Cumbria Scenes – 27.4.12


Rydal Cave

Inside, looking out.
Call it Rydal Cave, or Loughrigg Cave, or give it no name whatsoever, which is how things once were, this is a fascinating spot, not only easy of access but also clearly visible from the main Ambleside to Grasmere road.
The cave is, of course, artificial. The Lake District has few natural caves, unlike the Yorkshire Dales and the Three Peaks, where pot-holing is carried out so enthusiastically. The Lakes has always been an area of mining and quarrying, and this spacious cave is one of many examples, and all the more popular from being one of the few that is totally safe.
It is dug into the northern flank of Loughrigg Fell, overlooking Rydal Water. Loughrigg, as the fell is usually known, locally, is a low, sprawling wedge of land stretching from Ambleside to Grasmere along the main road, and forming the wide end of the ridge separating Grasmere from Great Langdale.
For a fell of such modest proportions, it offers a multitude of approaches, one from the centre of Ambleside itself, passing the church and the old golf-course to gain the low ridge.
This route goes nowhere near the cave. For that, you should choose a route that brings you to Loughrigg Terrace, a beautiful, wide, level green route that allows a gentle ramble from end to end, enjoying views over Rydal Water and Grasmere, and over the Vale of Grasmere towards the Lion and the Lamb and the deep trench of Dunmail Raise. Approaches from Rydal, from the capacious parking areas off-road, on the approach to the Water, or from Grasmere from the infamous Red Bank road, lead to this route, which makes a perfect evening stroll in its own right.
The cave is massive. Solemn and silent, dry beyond the pools of water that lie in its mouth, deep, but not so deep as to ever lose the light from its massive gateway. Fifty years ago, Wainwright observed that it was big enough to house the entire population of Ambleside, should an evacuation ever be necessary, and even now I think there would be little overflow if you tried to cram them all in.

ADDENDUM

If you go to the Fairfield Horseshoe entry and follow it to the last photo, looking down on Rydal Water, the cave is clearly seen, above and slightly to the right of the larger island in the lake.

Cumbria Scenes – 22.4.12


Reflections in Buttermere

Usually, I like my pictures of lakes to be from one of the fells overlooking them. No matter how low the vantage point, depth adds drama to any picture, and I also prefer to know something of the shape of the body of water, and how it lies amongst the high lands that define its shoreline.
This photo is of Buttermere, a little lake, tucked away in the northwest of the Lake District, and the head of its Valley. In olden days, it was part of a larger lake, stretching out of the valley, before silting at its centre split the water in two, the lower and larger section forming Crummock Water. Buttermere takes its name either from the adjoining dairy pastures, or as a corruption of Buthar’s (or Boethar’s) Mere, after an 11th century Norse Chieftain who conducted a long-standing resistance to the Norman Invasion.
Romantically, the Valley is occasionally referred to as The Secret Valley, after the title of a very popular 1930 dramatized history of Boethar’s campaign by writer Nicholas Size.
But though Buttermere has great beauty to the eye, a chocolate box lake like Esthwaite Water, but in an infinitely more attractive setting, this photo shows little but placid water, reflecting green fells with clean lines in its barely-rippled surface.
The photo is taken from the path along the south shore of the Lake, a beautiful walk, especially at the end of a day’s expedition along the High Stile range that buttresses that side of the Valley. The camera is angled towards the foot of the Lake, with the houses glimpsed being outliers of the Village, and the deep trench in the hills seen angling away to the right offering escapes from the Valley, on foot by Sail Pass, with car via Newlands Hause.
Beyond this route lies the highest lands in this beautiful quarter. Whiteless Pike, a gorgeous short walk, thrusts itself forward in the centre, dominating the skyline by virtue of being so much nearer to the eye than either Grasmoor (to its left) or Eel Crag (to its right), the two highest peaks in the Northwestern Fells.
Buttermere is beautiful, restful, and a worthy base for a dozen fellwalks of differing degree but equal delight. It’s popular, and relatively east to access without your own transport. But from the shoreline, photos can’t be of Lakes but of the fells that hem them in. I’ll find you a more revealing portrait another time.

Cumbria Scenes – 16.4.12


Napes Needle

This is one place you will never find me.
I am not, nor have I ever harboured any ambitions to be a rock-climber. I am too much addicted to having at least 50% of my boot soles on solid ground whenever I put my weight upon them.
And this is Napes Needle, a 72′ spike of rock springing up from the Napes Ridge, the band of rock cliffs hanging just to the right of the summit in that classic image of Great Gable above Wastwater. It is heralded as the birthplace of the sport of rock-climbing (as opposed to just having to get up and over the damned things to get to where you are going), stemming from its first ascent by W. Haskell Smith in June 1896. And it’s graded Hard Severe: and if a rock-climber calls it that…
No, thank you. Not even at my fittest and lithest, even with the most responsible, experienced and heavy-load-bearing leader imaginable.
But though you couldn’t drag me onto the Needle, I still hope to one day see it for myself. Not, as once before, guided by my patient father in the car parking ground at Wasdale Head, by training binoculars onto those cliffs and picking out the tiny sliver of rock. And perhaps not even by getting myself onto the “Dress Circle”, the shelf of rock from which all the famous photos of the Needle are taken.
The South Traverse cuts across the face of Great Gable, rising from Sty Head. Part climbers’ approach, part adventurous walkers’ glimpse of glory at close hand, the Traverse skirts the bases of the two massive bastions, the Great Napes and the White Napes, crossing the scree-shoots of Great Hell Gate and Little Hell Gate, and contouring eventually to join Gavel Neese (Gable Nose), the long ridge falling to Wasdale.
From the Traverse, the climbers’ path ascends towards Needle Gully and the base of the Needle itself, and I could sit, my head in the air, watching men and women with greater skill, strength and nerve than I, ascending towards that awkward, overhanging millstone, knowing that I could never have the courage to stand there, if ever I had the ability to reach it.
Dreams, however, may be realisable in real life, though it won’t be without immense effort.

Cumbria Scenes – 11.4.12


“The Struggle”

I mentioned “The Struggle” in the latest Great Walks, and it recalled to me a verse from an old postcard we used to have in my family, the memory of which still amuses me. So when I found this splendid aerial photo, it provided me with the excuse to talk about it further.
“The Struggle” is the ages-old popular name for the fell road linking Ambleside Village with the top of Kirkstone Pass. The Pass links the Patterdale valley (in which tiny Brothers Water is here visible) with Windermere and Bowness, and is a busy, popular route northwards. Its upper stages are seen to the right of the picture here, with the summit of the Pass – crowned by the splendid presence of a pub over 1,400′ above sea level! – lying beneath the cliffs of Red Screes, the substantial fell in the centre of the picture.
Geographically, it’s an odd approach from the south, though it’s one of the easiest to drive from that end. The route starts along, and spends most of its time in, the Troutbeck Valley, gaining in height until it crosses the western side of the valley and emerges above the valley of Stock Ghyll.
Of course, the Patterdale side is much steeper, and unrelentingly so, requiring a good engine and good fell road experience to negotiate.
“The Struggle” descends the Stock Ghyll valley, running across the picture from right to left, and passing under Red Screes’ quarries. It offers views of Windermere the lake throughout most of the descent, unlike the main Troutbeck road, which is wooded and green, and utterly delightful with it. But “the Struggle” is steep, especially in its upper reaches, on the section seen here, and just below it. I’ve never tried to drive up it yet, and though it’s a fine run it a lightweight car, if you are heavy laden, then be very sure of your brakes: and don’t get up speed.
The Kirkstone Pass Inn is very tempting on a sunny evening, when the shadows are beginning to lengthen, and after a long day’s walking, when the urge to be out won’t go away, I’ve driven up to the Inn for a pint and the view. And the memory of that old postcard and its verse:

If I were a lover and loved a lass
Who lived at the top of Kirkstone Pass
I swear by all that’s true and tried
Whilst I abide in Ambleside
To love and cherish her, ever and ever.
But go up and visit her? Never, no never!

Great Walks – The Fairfield Horseshoe



There are strong arguments in favour of saying that Horseshoe walks – up one side of a valley, round its head and down the other side – are the best walks of all, and in principle I’m in favour of the argument. Whenever I’ve gone out walking, the one walk I’ve tried to avoid, in any way possible, is the “there and back again”, where the homeward journey is over the same ground as the ascent. All my expeditions have been planned to reduce to the barest minimum the amount of trodden ground I have to cover.

The Lakes, with their profusion of fells, their interlacings of valleys, are an ideal place for Horseshoe walks, and there are many famous ones. But not all such walks are worthy of the attention. As with everything, it depends on the territory, the ground underfoot, the views, both in and out.

The Fairfield Horseshoe is, for my money, one of the best. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that, on days of clear blue skies and crystalline clarity, it is one of the essential walks that any lover of the Lakes must do.

A word of warning beforehand. Other than in distance, there is no difficulty to this walk. The gradients are never excessive, the ground is not magnificent, not in the way that the ascent of Scafell Pike is, and there are no secrets like Taylorgill Force, or the Corridor Route, to be found on the way. The Horseshoe circles a shy, unnamed valley, to which Wainwright appended the unofficial name of Rydale, holding it with two, straight, south-west facing arms.

So what’s so damned great about it?

The base for the walk is Ambleside, and the first decision to take is whether to undertake the walk clockwise or anti-clockwise. From Ambleside, the nearer option is the eastern arm, which was the happy accident of my choice the first occasion I did the Horseshoe: the second time, driving up on a summer Saturday and hitting the trail even earlier than I’d do when holidaying in Ambleside, was gloriously chosen.

Those with cars should leave them in the main car park, to the left of the road for Grasmere and Keswick, just beyond a left hand bend on the further side of Bridge House. Having gotten into walking gear, cross the main road and turn up left along a side road signposted Kirkstone.

This road is memorably known as “The Struggle”, for the excessive steepness of its ascent to the summit of Kirkstone Pass, for Patterdale and Ullswater. The early section actually offers some of the worst gradients of the entire walk, although the bit that gets the road its name is much further uphill (and if you ever descend that way with a heavy laden car, make damned sure your brakes are working). On the right, which note for the evening, is the Golden Rule, Ambleside’s best pub.

Though it always feels strange to be tramping the streets in boots and rucksacks, the road quickly escapes into residential Ambleside, and quite clearly an expensive area. Bypass Nook Lane and continue as far as Sweden Bridge Lane on the left, which soon turns into a genuine lane before giving access to a rising path alongside sheep pastures that curves round to enter the wooded lower section of Scandale.

Purists will opt for Nook Lane, which leads to Low Sweden Bridge at the foot of the Eastern Arm, the Morning Arm, from where they can tackle the full ridge from bottom to top. I prefer the route into Scandale, which, if followed, would lead to Scandale Head Pass (occasionally known as Caiston Pass), which drops into upper Patterdale via the steep Caiston Beck.

Instead, when the route emerges into the open, look for a track on the left descending slightly towards the beck, and the picturesque High Sweden Bridge. Cameras out!

Up till now, we’ve not actually set foot on the Horseshoe, having been travelling outside it. But over the bridge, back downstream ten yards or so, and turning directly uphill towards the skyline above, a path negotiates boggy ground and gains the ridge just above a massive ladder-stile over a wall. Climb the ladder and look back down on Ambleside and Windermere beyond, the first excellent view of the day. If anyone has chosen to go by Low Sweden Bridge, look for them to be toiling up the ridge below.

We are now on the Fairfield Horseshoe itself, and the first views north appear, though for the Morning Arm, the opposite ridge will limit what can be seen beyond the immediate environs of the Rothay Valley below, and the ground rising ahead will cut off views towards the eastern high ground. Only Windermere, and increasing views of pastoral Esthwaite Water behind, will illuminate the day for now.


Route-finding is easy: the ridge is obvious, the path wide and clear and the wall ubiquitous. There’s a difficult spot almost immediately, a ‘Bad Step’, where the wall scales a short but sheer rock, about six feet in height. It’s scalable, but don’t look at me because, in two visits, I haven’t worked out how. The obstacle is easy to bypass on the right, but anyone whose pride is dented can salve a little of their conscience by a scramble up the easy bluffs to the right of the Step.

Above, the ridge gains height alongside the wall, over a series of short rises, though occasional boggy patches may temporarily force you wide. Low Pike, comes as something of a surprise: from below it looks no different than any of the previous rises and only when on top does the slightly larger dip beyond, and the long, stony field before the ridge starts to rise again, let you realise you are on your first summit of the day.

The next objective is High Pike. There is a brief descent and a short level walk before the ascent resumes, with the wall to your left. This section of the ridge is stonier, and as the summit approaches, gaps in the wall suggest that the path should veer towards the inner side of the ridge. Choose either side: the wall is a guarantee of accuracy, the flat summit, with its cairn overlooking the Scandale flank, lies a little off the path.

The depression is slight, and the path forges on, wider than ever, up grassy slopes that require no halts. The next destination is Dove Crag, the first summit of real height, and the point where the Morning Arm ends, and the route turns towards the west.


Dove Crag is a substantial fell, and from Patterdale in the east it is a sensational one, a place of cliffs and crags, a home to climbers, blessed with its own cave, inaccessible to all but the most experienced and agile of the walking community. But it hides its best features from the Horseshoe, offering only a grassy back, with no sign of rock unless a substantial diversion is made. As the wall, finally, begins to crumble, opposite the remnants of a fence crossing the ground to the right, the ridge loses definition and the walk to the cairn, on a small rock platform, east of the path, is easy.

Those who want to glimpse Dove Crag’s glories can walk north a quarter-mile, carefully, to find the edge of the cliffs above Dovedale, and peer, very carefully, down. Those who are beginning to get a touch peckish, and who are wondering when this walk transforms itself from an enjoyable high traverse into something that deserves the appellation of Great, will swing round to the left with the path, which begins to lose a little definition on the more level ground.

There is a real descent, on grass, beside the now-broken wall, and then a climb up to the rocky summit of Hart Crag, showing a stony face to the approach, but rimmed by rock to Deepdale in the east and to lonely Rydale below. Hart Crag offers the neatest summit seen to date, a small rise, unlike the broad plateaus of Dove Crag behind and Fairfield ahead, yet the bulk of the latter still restricts the views to the west, leaving the fells beyond hidden Ullswater, and the three most southerly lakes as the best part of the scene.


Then, at last, it is Fairfield, head of the Horseshoe and the highest fell in the immediate area, topping out at 2,863′. The path drops quickly and stonily to a surprisingly narrow hause at the very head of Rydale which, though seen at virtually its full length from this point, offers little incentive in its emptiness to take out the camera. So start upwards, marching at a fair clip until reaching the wide flat grasslands that comprise Fairfield’s summit, the cairn itself situated to the north of the plateau, not far from Fairfield’s own rim of rocks.

Rest, relax, eat sandwiches. Fairfield’s height, and the lack of higher fells in its immediate vicinity, should offer commanding views, but the plateau is too broad, too flat, to see much beyond its rim. The northern edge, approached carefully, offers the nearest views with some depth, and the north ridge immediately attracts the eye, with it’s steep, narrow, rocky descent interrupted by the shapely upthrust of Cofa Pike, not far distant. It immediately creates the urge to take that ridge one day, and when I did it was an exciting joy at every step, with superb views back to Grisedale Tarn and a worthy destination in St Sunday Crag at its further end.

Rest, relax, take your time. And when you’re ready to return, set off down the long, slow slope of the plateau, until at last you reach its rim. And, in a moment, the walk is transformed.

Most people assume the Lake District is a region of radiating spokes, ridges and valleys, centred upon the highest ground, but this isn’t entirely true. Lakeland is divided, geologically, by its great central rift, from the remoteness of Skiddaw Forest in the north, in an almost dead straight line to the foot of Windermere. East of the rift, the major ridges and valleys echo it, running in series of parallel, north-south lines, but westwards the spoke and wheel analogy is apt, and the fells bordering the rift are low, beginning a build up to the highest mountains.

So, when you step off the plateau, with the grassy ridge falling away beneath your feet, the whole of Western Lakeland – every major mountain system and ridge, the pattern of every valley – bursts upon you and stops you in your tracks. What makes the Fairfield Horseshoe a great walk? It has brought you here.

It’s like staring into the heart of a living map, on a scale bigger than any you can imagine, with more to see and to absorb than any other. Stay and look as long as you like: it’s all before you. And when you decide to move, you will be walking into this view, it will be before you at almost every step, and if you are anything like me, you will want to stop every ten yards and photograph everything in sight, in the faint, desperate hope that, just once, these photos will capture even a tiny part of what you can see.

But they won’t. That’s why there are no photos to illustrate the view: it’s too deep, too broad, too big for a single shot, and it is the totality of what can be seen that overwhelms.

The descent is on easy ground, on an overwalked path. Great Rigg and Heron Pike intervene on the view in their turn, grassy backs that you will rush up in order to get the west in your eyes again, neither noticing nor caring much for what is underfoot. The Afternoon Arm looks as if it would be tedious, and a grind to ascend, but in descent it is a pussycat.

Every step takes away from the breadth of the view, but as the field of vision shrinks, the Rothay Valley and its environs are seen in greater detail, Grasmere and Rydal Water, and Easedale Tarn in its bowl, the woods and lawns.


The Afternoon Arm ends at the rough, rocky top of Nab Scar, the eighth, lowest and last summit of the day. Nab Scar’s crags, hung above Rydal Water, are too steep to negotiate, and the path turns inwards, twisting and turning down steep slopes, through bracken and high grass. Much of it has now been rebuilt by the National Trust, and there are wooden fences along eroded corners, preventing the idiotic from crashing curves, and saving them from unsafe slopes. After a longer walk than anticipated, the path reaches the foot of Rydale, with the main road less than 100 yards away.

There’s a two mile walk back to Ambleside, but it would never do to take to the road, one of the busiest in the Lakes, and with no pavements for most of its length. Instead, turn left, cut through the grounds of Rydal Hall, and join a gravelled field path that leads in comfortable solitude nearly all the way home. When it emerges onto the road, via iron gates, there is not much more than a third of a mile left to the car park. Obey the old rule and cross (very carefully) to the far side of the road: there will be some pavements on the way, but it is always safest to walk facing the oncoming traffic. Be careful on right hand bends.

Those who want to learn more can find several other accounts of the Fairfield Horseshoe online, the majority of which tackle the route clockwise. Oddly, none of those I’ve read mention the magnificent western views, nor any views until they reach Fairfield’s summit, and turn for Ambleside and home, which leads me to wonder if they never ever turned round and looked behind them.

Whichever direction you walk, don’t make that mistake.

Cumbria Scenes – 6.4.12


Grasmere from Helm Crag

The name of Grasmere is known internationally for its association with the poet William Wordsworth, who lived for many years at Dove Cottage, with his sister Dorothy (with whom, it is frequently rumoured,…)
Dove Cottage remains preserved to the south east of the village proper, among the clump of houses among the trees to the left of the Lake in this picture, available for inspection by an admiring public, upon payment of a perennially exorbitant fee.
Having studied “the old sheep of the Lake District” (© Horace Rumpole) for A-Level, my interest in Grasmere is firmly rooted in matters far less ephemeral than clouds and daffodils.
Both the Lake and its verdant Vale form part of the course of the River Rothay, a major feeder of Windermere, and in ancient days the Lake, and it’s smaller twin, Rydal Water (hidden by the low wooded ridge in the centre of the picture) were but the northernmost part of a greater Windermere.
The view comes from the south ridge of Helm Crag, a fell as indelibly connected to the Village as the Old Man is to Coniston. But not one in a thousand visitors, seeing the Lake for the first time on the road from Ambleside, will hail Helm Crag: to a man, woman or child they will celebrate “the Lion and the Lamb”, the outcrop of rocks at the south end of Helm Crag’s summit ridge, and the official summit of the fell.
The rocks, seen from the road along the lakeshore, have the shape of a lion couchant, with the lamb at its feet. As the visitor draws nearer the side-road into the village, the Lamb disappears – into the Lion’s stomach!
Though it’s ringed by fells, Grasmere is still a tourist hive. Only in the Vale’s Eastern Wall, the afternoon leg of the Fairfield Horseshoe, do the fells rise towards a superior height. Grasmere’s own fells are tiddlers: light expeditions for afternoon’s, or even long summer evenings. Even the ridge separating the Vale from Great Langdale doesn’t rise to the exciting fells until Grasmere is behind. But the Lion and the Lamb should never be missed out, not with views like this to reward the easy effort.
It’s a fell of some significance to me too, my first expedition alone, my reintroduction to fellwalking after an eight year break since forsaking family holidays.
And Grasmere has more links to the arts than mere poetry. It’s been home to the Heaton Cooper family for over a century: three generations of painters represented in the Studio by the Village Green. Never neglect to visit the Studio if you are in Grasmere, especially if rain has driven you from even the most modest heights!

Tempus Fugitive – The Tempus Trilogy Book 1


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It all started the day my brother invented his Time Machine.
I know: Roland will be at his pedantic worst at that statement. First he’ll point out that large parts of what follows took place, necessarily, long before the day in question (Tuesday August 26th 1980, to be precise), and then he’ll draw my attention to the fact that this was only the day I had this profoundly wonderful new invention revealed to me, not the date it was brought into being. And all that will precede his ranting at me about what I’m doing letting outsiders in on his secrets, betraying his privacy, abusing the privilege I enjoy as his lab assistant and general dogsbody, etc. etc. etc.
But this is my story as much as it is his, and for more reasons than just my proximity to the action, and I intend to tell it. I saved the world, you know, not that anyone cares or, apart from Roland, even knows. Look what it cost me. And yes, I am aware his criticisms are justified.
As for the first, I will merely say that any attempt to organise this story according to the calendar  will only leave everyone – and I don’t just mean the readers – totally confused. As anyone who’s ever had dealings with a Time Machine will agree, the order in which things happen is the order in which they happen to you. In any other direction lies madness.
And as for the claim that Roland came up with the Time Machine before he broke the news of it to me, I say, so what? There’s ever been a story yet that’s started from the very beginning without some sort of flashback involved. But Roland will explain, such as he does, the genesis of his invention. After all, it’s his Time Machine.
But I suppose if I have to choose somewhere to start, it really should be a couple of days further back, on Saturday: August 23rd 1980. So let us begin at Old Trafford, which is only appropriate in all the circumstances, and let us begin with the start of the Roses Match.
The Roses Match? You don’t recognise a reference to the twice yearly clash of the County Cricket Clubs of Lancashire and Yorkshire? Once upon a time, back in the Fifteenth Century, the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York did vie for the throne of England. Unfortunately, the Tykes won, but they went down at Bosworth Field in the then equivalent of a Lords Final to Henry Tudor. I’ve had a soft spot for Glamorgan ever since.
Saturday, August 23rd 1980. One of the few dry all day Saturdays of the season, even if it were cold enough to stay wrapped up against the breeze. Six and a half hours of cricket, no rain, and her.
Call it the calm before the storm, if you like.

Yorkshire won the toss, elected to bat and scored 346-7, innings closed after 100 overs. Boycott and Lumb put on 178 for the first wicket, Sir Geoffrey going on to 135, Bill Athey chipped in with 70 and Graham Stevenson was promoted up the order for a late slog. By the close, we had scored 30 for the loss of David Lloyd.
I was in my usual spot on the Warwick Road End, seven rows up from pitchside and diametrically opposite the stairs to the Ladies Pavilion, surrounded by the shell of my sandwich box (I always eat my tea sandwiches at lunch, having eaten my lunch sandwiches by 12.00). For my 21st, Dad’s promised to buy me Membership but I don’t think I’ll spend much time in the Pavilion – I mean, who wants to watch from square leg?
I first noticed the girl in the middle of the afternoon. She was sat six or seven rows behind me, to my right, long fair hair trapped in the sheepskin collar of a blue reefer jacket, framing a slightly rounded face dominated by silver shades. By careful practice, I found that by turning more than my head to look at the Scoreboard, I could see her as well. After tea, the shades came off. Her eyes were blue and sometimes she was looking at me.
After the close, I was gratified to find her walking ahead of me into Warwick Road Station. Given that she had to fold up her scorecard, cap her pen, finish her coffee, pack the flask, tie up her bag of fruit, collect the peels and cores, deposit these in the pitchside litter bin, deflate her cushion, shoulder her bag, open it again to check she had her ticket, close it and button her jacket whilst I had to shut my sandwich box, it wasn’t easy to ensure she left first.
We waited five minutes for a train, stood not really together, and just happened to get into the same carriage. We also just happened to compare notes on the days play and the prospects for Monday, and just happened to mention I was coming that day too.
Monday was August Bank Holiday. Traditionally, the family goes out for the day, unless Roland has anything else to do or Lancashire are at home so, after making my sandwiches with her customary good graces, Mam saw me off to the station and turned her attention to her, Dad and little sister Mary and their trip to Southport (well, Blackpool would be too busy, wouldn’t it?). Tiddles was already in it’s travelling basket. Tiddles is the family cat: Roland is 24, I’m 19 and Mary is 8; guess who’s cat it is?
Unusually, the Bank Holiday was a spectacularly hot and sunny day, and the cricket was just as good. Lancashire’s First Innings closed on 310-5, Frank Hayes left high and dry on 94 not out, and we captured three quick wickets to reduce the Tykes to 65-3, though they’d extended their lead to 139 by the close.
I bounded up the steps, looking around to see if the blonde was there, and was considerably surprised to find her already waving me over to her. Ten minutes conversation, from Warwick Road to Piccadilly, had been enough for me to decide I fancied her but this enthusiasm for my company? The Universe doesn’t work like that, at least not in my experience.
By the time she returned from the Ladies at lunch wearing a triangle and string bikini top, I was in love. Not even the way she followed Steve O’Shaughnessy around the field with her binoculars could make me doubt her.
Her name was Alison, Alison Davies. She was twenty, which was good because I’ve always had a thing about older women, not that any had let me get this close before. She lived in Oldham, which would mean I’d have to learn to drive now, and had been a secretary in the legal department of the Council since leaving school. Her dad was an assistant Museum Director and she was an only child.
In return, I told her my name was Jack Warrington, that I live in Didsbury with my parents, that Dad was a senior manager with W.H.Smith in Stockport and that I’m about to start the second year of a Graphic Design course at Stockport College. I told her about Mary and how well we don’t get along, I told her about Tiddles and I also told her about Roland.
Well, I told her Roland existed. Beyond that, I gave almost nothing away. There’s a lot I could have told her about my big brother, not all of it classified. For instance, I could have contrasted my modest and reasonable height with his freakish tallness. I could have contrasted his skinniness and general air of famine victim with my comfortably solid and modestly muscled frame. I could very definitely have contrasted his long, lank, brown hair with my own fair locks, not punk, more New Wave – and I don’t have to tie my hair back out of my eyes.
I could have contrasted Roland’s archaic choice of music – progressive rock and heavy metal in 1980? – with my own instinctive good taste, which found a corresponding spark with Alison over Elvis Costello, if not The Jam or The Undertones. And then there’s my well-rounded, balanced and thoughtful interest in cricket and football whereas Roland… Well, Roland is an obsessive. And not in a good way.
Alison didn’t need to hear any of this, not now, not at any time. In fact, I had no intention of ever letting her meet him. It’s not that I would have any fears about him pinching my bird, I just don’t think it’s good for my reputation to be seen to be related to a mad scientist.
When Roland was 7, he built a working computer out of a Meccano 5 set (at least, he claimed it would have worked if I hadn’t flushed the key to the clockwork motor down the loo). For his 9th birthday, Aunty Ethel foolishly bought him his first Chemistry set:  we have suppressed the photos. On his 15th birthday, Roland got a home electronics outfit and promptly took over the garage as his workshop. Ever since, Dad has parked on the drive, to the confusion of  his insurers, but as long as he gets the benefit of things like the only Video Recorder that runs on EMI C60 Soundhog cassettes, he’s happy to pay the additional premiums.
Mind you, we’re the only family in South Manchester that periodically gets raided by NORWEB, who can’t work out why we seem to use no more power than an HB6 battery. Roland assures us they never will but we all suffer because Mam gets nervous and we have nothing but packet meals for a fortnight after.
I didn’t keep completely mum about Roland. I did tell Alison how, on the strength of having seen fifteen minutes more of one particular game than I did, he calls himself a Manchester United fan, even though he doesn’t know what the ground’s called, he can’t name any of the players and it was 1977 before we found out he thought we play in all blue.
Alison’s not really interested in football either: she supports Oldham Athletic.

Shortly before the close, Alison retired to the Ladies to restore her modesty, to my deep regret. We caught the train to Piccadilly together. It had been an extraordinary day. Even more fascinating than Alison’s willingness to remove her clothing in my presence was her willingness to listen to me talk, and then talk back. We never stopped: considering we’d sat together for seven hours and I’d told her several of my best jokes, it had gone well.
I had intended to ask her out since before lunch, but something held me back. I think it was cowardice. Even though I was sure she would agree, I wasn’t used to things like this. But we were both coming to the last day, and I could ask her then.
Perhaps I should have spoken whilst I could. The next morning I was virtually out the door when Mam summoned me back to accompany her into Didsbury Village to the supermarket. Appealing that I would miss some of the cricket would have cut marginally less ice with Roland. Tell her I going to meet an attractive blonde young woman who, I was sure, would agree to go out with me, and I’d have been sent on my way without hindrance. With several questions mind, such as what’s her name, where’d you meet her, what’s she like and seventeen others, most of which I wouldn’t have got round to yet. You may understand why I kept my mouth shut.
I’d missed an hour when I got to Warwick Road Station. I could see from the train, via the Board of Control Stand Scoreboard, that Yorkshire had already added a hundred, without loss. Alison was in her place, binoculars trained on O’Shaughnessy, but only because she thought I wasn’t going to turn up, or so she said. And she only laughed once when I explained what kept me.
It was even hotter and brighter than yesterday. Jackie Hampshire declared ten minutes before lunch, with Jim Love 105 not out, as soon as Yorkshire had posted a 300 run lead. We argued the prospects of a Lancashire victory. Alison pointed out how fast Yorkshire had scored that morning. I pointed out (incorrectly as it happened, for once) that David Lloyd and Andrew Kennedy were not the fastest of scorers.
Alison cut short the argument by departing for the Ladies. My silent prayers were rewarded when she returned wearing not merely the bikini top but also a pair of denim shorts. This brazen display was enough to tempt me into removing my shirt and begging some of her Ambre Solaire.
At tea, Lancashire were 102-2, and Clive Lloyd was batting. Alison repeated her confidence in victory, rubbed another layer of suntan lotion into her legs and suggested promoting O’Shaughnessy in the order. I pointed out, unnecessarily but jealously, that he hadn’t got to bat in the First Innings.
Another seventy two runs were added, and Frank Hayes had given way to Bernard Reidy when the last twenty overs started at 5.00pm. There were 110 runs wanted to win, which was one-day stuff and well within our grasp. Lloydy cut and hooked and pulled, Reidy biffed and banged in his wake. Lloydy put up his ton but then was bowled off his boot by Sidebottom in the next over. As the sun lowered, and the clock ticked past 6.00pm, it began to get cold. Alison was shivering but she refused to go and change.
Four overs to go, 12 to win. Three overs to go, still 12 to win, Reidy lbw for 70. In came Fowler, hitting quick runs. Last over, two wanted. Hughes got a single off the first ball, Fowler caught and bowled off the second. In came O’Shaughnessy at last, raising goosebumps on Alison’s gooseflesh, scores level, four balls left. I no longer envied him.
He blocked the first  and drove the second through mid-off for four. We had beaten the Yorky bastards for he first time in eight years!
Alison was in the Ladies, getting dressed before the teams had left the field. Ever the gentleman, I guarded her belongings until she returned, and we caught the train to Piccadilly together.
I could have stayed on the train all the way to East Didsbury, but that wouldn’t let me ask Alison out. We walked down the Station Approach and were halfway up London Road before I realised time was running out. I asked if she’d like to go out with me.
“Of course,” she said. I had a date for Friday night.

If there’s one thing in the Warrington household that’s sacrosanct, it’s tea-time (and tea around here is the evening meal: dinner is what you eat in the middle of the day). Woe betide the son who keeps everyone waiting, though it could have been worse. I got a bus down Wilmslow Road instead of having to walk it back from the station.
“Where have you been?” said Mam. “No, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. Your Dad’s tea has been going cold waiting for you. Now take your shoes off, wash your hands and tell your brother to come in. I’m putting tea on the table.”
I blame Roland myself. Before he converted the microwave to fold out as an auxiliary sunbed, Mam would have been perfectly happy to stick my plate in there whilst they sat down and ate.
The Warrington’s live just off Wilmslow Road, in a four bedroomed house round the back of Didsbury Park, on a tree-lined street in the only Conservative constituency in Greater Manchester (boo, hiss). Dad bought the house not long after his promotion, when a large part of its appeal was the big detached garage at the side. Since Roland moved in, the double doors have been blocked off from within (all bar a glorified cat flap for emergency access) and he had the side door moved so it was no longer opposite the kitchen window: he said it was something to do with privacy.
My big brother need have no worries about that. We are probably the only family in South Manchester with a garage that locks from the inside, but after the incident with the Carbolic Stink-Bomb, even Mam agreed it was better for Roland to control when he could or could not be disturbed.
I opted for summoning the mad scientist first and let myself out again, signalling my presence at the door by rattling the handle loudly. I refuse to ring a doorbell that plays Led Zeppelin chimes. Not that it does any good: the security buzzer plays the riff from ‘Paranoid’.
I entered the portals of the cutting edge of back street science, without wiping my feet.
Roland was sat on his barstool by the workbench, a long handled screwdriver inserted deep into the workings of something that looked uncannily like the remote control off the video recorder.  I craned my neck to look at what invention might be shaping itself for release upon an expectant public but to my disappointment, the three foot by four foot wedge of black plastic squatting on the worktop looked like nothing more than a hi-fi mini-system, albeit one equipped with more than  its fair share of LCD’s and digital counters, not to mention a bank of faders looking like a serious graphic equaliser. I hoped he wasn’t working on 3D sound again.
As is customary on such occasions, Roland completely ignored me, so I scoped out the current state of play in the garage. Down one side are a million shelves of components: pipes, wires, valves, screws, nails, transistors, circuit boards, thermometers, instrument panels, clock faces, socket sets and even a dozen assorted cigarette lighters ripped from the dashboards of a dozen cars (I still have vivid memories of standing guard at the junkyard gate). Along the other side are the detritus of past and discarded inventions: the R-1 Rocket that used an old stand-up Hoover (how he got it to blow instead of suck, I don’t want to know but we never saw the guinea pig again), three dead televisions and the interior of a radiogram pillaged in the quest for colour-it-yourself TV, the Space Invaders game constructed from a bagatelle board.
All these things and more have their stories to be told, and I, to my eternal regret, have been intimately acquainted with all of them, mainly because of Roland’s unparalleled skill at blackmail and plausibility with suggestions to Mam about who upset Mary this time. His latest monstrosity accordingly aroused equal amounts of curiosity and distance.
I broke the silence. “Mam says she’s putting tea out so get your dirty paws washed and come in.”
“She said nothing of the sort.” he said, distractedly.
“You just have to know how to read between the lines.”
He put down the screwdriver and looked at his watch. “We should have had tea half an hour ago. You’re late.”
“As I’ve already been told that by an expert Roland, I know that.”
“If you’d been on time, I could have broken off. Now I need another ten minutes to finish this.”
“Suit yourself,” I laughed. “I’ve delivered the message, and it’s up to you what you do with it. I merely point out that I am in bad odour for delaying tea, and that her Elvis Presley film has already started, but don’t let me save you from getting into trouble.”
Roland cocked an eye at his handiwork, picking up a slim bladed knife and using it to prise two wires apart. Then he gave me that Hughie Green grin, the one that means he’s thought of something inconvenient for me.
“Tell her I’ll be in in…” he checked his watch, the one with the Francis Rossi hands, “in one minute.” He gave me the grin again.
I returned to the house,

I went back inside, conveyed Roland’s message, started washing my hands and was followed by Roland pretty much as he’d said. And still grinning.
Tea, both as a meal and as a family gathering, was pretty awful. I was not allowed to expound upon the day’s play, even if Dad was courteous enough to ask after the result. Other events of the day, such as my specific reason for being so late in the first place, were not touched on. Well, Alison was none of their business: young men whose mothers have already suggested several young women they could ask out if only they’d stir themselves and go out and meet people for a change grow up keeping their cards close to their chest. After all, it saves endless embarrassment when you turn up the next day to find that of course you’ve got it all the wrong way round and they didn’t mean it like that  at all, and then what do you tell your family and close friends and several unrelated strangers in whom you’ve confided that you’ve got a new girlfriend? Silence is not just golden, it’s armour plated.
At the end, Roland and I paired off to do the washing up. A ferocious argument developed over whose turn it was to dry: he who washes finishes first and misses chapped hands and wet tea towels.
When he’d done, Roland surprised me further by heading upstairs instead of out to the garage. Over his shoulder, he said, “When you’re through, just slip out and get me a Phillips Head Screwdriver from the workshop.”
“Bog off and get it yourself,” I retorted.
“I’m afraid I have pressing demands upon my time in my room. You’ll have to fetch it for me. Key.”
He threw the key. Automatically, I caught it. “What did your last slave die of?” I enquired sourly.
“Mam finding out who hid Mary’s Bunty last week. I lose more lab assistants that way,” said Roland, and then he disappeared.
“Lab assistant, slave, same difference,” I grumbled, recognising a fait accompli when it kicks me in the kneecap. Then again, getting to explore the garage without Roland breathing down my neck doesn’t arise as often as Manchester City from the Second Division. I live in hope of one day getting some dirt on him that doesn’t implicate me.
Dry the pots, stack them in the cupboard, dry the cutlery, stick it in the knife drawer, hang up the miserably wet towel, dry my hands properly. Outside, sort out the key, unlock the garage door. How thoughtful of Roland to have left the light on for me. To my surprise, he had also put his feet up on the workbench and was doodling on his ideas pad.
“About time,” he said, looking up. “I’m getting really hungry.”
“What?” I said. “You’ve just eaten.”
“Not me,” Roland said, swinging his feet down onto the floor.
“What are you doing down here? Did you sneak out the front door or something? And what was the point of asking me to get something for you if you were coming out here after all.”
“Ah yes. This is what you’re looking for.” He handed me a green handled screwdriver and picked up the remote control from the workbench. “And I haven’t left the workshop since you got home this evening.”
“I have news for you then, Roland. Your evil twin’s just eaten your tea”
“Har har. That wasn’t my twin, that was me. And as I’m hungry, I shall go and eat now. Don’t forget to bring the screwdriver up to my room.” Roland flashed me the grin again, and then he disappeared.
No, this time I mean it. Suddenly there was only one person in the garage, and I was scared.