of social awareness. My car is eighteen years old now but still looks good. I’m trying to keep her that way against the press of time and entropy, and the carelessness of others. Naturally, as with anything manifest, it’s a losing battle, but we do what we can.

I know, I know,… I have a problem with people. It’s been worse in these Covid-haunted times which makes avoiding them all the more urgent. I’m not sorry to admit it. Indeed I’m less sorry as I get older and begin to understand myself.

Understand myself? Let me see:

I find others draining on account of a strongly introverted nature. That’s just what we introverts are like, and we need make no apologies for it. I’m also often taken advantage of on account of my agreeableness, and in turn I take that bad on account of my neuroticism. Then I don’t say anything in my defence on account of my aversion to confrontation. Instead, I withdraw my support, or more likely these days withhold it in the first place, before some others start feeding off me.

It’s worse at times of imbalance, when I’m shadow boxing. Then I behave in a passive-aggressive way, which is stupid and self-defeating. What I need to do is stand up and be more assertive. But that’s easier said than done. Understanding one’s self is only the first part of the problem, you see? The second part is deciding if it’s a problem or not. These are shadow issues, and you can’t beat them. The best you can do over time is accept them as part of yourself, make peace and move on.

As I walked, horse-flies had found the undersides of my fingers. I’ve never known them do that before. By the time I noticed, my fingers were already swelling from the bites. Nature’s all well and good until you’re bitten by horse-flies, and then you’d rather do without it. We aim for better than nature, at least in the raw, and mostly we manage it, I think, but at times we get above ourselves, and nature sinks its teeth.

Coming back to Glasson harbour, there was by now a carnival atmosphere, crowds milling about, and a couple of yachts coming through the lock to meet the tide. The cafés and ice-cream-vans were doing a roaring trade, kids and dogs running amok. I pulled my bandanna up like a bank-robber and bought a brew from the chuck-wagon. Then I sat with it, well away from the crowds. Few were wearing any sort of face covering. In shops, it’s compulsory, at other times optional. But the “optional” will likely get you stared at, face coverings being a new front in the culture wars.

While I ruminated, a group numbering twenty or so came steaming down the car park on bikes, raising dust and hollers. They crowded me like wasps, while complaining among themselves how busy it was. They couldn’t see they were their own crowd, crushing my two meters of safe space down to a dodgy less than one. I took my brew to the car.

She was unmarked, and my neighbours had allowed a good deal of space between us, redeeming humanity for me somewhat – sure weren’t we all out here just enjoying the summer as best we could? I sanitized my hands with anti-bac gel, which also took some of the sting out of the bites. Then I dropped the top. Driving used to be a bore, but since teaming up with this little car, I’ve rediscovered its pleasures. Plus, we’d had the best of the day and – okay – the crowds were pecking my head. It was time to be off.

I drove home through Cockerham, kept her in fourth, kept the revs up, so she met the bends and the undulations with a bit of zest. It’s still such a lovely car to drive, well-balanced, not powerful – about a hundred and twenty-five horses – light as a feather, and a bottomless well of torque. But, as much as I treasure her, she’s worth about the same these days as some of the bicycles I overtook – pelotons of men in Lycra, spitting. It’s not a good look, guys, the spitting I mean, especially now amid a pandemic spread by body fluids.

I picked up the M6 at Broughton. Traffic eastbound from the M55 was fast and stupid. You have to change lanes early here, so you’re right for the southbound M6. Miss it and you’ll be scooting back north to Lancaster. Even though I was indicating my intentions, an SUV zoomed up and sat on my shoulder, pinning me northbound, so I stamped on the gas, and the car responded like a rocket. The SUV shrank in the rear-view, and I picked up my lane just in time. The way ahead was clear, so I kept on with the power, and we ate the road, fled the crowds and the heat, and all those damned horse-flies.

None of this sounds like me. It’s more like something unravelling, or working its way through the psyche. I’ve been thinking about the novel, Winter on the Hill, and something Annie said to me. Annie’s imaginary of course, which makes her both real and not real at the same time, at least in the phenomenological sense:

You’re a warrior, Rick, but you’re tired, and right now you’re up to your knees in mud, and your sword’s blunt from swinging it at shadows all day long, and the snow’s lying thick on the ground, and you’re cold because it’s winter on the hill. What can you do about that? Well, you get back on your feet, find somewhere warm for a while, and sharpen your sword. Because remember, a warrior can’t live without a fight. Anything else is just death. So you sharpen that damned sword and get back out there,…

For the introvert, it’s easier to take the way of the Lover, especially after a few knock-backs. We just cosy up with a good book, unplug the ‘phone and close the door. We sheathe our sword, withdraw support. Sometimes then, the warrior has to fight first the lover in himself. Then, like Annie says, get back out there and do the best we can, even if all that amounts to is standing our two meters, and telling others to back off.

Keep well, keep calm and keep going.

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Having worked through the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve found myself regularly driving these past months at a time when most people have been at home. This has led to quieter roads, and a halving of my usual commuting time. Paradoxically, it’s also been a time when I have never been more afraid of taking to the road. Speeding, cutting in, pulling out without looking, overtaking on blind corners – all of these things I witness regularly on my commute now. The situation is such that when I am not required to go to work, I leave the car at home as much as possible for fear of accidents. This is not normal and I have a theory about it.

Psychologically we can be divided up into various personality types. There are a number of profiling methods, but the main one used in psychological research is called the Big Five. This lists five main personality traits: extroversion, openness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Insights into our nature are revealed by how we score against each of these traits.

Those who have stayed at home during the pandemic, those who obey the rules about necessary journeys and social distancing will measure high in conscientiousness, neuroticism and agreeableness. This basically means you worry about doing the right thing, you’re thorough in following the guidelines and you’re thinking about keeping others safe as much as yourself.

The idiots who score low on these same measures don’t care about the rules, they believe the rules don’t actually apply to them, and they don’t worry about others at all, indeed they don’t think about others, and couldn’t give a fig if others found them  disagreeable. Indeed, they might wear the latter as a badge of honour. So, these quieter roads are an invitation for such types to floor the accelerator and really see what the old girl will do. In other words, if you’re sensible, agreeable and conscientious in the current climate you’re more likely to be at home doing the right thing. If you’re on the roads, you’re more likely to be an idiot, and a danger to others.

Speaking of which:

To the driver of the corporate-looking BMW who joined the M61 at around six forty-five this morning, from the on-slip of Junction 5, doing about seventy, and who missed me by inches, then careened blithely out into the fast lane before disappearing in a cloud of dust as he ramped it up to warp speed, I say this: that was some manoeuvre. I’d also say no human being could possibly have reacted as fast as you did, threading that obnoxious beast of a car into tight traffic, unless they were coked up to the eyeballs, which I suspect you were.

You didn’t see all the tail lights stabbing in alarm to make way for your safe passage, and even if you had you would not have cared. Nor did you feel the jolt of shock I felt, deep in my stomach, and which lingered well into the day. You would have considered it amusing perhaps, merely the price others must pay for you to exercise your divine right to do as you want.

And then to the stone-faced cop in the scowly-faced SUV, who followed me halfway home this evening, waiting, I presume, for me to forget to indicate (yes, I score high in neuroticism), I say to him:

Where the hell were you this morning?

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Mazda MalhamThe small blue car and I slipped out today, for pleasure! We were going to find a quiet little spot up on the Western Pennines, and I was going to take a hike. This is legal now, but it turns out it’s still not advisable. Tuesday afternoon, midweek isn’t known for being a busy time up here, but it was busy today. Very busy.

I couldn’t park the car. I cruised around for a couple of miles but every pull in, lay-by and car-park was jam-packed. There were people everywhere, hordes of them, at times ambling four abreast down the middle of the roads. They blinked, cow-like, at me as I squeezed by. Worse, the waysides were trashed with several month’s worth of Macmeal leavings. It was a disappointment and a disgrace.

So I came home without stopping. I hesitate to say it’s time everyone went back to work. Those of us still working weird shifts want to enjoy our time off! And aren’t all you lot supposed to be working from home anyway? And that means – you know – being at home, not all enjoying the same couple of square miles of green. I know, it sounds selfish of me. Bad Karma and all that.

There was one tight little spot I could have squeezed into, then took my place in line on the trails. But where would the pleasure have been in that? Risky too, with so many sticky palms on the kissing gates, and on the stiles. The moral is to stay local for a while longer. No matter what the rules say, don’t use the car for anything yet except commuting and supplies.

There was a package on the step when I arrived home. I’ve been waiting for my garden twinkle lights for months now. You know how it goes? You make sure you pick the UK supplier on eBay, but it turns out it’s a front, and the stuff gets shipped on that slow boat from China anyway? All right, so it’s a non-essential item, but such things weren’t an issue when I placed the order.

Anyway, great, I thought. We’ll get those up, and sit out tonight in the peace and quiet and with the bats a fluttering, with a glass of something nice. I’d ordered warm-white lights, 2000 of them. Awesome!

I switched them on. They were pink.

Send them back to China? Nah! Give them time, I thought.

They may grow on me.

 

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mazda at glasson

The mass-produced motor-car ushered in a revolution from the late fifties to the present day, essentially and literally mobilising the working class. It got people out of their towns at the weekend and it got them to work. As the bus and rail services were wound back in response, it seemed the future of transport was private rather than collective. But then we did it to death and made so many of the damned things they’re now killing us. But things are changing, motor-cars on the brink of becoming elitist again.

I’ve noticed in the last decade a decline in youngsters learning to drive, mainly due to the cost of insurance for first timers. You can still easily pick up a sturdy used vehicle for less than a grand, but it will cost a kid twice that to insure it, and there aren’t the jobs around for your average youngster paying that kind of money. When my own kids were learning I subbed them their first premiums but not all parents are in a position to do that.

So, it may be in the future we’re looking at collective solutions again, more busses, more trains. As for the pollution problem we’re hoping to address that with the increasing use of electrical vehicles (EVs) – at least for those who can afford them – though the futurologist in me says EVs will stall in the UK because we’ve barely the generating capacity to keep the lights on without everyone rolling home at tea time and plugging their cars in as well.

Cars have always meant a lot to me. They’ve got me to college, to work, taken me all over the UK for pleasure. The car I’m driving at the moment has given me the most pleasure of all, rather an old Mazda MX5, but still quite lovely to look at, and even with ninety five thousand on the clock still drives like new. For a one point six litre engine the road tax is pretty steep, and long ago outpaced my old-timer insurance premium, but then I’ve only to think of cruising the Dales with the top town in summer, and I pay up happily. Yes, she’s a bit of a polluter, but at the moment I have no other choice. It’s not her age, indeed newer petrol cars are worse, generating more CO2 than cars did a decade ago, mainly because demand for smaller cars is being overtaken by demand for gas-guzzling monsters.

I’ve always driven older cars. It’s the cheapest way to get around, and if you look after them they’ll go for ever. Yes, things go wrong with them more often than with new cars, but if you can’t fix them yourself, you take them to your local independent mechanic and he sorts them out for you. But newer vehicles are no guarantee of reliability. I’ve had a newer car but it came with a design fault in the transmission that was essentially unfixable. In my experience, new cars and dealerships are to be avoided if you’re of a frugal mindset, and finance for a car, indeed for anything, is enslavement.

I paid £2500 cash for the Mazda, six years ago and I’ve spent another thousand on her since in bits and bobs of repair. Like most cars she’ll do a round trip of a few hundred miles on half a tank of petrol and there are three filling stations within a couple of miles of home all competing for pennies on the price. However, I understand the push to rid the roads of the internal combustion engine, and furthermore I understand that push will come primarily from year on year hikes in vehicle excise duty, that eventually my beauty will have to be scrapped or sold to some rich petrol-head with more money than sense, and a penchant for the endearing qualities of older MX5’s.

So then I look at what’s coming and find electric vehicles still just don’t have the range. They’ll get you to the shops and back, but that’s about it. And the prices, of course, are eye-watering – twenty or even thirty thousand being considered pedestrian in the EV stakes. Nor does the second hand market offer much scope as yet, with the costs of replacing dud batteries easily outstripping the value of the vehicle. With some vehicles you can lease batteries, but that’s a form of finance that’s never ending. Things may change in time of course but we’ve still a long way to go.

Of course sworn urbanites don’t see the need for private transportation at all, and fair enough, because the cities are generally well served by bus and rail. But in the rest of the country there’s no alternative. My nearest town for food and other essentials is a twenty minute drive, or an hour by bus that runs once every ninety minutes. I could go to another town by train that runs once every hour and a quarter, but those services are more often cancelled, requiring rescue by taxi. I could forgo the trip (indeed I often do these days) and order everything online, but that’s only passing the pollution miles on to the van man who delivers your stuff.

There are interesting times ahead, but thus far horses and carts still seem to me a more viable alternative to internal combustion than anything else I’ve seen, so I’m hoping there’s enough petrol left to see me and my old Mazda comfortably out. There are a couple of nags that graze the field at the back of my house, and I recall I did once learn to ride. The only downside I recall is they’ve no brakes and, at times, a weird sense of humour.

Still, I wonder.

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black and white lights sun ray of sunshine

Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.com

For the last couple of years on the road, I’ve dreaded the dark commutes of late November through to late January. It used to be that the biggest danger facing a motorist over winter was the weather, but now it’s other people. My journey involves several stretches of unlit, country road, but these are becoming no-go zones, and I’d rather take a long detour than risk them.

At night, regardless of what the limit actually is on a stretch of road, you adjust your speed so you can pull up within the cast of your dipped beams if you need to – that’s the theory at least. But now it’s impossible to see the road at all when there are cars coming the other way, coming at you with very bright headlights – so bright your vision whites out. And if there’s a long line of these vehicles, it makes seeing your way a real struggle, to say nothing of dangerous and stressful. Add some heavy rain into the mix which exacerbates the glare, and these roads are barely passable at all now. I’ve been arriving at work this week still in the pre-dawn with my eyes burning, and have concluded that were it not for that commute I’d be giving up night-driving altogether.

I wondered if it was me, if my eyesight was shot, but the optician says not, well not yet anyway. In fact super-bright headlights are now a major problem, one that’s largely unreported, but it takes only a little research to learn just how dangerous they are, that they’re being cited more and more as a cause of road traffic accidents, including fatalities.

Indeed, the RAC reports that 70% of drivers are struggling with night driving now, purely on account of dazzle from headlights, that the problem has arisen in the last few years with the rise of LED and Xenon beams, and has reached a stage where many of us are unable to tell if an oncoming vehicle’s lights are dipped or on full beam, because they’re so powerful. Cars aren’t the only problem. I was forced to pull over suddenly one night when a peleton came at me down a dark lane, all with super-bright bike-lights seemingly targeted directly at my eyes.

Surprisingly, regulation is rather dated – like from the 1960’s – and somewhat lax, being more concerned with beam alignment than actual power. Luxury vehicles are a particular problem, tending to have the most powerful lights, also SUVs and vans where the headlights are set much higher than a saloon car – combine that with a powerful beam and you have a real problem.

Other than tightening the regulations, there seems to be no solution, and I doubt anyway if all those luxury car owners are going to have their headlights retrofitted with dull old halogen, like the rest of us. You can go the other way of course, upgrade your mediocre beams to something more killer-bright,  but that’s only adding to the problem.

I used to enjoy night driving as a kid – there was something relaxing about it. But there was half the traffic back then, and no one was trying to blind you in the name of their own personal visibility. I suppose its just one more thing we have to accept as inevitable, that the future isn’t what it used to be. As for me, I’ll be retiring from the commute at the end of this year, and not before time because by then the headlights will be so bright they’ll be burning the paint off each others cars.

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The Warrendale Knotts

It’s looking like the last really warm day of the year, late September, with an added Friday feeling. We’ve left the M6 at the Tickled Trout, dropped the top in a lay-by on the A59 and now we’re motoring towards the Dales. The route is quiet for once, and fast – few heavies – and we’re able to enjoy the rush of air without the added taste of diesel. We’re making for the pretty little village of Langcliffe, a terrific spot for a walk in limestone country, a six mile round of scars and caves and waterfalls.

We park under the shade of a tree by the church, then boot up and commence the steep pull beyond the gate, up a lush meadow still slick with dew. Then it’s a green way across pasture and fell-side, towards Settle, then steep again on the more assertive pull towards the Warrendale Knotts. Things are looking good with clear skies and a warm sun just clearing the crags now, lifting the dew. We can see for ever beyond the valley of the Ribble, just a faint haze out on the horizon and there’s a crisp stillness to it all, trees paused in motion as if looking at each other in anticipation of autumn’s turn and saying: is this it yet?

The Warrendale Knotts occupy an area of craggy access land, just off the main walking routes. The initial approach is intimidating, a wall of seemingly impregnable limestone buttresses. But as we get to grips the cracks reveal themselves, and the way wends more obligingly towards the top and a Trig point, nestling in the ruins of a wind-shelter. Meanwhile a neat little cairn marks the summit, just a little higher on a limestone pavement fifty yards to the north. It’s a very fine spot indeed, somewhere to settle for lunch and soak up the glorious day.

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Trig point, Warrendale Knotts

We have the Knotts to ourselves, the long line of them beautiful, even at noon when the light tends to be flat and uninteresting. But this late-season sun is low enough to pick out the craggy details and paint the land with a heavenly luminosity. We have the green and copper of the pastures below rising to lap at the toes of gnarled and deeply fissured crags. The crags are like old silver, burnished here and there to reflect the light. Perhaps I go too far with the prose. I can’t help it; days like these have you in poetic raptures, scrambling for similes and metaphors, and send your spirit soaring like a twittering lark.

Yes, such days are among the most treasured, though I’m aware I present something of a cliche myself, this late middle-ager puttering about the Dales in an old open topped car, still scoring routes up all the hills. The word menopausal comes to mind, but I refute the charge your honour. I’m not looking to rediscover a youth that passed too quickly. For one thing the body is sufficient reminder of my years, and the legs hesitant with caution where I once stepped with impunity, all speak of a certain chastening though experience. No, this is more a continuing appraisal of the journey ahead, and a determination not to look back, for looking back is what truly stiffens a man up, makes him old before his time.

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Warrendale Knotts, view towards the Attermire Scars

The car was made in Hiroshima in 2002, then shipped half way across the world to England, spent its own youth with someone else and is living now in semi-retirement exploring the Yorkshire Dales with me. She’s done over ninety thousand, twenty of them mine and still drives well. Sure, perhaps we’re both old enough to know better, but we don’t care. I’ve a feeling she’ll be considered a classic in years to come, and worth hanging on to. But it’s looking likely now a future climate levy will tax her off the road, as she’s a little heavy on the carbon.

You find me in a reflective mood today. The world down there is in free-fall, almost as if things have been engineered that way, but all of that dissolves to nothing when the fells are warm, the weather is kind, and we gain the transcendent perspective of a time-worn cairn. I’ve recently come to a decision about retirement. I’ll be going early, in a little over a year’s time. There’ll be a significant hit on the pension, but I’ll manage. I’ve been working since September 1977 and it’s enough; 2020 will be my last year. Time now to settle back into being what, through modesty and lack of material success, I’ve always hesitated to call myself: a writer.

It’s not without some hesitation, the thought of retiring into such uncertain times, of quitting the cushion of well paid work when well paid work for ordinary folk is a thing of the past. The writing’s never made a bean and never will, but one clearly cannot go on for ever with the long commutes and the working days so greedy of one’s private time. And of course, while the world of work screams blue murder at itself, the fells dream on and I’m for dreaming more often in their company, at least while I’ve still the legs to carry me,…

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Warrendale Knotts – summit cairn, view to Penyghent

So,.. from the Warrendale Knotts we pick our way northwards, then east a little until the path firms up and leads us down to the more well-worn route by the Attermire Scars.  In the far distance Penyghent crouches, Sphinx-like, basking in the sun, its paws resting on a network of dry-stone walls that thread all the knotty pastures into one. We try a photograph or two. The camera captures Penyghent nicely, the light too, but as with all cameras, it never truly sees the land the way you feel it.

The Attermire Scars are famous for their caves. The largest, the Victoria Cave, is a huge, dank and foul-breathed orifice, oozing slime-water and it swallows up the sun as we approach. We manage a few yards inside before barriers of rusting iron prevent a more intimate exploration, not that I’m tempted anyway and find all caves uninviting.

But speaking of intimate, lying among the greased rocks on the cave floor I discover a pair of – well, shall we say – ladies foundation wear? It’s quite a dainty pair too, and somewhat incongruous in a lush wine-red, set against the cold and the wet and the grey. I hesitate to imagine what the lady was doing to lose them, for this is hardly an inviting place for romantic assignations, though each to their own I suppose and I’m not so old I’ve forgotten the youthful urgency that demands we take advantage of whatever opportunity arises. Sadly, it’s less so as we age of course, when lace and daintiness is gradually exchanged for something altogether plainer, less alluring of course, but far more practical.

Anyway,… we potter on, clear the cave, emerge once more into the blessed sun and a sweeter air. Then I lose my footing on a dollop of sheep poo. It’s been laid with fiendish cunning upon a patch of dew, lurking in the shadow of the stile through which I’m passing. It’s an impressively slippery combination; one second I’m admiring the view – while admittedly still recalling past encounters with the allure of ladies foundation-wear – and the next I’m on my arse. Fortunately for my dignity, there were only sheep for witnesses. Most pretend not to notice, though I’m sure one of them is laughing, chalking up another downed pedestrian.

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Upper Whinskill, Langcliffe

The day is Indian-Summer-hot now, the sweat dripping from the peak of my cap, which I hang from the sack to dry out. We have a bit of road-walking, though it’s the sort of narrow, unfenced fell-road on which one rarely sees a car. Then a long green lane brings us to the hamlet of Upper Whinskill. Here we take the track to the splendid, Catrigg Force where Stainforth beck drops through a nick in high crags, before making its thunderous escape down to the Ribble.

As I take up position here for the obligatory photograph, I’m conscious I’ve been off my feet once already, so I dither a bit on the rocks. It’s my boots, I’m thinking – I mean this creeping lack of sure-footedness. They don’t make boots like they used to do, slithering and sliding about as if the soles are oozing something oily. I wonder if I can improve them by applying a thin layer of roof-repair mastic. That’ll make them sticky for sure, though how durable I don’t know. Worth a try, I suppose.

catrigg foss waterfallAnyway, I grab the shot and we close the loop of the walk, making the final mile by Stainforth Scar, sparkling in the sun now, and then we’re down among lush meadows and green lanes and butterflies, back to Langcliffe. The car is waiting in the shade of a tree, sunlight dappled across the paint. I open the top to let the heat out, clean myself up with the remains of my water-bottle, change my shirt, contemplate the time.

It’s a tranquil spot, a place to linger; we’ll only be hitting tea-time traffic at Preston if we paste it back right away and that will surely spoil the day. Besides, look, there’s a book sale on at the church, and I could never resist a rummage among musty books. So, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll loiter a bit, then have a bite to eat in Settle, find a nice pub, travel back this evening. It’ll be a gorgeous drive as the light turns to amber and with the whole of a deepening sky peeled back above us.

Sound good to you?

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Stainforth Scar and the green lane from Langliffe

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