All the Fells: Scoat Fell


Scoat Fell – The Western Fells 2,760′ (132)

Date: 2 May 1991

From: Pillar

Technically, I climbed Scoat Fell twice, in the same day, but as the ‘second’ time was coming back from Steeple I don’t count that. Scoat Fell, like its immediate neighbour, Red Pike, which was my next top in my Mosedale Horseshoe, was one of those fells that I feel I didn’t really do justice to as a mountain. I just followed the ridge on and down from Pillar, which was an enjoyable rough traverse in itself, but that meant that all Scoat Fell was to me was its flat top, the highest point of which was underneath the solid drystone wall, crossing the summit along the watershed. I’d have seen more of the fell if I had made it a direct target, using Nether Beck as the line of approach, as I did for Haycock, turning right instead of left at the ridge: maybe if my post-Wainwright career had been longer, I would have done that. It didn’t help that I was much more concerned with getting to Steeple. Twenty-five minutes later, I was back: the ascent back from Steeple is higher and takes longer, and I was toying with a headache briefly, which is far too little a gap to consider that as a second visit. It’s becoming clearer, as I work through all these recollections that I may have climbed 214 tops, but I didn’t climb 214 fells.

Sherlock: s03 e03 – His Last Vow


Sherlock

Let us begin by acknowledging that, whatever issues i am beginning to have with the third series of Sherlock, the concluding episode, ‘His Last Vow’, redeems everything. Well, almost everything. It is a comprehensive, complex, intricate thriller that, in contrast to ‘The Sign of Three’, contains about twice as much story as can comfortably be contained in ninety minutes and still finds time for sequences that are stretched out beyond their proper length. It features the greatest monster the entire series has to offer, it foreshadows the underlying theme of the fourth series, and it breaks with the credibility of the series by taking two monstrous and unjustifiable steps that, even as I watched them the first time, I rejected as unworthy and ridiculous.

But this is still a brilliant episode, and quite probably the best of the entire run, with a cliffhsnger ending to die for.

The villain, the monster, is newspaper proprietor Charles Augustus Magnussen, played with chilling calmness by Lars Mikkelsen, otherwise best known as Troels Hartmann in the first series of Forbrydelssen/The Killing. He is the moden day equivalent of Conan Doyle’s Charles Augustus Milverton, ‘the Napoleon of Blackmail’. Magnussen is a newspaper proprietor who holds secrets, thousands, millions of secrets, about everything and everyone, stored in vaults beneath his futuristic home, Appledore. Magnussen – Moffat could hardly call him Murdoch, could he, the parallel would be too blatant – knows the secret to everyone, their pressure point(s), the things they will do anything to keep secret.

Despite the warning of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock has set himself to bring Magnussen down, and boy does he need it! Magnussen is preternaturally unemotional. He is incapable of surprise. How can he be surprised when he controls everything, because no-one dare deny him. He licks Lady Smallwood’s cheek to taste her perfume. He pees in Sherlock’s fireplace. He can do anything he wants.

To draw Magnussen’s attention, Sherlock goes undercover in a crack den. It’s all a fake, for the case, or is it? With Mycroft’s hints… He’s also taken a girlfriend, Janine, who he met and John and Mary’s wedding. Creating a pressure point for Magnussen to use against him, though the gag is that when Magnussen reviews all of Sherlock’s pressure points, the list streams past forever, far too fast for anyone to follow. Sherlock wants to get in. Lady Smallwood has engaged him to obtain certain letters concerning her husband (who later commits suicide so that didn’t work). Sherlock, with John Watson in tow, gets into Magnussen’s private offices. Just behind someone who is holding a gun to Magnussen’s head and who, when he recognises her, shoots him in the chest.

I suppose this is where I ought to insert SPOILER ALERT! for anyone who has not already seen this episode because this is where we fall down the rabbit-hole into a different plane of reality, never to return. Sherlock thinks it’s Lady Smallwood (Lyndsey Duncan, who I remember first as an unknown, playing the girl in Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre more than forty years ago, when they had to take extraordinary precautions for her not to be seen naked once she stripped off, this being theatre-in-the-round: but I digress) because of her claire-de-la-lune perfume. It’s not. It’s another claire-de-la-lune wearer. Mary Watson.

It was hinted at in both previous episodes, passing moments suggesting she’s not an ordinary woman, a doctor’s recptionist, but something more. What that is has to be postponed, first for an hallucinatory sequence inside Sherlock’s head, as he uses his mind-palace (hint hint) to draw down, in the three seconds of consciousness remaining to him, the only right way to possible survive, part of which involves a cameo from Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty, just to remind us how much we miss him. Impressive as this bit is, it offers too much scope for Moffat to go OTT, and if there’s one thing we know about Steven Moffat as a writer, it is that he cannot resist going OTT.

Then Sherlock sets out to discover the secret of Mary Morstan Watson, such as the real Mary Morstan being a still-birth. Mary warns him that John must never know a word of the truth about her because, and this is where Amanda Abbington takes Moffat’s words and brands them into our minds, because she loves John, and knowing who or what she really is will kill that love and she will not allow that to happen. At which point, Sherlock switches on the light and she and we realise she’s been speaking in frnt of John anyway.

I’m going to blunt. No matter how well it’s done, I disagree in my very bones with what Moffat is doing/has done here. Mary Watson is not an ordinary woman, a bright, sharp, intelligent, understanding, loving woman. She is a psychopath. A former Intelligence Agent with a long list of kills to her name, which isn’t Mary (her real initials are A A, one of those infuriating little in-jokes that you wish people could resist). She is not a nice woman. And what, John Watson wonders, has he done to deserve a wife like this? It’s all his own fault, Sherlock diagnoses: he’s an adrenaline-junkie, he has the hots for psychopaths. No. just, no.

At this point the story goes on hiatus until Xmas Day at the Holmes’, senior, their guests including two of their three children unable to conceal their enmity and rivalry, plus the Watsons, who haven’t been speaking for months whilst Mary gets pregnanter and pregnanter. Until John chooses today to tell her that no, he hasn’t read the memory stick with her whole story on it, and he’s not going to, her past is her business, her future his privilege (that’s the problem, there are so many brilliant lines like that being put to service on a plot-twist I hate), and her drops the memory-stick in the fire (like that’s going to melt it: has he not watch The Lord of the Rings?)

Then Sherlock drugs everyone and steals Mycroft’s laptop, the most secure and confidential laptop in the Kingdom. He’s taking a massive risk, not to mention taking John with him. He’s done a deal with Magnussen, a trade, the laptop in return for every bit of evidence Magnussen has got on Mary. It’s High Treason, but it’s also a Cunning Plan. There’s GPS tracking in the laptop, to draw Mycroft and forces: he would just love to get Magnussen.

But Sherlock has made a colossal mistake, a blunder of immense magnitude, that will destroy evreything and everyone around him. The clues have been there if we were bright enough to spot them. Knowing the answer now, I did. But it’s so very simple. There are no vaults below Appledore, no papers, no evidence. What does Magnussen need of evidence? He owns newspapers. Everything he knows, every secret, is in his head. In his mind palace.

I saw it coming, or rather I thought I did. Magnussen, triumphant, cracks his grave monotone. He can do whatever he wants to. he doesn’t like John’s stupid face, he decides he’ll punch it. No, more humiliating still, echoing the schoolyard bully he has never grown out of being, because what is more petty than carrying out any fleeting whim you have, he flicks John’s face. John stands still and takes it. Martin Freeman takes it, impassive, submitting to try to save his Mary, who he loves, yet you can see his stoicism eroding at every flick, at every gleeful giggle from Magnussen. No man can endure forever, and John has his gun in his jacket pocket. He’ll pull it out and kill Magnussen: there is literally no other way to stop him.

But the name of the series is not John or Watson. Sherlock has made a catastrophic blunder but so too has Magnussen. Sherlock is a high-functioning sociopath. He reminds the Napoleon of Blackmail of that, just before shooting him through the forehead.

So Sherlock is now a murderer. There are too many implications in the whole business for him to be tried. Instead, he is to be exiled: an undercover job in Eastern Europe that Mycroft can now no longer shield him from. He will be dead within six months, and that will break Mycroft’s heart. He has always been the protective older brother, even when he told his little brother stories of the fury and devastation caused by the East Wind. Or Euros.

We end on goodbyes, as Sherlock is flown off on his final, redemptive mission. Which lasts four minutes before he’s summoned back. Someone has broken through onto every screen in the entire country, asking the question, ‘Miss Me?’ That’s the cliffhanger. How the hell can he still be alive? ‘Miss Me?’ John Watson gets it right: here comes the East Wind.

Grease is no longer the word


ONJ

I almost paused to reflect on the death of Judith Durham such a short time ago, but now it’s been followed by her fellow Australian singer, Olivia Newton-John, news I have only discovered a few minutes ago.

Truth to tell, I enjoyed Judith Durham’s music, or rather that of The Seekers, far more than I did Olivia Newton-John’s, or ‘Livvy’ as we used to call her. I certainly heard far more of Livvy’s singng than I did the Seekers, throughout most of the Seventies, and for the same reason that I heard most of the Progressive Music I endured at the same time, though this time from only one source.

I had a mate from school who lived just rund the corner from me. Our tastes in music weren’t all that similiar but he listened politely to my albums as I did to his. With me it was Lindisfarne, 10cc, The Moody Blues. With him it was ELP, Yes, Pink Floyd. And Livvy.

A lot of it was that he had one almighty crush on Livvy, and let’s be fair, tall, blonde, slim, long-legged, with a sweet face, she was eminent cr ush material. I never minded looking at pictures of her, or seeing her on Top of the Pops, and some of her Seventies’ album covers were absolutely gorgeous. Girl took a good photo, certainly.

Musically, in this era, I had no means of classifying what she sang. Country-influenced MOR, I’d say now, with a hefty slant to the MOR side of it. There was nothing wrong with it, I didn’t dislike it, the way I did Tales of Topographic Oceans, but, with the odd exception here and there, I didn’t like it. I accepted it as a necessary hazard of life, like the way my mother never stopped telling me to be careful crossing Kingsway, no matter how old I got.

You’d think that, given all his other tastes, my mate’s obsession with Livvy’s music must have been something of a come-on, but no such thing. He genuinely adored her music. ‘he was so reverent to it that, every time she brought out a new LP, he would carefully wipe it with an anti-static dust remover, touching the vynil by the edges of the disc only, lower the needle onto the run-in groove as gently as a falling leaf, and would record the album onto cassette. And never ever play the vynil again.

Our friendship more or less died in 1978 when I left to go live in Nottingham for two years. That didn’t get me away from Livvy, not at first, for 1978 was the year of Grease and a combined seventeen weeks at Number 1 for her singles with John Travolta. But long before I came back we had stopped talking to each other. So after that I got to hear less and less of Livvy, which I never regretted. A friend of mine once played me a VHS tape of the film Xanadu, in which she starred, and which I thought was one of the most crass, soul-destroying, lumpen and demeaning films I ever saw. My heart bled for Gene Kelly, reduced to playing in shit like that, and subjected to almost on-stop degradation. I hope to God the poor bastard got paid shedloads for having to go through that.

I don’t remember hearing anything else by Livvy after that, and that now means nearly forty years.

This is not precisely a remembrance of Olivia Newton-John and it’s certainly not a tribute to her. A photo of her in tank top, long-sleeved blouse, hot pants and knee length boots, from 1971 would be how I’d choose to remember her, because yes, she was absolutely gorgeous, but she and her music played a big part in my life for a long time, and I know Alan will be devastated tonight, for his were feelings that would never be eroded by time. Sorry news, mate. Raise a glass to her for me whilst you’re at it.

A Manchester Metro Expedition: The Rochdale Line


Rochdale

After the Eccles Line was completed, Manchester’s Metrolink went on to its most ambitious and far-reaching expansion, phase 3. This was divided into two stages, both dealing with the simultaneous construction of three additional lines. The ultimate destinations of those three lines were Rochdale, Ashton-under-Lyne and East Didsbury (and the last of these was intended to be the basis for an extension ultimately to Stockport).

Stage 1 took the three lines initially to Oldham, Droylsden and St Werburgh’s Road in Chorlton (an address I have always had my doubts about given that the Satanist’s primary festival, Walpurgisnacht, draws its name from St Walburga…) The completion of these sections them formed the basis for the current lines.

Try as I might, I can’t find out online the order in which the three lines were completed, either in Stage 1 or Stage 2, so I’ve had to take other factors into consideration when deciding which to take first, in this case Rochdale.

The far north-east of Greater Manchester is not an area I know well. My experience of Rochdale is limited. Attendance at the County Court a couple of times, no more. Two visits to Spotlands, Rochdale FC’s home, for widely-separated FA Cup First Round ties, supporting different non-League teams, both won. And a couple of months going out with a psychiatric nurse (our last date was a New Year’s Eve Party. The next day, I took the coward’s option and wrote to her, explaining that it wasn’t working out and that we should stop seeing each other. Two days later, the day my letter would have been delivered, I received a letter from her, explaining that it wasn’t working out and that we should stop seeing each other. It made me feel a bit better.)

I’m watching a very cheap DVD boxset on eBay that doesn’t finish until 12.40pm so I can’t leave before then, but I get myself ready to go immediately (yes, I won it: the Complete Blackadder remastered for £1.99).

A 203 goes past the end of my road as I walk down it (I swear I am going to save that senytence into a Word Document so that I can just copy-and-paste ever after). I’d taken the gamble of coming out in jeans and a t-shirt and from the way I started burning up waiting at the stop, it seemed I’d done the right thing. Two stops away, the bus sits and waits. That’s only the 4th stop out of the Town Centre but the drivers always take a five minute break there, against the strictures of the journey. When it eventually condescends to collect me, it’s slow going all the way down Reddish Road. The traffic is busy and every stop sees the bus trapped and unable to pull out for traffic sliding past us.

On the other hand, we fairly fly down Hyde Road and I’m at Piccadilly Gardens for 1,40pm. There’sa scrawling message that services on the East Didsbury – Rochdale Line are liable to delay due to a fault. Checking on the possible impact of this, reveals an absence of planning on my part: that line doesn’t go through Picadilly Gardens at all!

I could walk down Market Street but it’s hot so I hop on an Altrincham tram as far as St Peter’s Square, change platforms and get the Rochdale tram there, also relieving myself of the need for a separate, small Expedition to cover the short stretch through Exchange Square. It may not be as hot as Bury three weeks ago, but the ladies have responded in like manner.

Leaving Victoria, we follow the Bury Line route until diverting off to the right, on a gentle gradient, heading initially for Monsall. I don’t know this quadrant of Greater Manchester at all well, except to drive through to somewhere else, and North Manchester has always been considered a sort of backwards cousin to South Manchester (but as I’ve lived in South Manchester since the end of 1966, I may be showing a degree of prejudice here). On the other hand, I am seriously impressed by the fantastic flyover canopies that distinguish Central Park Station (wherever that is in real life).

The further we travel, the more I enjoy the ride. There are a lot of woodlands from when this was a rail line, whilst clearer spaces introduce old mills and factories, and the backs of terraced streets. We descend into South Chadderton Station, after which we continue at a lower level.

On the approach to Oldham, the line goes through a loop that sees us bend left and return right to straighten out, which was unexpected because on the Metrolink map, it’s represented as doubling the opposite direction. There are three stops in Oldham. I know that only a little more than Rochdale, mostly for visits over many years to the excellent Oldham Colisseum Theatre. These Expeditions are primarily about travelling the entire Metrolink Network, but I will come here and look round once they’re done.

Beyond Oldham we really sail out into open country for most of the rest of the way. The Pennines rear on the near horizon, the M62 into Yorkshire, one of the biggest holes through which the bloody Tykes get into Lancashire. There are old stone cottages mingling with looks-like-stone-but-is-brick housing estates.

We pass through Milnrow, which was the first place I ever visited in Richdale. In the Drought Summer of 1976 I did some summer work for the now-defunct GMC, supporting a massive survey on traffic numbers into and out of the County. Mostly we were making maps/directions for the surveyors but they weren’t quite geared up so, on my first day, two of us were sent on the bus to stand beside a Motorway Junction in Milnrow and count cars coming off.

By the time we reach Rochdale Town Centre, I am ready to stand up, drink and eat in that order. We crawl downhill to the terminus at what I later learn is known as Town Hall Square. Much refurbishment is going on and large areas are blocked off by high hoardings. I’m about to say that I don’t recognise a thing, when I suddenly spot the very place my Rochdale girlfriend asked me to meet her on our second date (at the end of which she let me drive her home so I knew where she lived and invited me in for a coffee that went stone cold because we started snogging instead, which happened every time I took her home, at first: things went well to begin with).

What I can see of the Town Centre looks like it’s a good place to wander round. The River Roch, which runs underneath her, has been exposed to view to an even greater extent than the Mersey in Stockport. There’s a splendid Memprial Gardens with a small amusement park and an impressive monument to the War Dead of the Town, plus it’s Market Day, but there’s bugger all shops selling things like food and drink, or pretty much of anything else. A Town Map shows me that I’m heading in the wrong direction if I want that sort of thing. It also tells me that I’ve missed the Gracie Fields statue, which is a shame because I’m going to have to walk back pass it and notice it (actually, I’m in luck: it’s behind hoardings and I can only just see the head).

I ewalk through the Market coming back. it’s compact and bijou and busy but it’s quite clearly a serious market, all clothes and cloth, bags and handbags and housegold products: no fun stalls. By now I need a loo so I reluctantly enter a Wetherspoons. Inside it’s cool, but the bar staff are a ramshackle bunch, the service is ultra slow and I lose all faith that they’re aware I’m there and won’t start serving the people who’ve come up behind me, so I deposit rather than consume and go elsewhere.

The Riverside Centre seems to be the next best bet. It backs onto the Metrolink Station but doesn’t seem keen on you getting in. Another long walk later, I plumb its secret depths. There are still no ‘fun’ shops, books, music or a local CEX but there is a Gregg’s from which I can finally slake my hunger and thirst.

What else there may be to find in Rochdale, further afield, I don’t know. It has not filled me with enthusiasm to roam further. Besides, I need to be home by a certain time for another eBay item being offered astonishingly cheap (I am outbid on this but really the winner still gets it ridiculously cheap considering that the next cheapest signed copy is four times dearer: I settle for an unsigned copy cheaper than my failed bid) so there’s no point in delaying when I’m not really enjoying myself all that much. Another time.

Besides, the vast majority of the girls in very abbreviated and tight shorts are so young that I feel embarrassed just noticing them in my peripheral vision.

Return journeys are unimportance squared unless you get a disaster like my Bury Expedition. I came, I saw, I made rough notes. Been there, done that, already had a t-shirt on.

The homeward run is uneventful. I got off at Exchange Square and walked up Market Street, re-re-re-re-re-awakening my visceral loathing of crowds. I just miss a 203 at its stop but for once this is no bad thing, because I suddenly realise I’ve forgotten to tap out my Concessionary Card when I left the tram, leaving me open to a £100 fine, and have to hitch over to Piccadilly Gardens and do it there.

The bus ride is untroubled to, until we hit an horrendous crawling queue about a mile and a half from my stop, the cause of which I never get to see. When i say crawl, I mean I could have walked it faster. Actually, I get off one stop early and whilst I can’t claim to beat the bus to my stop, it was neck-and-neck until the last five yards.

Four lines done, four more to do. Next Monday will be a bit different.

All the Fells: Scar Crags


Scar Crags

Scar Crags – The North Western Fells 2,205′ (21)

Date: 9 October 1984/1 July 1995

From: Causey Pike/Causey Pike

I have very little to say about Scar Crags, because there’s very little to say about it. It’s the base of the ridge of which Causey Pike is the shapely and interesting termination. It’s higher and broader and that’s about all there is to tell. It’s a sprawling whaleback with neither features nor shelter on its summit, not even anything to sit on except the ground. The first time, I didn’t even have it in my plans, being intent on Causey only, but I was up there with time and to spare, and it was a shame not to press on. I didn’t stay on the summit, I barely broke stride, some of which had to do with the sky getting greyer, rain becoming a possibility – and an eventuality lower down – and having no wish to be caught in so exposed a place. The second time it was the same again, except that it was a sunny day and entirely clement from start to finish. I loved those summer Saturdays, escaping into the hills. I don’t recall the path starting to deteriorate that badly, but Scar Crags is still part of one version of the Coledale Horseshoe, and years after I was horrified to see a winding causeway in a photo of the Sail Pass side of the ridge, an alien and artificial construct the sight of which I loathed.

The Infinite Jukebox: Radiohead’s ‘There There’


I really don’t like Radiohead. I don’t like Thom Yorke’s thin, weak, draggy voice, I don’t like the band’s patented miserablism, I don’t like their laggard tempos nor the sense that they’re looking down their noses at people who don’t appreciate their evident superiority to common musicians who play melodies you might be able to recognise or even hum in the shower. In that sense, they are a true throwback to the original Progressive era and the way not just the bands but their fans used to despise music without odd time-signatures or seventeen minute synthesizer solos. I remember that all too well.
So once again the question comes round to, why this? Why does this utterly characteristic song resonate with me where nothing else does?
I’ve asked that before of many songs that are slotted into the Infinite Jukebox, but usually I’ve had an answer, or part of an answer, something in the music as opposed to the words that my ears latch on to, that they make something out of. That repeats and repeats in my ear when I think of the song. Usually I have some sort of an explanation.
Like many other groups or artists, I knew of Radiohead before I heard them. They’d been around for years, they’d had a string of hit singles, including two Top 10 hits, but I no longer listened to the radio, or read any music papers. I went my own way, looking as much back for the music I hadn’t heard, than forwards or even sideways. But now I’d heard of them, heard of this breakthrough album, OK Computer, they were acclaimed.
And I was borrowing CDs from Withington Library, because that was where I had my office then, and there was this skinny librarian that I fancied rotten, and one day there was OK Computer, and I paid my 50p or whatever it was then for 24 hours, took it home, played it waiting to be impressed, and I just couldn’t get into it, at all. Worse, I couldn’t understand what people saw or heard in this stuff, and I can usually understand that even if I can’t share it.
A couple of years went by, I met someone, married her, gained stepchildren, which led to exposure to other kinds of music that I usually didn’t hear. No, none of them were into Radiohead, in fact the kids took the piss out of them, calling them ‘egg music’, after some performance on TV where they’d had an egg. I get the impression that they were talking about ‘Pyramid Song’, or is that because I remember seeing it on Top of the Pops and sitting there utterly bemused, waiting for something approximating a song to start happening.
None of which, as yet, explains ‘There There’. It’s just as tuneless as ‘Pyramid Song’, though it’s very plainly more a product of the rock idiom, based on the guitar and drums foundation of the song. A quasi-circular drum pattern that eschews any kind of rhythmic form, overlaid by a crunchy guitar sound that comes over as playing only skeletal aspects of a riff that nevertheless you couldn’t hum in the shower. Nor is the bass more than a presence, playing a third different line, independent of the other two components. The music is propulsive, but it feels like it represents a force that is stumbling, but inexorable. As the song progresses, it gathers momentum.
Enter Yorke. His voice is a whine, like someone singing in a higher key than is natural to him, words that are almost inaudible, and lacking in any coherence. Except when it comes to the only thing the song has that approximates to a chorus, and that suddenly chills you, even as its intention is the exact opposite: Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.
Yorke has said that this is what the song is about, about reassurance, that the fear that you fear, the thing in the dark woods that’s following you through the undergrowth, parallel to the path, is no more than your imagination, populating the unseeable with the unseen. But it’s a hollow reassurance, belief by the creepiness of the music, moving at its uneven gait, the stumbling of Frankenstein’s monster as it follows you.
And then, and then, the song suddenly takes on strength. It’s not quite orthodox rock of any kind, but the drums take on an extra level of power, the guitar firms up into a recognisable riff, the bass binds everything together. It’s not The Who in any form, but it’s like those moments when Townsend, Entwistle and Moon fused into one unstoppable entity, and even Yorke has to find something more than his self-pitying whine to stay a part of the song.
In the end it’s the drums that end it, a double rattle and an absence of song.
Does it all somehow come together and make sense? No, I can’t honestly say that it does, but it has taken you up, caught you and transplanted you, even as you return from its grasp unchanged in any way.
‘There There’ twists the idea of a song out of shape, yet finally pays respect to the shape of a song. It’s strident in a way no other Radiohead song has ever sounded to me. It contains a force, and the suggestion, to me at least, that if they weren’t so set on sounding difficult and clear, in the same way ELP, Yes and their ilk insisted on doing fifty years ago, there is the making of a potentially bloody good band in there.
It interests me to note that ‘There There’ was the seventh and final Top 10 single that Radiohead scored in the UK, or anywhere else in the world, though I don’t pretend to say that is a significant sign. I am no nearer a perfect understanding, but I have perhaps given myself some partial clues as to why this, and no other. Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.

All the Fells: Scafell Pike


Scafell Pike – The Southern Fells 3,210′ (28)

Date: 2 May 1985/6 August 1994/4 August 1996/ 1999

From: Eskdale/Seathwaite in Borrowdale/Scafell/Wasdale Head

My family got there before me. What’s more, my sister’s best friend, who went with them one week in those barren years after I refused to go on any more family holidays, also beat me to Scafell Pike, the highest high. The barren years stopped in 1983, when I went up on my own for the first time, and it was as early as 1985 that I set off intent on climbing the Pike as my Big Walk. I nearly didn’t make it. Poor weather at the start of the week wiped out any chance of walking, so I had to make the most of it with two days in a row. But this was when I was convinced I didn’t have it in me to walk more than every other day so two in two meant there was no chance I was fit for a third successive day, and especially not Scafell Pike. So I hung around, moody and purposeless in Ambleside, whilst the sun shone, until I snapped, grabbed a pair of butties, and bolted for my car and Eskdale. Setting off at 12.00 noon wasn’t the best idea, but I had the advantage of a familiar approach, from Taw House, past the waterfall in a dell, the Cowcove Zigzags and that lonely valley in the sky that I loved, until The Pike and Ill Crag rose above the low horizon, climbing the sky, magnificent architecture. Thus far I knew. Then I wandered round the edge of uppermost Eskdale and to the base of Cam Spout, scrambling up that with concerns about getting down it. In the upper valley, I stopped for a chat with a group of five lads, taking a breather. It was still a long ascent from there to Mickledore, and I was starting to feel it, but when they set off, I fell in with them, and their presence got me up all the way to Mickledore without needing another stop, whereas on my own I suspect there would have been half a dozen. They were going over to Wasdale so we parted company and, under the shadow of Broad Stand, I started the stony and surprisingly lonely final part of the walk, onto the Pike’s top. It was like that each time, the initial rise, a level band and the final steps up. Each time I would cross that level section entirely alone, on Scafell Pike, so close to the summit. It began to take on the aspect of a ritual: we approach on our own, composing ourselves. So there I was, the highest point in England, the amazing views, the only place you can look down on Bowfell, which seems to twist its shoulders away, as if embarrassed by the scrutiny. I was there, I’d got to the highest point, and I’d done it all on my own. Once I had been to the top spot, the next objective had to be everywhere else. I returned to Mickledore, got down the valley, got down Cam Spout despite my trepidation. Much as I loved the route I’d ascended, I didn’t want to repeat all my steps so, after careful scouting, I found a place to cross the Esk – surprisingly broad this high – and found the path on the far bank that wound round Great Moss to above Esk Gorge and steeply down to Throstlegarth. We’d come that far several times, and once Dad had got the four of us up above the gorge: I was backing into memories of when we were that unshadowed family. It was years since I had been at Throstlegarth, and I never came there again, but the walk back to Brotherilkeld was still as recognisable as ever, so much so that I was unaware of the diversion that avoids the farm and completed the walk through it, as of old. It was gone 6.00pm, and I was footsore, and glad of the ride I was given from the foot of Hard Knott to my car. Almost a decade later I returned, to tackle the Pike from Seathwaite. Ostensibly, the point of the walk was to tick off Great End but this was the supreme day for me: the Taylorgill Force variation to Sty Head, the Corridor Route to Lingmell Col, that easy, measured ascent to the summit, again approaching in solitude. It was a sunny summer Saturday and the summit was crawling with people, so I walked down to the south top to eat my lunch and admire the views over Upper Eskdale and of Scafell Crag, the wind blowing from me to them, making them inaudible and to all intents non-existent. Then the long ridge of the massif, visiting Broad Crag and Ill Crag en route. What an unbelievably good day. A third time was on sheer impulse: I’d climbed Scafell by Lord’s Rake, planning to descend by Foxes Tarn and come back over Mickledore, but I was still pumped up by the Rake, and I decided to visit Scafell Pike at the same time, descending to Lingmell Col and Hollow Stones, pleased with my little self. My last visit was part of a project, that fell short by one, to visit all four three thousand footers in the same summer. I wanted another variation, even though this offered me the least new ground on the Pike: Brown Tongue and Hollow Stones, but then on to Mickledore itself, a long, stony channel unstable underfoot, a long and very tiring drag until I stood on Mickledore for the third and last time. A final approach to the Pike, again going through that band of solitude, and down by Lingmell Col. I had every intention, and expectation, of returning in the Twenty-First Century, but already my life was changing. I was in increasingly regular e-mail contact with a woman in East Anglia, who was a geographically unexpected Droylsden fan, and eighteen months later I would marry her, putting paid to the freedom to take off to the Lakes and wander alone. I’d have happily taken her to every summit I’d visited, well, perhaps not the dull ones, for her sake, but it was a new life and things like climbing Scafell Pike had no place in it. But four ascents is not unimpressive, after all.

Sunday Watch: Victoria Wood – As Seen On TV s02 e04-06


victoria_wood_as_seen_on_tv

This time it’s more like nine months since I last watched Victoria Wood – As Seen On TV and, barring one Xmas Special, the last time. Victoria Wood knew to a nicety when to stop doing one thing and do something else. Like John Cleese and Connie Booth with Fawlty Towers, two series, each of six episodes was the limit: Wood knew what so many other people in comedy didn’t understand, which is not to run an idea into the ground.

What can I say about these last three episodes that I haven’t said about other visits to the series? Though they date from 1986, and some of the cultural references would now go over the heads of any audience that wasn’t there at the time – Terrence Conran, Miriam Stoppard – the comedy is grounded very firmly in the ordinary lives of people, on top of which Wood ladles a generous helping of surrealism and absurdity that always maintains its internal logic and convinces you that this is what people really do, think and say.

All the usual features are there. The perennially awful ‘Acorn Antiques’ and Susie Blake’s condescending announcer feature each time but there is sadly only one glorious Kitty – Patricia Routledge making the hilarious look effortless – and one Kelly-Marie Tunstall with a classic punch-line. Belinda Lang, of whom I was quite enamoured in those days on 2.4 Children, pops up for a black and white sketch parodying stiff-upper-lip War movies that’s played totally seriously until the stinger in the last line.

It makes you laugh and it makes you sad at the same time, that Victoria Wood isn’t still here with us. I miss her so much. Thankfully, it’s a big box-set, even if one disc is just all the ‘Acorn Antiques’ collected into one run, so there’s still much more to come.

I don’t usually comment about the songs but the one in episode 4, ‘I Saw You Today’, was somethingspecial. Wood’s songs are comedy in themselves. Musically, they don’t do much for me, a bit too cabaret/TV light entertainment fare for my liking, the focus being on the words, so a simply, lightly backed song with a sweet melody was out of the ordinary to begin with. But the words…

The lyrics had all the trappings of Victoria Wood’s style, a love song, an unrequited love song full of commonplace details, her extraordinary gift for not only the recollection of the minutiae of life but a northern life that I respond to because everything in it is so familiar, brought back to life in the catalogue of all the things we do each day.

The song’s structure suggests that you might be meant to laugh about it, genty, in recognition of the emotions involved, but I couldn’t and didn’t and from the way Wood sung it, I don’t think she meant it to be funny, not even in the way that Clive James’ poem ‘Occupation: Housewife’ steers you from hysterical laughter to a depth of loss that has you weeping.

Because whilst the song begins, and is all about seeing someone you love, hoping to catch their eye and have them smile at you on the bus slowly it unfolds into a song about an impossible, an undeliverable crush on someone at school who only sees you as a girl in a blazer, and then it runs deeper as we understand that this is an eleven year oldgirl with a crush on a sixteen year old boy, and Wood brings out the depth of feeling, improbable but nevertheless real and crushing, in someone that young whose desperate and unfulfillable desire fills her with hope and hopelessness all mixed into the same crush of feelings that you can neither control nor understand.

The song is available on YouTube under the title ‘Crush’ but it’s a different arrangement, played on piano and sung faster. It may be more like we expect from Wood, musically, but it is a cr ushing disappointment (pun intended) when set against the show’s rearrangement of it. The recording is meant to mix poignancy and comedy in a more even balance. I’d call it a rare mistake.

Episode 6 ended with a classic sketch, featuring Julie Walters as an aged waitress and Duncan Preston and Celia Imrie as a married couple trying to order lunch – typical of Wood to leave herself out of the ending of her own series. It was funny as all get out, but what stood out for me was the recollection of Preston and Imrie, after Wood’s death, discussing the filming of it, and how difficult it was to play their parts with the seriousness the sketch demanded whilst Julie Waters was performing as she did, and they just wanting to collapse in tears of laughter, just like us.

Victoria Wood. Could always be relied upon to make you laugh until you cried.

All the Fells: Scafell


Scafell – The Southern Fells 3,162′ (171)

Date: 29 April 1993/4 August 1996

From: Slight Side/Wasdale Head

Originally, Scafell was thought to be the highest fell in Cumberland, as its name attests: to the shepherds who work these fells and who named them, it was the obviously more important mountain, and the one that was eventually found to be higher than it was merely ‘The Pikes near Scafell’. It ended up being the last of Lakeland’s four 3,000 footers that I climbed, and whereas I ascended each of the other three four times in total, I only reached Scafell’s top twice. Both days were, however, magic. The first was from Eskdale, by the Terrace Route and Slight Side to begin with. Beyond the latter, a long, intriguing, surprisingly grassy shoulder of land, on which the path stunned me by being so intermittent in its lower stages, took me upwards. It was a very long way, though the walking underfoot offered me nothing but distance by way of difficulty. I was in a heightened state following this way, filled with anticipation. I couldn’t believe how far I had to walk, and how over such a distance I could still be going uphill, with no longer any vistas ahead to suggest how much further until the summit arrived all at once and I was there. To descend, after I had rested and revelled in just being there, and had roused my incipient vertigo by trying and failing to peer down Deep Ghyll, I descended right from the col, into the deep groove that led me down to Foxes Tarn. It was relaid almost to the tarn itself and was thus easy to manage but what held my attention was the feeling that I was descending into a secret chamber in the mountain: no exit was discernible from above. The Tarn was tiny, no bigger than an average living room, dominated by a boulder the size of a three-piece suite. When I reached its shores, the exit opened up, around a corner to the left, and down a stony channel to the path from Cam Spout to Mickledore. I descended by the five point method: five points of contact with the ground, four of them fixed at every moment. Five? Two hands, two feet, one bum. Below Mickledore I turned right, descended to Cam Spout. It was my second descent by its steepness and I no more relished it than the first. I crossed the low horizon to my left, into that lonely, amazing, tip-tilted valley in the sky, down to the Catcove Zigzags, Taw House Farm and the long but happy road walk back to my car at Wha House Farm. My second visit was all about climbing Lord’s Rake. From the car park at the Lake head, up the steep valley between the two mountains that we had ascended as a family, but for a first time onwards, by Brown Tongue to Hollow Stones and that amazing cirque of silent crags, the sun’s rays falling over their rim. A long scree fan, taken slowly but steadily, the ground never 100% stable underfoot, until I worked round to the right and into the bottom of Lord’s Rake. That stony, bare, wide groove, high grey walls on either side, testing each step, the angle increasing until it was so steep getting to the top, before the days of the perched boulder on the first col, that I entirely missed the access to the West Wall Traverse. Then down and up, twice, on a narrow path with no protective wall shielding me from the falling fellside to my right, but up and out, and I had walked Lord’s Rake: Dad, you would have been so proud! And so envious. I was so adrenalised by doing that safely that I fairly shot up the rest of that flank to the summit. I had no dreams of descending the bland, tedious looking Greenside slope back to the lake, so I came down by Foxes Tarn again, the relaid path treacherous, indeed next-to-invisible under the loosened stone and scree. But I was so charged up that, instead of coming back over Mickledore, as soon as I got back up there I turned off to climb the Pike again, which I certainly hadn’t intended to. According to Wainwright, there’s only one rougher ridge-route in the whole Lake District, and that’s this one in the opposite direction, so I had every right to feel so excited that, once I found a phone box in Eskdale, I rang my girlfriend at home to boast about it. And all this on a Sunday that had started at 6.00am in Manchester.

Uncollected Thoughts: The Sandman s01 e01 – Sleep of the Just


As the time grew nearer to Netflix’s television adaptation of Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg’s The Sandman, my determination to avoid spoilers grew more and more difficult. The series has been the object of furious debate across all the comics websites I still peruse, most notably in fans objection to the casting of certain roles, especially that of Lucifer. No, we did not want Tom bloody Evans playing the part, and for good reason, but his fans shrieked loudly.

With the exception of a handful of photos showing the most prominent members of the cast in their roles, and countlress quotes by Neil Gaiman concealing his exasperation at the limited tolerance of an audience whose response to change is to stick their fingers so far into their ears and eyes that they meet without need of witches talons, I made it to the starting line pretty much intact.

Of course, I had not forgotten the very biggest spoiler of them all, which was reading issue 1 way back in 1989: issue 1 and every succeeding issue, swapping out for the first edition Graphic Novel versions as they appeared. month after month after month. There would be changes – the colour blind casting for one – and details that would be added or subtracted, creating or breaking new or old connections. But this was Neil Gaiman, and given the effort he put into bringing in Good Omens as close to the book as possible, was there really any chance that he would not do the same with this?

So it all unfolded, calm, austere, strange, not quite almost dream-like, but in a stately fashion befitting the imprisonment of Dream, of the Endless, for over a century (an updated detail: it was seventy years in the comic but the comic was thirty years ago), until his release, until his return to his ruined realm and his determination to rebuild and restore.

I’m not going to go into any detail. If you aren’t smart enough to want to watch this already, nothing I can say will cure this lack in you. The Sandman is quintuple wow, unbelievable in the best Kate Bush mode. The whole ten episodes dropped at once but there’s no way I can binge something like this. Two episodes a day, maybe, with at least six hours grace in between, maybe that much, is about all I can take. And if there doesn’t turn out to be one episode that immediately inserts itself alongside ‘Fall-out’, ‘If-Then-Else’ and ‘The Return Chapter Eight’ I shall be astounded.

P.S. The Guardian‘s review of the whole series, which I am now free to read, suggests there is going to be exactly that and I know which issue they’re talking about. If they can catch that, prepare to have your head blown off!