A Moment of Insight, or, I become my parents


Once upon a time, many years ago, when I still lived at home, there appeared on the ‘scene’ a band who made a lot of noise in the press. They were called Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and their line-up included Tony James who’d previously been in Generation X with Billy Idol, who was now making a few waves as a solo artist.
This was in 1982, when I was still listening regularly to Radio 1, still obsessed with hearing dear forever-missed Peely four times a night, still reading the New Musical Express weekly, and before I first heard of R.E.M., though this was now in sight of the time when this concentration upon the new and the unheard would start to fall away.
I was still the same kid who’d first absorbed pop and rock with abandonment and enthusiasm that morning when the Christmas holiday started and I put on the weekday Radio 1 for the first time.
So I’d heard of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, whose name was supposedly taken from a Russian street gang. They were basically a bunch of wankers trying to get rich quick by posing as a philosophical stage in music, one of far too many futures of rock, whilst riffing off a seemingly more extreme fashion version of the then-current New Romantics. Tony James didn’t have any credibility whatsoever thanks to his Generation X days, and the bullshit he came out with, and the incredulous stupidity of the band having been given a £1,000,000 plus deal without a single song was another reflection of their complete hollowness.
I’m speaking after the fact now. Somehow or other, at the time, I managed to only become aware of their existence, and of their being controversial. I had managed, unintentionally, to neither hear their debut single, ‘Love Missile F1-11’, nor to see any photos of the group.
All this would change when the song came out. It crashed into the Top 40 on the Tuesday at no. 7 (I still followed the Charts, which had, during the previous five years, been known to feature lots and lots of bloody good music).
I was still living at home in those days. My sister was going out with her future husband, so my mother and I had a pretty regular Thursday night deal. After tea, and after I had washed the pots, she would sit herself down in the Breakfast Room with a cup of tea, the Manchester Evening News and a cigarette (or two) until 8.00pm, and I got Top of the Pops in peace.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik were first on. I sat and looked at them. I listened to the sluggish, badly produced electrobeat opening. I looked at their make-up, their hair, their clothes. I listened to the (non-singing) singer start to sing. All in absolute silence. Then, after about thirty seconds of that I stood and walked back through to the Breakfast Room. My mother looked up in surprise.
“I’ve come to apologise,” I said.
She looked at me as if I were mad.
“I’ve just understood,” I said, “everything you’ve thought about my music for the last dozen years.”
And that’s what it was. There’s been a lot of music flow past my ears in the thirty years since then, and plenty of it that I’ve found appallingly awful, astonishingly bad and unbelievably shite, and I’ve shrugged and just ignored it. It doesn’t bother me. There is more good music out there than I’ll ever  find in this lifetime, and far from enough time to rehear what I love to hear, so what does it matter if the Cowells of this world make plastic crap for people who’ve no idea what music sounds like, or the boy bands manipulate the hormones of screaming kids, or bands like Slipknot wear ridiculous stage clobber and suck anything related to music out of their music. People like them, so let them. I’ve long since ceased to be anything like the audience they are playing for, and I’m not bothered that they think of me and my tastes with contempt, for their contempt is meaningless.
And that goes for Sigue Sigue Sputnik as well, whose time in the sun lasted about four weeks and vanished, never to return, their novelty so veneer-thin that they were passe after a single sighting.
But in that thirty seconds, in a moment of almost awe, I did see, and hear, a version of ‘my’ music with the same ears as those of my mother, experienced a moment of sympathetic magic. An apology was necessary, a momentary sharing of a common insight.
They really were that fucking awful.

Is that what it’s really about? Cliff Richard’s In the Country


This is an occasional series in which, inspired by their being played on Sounds of the Sixties, I pick apart the lyrics of a big Sixties hit record for the real meaning concealed behind the seemingly innocent lyrics.
Incredibly, it was a double-header on today’s programme. I’ve been waiting for this particular bit of faux-innocence to come up as I spotted it’s darker sub-content a long time ago…
I have a confession to make: I don’t like Cliff Richard. Not his music, not his Christianity, not his films. And, after their Seventies revival, I’m not all that fond of the Shadows either: Hank Marvin’s guitar sound may be superb, but the rest of the band are pretty naff.
Yet despite our homegrown Elvis’s impeccably clean-cut surface, there are times when the mask slips, and the former Mr Harry Webb unveils a darker underbelly than the one we are used to seeing. One such instance is his 1966 hit single, In the Country.
On the surface, this is one of Cliff’s more palatable songs, a bright, uptempo, happy song, extolling the wonders of a day in the country, ‘where the air is good/and the day is fine’, ‘where the silver stream is a poor man’s wine’. Sound’s good, doesn’t it?
But our Cliff has a darker side, a decidedly unChristian one if you start listening to this song properly.
In the Country addresses a person in pain, in psychic torment, lost in a world of despair, confusion and depersonalisation. “When the world in which you live in/Gets a bit too much to bear/
And you need someone to lean on/When you look, there’s no one there.”
Ah, we’ve been there, mate. And “When you’re walking in the city/And you’re feeling rather small/ And the people on the pavement/Seem to form a solid wall.”
Yeah, isolation can be a killer, forcing you ever deeper into depression. It’s that time when, more than anything else, you need a friend, a hand reaching out, a kindly word, the recognition of what you are going through. So, what does the Christian Cliff have to say to you?
“You’re gonna find me out in the country.”
Come again, Cliff?
“Yeah, you’re gonna find me way out in the country.”
Hang about man, show some sympathy here, don’t rub the poor sod’s nose in it that you’ve got it going better for you then him.
“Where the air is good, and the day is fine/And the pretty girl has a hand in mine/And the silver stream is a poor man’s wine.”
Ah,you bastard! Here’s this guy suffering and you, all you can do is go on about how you’re living it up in the countryside, no bloody petrol fumes there, you’re romping with this bird (it’s not Olivia, is it?), and you’ve got natural water, not the horrible stuff that comes out of taps. You absolute shit, can’t you think of someone else I bet he’d give everything to get out and see some clouds and fields, even without a dolly bird to shag in the long grass.
I’m all right, is it Cliff? And they all think you’re so nice.

Is that what it’s really about? – The Ivy League’s Tossing and Turning


This is an occasional series in which, inspired by their being played on Sounds of the Sixties, I pick apart the lyrics of a big Sixties hit record for the real meaning concealed behind the seemingly innocent lyrics.

This is really wierd, but I had been thinking of the Ivy League’s third, most successful and final hit, ‘Tossing and Turning’, as a potential subject for this series mot more than three days ago, and as if by some measure of ESP, SOTS producer and compiler Phil Swern selected the very track to open this morning’s programme. The Ivy League were primarily vocalists, session singers John Carter, Ken Lewis and Perry Ford, producing close harmonies based on a high-pitched lead voice.

Initially, they were forced on the Who for their debut single, ‘I Can’t Explain’, before the trio scored two well-remembered top 5 singles, seperated by a minor, top 30 hit.

To be honest, I’m not really sure I should be counting this as a song with a hidden meaning, since the hidden meaning is about as well-concealed as Rihanna’s bum. Try the opening verse: “I can’t sleep at night/Tossing and turning/I turn on the light/Then while it’s burning/I think of all the things that we do/And all the reasons why I love you.”

Basically, the guy can’t sleep ‘cos he’s got his girlfriend on his mind, so what does he do in those lonely, silent hours, awake without any relief? He ‘tosses and turns’. All night. I think we can all see very clearly, in our mind’s eyes, what he’s doing, whether we want an image like that in our heads or not (and I for one would definitely prefer not).

“Was I really holding you tight? Did I really kiss you goodnight?” our guy ponders, filling his mind with the immediacy of close bodily contact of a kind that impresses, firmly, where a woman is not shaped like a man, not to mention snogging on the doorstep, and as we might expect, he’s off tossing and turning again.

Of course, this is the Sixties, so the sweet little maid, doubtless unaware of the filthy practices to which she has driven her frustrated beau, is fast asleep, blissfully not polluting her carnality, not even with him. He knows: “Whatcha gonna do at night?/Nobody to hold you tight/Are you lonely?/Don’t you know that I get lonely, too?/And I’m blaming you!”  We are witness to sexist thinking here: of course, good girls neverdid that sort of thing: Heck, even bad girls didn’t!

Naturally, there’s a solution: “We’ll be lovers just like before/I guess I’ll never sleep anymore.” Oh, but there he goes again, ‘tossing and turning’ even more at the very thought. It frankly makes you doubt that, even after she’s let him have his way with her innocence, he’s not still going to be pulling his plonker every night.

I bet it wakes her up something chronic.

If you watch this video, you will see that I am not the only one to have penetrated (hee hee) the real meaning of this song…

I Confess


For the past three months or so, I’ve been engaged in a large-scale recording and burning process, all of which was sparked by a moment of forgetfulness.
This dates back to my disastrous day in the Lakes, back in March, when I forgot to charge up my mp3 player overnight, in anticipation of four hours or so on the train. At the last minute, I thought of my old Minidisc player that I haven’t used in years. I grabbed that, stuffed in new batteries, picked four MDs and made it all the way to the train before realising I’d forgotten my headphones.
However stupid all that was, it at least brought back to mind that I had a portable Minidisc player, and over 40 Minidiscs as full as could be of music, the majority of which being transferred tracks recorded off the radio (and friend’s LPs and, in a couple of cases, the TV via a microphone). These recordings go back as far as 1970!
Having been reminded of the MDs, I decided to give them a listen. Being a good little anal-retentive, I had of course kept a comprehensive track listing for each MD during the original transfer from tape. However, these lists had long since disappeared from view. So I spent every moment I could during the next three weeks or so listening, carrying pen and paper around with me, building up a new track-listing.
It was a revelation! The vast majority of the MDs had a minimum of 20 tracks on them, which meant something like 750 – 800 tracks to listen to. There were things I hadn’t listened to in years, things I’d forgotten I had taped, plenty of things I’d forgotten ever existed!
Of course, amongst this cornucopia were more than a few tracks I couldn’t identify. Sometimes this was just a temporary blindspot, like when I couldn’t immediately remember the band that did the doo-wop version of ‘Blue Moon’ (The Marcels, pillock!). Sometimes it took more prolonged racking of my memory until something floated out (The Bluetones and The Dylans). There were others where I chased details down by pasting lines of lyrics into Google, and in the case of the three tracks of the McGarrigle Sisters’ French Album, I identified two by cross-comparing with tracks uploaded to YouTube and, when the third track proved not to be there, cross-checking titles with other singers on YouTube until I placed the song!
After all that, I’ve ended up with eight tracks I’m unable to place, in whole or part. Three of them are instrumentals, and another three are early Nineties Cocteau Twins tracks, and if you know how to identify titles without listening to every single Cocteau Twins tracks until you recognise a liquid, wordless vocal, please leave a comment below!
But that’s not even been half of the project. Once I’d identified everything I could, I started going through the new lists and checking off everything I’d already duplicated on CD (commercial or otherwise) or simply downloaded to my laptop.
I then started downloading and burning CD-Rs, sometimes three or four a day, collating all the tracks I hadn’t already got. Mostly this was by way of YouTube, supplemented by as few Amazon mp3 purchases as I had to. Even so, that still left several dozen tracks that were inaccessible from anywhere except my own MDs.
(This included three tracks from long lost Lindisfarne sessions from the early Seventies, including the session where they did four Fog on the Tyne tracks but with electric piano instead of second guitar. These tapes are missing, probably wiped, and whilst they’re in poor condition, my recordings may well be the only ones in existence. So I contacted the official website, which out to be founder member and drummer Ray Laidlaw. I ended up burning these to CD and sent him a copy, which hopefully can be cleaned up and made generally available).
This should have been a problem. However, I had some software and leads that I’d bought through eBay a good two years before, with the intention of digitizing my cassettes but, because this was not physically convenient getting the laptop to the cassette player, I hadn’t even opened the package.
The software turned out to only be Audacity, which I’ve had on my laptop for ages, but it turned out that a simple jack-lead did the trick! Plug one end into the headphone socket of the MD player, the other into the microphone socket of the laptop, change Preferences in Audacity to record from microphone and I could transfer the songs with ease.
Gradually, all the downloads built up on my laptop as I alternated between downloading/taping and burning. That was another source of great fun, deciding on how to compile this rush of new CDs. I already had a few series of self-burned CDs along various themes, and I created a couple of dozen more in those sets. Sometimes, I created genre-themed CDs: punk and new wave on one, reggae and ska on another, a bunch of more commercially popular songs on a mainstream compilation!
I’ve even got nearly enough electronic music for another compilation but, anal-retentive that I am, I’ve about six minutes space left and I hate burning CDs that don’t have every feasible minute used.
It’s also been an excuse to start burning down a lot of the stuff I’ve simply compiled over the past few years and never got round to turning into CDs,and thus clearing up memory on my laptop.
All good things come towards an end. All the tracks have been gathered in and most of them burned out. But then again, having used a USB turntable to digitize my remaining vinyl, I’ve found a way to protract the procedure. At Xmas I bought a USB cassette player, to sort out the tapes. Even with the extra convenience that allowed me, I still hadn’t got round to doing it until this last week. It’s dead simple: plug the cassette player into the laptop via the USB cable supplied, reset Preferences in Audacity back to Primary Source, and start recording!
And there’s some dead good old stuff on those tapes that I thought had been lost forever! No more lost Lindisfarne, sadly.
All of which is really by way of an ultra-wordy preamble to a little bit of musing about the human mind.
Among the digitized vinyl was a bunch of 12” versions of singles by The Beat, that wonderfully fluid, post Two-Tone Birmingham band. I saw them on stage just the once and, after playing the first eight or nine songs fairly straight, everything after that was a brilliant example of a band so masterful at their music that they could slide orthodox songs into extended dub renderings live without any jarring.
I panicked about ten days ago, when a computer issue made me fear I’d lost all my downloaded music (though thankfully this proved not to be the case). Once everything had been ironed out, I made haste to burn a Beat CD. Whilst checking for additional tracks, I downloaded the 12” of one of their last singles, ‘I Confess‘, taken from their third and final album.
It was a weird departure in sound, for a band growing steadily rootsier to suddenly come out with a piano-laden, superficial, almost cabaret sound in places. ‘I Confess’ was a good, strong track, one I hadn’t listened to for ages. So I burned the CD, checked it was correctly recorded, and deleted the files.
That was over the weekend just gone. Today, half a week later, without having listened to the track again in the interim, I had ‘I Confess’ on the brain, serious earworm time, constantly hearing it, trying to sing along to it (try it one day, it’s one of Dave Wakelin’s most slippery vocals), over and again.
So where the hell did that come from? Why did it suddenly arrive today, after I listened to it last Saturday? What was the trigger to make it now, and not then?
And why is it that an earworm, the memory of a song or performance, is so much more powerful than the music itself. Had I had the song there available, I would have played it only once, fulfilling my listening pleasure, but I must have re-run it’s intro, that tinkling piano, the little crash of drums, those opening lines literally dozens of times, no amount of it swirling through my head able to satisfy the need for it to appear, again and again.
What peculiarity makes that so common a thing? Seriously, if anyone has any idea, I’m all ears. At least the external ones: the inner ears are just going to slip the song onto the ethereal turntable seven or eight more times…

 

24: Live Another Day – 6.00pm – 7.00pm


I’d rather see Mary Lynn than Chloe

It’s a mark of just how far this series has fallen from the glory days that I’d quite forgotten in was on this week and that, when I did recall, I had to think hard as to whether I’d seen an episode last week or if I had two to catch up on. Having watched episode 8, I couldn’t help but wonder how far back in time the previous dollop seemed to be.

After managing to inspire some sort of life in the last couple of episodes, 24: Live Another Day was back to zombie sleepwalk time, with the majority of the hour dedicated to President Heller’s decision to sacrifice himself to Mama Terrorist Margot. To begin with, Jack got an order to get Heller to the nominated place – the centre spot at Wembley, 7.00pm – which he refused to accept until Heller told him about the Alzheimers, which forced Jack’s hand in an entirely non-sentimental way.

In order to get Heller out of the American Embassy without no-one on its highly-trained staff, and especially the President’s Security Detail, knowing, was of course impossible without an insider’s help (let’s face it, it’s impossible, full stop, but we’ve been in la-la-land for several hours by now and this episode has plans to cement that fact that we’ve not yet got to, so go with the ridiculous flow). Needless to say, the only insider Heller trusts as implicitly as he does Whispering Jack (my stars, when will that man ever raise his voice to a conversational tone?) is Creepy Chief of Staff Mark. Between the two, Heller, disguised by a baseball cap, is spirited onto the streets of London.

In the meantime, Jack is bullying Barbie Doll Kate into being his complete surrogate by getting her to march into the CIA surgery where, at gun point, she forces the Doctor to inject the Poorly Ill Baby Terrorist Simone out of the induced coma they’ve created to keep her from expiring on the spot, so that Simone can cough up an address for Mama Margot. Our decidedly battered Pre-Raphaelite does so, complete with the advice that Margot will be long gone by then, but does find time before convulsing in death-spasms to clue them in on the poor, departed Navid’s disc drive of Queen’s Evidence under the floorboards.

Surprisingly, our delicate blossom is still alive by episode end.

As soon as Barbie has the uploaded drive, she’s winging it on to Underused Gothic Chloe, trying to save the City from a laptop in a London pub, despite drunks trying to flirt with her, Jack’s usual insistence on the impossible being done far quicker than the merely feasible, and Untrustworthy Adrian’s seductive monotone pleading Chloe Come Home to our latest temporary industrial warehouse technopad.

But Barbie Doll Kate has finally noticed that Puppy Dog Jordan is missing, departed to places unknown, and without authority if you believe Mole Boss Navarro. Navarro’s got the killer combing the banks of the canal for the wounded Jordan, who rings in to demand to be rescued, unaware he’s giving away his location to the bad guy. However, when the killer with a dodgy moustache finally tracks Puppy down, Jordan has worked out, from no clues whatsoever, that Navarro has turned on him, brains Moustache with a metal pipe and steals both his guns.

Unfortunately, the innocent Mr Reed falls for the oldest trick in the book. Do you know how to use that highly lethal silenced gun, Moustache asks. Is the safety on or off? For once, please just once in my life let the guy answer that you came in here with this gun in your hand, ready to kill me the moment you saw me: of course the safety’s off. But no: Puppy blinks, Moustache jumps in, forces a serrated knife into Puppy’s chest but has his guts blown out by Puppy with the second, unsilenced gun. Puppy lies there blinking, until his eyes gradually close: Requiescat im Pace, Puppy.

Nah, I don’t believe that either.

But back to Jack and the Runaway President. It’s not all bad news: Heller’s resigning the Presidency, effective 7.00pm, so he’s going to his death as a private citizen, but before doing so he’s issued a Presidential Pardon for everything Jack did four years ago, plus anything he does tonight, hell, as far back as the Kennedy Assassination if necessary. Jack gruffly disclaims doing this for a Pardon, but Heller’s done it. Jack can Go Home now. Wonder if Kim’s seen any cougars recently?

Then Heller walks out in a dignified way to the centre of Wembley, yes, the real New Wembley, complete with arch. Thankfully, there wasn’t a match tonight so Jack can easily park the helicopter in the car park (did he pack a Krooklok? You know what these thieving London toerags are like). It does mean that the pitch isn’t marked, but Heller seems to make a fairly good guess as to where the centre spot is, and stands there comfortably, sans cap, until Mama Margot overrules Geeky Son Ian and fires the fatal drone missile herself. Bang goes Heller, Britain’s reputation as a place where foreign dignities can attend in safety, and about 50% of the Wembley turf: hell of a job for the groundsman tomorrow.

Is that the end of it? Well, with four episodes left, far from it. Mama Margot has sworn on the soul of her dearly departed Daddy Terrorist that she will dump the remaining drones in the sea off Dover once Heller is dead, but already the eyes of Geeky Ian, who’s got himself the kind of video game that’s truly addictive, are lighting up with the fanaticism of one who really wants to blow things apart, so we’re looking at Power Struggle Time pretty soon.

So, that’s your lot for the two-thirds mark, except for our regular little check-up on 24‘s trips into fantasy land. For one, there’s Jack and Heller, slipping out of the American Embassy directly onto the street through an unguarded basement access that isn’t gated off from the general public. Now that’s at 6.25pm, in daylight, evening maybe but still full daylight. By 6.30pm, Jack’s taking the helicopter up into the night sky, above a London with all the lights on. What the hell country is this in where night drops in five minutes?

Then there’s the traditional helicopter flight over London, along the River Thames towards Tower Bridge. Spectacular to look at, and no doubt fulfilling the American audience’s expectations of Merrie Old England. That Tower Bridge is at the eastern end of Central London, that the American Embassy is north of the river and that Wembley is not only also north of the river but in North West London, and that Jack says the helicopter flight from the Thames will take ten minutes when the train from Manchester into Euston, slowing down, does that leg of the journey in ten minutes, suggests to me that someone doesn’t know shit.

It’s like that glorious sequence in Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves when Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman come ashore at the white cliffs of Dover in the morning, set off to walk to Nottingham, and camp overnight at Hadrian’s Wall.

Such is the state of things. Not much more of this crap to put up with now, though.

Respect


I’ve not yet fully surrendered myself to the 2014 World Cup, but the Spain-Holland game of Friday night was an absolute must. And that was before we got one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history: the World Champions, the team that had not conceded a goal in ten consecutive qualifiers, blown apart 5-1. And after taking the lead.

Of course, Holland were magnificent. Van Persie’s header would have had me whooping even if he hadn’t been a United player. Spain were uncharacteristically sloppy, never more so at the fourth goal, van Persie’s second. The look on Casillas’s face, haunted by his hoorible mistake, was something I will not forget lightly, and I think that the cameras were unforgivably intrusive in holding on him at all, let alone for the length of time they lingered.

5-1. And last night, another defeat, 2-0 to Chile, and even before the last game, the supposedly easy one, against a fast, skilful Australia who have come of age this year, the Champions out. Not just the World Champions, but twice European Champions: it is eight years since Spain did not win a Championship.

It is indeed the end of an era. Spain’s passing style, tiki-taka, now belongs to the past: they are overtaken. But whilst it lasted, they were magical. I remember United losing two Champions League Finals to Barcelona, up against the impossible. Defeated, but without shame, for there could not be shame in being second best to that team.

But I’ve written this coming straight from the Guardian web-site, and its solemn record of the departure of the players from the stadium last night, in a near silence of regret. The team have been treated with respect and dignity, and they have, in their turn, faced their defeat with dignity. Though they have been humiliated, they have not been treated in a humiliating manner, and they have responded with humility of a kind rare to see in footballers of this era.

Iniesta: “We have been at the very highest point, now we are at the very lowest.”

“We’re sorry,” Casillas said. “Don’t be, you have given us so much,” ran the editorial in AS. “It was lovely while it lasted,” was the headline.

Casillas: “This group of players didn’t deserve to end like this.”

Xabi Alonso: “This is a completely unexpected failure, but that’s sport. We have to take moments of great sadness the same way as we reacted at times of great joy: as men. This hurts our pride a lot.”

At the other end of the room, a Spain player was deep in whispering conversation with a friend. He broke off momentarily as the Chile manager Jorge Sampaoli walked past and offered his hand. “Congratulations,” he said quietly.

It is rare these days to feel respect towards footballers. But I respect Spain for their reaction in the face of their destruction, and I hope they will be back soon.

Spam 2: What could I do with all these diamonds?


I’m still getting bombarded with offers to lead me to sites that will cure my addictions, though I honestly still don’t think that Caffeine-Free Diet Coke is either that dangerous or illegal (some of you will say that it should be but hey, I’ve got to have some perversion or life isn’t worth living).

But now I’m getting swamped with Diamonds. Not literally, just endless spam offering me the chance to visit the best sites for diamonds you could ever imagine, always providing you can imagine Canadian diamonds.

Now, being dirt poor, the diamond market has never been significant to me, so I am not my usual fount of wisdom here, but I don’t recall ever hearing that Canada has a significant reputation for diamonds. All of a sudden, it seems to be rolling in them and everyone wants to share them with me.

To be fair, not all this jewelled spsam is explicitly Canadian. Some of it offers me the best Spencer diamonds, which mystifies me even more. I intuitively associate Spencer with Canada now, which is going to be a potential issue next time I get to speak to my cousin who’s been living over there since 1982 (if you’re reading, hi John!). It’s the way they offers arrive in waves of one or the other.

Oh, and I’m still getting the ones about monster trucks. Anyone who wants one and doesn’t know where to find them, I can probably sort you out.

Obscure Corners: East of Longsleddale


Longsleddale from Great Howe

Longsleddale, even after all these years since Wainwright’s Far Eastern Fells was first published, is an Obscure Corner, and deservedly so. Not because it is dull and drab and deserves to be overlooked, but because it is quiet, shy and beautiful, and should be allowed to retain that character.
The valley is a long, straight affair, some six miles in length, a deep trench opening in secluded circumstances onto the A6 Shap road, a few miles north of Kendal. Though it is seen daily by thousands of motorists travelling north, Longsleddale offers no hints of what lies beyond its wooded mouth, and so it remains for the most part unspoiled.
I say for the most part, because in the past when I have visited, there was rough space beside Sadgill Bridge, where the Longsleddale road ends, for three to four cars, and that was sufficient, because three to four visitors at a time was all this sentinel of peace commanded. Now, a proper car park has been built by the Bridge, a sign that Longsleddale’s peace may be under threat.
That sense of isolation is, for me at any rate, compounded by the fact that the only road access to Longsleddale is from the A6: like Swindale, and even Mardale to the north, there is the feeling that to get to Longsleddale it is necessary to go out and come back in from outside the Lake District. No road crosses Gatescarth Pass (may that remain so eternally), no road from Kentmere enters the valley at mid-level.
The eastern flank of Longsleddale is more obscure even than the valley, for Grey Crag and Tarn Crag are the Lakes’ most easterly outliers: this is up against the edge.
From the east itself, Grey Crag can be reached from the A6 by four ridges. When I was still reading the Wainwrights obsessively, wondering about places it seemed unlikely I would ever see, the two pages that cover those routes were among the most fascinating. They spoke of places outside, names not shared with any other fell: Huck’s Bridge, the Jungle Cafe (long gone but from the name alone a busy place to conjure in the mind).
But none of those ridges are properly thrown out by Grey Crag, though from Sadgill, the ascent does make use of the fell’s one true sub-ridge, thrown out south, culminating in the lower height of Great How, topped by a survey post.
The walk starts opposite the car park, a gate into a grassy enclosure, the stile at its top left corner already visible. Walk uphill to this. Rough ground and rock appears above: make fo the base of an easy, grassy gully and veer right across the slope for the next stile, which lets you out onto the open fellside at the base of Great How.
Those who wish to save Grey Grag until last should turn back along the wall at this point, gradually rising across the pathless fellside until it is possible to make a near bee-line for Tarn Crag’s summit, but a better plan is to go straight ahead, curving up steeper ground until emerging by the survey post. Stop here to admire Longsleddale.
From here to the summit of Grey Crag is an easy uphill walk. Follow the ridge along its easy, shelving back, angling across Grey Crag itself, until a fence comes into view, on the narrow tongue between parallel streams. Swing to the right to cross the waters that become Stockdale Gill, lower down, and make uphill to the summit.
Here is Lakeland’s most easterly peak. Beyond is the edge, the point at which Lakeland becomes not-Lakeland, in the indefinite ridges between here and there. If you have expected something exceptional about this place, here you will be disappointed. Grey Crag is no peak, it holds little of interest as a top. In theory, it should command stunning views, outwards and eastward, but it is not high enough, in itself or in its elevation above the spreading ridges, to command a panorama, and the chances are that whatever might be of value in this view will be blurred by haze, or dullness, or cloud: clear days on Grey Crag are few, and such clear days are usually a demand to go somewhere more worthy.
But we are here, close by the edge. Those ridges and their lesser tops may now be collected in The Outlying Fells, still without recommendation, but they remain outside, across a border that exists only in the heart, and we are here today because this is as close as can be to that border.
Tarn Crag lies north and west. Wainwright recommends heading north initially, to pick up a fence at the apex of a tight corner, and Jesty indicates a rudimentary path leading the way. The fence leads left behind Tarn Crag’s top, requiring only an easy detour to its top. A more direct route is not recommended as being too marshy,though on my visit I found the direct route far drier and firmer that its reputation. Curiously, this corner being Obscure because of its solitude, I made this traverse in the company of an older walker who joined me just below Grey Crag.
Tarn Crag allows a first sight of the upper valley lying beyond Longsleddale’s narrow and rocky jaws, where the staid levelness of the valley gives way to a sudden, steep climb. From here, Harter Fell and the head of Gatescarth Pass come into view, and a sense of even greater loneliness and isolation appears: ironic, since that area will be far busier with walkers than here where you stand.
There are options from Tarn Crag for a direct descent to Longsleddale, either by the route towards the base of Great How, or north of west, accompanying a nameless beck and a wire fence, to the head of the quarry road, above the gorge. Better though to continue north, on open, featureless grass flanks, as far as the peaty, low saddle separating the upper valley, left, from the head of another of Lakeland’s Mosedales.
This latter curves in dull and grassy loneliness around the base of Branstree, directly ahead, debouching above waterfalls that tumble prettily into Swindale. It also offers access over a low ridge to Wet Sleddale, and there is a bothy, Mosedale Cottage, a half mile in that direction. But I’m bound to say I found it a cheerless place (Mosedale means ‘dreary valley’ after all), possessed by an emptiness that I found distinctly off-putting. It felt as if walking in Mosedale would take longer than the actual clock measured: far longer.
Here, decisions must be made. The enthusiastic walker, whose energy has been barely tested by the walk so far, or the Wainwright bagger keen to count coup, will want to ascend Branstree. It’s dead ahead, we’re here, there are no complications: ascend towards the prominent wall and follow it, on your right, to nearly the summit. Descend alongside the fence left, to the head of Gatescarth Pass and turn left again for Longsleddale.
However, be warned that the walking is dull and tedious both ways, that Branstree’s summit is dead flat, making its highest point a matter of guesswork, and you will be tiring yourself in a far from good cause.
Better to follow the indeterminate track left from this saddle, descending carefully, in view of the wetness underfoot, into that hidden upper valley where the quarry used to be and the wreckage of industry still fascinates.
From here, bear left to reach the top of the quarry road. The steep descent between the rocky jaws on Longsleddale is absorbing, especially when considering that ponies used to negotiate this road, pulling heavy loads of stone. At the foot, the road becomes level and eay and there is no more than an afternoon stroll back to the car.

24: Live Another Day – 5.00 – 600 pm


Do NOT vote for this man.

Last week’s unexpected excursion into genuine tension and interest does carry over into the second half of 24: Live Another Day yet, in the way you know the show can’t resist being fatuously improbable, it couldn’t help dropping back into complete farce.
The first of these related to Baby Terrorist Simone, last seen having a head-on discussion with a London bus that sent her flying at least five yards in a horizontal direction.
Needless to say, the fragile-looking, pre-Raphaelite Simone was rapidly surrounded by Ambulances and all those head brace and splint thingies that prevent seriously injured people from moving any muscle still in an active state. She has multiple fractures, contusions and internal injuries, enough to have her rushed off to the nearby St Edwards Hospital in a critical condition.
Equally needless to say, Jack and Barbie are also rushing headlong towards St Edwards, anxious to keep all knowledge of Baby Terrorist’s incarceration from Mama Terrorist (some hope: Mama Margot phones Simone to find out why it’s taking so long to slaughter her sister-in-law and niece, only to find that St Edwards is the place to be).
Our anxious heroes’ only chance is to get Baby to turn against Mama, especially as little Yasmin confirms that, before killing Farah, Simone did urge them to get out of London.
But Simone is all battered and banged-up and in no fit state to speak: until, that is, Jack persuades the Doctor to administer that wonderful wake-up drug that drags patients back from death’s door with enough presence of mind to not only undergo interrogation by Jack Bauer, but also undergo torture from him.
This isn’t the bit where the episode goes lurching into improbability, though. No, this is just the bit where Simone wakes up, spits (metaphorically) in Jack’s eye when he asks her to betray her ever-loving mother, thus inducing him to unwrap her maimed left hand and start twisting Simone’s little finger: you know, the one that, not three hours ago, Mama lovingly had chopped off with a cold chisel, and which hasn’t yet been treated.
Simone’s loyalty to Mummy and the cause is impressive. Unfortunately, Mummy has no trust in her betraying daughter any more and has the next drone diverted to blow the shit out of the Hospital.
This is where it does get loony. Jack dedicates himself to getting Simone out. On foot. On Simone’s feet that is, with Jack supporting her, but she’s stumbling quite adequately out of the hospital. More than adequately, given her multiple fractures… Gah! I say, and gah!
Anyway, Mama spots that her beloved traitorous daughter has been got away and sends the drone after Jack’s car, through a wild chase through London traffic, side-streets and extreme parking that’s merely unrealistic in any practical sense and perfectly standard for 24. Jack somehow manages to avoid hitting at least fifty different cars, whilst stealing two others en route, until the last drone missile is used and Mam realises she’s still not killed her lovely child.
That’s where we’re up to in the principal plot, so it’s time to go back to the Residence and catch up with Heller and his circle. They don’t get too much play this time out, but when they do, it’s a doozy. Heller gives Stephen Fry a much needed bollocking. The Russian contact still wants Jack, ASAP, and if thwarted will use his knowledge that Creepy Mark forged Heller’s signature to an Executive Order.
And we’re on our way to major, bull goose loony notion number two. Heller witnesses the scenes of carnage at the hospital. He gets changed into a suit, and uses a hitherto wholly unsuspected backchannel to set up a Skype call with none other than Margot El-Harasi. The deadline still hasn’t passed for her ultimatum for Heller to hand himself over to her tender mercies. Heller’s been looking at the devastation caused at the hospital: he’s all set to hand himself over.
No, I’m sorry, not even in the world of 24 is that notion even remotely plausible. In a foreign country, the President of the United States of America is prepared to hand himself over to a vicious, brutal terrorist, who will stop at nothing to inflict brutal torture upon him and use him as the greatest propaganda coup terrorism has ever had. Ok, yes, he’s going to have Jack Bauer accompanying him, but even so, this one is so far-fetched it’s circling the sun somewhere outside the orbit of Pluto. Even assuming that Mama Margot’s word not to kill anyone else today can be trusted (and even if it can, she never promised not to start again tomorrow).
But let us not forget that there is now a sub-plot. For new readers, CIA Station Chief Steve Navarro has been revealed as the real traitor passing secrets to the Chinese, not Barbie Doll Kate’s disgraced and dead husband. However, puppy dog analyst Jordan, who worships Kate, is now running a retrieval program that will expose the CTU Mole (well, you know what I mean).
However, Navarro’s contact warns the baddie that his orders to ignore this are being ignored and Jordan needs to be disposed of. With a sense of shock that lasts for all of 0.2 seconds, we discover that Naughty Steve’s contact is Adrian the Monotone Hacker.
As for poor Jordan, he suddenly finds himself sent out into the field for the first time ever in of-course-not-suspicious circumstances, to retrieve a parcel from a message drop down on the canal. Where a thuggish looking thug shoots him in the chest, causing him to collapse, Dirty Den-style into the canal.
But fear not, something in all of this has triggered Puppy Dog’s sense of self-preservation and, despite having been shot at point blank range by a professional assassin, he swims hundreds of yards underwater, under canal water too thick for him to be seen, before pulling himself out with a flesh wound, a mere scratch. Currently being worked on by every kind of nasty bug ever to have lived in a British canal, so that’s him done for…
My overall verdict? One step sideways, three colossal ones downhill.
More idiocy next week, unfortunately.

Theatre Nights: Return of the Scarlet Ghost


Sandman Mystery Theatre  49-52 . Dramatis personae: Matt Wagner (plot), Steven T. Seagle (script), Guy Davis (artist), with ‘Joe Kirby’ (writer) and Daniel Torres (artist).
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
Return of the Scarlet Ghost incorporated the 50th issue of Sandman Mystery Theatre as its Second Act and, in keeping with comic book tradition, the issue was a special, extended story, which guest artist Daniel Torres brought in to draw some very entertaining pages that formed an integral part of the extended in-joke underlying this play.
On the serious side of things, Return of the Scarlet Ghost chooses the New York Pulp/early comic book Publishing industry at the end of the Thirties as its backdrop. It’s accepted now that most, if not all, of the pulp magazine publishers were mob-backed, money laundering outlets for Prohibition profits. Indeed, one of the reasons comic books were so enthusiastically embraced by publishers was that they used fallow time at the printers, enabling a greater proportion of money to be washed clean.
It’s mildly surprising to see this being set out in this series, given that Vertigo‘s parent company, DC, was also amongst that number: DC‘s owner, Harry Donenfeld, ex-printer, ex-publisher of Spicy (i.e. soft porn) Detective stories, was a close friend of the notorious Frank Costello.
But these are liberated times and DC has moved so far from its Thirties roots that such things can be brought up now without a sense of residual embarrassment.
And it’s in-keeping with the more light-hearted side of the story, to which I’ll come shortly.
We focus on Darrigo & Darrigo Publishing, which is beholden to Italian Mobster, Don Alfonso Gamboni. We’ve seen the Darrigo brothers, Shelley and Franco, before, at the Beaux Art Ball in The Hourman, where Wesley attended in a circus acrobat’s masquerade costume version of his second comic book incarnation.
The Darrigos are hustling to make a living, with busy offices. They publish spooky, gruesome magazines, one of them being ‘Sandman Mystery Theatre’, highly-fictionalised adventures of our favourite gas-masked hero, in lurid pulp terms, with illustrations of the original business suit/gasmask Sandman costume. But they’re arguing about embracing the growing comics market, about people (in the shadow of European War) wanting heroes in bright colours.
But a rival mobsters wants to increase space for his subservient publishers: Finn represents the Irish mobs and he’s employing the Pettys – Colm, Peter and Sean, two brothers and a cousin – to strongarm Darrigos off the market.
The Pettys are an interesting and highly repellent study in thuggishness that I’d love to call mindless but which is perhaps better described as unthinking. All three are wrapped up in almost a mystique of masculinity, which in their case is the idea that a real man is defined by drinking a lot, fighting a lot, fucking whores a lot, and not letting anyone tell them what to do (that latter aspect does not apply to their orders from Finn).
We first meet them beating up a newstand owner in public, as a warning not to sell Darrigo magazines. Then they intercept a delivery lorry, smash the driver’s head in with a crowbar, stuff his clothing with paper and light it and the lorryload after dousing everything with kerosene, leaving him to burn to death.
Their next job is to invade a printing shop where they (impliedly) kill a man by dangling him into the press until it rips his arms off (thankfully off-panel).
Ironically, the Pettys are getting their ideas from ghoulish magazines published by Darrigo, whilst Colm and Peter’s younger brother, Mike, gets himself a job drawing comics for Darrigo.
For once, Wesley Dodds and the Sandman are not drawn in by dreams, but rather by Dian Belmont’s attempts to progress her as yet non-existent writing career.
Dian is attracted to the pulp magazines, for their vigour and the vividness of her writings. Her stomach is still bothering her and she’s generally out of sorts, to the point of preferring Wesley to hold her rather than make love with her, but none of this prevents her coming to a decision to direct her ambitions towards the pulp market: after all, it actually enables her to start, and finish, stories.
But when it comes to selling to Darrigos, Dian’s a non-starter: she’s a broad, and broads can’t write adventure stories. Dian steams in frustration, but gets encouragement from a surprise source, crime reporter Jack McCall (as seen in the Annual), who is writing these stories under a psuedonym.
Unfortunately, that places Dian directly outside the door of Darrigo’s editor’s office when the bomb sent by the Pettys goes off.
Suddenly, everything becomes very serious indeed. Though not a family member, Wesley is accepted as much as Larry Belmont for contact with the unconscious patient. Burke, who is very quiet after the events of The Blackhawk is placed in charge of the investigation, for once to Wesley’s relief. But Dian’s fate, and Wesley’s realisation of just how much she means to him, is at the centre of things.
Fittingly, Dian not only survives, but awakens after a dream, a Dream-inspired dream in which she quotes words that Dream of the Endless spoke in the Sandman Midnight Theatre special. It’s the longest single dream of all those depicted in this run, and it leads her back to consciousness.
Wesley goes into full assault mode as the Sandman, again seeking revenge as much as justice, although he’s not aware at first that Dian remains in active danger. Finn’s unhappy with the Pettys, and is bringing in a specialist to seal the deal: the specialist is The Face and the plan is simple. The Pettys drop an insurance policy in the ruins of the Darrigo office, $25,000 on the death of Dian Belmont, the Face kills her.
The Sandman catches the Pettys in the act of dropping the policy in the ruined offices. The Pettys jump him and start to administer a beating, but the Sandman regains his gas gun and puts them out. They then spill the beans. A panicky Wes jumps into his car and sets off towards the hospital, overriding the Police wavelengths and posing as Burke sending orders for all men to get to the Hospital. The real Burke intervenes to countermand the orders, until Wesley, in a vicious fury, threatens him that if Dian is harmed, Larry Belmont will know exactly who kept his daughter from being protected. Browbeaten for once, Burke acquiesces.
Ironically, it’s neither Wesley nor the Police that saves Dian, but instead her father, who takes a minor stab wound in grappling with the Face. Larry makes an enemy too, but before the Face can follow up on his two-for-one offer, the Sandman captures him, unaware until a chance remark that he’s dealing with an old enemy.
The Pettys’ end is different. They are found, bound, by young Mike, who releases them, though not before the Police reach the scene. It’s here that the stupid mindset of the Pettys reaches its apotheosis: Peter Petty runs, refusing to accept the Police telling him to stop. He does what he wants, not what anyone else tells him, and he’s shot dead for it, because he’s fucking thick and his mindset is bullshit.
But that’s still not all of the story. There are multiple Sandmans in this tale, as there are multiple Scarlet Ghosts. We’ve seen the old gas-masked Sandman, created by gardner Fox and Bert Christman, perpetuated in the pulp magazine horror of Darrigo Brothers version of ‘Sandman Mystery Theatre’. We’ve seen the ‘reality’ of our Mystery Theatre hero. But in issue 50, that extended episode, we see a third Sandman, as Dian brings back from Darrigo Brothers’ offices the first issue of a Sandman comic.
This is Daniel Torres’ contribution to this play, a tribute to the legendary writer/artist pair, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (who, though not the creators of, are most associated with the second Golden Age phase of Sandman, the yellow and purple clad athletic bruiser).
‘Joe Kirby’ writes this new, naive, Kirby-esque comic, featuring a straight take-off of that other Sandman. It includes the Sandman’s teenage partner, Sandy, the Golden Boy, aka Sandy Hawkins, but the Sandman is Jack Simon, not Wesley Dodds.
It#s affectionate, it’s a beautifully weighted in-joke, and maybe it can be seen as a way for the continuity of the Mystery Theatre to edge itself closer to the DC Universe.
But whilst Wagner, Seagle and Davis can indulge themselves in this little fantasy, they cannot resist a final twist: in a somewhat time-bending fashion, the Scarlet Ghost story, displaying a third version of the fictional villain, has already become a Saturday morning film serial: but Jack Simon is now a crusading reporter, not a colourful costumed crimefighter: he is more real, more adult as such. It’s a comment that needs no underlining.
Speaking of final twists, Dian’s enforced hospital stay enables the doctors to carry out tests that reveal the source of her malaise of the last two plays, though some among you will have already anticipated this: in the final panel, she drops a bomb that can hardly be unexpected, but which is: she’s pregnant.
The lights dim. The curtain falls. The actors retreat beyond the proscenium arch, to await their next call to performance, in a play titled The Crone.
Break a leg.

Return of the Scarlet Ghost is the last of the plays to be collected in Graphic Novel form, making it more or less easily available for reading. The series was slow to start, with an collection of The Tarantula quickly appearing, but several years passing before the next collection was released. After that, an annual schedule followed, until 2010, pairing this and The Blackhawk. There have been no further volumes since and, given DC’s concentration since 2011 on its New 52 revision (in which Wesley Dodds is not even a hero), it seems likely that the remainder of the run will stay uncollected. Which is a shame because, from this point, only two more collections would have been needed to present a complete run.
Henceforth, I will be reviewing the original issues themselves, and anyone wishing to actually read the story will find it difficult and expensive to do so, if indeed the individual issues can be found at all almost twenty years later.