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Resistance is futile (the Daleks)

Around this time last year, I was writing about the rising price of fuel, and about it being a proxy for a general feeling of unease regarding the future. I don’t know if it was my own personal future I was talking about, or if I was picking up on the zeitgeist of the western fuel-driven world – in other words picking up on what the news-media were telling me to get upset about.

My alarm was not unjustified, I thought – the price of petrol having hit a record high, at around £1.38 per litre, and it seemed incredible to me that it was costing more to fill up my car than I was paying for the mortgage on my house. Last weekend though, the price of fuel reached a new high of £1.42 per litre.The difference now however, is I’m finding it harder to get upset about it. Even the sight of long queues of panic buyers on the petrol station forecourts this afternoon – result of government “advice” to top-up just in case the proposed strike of fuel-tanker drivers goes ahead – leaves me unmoved.

I don’t think this is a sign of world-weary fatalism on my part. Fatalism implies a resignation to one’s fate, while retaining the awareness of an ongoing menace, like sitting with an unstable bomb in your basement. You know it’s going to off at some point, and though you tell yourself you can take it – that life is but vale of tears, and then you die – subliminally, we still resist and resent the presence of that bomb. It still gets under our skin, and eventually it makes us angry and ugly, and ill. No. Fatalism isn’t an attractive way to view the world; it’s more of a last resort, I think, when the way we see the world refuses to shift out of bottom gear.

What I think I’m feeling now is more of a letting go of those things I cannot control. To stick with the motoring metaphor, we’ll call it getting into second gear. We accept the world changes, that fuel, like fine single malt whiskies, become prohibitively expensive and occasionally scarce, that rich nations become poor, that the healthy fall ill, and those we love are taken from us.

But second gear is still a long way from cruise control, and we might worry that in becoming so passive and withdrawn from life’s events we also risk losing our essential passion for life. We no longer rant, we no longer cry, but equally such passivity can insulate us from all the things that remain in the world to be joyful about; we no longer laugh at jokes, we no longer take the time to stand and stare at the beauty of things, we become dead from the neck up, we become impotent, incapable of a bone-hard arousal, let alone making love to the world with the all the spirited abandon of our youth. And who wants to live like that? It’s inhuman.

It’s not about being passive then – not entirely. It’s more about not resisting what happens – which isn’t the same thing. We hold an image in our minds that defines what we think is good for us, what we think we want for ourselves, and if we’re not careful anything that doesn’t fit that narrow minded model, we try to protect ourselves from. We resist it. We reject it. We throw up the shield of our ego in an attempt to deflect it, but it breaks through with a force equal and opposite to the strength of our imagined defences. So, we take the blow and absorb it as a dark energy, which transforms into an imagined injury. But imagined or not, we take it deep into our bones where it make us weary and sad.

So, rather than remain in passive second gear, we need to snick our mind quickly into third gear. Rather than being simply passive, we must redefine our state of mind as being one of no longer offering resistance to those aspects of life that don’t fit in with our narrow view. We open our arms and welcome the whole of life, the good and the bad of it. And in not resisting life, we find there are more things to be joyful about, rather than less. And the bad things? We no longer label them as bad, but more as object lessons on the road to a growing awareness of the nature of life and how we can best relate to it.

When the wind blows, the meadow does not stand firm; the grasses part and sway, and the wind passes safely through, leaving the grasses upright. I’m sure Lao Tzu has a better aphorism for the same thing, but you know what I mean.

Getting into third gear is difficult of course, because – to stretch that motoring metaphor possibly to destruction – there’s no syncromesh on the box we were born with and we have to spend a while grinding those gears before we can find it. But when we do find it, we get a kick, and a sense of movement like no other. Of course third gear’s still a long way from the fabled luxury of cruise control, but at least it comes with a sense we’re finally heading in the right direction.

If you resist what happens, then you will always be at the mercy of what happens, and your happiness or unhappiness will be determined by the world.

Ekhart Tolle. (A New Earth)

Michael Graeme

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Where? To Kettlewell. You know Kettlewell? You take the M6 to the Tickled Trout, you turn right on the A59, drive as far as Skipton, then turn left up Warfedale, and count the villages off one by one. When there are only three left before you reach the head of Warfedale, and everything’s become green and lovely, and the road disconcertingly narrow, you know you’re in Kettlewell.

Kettlewell, Starbotton and Buckden, three waypoints on the Dales Way, three of the most beautiful, unspoiled villages in England (except for all the other villages in Warfedale of course – including Burnsall and Bolton Abbey). Anyway, three of the most beautiful settings, in the upper valley of the Warfe! I’ve been coming here for years, but recently it struck me it had only ever been in the winter months, when the hills around were bleak, hard with frost and white with snow, when I took to the high trails with my walking companions to do stuff that grown men should have known better than to do, risking frostbite and broken legs. It was time instead, I thought, to bring the family – numbers one and two sons, and the good lady* Graeme, and to simply kick back and enjoy the scenery for a change.

Kettlewell is an impressive stone bridge over the River Warfe. It is a delightfully traditional garage, it is a pub, it is a tea shop, and a bus-stop. It is an unspoiled gem. Grasmere was like this once, maybe a hundred years ago. Now Grasmere’s touristy and trinket shops and hotels at two hundred quid a night. Not Kettlewell. With Kettlewell, what you get is a pretty little Dales village, a place where people live, where people farm. All right, there are holiday homes popping up here – and I wouldn’t mind staying in one or two, but the place retains a genuine edge that the more well known towns and villages of the neighbouring Lake District have now completely lost.

Anyway,…

I’ve been guilty of mistreating old Grumpy recently. For the past three years I’ve been driving it like a girl (sorry girls, but you know what I mean), fearful of burning too much precious petrol, or hammering it so hard I’ll blow a fragile gasket, because you’ve only to look at the damned thing and you’ve broken something! I’ve also been prowling car-parks, scrutinising the tax discs of other cars to find one that’s paying more than me, and sad to day, I’ve yet to find one. Even a lip-smackingly sexy Jaguar I parked next to recently was paying less road tax, which makes me wonder if old Grumpy is actually a super hot-rod in disguise, that only the government knows about its deadly secret powers, and I’d be better  appreciating it more, instead of merely shaking my head in dismay and claiming plaintively that there’s been a mistake – that it’s only a 1.8 litre Vauxhall Astra, and not a Mercedes, like the one I parked next to on the car park at Kettlewell, and that was paying the same road tax as me.

Does anyone pay more than £245 a year? Please, dear readers, confess it, and put me out of my misery!!!

So,.. I finally decided to get my money’s worth, and I’ve been flooring it a bit more, zipping merrily along, and not caring if I broke it, not caring if my average MPG dropped nearer to 30 than 40. We picked a hot day for the trip, 25 degrees by noon, and I cast caution to the winds, cranking the aircon up, ignoring its pathetic squeals for mercy,… and that was how we arrived at Kettlewell, in a cloud of dust, after pasting it for an hour and a half from my humble abode in the west of Lancashire. Cost of parking was £4.00 for the day – not cheap, but neither was it in the same league as the Broadgate Meadow carpark AT GRASMERE, which charged me £6.50 a year ago! (did I mention that?)

Our visit to Kettlewell began with lunch, at the Cottage Tea Rooms, and the finest steak barm I think I’ve ever tasted – thank you Jayni. Then followed what I assured the good Lady Graeme would be a short stroll up the valley of the Warfe to Starbotton. (about 2 miles) There are two ways you can tackle this. If you’re feeling energetic, you cross to the western side of the valley and follow the paths up to Moor End farm, then down to the wooden bridge at Starbotton, and back along  the Warfe – a pleasant 1/2 day’s circuit. If you’re less of a fell-athlete, and prefer a flatter walk, like the good Lady Graeme, then you take the eastern side of the dale and follow an easy path that meanders through meadows and across one quaintly gated stile after another, until again you reach Starbotton.

Starbotton is a gem, but be warned apart from some beautiful abodes, there’s not much here – no tea room, no ice-cream parlour – only the Fox and hounds Pub, which is great if you’re a drinking man, but otherwise not much use of course.

The return route was via the Dales Way, which keeps pretty much to the River, and then a celebratory ice cream, back at the Cottage Tea Rooms in Kettlewell. (thank-you Michael).

It had been a long week, a hard week, the dayjob sticking in my craw more than usual – to the extent that I deliberately cut it short and took the Friday off in order to escape to the Dales. So, you get in the car and you drive fifty miles with your nearest and dearest to a countryside haunt. You have lunch, and you take a walk, and the pressure and the stress melt away, as if by magic. But you have to ignore the price of fuel – it doesn’t matter that the round trip cost me £20.00 (damn, I wasn’t going to work it out). On the upside, it would have cost more than that at the cinema for just a couple of hours’ entertainment, including adverts. What I mean is, don’t neglect the power of the countryside to refresh you. If money’s tight, if money’s disappearing down the drain on your gas and electrickery bills, and your council tax, which is it to be? A bit more retail therapy? Line the pockets of those cigar smoking fat-cats? Or will it be a trip to the Yorkshire Dales? I know which one will cost you less, and do you more good. Retail thereapy is a con – don’t fall for it. Get some fresh air instead. Don’t be a consumer. Be a human being. Visit Kettlewell.

Graeme out.

* “Lady”: WordPress proofreader tells me this is bias language.  I beg to differ. Or am I hopelessly out of touch?

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