Posts Tagged ‘motoring’

MX5 HortonIt’s my third summer now with the MX5, and with all due respect to those pop psychologists, I didn’t buy it because I was menopausal, even though I’m probably of an age that’s ripe for it. I bought it because I wanted one when I was seventeen and couldn’t afford the insurance. By the time I could afford it, I was married with kids, so a two seater sports car was impractical and I ran around for a quarter century in a family hatchback instead. Then the kids reached a stage when they wouldn’t be seen dead going out with me any more and suddenly that open topped sports car was on the cards again, and if you go for an old second hand one, neither are they particularly expensive.

But there’s nothing the media likes more than to gather a few pop psychologists and poke fun at all us silver foxes pretending to be teenagers. I mean, can’t we see how ridiculous we look? I suspect such articles are written by people in their twenties, who have no idea what it actually feels like to be a man in their fifties. Well, you know what? Being a man in your fifties feels just like being a man in your twenties, except in one or two significant respects which makes being in your fifties infinitely better.

Horton Church and PenyghentI took the MX5 to the Yorkshire Dales today, a round trip of about a hundred miles, drove it with the top down all the way, not in order to attract the admiring glances of women, but because there’s a greater sense of presence when you drive this way. The air feels good once you get off the highways and you appreciate the scenery more.

I took the car to the Dales because I wanted to climb Penyghent. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was in my twenties. I’d puff and wheeze my way up it back then, and I still puff and wheeze my way up it now. I’m not worried about advancing age, I’m not trying to prove anything, this is nothing about bucket-lists or raging at the setting of the sun. I took the car to the Dales, I did the hill, and I called for coffee on the way back. It was a great day out and I didn’t once feel self conscious or stupid.

The Mazda’s in the garage now cosseted under its dust sheet, and I’m in the summer house with a glass of wine and the laptop, thinking back over the day. There were plenty on the hill who were a good deal older than me, and they’re an inspiration in the sense that no one is too old for anything. Granted, I wouldn’t recommend climbing Penyghent in your eighties if you’ve never done a day’s walking before, but if you’ve been doing it all your life nothing’s going to stop you, is it?

I’m not saying the male menopause doesn’t exist, because it does, and a man must deal with it as best he can. But what the writers of pop articles about the male menopause overlook is that it’s no fun being young either. Being young has its own problems. True, you’ve more chance of attracting beautiful women and making love to them when you’re younger, but I seem to recall there was a downside to all of that as well, and one I definitely don’t miss.

penyghentOn my way up to the Dales, I stopped at some lights and a brand new Maserati pulled up beside me. It was growling like a tiger with bad guts. The driver wasn’t a silver fox, just a rich bastard with more money and ego than he knew what to do with. I could tell what was coming. When the lights changed that Maserati set off like a bat out of hell, the driver’s point being that his willy was bigger than mine. By the time I’d even snicked her into second, he was just a dot in the distance. His car was worth about £60K, mine about £900, not much of a contest, yet he still felt the need to establish his simian “superiority”.

It doesn’t take much of a psychologist to work out he’s got a considerable menopause waiting for him.

My MX5 is fourteen years old now, done 80K, still drives like new. The 1.6 litre engine isn’t particularly quick, but she’s gutsy on the hills. We attract a lot of bumper stick on BMWs and Mercs and Audis because they’re more powerful and go faster, and their drivers are rude and impatient and not a bit dim. She’s generally in good nick. Her back wings have had some work in the past, but they’re starting to bubble though again and she’ll need a bit of tidying up soon. Returning to her this afternoon after a couple of hours on the fells, I was glad to see her, glad to pull off my boots and settle into her, and I was looking forward to dropping the top and enjoying the sunshine on the drive home. In short she adds something to the day that those old family hatchbacks did not. It’s significant, I think, that I remember none of them with affection.

The menopause in males isn’t about hormonal changes, it’s about the dying of the light, the fear of death and the realisation of its proximity at time when we feel we’ve not yet begun to live, when we haven’t yet made a difference in the world. The ego cannot accept its impending annihilation and seeks as a last gasp some way of making its mark even if that risks killing us or making us look stupid. And the bigger the ego, the bigger the problem. There’s nothing surprising about this, no complex psychology, no thesis to be written. The risk is we’ll rage against it, or we’ll pretend we’re still in our twenties, that even as our hair greys, the sun will never set. Neither attitude is helpful, and neither are smart-arse psycho pop articles that miss the point entirely.

So if you’re a silver fox like me who missed out on that old MG when you were younger, don’t let societal jokes or pop psychologists get under your skin. Sure, you’re not in your twenties any more, but neither are you dead. If your kids have flown the nest and you can persuade the wife she’ll enjoy it, then go for it my friend. Stop thinking about how others see you; don’t live your life through their eyes. You are the eyes of the world as you see it, and it’s your purpose in life to go out and enjoy life as best you can, and if that means being a silver fox in an old MX5, then so be it.


Read Full Post »

Mazda under cover I take a breath, click the clicky thing and I say: “Radio?”

The car responds. Female voice. Mature. Slightly bossy. “Radio.”


“FM,… frequency please?…”

“Ninety three.”

Pause. The car computes, and then: “Not possible.”

I try again: “Radio?”



“FM,… Frequency please?….”

Best 1950’s BBC accent now: “Ninety three.”

Pause,… “Tuning,…. Eighty three. Not possible.”

“What? No,… I said NINETY THREE,….”

Clearly this voice recognition thing has some way to go. It isn’t exactly one of the stand-out features of the Ford Focus. Instead, I fumble for the little preset button that takes me to 93 FM, and Radio 4.

Radio 4 annoys me these days, but everything else on the radio annoys me more. I prefer silence as I drive, but my commute is long and boring, and sometimes I like a companionable background babble for a change. We are half way through my commute, about 7:45, traffic at a standstill, sleety rain, just coming light. I’ve had the car a few days and we’re still getting to know one another.

Radio 4 is broadcasting a political interview. Both the politician and the interviewer have tones like cheese graters. Prickly. Abrasive. Adversarial. I don’t want to arrive at work already irritated, so better to turn the radio off, but – and lets be honest here – I don’t know how to turn the radio off.

It’s either this or Rock FM.




“Not recognised.”

The voices drone on. In the end I turn the volume down all the way. That will have to do for now.

The voice of the car makes me feel like a dimwit. I daresay I won’t be talking to it very much.

And I’m missing old Grumpy.

Grumpy is now living in Wales. I know this because his new owner rang last night to ask about the service book. I thought I’d left it in the car, but it turns out it’s still in my hall-table drawer. I don’t know how the new owner got my number. I didn’t sell Grumpy to him. I traded Grumpy in to the dealer for a pittance, because Grumpy needed work, and I hope they did the work before selling the car on. The dealer must have passed on my number which was naughty of them, but they’ve like as not already sold it round the world anyway, so it hardly matters. And the new owner seems pleased with Grumpy. I’m glad he’s found a good home. Ages since I was in Wales.

The Focus is a decent car and, in the main, looking pretty sound. The blurb extols the virtues of this new-fangled Ecoboost engine with twin clutch automatic transmission – claims I can get 40 mpg in mixed motoring. But 36.4 seems to be the limit so far, even driving with a feather touch, and I was getting that out of Grumpy without trying. And Grumpy had a bigger, older engine, and a dull old torque converter gearbox. One wonders at the fuss and blather. Still, the Focus is half the road tax of Grumpy, and that’s the equivalent of a couple of tyres.

I’ve not seen it properly yet in daylight. Not even sure of the colour – sort of blue-grey. I bought it in the pouring rain, and it’s been raining ever since, except on the few occasions when it’s been dark. That’s what it’s like. Wintertime. The commuter mule is mostly invisible. You go to it in the morning, demist it, brush away the snow, scrape the frost,.. whatever. Then it conveys you to the dayjob at an average speed of 22 miles per hour.

But it smells nice inside, smells of “new car”, a scent you can apparently buy, and which the dealer has clearly been very liberal with. It’s comfortable, quiet, plenty of poke when you want it,… and the dashboard lights up very prettily indeed. The transmission is strange – the odd bump and shuffle, but I think this is normal for a twin clutch auto. Yes, it’s fine. It’ll do.


It does not exactly make me smile.

I have another car, not for commuting. It spends much of the winter in the garage, gathering dust, avoiding the wet and the frost. What with one thing or another I’ve not been out in it for a couple of weeks. It’s my old Mazda MX5. It’s noisy, has a gearbox that takes an hour of running before it’s silky smooth; it has an engine as tight as a duck’s bottom unless you shamelessly thrash it. It smells of venting battery and damp, is brutally hard sprung, clatters over the bumps, rattles your teeth, and the rag-top is fraying,…

The rain stopped briefly on Sunday, and a winter sun peeped through just long enough to dry the roads. So I backed the Mazda out and took her for a spin to keep her limber. She warmed quickly and began to enjoy the road. Yes the Mazda enjoys the road. I know she does. I feel it in her bones. Smooth she’s not, quiet she’s not, but, oh,… what a joy that Mazda is to drive.

And yet,…

This morning the frost was layered thick upon the Focus while the Mazda slept in, snug beneath her blanket. It was a hard sheen of ice with jewelled drops, and a fine fuzz of dendritic growth on top, like a snowy fungus. It all was a glitter under a shivery clear skied dawn. Two clicks on the dashboard and the heated front and rear screens had the car ready to go in a minute. The ice capitulated.

“So,” says the Focus, “you want to go? Well come on then. Stop messing about. Quit blathering about the road-poetry of that flipping Mazda. Let’s go!”

The back roads were a sheen of black. The Mazda would have tested my nerves and risked a nose-dive into the ditch at the first bend. With the Focus I dared to test traction with a dab on the brakes. It responded with the sure footed grind of ABS, came crouching to a straight line stop. Safe as houses.

“Well, what did you expect?” it says. “High drama? Pirouettes?”

And then: “Listen,” it says, “What you get with me is the A to B. I’m about getting you there when getting there is what matters. That flighty little Mazda is about catching up all the bits you’ve missed inbetween, and only when the sun is shining.”

Makes sense at last. Respect. If I’m not careful I’ll be giving it a name.

Just waiting for one that sticks.

Read Full Post »

grumpy approaching kirkstoneI’d like to start this year by thanking those who follow and comment on my blog: Simon, Tom, Lee, Rati, Jim, Bottledworder, Walk2Write, Paul – to name but a few; your comments and likes are a constant encouragement, as are the “likes” of others, followers or not, who drop by and read my stuff. Thanks to all, and a Happy New Year.

The Rivendale Review is hardly what one would call an “influential” blog, but has far exceeded my expectations when I set out in 2008, and has become an integral part of my writing life. 2016 will see the same eclectic mix of stuff, things that catch my eye, things that make me think, things I find joyful in life: travels, books, absurdities, curiosities, and funny stories. I shall also write about writing.


The year begins as it ended, with rain. It’s been raining since October. The rattle of it against the glass is a familiar companion now. The garden is sodden and squelchy, my outdoor coat is permanently airing on a hanger in the back porch. We have come through flood and sickness unscathed, but philosophical. And there is now a sadness too at a parting of the ways.

My car, my long familiar commuter mule, Old Grumpy is to be traded on Tuesday for another vehicle with less miles on the clock. Right now I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or if I should have kept Grumpy a little longer. As for the new car, a ’12 plate Focus, I’m wondering if it will be any less troublesome than Grumpy has been over the long years of our acquaintance.

To the cosmopolitan gent, the car is becoming superfluous, even derided for its environmentally unfriendly habits. And to drive is to be milked as a cash cow for tax, insurance, repairs, and roadside assistance, to the extent one is wise to think twice about taking to the road at all. But for those of us living outside the city limits, in places where trains and buses are infrequent and rarely link up anyway with the places you want to go, the car remains an essential part of everyday life.

All the eras of my life, since late teens, are defined by the car I was driving at the time. A memory surfaces, say from 1978 – and I remember the plucky little Honda rustbucket I drove back then. In ’82 it was the Blue Mk4 Cortina, in which I began to explore the Lakes and Scotland. In ’86 it was the first in a long line of 3 series Volvos. Those eras were short, three or four years at a time. Then marriage and family life stretched the finances, so the car eras became longer – seven or eight years. In ’94 it was the Rover 216, in ’02 the first Astra, then the last Astra, old Grumpy in ’08.

The Grumpy era was marked immediately by a severe downturn, a period of grinding economic austerity, of rocketing energy and petrol prices. Grumpy saw petrol rise to £1.50 a litre. The Grumpy era has been a choppy one, an era of breakdowns, expensive repairs, and a general fragility of affairs that has sapped confidence and led to a contracting world view, rather than one that expands to encompass new horizons. The old Cortina took me to far away places, places I had never been before. Sometimes it feels as if old Grumpy has taken me nowhere but rather kept me on a narrow circular holding pattern. Holding for what, I don’t know. On the up-side, the grumpy era has been one of the most creatively productive. And whatever the ups and downs of it I’ll be sad to see him go.

A recent rain poem (2014) from the Grumpy years:

Crystal Teardrops

The day dissolves to a silver mist,
Lighter than air,
Settling softly
Among bare branches,
Where minuscule spheroids swell,
Coalescing to a smug fatness.
Teardrops of crystal,
Transparent berries among the black thorns,
Rich yield of cold nourishment,
Hanging motionless in a mist,
Still drifting,
Thin as ghosts,
Aimless as smoke,
From dying embers.

A lone leaf falls.


And finally, an older rain poem (1990), the Volvo years:


I hear the gentle sound of rain,
So soft, so fine, against the pane,
And I am in Hawkshead once more,
Remembering the time before,
When you and I first passed this way,
One shy and clumsy Autumn day.
First heartfelt kiss, first tender word,
In growing shades of dusk I heard.
A walk, a talk, from shackles free,
Snug from the world, just you and me.
It seems so long ago and yet,
The moment I cannot not forget.
For here it was that first I knew,
Without a doubt, how I loved you.



Read Full Post »

aylesburyI took the conveyor of the living dead, the M6, south, picked it up from the East Lancs road, let it carry me down to the M5 intersection, a run of about ninety miles. It took three hours, an hour longer than it took in 1985. Goods wagons formed a fairly solid convoy, swelling both the inner and the middle lanes, all the way. Only a fast car in the outside lane, and a driver with no imagination could have reduced the journey time, but only then by a smidgen and it did not seem worth it to me.

Road works and the sheer heaviness of traffic joining at various junctions slows progress to a clutch-foot killing stop-start. The last ten miles to the M5 were like that. It’s always like that now, seems a little worse each time.

Things picked up from the M5, finally managing a decent cruise speed on adequate roads – the M42, and the M40 to Bicester. Then it was the arrow straight line of the old A41 to Aylesbury for the night – all told, another hundred miles, which, by contrast with the conveyor of the living dead, took just a couple of hours. I conclude the North is being crushed under a weight of rubber, and heavy goods in transit.

I was driving a hired car, one of those suddenly controversial Volkswagens, an iced white 2.0 L diesel Passat. Its generous proportions kept me sane in heavy traffic, and it went like a rocket on those finally open stretches of the M40. I set the Satnav to ping me if we went over 70, and 70 felt as sedate as 30. It is a beautiful machine, state of the art in automotive design, responded to the pedal with an assertive rush and a growl of the turbo, yet barely consumed a quarter of a tank of fuel.

Still, I do not envy the company rep who drives these sorts of distances every day, though I suppose one must get used to them. I am certainly less fatigued by a six hour drive now than when I was young – although I remember journeys like this taking much less time twenty years ago. My average speed was 38. It used to be 45.

council offices aylesburyI saw little of Aylesbury, rolled in at rush hour and with the sun just setting. The civic building, the so called Frank’s Fort rose, an ambitious 200 feet, an early 60’s dour grey monolith, illumined by its multitudinous windows. The last rays of the sun picked out the glass and lent it a fantastical appearance, dominating the town in the gathering dusk.

Although this was my first visit to the town, I’d already driven in the day before, in virtual mode at least, looking for the hotel on Google’s marvellous Streetview thing-a-ma-bob. It lent an eerie sense of deja vu, seeing those junctions, the roundabouts and the skyline once more, when I drove in for real. I found the turning for the hotel with the combined help of Google’s preview andmy “CoPilate’s” Satnav precision, and there I pulled in safe at last to rest. I remember we used to manage such navigational dead reckoning with nothing more than a sketch map and a bit of common sense. I wouldn’t like to try that now. Is the world more complicated, or am I just older and slower?

The hotel was new, parking on the roof. Steel-lined elevators took me down to the newly refurbished waterfront of the Grand Union Canal, all clean lines and crapless. Barges gurgled in anachronistic contentment at their moorings, looking out across a wide paved piazza, to the clean white edifice of new office blocks – citadel of the homogeneous modern workplace, potential of a thousand souls sitting behind computer screens in open plan.

The hotel was quiet and comfortable. I did not venture out, but ate in the  somewhat Spartan cafe. I was one of perhaps twenty diners that evening, and the only one not peering at a hand-held screen, because I’d left mine in the room and felt conspicuous without it now, as if sitting there without trousers. The wall mounted TV was tuned to Heart radio which jarred somewhat. I counted only two staff. My meal was an hour in coming, industrially bland but adequate. They did their best, were smiling, friendly, outnumbered.

Corporate efficiencies are often times impressive in their attentions to the removal of detail. The bathrooms no longer furnish little blocks of soap. Besides the cost of them, there’s the time penalty in servicing the room. Much more efficient is the foam dispenser, but as a guest I do not like to wash my face with it. Instead, I subvert the system by foreknowledge, and bring my own soap.

The room rocks, vibrates to the beat of my heart. In fact it is my heart, a slow pulse that travels the length of my body. Fatigue of the road, I suppose. I write a little. Update the journal, run through another draft of the Sea View Cafe, in so far as I have it down to date. Fin and Min are becoming much loved companions now. Then I channel-zap the wall mounted television. Entertainment ranges from the banal to the grotesque. I find little to linger upon except a curious episode of Stargate Atlantis.

This holds my attention for a while, partly because I realise it has a female lead at the upper end of what Hollywood would consider a permissibly attractive age. Any older and it might become confusing for the audience. Women any older than this struggle to find parts in movie drama unless they are playing the stereotypically annoying old person/grandmother, and certainly not as a potentially romanceable lead. It is as if the writers of visual fiction consider a woman to lose her power when she is no longer capable of Galatean transformation.

I was never a Stargate Atlantis fan, but like much of TV drama aired any time between now and 1975, I have probably seen it before, soaked it all in to the subliminal zone from where a passive suggestibility arises. Sci-Fi, Kitchen Sink, Police drama, Soapy Suds – all are interchangeable, each derived from the other in an incestuous orgy of diminishing returns.

When I think of my own stories I am as guilty of this as anyone, my unconscious suggestibility raising the age of romantic leads as I have aged myself until, I note, I broke the half century, when I time-locked the male at 45, and the female at around 38, thus exposing my own inadequacy and prejudice at the same time. I apologise to women who are older, plead only that it may be I am considering myself no longer substantially active in this way, that I must rely on imagination and memory from here on in.

By lunch time the following day I am on the M5 again, approaching Birmingham, heading north. Home by tea time – another two hundred miles of nose to tail, a round trip of four hundred miles.

Eleven hours in a car.

It is a strange meditation to be on the road for so long. One cannot switch off, obviously, since driverless cars are as yet only a promise of the near future, but neither can we allow ourselves to become coiled tight in readiness for a collision or we would not last an hour on the roads as they are now. Relaxed focus is the key. The company rep must have it in oodles. My mind wanders, thinks, channel zaps strange things.

I wonder if I have thought them all before.


Read Full Post »

peasholme park 1A very poor night in Masham. Music throbbing up from the restaurant until 1:00 am, rendering sleep impossible. Instead I play Survivalcraft on the ‘droid, rather than struggle with a sweaty pillow. There is nothing like lack of sleep for making me irrationally ratty. When the music is finally cut, I manage to sleep about five hours. It starts up again at seven.

I do not stay for breakfast, (which is charged extra) but check out and load up the car. Did I enjoy my stay, asks the girl? Am I honest? No; she was but eighteen and I had not the heart to be honest to her sweet face. I am such a coward, and would sooner leave complaining to others.

Anyway, the Bordar Cafe restores Masham to my good books with tea and nicely poached eggs. It’s also market day, and the square presents now a more colourful scene than it did yesterday. I resist the urge to buy a Fedora hat – it’d momentarily tempting but they are not ideal for open top motoring, and make me look ridiculous. Anyway, I remind myself I am saving money for nice vintage wristwatch off Ebay to tinker with when I get back. Meanwhile, the offending hotel preens at my departure, all glitter in the morning sunlight, but I know it intimately, and know it possesses very little by way of charm or substance.

I will not be staying there again, and will be laughing for years to come at its privations. Do you remember that night when we?….

I drive off with the room key in my pocket – lack of sleep makes me forgetful.

It is sixty miles of good, fast road to Scarborough, and a sunny day so the top is down all the way. There is a terrible jam of slow moving traffic crawling up Sutton Bank. It’s bottom gear all the way up this notoriously severe incline. Heavy traffic which includes heavy vehicles makes things worse, at time dangerously so. The Mazda would normally have no trouble if the road were clear and we could get a run at it, but in a convoy for which the speed is only just above stalling, it adds spice. I catch her on the clutch a few times, finding even bottom gear at half a mile per hour is insufficient. This is a car that revels in the hill climb challenge and must take today’s insult on the chin. The cause of the jam is a tractor hauling an unbelievably big trailer of hay. They have such low gears they can crawl at half a mile per hour all day. Motor cars cannot.

I make a brief stop for lunch at Thornton Le Dale’s lovely Lavender Tearooms, where my ‘Droid cause confusion by actually ringing. (My ‘phone rarely rings). It is the hotel at Masham enquiring about the key. Searches confirm my being still in possession of it. Their rationing does not run to keeping a spare, though they are frantically searching for it. Am I far away? I am by now forty miles, I am tired and headachy on account of their small-hours entertainment so do not offer to drive back with it. I purchase a Jiffy bag from the post office and a stamp. I tell them they shall have it Monday.

Then it’s on to Scarborough and the Park. I use the ubiquitous ‘Droid to negotiate the last bit of the journey through the centre of Scarborough, but it gives up, overheating under a full sun with the top down, abandons me in heavy traffic, and with various petulant warnings, leaving me to my own devices. After a flutter of panic, and amid curses, the old senses revive sufficiently to bumble my way across town in roughly the right direction. A few ups and down through improbable residential side streets, and the Park is revealed in all its glory.

It is crisp white, seventies style on the outside, fresh and modern on the inside. It is spacious and chilled. I will be all right here, I think.

A quick breather on the bed and I take a walk down through Peasholme park, find Chinese dragon boats on the lake, then take a look at the promenade at North Bay. I’m tired after last nights lack of sleep and a longish drive across nearly the whole of Yorkshire, but the sea revives me. This is a far cry from the profound stillness of Malham, or indeed the gentle bustle of Leyburn or Masham. Scarborough is, well, Scarborough, a throbbing, thriving seaside town, pavements packed, fast food, ice cream,…

**Voyo Crashes**

…, squealing kids and screaming gulls.

I note the front pages of several newspapers today tell us we are to be afraid of gulls. They are becoming aggressive with people – shades of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. It must be a slow news day. Gulls are gulls. And yes, sometimes aggressive. The Mazda has already survived several dive bombing attacks. But the risk with gulls as with buying newspapers is merely poop.

Anyway, against my better judgement I find myself in a fast food fish and chippy on the sea-front, ordering a huge cod and chips, mug of tea and a mountain of bread and butter. Traditional fayre in both Yorkshire and my native Lancashire. I am expecting nothing here but indigestion, but discover at once the chips are good, the fish well cooked and exquisitely battered. And the woman who serves me, a tattooed Goth, calls me “darling” and wins me over at a stroke because I know a daemon when I see one, or rather when I’m projecting one, and she takes her place at once in my story, mistress of the Sea View Cafe, muse to Finn.

It is the briefest of encounters and certainly not enough to know this woman in any real sense, but sufficient to give a nudge to my story. I have no name for her yet (Briony? Hermione?). And I have only her opening line, her greeting when Finn walks in to the coffee shop, her words as she spoke them to me this afternoon:

“So, what can I get you, darlin’?”

It is my first time in Scarborough. I find the town centre traffic a little intimidating, a little overwhelming, as with all big and unfamiliar towns, especially in a little open top roadster, but having found my bearings  now, I venture to cruise the marine drive, taking in both the North and South bays. The south is clearly the more commercialised with one arm bandit halls and casinos, but it also possesses a charm, courtesy of the Georgian architecture which still dominates. North bay, I suspect was once the quieter but there has been recent development here with beach side apartments.

Scarborough has been likened ungenerously to Blackpool. But I know Blackpool, and Blackpool this is not. There is still an austere grandeur to Scarborough that Blackpool long ago abandoned. And the landscape still dominates, cliffs soaring and occasionally tipping a hotel into the sea. Scarborough has real charm, and I am already in love with it.

Quick snooze on the bed before visiting the old town this evening, threading the Mazda along narrow streets. The ‘Droid has recovered sufficiently now to navigate me to St Mary’s parish church and the grave of Anne Bronte. The original headstone, arranged by Charlotte, is now badly eroded, and a more modern stone preserves the details. There are fresh roses on her grave. A family of Italian tourists have made the long climb up from the old town to pay their lingering respects also.

Last tasks: I book dinner at the hotel for tomorrow night, then post my room key back to Masham.


Read Full Post »

malham cove

A short hop to Malham; M6, then the A59 to Gisburn where we slip across the border into God’s own county, then Hellifield, Otterburn, and finally Malham. Rain most of the way rendering pointless yesterday’s wash down and chamois finish. Pulling onto the carpark of the Buck the Mazda already looks like it’s been parked a week next to a concrete factory. However, the afternoon dries up sufficiently to take a stroll into the Cove. There are falcons soaring, and dippers exploring the beck, and there are men making ready to climb the seemingly impregnable face of the limestone precipice.

Then it’s back to the Buck for a doze on the four poster. I’m travelling with the Voyo, a 7″ Windows 8 tablet, made in China. It was cheap as chips, packs into a modest man-bag, but has the habit of randomly crashing. I use Jarte for my jottings, set autosave to once a minute and learn to live with surprises.

As I wait to go down to dinner I run through the early part of my new story, which I’m calling Carrickbar at the moment, or maybe the Queen of Carrickbar sounds better. The Voyo tips me out after a couple of paragraphs, and discards the changes because I mistook the one minute autosave option for the ten minute. I discover I can live with it. As writers we should never become too attached to anything we have written. What we think sounds just perfect, the moment before we are about to lose it, would rarely rest without change the next day.

malham cove 2It’s a tentative opening sketch, this first chapter, setting the scene and seeing what runs. Thus far it is rather a bleak story, one I’m not sure I can live with for the next couple of years in the writing of it, and I’ll be needing more of a reason to carry on. The characters are forming though, moving into the wings, looking to see if they can fit in, to see if they can help. Then there’s always that certain someone, the increasingly eccentric muse, and I suspect she’s waiting for us up at the Sea View Cafe.

The Mazda felt a little stiff on the run over, but that was me. I’m holding on to tension from somewhere and can’t seem to let it go, still fearful of the clutch failing. I need to lighten up; we have three hundred miles ahead of us, some tough hill climbing and some fast roads.

Dinner was lamb roast and very good too, no alcohol as I wanted a run out afterwards. The evening clears to sunshine and a straw coloured light, so I take the top down and drive the circuit up by Malham Tarn, then back down to the village. This is an exceptionally beautiful drive, both the Mazda and I relaxing at last into the curves of the road as if somehow enchanted. The Dales have never looked better to me than this evening. It is open and golden. I left my camera in my room at the Buck, but remind myself we are mistaken in believing we can somehow hold onto these things, that we can somehow capture them. But it’s impossible to capture them because the faculty of imagination is lacking in the photograph, present only in the nowness of the moment as we experience it. It is, I’m afraid something I cannot fully share with anyone.

Buck Inn MalhamI return to the carpark of the Buck and begin my usual nannying about, nervous of parking slots that are too narrow. The Mazda is getting on in years but miraculously preserved and my nightmare is that she will get side swiped by a carelessly opened door. I also avoid parking next to cars with kiddie seats – or worse the detritus that indicates the presence of older children. The alternative spot is under a pine tree, but that won’t do either as it is dripping sap and leaving sticky speckles on the screen and paint. In the end I settle for a tight spot and no evidence of kiddies. I really must learn to be more accepting of the risks; it’s bound to happen one day.

So, day one and a successful start. Some rain, but clearing to a beautiful evening. I retire to write:

He was a child when he last saw Carrickbar. That would have been ’67 or 68; he couldn’t say for sure exactly when but what Finn did remember was how the summer had glowed cosily that year in the orange of the sunsets, how it had blazed joyously in the yellow of the afternoon sands and shimmered with a delirious bliss in the perfect crayon blue of sea and sky. Remarkably though, he was not conscious of having carried this memory with him, and had indeed passed the whole of his life in ignorance of it. Until now.

Remarkably it was amid the ruin of forty years, he had fallen asleep, and had dreamed of Carrickbar. He had dreamed of the colour, and of the heat and of the wide smiling sea, and on waking the memories had risen from the depths perfectly preserved. It was as if the Gods had taken pity and cast him a line back into the living colour of the world, and in the morning all he could think of was a place he had not thought of since he was a boy.

But winter was not the best time to be seeing Carrickbar. Indeed it was to him, this afternoon, after a three hour drive, and through the murky lens of his road weariness, a cold, grey place, all the colour bled from it, frozen as his heart, pale as the ocean before him. And the ocean, he thought, as he gazed out at it, was just one more thing reflective of the lack of pity in the world. It was at this moment as if even his childhood had died and left him penniless, and the Gods were laughing.

It’s a start.

I think we’ll run with it.


Read Full Post »

racy lady 2I’m a little nervous this evening – always am the night before a trip. I’ve checked the oil and the water, checked the tyres, taken her out for a spin and all appears to be well. The hotels are booked, the travel insurance paid, and even if we do have mechanical trouble, the AA will be earning their subs for once and getting us home.

Come to think of it the clutch felt a little odd during that spin, but I’m wearing new trainers and they lack the broken-in, wafer-thin sensitivity of my old ones. It was hard to judge to bite point and I’ve always had a thing about the clutch – the one thing you can’t check or mitigate against. And of course a failed clutch can ruin your holiday. But I’m sure it’ll be fine.

So, I’m off to the Dales in the morning, a week’s tour of the best of rural England, ending up on the East Coast by weekend. We have a new-ish Vauxhall Corsa on the drive that could do trip with ease and, with 20,000 on the clock I’d have fewer qualms about it, but where would be the fun in that? The Dales in a twelve year old roadster just coming up to 80,000 miles has to be worth the risk. It’ll be a trip revisiting the familiar – I know the Dales quite well: Malhamdale, Wharfdale, Wensleydale and hopefully with the top down as much as possible. Then a long run across country to Scarborough and a few nights off motoring.

I’m travelling light – not much choice in a little car. I have the kernel of a new story on the pad, and I’ll no doubt be tickling away at that in the evenings before bed. It’s late July now, the season maturing, and many a moon come and gone without anything new in the making. Thus far I’ve been reviewing older stuff and posting it on Wattpad, which has been satisfying in a way but a bit like treading water. I also finished off Sunita, a back burner project  and put her on Wattpad as well. Reception for Sunita was good, mostly thanks to fellow blogger and writer’s champion, Tom Lichtenberg. Reception for Langholm Avenue and Fall of night was more muted. But all of this has been somehow retrospective, and what I love most in writing is the new adventure. So, we’re pre trip in a number of ways this evening, and though I’m nervous, I’m looking forward to the road in the morning.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »