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Posts Tagged ‘local’

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

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

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In spite of the ongoing pandemic, there are local elections taking place in various areas on May 6th. For anyone on the left, politics can seem like something of a lost cause these days. There is the hope we still have a shout in the locals though, and the Party cheerleaders, and their friends at the Guardian this week, are certainly keeping their peckers up in that respect. Locally though, we’re a little more realistic and expect a drubbing.

Once in a blue moon, I drop leaflets for the local constituency Labour Party. It’s a mystery how I’ve ended up doing this. My son was (briefly) a party member, so it’s his job really, but he resigned in dismay, post 2019, post Corbyn. And what with Bad Boy Boris still sailing high in the polls, on the strength of 130,000 dead, he’s lost faith in the topsy-turvy world of politics, and that anything can ever change for the better. That said, we managed to squeak our guy into the borough council chamber last time, which meant a Labour majority. But now the boundaries have been changed to include a larger swathe of blue, and he’s not so hopeful of being re-elected. When he accosted me over the garden hedge, sounding me out about the leaflets again, I got the impression we were just going through the motions, but he’s a nice guy, and I have the time, and why not?

So I’ve been out in the spring sunshine, wandering up garden paths with all the confidence of a man on official business. There are about a hundred properties, some of them remote. The boss-class Jags and Beamers on the driveways confirm this is not your natural Labour heartland, but I don’t want the Blues thinking they’ve a clear run. And one never knows.

Letter boxes are interesting things, at least they are if you’re in a philosophical frame of mind. Those up-tight double flapped draught excluder ones (like the one I have) are the worst. They scrunch up your neatly folded leaflets and trap them somewhere between the inside and the outside. Postmen must really hate them. And if you try to shove your hand through to lift the inner flap and get your stuff through cleanly, they’ll trap your fingers, if you’ve rings on them.

Then there are the old-fashioned easy lift-up type with the busted return springs – the type that rattle and squeak a bit in the wind. They’re the best, suggestive of a relaxed household, one that’s garden gnomey, with a cosy cat curled up somewhere. Your leaflets just sail through those. Then there are the posh mail-boxes that stand like sentries, keeping you at a distance from the door.

Long, scrunchy gravel driveways, electric gates, electric fences, keep out signs, beware of the dog signs, and the plethora of security cameras that protect wealthy egos, they’re all intimidating, but I’m on official business. I’m representing your local councillor, so I shall pass!

After the rout of the general election in 2019, we’ve entered a strangely post-political era, Orwellian in many ways, post truth, post fact, and with a media either powerfully in support of the incumbent, or shamelessly supine in not calling out even their most egregious transgressions. The left too, is in a pretty hopeless state, something self-neutering about it. On the plus side, I’m impressed by the various independent media – Novara, Double Down News, Byline Times, but they’re preaching to the converted and I don’t see them getting much traction in the main-stream. My own position these days, while still left leaning, has somewhat transcended the fray.

I’m working on the assumption the coming years will be turbulent as Brexit bites, and the Union disintegrates. There’s also the chance of a return to sectarian bloodshed in Ireland, and for which History will judge the British harshly, unless, as seems likely, History will be abolished, unless it can be proven to be Patriotic. Meanwhile, the right-authoritarians consolidate their grip even further on hearts and minds, by blaming it all on someone else. Politics is one of the most complicated stories there is, but all we want are simple answers, which is why many of us would sooner get our information from the crass soundbites of Youtube and Facebook pundits, making us all suckers for disinformation and spin.

A handful of leaflets for the locals isn’t going to change any of that. But it gets you round the houses, and it’s nice to see the various ways people make the approaches to their homes homely, or otherwise. Almost everyone I met was pleasant. The two ladies taking morning tea in their sunny front garden were charming, and received my leaflets like they were the most important missives they’d had in weeks. Just the one curmudgeon told me where to shove them. Then there’s the party member, and conference vet. If he sees you out and about, that’s it for an hour on the subject of where the left is going wrong, like I really care any more. He’s talked to this person and that person (drop name here) “at conference”, lets you know he knows infinitely more about politics than you ever will, as he may well do. But I do wonder why he isn’t he taking the leaflets round instead of me.

Anyway, May 6th. Whatever your political stripes, do read those leaflets. I know they’re cringe-worthy and my lot managed to wiggle in a few typos, which will have raised eyebrows among the keener eyed. But they’re the only info you’ll get unless you’re lucky enough to be door-stepped by your local candidates, and they tend only to go for the known floaters. I know, politics is mostly bullshit and name-calling, but votes count. So let’s have your votes.

And now after all that dirty politics talk, I need a bath in something slow, repetitive, and with lots of reverb:

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It was a big, white fisher-bird, smaller than a heron. It was of a similar build to a heron, but more slender, more elegant. It was an egret, I think, the first I’ve seen in the wild and an incongruous sight, out among the potato fields. I’d go so far as to say it was exotic, and had the feel of an omen about it, meaning what, I don’t know,… but something, surely?

I’d come upon it suddenly, disturbed its fishing, and it had risen silently, gracefully from a deep drainage ditch between meadows. It’s not a well walked path, the path I was on. It meanders across the flats from Rufford, towards Croston. For a right of way, it’s hard to pick up and hard to navigate. As usual the way markings had gone, and it was years since I’d last walked it, so all memory of past trials had faded. You have to check the map to make sure you’re on the correct side of the ditches, or you’ll walk to a dead end, another broad ditch crossing your path. Then you’ll see your proper way on the other side, but with no way to cross and a long way to back-track.

I’ve jumped these ditches in the past, in desperation and frustration, but at times of flood, they run deep and wide and cold. They’re also steep sided, so you’d struggle to get out if you missed your step and slipped in. Anyway there’s no dignity in it. Dignity is finding your way by means of the proper way, the right of way. There are more convenient routes around here, routes that present no difficulty at all, but those are farm tracks signposted to tell you there’s no public way,… trespass and all that. Naturally the markings on those are hard to miss and tend not to disappear.

So, it was an egret, then. Swan-white, like an omen did I say? Well, maybe a blessing. Whatever, it was beautiful.

It had been a morning of contrasts. Clear and cold, the ground beginning to thaw a little, so it was firm underfoot, without being too hard. There was still a little snow lying about, and the flooded fields were sheets of ice, with a cold wind blowing off them.

I’d just come down from the cut of the River Douglas. It had dropped twenty feet from the weekend floods, stranding a thick line of unwholesome detritus, up on the banks. There were bottles, supermarket bags, footballs, tennis balls, all manner of glass and plastic, a line of rubbish stretched from Wigan, out to the Ribble, and from there to the sea, for the sea to wash it all back up on the beaches from Blackpool to the Hebrides. The supermarket bags of course would find their way into the bellies of whales, who mistake them for jelly-fish. There’s something sinister, I think, about this man-meddled stretch of the Douglas, something godless about it.

The land here, once marshland, is pretty much an open-air factory, cut up into squares, and navigated in straight lines, north-south, east-west. I’ve long found it aesthetically sterile, interest coming only sporadically in the occasional lone tree or in the skies at the day’s extremes. Lots of it has been turning back to wetland though, these past few winters, as the water-table rises.

An egret! Really? Are you sure?

I’d had the camera, but the wrong lens, and anyway, there was no time. The bird was up and off and out of range before I even thought of a photograph. I had a wide lens on, so that bird would have been a small white dot against the winter blue, indistinguishable from a seagull. Landscapes are more my speed. They give me time to fumble through the settings on the camera. It’s our fourth year together now, master and apprentice, the camera being the master, teaching me about the contemporary art of the possible. The single lens reflex cameras I grew up with from the 70’s onwards, were a much simpler affair, and easier to get along with. These modern digital versions are a bit daunting, with more options on them than I can learn in a lifetime. Fiddle with a few settings, and you’ve a whole new camera, and that’s even before you change the lens. But it’s an interest, and it gets me out.

Spot meter. That’s what I was experimenting with today. You measure the light from the brightest area of the frame, get that exposed right, so the details of it don’t burn out, but the rest gets under-exposed, which makes it go dark. It can be tinkered with on the computer to look a bit arty. Anyway, I’d shot a dozen pictures on the way round before noticing the focus was on manual, so they were all blurred. Too many things to control. Thirty shots, and all deleted when I got them on the big screen at home, except for two or three that made the cut.

The lone tree, above, shot into the sun was one. The frozen track was ablaze with reflected light. It was part intended and part good luck. I’ve photographed the same scene a dozen times in all seasons, and mostly it looks nothing like that, except this morning, it did, and for once the camera and I saw things the same way.

Then there was the weeping tree – beech or birch, I don’t know. That was an unusual find – easier to spot in winter when most other trees look dead. This one was dreaming though. It was by this tree I saw the egret, which added to the magic of that little spot – the Egret and the Dreaming Tree? Good title for a story.

Did I tell you how dreary I find it, around here, normally? Ten square miles of assorted vegetables and mud. But I have to admit, as I’ve been forced to look closer, this pandemic year, denied the distraction of broader adventures, it’s begun to open up a little, and share its secrets.

I’m wondering if the Environment Agency has stopped the pumps that drain the fields into the Douglas. Maybe that’s why the ditches are topped so frequently now, and the land turned to lakes. There were rumours of it some years back – austerity and all that. A guy once told me that if they ever stopped pumping, the giant mere you see on old maps of Lancashire would be back inside a decade. Sure, there’d be shortages of Lancashire potatoes and carrots if that happened, as a goodly portion of the crop looks to be ruined every year now anyway, but with the water, the birds are returning. And with everything else in a tailspin, that has to be a good sign, hasn’t it?

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Great Hill – West Pennine Moors

There’s so much to do, places to explore. I’m itching to get back on the road, get up to Bowland, to the Dales, the Lakes, get the camera up the fells, have that long weekend at the Buck in Malham I’ve been promising myself since whenever. And now, retiring early I’ve plenty of time for all that creative stuff, all that travelling about. Except of course we’re still riding out the “C” word, and things seemingly getting worse, even with a vaccine on the horizon.

Stay at home, exercise locally. Do you know what that means? Me neither. We’ve been here before. I’ll still be taking the camera for a walk, but it’ll be doorstep to doorstep now. The downside is my shots may start to look like they’re all the same, because they are – just different lights, moods and seasons. But then what we sometimes overlook is the fact that while our local beat might seem monotonous to us, it’s still interesting to others whose own “familiar” is monotonous to them, but to us fascinating, and so on.

Anyway, these first bright, frosty days of 2021, I’ve been doing a lot of miles on foot. I’ve been inspired by my fellow outdoor bloggers to clock up a thousand miles this year. That’s a big number for me but, holding true to my ambitious nature, I’ll be happy with five hundred, which is around ten miles per week, and should be feasible, even locally. I’ve done more than that already, but then the weather’s been good.

Speaking of local, the header shot is of a beguilingly lovely Great Hill, in the West Pennines, under snow just now. I was last up there a month ago, but this is as close as I’ll get until the latest restrictions are lifted. I shot it from the west, around nine miles out, by the river Yarrow, near the village of Eccleston, a short journey for me by Shanks’ pony. There would have been people up there today, regardless of the new restrictions. The little road up to the cricket field at White Coppice, the usual starting point for the climb, would have been nose to tail with vehicles, like it’s been all year, everyone out for a “local” walk. Some will have interpreted that as fine, even though they came from Manchester or Liverpool.

It was pretty much like this before, everyone looking for a loophole. Admittedly, the loopholes are smaller now, so some are flouting the rules due to Covid fatigue, a sense of self-entitlement, ignorance or just sheer bloody mindedness. The danger, I suppose, is when the books are written, the wrong people will be carrying the can for the death toll.

Actually, this string of paths I’m on today is unusual for being little trod. Indeed, for the full hour I’ve been on them, I’ve seen not another soul. I’m after a particular set of shots here: late afternoon sunshine lighting up bare trees. I’m looking for long shadows running across green pastures. I need a long lens, a small aperture for depth of field, so a slow shutter, which requires a tripod. If the paths are busy, I always feel self-conscious with a tripod so rarely bother with one, but not today. Today it’s pleasant to slow right down, and just tinker with the camera. Plus, by the time I get home, I’ve added another four miles to that thousand-mile challenge.

There will be other challenges this year of course, like how to avoid catching Covid in one of the few developed countries where it’s running out of control. Then there’s the matter of how to get my jab when everything else Covid related has been an unmitigated organizational disaster. There’s also the issue of staying sane, continuing to obey the rules while abandoning my beloved Great Hill to insta-incomers, in their four-byes, travelling across tiers for a selfie in the snow. Judging by that last comment, my magnanimity may be on the wane, but no one’s perfect. At least I no longer shout at the Telly, but that’s because I use it mainly for casting You-tube stuff these days. I know, You-tube is a repository for the worst of humanity, but it’s also a place you’ll find some inspirational talent, no matter what your bent. I’ll close with one of my favourite channels, and a trip to Bowland which I’m unlikely to be making in person any time soon.

Henry, you’re an inspiration, mate, and your pictures make mine look like they were shot with a Box Brownie from the back of a galloping horse.

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