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Archive for the ‘My Notes’ Category

She’s a neatly-dressed woman, not young. I see her sitting on the same park bench every Saturday, at two. I can’t say exactly when my orbit became synchronised with hers, or why I persist with it now. I could always walk another way to the station. Indeed, I don’t need to walk to the station at all any more. It’s just a habit: catch the train into town, coffee in the corner café. And now her.

What’s most striking is her serene aura. She’s never lost in her phone, like most of us are these days. Sometimes she’s reading a paperback, sometimes she’s feeding the birds. But most of the time she sits and looks out across the parkland, and the pretty little lake. I’ve never spoken to her, not even caught her eye. I walk past, take the train into town, and that’s it.

At first, I was curious. You don’t see many women out on their own. I’ve read that the Internet has turned all the men into perverts. Or at least it’s convinced all the women that all the men are perverts. I don’t want her thinking that about me. But I’m wondering if she ever thinks about me at all, is curious about me, like I’m curious about her, this guy who walks by, every Saturday at two.

I’m not so old I can’t remember the urgent allure of girls, nor the lengths I went to to be with one. You could sit down next to a girl on a park bench in those days and say hello without her calling the cops – well, maybe not the same bench, but the bench opposite, perhaps. Was it that we were all so much younger, and trusting then, still working out what was the right way to enter into the full bloom of being? And somewhere along the way, something went wrong and turned us all into paranoid strangers, fearful of one another.

It was never about sex for me. I wouldn’t have admitted that to other guys, though – guys whose woman-talk never rose above the level of whether so-and-so was a good shag. They didn’t mean it, by the way. Well, not all of them did. That kind of talk used to embarrass me. And now? Well, now the prize would be someone to share a coffee with, someone to come home with, kick off our shoes, make dinner together, and watch TV.

She’s wearing a white shirt-dress today, looks summery and cool, looks like she’s waiting for someone, actually. That’s most likely it. At two-o-five, when I’ve gone by, this guy comes up, and they stroll off arm in arm. Except you wouldn’t arrange a date for two-o-five, would you? It would be two, on the dot. Or am I just over thinking things?

In truth, I don’t know how it goes any more. I met my wife of twenty-five years at work. I can’t remember which of us spoke first. It just sort of happened. It seemed to happen more easily back then. Now it doesn’t. Now you have to go on the Internet and sell yourself. But if you’ve nothing to sell, what then? I was no looker to begin with, and age has hardly improved things. But is that the best way to make a first impression, anyway?

I’ve wondered about saying hello. I mean, that’s still okay, isn’t it? I say hello to other people when I’m out walking, and they say hello back. It’s polite. It’s like saying: I’m a nice person, and you can trust me. And it usually comes with a smile, and you can tell a lot about a person that way. But it needs a bit of eye contact first, and she’s never scanning for it. Her eyes are always in her book, or watching the birds, or admiring the view. So as simple a thing as that might sound, saying hello, it never actually works out.

It would be best to break the habit, I suppose. It’s getting so my Saturday afternoons begin with the tingly anticipation of seeing her in the park, then it all falls flat, and what used to be a pleasant distraction in town suddenly isn’t any more. The train ride, the coffee, maybe a mooch in a bookshop, these things used to be a way of dodging the loneliness. But now they seem only to highlight it, and bring to the fore an aching desire to fix it.

I’m not saying she’s the right person. I mean, who knows? I’d have to talk to her first. But at least the fact I’m attracted to her is a start. Right? Plus, she might be lonely, too, and these Saturday afternoons on a park bench are her way of dealing with that. Maybe she’d like nothing more than for someone to hello. She just never gives that impression. Indeed, that air of serenity speaks of a rock-solid self-containment, and maybe that’s what I’m attracted by – that what she possesses most is the very thing I lack in myself.

Anyway, here we are again, Saturday at two. She must have noticed me. That’s what people do, they recognise patterns. She sits there, same time, same day, and this same guy comes walking by. And if she was at all curious about me, she’d be looking to make eye contact, if only to sound me out as harmless. So, perhaps today’s the day. Here we go: I give her a glance, an opening, so to speak, like I always do. It’s for her to respond, now. I can do no more but, once again, she doesn’t seem to notice me, so I look away, weigh once more the ache in my gut, and ride the train into town.

So,… coffee, in the corner café. I’d thought I was done with all this teenage stuff. I’d thought I was happy on my own, but it turns out I’m still looking for completion in the body and the soul of another, and all that crap. And worse, I also know myself by now, that I’m trapped in this groove, unable to veer left or right to dodge the hurt. And the only way this will work itself out is when I walk by one Saturday, and she’s no longer there. Then I’ll be that free man again, drinking coffee, alone, flicking on his damned phone, but all of that, at least, without this ache in his gut.

Or maybe, just maybe, next Saturday, at two,…

Header image adapted from: here

Footer image adapted from: here

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Working from home

Strictly for fun:

There once was a man from Athlone,
Who worked best when he worked from home.
His boss thought it a sin,
And wanted him in,
So the man started up on his own.

Ba Bum.

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Wet underfoot today, after several days of rain. The path over to the head of Twitch Hill’s Clough is heavy going. It’s squelchy too as we come up the meadow to Peewit Hall. There’s a pair of picturesque oak trees here, always begging for a photograph. They’re especially striking today, holding on to golden leaves, and there’s a magnificent light to our backs from a low, wintry sun, which casts long shadows across the lush green of the pasture.

Actually, I’m not sure about that name: Twitch Hills. The first edition OS maps, up to 1849 have it on this side of Lead Mine’s Clough, tracing the line of the brook that springs in the hills by Jepson’s farm. Later ones, up to 1933, have it on the other side. Modern maps omit it altogether, so I suppose it’s gone from common usage. But I think it’s a fine name and worth using, and at least I know where I mean, though I may be getting on for two hundred years out of date.

So, we come up to the ruins of Peewit Hall, where we must make a choice: is it to be left for the Pike Stones, or right for Lead Mine’s Clough? We choose right, on a whim, but beyond that, we’ve no idea where we’re going. It’ll to be one of those days when we could end up anywhere. I was still abed and cosy at 10:00 a.m., lingering over coffee. I’m trying to limit myself to just five minutes of doomscrolling current affairs, but then get sucked into crazy cat videos, so the time goes anyway. And that would have been the day gone but for the Met office telling me if I wanted to be out walking, it was today, or a good soaking on any other day.

The sun is in and out, now, the sky clear and bright to our back, still, but layers of heavy cloud are spilling in dramatic fashion, over Winter Hill, and looking showery. It makes for an interesting and fast changing light. One minute the moors are desaturated and dour, the next they are beaming warm in tones of copper and rose-gold. Among the plantations over Lead Mine’s Clough, we have the striking juxtaposition of the occasional lone tree aflame, against a background of dark evergreens.

What news there was this morning didn’t stick, and I can’t bring any of it to mind in sufficient detail now to get hung up about it. There were various controlled leaks of the “difficult decisions” contained in the upcoming budget, but nothing that particularly surprised me. The overall message is the same as it has been for the past twelve years, that the future isn’t what it used to be. Energy is the big one at the moment. Calculations tell me I’m using half the energy I did this time last year, while paying more than twice as much for it. I have dug out thermals, and we do not run the heating in the day. Ironing is discontinued, and the oven restricted to meals that can be done in thirty minutes. All lights are LED, and even these frugal little fellows are used sparingly. Food prices are also raising a stir. There were several sharp intakes of breath from customers milling around the soup and the biscuit aisles, when I called in for my Lion Bar this morning. Lion Bars are 30% more expensive now than I remember when I first discovered them, but some things cannot be skimped. But enough of that.

We’re passing the ruins of Foggs, now, where I remember sitting one beautiful September evening, in 1977. I had left school in the summer, and this was the evening before I entered the world of nine to fives, and commutes. As the sun set over the plain, I was looking at a half century of wage-bondage, and trying to see to the other side of it, telling myself I’d come back when it was done, and look back the other way. I was lucky in bailing out five years early, but I’ve yet to sit at Fogg’s, and contemplate that journey. I think it would be to mark things with a greater significance than they deserve. After all, the journey continues. It’s just different now, and there is nothing to contemplate, only the future to embrace as best we can, whether that future will be smaller or bigger than circumstances and economic orthodoxy allow. It’s a different sentiment to one I used to hold, but that’s age for you. As a younger man, I recall writing:

I’ll go the muddy moorland way,
And into those dark hills I’ll stray.
With trusty pack upon my back,
I’ll etch my boot-prints up that track,
Until at last somewhere on high,
I find a cleaner, broader sky.
And then with flask of tea in hand,
I’ll take a stock of who I am;
Of what I’ve done and where I’ve been,
And ask if life is all it seems.
I’ll go the muddy moorland way,
And though it takes the whole long day,
I shall return a stronger man
Than when my journey first began.

Muddy moorland tracks and returning from the hills stronger and fresher? That hardly needs stating, but taking stock? Nah. It’s done. Move on.

We round the head of Lead Mine’s Clough, take the path by Old Brooks’ and then to Abbots – just piles of stone, but the names live on, at least in the vocabulary of those natives who walk these hills. Modern maps have removed them, but placed a curious blue star here instead, indicating a tourist attraction, but I can’t say if it refers to a specific thing, or to the area in general. Anyone coming looking for a café and a viewing platform will be disappointed. From Abbots, I often cut back down the Yarrow for a short walk, but the legs are itching for more today, so we pick up the track to Simms, with a view to perhaps checking out the routes around Wilkocks’ Farm. Yes, at last that sounds like a plan. From now, we’re on a mission!

Here we lose the sun, and the day takes on a darker aspect as a heaviness drags its way over Winter Hill, obscuring the masts, and the air comes at us with a fine drizzle, swarming like a cloud of microscopic midges. At Simm’s we encounter the first of the bogs as we head down the valley-side to the confluence of the fledgling Yarrow and Green Within’s Brook. There is a commotion up ahead, a woman’s voice raised in exasperation more than anger. She is berating an elderly gentleman I take to be her father. Worse, they have stolen my lunch spot. There’s a little runnel here I often photograph, but find myself self-conscious and make to pass the interlopers by, but then in a moment of rare self-assertion, I back-track, stand my ground and grab the shot like a pro.

The path from here requires careful footwork, if the bog is to be kept below one’s laces, and not up to one’s knees. There is also one quaking section I have nightmares about, and which I’m sure could swallow me whole. We’re skirting the eastern bounds of Wilcock’s pastures now, given over to horses. There are vast quantities of electric tape, shocking to beast and discouraging to man. There has been no progress in repairing the defunct gates and access, here, nor clarifying diversionary routes. Indeed, the only change I detect is the disappearance of the old rotting sign that indicates there might ever have been a public way over to Wilcock’s from here at all. I do know a way through the meadow, via an unofficial diversion, once shown to me, and perhaps indiscreetly, by a jolly, horsey lady, but it requires the leap of a deep, broad and steep sided ditch full of green slime, and I’d rather not, so we head further south to approach Wilcock’s by another way.

Here we encounter a stile that appears to have fallen over into splinters, and so we must pick our way through a tangle of wire and timber. The route is not well walked, and not surprising, as it’s most discouraging to all but the most determined rambler. As we come down to the farm, the little bridge over the brook is obstructed by an ambiguously placed plastic bollard, which we step over. One last obstacle, is the broken ladder stile at the farm wall, but we discover someone has repaired it, at least of a fashion.

All told, the feeling here is one of the dimming of access, and an increasing sense of challenge as we try to make our way. As I have said many times, it’s important we persist in keeping our rights of way open by walking them, or we risk losing them. Already, trespass has been upgraded to a criminal offence. It takes very little imagination to see the landed lobbying to have our rights of way curtailed as the anachronistic artefact of a bygone era. But in the words of Ewan MacColl:

So I’ll walk where I will over mountain and hill
And I’ll lie where the bracken is deep
I belong to the mountains, the clear running fountains
Where the grey rocks lie ragged and steep
I’ve seen the white hare in the gullys
And the curlew fly high overhead
And sooner than part from the mountains
I think I would rather be dead
.

So now we follow the rim of Dean Wood, to the Yarrow reservoir, and finally down Hodge Brow to Alance Bridge. Here we pause for next to the last shot of the day: autumn trees sweeping down to the waters of the reservoir in fading light. Built in 1867, it was a late addition to the Rivington system. It’s been rather low all summer, through the drought, but is now filled to the brim.

The last shot we save for the little blue car, waiting in all the autumn gold, beside the Parson’s Bullough road. The boots have succumbed to the various bogs we’ve crossed, but dry socks and a flask of tea await. Oh, and we forgot to have our Lion Bar.

Just four and a quarter miles round, and six hundred feet of ascent, but feeling far enough for today. Then again, from such a slow start, we did well getting out at all.

https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=15/53.6368/-2.5643&layers=C

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Around Eccleston and Croston

Maize crop, Eccleston, Lancs

A circuit around Eccleston and Croston, today. This used to be a regular outing during the Covid restrictions, when travel outside the local area was banned. I’ve not done the route since things opened up, so thought I’d look it up, on an otherwise slack day. On the downside, I clonked my toe getting into the shower this morning, so I’m hobbling a bit. I’ve also got the wrong boots on, again, still trying to wear these old army things in, even after what must be getting on for six months. I’ll give up on them, and switch back to the leaky Scarpas, especially for any of the longer walks into hill country. But then I forget and say: well it’s only a short walk and flat, so let’s give them another go – we’re bound to get them worn in eventually. We’re three miles out, now, and I can feel them starting to bite already.

Three miles out is also, usually, the highlight of the walk, this being a lovely old oak tree that stands alone at the head of a long meadow. It draws the eye from a distance, and is very photogenic. Up close, it centres a bucolic scene of pasture, thorn hedgerows, and sky. I have lots of pictures of it from the Covid lockdown years, and always something different on each visit – a different season, a different light, a different sky – and I’d been looking forward to seeing it again. Today, though, we discover the tree has been swallowed up by a vast crop of maize, and we can barely tell where it is, let alone get near it.

The maize is seven feet high, and fills a mile or so of formerly sweet open meadow. It swallows us up, too, and is something of a shock, the path disappearing into this dense, gloomy, monocultural jungle. It’s looking like it’ll be a claustrophobic struggle to make way. We can forget the tree until they harvest the crop, but by then the pasture will be in ruins. I hope there’s no one walking the path when they come with the harvester.

As well as rendering the right of way such a weary mess, it’s a worrying trend in UK farming, one that has begun to blight my neck of the woods in recent years. Maize is a controversial crop, but increasingly popular with farmers. They’re growing it everywhere around here now, taking land out of use for food production, and selling the maize for biogas. But it’s bad for the soil, depletes it, compacts it, allows the weather to erode it, and it transforms the landscape – a polite way of saying is spoils the view. But it’s more lucrative than food-farming, and who cares if a footpath is no longer pleasant to follow?

After a very sweaty trudge, then, we emerge gratefully from the maize, blinking into the light, to find there are still some cows about. Denied the opportunity of photographing the tree, we photograph a cow instead, having in mind the French photographer, Jeremy Piloquet, whom I read about recently, and who says cows are more honest, therefore preferable to people as subjects for portraits. Point a camera at a person, he says, and you never capture what they’re really thinking and feeling. Everyone pulls down a kind of mask.

I take his point, to a degree, but I’d also suggest the ease with which we anthropomorphise things – animate and otherwise – means we’re not really getting what the cow is feeling either, only what we’d be feeling if we had a face like that. As for “thinking”, it’s more of a comfort to me knowing they don’t think at all, or their short lives would be unbearable. This cow looks content enough, a little goofy, and obviously unconcerned the nation may be edging towards a de facto general strike.

And with that rather clumsy segue, we weave into our story a quote that’s had me tittering to myself all day. The Bishop of Durham typifies much of middling opinion concerning our current rash of industrial disputation by claiming to identify with the issues, while saying strike action is not the answer. To this delicious example of doublespeak, Mick Lynch, leader of the RMT says: “What is the answer? Do we pray, or play tiddlywinks, or have a sponsored silence?” I enjoy listening to Mick Lynch for his pithy clarity, and disarming honesty, something sadly lacking in public discourse, and not always easy for the more circumlocutious, or indeed the verbosely opaque to deal with.

I admit to beautifying that cow. Yes, I photoshopped it. Airbrushed it. Its face was full of flies, its eyes too, which it seemed admirably Stoic about in real life, but they were troubling to me, so I tidied them away. Piloquet is right, people have difficulty being honest. Mick Lynch is also right, and we should never fear upsetting others, by saying what’s really on our minds. It’s just making my mind up that seems to be the problem.

All I know is, I’m off to the Dales in the morning, and I’d better leave these boots at home.

Thanks for listening.

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Blogging on Substack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I very much appreciate your company.

Thanks for listening

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I’m in Hubberholme today, in Upper Wharfedale, by the church of St Michael and All Angels. There’s an old, stone bridge over the river, here, and beyond that, a whitewashed pub called the George. So,… church, pub, bridge. That’s Hubberholme. That’s always been Hubberholme. If it wasn’t for the few cars dotted about, and the farmer roaring by on his quad, there’d be nothing to date this idyllic little corner of England much beyond the middle of the last century.

Perhaps that’s why its easy to imagine I’m also seeing this guy standing on the bridge looking down into the river while he chews morosely on an unlit cigar. I picture him wearing a forties suit and, even though he’s clearly at his leisure, he wears a tie and a hat, like they always did, or at least like they did in the movies, in my grandfather’s day.

We’ll have a chat with him in a minute, but only in passing, because I already know his story. He’s a Canadian engineer by the name of Lindfield, come over to supervise the building of a machine his company has commissioned from a firm in Blackley. Blackley’s a made up name. It spares the blushes of a Blackburn, or a Barnsley, or some other generic post-war manufacturing town up north, a place where it rains all the time and the lights burn dim.

In case you were wondering, we’ve walked into the opening of a short story called The Other Place, by J B Priestly. Hubberholme, though a fine setting for our opening scene, isn’t actually the “other place”, but a place very much like it. Lindfield found himself magicked there once, and briefly, but through his own impatience, he blew his chance and he’s been searching for a way back ever since. And if we enter more fully into that story, we’ll take pity on Lindfield, throw a paternal arm around his shoulders, and we’ll walk him back to the little village of Kettlewell, downstream, where we both happen to be staying. Then, after buying him dinner, we’ll settle into a cosy nook over drinks, and there, amid manly clouds of aromatic tobacco, we’ll have him tell us that story.

Its a story about the world we’re building, and the pressures we put ourselves under, such that we no longer know how to relate to one another properly. And if only there was “another place”, a rural idyll, where time had stopped and the sun always shone, and the air was clean, we could relax with one another, open up and realise at last the rapture of simply “being”. Or could we? Would we not carry something into that other place, a poison that would have us turn it all to dust and return us to the bleak environs of our Blackley – poor Blackley – where it’s always raining, and its always winter, no matter what the calendar says to the contrary?

I’m fond of Priestly, and have long identified with his more metaphysical musings, though his fiction does read a little dated now, its dialogue especially. The idioms, the “I say, old chaps” and “Look here’s”, are very much of their time, but not without their charm. There may even be accusations of corniness, especially from the avant guard reader, or even, dare I say, something inappropriate, in his concern for the plight of the character of “Englishness”.

But Priestly saw something emerge in the post war years, something devilish in its nature, coming initially out of America, but swiftly enveloping the whole of the western world. It was a culture of materialism, consumerism, automation and mass advertising. He called it Admass. He didn’t like what it was doing to the soul, he saw it displacing the mood of cooperation and common purpose, that had held England together throughout the war years, and he wrote against it.

In that sense then, this guy standing on the bridge, staring morosely into the chattering waters of the river is Priestly himself, with the history of the twentieth, and now the early decades of the twenty first century, with its free for all, free market culture weighing on his mind. He’s thinking the other place is further away from us than it ever was, that his vision of Englishness, something along the lines of a compassionate, humanist socialism, is doomed.

Speaking of which, the long awaited Sue Gray report finally broke as I was setting out this morning – such as it turned out to be. It revealed a culture of jolly, boozy parties, and quiz nights in which all and sundry affected to act silly, in order to fit in with the higher ups – this in the highest office of the land, in mid pandemic, while the rest of us were confined to barracks on pain of eye watering fines. It speaks of staff drunk to the point of vomiting, and altercation, and sounds more like the back street pubs of Blackley at chucking out time, on a Saturday night – places to which only the lowest sort of empty headed buffoon, would ever be drawn.

But it speaks also perhaps to the emotionally suppressed nature of the English that it takes a bit of alcohol before we start to feel normal. Hence the reverence with which we regard the public house, as much as we once regarded the church, and without which no place, no matter how perfect, including Hubberholme, can be said to exist at all. So lets all get a drink and be merry, but woe betide any Englishman who cannot hold his drink – and it strikes me few of us can – for therein shall lie his reputation.

In those first few sips of frothy beer, in the summer-shimmering gardens of the Olde Oakes, the Queens Heads, and the George Inns, we might imagine we catch glimpses of the Other Place, but it’s an illusion. By the second pint it spits us out, like it spat out poor Lindfield, back to the hung-over dawn of Blackley on a bad day, and to the bald truth that the devils have had their way and we let all our collective post-war good intentions slip through our fingers.

So I’m tempted to say to the England, as depicted in the Sue Gray report, stay the hell away from Hubberholme, and thereby allow me, this moment at least, the illusion of an England still worth half the candle. Let me fool myself, while I’m here, the Other Place Priestly wrote about isn’t so far away as it seems.

As for the guy on the bridge, poor Lindfield, I’ll not say to him: “Look here, old chap, why so glum?” because, really, I get the picture. I’ll just bid him a polite good morning, and be on my way.

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The song of the skies

If clouds made sounds,
they’d fizz and they’d roar,
and they’d sail the skies proud,
impossible to ignore.


If clouds made sounds,
they’d swish and they’d rumble
as round all the chimney pots,
they tumbled.


As cumulus bubble,
their anvils ring trouble.
While high cirrus sing
their sweetest refrain,
Nimbus would rumble
and rattle with rain.


If clouds made sounds
we’d lift more our eyes,
to the beauty, and drama,
of the song of the skies.

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The path to Whernside

It was summer, the last time I walked this route up Whernside, which is perhaps why I remember it so well. Which summer though? Let me see: I was driving a blue, mark four Cortina, which means it was 1982, and I was 21.

It was also my summer of love, or rather it was my discovery of the love of the transcendent phenomenon that is hill walking. Girls would come later, but the hills were more constant, always a revelation, and, like the present Lady Graeme, always happy to take me as I am.

It was a hot, dry summer, that year, and no trains ran on the Settle to Carlisle line. There was a strike by ASLEF over flexible rostering. The boss-class still moan about it in their histories of the period. They never did get the unions, or class warfare.

Today is cold. Back home, down on the Lancashire Plain, it’s been spring for weeks. The hedgerows are greening, the buds are budding, and the cherries and hawthorns are blossoming. But here, in Yorkshire, it’s still winter. An arctic blast greets us at Ribblehead, as we crack open the car door. There’s ice in the roadside gulleys, and an ominous bank of cloud is jostling the sunshine, threatening hail. The three peaks each have a cap of snow, and I’m wondering if we should have packed our ancient instep crampons – purchased from Settle’s legendary “Cave and Crag”, now sadly gone. I can’t remember the last time I wore them, and probably couldn’t work out how to fasten them anyway – they were always a pain. I should get some of those newfangled microspikes, but I keep thinking my days of winter walking are over.

Still here we are.

Ribblehead Viaduct – Settle to Carlisle line

The Ribblehead Viaduct is magnificent. A soaring masterpiece, circa 1875, when Britain called itself great, and without irony, though mostly because labour was cheap, and expendable, especially Irish hands, like my grandfather’s. But let’s not go down that road. It was all a long time ago, except time is less fixed for me these days, since I am no longer called to heel by the alarm clock every morning.

Last night I dreamed I was an apprentice again, back in the old factory, a place of several thousand souls. I was seeing and talking to people I had forgotten I knew, and whom I have not seen since nineteen seventy-nine. Sights, sounds, scents, … it was strange, but comforting to know those souls are still as they were, that we are all still as we always were, always are, somewhere in this weird thing we call time.

Anyway, it’s not the most dramatic of peaks, Whernside. It lacks the shapely grandeur of Ingleborough or Penyghent. But, being the biggest of the trio, it counts itself as King, and rightly so. And it’s not without its charms. By far the biggest charm, however, is the rising perspective is grants us of its nearest neighbour, Ingleborough, whose brutal geology is starkly displayed today, courtesy of a dusting of snow, which trickles down the gulleys in crinkles of dentritic splendour. Most of my photographs today are of Ingleborough. Whernside, I find, isn’t photogenic at all.

Ingleborough

The wind drops as we enter the lee of the land, and the chill shock of Ribblehead fades as we warm on the ascent. There are few other walkers about. That ominous bank of boiling cloud is a worry, but we’ll keep our eye on it. We’re overtaken by a lady who looks to be more senior than our own years, then a gentleman more senior than hers. Age is a funny business, part driven, I think, by something inside us. In the hills, I have known a man of eighty easily outpace a man of fifty, simply because he refuses to believe he is getting on. We can grow old at any age, give up and whither at forty if we choose. All we have to do is look back, and then we stiffen.

I am climbing the path up Whernside, so I must still be 21. This is not looking back. This is participating in the eternal, and therefore timeless, adventure. It’s a mystery, to which the hills grant us a tantalising clue. Or so I tell myself.

One foot in front of the other. Pause. Admire the view. Take some pictures. Plod on. We cross the snowline. Up close, it’s just a dusting, not exactly Tyrolean. But you can’t underestimate the British hills. Here, sudden change, and overconfidence are your enemies. Check the Met office, read the sky. Pack another layer, a head-torch, a survival bag. Know how to read a map, and use a compass, or at the very least walk with someone else who can. Yes, the OS app on our phones or our Garmin is terrific, but our technology is deskilling us, and that’s a risk in the hills, where we need our wits about us.

My last visit to Whernside was not 1982. It was around 2006. I came up from Dent that day. November I think. I made the summit with the left side of me white with frost, and my ear burning. I came down with tinnitus, which still bothers me off and on. That was a very cold day, a good day, another journey in life’s album of eternal nows.

A wall runs along the summit, and there’s a curved shelter which gets us out of the wind today. We catch up with the senior lady and exchange pleasantries. She is joined by a Yorkshireman who claims never to have been up the hill before. When asked why not, he explains with a grin that he could never get his van up it.

The way off the hill used to be like free-fall but, like many of our most treasured mountains, much has been done to tackle erosion, and there is now a carefully laid, twisty path that snakes us down in double quick-time, towards the valley bottom. Then it’s a couple of miles through pleasant pastures, back to Ribblehead, and the car. About eight and a quarter miles round, fourteen hundred feet of ascent.

I was never a hill athlete. I could not have climbed Whernside, having first climbed Penyghent and walked the moors from Horton. I could never have then gone on to tackle that imposing wall of Ingleborough. Those who attempt the three peaks have my admiration. That’s a walk that takes fitness, and character.

So, anyway, back to the car. A lonely spot, Ribblehead – a collection of cottages and a pub, but it has a railway station. Coffee and cakes next, then. A toss up between Horton and Ingleton. Okay, … Ingleton it is. Beats working.

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(One of) The Twich Hill Oaks

March’s full moon ushers in a definite change. Suddenly it feels like spring, as the sky peels open to an optimistic blue, and the temperature breaks fifteen degrees. We’re sitting by the ruins of Peewit Hall, on the edge of the Anglezarke moors, looking out over the lush green of hill and dale as it runs from Jepsons, down the gentle undulations of Twitch Hills, into Lead Mines Clough. There are larks today, the first I’ve heard this year, and the rapture of them lifts the spirit. I’m sure they know this, and I appreciate their effort. We could all use some cheer. Also, somewhere down the valley, I hear the rising, scratchy call of a Lapwing.

We were late getting going today, noon already, but we’re making up for it. The car is down by Parson’s Bullough, and we’ve just come up by the oaks in the meadow above Twitch Hills. They’re always impressive these trees, fine focal points, marking the line of the path. They anchor the senses in the midst of an otherwise dizzying panorama. We have no route in mind as yet, just a vague idea of heading up to the Pikestones, then we’ll see what other ideas strike us. We’re coasting, feeling out the future by the seat of our pants, today, enjoying the sunshine and the earthy scent of spring.

The View from Peewit Hall

I’m reading a lot about the nature of time, and the fourth dimension, as they used to call it. In ordinary consciousness, we travel a single line in time. Our reality is defined by a point on that line, this being the present moment, like now, as we sit by the ruins of this old farm, looking out towards Jepsons. Memory tells us the line in time that brought us here but, ordinarily at least, we have no clue where it’s going.

This much is obvious, but what’s not so obvious is that in order to see ourselves in this beautiful landscape, there must be another awareness, another level of observation. And there’s a strong suspicion among time theorists this higher part of our selves views our reality, not as a point in time, but as a line that ventures some way into that future, and not necessarily a fixed future, either, more one of potential outcomes. And sometimes, just sometimes, it leaves clues for us in our dreams, if we pay attention to them.

And our future, from this point?

Okay, the Pikestones it is.

The Pikestones

The moor is still heavy underfoot, though it must be a week since we had any serious rain. And the Pikestones? Like most prehistoric monuments, they’re high in expectation, but ultimately low in drama. Some years ago, vandals of a neo-pagan bent, similarly under-whelmed, thought to chisel a spiral motif on the largest of the stones, I presume to spice them up a bit. Someone else chiselled it off in outrage. The damage is still evident, though in time, (talking centuries) it will weather in, I suppose. It depends on what you’re looking for, but as a place of quiet contemplation, and a viewpoint overlooking the plain of Lancashire, the Pikestones serves us perfectly well.

So, where does our line in time branch to, now? Well, I’m getting a feeling for Hurst Hill, so we navigate our way up Rushy Brow. This is always a bit vague, the hill itself being hidden over the rise, as yet, and no path. There’s a little visited ring burial here, which is a good way-point, if you can find it, then a heading north of west-ish brings you to the only tarn on this side of the moor, a small, rush fringed eye, smiling blue today, instead of its more familiar thunder-black. A vague sheep trod then contours cleverly towards Hurst Hill, avoiding the worst of the bog.

Hurst Hill

There’s a discreet surveyors mark on the summit, presumably from the very first 1845-47 survey. I found it by accident once, while descending with a low sun that just caught the crows-foot mark, chiselled into a flat rock. I make a point of seeking it out with the aid of GPS, whenever I’m passing this way. The Victorians fixed it by theodolite, and trig tables, and it’s bang on.

Since my last visit, someone else has found it, and covered it with a couple of rocks. It confused me, but it’ll prevent weathering, I suppose, and I left things as they were. So, someone else knows the secret! I wonder what relevance such a mark still has in this modern age. I wonder who the surveyors were who first, and ever so neatly, cut those marks, and what the world was like for them. What was the flavour of their own lines in time?

Normally we’d head east from here, deeper into the bosom of the moor, to the Round Loaf, or Great Hill. But then I’m thinking about the Anglezarke Reservoir, and a graceful trio of oak trees that I know, and some different photographic opportunities, so we branch out west, into another line in time, descending by the old lead mines to the Moor Road.

The mines are interesting. They have the appearance of a bombing run, a line of deep craters in the moor, with heaps of spoil thrown up around them. The surrounding grasses are a striking green, compared with the sour khaki of the moor. They’re crude bell pits, I suppose, eighteenth century, probably, as they were already noted as old, in the mid-nineteenth. Lead is found in vertical veins, so the miners chased it down from the surface as deep as they dared, before their walls caved in. Always a risky occupation, being a miner, but always, too, the siren lure of the mythical mother lode.

From the Moor Road, we choose a path we’ve never walked before, and lose it almost at once. We’re at Siddow Fold, now, a former farm, and gamekeeper’s cottage. Dated 1707, and listed grade 2, it’s seen significant gentrification in recent years, and very beautifully done. The council’s footpath marker guides us confidently enough from the road, and is our quickest route to the reservoir, but it abandons us to our devices in a meadow. I suspect we’re now tangled up in a diversion imposed upon us by the owners, the route deviating markedly from that on the map, and a bit of help would not be amiss, here. Oh well:

Anglezarke Reservoir

We follow our nose, or rather the line of a faint depression in the meadow that appears to be making a beeline for the reservoir. It’s a trespass perhaps, but not my fault. The sparkling ribbon of the reservoir is in full view here, and we meander down towards our trio of oaks, as splendid as I remember them. They’re a good place to sit for a brew, and admire the scene.

So, our line in time today, thus far, brings us here, or at least the line in time I’m aware of. If, as I sometimes like to speculate, at any given branching of the ways, more than one potentiality is realised, in another timeline, we’re also sitting atop the Round Loaf, listening to the larks and the curlews. In another, we gave up at the Pikestones, swung round by Lead Mines Clough, and returned to the car. Even as we sit here, by the sparkling Anglezarke Reservoir, among these magnificent oaks, we’re already driving home, with the top down, through Adlington, perhaps waiting for the lights by the Elephant and Castle.

And then there may be another level, one that grants a view of all the lines in time we ever chose. From this perspective, then, our lives resemble a tree, a proliferation of branches, of lines in time, of all the potentialities we were offered and realised, this being the true fullness of our being. Of course, from a very closed perspective, we’re only ever aware of this one point, moving along this one thread. But sometimes, you get a feeling about the rest.

So, anyway, here we are. We’ve still a couple of miles back to the car, and a variety of ways to choose. I guess at some point, we’ve walked them all before, even the ones we’ve yet to walk, at least in this line of time, if you know what I mean.

Any ideas?

It doesn’t matter much. They’re all good.

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The Dam at Drybones, Birkacre, Coppull

I’ve done something I’d normally advise against. I’ve bought second hand walking boots off Ebay. They’re army surplus, advertised as having seen hardly any use, and it’s true, they’re like new. My Scarpas have been leaking, off and on, and I felt I needed back-up. They look to be a good boot, decent leather, and no inner membrane. So they’re old-school, and, at £45, a bargain. What could possibly go wrong?

On the first try-out, I walked to the local shop, a quarter of a mile or so, and they were so uncomfortable, I thought I was going to have to come back in stocking feet. Anyway, a fresh insole, and here we are at the Birkacre visitor centre, at Coppull, ready to give them another go.

I grew up around here, and it always beggars belief how busy it’s become. It’s a midweek morning, a welcome bit of sunshine, and looks like the world is on holiday. Home to a bleaching and dyeing works in the long ago, all that remains now are the mill lodges, a popular spot for dog walkers, and bird-watchers – not always an easy mix. It’s handy for the carpark, but we need to get beyond the lodge, into Drybones wood, and the horseshoe of the Yarrow, before nature can get to work on us.

Sitting at home, assailed by rocketing energy bills, record petrol prices and news of wars, we can all too easily feel that life is becoming narrow, that the walls are closing in. A walk in the countryside can push the walls back out again.

There’s a dam on the river at Drybones. It was built to raise the water-level to feed the mill race and is very picturesque after heavy rains. Some nights, I would hear the thunder of it from my bedroom as I drifted off to sleep. I always slept with the window open, summer or winter, one ear to the outdoors, to the meadows, the woods and moors beyond. The rumble is still familiar, something deep in the bones, a sense of OM in its eternal reverberation, a reminder of my Coppull years, and home. So far, the boots are doing okay. They’re heavier than the Scarpas, but no hint of blisters, yet.

Around Birkacre Lodge

Beyond the dam, the path meanders past the ruins of Drybones cottage. This is a remote, off-grid place – something to do with the mines here in Victorian times, and which remained firmly in the Victorian period until about fifteen years ago, when it burned down. Since my last visit, the land has been cleared and stoutly fenced off, the path rerouted. The muddy track to the property has also been gravelled – about a half mile of it – presumably for a luxury land-rover.

It’s a lonely spot, and always something dark about it, I felt. I presume someone’s going to develop it into a des-res, but I wouldn’t want to live here. The original house features in my novel Durleston Wood as “the old Willet place”. I picked it for its symbolism at the heart of a mysterious personal darkness, a demon lurking there, to be negotiated, while holding prisoner a femme fatale, whose seduction had to be survived, before we gained redemption – all very Jungian. And while the world has moved on immeasurably since I wrote it, I’m still pondering the story. I remember how much I enjoyed writing it, how deep a connection I felt with the characters, one that seems lacking in my fiction these days.

The lone tree

Beyond Drybones, the path follows the river upstream, through a stretch of woodland that’s just coming into bud now, and we have the first of the anemones about to open. A little later in the season, there’ll be a lush pallet of bluebells, and the pungent, starry alium. We’re on an ancient way that links up with the old Duxbury estate, and which threads by the ancient beech, again featured in “Durleston Wood”, and, more recently, as the fallen tree in my present and forever halting work in progress, “A Lone Tree Falls”.

The latter story is turning out to be a struggle. The characters feel remote, dazed and numb, like they’ve all had the stuffing kicked out of them, since the days of Durlston Wood, and what I’m longing for is the deeper connection of those earlier times.

As I’ve written here before, they’re going to build houses on the meadows around Durleston, because people have to live somewhere, even if the solution is the destruction of the very reason why we live at all. To a town mouse, this might not seem like such an issue, not much of an argument – it’s progress after all, and the world moves on. But speaking as a country mouse, I know there were once spirits here, spirits of place. I’ve talked to them, and knew them as our kin. They are not literally true, of course. They are subliminal, imaginal, but all the same, without them, we are a rootless, soulless people.

The protagonist of my work in progress is a former intelligence analyst, now on the trail of the meaning of his life, but he keeps getting waylaid by the corruption of his former world. I’m not writing a spy story – I wouldn’t know where to start. What I’m trying to do is get at is how we’re so bound up in the complexity of appearances we fail to recognise the simplicity of our path. But as usual, I feel I’m groping towards something I don’t understand well enough to make much of a meaningful accounting of it. All I know is the beech tree was an old friend; I had known it since I was a child. It came down in storms, which seem as metaphorical as real, and since no one saw it fall, it fell without a sound, and the thought of that haunts me.

The Oak Tree, Birkacre

It’s mostly beech in this part of the wood, some sycamore. Coming out of Durleston, though, we see the old oak on the skyline, above the meadow. Another decade or so and it’ll be gone, obscured by the saw-tooth profile of little houses. The tree falls, the spirits flee, and the landscape is smothered, to be retained only briefly in human memory. But then we too fall, and it’s all gone, within a couple of generations, and all of it without a sound; it never was, it never fully existed, except in the eye of the mind, which suggests our imagination alone is the emotive essence of life, so we had better be careful what we do with it.

Not a long walk today. Just three miles round the horseshoe of the Yarrow. We leave Durleston, and imagination behind, return to Birkacre to the Big Lodge, to the carousel of dog walkers, and bird-watchers, and kiddies feeding ducks, and back to the car. The boots feel okay, I’d forgotten they were there, actually. You know what? I think they’ll do.

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