Cumbria Scenes – 31.3.12


Ennerdale from Green Gable

And this is the other picture: Ennerdale once more, seen now from its head and not its foot.
The scene is now from Green Gable, the smaller, grassier, perpetually overlooked of the two Gables, not well seen, except from east or west, and even then its neat, clean lines and its small, peaked summit, are still ignored in favour of its bulkier, rockier, more demanding brother.
Yet Green Gable’s uncluttered summit, and its subsidiary position, make it a superior viewpoint for Ennerdale, where it, more than Great Gable, occupies the head of the valley.
Again we seen Ennerdale’s great, almost straight length, and the plantations near the head of the valley in stark contrast to the paler green of the cleared sections. Further down the valley, craggy Pillar’s sharp shadows are not enough to conceal even greater battalions of trees, controlling much of the valley to the head of the Lake itself, glimpsed at a distance.
Pillar is even more dominant in this view than in yesterday’s scene. Here, it displays a little of its back, and the Mosedale mountains dependent upon it.
To the right of the picture, the green moorlands beyond Ennerdale’s moraine-bestrewed head occupy the foreground, before the irascible Haystacks, home to the recently-featured Innominate and Blackbeck Tarns. Beyond is High Crag, the third fell of the High Stile range, topped by High Stile itself: now Red Pike is invisible.
There is a glimpse of Starling Dodd, and, beyond it, the setting for yesterday’s picture, Great Borne, with the subsidiary ground of Bowness Point lying below it.
Though we’re now in the high hills of the background of yesterday’s scene, this view is easier to achieve than the first. From the top of Honister Pass, a steep but short ascent along the tracks of the old railway brings you onto those moorlands. A number of paths – the route to Great Gable and the infamous Moses’s Trod among them – will take you along the flank of the hills that build to Gable, and there is even no need to climb Green Gable to see into and along Ennerdale like this.
But it’s much more fun if you do.

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Cumbria Scenes – 30.3.12


Ennerdale from Great Borne

Today’s scene is the first of a pair: a magnificent mountain scene, from an overlooked viewpoint, showing the distant and secretive valley of Ennerdale in glorious fashion.
I’ve already written about this lonely and moderately inaccessible valley, but it does hold a certain fascination for me. I’ve always been dependant upon a car to get me to the best places from which to start the most attractive and interesting ascents, and thus Ennerdale’s restrictions, and the long valley miles to reach even the start of a walk have kept it more of a mystery to me than almost every other major valley.
The view here is from the summit of Great Borne, which borders the northern shore of the Lake. It’s a striking looking little fell from lake level but lacks the height to back up its appearance, but an ascent by the out-of-favour Floutern Tarn Pass, and the scramble up Steel Brow, is a worthy half-day expedition, especially with such a view.
Ahead lies the rising ridge separating Ennerdale from Buttermere: in the foreground, Starling Dodd, and beyond, Red Pike and the swelling bulk of High Stile: two thirds of a range that presents its best face to the Buttermere Valley.
To the right of the picture, snow-capped, is Pillar, the monarch of Ennerdale, presenting a majestic aspect, even as it turns a noble southern flank to the more popular (and car-accessible) Wasdale. Beyond it, Kirk Fell, showing some of its hidden cliffs, and, touched briefly by cloud, Great Gable. Beside the latter, and always in its shadow, Green Gable.
The Lake is invisible in this shot, but the long, silent valley stretches out between the two ridges, carpeted in green by the Forestry Commission. That’s my abiding memory of Ennerdale valley: the shrouding trees. But if you want to escape the crowds…
Great Borne was my sole walking expedition out of Ennerdale. From here, I continued to Starling Dodd before retracing my steps a ways, and picking out a tiny fold in the ridge that developed into a steepening beck. By this way, I avoided repeating too much trodden ground and came out onto Floutern on the Mosedale side of the ridge, leaving me a short, and thankfully none-too-boggy, climb back to the summit, passing the sheltered Tarn itself.

Cumbria Scenes – 26.3.12


Blencathra, with its batwing sweep, its shattered yet symmetrical southern face, presenting across the wide Keswick-Penrith Gap, demands the eye, and once it has the eye, the attention is overwhelmed. Few who aspire to walk can look at its majestic aspect and resist the urge to ascend its heights.
In addition to its magnetic appeal, there is that beautiful ancient, sonorous name, yet, when I was young, it was close to forgotten: ignored, an afterthought in minuscule type appended to the name used by the Ordnance Survey, and the vast majority of the public; the utterly prosaic Saddleback.
The name comes from the eastern aspect of the fell, seen best in the early part of the approach from Penrith, and it tripped off the tongue, alliteratively, in company with the other half of the south-facing fells in that isolated region north of Keswick: Skiddaw and Saddleback.
Thanks, naturally, to Wainwright and his Guides, Saddleback is rarely heard. Walkers flood towards its summit every day, from all angles of the compass, but mostly from one of the many routes up that southern face.
Blencathra is a wide-angle lens fell, sweeping across the skyline between two mirror-image sweeping grassy outliers, Blease Fell and Scales Fell. Between, some gigantic hand has gouged four parallel channels down the face,hooking outwards to leave narrow gills near the base, separated by three steep buttresses: Gategill Fell, Hall’s Fell and Doddick Fell. Five fells, with five tops, the centre of which, Hallsfell Top, being the summit, four gullies, rough, steep and stony. No other fell has such a choice of ascents. Whilst Blease and Scales Fells are easy, grassy rambles, the inner seven routes are walks demanding strength, agility and stamina.
My favourite – and the most direct route to a summit in the Lakes – is by Halls Fell: a steeply contoured ascent for the valley bottom leading to a narrowing ridge, straight as an arrow, arriving on the top a yard from the cairn, and sufficiently stiff a walk that the massive view behind will come as a revelation because there will have been no dawdling and looking back on this climb.
The final ascent above Halls Fell itself is known as Narrow Edge: not so severe as Helvellyn’s Striding and Swirral Edges, nor Blencathra’s own Sharp Edge, about which I wrote shortly after the beginning of this series on CiFUnderground. But there is this stretch where, in order to progress, you must set your boots to this groove along the side of the ridge, whilst holding on to the crest for balance. Not too difficult, even with my stomach, but ladies and creatures under 5’5” may find it challenging.
The picture above is taken from the Castlerigg Stone Circle, above Keswick. It doesn’t show the southern face in its glory, but it does remind me of the climb described above: I descended via Blease Fell, prominent in this picture, headed towards Keswick, but turned off for the Circle on a whim. Stood in the middle of these ancient stones, staring up at Blencathra, where I had recently been, I was astounded to realise that I had been on the summit only one hour previous to that moment.

Cumbria Scenes – 22.3.12


The Langdale Pikes, especially seen across the blue of Windermere, are one of the classic sights of the Lake District, reproduced in its millions. This picture shows them from a different aspect, but it is not the Pikes that are the subject of this piece, but rather the site from where the photo is taken.
Rossett Gill is a name that, for decades, set the experienced walker shuddering. An inescapable part of the long, overland route from Great Langdale to Sty Head, crossing the lower part of the Esk Hause plateau, and giving access to Scafell Pike from the east, it was infamous less from its steepness than its deeply unpleasant stoniness and looseness underfoot.
Rossett Gill had the benefit of two carefully-constructed, beautifully graded zig-zags,spreading wide across the Bowfell flank of the Gill. But hordes of impatient, unsympathetic and stupid walkers lacked the calmness and intelligence to follow the gentler slopes of the contoured route, and charged headlong, up and down the fellside, crashing the route, scraping the grass and vegetation, racking the fellside with ugly, loose, straight scars that the uninformed imagined to be paths themselves. It looked horrendous, and it was horrendous to use.
Eventually, the National Trust stepped in, fenced off the fellside to allow it to recover, and laid its constructed paths along the old zig-zags, restoring sense and harmony to the route. On my last visit, only the topmost section was untreated: it was a grim reminder of hos things had been.
But there was yet more to Rossett Gill. Wainwright devoted a page to it in The Southern Fells, tracing the remnants of an even older way, a pony route easing gently around the Bowfell slopes in silence, charm and grassy solitude, before merging into the uppermost zig-zag. Originally a route for goods smuggled out of Ravenglass, when that was the premier port of north England, little remained, easier to see from the Langdale Pikes than underfoot.
One day I had a magnificent walk around the Langdale skyline: Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Esk Pike too, descending to Esk Hause and returning towards Rossett Gill. I can’t remember if I had the possibility in mind,or if it was a spur of the moment but, tired through I was, at the furthest sweep of the zig-zag, I set out to trace the pony route.
Whilst the marching millions crunched on stone down the zig-zag path, and strode through Mickleden, I tracked my way across the silent fellside, to the tiny pool with it’s natural causeway, the hidden sheepfold, the intermittent little zigzags down a deepening green tongue, and finally, still in total solitude, down the further bank to the valley bottom, and a squelchy return to the Mickleden highway.
It was a joy at every step, far far better than the procession could ever have been.
Chris Jesty, Wainwright’s official heir, has now produced Revised Second Editions of the Pictorial Guides. To my surprise, given the hordes of walkers who followed Wainwright’s routes into the hills, many paths originally recorded have now vanished into the grass and the rock, unused and overlooked. I am glad I took my chance with the old pony route when I did, for there were far too few like me, prepared to seek out such corners. Jesty reports that in 2006, none of the path could be traced.
At least I walked it then, but it saddens me to hear that another of the paths of our ancestors has disappeared into the dust of the centuries.

Cerebus – Part 6


Even at its peak circulation, of approximately 25,000 copies per month, Cerebus was not a very commercial title. Given that that audience took in America, Canada and the UK, I was lucky to have three friends with whom I could discuss this story, over so many years. What did they think of Cerebus’s last years? Two stopped reading it, and I lost contact with the third.

But the one thing we all agreed upon from early in our reading was the horror of having Dave Sim walk in front of a bus before it was done. To read for years and years, and be denied an answer not due until the next century.

I alone survived to reach issue 300. From which perspective I can only say that if that bus had come along three issues into the last story, Latter Days, it’s timing could not have been bettered. Beyond issue 268 there is nothing in Cerebus that does not undermine and dismantle its greatness, that does not leave a mental bad taste if you re-read it (or as much as you can bear to read). Nor is it possible to read the book when it was good without a repressed shudder at the knowledge of the atrocity that would follow.

What destroyed Cerebus when it should have been capping off its achievements? Personally, I blame God. Not because I am an atheist, though I wouldn’t rule out Sim’s religious fervour as one of the factors in driving me to that conclusion. But God entered Dave Sim’s head, and God screwed it up, and God became a player in the final years of the story, and it fell apart like wet paper.

And it was not even a God that we would recognise, for Sim’s God, and Sim’s religion was, as his continuing notes after each episode made plain, was a special hybrid, of God, Allah and Jehovah, a stitch-and-sew (Sim rejects computers) of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Oh, and Canada is a Marxist country, which is self-evident for its failure to follow Bush Junior into Iraq.

Yet, despite the disturbances in earlier issues, there is initially hope that Sim has retained his skill. Two issues take a traumatised Cerebus into the north in search of death: two issues are enough for him to live in an equivalent of Canada, a perpetual loser, for thirty plus years, outliving everyone else we have known, before deciding that in order to get killed, he needs to return south and piss off the Cirinists.

Which he is about to do, until rescued by the Three Wise Fellows (not men), incarnated in Sim style by the Three Stooges. This ought to be good, thinks the reader, closing the last page of issue 268. But it is not, ever again.

The Three Wise Fellows kidnap Cerebus and confine him to the Sanctuary where, immovable for years, he is expected to say the True Word at the end of having Rick’s 13 Chapter Book of Cerebus read at him, over and again. Eventually, he comes up with a plan to kill all the Cirinists and is released. His plan is tactically inept, but the Cirinists are wiped out by Sim’s last steal from comics, a sweet, pointless and ultimately mean-minded portrayal of artist/writer Todd MacFarlane. By now, Cerebus is himself riddled by madness, having imagined himself as Rabbi, a cross between early Superman and Garth Innes’s renowned Preacher. Having stolen the movement back, and instituted a cull of women by men, who suddenly all think the way Sim does, Cerebus goes nuts to allow another couple of decades to go by.

Once he recovers, it gets worse. You may be attempting to wonder how, but what comes now is a hideous mess. Cerebus begins to analyse the Old Testament, reading into it the unrevealed truth of a creation divided between a male JHWH, or Jehovah, and a female JHWH, a creation of Jehovah that believes itself an equal of Jehovah, who Sim, with what now passes for subtle humour in this once hilarious and pointed series, names Yoohoo.

In parallel to the bible commentary, we get an equally prose-heavy history of Woody Allen’s career and life, focussed upon Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, all of whom are buried under a weight of Rational Thought unparalleled since the caveman days.

And it goes on for month after month. After month. After month. After month. Flawed beyond belief, more tedious even that that, it represents the destruction of the intellect of the creator, a dismantling carried out in excruciating detail, with every leaden thought.

And though Sim, in his notes, protests that he is travelling in an ever-straighter line towards the long foreseen end, the only end, I look at how much this turgid dreck differs from his work before issue 200 – even the infamous misogyny issues – and as a reader of over twenty years standing, I simply cannot believe in these final thirty-odd issues as being Sim’s original intention.

There’s a twist, at the end, though hardly anyone cares by now. All those issues have been narrated by Cerebus and, when everyone has finally ceased to remember, Sim unveils the listener and it is Jaka. No, it’s not, she’s long dead, it’s a teenager identical to her, ready to submit to Cerebus, as long as he swears it’s not because she reminds him of Joanne…

As the story goes into its final year, into the long-drawn out final day of Cerebus’s existence, even Gerhard has had enough and can’t go on. Gerhard, who has worked at home for years, coming in only once a week, Gerhard who has his Rose and his sailboat, Gerhard, the only person under the sun who believes that his work is inadequate and can no longer stand the stomach pains he gets from the crap he thinks he draws: Gerhard can’t go on.

But Sim persuaded him to stay, rearranging his work to place the least possible burden on his buddy.

The Bible Study is over, but for two issues we still get Sim sounding off, drawing together a kind of creation document that he has the cheek to suggest is the actual Grand Unified Theory. And then there is nothing but an incredibly aged Aardvark, forgetful an flatulent.

The world has rolled on. Cerebus still reigns, but feminism has returned, in even more hideous and ludicrous form. After years of extrapolating where feminism MUST go, Sim has lost all restraint. It’s nearly over, he need longer restrain himself to the plausible, because, naturally, women are wholly implausible and completely unreasonable. In this vein, we limp to the last crucial moment, to when Cerebus is allowed to meet with his sun, Shep-Shep – or rather Sheshep.

Sheshep and his mother have defied nature and begun to crossbreed animals. Sheshep plans to rule in a hybrid form: he will be what, centuries later, we will see as the Sphinx of Egypt. With his last energies, Cerebus rises from his bed, with his sword, to kill his son… but the steps slip, he falls, and breaks his neck. But he still manages to get in one last good fart.

As he dies, he sees visions of those he has known, all hailing him, welcoming him, towards the Light. But the presence of Rick alerts him. The Light is a trap, it is not Vanaheim, it is eternal damnation… It is over.

And I’m sorry, after having invested so many years into the enthusiastic pursuit of Cerebus, I was glad to see it go. Given how regularly I reread it during the years I was collecting the series, it is telling that it was eight years after the series ended that I read it again, at long last. And equally telling that the Bible Study issues alone took more physical time to read than the other 290+ issues combined.

I still call Cerebus a great graphic. Just to complete a 300 issues series, 26 years of unbroken work, is a phenomenon beyond anything else in comics. And to have so much of it work at so high a level, of writing, of art, of thought. Even in the gradual decline, before the series fell off the edge of a cliff in its final three years, Sim still showed a mastery of what he was doing at a level higher than almost anyone else about.

But it cracked, and was shattered. And no-one could put humpty together again.

 

Cerebus – Part 5


So, what does a former Prime Minister and Pope do when he’s been conveyed to the frozen surface of Pluto by a voice in his head, telling him that his great and high destiny was forfeit before it even began and his life has been an utter waste? Why, he goes down the pub and gets pissed, of course.

The long aftermath begins with Guys, one of three stories, roughly equal in length, although the final part of Guys is actually dignified with its own name. For many issues it seems aimless and rambling, which is, of course, because it is aimless and rambling. Cerebus gets drunk, men mill about the bar, laughing, drinking, bullshitting, playing games. Some figures are taken from other independent series, as a form of approval, as a commentary, as an exemplar of the various aspects of masculinity that Sim is celebrating, but there is a strong core, based around Cerebus’s old mercenary buddy, Bear, who ground the Aardvark’s existence.

Because Sim’s openly espoused anti-feminist/misogynist theme hasn’t gone away, isn’t ever going to go away. He’s just showing it from a different angle: first men being men, then men talking about men. That they’re all comfortably confined into areas circumscribed by the Cirinists doesn’t matter: these are men in their element – among men. Where women feature they are in their own category, as spoilers who want men to stop doing what they want to do, as creatures who, laughably, expect themselves to be more important to men than, well, than whatever the man happens to feel like doing.

Sim emphasises this by introducing Ziggy, Bear’s old girlfriend. Bear is re-smitten: everybody else relocates south, leaving Cerebus alone. For a brief moment, the Aardvark asserts himself against his ‘keeper’, Mrs Thatcher, to take over as bartender. But being alone is dangerous, as Cerebus’s mind wars against itself. An idea is implanted, of returning to his home, Sand Hills Creek, but resisted by the wavering conviction that Bear will come to his senses and return.

Enter a divisive figure: Joanne. The ‘real’ Joanne, that is but, in almost every respect, identical to the ‘Joanne’ introduced into Cerebus’s head by Dave. Cerebus flip-flops between varying fears of an ultimate fate dictated either by his god, Tarim, or his creator, ‘Dave’, even as the new game plays out according to Sim’s rules. Yes, Joanne and Cerebus are soon shagging each other’s brains out (thankfully not graphically), comfortably agreeing that they’re not in love, and this isn’t a relationship.

But, and stop me if you’ve already guessed this one, whilst the Male Light rests contentedly on his agreement, the Female Void soon wants more, and more, of him. The explosion and breach is both inevitable and timely, coming days before Cerebus’s deadline to leave. But now another figure enters the bar: burly, bearded, middle-aged, and on the surface a self-confident masculine figure. It is Rick, Jaka’s former husband, and his phase of the story is elevated to become Rick’s Story.

For a mere twelve issues, this final phase is remarkably heavy and complex to read, both visually and in dialogue. Too heavy in many ways for the brevity of the story. And the first glimpsing of a new component of Sim’s story is disturbing.

Briefly: Rick is a licensed writer, who cynically puts approved words into the mouths of women who he considers too self-centred and stupid to say them at all. He’s also mad. Cerebus loathes him on sight. Rick relates a story of his courtship of Jaka that is a third hand sucker-punch from Viktor (Davis). Joanne takes up with a smitten Rick to try to punish Cerebus who, though he wants nothing more to do with her, begins a fight for Rick in which he spouts further extensions of Viktor’s ‘philosophy’. The bemused Rick secretly begins another book: The Book of Cerebus. It is a gospel.

In the monthly comic, Sim had abandoned the letters pages in favour of essays expanding on his views in various manners, essays that would grow increasingly extreme, and increasingly filled with references to himself as the evil misogynist: references that read as bitterness to the pariah status he was bringing upon himself, but which would be subsequently excused as subtle satires. What was beginning to show was that Sim had, personally, discovered religion.

Let’s leave that point. The Book of Cerebus is no mere joke, nor is the confused conclusion to Rick’s part of his story, as he leaves, setting a spell that may or may not exist, and may be Confinement or Expulsion. Worryingly, Sim doesn’t seem to know either, concentrating on his re-appearance as Dave, sat at the bar, smoking, drinking, telling Cerebus he’s got to move soon, it’s driving someone (Gerhard) crazy, the lack of change of backgrounds.

And the moment arrives, in fairy-tale fashion: Jaka enters the bar. Cerebus’s resistance, born of accepting Dave’s assertion that he and Jaka simply cannot work, dissolves in an instant. A glow, an almost palpable warmth, spreads through the pages. The Lovers are together, and for the first time not bound by restrictions. They are free to love, gloriously, insanely, in the face of all Reason.

And this is the sublime paradox: that Sim, the defender of Reason, the implacable opponent of Emotion, evokes with joyous fullness the joy of love, the overwhelming delight in existence and the other-who-is-no-other, lifting the series, for several issues, to a height it will never, ever touch again. The fairy-tale element is subliminally emphasised by the fact that Jaka is unchanged, physically, despite the considerable years added to Rick’s life, and no-one cares.

But there’s a final hurdle to cross. Now Bear returns, free of Ziggy, with friends in tow. The old life of the bar is available again: drinks and smokes and cards and stories and who gives a shit? It’s what Cerebus has waited for, and Jaka’s reaction confirms it is a direct choice. Though Sim would characterise it as a mistake, Cerebus has no difficulty rising above the gentle taunts of ‘Puss-puss’ to go with his girl. Back to Sand Hills Creek.

How that fares is the subject of the second aftermath story, Going Home. Put simply, it’s the story of how Cerebus got back to his old home, and of the slow disintegration of his relationship with Jaka – as if you hadn’t anticipated that. It’s a longer story than those words describe, because it’s a long story, but also because Sim takes full opportunity to treat at length two of the Twentieth Century’s Great American Writers.

This is off the menu to begin with, as Cerebus and Jaka head west on foot, basking in the continued glow of each other, sustaining that glow for a few issues. But already cracks are beginning to appear. Jaka’s enjoyment of the journey for itself, her insistence on fresh clothes every day, soon put the pair behind a schedule that only Cerebus, who knows the wild lands, is trying to keep. Already, Jaka’s female unreliability stands revealed. Inevitably, they turn back, head south, to make a river journey north, to make the crossing from another point, next summer.

Thus we come to our first literary excursion. Another passenger on the boat is F. Stop Kennedy, a middle-aged writer, a romantic, a social butterfly, who falls for a Jaka who loathes him but plays a complex social game all down the river. Kennedy, however, is Scott Fitzgerald, and in dialogue, expression and prose, Sim sets out to anatomise Fitzgerald and his work, as detailed in appendices in the back of the book.

Of course, the writer is seen against the background of the Cirinist – no, now Mothers – society that prevails, and is tinged by his treatment of, and by, Fitzgerald’s real wife Zelda, a women writer that Sim admits to having a tiny degree of respect for. But by the end of the voyage, his ‘seduction’ of Jaka, not as a lover but a potential patroness, has diverted her enough from Cerebus to allow the Mothers to gently remove him, without a scene.

But Jaka is as naïve as Cerebus, who suspects none of this, and when she realises she is condemning him to death, she recovers her balance, and insists on their progressing. That progression is by a winter safari led by Sim’s second literary object, Ham Ernestway (you should be able to work that one out for yourself).

All is not, however, well. This is Hemingway near the end of his life, closing in on suicide. And Sim, who had thought him the correct figure to utilise as an object of masculine worship for Cerebus, found that he disliked and disrespected Hemingway’s work immensely – though not as much as he did Papa’s fourth and final wife, Mary.

The bulk of the story is an excoriation of Mary Hemingway, leading to an unveiled accusation of murder for her part in facilitating Hemingway’s suicide, but the circumstances that lead up to this are far clearer in the increasingly hostile appendix than in the story borrowed for the page. At least the art remains good, though it is noticeable that Mary’s story rarely involves any backgrounds: though we don’t yet know this, Gerhard is beginning to find it difficult to keep on his task.

The suicide finally allows the focus of the story to return to Cerebus and Jaka and the completion of the journey home. It is extremely difficult, both physically and emotionally, and Cerebus begins to open up to Jaka as to how she will be expected to live in this god-fearing, masculine-oriented society. Remarkably, between her training in observing social codes and the promise that this will not apply in private, Jaka stays on course, as Cerebus begins to fantasise the big welcome home he will get, not just from his Mum and Dad, but a community proud of a favoured son who did so well.

But it is a disaster. Somehow, the Town does know Cerebus is back, and they close their doors against him. He is shunned, running frantically, with Jaka keeping close to him, until he reaches his parents’ empty home and the one neighbour who, briefly, confirms his fears. Cerebus’s parents are dead. His Dad died alone, unaccompanied by the son whose biggest duty was to be there for him. Delayed, no doubt, by his ‘harlot’. Cerebus is Shunned, to a final extent of cruelty that no-one will tell him where to find his parents’ graves.

And as Jaka tries to comfort him, Cerebus turns on her, rejecting her wholly in anger and hatred, throwing the entirety of the blame onto her, and howling in pain like some animal. As the Mothers take Jaka away, she crumples. She still loves him.

And the ending still misses everything that would make it dramatically convincing, would make it an inevitability that the reader, however much they might wish it otherwise, accept it as the climax to the drama. Because it doesn’t ring true. Because Jaka is not to blame as anything more than a contributory factor, to Cerebus’s greater crimes. Because Cerebus’s ‘crime’ is against a matter of personal honour that the reader knows nothing of, let alone Jaka: a matter of honour that, externally, Sim defends as sacred, but which within the story is only explicable to a reader so in tune with Sim’s mind that he can read not merely between the lines, but into the bark of the wood from which the paper would be made, to divine this point.

Though it may be possible, might even be a cruel irony that, in blaming Jaka, Cerebus is seeking to escape his own liability, to shuck off guilt, the worst of this ending is that the reader sees very clearly that it is not Cerebus who has dumped this load on Jaka, it is Sim.

The story collapses under the weight of the author. The reality of the story cracks. What, now, is left?

Cumbria Scenes – 17.3.12


Blackbeck Tarn

Blackbeck Tarn is Haystack’s other body of water, lying in its own bowl, among rocks, at the eastern end of the Ridge. Wainwright may have favoured Innominate, but this is my favourite tarn amongst all I have seen.
I’ve climbed Haystacks twice, the first when I was only 13, with my family. It was our third summit. I would go on to collect all 214, but this was to be my Dad’s last, before the onset of the cancer that first ruined, then took his life.
That he would have been proud of me for completing the Wainwrights is the only sure knowledge I have, but my own pride in tinged with regret for his lost chances. Wherever I walked, I saw sights and walked in places that he dreamed to of being.
We climbed Haystacks by the orthodox approach, from Buttermere via Scarth Gap Pass, and ventured beyond the cairn far enough to see Innominate Tarn. Blackbeck was far too far to travel when we were returning by the same route as our climb.
But we had a painting of the Tarn on our walls, one of four prints of Lakeland Tarns by Heaton Cooper. Stickle Tarn, Sprinkling Tarn and Goatswater were obvious enough, for their beauty, and familiarity, but if I ever asked why my parents had completed the set with Blackbeck Tarn, so far removed from our usual haunts, of no great fame, and, frankly, a bland and unmemorable scene, I don’t remember their answer.
I first saw the tarn in real life from a distance, seeing it from behind, as it were, from the various crossings of the lonely and indeterminate lands between Honister Pass and the heads of Ennerdale and Buttermere. A distant view.
My second ascent of Haystacks was the return leg of a first ascent of Fleetwith Pike, via it’s straight, steep, demanding western ridge, but for all the fun of that climb and the classic view from its summit, the greater fun was to be had on the straggly, scruffy route back.
At first there was nothing but a simple descent across the grassy back of Fleetwith, to the old ruined Drum House where the carts of slate would be winched up and down the steep fellside, but with the turn back towards Dubbs Bottom, and the Old Quarry, an air of fascination with an ever-changing scene took over the afternoon. It was all up and down, first left then right, into and out of the rocks, until that moment of descent onto Haystacks proper, and the stepping across a rocky portal that opened the sudden view of Blackbeck Tarn, silver under the sun and bright as a jewel, filling its grassy hollow.
A beautiful sight, and how I wished I could linger. I am not, and never have been, a camper, but I immediately thought of the joy of waking up in this place, in the dawn hours, as light came over the skies in this otherworldly spot.
But the walk remained to be completed, another weaving in and out of rock, the shores of Innominate Tarn, the summit rocks and the careful descent to Scarth Gap. As I made my way downhill, an episode of One Man and his Dog was being filmed below, the the fields above the lakehead, but I was too late to get myself into the background of any shots.