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Archive for the ‘political’ Category

A light fall of snow overnight clears to a frosty dawn. The forecast is too good to be skulking about indoors, so we muster our gear, then set out for Rivington, and the Hall Avenue.

Mid-week, mid-morning, and it’s busy with cars, kids and dogs. These are school age kids, and they are with working age parents. Again, I wonder to what they owe their premature attainment of escape velocity. There’s a sprinkling of snow here, and the ground feels mushy where the sun touches it, but it’ll most likely be frozen, higher up, so we pack the spikes – just in case – and off we go. Check: camera on aperture auto, shooting RAW, and set to bracket, polariser on the 18-140mm lens.

I’m a bit pie-eyed this morning, and feeling gormless. I used to be a night bird, but no longer seem able to burn the midnight oil without consequences. I’d stayed up watching a movie that had been recommended, called John Wick. Personally, I found it mindlessly violent, almost like a video game. There was one brutal set piece after the other, and then the embarrassing festishisation of ever more elaborately phallic firearms. And there was a veneer of glamour whose thrust had me wincing more than the oft-wielded knife blades. Okay, so it wasn’t my preferred genre.

I didn’t make it to the end, but fell asleep, frankly, bored. That said, John Wick’s brooding, funereal presence is still following me around this morning. I hope he’s wearing a decent pair of boots, or he’ll be grumbling later.

Unlike John’s violent and nihilistic universe, the world of Rivington is peaceful, and beautiful. We take a meandering approach to the terraced gardens – no particular route in mind, as seems usual with me these days, when on home territory. The snow cover thickens as we climb, and the low sun paints buttery highlights. There’s just enough whispy cloud to add interest to the sky without it tipping the atmosphere into something gloomy. John would prefer it gloomy, he says, while checking for the firearms secreted about his person. But this is England, and we don’t allow that sort of thing here. He’s puzzled by this. I mean, what if someone insults you?

On the great lawn, there are two summerhouses, now wonderfully restored and architecturally fascinating. I’ve just worked out one faces the morning sun, the other the evening. Mi’lord Leverhulme would have taken breakfast on fine summer mornings at one, and sipped his sundowners at the other. And me, sitting down on the steps of his morning summerhouse, basking in this buttery light, would have been seen off with dogs, and John, no doubt in Mi’lord’s employ. A century later, I have my revenge, and sit with impunity, for Time is the great leveller.

I never tire of the gardens. They’re certainly a royal way to approach the Pike, and the moors beyond. A vague plan is beginning to form. We’ll do the Pike, then chance the moor, across to Noon Hill.

The café that has recently popped up in the ruins of the old public lavatories, below the Pike, is open, and John is gasping for a coffee. It has recently installed a diesel generator, and we are treated to its noxious exhaust as we approach from downwind. I am not tempted, but John grabs a quick one, then crushes, and discards his cup in the bushes. I fish it out and put it in my bag, decide against giving him a lecture on it. He seems at times on the verge of becoming a reformed character, but a moment’s thoughtlessness, and he reverts to type.

There’s quite the procession going up the Pike, they’re also struggling, avoiding the steps, which are thick with ice. So we put the spikes on and make a traverse, spiralling round to get at the top from behind. It’s cold and blowy, people taking selfies. They’re looking at John like they know him from somewhere. Again, there are many here I would have thought of an age to be either in college or working. I wonder if they are on strike today.

The various strike actions are deepening across the country now, and the usual yapping dog presses seem to be failing in their attempts to demonise the Union officials. The government is also looking crass and incompetent, in its refusal to negotiate. The political Zeitgeist is swinging to the centre and would swing further, but the left no longer has meaningful representation. The powerful have not grasped these are not the nineteen seventies. The discontent is different, born of an inequality our parents never knew, one that has been a decade in the manufacture, at the hands of those who, by contrast, have profited handsomely by it. John confides in me, he’s been approached by several kingpins with a view to taking out ringleaders of discontent. He’s told them he’s retired and doesn’t do that sort of thing any more.

Anyway, in the summer months the route across the moor from the Pike to Noon Hill can be difficult to trace, and intermittently boggy. But today it’s plainly picked out by a dusting of snow, a thin white line squiggled over an undulating expanse of pale straw, and the ground is hard. The trick is knowing where the snow is covering bog, and how thick the underlying ice is. Will it take your weight, or will you burst through over your boots? As we get going, we look back and take a few shots of the pike in retrospect. There’s a lone man making his way up, and with a tight crop, the scene is dramatic.

Noon Hill is an unimpressive summit from this angle, just a small spur off the Winter Hill ridge. It’s more interesting when viewed from the west, where it forms a meridian with Great Hill, and I’ve often wondered if there’s any significance in the fact that, whatever the time of year, when viewed from Anglezarke, the sun will always be directly above Noon Hill, at noon. What do you think, John? John shrugs, couldn’t care less, checks instead for the knife in his sock. I’d told him to lose that, because it’s a one way ticket to chokey, if he’s caught. He looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. What kind of dumb-ass country is this where a man can’t carry a knife or a gun? Clearly, we’ve a way to go before we can restore his faith in humanity.

Noon Hill is the site of a Bronze Age saucer burial. It was first excavated in 1958 by John Winstanley who was then curator of the Hall in th’Wood Museum. It was an eventful dig, and his diary makes for interesting reading. Further information can be had at the excellent Lancashire Past website, here. There are also some fascinating period photographs of the dig here.

The ground becomes more treacherous the nearer we get to the top, and the light turns bleak as thicker clouds begin to gather from the south. The view looking back to the Pike takes on the appearance of a revelation now, as the sun fans down though whatever heavenly apertures it can find. But it is the view northwards that is the most stunning, across Anglezarke moor. Then there’s the land falling away to the plain, and finally the glittering line of the sea, to the west. And to the east, we have the stacked ranks of increasingly snowy hills, marching out towards Rossendale.

But there’s little time to settle and enjoy it, greeted as we are by a face numbing wind, so it’s a quick shot of the snowy cairn with Winter Hill in the background, then turn tail and make our way down. The time for Noon Hill is a clear summer’s day, with a pair of binoculars.

We take the short route down to the old turnpike, then the unofficial path that drops us steeply to the bend on Sheephouse lane, and finally, a very boggy return to Rivington. It’s a walk that always feels longer than it is – just over four miles, and seven hundred and fifty feet of ascent, but a pleasantly varied route, and far enough given what looks like a bit of weather moving in.

Time for a brew, now. John’s smiling a bit. You know what? I think we’ve mellowed him out. He says he’s sorry about that coffee cup, earlier on. I just hope no one picks a fight with him in the tearoom, or we’re all in trouble.

https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=14/53.6238/-2.5523&layers=C

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A week of heavy rain and brutal winds defeats the lead flashing around the chimney, and the roof begins to leak. Again. I hear it dripping into the buckets in the attic, as the wind roars in the chimney. I called a roofer out, and he turned up, which is always a surprise, but his face was covered, and he kept ten paces away. A touch of flu, he said. I felt guilty then, asking him to go up on the roof, but he said he could see the problem from ground level, then disappeared back to his bed with promises to return when it stopped raining. It’s been raining pretty much for a week now. I wish him a speedy recovery, a clearing in the forecast, and hope he’s not forgotten me.

I never used to fret about the integrity of the old homestead. The former day-job tended to exhaust my allotment of anxieties. But take away one set of problems, and a mind that’s so inclined finds others to occupy itself with. Now, in retirement, I imagine the house gremlins undermining the place, so it’ll fall down around my ears, in spite of all efforts at maintenance over the decades of my residence. It doesn’t help when the foul weather keeps you indoors. There are home-birds who’d happily never set foot outside their gate, except to walk to the corner shop for a paper, but I’m not one of them. Being indoors for more than a few days drives me nuts. And it’s been over a week now.

But we were talking about writing. And of that imaginary world, the writing world, doors open and close. We cultivate the dream life for clues, we sit at the desk each morning like we’re still working from home – like during those covid lockdown days – and we tickle the keys, then delete the nonsense that comes out. The dreams are beguiling, but it’s anyone’s guess what they’re trying to say: the muse wishes to be seen as something other than what I have thus far always thought her to be, or something like that; the storm lamp I use to navigate my way through complex change has lost its wick and all its fuel; then I am required to make a sworn statement by a shallow, pompous official, who I tell in no uncertain terms to “f&*k off”. Dreams are quite the thing, aren’t they? But mostly hard to fathom. No matter – just keep stirring the pot. See what bubbles up.

Thus, we await the muse’s midnight pleasure. I’m hoping for something of a change from the usual existential rumination – a powerful romance, say, or a murder mystery, or something with a bit of humour in it. We could all do with a laugh, though the times are weighed agin’ us on the latter score, which is all the more reason to laugh at the absurdity. Shall we talk then of back-ground music?

Britain starts the new year in such a peculiar state of crisis, one that’s impossible to ignore, yet seems also pointless to mention because it’s been going on so long there is no novelty left in it that’s worth exploring. I have deleted the BBC News app from my phone, because it insists on trumpeting the Murdoch front pages. Facebook and Twitter I have never entertained. I spare the Guardian only a five-minute glance in the morning, which is plenty. It tells me the health service is in ruins, and you’re stuffed, unless you can pay. There is what amounts to an ongoing national strike, as wages are so poor workers literally cannot afford to live. Meanwhile, the government drifts into authoritarian territory, in thrall to the most cravenly disruptive elements within it, and is therefore unable to govern. And BREXIT, BREXIT,… no we dare not speak of BREXIT. Same old Muzak, then.

But that’s the thing with permacrises, I suppose, they’re – well – permanent. We adjust to the new normal, and thank our lucky stars we only have a leaking roof to deal with. But mostly I gather the media is presently obsessed with a gossipy book by an exiled Royal. I know this because everyone I know is talking about it. Well, not everyone, but enough to remind me how easily we are distracted by cakes and ale.

Oh, there is a feast of material here for someone of the stature of an Orwell, but an Orwell I am not. When on my soapbox, I am but a little dog growling at the moon, and the muse gently coaxes me back down. But where to, I ask?

Then my elusive GP sends out a questionnaire, asking me to rate his performance. There could be some material in this, for it strikes me as both obtuse and ironic. The questions don’t allow me to indicate I have tried to see him on a number of occasions, one of them urgently – or so I thought – and was rebuffed with directions to the warzone that is A+E. I throw the Byzantine missive away, his officious receptionist reminds me by text. I ignore it. We have built a world of bullshit and fantasy performance indicators, while allowing all substance to fall away. Plenty of material there – but again that’s for an Orwell.

No, the muse is drawing me to an island, or a remote valley. But we’ve already been there, and done that to death, I protest. No, this time it will be different, she says, as she relights my lamp. Trust me.

Such is the writing life, and the little gaps between.

The forecast is for dry next week. I hope that roofer turns up.

Thanks for listening.

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My thanks to fellow blogger Ashley for his mention of this book, which I was inspired to read over the Christmas and New Year period, and what a wonderfully hopeful message it offers. Indeed, what better way to start the New Year than with an entirely fresh view of humanity, that if we could only realise our true natures, so many of the problems plaguing societies the world over would be solved.

Sounds too good to be true? What is this magical formula? Well, it’s a simple idea, and not particularly radical. It’s an idea backed up by centuries of data, yet somehow conveniently ignored. What is it? Well, it’s simply that most human beings, deep down, are not self-seeking individuals with scant regard for the welfare of others. They are decent, and will go out of their way to help you.

An aircraft crashes on takeoff. Do people panic and make a mad stampede for the doors? Or does everyone help each other, make sure everyone is okay and gets out alive? If asked, we’d say the first scenario, the mad selfish panic, is the most likely outcome, because that’s what happens in the movies. And the media is daily full of examples of the selfish, indeed the downright nasty natures of our fellow beings – so be on your guard because all strangers are out to get you, trick you, scam you, or at the very least get ahead of you in the queue for the door. But, in fact, studies show we’d be wrong, that it’s the second option we’d most likely observe in reality. By far the majority of people really would help one another, even at the risk of their own lives.

Rutger Bregman is an historian, a left leaning intellectual, and a powerful advocate for a Universal Basic Income. His YouTube TED talk “Poverty isn’t lack of character, it’s lack of cash” is up to nearly four million views. His opinions regarding the positive nature of human beings are at times counter-intuitive, to the extent of being hard to swallow, and he triggers much invective from the right-leaning. But his argument runs that our “intuitions” have been poisoned by the media we consume, that the data alone should be convincing enough, and he draws upon several fascinating examples to illustrate his point.

One of the motives behind the civilian bombing campaigns of the second world war was the already discredited theory it would inflict such terror in the minds of the population, the state wouldn’t be able to function. London would empty, the country would become ungovernable, and fall apart. However, the lesson of the blitz was that, in spite of the most appalling loss of life, life went on, the population adjusted to the new normal – terrible as it was – and their resolve deepened. And this was not a peculiarity of the British character, either. The same thing happened in Germany, under allied bombing, and in Vietnam under American bombing, and it’s happening now in Ukraine.

There is nothing better for forming bonds of fellowship, and bringing out the finest and the bravest, and the most altruistic in human nature than adverse circumstances. So the mystery is why our societies are organised on the assumption that we’re all greedy, dishonest, and self-seeking. It’s an urgent question, too, for this pessimistic, and endlessly competitive view of human nature has brought us to the brink of disaster, with massive levels of poverty, and inequality.

Bregman boils his thesis down into ten rules that he says we should all follow, to put things right:

1) When in doubt, assume the best in others.

2) Life is not really a competition where there must always be a loser. The best scenarios are where everybody wins.

3) Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ask them first. Their needs may be different to yours.

4) Do not simply empathise with the suffering of others. It’s useless and you’ll go mad. Be compassionate instead.

5) Try to understand others, even if you don’t get, or even like, where they seem to be coming from.

6) Love your own as others love their own, while remaining conscious of the love others have for their own. This will close the distance between us, and allow us to see others more as we see ourselves.

7) Avoid the daily news, and all push notifications from social media – they only serve to distance us from others. If you want current affairs, read in slower time from journals – monthlies, weeklies, for a more considered analysis. Ditch the news cycle.

8) Don’t punch Nazis. Meaning, don’t lend your own energy to the provocation of others, and resist the trap of cynicism regarding the fallacy of the entrenched nature of human folly.

9) Don’t be ashamed to do good.

10) To be truly realistic about the facts of human nature, we must discount the myth that most people are a bad lot. They’re not, and the facts bear it out. So, be true to your nature, offer your trust and act from the goodness of the heart.

But who among us has the courage? To be street-smart is a badge of honour – how not to get bushwhacked, or scammed, or mugged? We must basically expect the worst from strangers. We teach stranger danger to our kids. How dare we not? There is, after all, an epidemic of violence and crime against our persons. Or is there? Are we not simply being taught to fear?

Bregman tell us that, yes, of course, showing trust, we will occasionally be taken advantage of, but it’s a mistake to allow ourselves to become poisoned against the rest of our fellow man as the result. Reflecting on his message, uplifting as it is, I doubt I have the courage to live all ten of those rules, even though my own life experience does bear out his thesis. I have fetched up more than once as an innocent from the sticks, in Liverpool, a town that has the reputation – in the media at least – of the wild west, and each time I have been aided by perfect strangers, with genuine heart and feeling. But my transactional experience with people also suggests that, although a person’s primary instinct may be open and altruistic, if they are given any excuse for thinking they have been slighted, they will turn against you very quickly.

A very uplifting read, from a fascinating author.

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Abbey Village

The gate to the war memorial at Abbey Village is locked. I usually visit in the week leading up to the armistice, to leave one of those little wooden crosses for my great uncle. He died in Mesopotamia in 1918, and is named on the column. He was one of the many sons of the village who did not come home.

So, what to do? Well, after a moment of indecision, I toss the little cross, as gently as I can, but still rather indecorously, through the bars, where it falls skew-whiff among the evergreens in the planter at the foot of the column. I offer a wordless apology. A token charged such as this should be placed mindfully, not tossed as a last resort, but I didn’t know what else to do. I had not wanted to walk away with it still in my pocket, for then the charge would have fizzled away to meaninglessness. I shall have to rethink arrangements for next time. I’ve been coming here for years and never encountered a locked gate before. I wonder if the village fears vandalism?

Remembrance and the red-poppy has become a political wedge issue in recent years. For myself I feel it’s simply important to keep alive the memory of one’s family’s losses in war, and that we carry that consciousness forward into the lives we lead ourselves, for if enough of us can re-imagine the grief, following those fateful telegrams home, the generation we raise might be better able to temper their reactions whenever sabres start to rattle, as they inevitably do from time to time. And they in turn might pass the same thing on.

Autumn in Roddlesworth

Abbey is a place mostly pictured for me in the monochrome and the sepia of family photographs, from the nineteen thirties to the early sixties. Time has changed it, of course. Motor cars now line the main thoroughfare, and satellite dishes bristle from the rooftops. Five minutes, though, and it is a world forgotten, while another modernity lures us in. This is a modernity of the Victorian period – the reservoir system, and the woodland plantation that surrounds it, a circuit of which will take us a couple of hours, and covers a good five miles. It was a Sunday stroll for my parents, decked out in their best threads. Now we wear storm-proofs and hiking boots, like it’s the world’s end, and the rain will melt us.

The light in November starts poor, and fades early. This afternoon we begin with the flake-white overcast that forms a backdrop to so many of L.S. Lowry’s paintings, and it takes on an increasingly blue-grey tint as sunset approaches. But the intense beauty of autumn has arrived, and the woodland around the Abbey reservoirs is a delight to walk. It is also a place of deep, mysterious shadow, but wonderfully coloured along the pathways, from the rose-gold of the fallen leaves, to the yellows of the beeches, and the pale greens still hanging on. And as the trunks and boughs emerge from their thinning foliage, they assume expressive postures, with the feel of an impressionist tableau.

Autumn in Roddlesworth

I had felt something unfriendly, even unwelcoming in that incident at the war memorial, that the modern village no longer wishes to recognise its past, of which I and my family are a part, but then I discover only smiles and hearty greetings from the few walkers I encounter on the trail. In fact, I encounter most of them twice, as we pass in opposite directions, doing the same circuit, but the other way round. There are owls calling, deep in the privacy of the woods, and I discover a working charcoal kiln, with evidence of fresh coppicing, and woodland management. The charcoal is used mostly for barbecues, but also art supplies, and the bits left over, the charcoal fines, are bagged and sold as “biochar”, a horticultural soil improver.

Charcoal burning, Roddlesworth

On the one hand, it is encouraging to see these traditional practices still being carried out, while on the other it’s disconcerting to see how much woodland is required to be fenced off from casual exploration. Not all the best photographs can be taken from the marked trails. We need some flexibility to stalk the light and the shadow, and these fences, liked locked gates, get in the way of imagination and our freedom to express ourselves.

From Abbey we descend as far as the bridge over Rocky Brook, then begin the climb towards Ryal Fold. The rambler’s café is a tempting destination, but it shuts at three today, and we’ll never make it, so we take the more direct return along the woodland ways. There are hints of a pale sun trying to break through, now, a last gasp for the day, but it never quite makes it. No matter. The woodland has an exquisite air about it this afternoon, and the autumn colours are ravishing. We return to Abbey at lighting up time. The car park of the Hare and Hounds looks busy, so we’ll pass on coffee, and begin the drive home. The woods were a sight for sore eyes today, and a balm for the soul.

Autumn in Roddlesworth

On the subject of remembrance, there is a story about a young man lost in the war, and his father holding on to the hope that there’d been a mistake, and his son would return. To this end he would go down to the local railway station every day to meet the tea-time train, thinking his son might be on it, but of course he never was. The father maintained this ritual for decades, into old age and the Beeching cuts, which saw the line closed, and the rails taken up,…

I regret I do not know the author’s name, but it was a story that touched me deeply. It could have been my great-grandfather, refusing to believe in that telegram message, that there had been a mistake, and of course his son would return, hale and hearty as he had set out. But it’s a long time since the trains ran through Abbey, and, for sure, my great uncle isn’t coming back.

Shall they return to beatings of great bells

In wild trainloads?

A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,

May creep back, silent, to still village wells

Up half-known roads.

Wilfred Owen

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The day begins with a scam text message purporting to be from the courier, Evri. It wants us to “Click here” to re-arrange delivery. I’ve not ordered anything. The sender intends emptying my bank account. I wonder how many poor souls have fallen for it, and thereby helped swell the coffers of an organised criminality the world seems unable to outwit. I wonder how they came by my number, since I am ever so careful with it. We block the sender for all the good it will do us, and, while we have the phone in our hands, we turn to the news.

In the UK, right leaning ministers of state are spurring hot-heads to violence with intemperate language. Internationally, the UN reports the last eight years were the hottest in recorded history, and that limiting global temperatures to what is calculated to be a relatively safe 1.5 degrees is now a forlorn hope with, thus far, no realistic plans in place, anywhere. In America, Trump looks set to begin a return to the presidency, following the mid-term elections, while various armed MAGA hatted militias are discussing outrages which threaten civil war. Back in the UK again, the pollster, Sir John Curtice, reports significant buyers’ remorse over BREXIT, with a 15% lead among the public for those in favour of now re-joining the EU, but the political debate has closed on that one, BREXIT being the one thing no one talks about. All this and we have only scrolled half way. What other grumblies await us down there? Shall we doom-scroll some more, and see? No, that’s quite enough.

We set the phone aside, rise into the cold of the house, make coffee and check on the washing machine.

Current affairs hold a significant fascination, dare I say even an addiction. We imagine, by keeping ourselves informed of the various goings-on, we gain a greater understanding of the world, that it is a virtuous thing to do, the mark of an intelligent, well-balanced and educated person. At least that is what I was encouraged to think at college, forty years ago. Now I’m not so sure. The media landscape has something of the nature of quicksand about it. Perhaps it always had, and I am simply less sure-footed than I was, for I suspect the older one gets, the more it seems the world is going to hell in a handcart. Things no longer conform to one’s personal expectations, and perhaps, too, one’s expectations begin to narrow, thus alienating us from life still further, whatever our disposition. And we find in media whatever data we need to support our personal hell in a hand-cart hypotheses.

There are plenty of things in life we should be wary of – alcohol and other drugs are the obvious ones, but also this connection to fast-food and short sell-by media. They each poison us, make us less useful as the eyes and ears, and the heart and soul of the universe. Our phones suck us down into a sorry world that is void of imagination, and creativity. They land us among the sterile refuse of data, where we become much less than our selves, as the spark of individual value drains from us. Then we merely subordinate our selves to a tribe who holds certain data to be sacrosanct, other data to be heretical, and thereby we become mere unreflective data-points ourselves, so we might be served more of the same unwholesome junk.

So now, the washing machine has finished its cycle. There are clothes to dry, and the maiden is still full from last week. Things dry slowly these colder, autumn days, and it serves to remind us there are only certain kinds of data that are unequivocal. Your clothes are still wet, or they are dry. Other data requires nuance. It requires a more right brained, wholistic approach in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. Anyway, after sorting that one out, we take up our coffee, pick up the phone once more, note that in the meantime there has been a glitch. The phone has rebooted itself, and come back with a curious error message in which, with brutal honesty and admirable self-flagellation, it tells me it is corrupt, and cannot be trusted.

Many a true word and all that.

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In Roddlesworth Woods

It’s not the first time I’ve arrived at the start of a walk to find I’ve left my boots behind. But it’s okay, we’re not climbing mountains. It’ll just be some soft, dew-damp meadows, and gravel tracks, so the cheap hiking-trainers we’re wearing will probably be okay.

We’re at Ryal Fold again, in the Western Pennines, and the plan is to explore some paths we’ve not walked before, so we can add them to that mental map of permitted ways. We’ll be wandering through extensive woodland, towards Abbey Village, returning along the reservoirs and Rocky Brook, and maybe to finish we’ll come back over the moor by Lyons Den, to check on the heather.

We’re looking for signs of autumn’s advance, now, looking to enjoy some woodland photography, but as ever, it’s about enjoying the outdoors. The scent of an autumn woodland, all mushroomy and damp, early leaves composting where they lie, all of that is a delight to be savoured. The walkers’ café at Ryal Fold is busy, lots of people sitting out with coffee, enjoying these intermittent days of warm sun, and there’s a party of ramblers setting out for Darwen Tower, all noisy with well-met chatter.

Of current affairs, our new Chancellor has gone and there are rumours the PM is to be ousted too, in the coming weeks, only having been in the job five minutes. Much of the mortal thrust of last week’s “fiscal-event” is to be reversed, but the crash it precipitated is still reverberating. Retirement nest eggs are now ten percent down, and pensions are once again under a cloud as the Bank of England winds in its support of the long term bond market. And no, I don’t understand any of this either. I would subscribe to the Macbethian world view of current events, that it is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing“, but that requires a philosophical leap when life-savings are going down the plug hole, and they’re putting security tags on tubs of butter.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

I don’t know Shakespeare at all, other than the fact we can always find bits of him to suit whatever the occasion:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

The man definitely had a way with words. So anyway,… before we’re “heard no more”, off we go, and plunge into the woodland. It’s still mostly green, just a thin carpeting of gold from the first fall of leaves. There’s sunlight pooling in the clearings, illuminating the canopy, spilling along the still lush sprays of beech, to be caught at last in outstretched fingers of ferny fronds, now sinking into a softening earth. There is Birdsong, but otherwise an absolute stillness, shoes and trouser cuffs already wet from their licking, as we crossed the meadows. There’s a plane of water glittering, glimpsed now and then through dense woodland as we walk. And, yes, that autumn scent.

In Roddlesworth Woods

“Have you taken any nice photos?”

It’s a large man, well padded in fleece and parka, his beanie set at a jaunty angle. He has a muddy little dog with him that looks to be having fun. I judge both to be friendly. Cameras were once a more common accompaniment. Mine now marks me as a die-hard geek. Most people are happy to make do with their phones.

“Not yet,” I tell him. “I’ll probably get some as I go up by Rocky Brook.”

“Oh aye.”

He doesn’t know Rocky Brook. I can see it in his eyes. His accent is local, but he wasn’t brought up around here. The familiar names of places no longer stick as they once did.

And no, so far I’ve been making all the same mistakes, so there are no “good” pictures in the can. I have a slow lens in a shady woodland, which means shutter speeds are dropping to 1/8th of a second, which even image stabilisation struggles with. So, it’s all motion blur, poor focus, and the usual mystery of how the eye filters out the messy confusion of a scene, which the camera subsequently reveals.

The Roddlesworth reservoirs are pretty much full, these being the first in the long chain of water-gathering that forms a semicircle around the Western Pennines. On the highest, there are rowing boats at rest, these being for use by the Horwich angling club, but which today form convenient perches for cormorants who are also fishing, and not known for returning their catch.

Fishing cormorant

And speaking of tales told by an idiot, I’m beginning to suspect the current fiction-in-progress is moribund, and I am in danger of losing touch with it. There are two types of writer. One roughs out a structure of the entire storyline, knows where he’s going before he starts, then sticks to that plan and writes to suit it. The other type, like me, doesn’t. We open with a scene, a feeling, and a handful of characters, then see how it goes. Sometimes it goes well. But sometimes you hit a hundred thousand words and things dry up, and you’ve no idea what you’re trying to say any more. Your characters get distracted by current events, so your story starts weaving about and losing momentum.

My story started off in a quiet woodland like this, with the discovery of a fallen beech tree and the age-old philosophical question: if a tree falls alone in the forest, does it make a sound? The way you answer that question puts you into one of two camps. Most people will answer yes, of course it makes a sound. How can it not? But if you think about it more deeply, you realise it doesn’t, and that’s a rabbit hole from which there is no escape.

There are several trees here in Roddlesworth that look to have come down in last winter’s storms, perhaps over-night, or otherwise, when no one was around to see them fall. And there are older trees that fell long ago, now with mushrooms growing out of them. None made a sound as they fell, which is to say we create the world of experience entirely through the senses, but that’s not how the world is in itself. How it is in itself, we don’t know. This is not woolly minded new-age thinking. You simply meditate upon the tree that falls alone, and you follow the question to wherever it leads.

My fictional protagonist is exploring the meaning of such a world-view, while trying to ignore the sound and fury of the world, and he’s trying to work out where true significance in life lies. But I think it’s led me on a bit too far, and it’s opened another door, one that requires a new story, and cannot merely be tacked on to the old. And I’m not sure I can be bothered finishing the old one, either, since it seems to have served its purpose. Or worse, I’m tempted to close it in a hurry, like: they all woke up, and it had been a dream, sort of thing. Best to let it settle, let the characters decide if they’re done or not. But it’s been all summer, and it looks like they are indeed done. I don’t know, if you write, is it best just to let a project go when it no longer resonates, even when you’re within a shout of the dénouement?

Anyway, it turns out cheap walking-trainers aren’t the best of things for walking in. After a couple of miles, you start to feel every pebble. Stand on a coin, and you can tell if it’s heads or tails. We slow the pace and linger for some shots by Rocky Brook, but here the dynamic range is more than we can capture, even bracketing the exposures. There’s a bright sparkle of sun from the little falls, and then deep shadow. The Nikon I’m using will bracket three shots automatically, but I need more, and for that I’d need to fiddle about with a tripod, and I can never be bothered carrying one. Higher up the brook we find a more shady dell and another little fall, one that that’s rarely visited, yet it’s one of the most attractive. Here the dynamic range is more within our means.

By Rocky Brook, Roddlesworth

We settle into the dell for soup. The falls too make no sound, when there is no one around to listen. Imagine that! All the beauty in the world, the sound, the scent, the vision, we do not experience it without the mind first creating it.

We pop out onto the road by the Slipper Lowe car-park. The car-park is empty, closed off, now. From here the moor rises, bright in the sun, pale as straw. We’re perhaps too early for the heather, but I had thought we’d be seeing some by now. We make a start on the climb, but the feet are burning through these thin soles, so we cut it short, contour round on another unfamiliar but beautiful path, towards New Barn, then back to the car at Ryal Fold. A splendid day, early autumn, five and a half miles round. Note to self: next time, don’t forget your boots!

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Bolton Town Hall

It was going up for nine on a bitter winter’s night, with snow on the car-park and a frost already settling. I’d been in college since eight thirty that morning, the last lecture commencing around seven, by which time not a lot was going in. You just had to keep up with your notes, and hope it made sense when you read them back in the week.

When I got to the car, the door was ajar. I wondered if I’d not shut it properly, a careless thing to have done, this being Bolton, rumoured by then to be the car crime capital of the UK. I couldn’t get the key in the ignition because there was already a bit of a key in there. Someone had broken in and tried to take the car – Ford Cortinas were notoriously easy – but the good luck fairy had seen to it the key had snapped. The thief made do with a pair of cheap driving gloves from the dash, then legged it. I was also lucky in having a toolbox – lucky again that wasn’t nicked as well – but anyway I had a pair of snout-nosed pliers in there and managed to winkle the key out. Then I drove home along snowy roads. Had my car been nicked, that would really have spoiled my day.

It sums up my acquaintanceship with Bolton. It was a place of hard work, and not always worth it, though the place also possessed a rough protective charm, one that allowed me to pass unscathed through the worst it had to offer. So, in spite of its occasionally firm hand, I still have an affection for the place.

I did two years as a day release student at the Institute of Technology. The company was paying, so it made sense to see if I could hack it. The course had a low pass rate, even among star students, and anyone with any sense did a degree instead. But degrees were full time, and you had to catch that boat earlier on in life, via the sixth forms, not as a guy already working, post apprenticeship. Your course in life was set by then, and you were lucky if you had an employer who’d let you out for study a day a week. Nowadays, there’s no chance. They want blood from the get-go.

Those were the Thatcher years, too, of course, and the slow death of the social contract. But the svengalis had sweetened it all with a veneer of easy credit that had everyone thinking they were rich, when they weren’t. Also, unknown to me as I studied to be a what I suppose you’d call an industrialist, the tide had turned, and the UK had begun shedding its industries. My timing, as always, was a bit off.

So the big manufactories were calling in the likes of Price Watermouse, who had these flip charts that showed us how you got higher returns investing your money in the City than you did from investing in manufactories, so the manufactories dwindled to piles of old brick, while the money went south to the Citadel. There, it got invested in things with no shape to them, things you couldn’t hold, or wear or eat, and which appeared only as a jiggly line on a computer graph.

If you never left London, you might be forgiven for thinking everything was fine, because the shine didn’t come off that place until it was revealed how much of its wealth had come not just from our defunct industries, but those of the recently plundered Soviet Union as well. But we didn’t know about any of that. The north just felt hollow from the early nineties onwards, and it grew increasingly obvious nothing great would ever come out of our industries again. Anything that did would be bought up by foreign money and shipped out. For those of us still working, much of the work was about managing decline amid dwindling budgets.

Anyway, driving through Bolton this morning, I have the sense of entering a parallel universe. I used to know the town well, but as I drive past the college, I don’t recognise anything. The car park where I nearly lost my car that night looks like it’s home to a huge modern building, part of the smart, new University campus, and there are students everywhere. Meanwhile, the rest of town looks like every other in the north: wrecked, and no reason for people to go there any more. The Civic buildings look as grand as ever, but radiating out from them is an earthquake of ruin, as far as the eye can see. And the impressively ingenious security for getting into the Octagon carpark, also suggests there’s still a problem with car-thievery.

I’m here for a wedding, and pleasant though that is in these unremittingly downbeat times, I cannot help but wonder at the direction of travel since I last walked these streets. In 1985, if you had an engineering degree, you were a rare individual, and respected for it. You rose with some justification above the rest, and got yourself fast tracked into the officer class, but there was still plenty of work, and good work, if you’d not got a degree in you, indeed even if you’d little in you by way of IQ at all. All you needed was confidence and drive. God knows what you’re supposed to do now.

The credit boom ignited by Thatcher and Reagan crashed to earth in 2008, and no one saw it coming. We’ve been limping along ever since, the industrial towns sinking into the crazed tarmac and buckled pavements, at an ever faster rate, while paradoxically, a new form of debt raises these glossy degree factories from the old polytechnics. This is an astonishing funding wheeze our kids will be paying off for the rest of their lives. So now the vast student populations flood these new university towns where the spivs snap up all the cheaper housing stock for rent, thus squeezing out the ordinary people, so the primary schools dwindle for want of children and the soul of the town dies.

There’s a new documentary by Adam Curtis – seemingly the last of the renegade BBC voices – that seems curiously prescient. It takes us not to Bolton, but to Moscow. The wealth of Russia was stolen from under Yeltzin’s nose by a form of hyper-capitalism, one that went off like a vacuum bomb, leaving the ordinary citizen with nothing. It meant a small number of rich people could hold preposterously luxurious parties, leaving the rest to scramble around for the basics. The extent of the crisis is neatly summed up in one memorable line in which bewildered shoppers were told: there are no potatoes in Moscow.

When I look at the shock tactics of our own governing class in recent weeks, I refuse to believe it is the result of a crass incompetence. Indeed, I feel a similar devil is at work, and sense one day soon the possibility we will go to Tesco’s to find they have no potatoes either. And, as inevitable as all that will have seemed – at least in retrospect – no one will have seen it coming.

But in a parallel world, my car did indeed get nicked that night. I remember I was a heartbeat from quitting the job anyway, because I’d a hankering after being a writer, and poet instead, and I was having a hard time suppressing that side of me for fear of a lonely life and starving to death. But I also had a novel doing the rounds of the London publishers, and I’d nearly enough money saved to buy a house outright, up in the West of Scotland, where they were dirt cheap, at least back then, before anyone had thought of Air B+B. I was thinking about taking a chance the book would come good, that I’d somehow scrape by on luck, even though I’d heard nothing from the publishers in six months. Then a Bolton car thief kicked me in the nuts, and made up my mind for me, set me on the train for Glasgow and the Fort.

I most likely starved to death some time in the later nineties, living out in the wilds of Ardnamurchan. By then, I had a reputation for being a recluse, and just one more eccentric Sassenach who’d found himself unsuited to the rat race. I never married, never had kids, and my life’s worth amounted to a pile of poems that never sold, and a collection of grainy black and white photographs of lonely loch and mountain. There would still come a time when there were no potatoes in Tescos, but that wasn’t something I’d live to see and be writing poems about.

Or maybe it wasn’t like that at all. Maybe the miners gave the cops a bloody nose at Orgreave that day in ’84, and Maggie called the army in, so then we all had to pick our sides instead of just watching it on the telly. And the poets, and the Romantics of the soft left won over hearts and minds to the social contract, which was patched up and made fit for the twenty-first century. Now no one’s scared to switch on the lights, and there are always plenty of potatoes. It’s something to ponder anyway.

Thanks for listening.

Header photo adapted from an image by Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9044236

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From Peewit Hall, Anglezarke Moor

Exploring meaning, purpose, and our freedom to choose.

After a couple of cold, squally days, the weather clears, and we venture outdoors. There is no plan so, as is usual under such circumstances, the car delivers us seemingly of its own accord to Anglezarke’s Yarrow Reservoir, where we find ourselves parking along the Parson’s Bullough road. The trees here are showing their first signs of turning, and the waters of the Yarrow are a cobalt blue, sunbeams sparkling between crisping foliage. There is speculation this year’s drought will gift us, by way of apology and compensation, some spectacular autumn colours. I’m looking forward to it.

It’s been an eventful week. My nest-egg investments dropped five percent overnight. Meanwhile, company pension schemes find themselves a heartbeat from implosion, as the long term bond market collapses. All this following last Fridays’ inoffensively titled “Fiscal Event”. It’s had me considering what kind of employment I would be fit for now, after enjoying barely two years of retirement. Will I have to go grovelling back, after quitting the day job in such a fit of giddy joy?

By the Yarrow on the Parson’s Bullough Road

Paul Donovan, chief economist of UBS Global Wealth Management, likens present UK governance as resembling a Doomsday Cult. I find it hard to disagree. The PM and Chancellor meanwhile hold to the line that it’s all part of a cunning plan, one no one else has thought to try. We can only hope they are right.

Anyway, I’m glad I took the plunge and finally bought those new walking boots I’ve been banging on about, and a fresh walking jacket as well – just for the hell of it – as I might not have felt like it later on when I was browsing the job adverts. Today, though, we leave the new boots behind, having decided to walk our old ones to destruction. But we pack the jacket, because it’s half the weight of my other, and weight is everything to the walker approaching his autumn years.

We have a mostly clear sky, but with some isolated, dramatic clouds, and a bank of something more solidly changeable, coming up from the south. The latter needs keeping an eye on, but we should be fine for a couple of hours.

We take the path, still in warm sunshine, towards Jepsons, and across Twitch Hills Clough. The levelled ruin of Peewit Hall is always the first stop. The view from here is too good to rush, not only the whole of west Lancashire laid out from hill to sea, but the broader arc from Wales to Cumbria. After feasting on it through binoculars, we plod on, still with no objective in mind, meeting a few other walkers, mostly old timers, who all seem buoyed by the day, and cheerful in their greetings. Such pleasantness is infectious. The legs carry us up Lead Mine’s Clough, past the falls, and the site of James Yates’ Well. We seem to be heading for the moor, then, more specifically the Round Loaf, a remote Bronze Age burial mound.

The Round Loaf, Anglezarke Moor

The moor is heavy underfoot, splashing wet, and bog-shaky in the usual places. The heather is in abundance, but of a washed-out mauve, like last year’s colours left too long in the rain. I’d thought it was done for after the drought, but there are isolated patches showing the more vivid purple, so perhaps another few weeks will see the moors carpeted in glory as usual. We’ll be back to check. Expect a moorland scene with heather, all in unashamedly overcooked HDR, enough to make your eyes ache!

Sometimes there’s a cairn on the Round Loaf, sometimes not, and if there is, it varies in size from one visit to the next. The biggest I ever saw it, it was topped off by a sheep’s skull, and a sobering reminder that some neo-pagans embrace the diabolical. No skull today, though, but there are the usual dizzying views of moor and plain, and a choice of paths radiating at all points of the compass: Black Brook, Great Hill, Black Hill, Devil’s Ditch, Lead Mine’s Clough, Hurst Hill; take your pick,….

We choose Hurst Hill on a whim, just 1038 ft, but high enough to be several degrees cooler than when we started out. It’s a cold day up here, then, all the more noticeable after such a perpetually hot summer. Then the banked cloud swallows the sun, and the nature of the day changes. It’s another splashy path, but the boots are holding out, and the socks are still miraculously dry. There’s a more substantial cairn on top of Hurst Hill, and a persistently chill wind. A zippered fleece is of a sudden insufficient, so we delve in the bag for the new jacket. It cuts the wind in its tracks, allows us to settle, oblivious to the elements, and enjoy our soup.

On Hurst Hill

Serious though they are, I’m sure I’m over-thinking Albion’s woes when I imagine even my pension cheques drying up, and investments tanking, like they did in 1929. Still, an interest rate hike would see both my kids at risk of losing their newly acquired footing on the housing market, just so millionaires can pay less tax, and that would vex me enormously. But for the sake of argument, how does a man face his future when the future he imagined no longer exists?

It’s no coincidence I’m reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” at the moment. His thesis is that a sense of meaning and purpose is essential to our well-being. This runs counter to prevailing existentialist, post-modern teachings which tell us there is no meaning, that we suffer, and we do so pointlessly. But once we subscribe to such a view we lose sight of the future, relinquish all sense of meaning, become dehumanised, suffer all the more and without respite. This is the malaise of the western world, and it’s killing us.

Frankl’s views were formed during his time in the Nazi concentration camps. In such hellish places, a man was stripped of everything, until all he had left to lose was his fragile hold on life. Frankl’s observations of his fellow captives, condemned to being literally worked to death, led him to conclude those who retained a sense of personal meaning, in spite of everything, tended to survive longer, even though they might have appeared physically less able than their friends.

Meaning may well be denied both its existence and its validity in the life of a modern man, but the experience of such extremes of suffering teaches us it remains essential for well-being, even survival. It has often struck me how many of my former colleagues were so deeply invested in the working life, they cultivated no hobbies, no interests beyond the office, then fared poorly in retirement. No longer the “big man” but just another grey old fart, pushing a trolley around Tescos, they longed to be taken back.

Do we define ourselves, our purpose, by our means of earning a living? By the badge we wear? It’s possible, even productive to do so, for a time, but there also comes a time when there has to be a transition to something new. Purpose and meaning must evolve as our circumstances change. This is easier for creative types, for they shall always have their art, unless they become too invested in the idea of making a success of it, in which case, they’re sunk.

The problem facing many of us in these strange times, times in which a permanent sense of crisis seems to hold sway, is the inability to live for the future, or even to aim at a specific goal, since the future is rendered opaque. Frankl called this living a provisional existence, a loss of faith in one’s future. To live well, one must live with some sense of purpose, be it big or small, and to transition as needs must from one to the next like stepping stones to lead us on through life. But the sense of purpose, of meaning is not a thing bestowed upon us, more it is a thing we are invited to cultivate internally, in order to animate and enliven our world.

Manor House Farm, Anglezarke

For now my purpose is to find my way off this hill, follow the line of the old lead mines, touch base with a few familiar points along the way, and then, over the coming evenings, weave the whole of it, the financial crisis, Victor Frankl’s book, and this walk over Anglezarke moor, into a coherent narrative – hopefully without the stretch marks showing too much. The way leads us past the Manor House farm, where chestnuts litter the wayside. We pick one up, savour the smooth oiled sheen of it, and pocket it for good luck. Always something magical, I think, about freshly fallen chestnuts.

By Jepsons Farm, Anglezarke

One of my familiar waypoints is the stone that overlooks Jepson’s farm. I have this idea that many megalithic features were hidden in the construction of the dry stone walls, some of these latter dating from medieval times. The walls are tumbling now, and the calling cards from an earlier age are revealing themselves. Sometimes, if you have a sharp eye, you can spot them, still buried in the walls. They bear the marks of millennia of weathering, rather than mere centuries. I may be wrong in this, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t intend making a theory of it in order to convince others. It’s the interest alone, the observation, the connection, the speculation that, in this moment, is purpose in itself.

A stone in the wall, near Jepson’s Farm, Anglezarke

Another thing Frankl wrote that deeply impressed me was to the effect that a man could be deprived of every freedom, and every thing in his life, including his loved ones, and even his name. Yet he would still retain the choice of what attitude to bring to the shouldering of his burden. I hesitate to paraphrase such a powerful idea, born as it was in such a terrible darkness of suffering, but it reminds us we are all free to choose at least our inner path, no matter the nature of the constraints imposed upon us by the external world.

It’s late afternoon when we come back to the Yarrow, and the car. We’re still hours before sunset, but already seem to be losing the light. By the time we make it home, it’s raining.

Thanks for listening

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Rivington Hall

We’re in Rivington today, just parking along the Hall Avenue for the start of a walk up the Pike. The red brick of the old hall is illumined by a spot of sunlight pouring from an otherwise cloudy sky, and is looking very grand, framed by the dark of the trees. We’ll be walking a route I’ve not done for ages, up a ravine known locally as Tiger’s Clough. So far as I know there were never any tigers in it, save perhaps the sabre-toothed variety, in prehistoric times. The name actually refers to an illicit drinking den called The Tiger, tucked away, once upon a time, in its shady environs, all trace of which has now vanished. The early maps have it more properly as Shaw’s Clough. There’s a decent waterfall there, and there’s been a bit of rain, so we’ve a chance it will be running, and worth a photograph.

First though, we head down the avenue towards the glitter of more sunbeams on the Rivington reservoir. This takes us past the Great House Barn, which has been a café for as long as I can remember. It was an unfussy rendezvous for walkers, and motorcyclists, but something has happened. It’s gone posh, with table service and waiting persons in long aprons.

Great House Barn, Rivington

Friday lunchtimes would see me knocking off work, and heading over to the barn for a bite, then a walk, but post retirement, post covid, post a lot of things, I have yet to reacquaint myself with the menu. For today, lunch is in the rucksack, and the end-of-walk brew is waiting in the flask, back in the little blue car. Not all passers-by are tight-wads like me, though, and the barn seems to be doing a brisk trade.

The “Go Ape” Ape, Rivington

By contrast, I note the adjacent Go Ape place is lacking custom this morning. Some years ago they took over the woodland, bordering the reservoir, set up aerial walkways, and zip-wires among the trees, so hard-hatted and harnessed folk could whoop and scream their way from branch to branch. It’s not a place I tend to walk any more. Indeed, I don’t come down this way much at all now. It’s just that this is where we pick up the path to Liverpool Castle, our first objective on the circuit.

The castle was commissioned by Viscount Leverhulme in 1912, intended as a kind of romantic folly, on the shores of the reservoir and was modelled on the more ancient and long vanished Liverpool Castle at – well – Liverpool. It’s now a holding pen for litter, and a canvas for graffiti. Graffiti puzzles me. I’ve heard it explained as an expression of rebellion, but I only feel despair when I see it. I wonder if there is a link between graffiti, and tattoos, and if so what is the tattooed person rebelling against? But I know I’m over-thinking things, now. The castle still takes a good picture, and the worst of the urban artistry can be cloned out.

A replica of Liverpool Castle, Rivington

Now we’re heading down the tree lined avenue towards the car-park, near the high school. A former colleague of mine was once parked here, many years ago now, enjoying a packed lunch, when a half suited gentleman emerged from the small public convenience, and walked across to his vehicle. I say half-suited because he was carrying his trousers, neatly folded, over his arm, and was bare from the middle down, his modesty spared only by his shirt tails. My colleague, a lady of mature years, was upset, and telephoned the police, to be advised the car-park was a well known public sex area, so the cops generally turned a blind eye, though it was certainly news to us. I’ve no idea if this is still the case – things move on, I guess – but neither she nor I ever parked there again. It puzzles me how one is supposed to know these things, if one is not already in the know. It requires a certain level of street smartness, that is not second nature to us, the more naive denizens of rural England.

Climbing up the path by Knowle House, now, we turn towards Horwich, and find the narrow curling ribbon of Tarmac that leads up to Higher Knoll farm. A little way up here, a kissing gate lets onto a path that leads us down into the gloom of a wooded ravine. This is Tiger’s Clough, where the headwaters of the River Douglas first combine and gather pace, after trickling down from their various tributaries on the moor.

Down and down we go, following the sound of water, until we come unexpectedly across a tented encampment. It does not have the look of one of those trendy insta-wild camp things, but something altogether bigger and more permanent. I’ve encountered the homeless, living in tents in this area before, and suspect some poor soul on their beam ends. We give it a respectful swerve. Sadly, Britain is now, by and large, a poor country with, like all poor countries, some rich people making little difference to its future prospects – indeed quite the opposite.

Main falls, Tiger’s Clough, Horwich

We make our way upstream, the way impeded here and there by storm-fallen trees whose boughs force us into yogic contortions, and eventually, we come to the falls. I’ve seen photographs of them when the Douglas is in spate, and very impressive they are too, but today, there’s just a trickle going over, and we struggle for a photograph in the gloom. There is also a mess of litter: beercans, Monster Energy cans, plastic bottles, surgical gloves, and a pregnancy tester (negative), this latter placed quite deliberately upon the makeshift altar of a protruding brookside rock. I hesitate to join the dots.

We’re getting on for lunchtime now, and the tummy is rumbling, but there’s an unwholesome atmosphere, courtesy of all this detritus. Certainly, it is not the place to break out the soup-pot. So, we climb from the ravine, disappointed, and continue our way upwards and onwards, towards the bumpy track known as George’s Lane, and the main routes to the Pike.

Prospect Farm, Rivington

The way becomes cleaner as we climb. Fortunately, the kind who would besmirch the environment, paint it with expressions of rebellion/despair, are also lazy. Just before the path meets George’s Lane, we come across the levelled ruins of Prospect Farm, marked by the still upright remains of one massive buttress. The name is apt, it being a fine viewpoint, and we settle in the sun for lunch while galleons of clouds sail inland, spinnakers billowing. I’ve had many pairs of cheap binoculars over the years, but eventually splashed out on some decent ones, not too heavy in the pocket, and a marvel to settle down with in a viewpoint like this.

Lunch done, we pick up one of the more popular tracks for the ascent via the gentle flank of Brown Hill. The top of the Pike is busy: families, teens, joggers, dogs running amok, owners snapping them back to heel. Jester! Jack! Fritz! Get down! It’s early afternoon, midweek. I don’t know what people do for work any more. It’s like the whole world, young and old, has retired with me.

Rivington Pike

Speaking of work, I can see where I used to work, from the Pike, see too, the line of the M61 I used to commute along – a bleak, potholed roaring ribbon of a road it was, with no lane markings for the most part – all rubbed off – a nightmare in the dark and the wet. There’s still a shiver, when I think of those days. We turn our back to it, seeking instead the Isle of Man, which is sometimes clear from here. Not today, though. Views of the Isle of Man are rare enough to be disputed, but I swear I’ve seen it often enough.

We make our descent through the blessedly tidy terraced gardens, where volunteers are busy weeding. The Italian lake has been drained and cleaned, all of this I presume in readiness for the festival of light, in October. This is a ticket only event, and well attended, one of the highlights of the season. I note it’s sold out now. Maybe next year.

So, finally, we return to the little blue car, ready for a brew and a rest before the drive home. Alas, we note brightly coloured bags of dog doings dotting our near environs, and someone has draped a banana skin over a fencepost by the door. The little blue car is not amused. Consequently, the tea does not taste as nice as it should. We gulp it down, and do not linger. I’d thought it might be an interesting circuit, but somehow those Tigers got the better of me. Five and a quarter miles round, and the GPS assures me nearly seventeen hundred feet of ascent, which is a respectable effort. But there are certain times, and frames of mind, when Rivington looks very tired. And today was definitely one of them.

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The falls on Stepback Brook

It’s a beautiful, mid-September morning. We reverse the little blue car from the garage, and let the top warm in the sun. It folds down easier when it’s warm, and I’m trying to spare it from further cracking. It’s a little frayed around the edges now, and not surprising at twenty years old, but still keeping the water out, so I’m in no hurry to replace it. We fold it back gently, flip the baffle plate, to keep the wind from sneaking up behind our backs, and make ready for the off. Every warm day from now is a bonus, and possibly the last we can get out with the top down, and enjoy the air.

I’ve wasted half the morning trying to load music onto my phone because I want to avoid the radio, but it’s a new phone and I can’t make head nor tail of it, so we’ll make do with the company of our thoughts as we drive instead. It’s a short run today, over the moors to the Royal, at Ryal Fold. It’s cool on the road, but pleasantly so with the heater on just a touch. Of the ongoing national mourning, there’s not much in evidence en-route, a few pubs with flags at half-mast. It’s a different story in the Capital, of course, with all-night queues for the lying in state, and extra trains for the influx of tourists.

The King meanwhile courts an occasional bad press for being grumpy. This is from both the political left and right, and both the royalist and the republican media. Memes are spreading across the Internet, some humorous, some spiteful. This seems to hint at the nature of the future relationship. Meanwhile, dissenters are being arrested. Even holding up a blank piece of paper will get you nabbed.

One broadcaster mistakes a crowd protesting the killing of a young black man by the Met, believing them instead to be well-wishers. It must be difficult trying to keep the commentary up for so long, when not everyone is following the same script.

Anyway, the car park at the Royal is busy, lots of people sitting out in the sunshine, enjoying an early lunch, but the Union Jacks are absent. There is an intoxicating scent of cooking and coffee, mingled with the moorland air. The plan is a circular walk to Darwen Tower, as I have it on reliable authority it is definitely open now after its years’ long refurbishment.

We follow the route up Stepback Brook to Lyon’s Den. There’s been rain recently, and the brook is musical, the little wayside fall running nicely, a generous and shapely mare’s tail. So we sneak down into the dell and try a shot or two, but we’re shooting into the sun, and the lens is flaring awkwardly. We’ll be lucky to salvage anything from it, but no one’s counting, and it’s always fun trying. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the day, and to be out in it, and looking at it the right way round.

Eighteen months retired now, and I’m still not sure if I can call it real, not sure if I’m making the best use of the time I’ve been waiting for so long to enjoy. I’m still aware of time ticking down, but now the deadline is not the Devil dragging me back to work on Mondays. It’s something more final, numbered perhaps in summers, and it needs to be overcome, for the sense of pressing time is the Devil itself.

Climbing the track to Lyon’s Den, we spy a note pinned to the fence. Someone is expressing thanks to the kind soul who found their photographs (we presume on a memory card, or something). We sometimes don’t appreciate how much stuff we have on these things, that their loss would be devastating to us. It is a random act of kindness, then, and a reciprocal gesture of appreciation. The finder gains nothing, materially, seeks no reward. It was a rationally meaningless act, then, yet also the act of any decent human being.

Lunch is served on the bench by the little copse above Lyon’s Den. The view from here is breathtaking. The cooler air of these September days cuts the haze, and jacks the clarity dial up to infinity. The Dales are so clear, it’s as if we could walk to them in five minute, the Cumbrian Mountains, too. Closer to hand is Bowland and Pendle, barely a stone’s throw.

An old timer comes ambling slowly by, trailing a pair of ancient Irish Wolf Hounds. They have the scent of my lunch, and are curious. He’s a pleasant soul, bids me good morning, gently tugs his giant creatures onwards, in the direction of the tower. There’s an air of ease, of gentleness to the day. The tower stands out, way across the moor, a Dan Dare rocket-ship, poised for take-off.

Darwen Tower – Yorkshire Dales beyond

So, a random act of kindness – finding a memory card in the mud, and placing it where the owner might find it, should they come looking. The simple goodness of that act has extended beyond returning those treasured photographs to a grateful owner. It has coloured the morning like a charm. It ripples out in time and space.

I have spent a long time on the trail of something “other”. Those more well travelled say it’s a journey that ends with the realisation there is no “other”. I think I know what that means, now. It grants a certain degree of shape to the cosmos that makes more sense, though it actually has no shape, beyond what we grant it, that subject and object are the same thing.

But the journey is like a long breathing in. And if you hold your breath long enough you get to the point of bliss, and it seems many travellers make do with that, sit on their cushions with their scented candles, and their singing bowls, lost in the emptiness. But you need to breathe out too, and that means bringing something back into the world, a world where there’s so much suffering it’s almost impossible to get anything done, and where nothing makes sense without these random acts of kindness.

But like the breathing in, we make a meal of it, and it turns out to be much simpler if we can only look at things the right way. I’m hoping it’s the same breathing out, breathing something back into the world, that it’s no more than a question of doing the good that you know, as it arises. But it’s a good that must come from an intelligence of the heart, which in turn comes from that journey to the realisation there is no other.

The finder of those photographs felt their loss, because it was they who lost them, they who also felt the joy of their return. I know I’m not making much sense, but it doesn’t matter. The message is in this mellow air, and in the ripples coming out from that little note, the lost, the found, and the random act of kindness.

Darwen Tower

We arrive at the tower to find it is indeed open, and looking in fine fettle after its long refurbishment. I venture inside a little way, take the spiral staircase to the lower balcony. The sun is very bright now and, entering the gloom, I find my old eyes are slow to adapt to the dark these days, so I’m fumbling for the steps with my toes. I’d get there eventually, but don’t feel confident in climbing to the top. The lower balcony will do, and in itself is a stupendous viewpoint.

There are two stories about the origins of the tower. One is that it was built to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria. But there is another story, one about land ownership, and the public’s rights of access to it. Once upon a time, I would not have been able to walk, as I’ve walked today. It would have been an insane trespass, and I would have been seen off by gamekeepers in the employ of an absentee landlord. But it was courageous acts of trespass, defiance, and an ensuing legal battle that opened the ways over Darwen Moor to everyone, and that’s what the tower celebrates. The intelligence of the heart says it was a good thing, securing freedoms we continue to enjoy today. But that is not to say our freedoms cannot once again be lost.

Darwen Moor

Thanks for listening.

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