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The abbot gathered the order in the meditation hall, brothers Angus and Benjamin among them, and bade them sit. Then he spoke of hard times ahead. This was nothing new, thought Angus. There had been nothing but hard times for decades, that indeed the hard times were the main reason he had turned to the monastery, for peace of mind, in the first place. But even now, after many years, he was finding peace of mind still hard to come by.

Then the abbot spoke of the recently deposed king. He reminded the monks of how the king’s misconduct, over many years, had been the cause of his eventual removal by exasperated ministers, and how the king, following his disgrace, had been cast into exile. In his place, there had been appointed a princess, a choice many had thought ill-advised, on account of her having kept company with forces believed to be allied with the barons.

Now, the barons had long ago accomplished the impoverishment and defenestration of the serfs, Angus among them, and had begun to turn their attention towards the merchants. But the barons had acted in ignorance of the full power of the merchants, who had caused a revolt, which had threatened to bankrupt the entire kingdom. In renewed desperation, and with great effort, the ministers had persuaded the princess to surrender the crown, so the merchants might be placated.

Although cloistered, Angus was only too well aware of the turbulence beyond the monastery walls. Indeed, he was ever hungry for rumours, which he picked up from the lay-brothers, who had greater contact with the outside world. What puzzled Angus now, though, was what any of this had to do with them, since the monasteries had no power, and no influence over events.

The abbot went on: so great had the chaos been in the halls of the palace, the ministers had looked about in vain for someone else among the royal line who might now take up the crown. But then some ministers had begun to look back fondly upon the days of misrule by the king, for even though his behaviour had been disgraceful, and dragged the name of the kingdom into disrepute, reducing it even to a laughing-stock among its neighbours, he had been careful never to upset the merchants. And sensing now the ambivalence of the ministers, the king, had begun petitioning for the restoration of his crown, which he saw as his by right.

Thus, the kingdom was suddenly agog with rumour that the old rogue might actually return. Now, this was news to Angus, and he sat forward, listening ever more intently. Could it be true? What would the abbot have to say about it? Opinion in the land was polarised between those aghast, and those who were delighted, for it was said the king possessed a powerful charm, gifted to him by the Goddess of Misrule, and to which only the most settled, and clear of mind were immune.

Of course, some ministers looked less forgivingly upon those days of misrule, and were inclined to dismiss the king’s ambitions as beyond the pale. But already the criers, and jesters, who had themselves called for the removal of the king only months before, and had sung in praise of the princess’s accession, were even now preparing the way for the king’s return with sweet songs, sung in the town squares, throughout the kingdom. And even among the defenestrated serfs, there were murmurs of assent.

Being themselves of the most settled and clear of mind, the monks listened to all of this news, impassively, for theirs was not the world of the town squares, or the serfs, or the merchants, or the barons, or the ministers. As for the criers, and the jesters, their duplicitous songs were transparent to anyone who was not tone-deaf. As for what the monks’ response should be to all of this, the abbot smiled mysteriously, and suggested they would do well to meditate upon it.

But this failed to quell the anxiety in Angus’ breast, and he turned briefly to Benjamin, a more experienced monk, for reassurance, only to see him tip back his head and let out a silent laugh, before nodding in approval at the abbot’s wisdom. With that, the monks were dismissed, and it was later, in the courtyard, Benjamin said to Angus: “Well, brother, you’ve got to hand it to the Abbot. He’s one crafty old devil, and a genius of a teacher.”

“But I didn’t get it,” said Angus. “What would the abbot have us do about the return of the king? Take to Twitter, or something?”

Benjamin shook his head, picked up a stone, and handed it to Angus, then instructed him to go down to the pond by the farm, at sunset, to toss the stone into the water, that by doing so he would have his answer.

So Angus did as Benjamin suggested. He went down to the pond at sunset. It was a beautiful evening, the pond was a perfect mirror for the sky, and a balm for the soul. Angus tossed the stone in and watched as the ripples broke the surface. Then the ripples were reflected, intersecting each other, until the entire pond was made up of separate shards of light all pointing in different directions, and the clarity of the reflection of the sky was lost.

He slept better that night than he had for a long time, and promised himself in future he would distance himself from the lay-bothers, whose endless gossiping kept him awake at night, wrestling with matters he had no power to influence, yet which prevented him from attaining the clarity of his own mind, and thereby the authentic nature of his being.

(Photo by Sanjay Indiresh on Pexels.com)

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Dial you down that thermostat,
Pull you out that plug.
Keep you now the cold at bay,
Beneath a crocheted rug.

Turn you off your games machine,
Ration out your brews.
The energy’s shot up, you see?
They said so on the news.

Bread and butter for your dinner,
Hard cheese for your tea,
Seal the doors, plug the draughts,
Or we’re all going to freeze.

I don’t know how it’s come to this,
We really tried our best.
There’s only one thing left to do,
And that’s to wear a vest.

But when by night the darkness falls,
With your single bulb to see,
Remember what a pleasure,
It is to sit and read.

When the world is looking shallow,
And the future’s looking thin,
For depth and riches, turn you round,
And cast the gaze within.

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Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

The Automobile Association reports there is no actual shortage of petrol. They say it is panic buying that has created a local shortage, here in the UK. But we could also say it was yesterday, or the day before’s media headlines, urging people not to panic buy petrol, that caused the panic buying, which has caused the emptying and subsequent closure of petrol stations, up and down the country. That’s a very different story. Then, we could also say it is a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers that has caused the disruptions in supply that we should not have panicked about, and the reason for that,… well,… there, opinions diverge, become political, and I leave others to pick apart that side of things.

I’ve lived through enough fuel crises over the past half century to understand people’s anxiety over shortages. I’ve been in a hard place more than once, commuting, the car running on vapours, and with a decidedly obtuse line-management offering no support whatsoever, when I told them it was less than certain I would be there in the morning. But now I’m in the position where I don’t need petrol for anything other than travelling for pleasure, and we can easily curtail that until this particular moment passes.

What’s more interesting are the media headlines themselves, not so much what they say, but why certain stories are chosen to be told, while others are cold-shouldered. It’s interesting also to ponder just how much of our reality we construct upon a landscape shaped by the well-connected writers of this mass media. So we should perhaps be more concerned with asking ourselves who they are, and with whom they are connected, rather than with what they say.

My local petrol station ran out of fuel last night. It’s inconvenient, but I’m fine with it. I’m not tied to the car any more. Covid has taught me I can stay local for months on end without actually losing my mind. But that’s not the only thing going on in the UK at the moment. I’ve had emails from my energy supplier warning of a serious hike in prices this winter. That’s galling, but I calculate I can cover it. Then the weekly food bill has spiked, and stuff I used to see on supermarket shelves, I don’t see any more – or rather its presence is no longer to be relied upon. That’s irksome, but not exactly worth a letter to the Times. My local builder reports a sudden 40% hike in the price of wood, and do I still want that job doing? I’ll have to think about that one. Meanwhile, there may also be actual food shortages ahead, in particular meat, but I don’t eat much meat anyway, now, and I don’t give a stuff about turkey for Christmas.

All in all these are just ongoing shots in a barrage that seems woven into the fabric of British life, now, and I don’t see the future being any different, and certainly no better. In general, the message is: the future is not so big as it used to be. One might think the causes of such a collapse in a nation’s mojo would be the subject of heated debate, but it appears to be a mystery to almost the entire UK media, including the BBC.

I wager we all know the reason, but there is an omertà on that word, so I shall not speak it. But again, the word doesn’t really matter any more. What’s done is done. It’s more important to note that its presence in the landscape of our reality is so firmly resisted by the media. It is deemed no longer part of the official socio-economic history of the British Isles. That we did this to ourselves runs against the grain of British exceptionalism, and is therefore unthinkable – so we’d better make a mystery of it, or better still blame the Johnny Foreigner any which-way we can, than face the truth of our own stupidity.

Stories are important. They are vital to life. Those who stormed the US Capitol building inhabited a reality shaped largely by the right-wing conspiracist regions of social media. The stories they believed in seemed absolutely barking to me, but the issue is that they did wholly and sincerely believe in them. For a time, I inhabited a polar opposite region, one that spoke of the imminent birth of a socialist Shangri-La, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbin. There were many who felt that was equally barking. Reality, then, is a fluid concept, and even, to a degree, personal. I wonder what my own reality would be like if I lived a life isolated from all record of human thought, contemporary and historical. Would I even be able to think at all?

The big British media is so appallingly manipulative, I wonder how anyone can expect to be reliably informed by it, other than by developing the insight to read above the headlines, and to ask: what is it I am being led to think and believe here? There are alternative sources of media, of course, both right and left leaning. On the left we have the likes of Novara Media, and Byline Times. I find them telling stories that suit my own biases better. But I also feel I can trust their analyses, if only because their influence is as yet quite small and poorly connected with the corridors of power. Small in the influence to be pedalled, determination of facts, critical reasoning: whatever our bias, these are valuable touchstones, ones we should cleave to, but rarely do, in such polarised times as these.

Ongoing crises, populist but otherwise incompetent leaders, a drift to the nastier fringes of the bonkers right, the spectre of authoritarianism, appalling cruelty to others deemed not British, or not British enough. These are not the headlines we read, not the story that is written for us. But they are all of them facets of the reality that is indeed coalescing around the cold hard slag of a spent materialism, and an economic model we really need to ditch, but which ossified and unimaginably wealthy interests are keen to perpetuate. Thus, a story is spun which tells us there is nothing to see here. Or rather, what we are led to believe is entirely at odds with the increasingly uncomfortable truths of life in Britain, at least for the ninety-nine percent of us who still live here.

I have sworn never to utter that word again in the annals of this blog. Still, I cannot help but predict the outlook to be stormy on account of it [that word]. I shall, however, continue to marvel at the circumlocutions of the media, as they studiously avoid the elephant in the room, even as it defecates daily, and copiously all over their nice, shiny shoes.

Take care what you read, and what you choose to shape your reality.

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Morecambe Bay from Arnside, Cumbria UK

The M6 was pretty much your normal mid-week M6, thick with tradesmens’ vans, ton-up delivery vans, and long lines of lumbering heavies. This was overlaid with the familiar manic tapestry of boss-class Beamers and Mercs, all shiny in their lease-black livery, tailgating and weaving about likes jerks. I counted just the one caravan making a speculative foray towards the lakes.

The giant electronic signs urged us to minimize our travel – meaningless from all but the earliest of days, and clearly ignored by most. Still, it pricked my conscience. Arnside was fifty miles away, so hardly local but, since “local” was however we chose to define it now, I had the letter, if not the spirit of the law on my side. Plus, I’d not been more than ten miles from home – at least not for pleasure – in nearly a year, which was surely the very definition of minimizing travel.

Arnside was warming up a bit by 10:00 am, beginning to bustle a little too, but there was still plenty of parking. I’m fond of this place, but I can’t say I know it – only as a tourist, and occasional walker, come to take in the scenery, and frequent the tea shops. Today I was meeting up with an old friend for a walk down the coastal way to Silverdale, then back over the Knott.

Arnside, Cumbria UK

There is an eerie beauty about this part of the world. The limestone cliffs overlooking Morecambe bay provide a habitat for all manner of unfamiliar colour of flora and fauna – unfamiliar to me anyway. And the light, reflecting off the wet sands of the bay, is exceptional. The cliff-top sections of path here have a sporting feel to them, with, in places, nothing to guard against a near certain fatal fall, not helped by the fact the limestone underfoot is becoming polished. There is mixed woodland, also dense thickets of blackthorn amongst which the near fluorescent yellow-green brimstone butterflies were in profusion.

From Silverdale, we turn inland, and a criss-cross of well-marked ways leads us eventually down by the evocative ruins of the Arnside Tower. The farm here was selling rather fine bird boxes at just eight quid apiece. The honesty box consisting of a child’s welly, was well stuffed. I’m into bird boxes, have built a few for my garden, and I would have partaken of the offer, but I’ve had no cash on me since I can’t remember when, and we’d still a way to walk.

Arnside Tower, Cumbria UK

The Knott is our last objective, a wooded hill, clearing towards the summit with fine views over the bay. They’re grazing cattle here now. Belted Galloways mooched amongst the scrub – cows, calves and bulls, all looking placid enough at our passing, but beware, if you’re up here with a yappy dog, you’ll perhaps not get the same indifferent reception. On the way down from the summit, there’s a particularly scenic tree. It has a wood-crafted heart suspended from it with the inscription: “Live, Laugh and Love”. Hard to argue with that one. It was a favourite for passing walkers to pose with their selfies.

On Arnside Knott, Cumbria UK

It was pleasant to be taking pictures of things other than the shaggy moorland and sycamore trees close to home, interesting to see how the much softer light played out, especially in the post-processing. It was also good to get the car out on a good run. But the day was not without its downside.

On arriving home, I noticed I’d picked up a couple of ticks. I’ve not seen these outside the Western Isles, and had not thought they were an issue at all in England. However, further researches inform me they are indeed very much a presence in the Arnside and Silverdale area, so do be careful when exploring around here. Walk with your trousers tucked into your socks, check yourself over on return, and be aware they are adept at finding the lesser viewed areas like backs of knees, elbows and other private places. If you’re out with dogs you’ll need to check them too.

A tick removal tool is best for getting them off safely. Otherwise, you’ll need a pair of fine tweezers and grasp the things as low down as possible, where the snout penetrates the skin. Don’t squeeze or burn them, and especially not if they’re engorged. Then, over the coming days, keep a lookout for inflammation and a red ring around the bite-spot, an early symptom of the onset of Lyme’s disease. If it appears, get to the docs urgently, screaming tick-bite, and demanding anti-biotics. Hopefully I’ll be okay.

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There are stronger hints of spring, now. I see buds on the hedgerows ripe for opening, where they’re touched by the sun, and I catch the first pungent whiffs of allium along the riverbank. The river’s high and swift today, after rains. We’ve had two incidents of people falling in trying to rescue their dogs. This would be comical were it not potentially so serious. The first occasion I was on hand to help. The second was more difficult and involved the police, fire and ambulance services. Today is not a day for falling into the river, and I hope the dog-people, of whom there are many this afternoon, are mindful of that.


The meadows are slippery under an inch of water and make for heavy going. Approaches to the stiles and kissing-gates, which always seem so mysteriously attractive to cows, are trodden by the press of their hooves into a gloopy commando assault-course. My peregrinations have boiled down to two loops from the home village, now, both around five miles. We’re heading east today, up-river towards Eccleston. I have the camera, but I’ll take some persuading to get it out, because by now I’ve shot this walk to death. It’s a sunny afternoon, but I’m finding such days uninteresting now – photographically, I mean – a stinging, bright, squinting sun, and all the colours washed out. Strange to say, but I’m favouring a bit of cloud to add texture.


It’s funny how the footpath signs disappear. They’re obviously very fragile things. There’s often no more than tattered remnants left clinging to a gate or to a post to prove there was ever a right of way this way at all. Sometimes the post has disappeared as well, or you’ll come across it overthrown and tangled deep in the hedgerow. The council needs to make them of stronger stuff. I’m thinking of what the sportsmen must make their “Private fishing” signs from. The landed’s “no trespassing” signs too, seem to last forever – rude, officious and imperishable. I liken them to ruddy-faced farmers, legs astride as if to present their phallic authority over the land. The farmer has a shotgun in the crook of his arm. His steel toe-capped boot, encrusted with cow-shit, is swinging for my arse,…


Sorry, I digress. That was a long time ago. But such things, encountered in childhood, colour one’s outlook to land and one’s rights of access to it.


“F&%k off my land.”

“I’m not interested in traipsing your land willy-nilly, Mr Farmer. Indeed, I have better things to do, and would rather avoid this abominable scrap heap of a farm-yard if you would but kindly direct me safely through it. Also, I’ll walk my path as a mark of my diminishing freedoms. Interfere with that, and you’ll bring a war of ramblers down on your head.”


They are a precious thing, those green pecked lines on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 maps. They are a fine Irish lacework of exploration, of fresh perspectives. And they are the gateway to a secret. Let me whisper it: they put you back in touch with the soul of the world. If you want to know a place, to feel it, you seek out the green pecked lines. You will never know a place from the roadside or through the windows of a car. You have to walk the paths that thread among the trees and the meadows. But sometimes the landed take those paths, your paths, and use the anvil of the law to straighten them out, to redirect them away from their properties. They channel them between high fences, between barbed wire and electric shocks. They keep to the letter of the law by right of way, but rob entirely the deeper meaning of the footpath network. They deny you your right to soul.


I have a path like that at the back of my house, once a meandering smudge through buttercups, across a pair of sleepy meadows. At certain times, you’d get a moonrise between a gap in the trees and on some nights, misty nights, say, that was a real jaw-dropper. Then the money came and bought the meadows for their horses. The path is now a pointless ginnel between squared up paddocks. It is an A to B of nothingness and all between destroyed. Money buys you space and the means to keep horses, but it clearly does not restore the sight of those who are already blind.


I find the “private fishing” signs along the river here an affront to decency. Big and white, they shout their possession, contaminate the scene, and ruin the photograph. I mean FFS, is there a problem with people fishing along here and not paying their dues? It seems odd to me. It would be pleasant to rummage along the river bank, see what’s about: Water-vole? Heron? I’m told there are salmon in the river now. But are there kingfisher? Alas, I am forbidden from casual investigation. I must stick to the path, and not linger too long in case my tardiness be misinterpreted as an encampment. Is it really true trespass is soon to be a criminal offence now? Will then the cops be swooping if I stray from the path? How long a stretch will it be for affronting the landed with my bootprints?


In my novel, the Singing Loch, it was in the wilder places the protagonists touched the soul of the world. It was the thing that gave life meaning. Without it everything else turned grey, like ash. The genesis of that novel lies thirty years in the past, in the emotions aroused by a book by Marion Shoard. Its sentiments still inform my philosophy. Around every town or village there’s a ring of dog turds, about a quarter mile out from the last house. Within that ring, all is tired and grey, void of any vestige of the world-soul. It’s trampled out, like the land around those stiles and kissing gates by the heels of cows. You’ve got to get beyond that ring, into the quiet zone, and among the shy creatures, before you can hear the earth breathe again. The footpath network will take you there, it will reconnect you.


Maybe that’s it then. The landed would rather you didn’t discover this secret for yourselves, and that’s why they hide the footpath signs. That’s why they tear them down (I can think of no other reason). They don’t want you waking up from your slavery. After all, who else is going to pay for their luxury, and the oats for their horses?

Ooh, it’s been a long time since I had a pop at the toffs. I quite enjoyed that. Forgive me such indulgence. Anyway,…


I brought back just the one picture. It was a blaze of late afternoon sunlight, and long shadows thrown by a tight little trio of trees. They spoke to me, in that instant, of the river, and the wind and of past rains. But I couldn’t capture it. Even with five brackets overlaid and through a Leica lens, it was a near-white-out barely rescued by post-processing trickery.

I don’t know how much longer we’ll be obliged to stay at home, stay local. But we’d all do well to get out those maps, study our local footpath network, and discover its secrets. There’s more to our land than space for rich men’s horses. Go find it.

Goodnight all.

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The storming of the US Capitol building is an inauspicious start to the year, but a logical enough step in the ongoing manifestation of the phenomenon of Trumpism. I hesitate to call it the endgame, as I suspect there is more to come in the months and years ahead. I’ve hesitated to write about it, not because I don’t have an opinion, but more because I’m growing tired of opinions, including my own, and I am struggling to make sense of a world that defies analysis.

We are none of us capable of persuasion to the other’s point of view any more. It’s the conclusion I come to at the end of “Winter on the Hill”, where I have my protagonist transcend the fray and hunker down, preparing instead for the storm he knows is coming. Storms cannot be resisted. They have to blow themselves out, and you pick up the pieces afterwards. The storm of Trumpism hasn’t passed and, no matter what happens to the man himself, his legacy will dog every step of the Biden presidency, and beyond.

Footage of that mob, some of them armed, some of them seemingly bent on hostage taking, some militarised, some bizarrely costumed, presented an outrageous assault on the senses. It was sinister of course, and shocking, but there was something else, and I couldn’t get at it until now. It was the image of the horned man – an element of the absurd.

This is not to minimize the seriousness of events, quite the opposite – people died. But the absurd is an element in all encounters with the Daemonic, and there’s a significant element of it too in Trumpism and its deployment of “conspiracy”. By “Daemonic” I’m not talking about the familiars of old Nick, or demonology. It’s more subtle than that. It has to do with the psychology of mass events, and the influence of the collective unconscious in shaping human affairs.

In the personal psyche, what you do not acknowledge is lurking within you, you will be made to own ten times over. The same goes for the collective psyche, and there have been aspects of it we have been failing to acknowledge for a very long time. Rising inequality, endemic racism, sexism, xenophobia and white supremacy are the more manifest symptoms, but the sickness is an innate lack of meaning in western life and our ability to blame it on the “other”.

The American election, though fair, was hardly a rout. Close to 75 million people voted for Trump. Not all of these voters will be Trumpists. Many were traditional Republicans with nowhere else to go. But he still maintains a substantial base of believers who fervently deny his sins, and whose reality is bounded by information they fully believe in – though that information seems absurd to others. Attempts to falsify their belief system with reason counts only as proof of the validity of the Trumpist world-view, to the Trumpist, and to the universality of the conspiracy against them.

It’s like dreaming. The dream sets the rules of the game, and we believe in the dream-world totally, only realizing its absurdness when we wake up. It’s no use pointing out the dubious nature of absurd beliefs to those still locked in the dream. Critical thinking is crushed by the Daemonic. People possessed by it appear grotesque and, in its darkest manifestations, they are murderously absurd.

Here in the UK, we have not yet seen Parliament overrun by the Daemonic, though female, leftist and black and brown MPs are routinely threatened by white, right wing nationalists. Meanwhile the Conservative party is still polling at 40%, even with 100,000 dead from Covid, while it ducks and weaves around one scandal after the other. Yet sufficient numbers of the beleaguered are still dreaming them an easy ticket, so they are able to do no wrong. This too seems absurd, another symptom of the emergence of the Daemonic in the collective psyche, one that denies the rational. It has us applauding the Health Service, while simultaneously denying it the means of survival. (I recognize of course my own partisanship in this paragraph, and therefore the parameters of my own reality).

I don’t know where America is going, not with the belief system of so many completely at odds with the rational. Certainly the face of it is an ugly one, a rejection of democratic norms in favour of a violent white-nationalist anarchy. That’s not a reality I would be glad to own as a white person. The UK has its problems with the absurd too of course. In spite of assurances to the contrary, we’re likely looking at another lost year, spiralling deaths, and an economy in ruins, to be paid for by the poor. How we find our balance in such madness remains to be seen, but my prognosis isn’t hopeful. Holding to the virtues of selflessness, and at least some degree of self-analysis, society staves off the collective rampage of the Daemonic. But once it’s broken through and begins to alter our reality it cannot be dealt with, or contained and must run its course.

There’s plenty more to come, I fear. It will be violent, irrational, and above all absurd, like another world merging with our own, sweeping away all norms, a dream-world where down is up and up is down, and where seriousness of purpose is defiled by horned men, shouting.

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on harrock hillAfter a morning of torrential rain and gales, Saturday afternoon cleared to a bright, blustery, blue sky sort of day. It being a weekend, I didn’t fancy a walk anywhere near the honey-pot of the West Pennines. Instead, I kept it local, drove a short way along the little lanes that make up the somewhat dispersed community of Wrightington. Here, I parked up in a secret little lay-by and walked a network of muddy paths from there.

This is deepest, rural Lancashire, home to secret millionaires who live in tastelessly refurbished sandstone piles. They like to film your approach along the public ways with cameras on tall poles. I presume this is in case you’re of a mind to trespass, and make off with their possessions. I return the courtesy by photographing their ostentatious security, strictly for posterity of course. If they can film me without my permission, I can snap them. In a hundred years we’ll either be horrified people ever felt the need for such barbarity, or we’ll be laughing at such a quaint deterrent when they can zap you with lasers instead, and no questions asked.

There were two events of note this weekend, the most important and exciting being I had taken delivery of a second-hand lens for the camera, from Ebay – a longish zoom at a bargain price! It can be dodgy buying from an unknown seller online, so I wanted to try the lens before the two week no-quibble-returns thing ran out. The second event of course was an announcement from Number 10, regarding another, much heralded, national shut down. But as I parked the car amid the fall of leaves, and tied on my boots, the latter was just a rumour. If true, I suspected it would not be so severe as was being reported, especially since Lancashire is already under the most severe restrictions anyway. Personally, I was concerned only that we should have crystal clarity over the extent of our continued liberty to get out and walk.

The pubs and restaurants would be closed this time, I thought, and, thinking further, and with a long head, that would have everyone flocking back up to the West Pennines for something to do, so I’d not be venturing there in a while. I would have to find other venues, closer to home, like Harrock Hill for example, get my mugshot better known on those millionaires’ cameras.

As you move inland from the sea, say from Southport, the first hills you encounter are not the Western Pennines, but Parbold, Highmoor and Harrock, the latter famed for its ruined windmill. The southern loop of the Lancashire way passes by this fine old ruin, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it, so much has the woodland grown up now and obscured it, obscuring also the views across the plain. It’s still a worthy destination for an afternoon though.

The lens was performing well. Zooming in certainly gives you a different perspective on things, isolating interesting bits of landscape, a stately group of trees for example, eliminating the clutter of telegraph poles and pylons. It’s interesting how we can colour a scene more by what we leave out, than what we leave in.

buzz 1As an older lens it’s a little slow to focus, but landscapes don’t move about much, so it’ll suit me fine. At one point a buzzard took off in a huff at my passing and I managed a shot of it as it slid across the meadow.  The auto-focus tracked it well, so it’s reasonably sharp, but I  fluffed the exposure – dark bird against a bright sky – so I didn’t capture it in all its beauty.

I’m back where I was in my twenties then, carrying a big zoom, having full-circled from the portability of point and shoots. It’s fine – I don’t climb many mountains now – and am older of course, yet the eye seems to be drawn by the same things: by a spill of light under a low sun, by a stand of ancient trees against the blue, by the shape of a hill, and the character expressed in the simple curve of a path.

I’ve lived around here all my life, toured these lanes by bicycle as a kid, by motorbike as a teen, and by car, but there are still nooks and crannies of surprise. The approaches to Harrock are plentiful from any direction, and amenable to circular exploration.

buzz 2I was still making my way down the hill when the PM’s announcement was rumoured to be due, so I thought I might have missed it. But it was delayed several times, and I was able to catch it in the early evening. I’m leaving off the partisanship here. We cannot turn back the clock, and we are where we are.

The bit I was listening for was:

You may only leave home for specific reasons, including: For education; For work, say if you cannot work from home; For exercise and recreation outdoors, with your household or on your own with one person from another household,…

That’s clear enough for me.

As for how far we can travel away from home for exercise – well I’m not sure about that bit. I’m guessing the tier three rules apply, and if not then I’ll apply them anyway, unless otherwise appraised – meaning it’s “advised” I’m confined to Lancashire, until further orders. I’ve no problem with that. Yes, I’m missing the Dales and the Lakes, but there’s still air enough to breathe here, and not that far from my doorstep. 

Think while walking, walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.

Frédéric Gros

 Goodnight all. Graeme out.

 

 

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penyghent

Penyghent – Yorkshire Dales

I wasn’t sure what reception I’d get at Horton in Ribblesdale. In the fledgling pandemic days, locals barricaded the car parks to keep visitors away. But things were pretty much back to normal this morning. I wanted to get the winter sleep out of my legs and, it now being August, there was a growing sense of urgency about matters. Walking on the flat is better than nothing, but what a hill walker needs is a hill. And what better hill is there than Penyghent?

Penyghent, isn’t the highest of the Yorkshire peaks but it’s got to be the prettiest. Its ascent from Horton involves a long pull up the Brackenbottom scars, then  a couple of easy scrambles to the top. The downside is it’s a popular route, on the three-peaks circuit, so there’s never a time when you’ll have it to yourself. Today was no exception.

The drive over was busy, the A59 a long snarl of impatient heavies and white vans. I was cut up by a pair of vans at the Tickled Trout doing a hundred miles an hour. Then there were the Hooray Henriettas in their Chelsea-tractors who can’t always be relied upon to signal their intentions when whizzing around roundabouts. And the giant hardcore wagons thundering along the A682 and the A65 seemed even bigger and faster and more thundery than usual. Maybe I’m just too old to be venturing far these days.

As for the hill, it was a slow moving procession. The groups were well spaced out, but several of them were over-large and troublesome on the pass. For a while I trailed an old timer. He stepped aside to let me through, then gave me a shake of the head and told me with a touch of pathos he was not the man he used to be. The guy was well into his eighties, memories of many a mountain trail etched into the lines of his face. We were coming up to the five hundred meter contour by then and a couple of miles out of Horton, so he wasn’t doing too bad. A sit down to admire the view, a swig water, and he’d be fine.

You scramble for a joke at times like that, something to make light. I told him we could all say the same, about not being the man we used to be. I’m not sure where that came from. Sometimes the unconscious speaks its own mind, unbidden.

I saw him on the summit later, making steady progress. He might not have been as fast as he was – which I suppose is what he meant – but he lacked none of the grit. That’s the important thing for a man. Once we lose our grit, we’re done because life will always find a way of testing it, no matter how old we get.

The summit was a busy spot for lunch, crowds and bits of ancient banana skin scattered everywhere. The overlarge groups were annoying. One of them comprised corporate types with iPhones poised, responding to business emails at the tops of their voices. So, it was a quick bite and off. Sadly, the three peaks route was always a magnet for pricks.

If you want lonely on Penyghent, you head north from the summit to Plover Hill. Then it’s back down the knee-breaking length of the Foxup Road. But not today. Today, I was just grateful to be out on the hill, grateful for the aliveness of it, and the scent of the wild.

Penyghent left me with aching hips, but the rest of me was fine. If I have any doubts about myself it’s a waning confidence on the roads. They seem crazy-busy now, or maybe I’m slowing down. Am I the man I used to be? Well no, of course not. But then like I said to the old-timer, none of us are. We can only hope the bits of youth we’ve lost to the inevitable leakage of time are replaced with something else. Call it an eye for the sublime, and a more mindfully placed step. I don’t know.

There was a coffee shop in Horton doing takeaways. Face mask and hand gel, granted access. All is change. We just have to roll with it, and be accepting.

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Image1I know, it’s a drag. We’re already suffering from Covid-19 fatigue in the UK and it’s not really hit us yet. We’ve all seen the pictures of those selfish people hoarding toilet paper. But there are stories too of great generosity, of people reaching out to others. Still, this endless panic buying it to me proof western society is incapable of even the most modest forms of Socialism. Society is too enamoured by now of greed and looking after number one. So all us bleeding heart lefties might as well shut up and self-isolate with the rest.

It’s been quite a sobering experience seeing the yards of empty shelves at Tescos, like it’s the Zombie Apocalypse, and it’s tempting to be pessimistic of course. But then there’s the story of the woman pushing leaflets through the letterboxes in her community. She’s offering to help the elderly with shopping or anything else they might need. She’s contacted by an old lady who wants to know how much the good Samaritan charges for this service. That the service is free is quite beyond her understanding. We do not expect kindness, and when we receive it, we’re stunned by it or we’re looking for the con.

As for the official response, I’ve been trying to get behind our political leadership and do as I’m told. This hasn’t been easy, having spent the latter part of 2019 campaigning for the Labour party. Then I spent the early part of 2020 aching for the Tories to screw up over something – probably BREXIT (Remember that old thing?). But they cannot screw up over this. They have to get this right, yet I find myself a little worried we seem to be making up our approach on the hoof. I listened to the PM tonight who thanked us for our cooperation and our patience thus far in these trying times. But from what I’ve seen of the way the populace has been reacting what we need more than anything is a kick up the arse.

Yes, we’re good at muddling through, but there is nothing about the British that frightens this bug. We are not immune to it on account of our thick skulls, but until this evening the pubs and restaurants were still open. People were advised not to got to them. But people – especially young people – have a tendency towards thinking they know best. As a result the PM closed them down tonight. By now thougha good many of our blase, partying, booze imbibing, socialising types are positive for Coronavirus. They don’t know it yet but they’re spreading it to their nearest and dearest, also to that unfortunate stranger on the bus. But that’s fine, after all it only kills old people and old people aren’t important in a consumer driven economy .

The scale and the sweep of this thing is beyond imagining. The sooner we take it seriously, the sooner we get over it. But it’s also having unexpected effects. This evening I saw one of the most right wing Tory administrations in British history announce financial measures to safeguard people and jobs and these are measures few socialists would ever have dreamed possible – all be they temporary. Suddenly, aftyer decades of being told there is no money, there is more money than you can imagine. The world is on its head.

Meanwhile the shelves at Tesco are empty tonight; toilet paper yes, of course, all gone, but also booze. I checked while I was in there looking for a cucumber (don’t ask). No whiskey, no wine, no beer – shelves as bare as those for the household cleaning items, and the milk and the bread. The PM shut the pubs so – hey! everyone’s partying at home tonight – with friends. We’re so stupid I’m amazed we’ve survived this long.

But I was in luck. There were plenty of cucumbers.

Graeme out

[Stay safe – keep your distance, and wash your hands.]

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lightning and tornado hitting village

Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on Pexels.com

On the night of November 28th 2019, Channel 4 broadcast a debate on climate change, on the steps we might take in the UK to put our carbon footprint in order, and provide an example of best practice that others in the world might follow. Leaders of all the main political parties were invited to speak and all agreed something must be done, the only difference between them was how much each would fall over itself trying to outdo the others’ ideas.

At bottom it required a radical move away from carbon based fuels and intensive agribusiness but, with targeted investment, it looked possible, that we might indeed reduce our carbon emissions to zero by 2030. I felt the vision served that night was not one of a defensive decline, but more of a positive, prosperous and sustainable green economy, one built upon a genuine political consensus, and I was heartened by it. The debate was of course part of the build up to the 2019 general election.

Notable by their absence that night were the Conservative party and the Brexit party. The podiums they might have occupied were replaced, much to their annoyance, by dripping ice statues, which spoke volumes to the nation, that those parties had nothing to say about climate change, let alone how to mitigate it. Their crass no-show seemed disastrous, guaranteed to wreck their credibility and severely damage their chances of winning the election.

But the Conservative party romped home to a massive majority and are now in power for the next five, possibly the next ten years. Everything progressive that was debated that night was rendered meaningless, and won’t now happen. This implies the majority of UK voters either don’t care about the impending climate catastrophe or – even as Australia burns and Greenland melts – they still don’t really believe in it.

We can’t wait another ten years to do anything about it. By 2030 all the sensitive ecological tipping points will have been tripped, and savage environmental phenomenon will have settled in on a scale that makes it obvious to even the most egregious denier the planet is adapting itself to our toxic presence with a view to wiping us out.

The feeling among many climate scientists is that even if we act now, and in unison, globally, it’s probably too late to do anything other than stabilise the climate in its present state of distress. Without action, as now seems the case, not just in the UK, but across all the major world powers, vast areas of the planet will become uninhabitable, harvests will fail and future wars will be fought, not over oil but over fresh water, grain and habitable territory. Meanwhile, unimaginable numbers of climate refugees will cross the world trying to find safety in the temperate zones. And they will not be welcomed.

The rich are insulated from the problem by virtue of their wealth. They are buying up land in places like New Zealand in order to build their fortified palaces, complete with zombie apocalypse bunkers, where they imagine they might continue to consume in extraordinary luxury the last of the planet’s resources. Meanwhile, our children will struggle daily in the face of hardship and danger.

So what to do? Well, in my latest work in progress: “Winter on the Hill”, (currently being serialised for free on Wattpad) my protagonist, a former eco-warrior, veteran of street protests, and with a criminal conviction for civil disobedience, surveys the wreckage of that climate debate and the ensuing results of the 2019 election with a cool head. His conclusion? He buys himself a three litre diesel four-wheel drive SUV, takes up hill-walking and, though it’s late in the day for him, he falls in love, more than once. The argument is lost, he says, no sense even debating it any more – just enjoy the next twenty or thirty years as best you can, because that’s all you’ve got left.

He’s an interesting character, at times prickly, and something of a socialist firebrand which may annoy some of you, but he’s also a very persuasive old curmudgeon, and I’ll be spending the next year or so getting to know him. I hope to convince him he’s wrong of course, not about love – I mean good on him for that, the old dog – but that we need him back on the barricades. Oh, and he’s to swap that monstrous diesel for an electric vehicle that won’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.

How do you rate my chances? Well, from the off, and as dispiriting as it is, I’m already tempted to concede that he might be right.

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