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Posts Tagged ‘summer’

Anglezarke, West Pennines

Oh, dullard brain, why do we push so far?
Who the hell do we think we are?
Three thousand years of philosophy,
And we think we’ll bottom it, over a cup of tea.

But that side of things has passed us by.
Before we catch up, the pigs will fly.
What we learned as a student, we don’t need any more,
All the nuts and bolts, of the physical world.

But the history of thought is a queer old fish.
Who said that, and who said this?
But more than that, what does it all mean?
And is it as hard as their language makes it seem?

In short, is philosophy not simply a curse?
Three thousand years and the world’s getting worse.
Those bearded old chaps, I’m sure they meant well,
But if they did us any good, it’s very hard to tell.

A change in the weather

Okay, I didn’t mean that. I was just tired and grumpy after a bad night with a blocked nose, and assailed by dreams of wasps. After such a hot spell, the forecast was for a change in the weather, so if I wanted to get out for the day, Monday was the best shot, but it was lunchtime by the time I made it out to the car. The wasp dream was triggered by an infestation of the little blighters. They’d been around for a while, making a nest in the attic, and were now pouring out like a biblical plague from a hole in the soffet board, dive-bombing as I loaded up. A few of them made it into the car with me.

I was caught in an ethical dilemma here. On the one hand, the environmentalists would say leave them alone if they’re doing no harm, while the pest men would say just kill them all, before they do some damage. I shooed the wasps from the car and set off, not entirely sure where I was going. I let the car decide, and it delivered me to Anglezarke.

Although the forecast was for cooler weather, it was still in the mid-twenties. But these don’t feel like the summers of childhood. Maybe we feel heat differently as we get older, but I’m sure there’s more to it, indeed something alien about the oppressive weight of summers now – at least those few weeks in the year when the sun really turns the wick up. We’d not be walking far, that was for sure. I let the boots choose, and they delivered me up to the Pikestones.

I knew the rest from here, barely three miles round. I could have stayed at home and walked further by doing laps around the garden, then sitting under the tree and drinking something cold. Except for the wasps. I had to admit, those wasps were becoming an issue, and only a matter of time before someone was stung. What to do, then? Get someone in, or have a go myself? Gor-blimey no, say the pest men. But what could possibly go wrong?

I’m reading about Hellenistic philosophy at the moment, this being the period commencing with the rapid rise of Alexander the Great’s empire, third century BC, and its long, slow disintegration. Those turbulent times had an effect on the collective psyche, which in turn spawned a new type of thinking – one that was concerned more with the nature of being, than the nature of reality. The times were causing great anxiety, and people had a need for philosophies that healed the soul.

We had the Epicureans, the Cynics and the Stoics. My favourite Cynic was Diogenes, who lived in a barrel – a notion I find curiously attractive in its simplicity – but he wasn’t the kind of guy you’d want to have round for a brew. The most famous of the Stoics would perhaps be Marcus Aurelius, who comes across in his writings as a remarkable chap, and worth delving into further, but that brings with it the history of the Roman Empire, and there are only so many tangents I can handle before I dissolve into my own nebulous entropy. Earlier Greek culture had offered an elaborate afterlife, a panoply of gods and a mythic, story-like structure to existence. But the Hellenistic philosophers weren’t much interested in gods, or what followed death, more in finding ways to be accepting of its finality. If you could do that, they said, you lived a better, happier life.

There’s much to be said for it. Too many of us bank on reward in the ever-after, and without actually getting going properly in the one life we’ve got. I don’t know for sure which camp I’m in. I suppose I’m guilty to a degree of constructing some kind of psychical escape capsule, where the summers are perfect, and the corn is always just ripe, and there are no wasps – a kind of dream-land I’ll linger in until I don’t care either way. It’s a comfort, and it’s probably wrong, and the Cynics and the Stoics are right. I get their point, but there’s no harm in hedging your bets.

Hard though. Philosophy. I suppose what I was getting at in that bit of opening doggerel is that my own student days were spent picking up technical subjects; mainly physics and engineering. I earned a living by it, but, now retired, it’s useless to me, most of it forgotten anyway and the rest obsolete. The arts, the humanities – I’ve dabbled in them outside of academia, and though they seem valuable now as an independent, economically self-sufficient – i.e. pensioned – citizen, it’s unlikely I can make much of a meaningful dent in them at this point in my life. A mature brain is not as plastic as a younger one, not as receptive to new stuff. A young brain can sit through a lecture and recall every word, while a mature brain drifts off after the first five minutes, and starts thinking about what the hell he should do about wasps.

The weather broke on Wednesday with thunderstorms, and it’s suddenly ten degrees cooler. Now we’re getting floods because the drains we have were made to handle the climate as it was thirty years ago. Anyway, I killed the wasps, dispersed them first with a shot of WD 40 under the eaves. That gave me a brief window of opportunity to get on the ladder and puff a great gasp of that noxious white wasp powder up the little hole. It did the job, but that’s not to say I feel good about it.

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself.” Marcus Aurelius AD 121 – 180

Rock on, Marcus.

Thanks for listening

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Sea Pink, Lancashire coastal way, Glasson

The plan was to climb Ingleborough. But it’s a popular hill, and we realized at the last minute it was the half-term holiday. We’d be lucky to get near it or, once on it, we’d be trampled underfoot by herds of stampeding three-peakers. So we diverted to the Lancashire coast, and to Glasson. I wasn’t up to a sweaty climb anyway, felt tired after sleeping a bit funny. The little blue car felt jittery, and it had a bouncy clutch.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“It’s not me,” it said. “It’s you. Stop driving like you’re half asleep.”

So, nine a.m., the M6 is running thick and fast, just like in the old days. It’s been decided by a consensus that the pandemic is now over. Except it’s not. I had the second AZ jab last week, so I’m as immune as it gets, at least to the known variants. But there are mutations arising everywhere, and no certainty over how infectious, or dangerous they are, vaccinated or not. The World Health Organisation says we’re just going to have to live with it. But on the bright-side, the forecast is good, so everyone’s bound for Blackpool, or the Lakes. The sun shines, we forget our troubles, and make hay.

We sneak off at Junction 32, Broughton Bridge, and pick up the A6, north, pausing briefly here to drop the top and let some sunshine in. It’s cool to start, but the morning warms as we travel the rural lanes, to the coast at Cockerham. After rather a cold and wet May, the season seems to have come upon us suddenly, the hedgerows bursting with growth and colour, as if making up for lost time. Suddenly, it’s summer.

Glasson Harbour

Ten in the morning, and Glasson Harbour is quiet. It’ll fill up with visitors later, but most go no further than the harbour basin to picnic and catch some sun. We’ll be heading south to the marsh at Cockerham, then back along the coastal way. I’ve done this walk every year since 2014, usually on the last Friday of February, and for no particular reason. But early summer is as fine a time as any to be here. The paths, always heavy with mud, mid-winter, are now dust-dry, and the hedgerows are head high in waving white clouds of cow parsley.

I’ve got the big camera today and a couple of lenses, a wide one and a long one. I’m looking for wide shots of bright meadows, those summer heavy hedgerows, and puffy-cloud skies, as we trace the paths to Cockerham Marsh. Then I want some long ones when we circle back along the coastal way, in particular of the Plover Scar light.

The sheep are out on the marsh, sleepy in the sun, thousands of them, seeking shade or splashing in the tidal creeks. And there’s a profusion of sea pink in the rocks, and along the defences by the abbey. It makes a fine display, and is one of the unexpected highlights of the day.

Thursland Hill

The walk is about seven miles round, so two and a bit hours, and dead flat. The tide is far out, but the air is sea-scented, and heat-shaky, and there are oystercatchers and curlews on the mud-flats. Glasson is sweltering on our return, and bustling. We enjoy coffee and chips at the Lock Keeper’s Rest, before driving home. Top down, summer-scented hedgerows, blue skies and a sense of unhurried motion. It’s why I bought the car. I’m feeling great now, and the car feels super, super normal.

“See,” it says. “I told you it wasn’t me.”

Crook End Farm, Glasson

The M6 southbound is solid, but fast, and we flow with it. Northbound is solid and stationary from Broughton to beyond Leyland, which is my exit. I wonder if everyone is still banking on a day in Blackpool, even as the day slips away to late afternoon. The car ran well, touch wood, still coming up on 95,000. We’re just not getting the same miles in we once did. I’ll wash her off tomorrow. She deserves it, even though she can get a bit grumpy with me when I’m not entirely with it.

The Plover Scar Light, Glasson

Of the photographs I took, the quiet network of paths down to the marsh yielded the best results. They spoke of a balmy English summer, without the cynicism. Those scenes will never look quite the same again, or as fine, as they did today. I’ll use the one looking back to Thursland Hill as background on my laptop. It’ll keep me cosy throughout next winter.

None of the shots of the Plover Scar light really did it justice. I think you need the golden hour for that one. You need a long lens, a tripod to steady it, and the patience to find a leading line, with the tide in the right place to add a mirror for the flaming sky. I can picture it my head, but I’ll leave that one for the locals to pick their evening. I’m sure you’re not stuck for fine sunsets out here.

I don’t know what it was like on Ingleborough. We’ll save that one for later in the year, and an early start, but it couldn’t have been any better than the coast around Glasson.

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pier sunset.jpg

August Bank Holiday
And the messy wash of summer
Ebbs into this evening’s silty sea,
While the little bulbs strung out
Along the promenade
Ape starlight
And a sleepy sun sets
As figures, faded,
Colourless as ghosts
Walk serene these echoing boards,
Towards a stricken west.
We hold our breath,
Speak softly now,
As night tiptoes in and hides the worst,
Smears all into one soft, sleepy blur,
The lovers, and the lonesome
And the weary, and the cursed.

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mazda night journey HDR

It doesn’t feel like I’ve had the little blue car for long, but it’s getting on for four years now. It’s hard to describe how much pleasure I’ve had from driving it. I’ve discovered the roads have a sway to them not felt since my motorcycle days, the sunshine is brighter and, top down, the air is a dream of freshness, and all this is to say nothing of the places I’ve discovered with it – especially in the Yorkshire Dales, just a short hop from home, and a place for which the car seems to have been especially built.

For years now the remoter dales have echoed to the burble of its exhaust note, as the little blue car wandered with a tenacious grip and a surprising vigour, given its fifteen years. I’d thought it would last for ever. But then I noticed it was suffering from tin-worm in the back wings, and sills. A previous owner had already patched it, and quite neatly, but the sills are bubbling through again, and I’ve had an advisory on the MOT.

The cost for a decent repair is far in excess of what the car is worth. So at the moment it’s tucked up, looking forward to just one last summer on the road before the breaker’s yard. I couldn’t sell it on without pointing out the work that’s needed, which will surely put any casual buyers off. An enthusiast with a knowledge of welding and body repair might take it on, but at most five hundred quid is what I could, in all fairness, get for it.

Sadly this is the way most old MX5’s go. They are like butterflies, built for warmer, drier climes, not the persistently wet brutality of roads in Northern Europe, nor especially its salt caked winters. Rationally, it makes no sense to invest any more in it. I mean, goodness knows where else the rust might be lurking – the body shop talked of common issues with the forward suspension, further advisories on the MOT and costs in excess of five hundred at some point in the future.

It’s a thing to ponder over winter, and quite sad. She runs well, has only 86,000 on the clock, and might in all other respects have another ten years of pleasure ahead of her, but there we are. All good things must come to an end.

“I’d bite the bullet and get it done, mate,” said the guy in the body shop. “These cars are becoming classics. It’ll be worth it in the long run.”

Nice guy, and an infectious enthusiasm, but he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Oh, I know he’s right, but classic cars are holes in the road you pour your money into. They take all your love and patience, and repay it with an ever more temperamental drift into old age and irritability. But for a short while at least, heaven for me has been a little blue car with a roof you can fold down, and a twist of dales country road warming to dust, under a hot summer sun.

 

 

 

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With the going of the light, and the fast fading memory of summer’s ease, Black Dog comes stalking once again. We toss him a stick, some stupid novelty or other, which he returns sodden and chewed beyond attraction. Thus, after a couple of turns, we are no longer minded to pick it up, so there he curls, our unshakeable friend, creeping ever closer until he’s in our lap, weighting down all possibility of forward movement.

Words fail in our throats, people look strange, look also strangely at us as we sink into paranoia at the apparent indifference, even of our loved ones. In pettiness, we withdraw, lose empathy, and equanimity as we huddle in imaginary self defence. We become then the worst of ourselves, favouring the lonely places, or the indoors, the impersonal, the pointless flicking at our phones,  the mindless digestion of the indigestible, the foolish, and the vain.

The soundtrack to our lives deepens to despair as Gorecki displaces once more the Red Priest from the player. A symphony of sorrowful songs de-tunes the cellos from their once ravishing Baroque concertos, splits the lustrous age-old wood, breaks the bows, shape-shifts rosin into a cold slime, and bends the dead strings into the intersecting snail-trails of man’s infinite inhumanity.

The filters of filth fail us, and we are overwhelmed by the madness of the world again, no longer able to blind-eye its deep vales of deceit, its mountains of depravity. And we see the leaders naked, as they truly are perhaps, lost or mad or utterly grotesque, letting loose their policemen, black-armoured cockroach armies to hammer blood from dissent.

Black Dog, your visions are cruel, rendered bearable only by the numbing fragrance of your breath. You are the rot of crushed leaves, the rot of wood dissolved to crumb by cringe-legged beetling lice, you are the perennial black mould on the wallpaper above my desk, you are the scratching in the night, and the sinister rustling of an infestation of mice.

We brush down our books in vain, our books of dreams, of alchemy, of transcendentalism, yet, once treasured, we find them mould-stained and dusty, and scented of you, taking with them the key to the only escape we knew, to the vast labyrinth of the esoteric. Now there is only the unsoftened day ahead, each to be taken in its turn. Thus we answer each half-lit morn the alarm clock’s shrill call, rise, stretch our stiffening limbs, pee out our aching bladder.

Is this really the only way? But what of those moments when we shook you from our lap and soared? Those days we rattled the high roads while the beatific sun beat down and tanned our faces? Where were you then? Or the glad beach-days with the soft sand and the multitudinous shades of ocean blue? Or coffee, and company, and that gentle hand to hold? Where were you then?

But these are earthly things for sure and transient as mist, the meagre sticks we toss, then you’ll chase and allow us a moment to breathe. What we seek now is the secret of another kind of cultivation, and the ability to cast it an infinite distance away.

Then go,… Fetch!

Damn you.

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the sea southportThe summer has been a bit of a washout. We are already into September and I can recall very few days when I have felt comfortable without my jumper. Granted, I was fortunate and those few days I do remember coincided with my holidays, but one would hope for a more extensive summer than a single shirt-sleeved stroll along the promenade at Scarborough. And the next day it rained.

So now the garden is crisping up, the borders thickening with dead-heads and neglect. On the upside, the lawn is no longer as voracious in its appetite for the mower, but too late, the feeling of decay has entered my bones, got me braced for something I cannot avoid, like the new school term, even though it’s thirty years since I needed trouble myself about that.

I received a message from Yahoo Customer Services informing me that unless I entered my password into the proffered window pane, my mail would be terminated within 24 hours. The message is composed in poor English and as such is rather a transparent attempt at phishing – a criminal ploy to get me to reveal my email login details.

I dislike this kind of thing, that there are those in the world who would do harm to innocents. This sounds pathetic, naive, even to say it, but I truly wish the world could have turned out otherwise. We have after all had ample opportunity. Is it wise or even sane to remain optimistic?

Another message this morning informs me my mail has duly been suspended. It has not. I confirm the fact by sending myself an email from one of many other accounts I use, and it pings up in my Yahoo inbox as normal But still, one wonders. Does the phisher single me out, or is my mail merely one morsel of millions in a broadly cast bait?

All day I have imagined my computer is behaving strangely, that the blackness of infection seeps in through cracks I cannot see. Defender and Firewall do not seem to be in a flap about it.

But still, it leaves one feeling a little unsettled.

Anyway, it was another cloudy start to the day, light rain, but clearing by mid-afternoon to a kind of blustery-sunshine, and rather cool, 12 degrees. But that the sun shone at all was sufficient to entice me out to the coast, to Southport.

And tide was in, which cheered me.

There are music hall jokes about Southport and the sea – that you need a camel to reach it, and it’s true it does go an awfully long way out, so much so that some visitors would query if Southport actually qualifies as a seaside town at all, but I can assure non-natives, as all Sandgrounders know, it comes in again twice a day, just like everywhere else.

I like the light here.

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

I wonder what might be lost, I mean were the darkness to take hold of my email account. Since Michael Graeme exists only online, the mangling or the hijacking of his imaginary affairs would hardly matter. But what other doors does that password unlock? And what other unfortunate souls have left themselves open this way, rashly taking the phisher’s poisoned bait. How does one protect ones young in such a world as this?

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

I find my way to Yahoo, log myself in securely, change my password. All seems normal. But still, there’s that feeling of unease, of shadows creeping through my innermost world. I light candles and utter spells of protection, draw circles of exclusion in my mind.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Phishers, like all criminals, are a challenge to ones understanding. They present often the keenest intelligence, the highest of ability and ingenuity, yet in human terms they also operate at a low level of consciousness, or they would be more mindful of the suffering they cause. They are, in a sense, a sub-human species. But one must be careful in condemnation, for then the blackness creeps inside the soul. They are in fact like bacteria, not sufficiently conscious to render any negative emotion on my part a truly rational thing. I think this is in the nature of forgiveness. Still, I can only hope that as with any bacteria, I am fortunate in avoiding infection.

The sea sparkled at Southport as the sun glanced from the little wave crests. I walked the boards of the pier, gazed out through binoculars at the boats and the rigs and the windmills that dot the horizon. But the sea here is not of sufficient depth to hide the murkiness of the sands underneath. There are no blue boisterous depths to wash clean the shore on which we travel.

The tide swirls murkily, and with each swift retreat is revealed the scum line of all our sins.

The verses of course are Longfellow’s, and not mine.

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Mazda3

It’s a year now since I bought the Mazda – a hot Saturday, the last weekend of May. It was a clear day, sunny-bright, confetti of pink and white cherry blossom floating in a breathless air. I’d been feeling something of an old excitement all the previous week, I mean at the thought of picking her up, like a kid warming to Christmas. It was unfamiliar, this feeling, sign of a misspent middle-age perhaps? sign of that peculiar kind of maturity, one in which we had learned to reign our selves in so hard against the risk of disappointment we ‘d forgotten what there was left in life to be enjoyed. Too much of the nine to five, and not enough of one’s self, Michael.

But anyway, there I was, driving her home with the top down and feeling like a million dollars, feeling like a free man and that in some mysterious way, long coming, I had at last reconnected with a much younger and more openly enthusiastic part of my self. I was eighteen when this dream first took shape, fifty three before I drove it away. It was just an old car, 12 winters gone and needing a bit of work – a very small dream, you might say, but sometimes they are the best; richer in meaning and more yielding to interpretation.

The summer was a good one – warm, and the rains held miraculously in check, as if by charms, as soon as I peeled open the top. I explored the Dales mainly, and mainly topless, a middling stone’s throw from home, a place whose open moor-top roads I cannot now drive any other way and see them the same as I saw them last summer – see them, feel them, taste them. I remember in particular the drive from Aysgarth, towards Hawes, a morning in which Wensleydale glowed golden under a warm Godlike blessing of late morning sunlight. There came a moment in which the car no longer purred and rattled along contentedly, but became a luxurious carpet on which we glided, cushion soft, cruising mid air, and the scene became a broad skied gasp of delight.

Such was the summer, a time of warm memories, followed too soon by a winter of anticipation in which the old car lay under a dust sheet more days than not, dreaming of the summer to come. So when the road-tax man came calling for his £265 of wet blanket, I paid up, armoured against the usual frown. Ditto, the shyster insurance man who tried to sting me for £475, but dropped it to £300 when I asked if there’d been a mistake. I smiled as I asked, because I know this game, know there is no sense or reason to the oftentimes bizarre and rotten monied foundations of the world we are still far too enamoured of. And the Mazda would never be a frowny face. My Mazda MX5 is always a smile.

But now, with my legal presence on the roads negotiated for another year, I find the season much colder. It is rainy, squally, temperatures still scraping freezing on the fell-tops. And I’m reminded that the reason we revere memories of a good British Summer, is that they are so rare. A maritime climate lends a randomness to the mix, our summers being more a shake of the dice than a predictable turning up of the wick. We have to take what comes and with a smile, so we wear our summer shorts and hats, even though we shiver in the grey of a cold front, and the gale snatches our hats away.

I drove out to the coast last night, a gorgeous evening, high in blue skied contrast, but as yet still low in temperature, a stiff breeze dropping it to 6 degrees and the cherry blossom already blown away by a greedy air. The vinyl of the top felt stiff and frigid with cold as I folded it, and I wondered if I should leave it up, but that would be to waste the sun and the wide skies peeling back just then to shades of vanilla and tobacco. So, I was triple layered, warm hatted and gloved up as we rode towards the setting sun. I was perhaps considered mad by the usual parasitic coterie of rear view hogging Audis and BMW’s, ever pushing for a squeeze past.

Southport’s Marine Drive is something of a roller coaster, sinking slowly into the Ribble’s estuarine mud, becoming over time a long and curiously rippling ribbon of a road, the highs of it scored by the sparking strike of exhaust pipes, and sumps and sills. At fifty the big fat four by fours are gaily bouncing, their springs topping out, struggling to remain grounded, body-shells lolling like unballasted ships tossed in a swell. Hard sprung, the Mazda remains more firmly rooted, and we managed to lose the bully boys, at least until the bit where the limit drops to thirty. Here they had me cold and tore past in a series of multi-litred, self important flashes, doing sixty.

On the long strip of the promenade car park, people were lingering in the warm interiors of their cars, interiors lit with amber now as a post nine p.m. sun sank to within a finger’s width of the horizon. Pulling up among them I was immediately cold. A topless roadster’s warm enough when you’re motoring and the heater’s roaring louder than the engine, but stop a while and the cold will find your legs, and the tips of your ears, refuse to let you settle in. But that’s part of the fun – the drive I mean. Old cars like this are all about the drive for me, not so much the destination any more.

This can be a season of anxieties, cresting the month of mid-summer, a season of waiting for the whistle that will say the time we have been waiting for is upon us, that we might cast our top coats and stride out at ease and with the sun smiling down upon us. Yet we are stricken, downcast by the feeling that by the time we have begun, the time remaining will be already too short, the summer run, the season turning, while all we can do is wait for the chance to get out and do something.

But this year I am already doing it.

In the once upon a time I would not have driven out to watch the sun set. I would have thought about the cost of petrol, sat at home while shadows lengthened, and checked my blog stats. The Mazda is no longer a stranger to me, but I still see the road differently when I drive it. I hope in other ways too, I have learned to enjoy the world more as it is, feel more my presence in it as a thing to be enjoyed, than one to be resisted. Life is the journey, not the destination. It is not the rising nor the setting sun but every moment inbetween.

Sure, the sunset from Southport’s Marine Drive is always worth a trip, but I didn’t wait for it, and why? Well, that rippling ribbon of road is even more fun in the opposite direction!

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southport sunsetI’ve been driving out to the coast a lot of an evening. I drop the top on the car and we make our way to Southport, park up on the Marine Drive, and watch the sun go down. Sunset was around eight fifteen last night, and the air carried with it a tale of drawing in. The sun was rendered fat and orange by a faint haze which had also,strangely, rendered other things in a sharper resolution. I could see the mountains of North Wales and Cumbria and far out at sea there was the faint twinkle of a myriad of windmills as they tipped their arms, juggling with the last of the light.

I’d wanted to test the car, to feel her vibes and see if there was any doubt she was up to another tour of the Dales this weekend. She ran sweetly, as she has done all summer, so I can find no reason for anxiety, other than my usual pre-travel qualms. It will probably be the last long trip I take in her this year. Soon the days will be too short, and the air too sharp for flitting about in a car with no roof. She’s not the same with the top up. With the top up she is  lumpy and bumpy and noisy. With the top down she is sweet and serene.

I know which of her humours I prefer.

I usually arrive at the Marine Drive around eight PM, mainly because the parking’s free after this time. The long stretch of the car-park is usually quiet – just a few vehicles dotted about, the shops closed, and an all pervading air of peace as the sun sinks. People gazed out from the warmth of their cars, some walked the sea front for a fresher air. Some skated on rollerblades, some MAMILS cycled, their effing and blinding and spitting being the only occasional departure from eventide gentleness. Then there was a comfortably sweatered man reciting lines from the script of a play he was learning, speaking quietly to himself. I couldn’t make out the words, but they sounded lyrical, like a poem, or a spell he was casting upon the coming night.

I sat on the sea wall, with binoculars, naming the fells and picking out landmarks along the Fylde coast where the low sun had by now set the entire sea front on fire. The car was behind me, just a short hop across the road. I don’t like her out of sight when the top’s down. She reflected the deepening contrasts, her blue paint taking on a tinge of midnight, and with a halo of orange from the setting sun. Her engineering details blurred out, and she began to look different than she does in daylight, half fantasy, like an other worldly thing.

In the setting of the sun there was also a feeling of holidays coming to an end, and the banal grind taking on a more troublesome stature. I don’t know why I feel this way. My holidays were over a month ago, and even then I only get a couple of weeks, yet still I carry a vestige of that old academic calendar inside of me, and feel a wobble when I see the back-to-school adverts on the telly, also when I see the sun kiss the sands here at eight fifteen.

We are rarely aware of the movement of the earth, nor the passage of time so keenly as when we watch the sun set. From the moment the disc first grazes the horizon to the last poignant speck of gold winking out, we see and feel the transience of life in the visible draining of the light. We feel its mystery too as we gaze, ever hopeful, at the pink afterglow, wondering if the sea will not throw up some belated revelation of reflected light from its depths.

It did not.

I drove back in the semi-dark, the air smelling of late season and the harvesting of vast meadows. A soft reddish glow came from the instruments, and the brighter of the planets dotted the ecliptic. I did not know their names – guessed at Venus and Saturn. Another planet turned out to be an aircraft on final approach to Blackpool.

It was a clear night, beautifully still as it sank to black. I slowed the car to hush the rush of wind, as I drove the long Marsh Road past Hundred End, and I reached out to feel the caress of air in my palm. There I felt the summer softness giving way to autumn’s tingle, and the darker, harder days ahead.

It was from around here I bought her. She seems to enjoy drawing me back to the sights and the scenery of her past lives, hinting at summers unknown to me.

I hope the weather holds for the weekend, and the Dales.

mazda southport sunset

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grumpy at grasmereJuly turns uncompromisingly hot, and the humidity creeps up. These are the days when even modest tasks outdoors raise an uncomfortable sweat. It was after 11:00 pm last night before the air thinned to a pleasant coolness, but it was back up to twenty two degrees by 8:00 am this morning, already thick and heavy with the humidity once more – another scorcher in the making.

I was driving to work, shirt sleeves rolled up, and with the windows down, something I normally only do on the return in the evening, when the car’s had all day to bake out on the softening Tarmac of the work’s car park. I should have taken the Mazda, topless, except she’s not for the commute, unless the commute is on a Friday and the weather’s fine. Then she can kick the weekend off, and I can drive her home by way of Rivington for lunch, like I plan on doing tomorrow. To risk a chauvinistic metaphor, and a black eye from the Lady Graeme, Mazzy is my mistress; I don’t waste her ironing my shirts.

Instead I took the Vauxhall, old Grumpy. I’m afraid he’s not wearing very well. At only seven years old his door bottoms are starting to rot out like cars used to do in the bad old days. He exceeded his six year anti perforation warranty by a year, which is either good design, or bad, depending on whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

With sound bodywork and regular servicing you can keep a modern car going indefinitely, and you rarely see a rotten car these days, even cars of twelve or fifteen years old will polish up like new, but grumpy’s cards  are definitely marked. I’ll get another few years out of him, but by then the doors will have well and truly rotted through, and he’ll most likely be bubbling up all tired and ugly in other places too. I can almost hear the dealer tut-tutting when I offer him for trade in – unlike the dealer who was all smiles and reassurance when I bought him.

It’s a pity. He’s had his moments, his occasional, spectacular mechanical failure, and he’s managed to ruin most of the holidays we’ve ever had in him. Sure, I’ve cursed him, but I’ve also grown to like him. If I want to get somewhere far away in comfort and in quiet, he’s your guy, that 1.8 litre engine pulling like a thoroughbred, and the automatic box to smooth away the miles – usually, anyway; he just doesn’t like going on holiday. He was raised as a commuter mule, and that’s all he seems to want to do.

The aircon failed a couple of years ago. No one I took it to could fathom the problem, except to say it would probably cost about £500 to fix. It’s a nice thing to have, aircon, but for the few weeks a year we get when you really need it, like we’re enjoying now, I’m happy to wind the window down instead. That £500 fixed Mazzy’s brakes, which was money better spent, I think.

It touched twenty seven degrees by tea time yesterday. Grumpy was rattling on the way home, pre ignition pinking. I could hear it with the windows down, the sound coming back at me, reflected off tall buildings and walls. I plugged him in and ran a diagnostic on the ‘Droid, but no fault codes came up. He just runs very hot, so nothing to worry about, I think – not yet anyway. But I won’t be taking him on holiday next week, just in case. We’ll take the Lady Graeme’s car, which is newer, and her aircon still works!

He sits out on the drive now, covered in the dust of ten thousand miles – I mean since I last washed him. Then there’s that thin, greasy traffic film and a low sun picking out the smeary streaks across the inside of the windscreen. His doors bear the scars of other doors banged into him in parking bays. He’s hung with cobwebs that trail the fluffy bobs of blown seeds, and there’s a green lichen growing on the undersurfaces of the mirror housings, where dew lingers.

I’ll give him a wash tomorrow, perhaps a bit of a polish up as well, taking care not to burst the paint where he’s bubbling through. It won’t make him last any longer, but he might feel a little better, and look a little less hot, and tired, and grumpy.

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