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tmp_2019020318023776334.jpgThe bothy was built of stone, all randomly coursed, with a chimney and a neatly pitched, though slightly sagging slate roof. The door and windows were in good order, the woodwork showing a recent lick of green paint. It stood a little inland, but still within sight and sound of the sea. At its back rose the darkening profile of the mountain, though the precise shape of it was as yet only to be guessed at, it being capped by a lazy smudge of grey clag that wasn’t for budging, not today anyway.

It was the thing they all came here to climb, a multitude of guide books singing its praises, but I was only interested in it as background. Maybe tomorrow I’d get a better view of it.

It had been a few hour’s walk from the road, where I’d left the car, and a lonely stretch of road at that, five miles of single track from the cluster of little houses down by the harbour, this being the only settlement on the island. Then it was a mile of choppy blue in a Calmac ferry to the mainland, and a region of the UK with a population density as near to zero as made no difference.

It had been a shepherd’s hut I think, a neat little place kept going by the estate, a lone splash of succour in an otherwise overwhelming wilderness, a place that, even then, centuries after the clearances, still spoke of an awful emptiness and a weeping. It’s a scene that remains in my mind fresh as ever, and I have to remind myself this was the summer of  ’87, that an entire generation has come and gone since then who have never seen or known such stillness. But time stands still whenever I think of it. I’ve only to close my eyes and I’m there.

It was clean and dry inside, just the one small room, some hooks for wet kit, a shovel for the latrine, a rough shelf of fragile paperbacks. The floor was swept, a little stack of wood and newspapers by the fireplace, a half used sack of coal, and there was a pair of simple bunks, one either side of the fireplace. As bothies went this was small but relatively luxurious.

I lit the fire and settled in. It was late afternoon, June, cold and blowing for rain – typical enough for the western highlands that time of year.

There were only about a hundred bothies in the whole of Britain, all of them in lonely places, and I’d set myself the task of photographing every one. Don’t ask me why. It wasn’t like I was going to write a book, or pitch a feature to the National Geographic or anything. I’d tried all that, and was already waking up to the somewhat sobering conclusion I was irrelevant in what had become an increasingly hedonistic decade. This  wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because all of that was looking set to burst any day now, and many of us were braced for it, wondering what the hell was coming next.

I’d just turned twenty six, and if I’d learned anything of use by then it was this: establishing a purpose in life was everything to a man, whether that purpose seem big or small to him, or to others, it didn’t matter, and we all get to choose, but here’s the thing: the best choices always seem to run counter to the Zeitgeist, and it’s that problem, that paradox and how we deal with it that writes the story of our lives.

Me? I’d chosen this.

I always shot the land in monochrome because I had a notion you saw more in black and white. I used an old  OM10 with a Zuiko prime lens, still do in fact. But the camera was just an excuse really, like a magnifying glass you use to get a closer look at a thing. I didn’t know what I was looking for exactly, still don’t really, but I’ve a feeling I was closer to it then than I am now, sitting here in 2019, over thirty years later. Now, I’ve no idea where I am, feel lost in time, actually, and finding it harder every day to convince myself I exist at all.

Anyway, I’d gone out and I was squeezing off some shots of the bothy against a grey sea, just playing with compositions and line for the better weather I’d hoped would be on the morrow. And quite suddenly, was so often the way there, the clouds tore open a hole, loosing from the eternal gold beyond stray javelins of what I’d hoped was a revelatory light, touching down upon the water as if to illuminate the very thing I sought. It was all very dramatic,…

And that’s when I saw her.

 

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on smearsett scar

On Smearset Scar

There’s this soft wintry light, and a mostly clear sky, tending to a tobacco haze around the full sweep of the horizon. The sun is past the meridian now, the short day already maturing to shades of buttery mistiness. The hills and valleys are rendered in dynamic sweeps of luminous green and yellow-ochre as the light plays upon them, and all the crags and the long runs of dry-stone wall are etched in sharp relief by that pale, low slanting sun.

We can only be in the Yorkshire Dales, on top of Smearsett Scar to be precise. This is a fine hill, tucked away from casual view, though not far from the little market-town of Settle and I’m surprised it isn’t better known. We’ve seen no one on the trail since leaving the car an hour ago. I’m sure it’s well loved by Dalesmen hereabouts, but I suspect the day-tripping peak bagger is more likely to be on the hunt for bigger fish. Sure, they’ve been tearing up the Ribble to Horton since before dawn, in search of the three peaks, and that well worn circuit of the damned on which I’ve been casually bowled aside on more than one occasion. Meanwhile glorious Smearset here gets barely a look in, but I’m not complaining.

Adjoining Smearsett, to the west, we have Pot scar, its summit pricking the tranquil skyline with an inviting cairn, and between the two a precipitous escarpment falling away to the south. Thus far the climb has rewarded us with exquisite views and a sense of exhilaration out of all proportion to the relatively modest altitude and effort required to get here. We’ve left the car in Stainforth, and in a bit I’ll be taking you across the fell, to that cairn on Pot Scar, then down to the little hamlet of Feizor for a brew in the cafe there, then finally back along the valley. It’s an outing of between six and eight miles, depending on our choice of return, and already on its way to becoming one of the finest walks I’ve done in the Dales – apart from all the others of course.

Although there are good paths running either side of the hill, there was little on the map to actually guide us to the top – no well worn routes on the ground either, but on a fine day like this all became clear, and it was fairly easy to pick our way. We did the right thing, I think, tackling it from the north where that track runs up from Little Stainforth and gave us a good start on the day, plus spring-boarding a less precipitous approach to the summit. Our first glimpse of Smearsett from the Ribble was quite intimidating, but on closer acquaintance the ground proved easy enough and just a short detour to the trig-point at 363 meters.

And what a summit! What a fine sweep of the Dales! But don’t let that sunshine deceive you, this is December, closing down on the Solstice now, and not much heat in it. So don’t worry, I’m not for lingering any longer than the time it takes to grab a quick photograph or two. But in Summer this will be a grand place to settle down in the grass, to feel the  sun’s caress, and listen to the high twittering rapture of skylarks.

towards pot scar

Pot scar from Smearsett

So,… it’s an airy walk westwards now at an easy pace along the undulating escarpment, a route that seems little used, but we’re granted the courtesy of good stiles built into the various drystone walls to aid our passage, and to join the dots between vague twists of path. Pot Scar ends in precipitous crags above Feizor and a stout, bounding wall that tells us we must have missed a more obvious way off. But an easy detour north brings us back onto that track running up from Little Stainforth, and leads us safely into Feizor, amid the most spectacular rolling hills and limestone crags.

There’s a splendid little teashop here, and I know I’ve been promising you a pot of tea and a toastie all the while, but sadly on arrival we find there’s not a table to be had. It seems there are visitors a plenty in the Dales today, just none on the fell. So we must press on – a long but easy track now, south and east through pastures and valleys, in the first gatherings of twilight and deepening shadow, down to Stackhouse, and the weir on the Ribble.

heron at stackhouse

The weir at Stackhouse, on the River Ribble

There’s a Heron, fishing at Stackhouse. It looks ever so stately and aloof while I pause to admire its ungainly grace and to chance a photograph. It grants me the courtesy of a lingering pose, the epitome of patience, though I’d be less inclined to be so admiring if this turned out to be same Heron that took all my goldfish in the summer. Such is life. It’s all about context, I suppose.

We finish the walk with an easy stroll upstream to the falls at Stainforth, and a sudden prospect that’s like something from an old master’s painting – the thundering rapids and the sweep of the river above them running ponderously black, spanned by an ancient and slender stone arch of a bridge. There’s just one last slice of amber warming up the far bank as the day winds down to dusk now, the scene mostly deserted, but I imagine come summer this will be a popular little spot.

stainforth falls

The falls at Stainforth

I’m not sure how a walk earns the title “Classic” but this one has to be a contender. I know, I always say that. At the very least it’s been a grand day out, and just a pity we didn’t manage to crown it with that brew in Feizor. But no bother, let’s burn up that last half mile to the car, then we can get our boots off and cool our feet. We’ll call at the Naked Man Cafe in Settle on the way home. I’ll treat you to a brew there instead, and a toasted teacake as darkness comes on and the old town lights itself up for Christmas, all twinkly and magical!

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It was a cold, rainy morning in town this morning – the sort of day that seems to stall around dawn and gets no lighter. Traffic was jittery, the carparks twitchy with panicky shoppers anxious to get that last space so they could go buy their Christmas tat. I only wanted breakfast, almost fell foul of the season of good-will, but managed to find a slot on the edge of town, then shouldered the rain and headed back in to the greasy spoon.

The town is impoverished, has been since the crash, and getting steadily worse – always looks worse at this time of year though, the people poor and mainly elderly, the doorways camped by homeless looking wretched. I don’t suppose it’ll get any better than this now, but on the upside there was a guy in a giraffe suit dancing for charity. It was pouring rain, and he was a big yellow smile, the brightest light by far and a gesture of jolly defiance. What a star!

I bought a 0.7 mm Staedtler propelling pencil for £6.99 to replace the one I keep losing – a good piece of kit. Same price on Ebay so nothing to be gained there, plus it’s good to get out, even on a bad day, look around, even if it’s only to see what the latest storm of economy and season has done to my town. And yes, I know, shopping on Ebay doesn’t help matters. Greenwoods is the latest casualty – there since 1880-something, now abandoned and looking almost derelict. The landlords are crippling these businesses. I wonder where they do their shopping?

The Charity bookshop that inspired my latest novel was also closed – insufficient volunteers to man it on Saturdays now. I was going to put my name forward when I retired – quite fancied it actually, sitting there in tweed jacket and brogues, an ageing hipster, preserving for my town that last flicker of bookish vibe. Looks like I’m too late though. Damn.

And speaking of that novel, brings me to the shameless self promotion bit. Home from town I shut the weather out,  cosied up with coffee and hit the laptop. Saving Grace, as it’s now calling itself, went up on Smashwords and Free Ebooks this afternoon. I’ve enjoyed the ride, like I always do, and this last bit always leaves me with mixed feelings. It’s like putting it in a bottle and tossing it into the sea. You never know where the currents will take it.

I’ve been serialising it on Wattpad for a while now, but it’s not had much of a following. Those of you who have read and commented and queried my errors, (you know who you are) I thank you. Time to take a break from the long form now though while the next one gestates.

In the pecking order of Austerity, otherwise known in older parlance as “class war” I’m still in the fortunate position of relative security and money to spend on fripperies and without killing myself working three jobs. Those this morning though, staring out at a thousand yards of misery from those derelict shop doorways, are still bearing the brunt of it.

They give me pause – that it’s so commonplace even in the smaller market towns these days is telling me there’s worse to come, and no one to do anything about it. And that quid you toss into the begging bowl, or that pasty and a brew you press into shivering, mittened hands might get the poor bastard through until tomorrow. But what then?

And what’s that got to do with Saving Grace you ask? Well, pretty much everything, but you’ll need to read it to find out. Just click the book cover in the margin on the right. Best if you’re reading this on your smartphone – you’ll need an ebook reader app like Aldiko or Moonreader too.

All my stuff is free.

 

 

 

 

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Will we crash out of the European Union without a deal? Will we get a deal that resembles staying in but then has us wondering why we came out? Will we get a vote on the final deal, with an option to call the whole thing off? And if we do, will we stay or will we vote again to leave anyway? And what about the Irish border problem? How on earth are we going to solve that? Will there be a general election before BREXIT hits the fan? And will that make things better or worse? And if the other lot gets in, what will they do about BREXIT?

These are just some of the questions boiling in the mix right now and so dominating government and media energy you’d be forgiven for thinking all the other problems have gone away. But your average citizen, having cast their vote, and thereby collectively agreeing to bring this thing on, is now relegated to a position of powerlessness, unable to expend their pent-up energies doing anything other than shouting at the telly. I think this sense of powerlessness is having a demoralising effect on the nation’s soul, or at any rate it is on mine. The lessons of past crises tell us it’s better to feel one is doing something, even if it’s only to grant us the illusion of preparedness, like the way our grandparents melted pots and pans, supposedly to make Spitfires.

But what can we do?

Most of the scenarios I’ve played forward suggest an immediate, short term crisis, followed by a longer term decline of living standards, and that’s without being unduly pessimistic. Come hard or soft BREXIT, there is an overwhelming sense the future will be a lot smaller than it was, while for my children, now young men just starting out, I fear there is no future at all, at least not in terms I understand. At twenty two, I relished my chances, my opportunities, but now the best option for our youth is to put on a backpack and go bum around the world, see what there is of it, because there’s nothing left at home worth saddling up for beyond minimum wage drudgery. But then, even without BREXIT, things weren’t looking too good anyway, so what’s the difference? And maybe that’s why BREXIT happened in the first place.

There’s not much we can do about that longer term decline but, short of running to the hills with all those sharp knived Preppers, we can at least take small, practical, sensible non-weaponised steps to minimise the personal impact of the crash and ease ourselves into that brave new post-BREXIT world. For my own preparedness I began a BREXIT cupboard some time ago, adding an extra meal into the weekly shop: dried stuff, tinned stuff, cereals, porridge, and lots of custard! I’ve also brushed up on things like how to make your own bread. I think we should plan on having two weeks of non-perishable meals in reserve.

Britain’s is no longer self sufficient in producing food, you see?  it’s actually down to about 75% at the moment. It’s not that we’re going to starve, exactly – I mean we won’t – but there’ll be shortages and all of that made worse by the media screaming PANIC, and that’s even before the lorries carrying the stuff we don’t grow ourselves get bunged up at the Dover-Calais crossing. (Even I know Dover-Calais is the pinch point of Anglo-European trade)

But I predict fuel will be a bigger problem. Our refineries have been in decline for decades, so we’re now a net importer petrol, diesel and aviation fuel. The question is how much of that comes from the EU? I don’t know, it’s hard to get at the actual figures, but it doesn’t take much to trigger a fuel crisis – just a whisper in the raggedy arsed press will do it. Anyone in doubt should read back over the September 2000 shortages to get a feel for what that might mean. And roughly, what it means is if you rely on a car to get to work, by the second week after BREXIT, you’ll have run out.

I don’t suggest stockpiling petrol because it’s dangerous. I keep a can for my mower, and I’ll make sure it’s full. I have a spare car, and I’ll make sure that’s full too, but that’s the best I can do. If you’re in work and commuting by public transport, you’ll be okay. Rationing will favour the public transport system. Emergency services will be okay too, designated filling stations being declared strategic and ringed off by cop-cars – at least that’s what happened last time. The rest of us are on our own.

When I’ve run out, I’ll be taking time off work, book some holidays, and I’ll spend them tidying the garden or something, by which time, hopefully, there’ll be some sort of organised rationing. I’ve no intentions of queuing around the block for hours like I did in 2000, and fighting for every last drop.

I haven’t gone the whole hog and factored in prolonged power cuts and such-like (we’re not exactly self sufficient in power generation either), though I do remember the ’74 miner’s strike, so it may be worth stocking up on candles and camping gas. But that’s for a really hard BREXIT and will be the least of our worries. In that scenario, along with empty supermarket shelves and no fuel for transportation, the government’s own planning suggests we’re about two weeks from a state of emergency. I don’t know what that means, never having lived through one.

We managed it in 1939 of course, but Britain was a very different country then, and the enemy was easy to spot, plus we had those glorious Spitfires to rally our spirits. Now it’s hard to say who or what the enemy is, where it’s coming from and what possessed it in the first place. But I’m hoping, worst case, that by the time my BREXIT cupboard is empty the Red Cross will be delivering food parcels – maybe even out of Brussels!

I know that’ll stick in the craw of many, but I’m not proud. In spite of everything, I remain a European man. But another lesson of those power-cuts in the seventies was that I used to enjoy them. If you’ve a candle, you can read a book, and if your car’s no petrol, you can take a walk.

So, chin up. Keep calm, and carry on.

 

 

 

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dovecrag

Dovedale

We were later than we should have been, the small blue car and I, slipping over the Kirkstone, already midmorning and by now meeting the tourist coaches lumbering up from Patterdale. We met one at the Inn, at that bit where the tarmac narrows by the Struggle down to Ambleside, a giant German tour-whale, incumbents all filming my humble passing. Thus I imagine myself now immortalised, part of the scenery, a silver fox in an old MX5. There are worse ways to be remembered, I suppose,…

Exotic it must seem, the Kirkstone Pass, to a continental European, as exotic as the Lauterbrunnen sounds to me, a northern Brit, still a die-hard European, though chastened now by this eternal BREXIT thing. All is relative,… or so they say. How many times over the Kirkstone now? Must be into the hundreds. Familiarity in this case though clearly does not breed contempt, for there is still the sense, as Patterdale opens ahead of the tumbling little road, of a spiritual homecoming.

I am here to climb Dove Crag.

So,… Cow Bridge at 11:45, and we pull into the last parking spot. It’s more than we deserve at this hour, so it’s fated, reserved for us by Providence perhaps and therefore a good omen. It’s a blistering hot day, mid-June, wide open sky of Cerulean blue, but a distinct lack of air, and a surplus of humidity. I’m thinking it’ll be better at altitude, but that’s a couple of hours away, the mad dogs and Englishmen hours, and I’m not convinced I’m going to make it that far, me feeling old and drained and unpracticed with my mountain mojo these days. If you don’t use it, you lose it. I lost mine a long time ago and, trust me, Dove Crag is not the best place to try to find it again.

But still,….

dovecrag2

Dove Crag

It’s grown famous of late, Dove Crag, on account of the Priest’s Hole, a slot of a cave, high on the face of the crag, indeed this must now be the most famous secret spot in Britain after being on the telly and gaining mention in travel articles for the urban selfie hungry. I have no desire to further advertise it here, except to say it’s also a dangerous place to get to, and I had no desire to join the surge of casualties, including fatalities, in recent years, making pilgrimage. We think of England as a cotton wool cosseted place, health and safety numpty’s tut-tutting everywhere and always someone to sue with our ambulance chasing no win no fee solicitors, if we so much as stub our toe. But the mountains aren’t like that, even English ones.

Anyway, a promising start was made with a glorious opening stroll along the shores of Brothers’ Water, where, I swear, a pair of sweetly rounded ladies were skinny dipping and giggling joyously like nymphs – I admit I may already have been hallucinating in anticipation of hardships higher up the fell. But even without the water-nymphs the approach to Dovedale is seductive in its loveliness, gentle on the legs too, at least as far as the first of the falls. The falls are a good place to gather breath and wits, because beyond them the going is much harder, and it has a darker vibe about it as the fells close in and the ferns give way to rock.

I seemed to have no power in the legs at all. At the first of the falls, reduced now to a trickle by drought, I paused a good long while, eyes already sweat-stung, hat dripping, shirt-soaked and my head befuddled by a cloud of horse-flies. One of them got me on the back of the hand which provided little by way of encouragement. The pack felt impossibly heavy with weatherproof gear, unlikely to be needed, but foolish to leave behind.

I had barely the spring to get back on my feet, and my legs felt like they were not my own, my feet pointing backwards and about as sure footed as a drunkard. I was encouraged though by vague memories of other walks, where the legs slowly warm and you find your pace, and the breath to keep you going. I stopped a lot on the way, drank a lot of water, talked to myself.

In Wainwright’s day the last bit onto the shoulder of Dove Cag was all loose rock and scree – must have been a nightmare of a pull, and Wainwright, this prolific pipe-smoker, never seeming short of breath. Now its a precipitous, spiralling staircase of set stone and all beautifully crafted to blend into the natural tumble of rock. I was just about able to haul myself up it, and then it was on to the summit, where all was dry as bones and not a soul for miles.

dovecrag3

Dove crag summit

Normally the legs would recover now, and I’d be able to pick up the pace, regain some spring, but Dove Crag had given me a good hiding in the heat, and it was plain it didn’t matter how long I rested by that cairn, I’d be finishing the day on what was left, and it wasn’t much. I’d passed this way a few times before, on circuits of the Fairfield Horseshoe, but those days were long gone, like the youth who’d casually burned the miles in gale force winds and horizontal rain. No,… I was never so robust or bold in the fells, and any of that this afternoon and I was going to die up here. But the day was utterly stunning in its clarity, like a near death vision of an idealised afterlife – and all the fells gathered round of course, their names returning to me as I decoded their profiles from dusty archives. I’m  sure I’m not the only ageing fell walker to have dreamed of a post popped-clogg world like this and the legs to do it justice.

I headed eastwards along the Fairfield route, a fine section of breathtaking views, probably the best weather I’ve ever had up there, and the mountains catching the sun, slanting sleepy shadows into the deep dales and the ravines and raising something of the old mojo magic of the Lakes for me. But I had miles to go and feet for very few of them, and just another good swallow of water left in the bottle. Perhaps I amplify the hardship, but I was painfully aware one slip-up with navigation bringing me down into the wrong valley, and I’d nothing in reserve to correct it. But on such a clear day it would be hard to miss the path for Patterdale.

brotherswater

Patterdale

I skirted the summit crown of Little Hart Crag, too far gone to waste what bit of breath I’d got on petty peak bagging. Instead I gained the gently undulating ridge towards High Hartsop Dodd, set my head to the task. This was supposed to be a four-hour round, according to the guides. It was going to take me five. But who’s counting? Here, as you crest the last rise, the tip of the fell points like a prehistoric arrow-head down the length of Patterdale, Brothers’ Water blue as the sky amid the multifaceted green of the dale, and the heart swells with delight that there can be such places as beautiful as this, and surely I have known and loved it for more than just the one life-time, for it to have such a profound affect upon the senses.

Yes, it was worth the walk, and the sweat, to say nothing of the emptying of myself to see that view – that last gift of the way before the way plummeted with a brutal steepness to the valley bottom, a twisting slalom of a route, hard on the knees and jelly-legs. Thus I descended like a fragile centenarian, alpine sticks deployed Zimmer fashion, progress slow and cautious. I could see where the car was parked, miles away; I felt it might as well have been on the moon.

The water nymphs had gone, sadly, when, with feet on fire, I made my way back along the shore of Brothers Water, pausing to allow myself a moment of respite where they had bathed themselves. Divested of boots and socks and paddling out gingerly over the pebbles, that blessed water gave me back the mile still remaining to the car, and I returned at last to my reward: that post-walk mindful calm sunk deep into the bones.

It was a memorable day, as all walking days are in the Lakes, and a triumph too, of sorts, but also a reminder of the advance of years and how the fells demand a high degree of fitness, a toughness in the gut, a resilience in the legs, to say nothing of leathered feet. I can accept the ultimate defeat of advancing years, am sanguine about it in many ways, but as I sat on the terrace of the Brother’s Water Inn, sipping on a cold Lime and Soda, first light of evening coming on, I swear Dove Crag was smiling, telling that time was not yet near, telling me also well done, lad, and Dylan Thomas, whispering in my ear, you know,… that line about not going gently into the good night!

She can be a stern mistress, this fell country of ours, but I know of nothing, no other corner of England more inspirational, more building of self-confidence, nor more rewarding to the spirit. Yes, a tough old walk for one grown so lazy of late, also a wake-up call, and a promise that I’ll not leave it so long next time.

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barn

Rivington Barn

Friday, and a late lunch at Rivington Barn. It’s crowded, bikers slurping mugs of tea outside, and a clamour of woolly hatted conversation within, the place clogged with skewed  buggies and children whining as if it were a half term holiday, but it isn’t.

I order my egg and bacon butty and I sit, number poised clearly on the table’s edge. It is a long, raised, communal table, empty when I sit down but soon to be dominated by a nuclear family: corpulent dad, mute, invisible mum, and a pair of hyper-active pre-pubescent nitwits who enjoy banging about in their seats so the vibrations travel the length of the table and into the bones of any unwitting neighbour, such as myself. Notwithstanding this endless, tedious violation of my repose, there is also the threat of a sticky soaking from the pop bottles said nitwits take delight in shaking up into a fizz and from which they then squeeze off an ominous, hyperventilating hiss.

Oh, I know, long week and all that, and all I want is a bit of peace, sitting on the end of this table, first come, and already my body space is invaded by Corpulent Dad’s ever spreading bulk. Some people seem to take up much more space than others. It is a kind of biological imperialism. He pretends to take no notice of me, but he’s a nosy bugger and I can feel his eyes over my shoulder as I scroll the news on the delightfully ergonomic Washington Post app. Yes, I’m with Sheldrake on this one – the sense of being stared at is a reliable instinct.

I know, the Washington Post, it’s not your usual media for informing the rural north of England, but America appears to have gone mad and I’m trying to understand what archetypes are afoot here, if they bode ill for my retirement nest egg or not and if we’ll have Russian tanks across the Rhine again like we did in the bad old days, which curiously enough seem more and more like the good old days, days when there was at least a kind of certainty to world affairs, grim though they were. And my egg and bacon butty is taking an age, and my cup of tea is already half gone, and these kids are banging the table, cutting clean though my pre-weekend ease, and my desire to just settle in for a bit and think.

The Post, though earnest and informative is of no help to me, this lone Englishman, and only confirms his suspicion that even America cannot quite believe it. Jung would have had an insightful take on things, but voices like his are few. While the kids continue to fizz the life out of their bottles, I try Chompsky, a familiar guru in these troubled times, but there is little comfort there either. Corpulent Dad is talking, winding his kids up into ever greater heights of irritating behaviour. Mute mum says nothing. Neither make an effort to check their offsprings’ rudeness. I recall I made no effort with my kids either, but I could at least take them anywhere without worrying they’d annoy other people. But then again Corpulent Dad isn’t worried they’re annoying other people. We are the same then, he and I. We simply differ in our approach to life.

What?

My egg and bacon butty arrives and I wolf it down to the point of indigestion. This is sacrilege. These are the finest egg and bacon buttys in creation, not to be rushed. But I am rushing, a voice in my head screaming for air now. So I head out to the car, relieved to be shot of my obnoxious interlopers. Such is the lot of the misanthrope, I’m afraid. Nothing is resolved. For all the seriousness of my intent to understand, all I have now is indigestion and the first stabbing throb of a headache.

The weather had been clear, encouraging of a certain optimism, but during my brief stay in the Barn, it has clouded, the air turned grey and cold. I am not encouraged to don my boots and climb the hill, so I drive to Chorley instead, to the Autofit place. I have two nails in my tyre. It’s been holding pressure, but clearly needs attention if I am to avert future calamity. I am expecting it to be irreparable.

The guy does his plucky best, but pronounces it goosed. There’s a tone of apology I read as genuine. My shed of a commuter-mule wears Michelin Premiums. They come at a premium price: one hundred and nineteen pounds each. These are supercar prices for a car that has proved itself to be anything but a super car. I really must get rid of this thing before it bankrupts me. It is becoming my own personal financial crisis.

“Is that fitting and everything, I ask?”

“Sure,” says the guy, “we’ll even put air in it for you.”

There is the ripple of a smile about his lips as he speaks, as if trying to winkle out the humour in me. The place is grey and February cold, overhung with a century of grime, his overalls seriously besmirched with his labours, but there is also something Puckish about him, defiantly irreverent. He mends cars.  He smiles a lot, and jokes. I drive a PC. And don’t joke much these days.

But, wait. There it is. My smile comes up like something fondly remembered. At times like these we need a sense of humour. It’s just a question of having the courage, or the sheer bloody mindedness to let it in. The lid is off. The trickster is risen from the collective and is laying waste to the convention of entire continents, destroying the perceived corruption of the world with a less subtle corruption of its own, and we’d better get used to it because I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a wild ride.

I’ll see you on the other side.

 

 

 

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the sea view cafe - smallSo, I’m working on this story called The Sea View Cafe and I have this character, a young Romanian woman, Anica, who’s travelled across Europe in search of her sister, whom she believes came to Britain looking for work.  Anica winds up in a small, recession hit seaside town on England’s North West coast and it’s here, she befriends Hermione, owner of the Sea View Cafe.

Hermione is afraid for Anica, wanting to protect her, but not sure of her legal status in England, with all this perpetual political and populist talk of hammering down on immigrants and migrant workers, but Anica proudly announces there is no problem, that, being Romanian, she is a citizen of the European Union. It is an expansive, transcendent title, one that lifts her above petty nationhood and puts her on an equal footing with Hermione.

At least that was the situation pre-Brexit; it allowed Anica an open door to become involved in the story of the Sea View Cafe and its denizens, to develop relationships, to make plans for her future, to fall in love, and very welcome she was too. But I chose Anica, not because she lacked Britishness. Indeed I’m not sure why I chose a Romanian girl, specifically, except perhaps by way of subliminal gratitude since I once had a couple of short fictions translated and published by an online Romanian based ‘zine. But that’s another story. No, what was needed more from Anica was her spirit, her energy, her youthful vibe, and her capacity for unconditional love.

But political events have overtaken the story and Anica’s presence in the soon to be dis-united Kingdom is suddenly in doubt. Now, I’m sure Anica’s presence can be legalised in successive drafts of my story by my writing in a tourist visa or something, but her longer term desire of living and working in the UK are now uncertain and very much tied up in the political machinations of the next few years. Indeed, as a writer I’m asking the question can she realistically be retained without making an issue out of it, or would it be easier to write her out of my story altogether? I really don’t want to do that because I’ve come to know her, and love her, and anyway why the hell should I? Am I speaking metaphorically here?

The Sea View Cafe is just a story and of little importance in the great scheme of things, but for many waking up in this post Brexit Britain, the questions are real and of vital importance. Would you prevent Anica from settling here? What if Anica had already been living here as a citizen of the EU for say a decade? What if she had a job, a house, a mortgage, and her savings, all in pounds, sat in a British bank? Would you insist she went home to Romania? I suspect if you knew her, as I do, you would think that unfair, because someone you know is not a foreigner. If you don’t know her, if you don’t know anyone of another nationality at all, you may feel differently. Then they become the shadowy other, comin’ over ‘ere, taking your jobs and ruinin’ your ‘elf system. And what of the Brits now retired to Spain, or enjoying their settled lives in France, Germany, Portugal? Must they now apply for visas to remain, and how easy will it be for them to obtain residency? Will they soon all be coming home?

So far the only official word we’ve had is that, for now, the status of settled EU citizens in the UK and abroad is unchanged. But this is a statement of the obvious. We know it’s unchanged “for now”, but we also know it is going to change, and we want to know when, and when it does what that status is going to be. Or at least I do, as I’m sure do many others, though for entirely different reasons.

But for now I must leave Anica in the company of her Sea View Cafe friends, clutching her EU passport, and contemplating a long bus-ride home. I was thinking to have the novel cracked by the end of this year but this is a serious spanner in the works and I’m doubtful the question will be resolved any time soon.

You might say of course Anica will be all right because she has the poetic license of a romantic author behind her, but those living in the real world, outside of my story do not. The fallout of those crosses we placed last Thursday has opened a Pandora’s box of consequences impossible to predict. And while the dominoes fall across Europe, our political leadership, now seen as brittle, dissolves once more into a febrile self destruction, the pot stirred by a vicious, crass and infantile press, interested not in the solutions to any of this, but only the emotive headlines to be gleaned from the chaos and the name-calling.

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