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Posts Tagged ‘queen’

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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The Shireburn Cottages, Hurst Green

There’s a beautiful light in Hurst Green, this morning. We have strong sunshine, but there’s a mellowness to it, that lends late season contrasts. The oft-photographed alms-houses, the Shireburn Cottages, are basking in it, warming their grand facade. Meanwhile, all around us, the skies are patrolled by ominously towering cumulonimbus. We’ll be lucky if we avoid a soaking.

We’re looking to climb Longridge fell today – a ridge that runs east-west, roughly parallel to the River Ribble, for about six miles. The reward of the climb up the quiet lanes and meadows, from Hurst Green, is the sudden view of the Forest of Bowland, from the summit.

We’ll be meandering up to the trig column on Spire Hill, roughly the mid-point of the fell, as well as its highest elevation. Then we’ll head through the plantations to the easternmost tip, at Kemple End. From here, we’ll fumble our way back across the meadows, and finally through the grand environs of Stonyhurst College, to Hurst Green. It’s ground I’ve not covered before, so I’m expecting a bit of an adventure, adding a few more rights of way to the map in my head.

My thanks to Bowland Climber whose posts are a valuable source of intel on likely routes and ground conditions in this area. Longridge is heavily forested and, as with all such territory, the routes get overtaken as the forest develops, and permissive ways open up in their stead, ways which may not be familiar to a non-local walker. Then you get logging, and storm damage with trees coming down, blocking the paths, or balanced precariously, waiting for you to sneeze before crashing down on top of you. And then of course we can expect the usual difficulties on the lowland stretches, with way markers disappearing, and little used paths across meadows vanishing under crops.

I’d felt a sense of hush, leaving home, news of the Queen’s death still settling in. The hush was self-imposed, of course, and partly courtesy of the long planned and wall-to-wall reverence of the BBC. This vanished as soon as I hit the M6 of course, where the nation’s life still goes on at full throttle, as needs must, with heavies and delivery vans, drivers having to pee in bottles to meet schedules set by machines.

There are, of course, many who feel a genuine sadness, as if they had lost their own grandmother. But there are also plenty, particularly in the under forties bracket, who have no longer the luxury of time, or are too worried about feeding their children to don the sackcloth and ashes.

I am not immune to the sense of history, nor to the symbolism of a fallen monarch, especially now, adding as it does, its weight to a heaviness I already feel for the state of an Albion so besmirched and tattered. I fear it is optimistic to hope this will be one of those historic moments to galvanise the nation, for so much of the nation has other things on its mind right now, and which are hard to ignore. One wonders what next. Were I to suffer a sudden, blinding pulse of light, prior to witnessing a mushroom cloud rising in the direction of Manchester, courtesy of Vlad P, I would not be surprised. Still, one must not tempt fate.

For now, though, the only mushroom clouds are these cumulonimbus. They spread out at great altitude, into anvil heads, and they darken, broody and funereal. Climbing the quiet, rain puddled lanes towards the fell, we lose the sun, and the day turns grey, and sticky. There is the crackle of thunder, but, so far, the gathering storms seem to circle us, their dramatics kept at a safe distance.

I was grouching in my last post about the cost of NHS dental treatment. “Over sixty quid for a checkup and a clean,” I spluttered. However, as a friend later pointed out, I’m fortunate still to receive NHS treatment, and should be more grateful for it. Dentists are shedding our sort like unwanted fleas. That same check-up and clean will cost me over two hundred quid, under the private system many have now fallen victim to. More serious work – fillings, extraction, bridge-work – and it can easily run into thousands. This is beyond the means of so many in poverty-pay jobs, paying sky-high rents and energy bills. It’s little wonder, then, DIY dentistry is on the rise. I’m not sure how, or when, this happened. It just sort of crept up on us while we weren’t looking.

Spire Hill, Longridge Fell

We pause at the trig point, rather sweaty now, to rest and clean our specs – all the better to take in the panoramic sweep of the Bowland hills. They are most movingly beautiful under this rapidly changing light. There is mixed sunshine and cloud to the north, though the skies are turning an ominous green to our backs, now. There are para-gliders, launching from the precipitous north face, and seem to be defying the weather, as they defy gravity, circling and swooping like slow motions birds. I hear Vaughn Williams in my head, then another rumble of thunder.

Eastwards now, following the line of the ridge, and plunging quickly into the forest’s gloom. It’s mostly coniferous plantation, but with the occasional stretches of beautifully twisted Scot’s Pine. Then, amid the gloom of the conifers, there lurks the occasional, defiant deciduous giant, one of which I discover hung with curious trinkets. Coniferous forestry is an affront to nature, and she shows her displeasure in that eerie monocultural, mossy silence.

On Longridge Fell

The way is far from straight forward here, as we encounter damage from last winter’s storms, stacks of fallen trees laying across the path. There has been some ad-hoc clearance, plus a splintering of unofficial diversionary ways, leading off into the gloom, but no concerted effort to clear passage. So, it’s with a bit of hit-and-miss, aided by the occasionally more helpful long stretch of forestry track, we make it down to the eastern tip, near Kemple End. The Bowland fells still look balmy, while an evil looking storm sweeps the Ribble Valley, trailing rain. Was that a flash of lightning? We pause and count to ten for the rumble of distant thunder.

Logging near Kemple End, Longridge Fell

Here, we descend into the pastures along the rights of way where a helpful sign, posted by a local resident, tells us we’re probably going to go wrong here. There are some well-intentioned instructions, which we follow to the letter, but the path is little walked, and we go wrong anyway, meandering about in shin-high wet grass for a while, until we spot a possible exit.

We ford a stream where it looks like there was once a crossing, and we come up to a rusty old gate that hasn’t been opened since Tolkien last passed this way, pondering his Hobbits. I’m walking with the latest OS map, which tells us we’re bang on the right of way, at least in theory, so we plod on, following the GPS across a meadow, freshly planted, and ankle deep in soft earth. There are no markers here except the prints I leave behind, hopefully for others to follow. It pains me to do this but, as usual, a little more clarity by the landowner would not go amiss, and I’d be glad to oblige. One never knows in these situations if we aren’t simply digging ourselves deeper into the confusion of lost ways, or if a helpful marker will pop up of a sudden, and see us safely through.

More awkward stream crossings follow, more rights of way missing their markings, and no evidence of footfall on the ground. We seem to have found one of those routes long abandoned, yet it is the quickest way from Kemple End to Stonyhurst. With patient attention to the GPS, though, we locate the wobbly stiles, now slowly rotting in deep hedgerows, and the rickety stream crossings. Plucked by thorns, and stung by nettle, we come down to our way-point on the road, where a single finger post points us back to perdition. From here, a short walk brings us into the grand environs of the Stonyhurst College, where we can pass without fail or interference.

The doors of St Mary’s Hall are open, the sombre sounds of a Requiem Mass for the Queen spilling out, and following us some way along this last stretch to Hurst Green. We must ring a bell here, as there is occasional shooting across the path. There’ll be none today, I would think, but I feel obliged to ring it anyway. The jarring clang so soon after passing the spiritual music from the chapel feels irreverent.

Millie’s Pantry, our usual watering hole, is just closing, so we find ourselves in the Shireburn Arms, instead, with a large, sweet coffee and the feel of nine miles, and twelve hundred feet of ascent in our legs. I wonder if JRR himself ever sat here, nursing a pint and smoking a pipe. The bar is empt, except for a couple of ladies dressed like wedding guests. I hope my dishevelled appearance does not offend. The fates were with us, and the rains held off, but where we go from here, amid these gathering storms, is far from certain.

But there’s always another hill, another day in the outdoors to call us onwards. And the hills ask nothing but that we respect them, while they reward our efforts ten-fold.

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A quick, but not too hopeful scan of the charity shop bookshelves this morning yields an odd find, among the usual slew of well thumbed novels, cook books, and the occasional, but not unusual, copies of a “Souvenir Guide to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee”. It’s what I suppose you’d call something from the popular science genre, a kind of “Special relativity and field theory, for dummies”, with equations. It was written by Leonard Susskind, a professor of physics at Stanford University, and a terrific communicator of very hard science. I was briefly tempted by it but, after a bit of soul-searching, I put it back. As for the Diamond Jubilee books, they reminded me of something I’d read the evening before, my opinions of which were as yet unformed, but forming. More of that, later.

We’ve talked on the blog about the various piles we readers have for books. The common one is the “to be read pile” – books waiting for us to get around to them. We add books to it, as we go along, but we do eventually get around to reading them. Then I have a “books to be read again pile” – books I enjoyed, and tell myself I want to read again, though whether I ever will is another matter. Then there’s the “books which, in all honesty, I’ll never read, though I tell myself I want to” pile. I’ve had one on there, for thirty-five years, called “the makers of mathematics”. I’ve never read it, but keep telling myself, I might, one day. Another one I have on there is “Teach yourself calculus”, similar thing: thirty years, and the spine not cracked once.

They’re books I had the mind for, in my student days, and occasionally fool myself I have the mind to get back into, but never have done, and probably never will, because my mind has changed shape, over the years, and moved on. I’m thinking this book of Susskind’s will end up on that pile. There’s something worthy about it, intellectually challenging, and deeply interesting, but it’s beyond anything I could make use of these days. Plus, you can find a lot of Susskind’s lectures on YouTube, which likely cover the same material, should I feel so inclined. And these books linger on the shelves. They pine for attention like neglected puppies and, given the nature of puppies, I cannot part with them. So, it’s better not to acquire them in the first place. Thus, the decision is made, and I put the book back. Let someone else have the pleasure of it. I have enough to be going on with the “to be read” pile.

Speaking of which, I’m reading “People of the Abyss” by Jack London, prompted by a reader of the blog (thank you). We read him at school. I remember White Fang, and Call of the Wild, but People of the Abyss was never mentioned at the time – this being the account of him basically going undercover as a down-on-his luck Yankee seaman, in London’s East End, around the time of the Coronation of Edward the 7th. Along with Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier, and Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, it’s one of the most detailed and damning accounts of engineered destitution ever written.

Hard as it is to say though, such works no longer fire me up, as they would once have done, and, in the case of Tressell, indeed did. I used to think the solutions to the world’s ills were obvious, and easy. Now, I’m realising there’s something contrary in human nature that defeats common sense, and stymies compassion. It causes some to treat the majority appallingly, and with contempt, and for the majority to let them get away with it. Books like “People from the Abyss”, though written over a century ago, remind us of the depths to which we might yet return, because that amoral streak is still there, and it seems there’s nothing we can do about it. There will always be rich and poor, but that there is also engineered destitution, shames us all.

Had I been born into the those times, and that class, my life would have been short and unimaginably hard, but I suppose I would have accepted it, like everyone else, and no doubt still raised my cap at the passing of the King’s coronation. Something about the opening paragraph of the book shot it to the top of my “to be read pile”, nudging aside Dostoyevsk’s Crime and Punishment, which I’m struggling with. Indeed, were the latter not hailed as a masterpiece, I would have to call it one of the most tedious books I have ever attempted, and might have been better placed on that “books I shall never read” pile – except I have read a bit of it. Should there be another pile then? Books I could not finish and set aside for later?

I do not wish to put on bibliophilic airs. I am the product of a comprehensive education system, as it was in the 1970’s, and which I have always felt was not quite as good as it might have been, though I understand it was much better than things are now. I did however pick up a middling engagement with the written word, and a love of books.

When my boys were at school, however, I discovered books were not read as avidly any more. What was more important were the bullet-pointed outlines, from which the key stage questions might be answered. Books, then, were no longer touted as being worth the love invested in them. And then of course, schools cannot afford books any more except – and now I remember those charity shop copies of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – I read every primary school child this year is to be given a book in commemoration of Her Madge’s Platinum Jubilee, this at an estimated budget of 12 million. It is a work of, as yet, unknown content, beyond the diktat that it shall be “patriotic”.

For such an administration as the one we now have, I accept such a thing is more or less obligatory, though whether the children will treasure this gift, as intended, is quite another question. Whether they will read it at all is equally doubtful. All of which suggests another list of books, which, thanks to the subliminal effects of all the other books I have read, down the years, I would want to steer clear of in the first place.

Speaking of Her Madge, back in the heady days of 2012, the time of that Diamond Jubilee, though not a Royalist myself, I saw the pomp as a unifying force for a people knocked about by the crash years, that things could not help but get better after all the jolly bunting, and a stiff cup of tea, served in jubilee china. They didn’t. They got worse. Much worse. Still, there was definitely something in the air that summer, because I wrote warmly of Her Madge as being the ideal of a nation, and something – the ideal I mean – worth polishing one’s shoes for.

We do need something to polish our shoes for, I think, but I have since returned to the straight and narrow in my search for other heroes, not of nationhood, but more elusive. It’s the best in personhood, perhaps, or at any rate a thing well beyond the sticky grasp and ken of the tabloid hacks, “influencers” and the makers of cheap memorial mugs. In 2012, I was a man who enjoyed lunching modestly in my local market town. Now my town has nowhere to lunch, beyond the newly fangled sawdust and spittoon boozers, which I shudder to frequent. Instead, I take what pleasures I can find for the fiver I might once have splashed on coffee, in the charity shops, and the bargain basements, of which there are now many. We are all, in short, a little more thread-worn, our jolly bunting derided on the world’s stage as symbolically empty, and meaningless. We are, as a nation, spent and pointless. Or so it feels from the crumbling market towns of the North.

But we were talking of books, or lists of books. And we began with that book by Leonard Susskind. How about him, or those like him? Are they not far worthier of our celebration? They are, after all, the best of us, and come from many walks of life, both high and low-born. Indeed, I raise my cap, and polish my shoes to men and women of such calibre. I have had the pleasure of knowing, and working with a few. There is a certain bias in my thinking, of course, having been inspired to higher things by the likes of them, and you may have your own candidates. But is it not better, if we are to look to others as an example, we value them in proportion to what they have to teach us. Flags and bunting teach us very little, other than which way to point a gun.

Here he is, talking about black holes, and the seriously spooky nature of the universe as a hologram.

Damn. I wish I’d got that book, now. Thanks for listening.

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All right, let me be clear here. I don’t mean I actually had tea with the Queen,… well not in person anyway. But when I was a Cub Scout, about eight years old, my Arkaela explained to me that  whenever we saw the flag, the Union Jack, it was the same thing as being in the presence of the Queen. That was what the flag was, you see? And my home village is decked out at the moment with more Union Jacks than on V E day. It is of course The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Sixty years as monarch, and therefore as the spiritual mother of the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth.

The last Jubilee, I was a young man of seventeen, and I recall spending that sunny weekend in 1977, cleaning my motorbike and being generally oblivious to the fuss and all that Union Jack waving. But now I’m older and admit to raising a glass in my back garden to her majesty. We celebrated with tea and cakes in fact – the tea being served in my good lady’s grandmother’s best China – something that’s normally reserved only for family funerals.

Yesterday the BBC gave us all a first class ticket to a ride down the Thames in the company of Her Majesty, and though the weather was as atrocious over London as it was for us in Lancashire, the day proved to be a magnificent spectacle, though I felt for everyone on the breezy Thames, and shivered for them, but it was a nautical adventure, and true navy types aren’t daunted by a bit of weather.

This evening, the BBC gave me another first class ticket, this time to a musical concert in front of Buckingham Palace, and though the weather here was fine and would normally have tempted me away from the indoors, I remained glued to the goggle box and was absolutely amazed by the spectacle, also that anybody could inspire such a gathering. There were an estimated 200,000 in London tonight, and that’s some concert. And all in sincere celebration of the achievement of an 86 year old lady.

This amazes me.

But it shouldn’t.

The world is in a terrible state. We’re all feeling it. The global materialist, freemarket free-for-all, is in its last gasp death throes. Who else are we to look up to now? Our political leaders? Well,.. no. Frankly they’re not showing themselves at their best, locked in an unholy battle with the gutter press and the big business fat cats –  a nefarious trio, submerged up to their necks in mud and all of them looking a little besmirched, a little tarnished, a little lame, and we, a bemused public, wondering what the hell’s going on, and who we’re supposed to look to for an example. I mean who the hell is left that’s worthy of this symbol of nationhood? Who else do we clean our shoes for? For whom do we straighten our ties every morning?

God help me. I’m fifty one years old, a liberal, a rebel, a mystic, and I discover I’m a royalist.

Unity in Diversity.

God Save the Queen.

Graeme out.

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