Person of Interest: s01 e21 – Many Happy Returns

“When you find that one person who connects you to the world, you become someone different, someone better. When that person is taken from you, what do you become then?”

This is how this episode begins, with John Reese’s voiceover accompanying a brief montage of scenes, flashback scenes, from throughout the series, scenes of Jessica, who he loved. We’ve heard the first part of that quote before, but the final line is new. It will all be repeated, late in the episode, at the point where those words were firsst said. We understand them already. Now we understand why.

I’m unsure whether to describe this episode as a web or a mosaic. Both are true. Both are cliches. But the whole story is made up of details, past and present, everything interlocking with precise assurance so that each step matches another, elsewhere, or elsewhen, and at the end there isn’t a crack into which the tip of a penknife blade could be inserted.

We gein with a flashback, to February 2011, maybe eighteen months before the present day of the series. John Reese in a subway car, with a beard, as we first saw him. Not the wild, long, tangled beard of then, the product of four months careless growing, nor the bum’s clothing: a suit, a shirt, all respectable but for the bloodstain on the left stomach. A kid asks if he’s alright. After a time, John says he thinks he’s quit his job.

John’s on his way to New Rochelle, upstate. We’re going to New Rochelle too, in the present, with Detective Carter and Special Agent Donnelly, on the trail of the Man in the Suit, investigating his first job (?), an assassination of a man deep in debt, a man named Peter Arndt. A sloppy job, a messy job. Peter Arndt. The man who was Jessica’s husband, because John Reese wouldn’t ask her to wait for him, because he thought se deserved someone better than him.

And in the present, John’s going nowhere. There are no Numbers, he can take a day off, besides, it’s his birthday. Finch’s present is a key. But there is a number, Karen Garner (Dagmara Dominczyk), dark-haired woman, attractive, late thirties, very nervous. Finch will handle her himself, with Fusco.

Why so? Because Karen Garner, or Sarah Atkins, or Sarah Jennings, is on the run, fugitive wanted on charges of cheque-kiting and other stuff. She has a US Marshall, Brad Jennings (Jeremy Davidson), trailing her. The coincidence of names is no coincidence. The charges are phoney, the Marshall is her husband, andwhy she’s running from him. That’s why Finch doesn’t want John in on this one.

In the past, John arrives at the hospital where Jessica works. It’s two months since she left that voicemail that, last week, in that flashback, he wanted to follow up before he and Kara Stanton were sent to China. He’s here at last, but she isn’t. She isn’t any more. Two months ago, she died, in a car accident. John leaves the hospital, bumping into a man in a wheelchair whose face we don’t see, not until the end.

In New Richelle now, Carter gets further than Donnelly in finding out what went down, because she’s interested in listening and looking and he’s got a fixed idea ofwhat to look for. Even then, talking to Peter’s mother-in-law, it’s only as a parting thought that the lady, defending Peter, mentions how he was better for Jessica than her previous boyfriend. The soldier. Who was away a lot. Leaving Jessica alone. Carter’s a good detective. She finds a photo, she gets a military contact to send her confidential records on a soldier named John. And she shreds everything. Except the photo.

John’s on the case now in the present. Not just following Finch, not just suspicious, just… bored, without a Number. He’s angry, silently, hard-edgedly, angry. And unsubtle. He warns Marshall Jennings by walking into the Marshall’s Field Office and administering a beatdown. It doesn’t work. Jennings gets his woman, drives north with her. Reese flows alone, refusing to allow Harold in on this. He knows what needs to be done, knows the only answer. Harold alerts Carter, who trails him. Sarah/Karen’s gone, set free, saved from the death her husband intended. Carter can’t divert John from the death he intends.

The death he’s already delivered to Peter Arndt. Carter’s already found the trail that points to Jessica’s death occurring before, not in the car accident, the flashback confirms the moment of domestic violence, the twisted wrist that had already been broken, the spin round and throw that has a head hit a desktop, a neck break, and John Reese needs no such evidence to tell him how wrong he was to let Jessica find a good man, a safe man.

There’s a sting, for Carter, a sop to her conscience. ‘Marshall Brad Jennings’, a man in a suit delivers a prisoner and half a ton of heroin to a Mexican prison, and asks them to notify the arresting officer, Detective Carter. The prison has one or two other Americans. Carter feels happy, she knows now what happened to Peter Arndt. Like Donnelly, she sees and hears what she wants to see. I see otherwise.

There’s a conversation, in mid-episode, between Finch and Reese. The former explains how, when he was building the Machine, he was worried how numbers kept turning up again and again, sometimes close together, sometimes months apart. Until he worked out these were women, living with the person who would one day kill them. At the end, John asks Harold if Jessica was one of those numbers. Finch half-replies that this took place before their partnership began, that there was nothing either of them could do. There’s a final flashback, and flashback to a flashback, Reese leaving the Hospital, stunned by the news about Jessica. He bumps into a man in a wheelchair. The man is Finch.


Saturday SkandiKrime: Follow the Money 3 – episodes 7 & 8

Marijana (not Jelena) Jankovic

As much as I found it risible, I’d almost rather have a third series of Bedrag with Maverick Mess and Amoral Claudia than this molecule-thin, unnecessarily convoluted and colourless drama, that has no impetus, no meaning and certainly no heart.

A lot of things happened in episode 7, none of them particularly memorable. Alf’s back to sleeping with Isa again, except in a twist on the traditional approach, it’s not just her that is keeping her knickers on (at least it’s not America and she hasn’t still got her bra on). Alf’s going to pieces and it woul concern me more if Thomas Kwan had more than two modes of acting: slow and deadpan, and shouty slow and deadpan.

He’s not just getting screwed by Isa (through two layers of cotton, how?) but by Broderson, the Chief of Police. Alf has touched pitch: Broderson has a cunning plan to cotrol the drug’s trade, which is to let one gang (Wahid and Nebil’s) control it all. Result, no internecine wars and good, uninterrupted management. Alf can’t go along with this, except this if he doesn’t, Broderson will expose everything, the pills, the shagging, chuck him out of his job, ruin Isa’s life. Oh, and yes, lay off Nicky Rasmussen, because he’s Wahid’s principal supplier.

If that’s not bad enough, Stine is still displaying concern, so Alf reports her to his commander for excessive force and temper, provoking a temper outburst from her, proving his point. Miserable twat.

Nicky has the easiest part of it this episode. He’s happily playing with Milas when Sahar drops by with a housewarming gift. She and Milas take to each other like ducks to water, but she doesn’t like being left to cope alone, unrequested, whilst Nicky nips outto sort out a mess his soon-to-be successor Lala has created. Worse still, Lala then gets himself beaten to a pulp challenging Danish aryan racists, getting a lot of blood over a lot of money that Nicky still has to account for.

I’ve never watched Breaking Bad (I know, remiss of me) but I’m sure the writers have studied it because Anna Berg Hansen is Walter-Whiting it like nobody’s business. Sitting in on pretty Nervous Nete when the Police come to call about young Mr Rasmussen, seducing her into a business plan that will simultaneously save Nete’s neck as an out-of-her-depth Branch Manager, and suck in more laundering clients then, when discovering tht the little minx has an appointment the next morning with Alf, ducking her quite forcefully into an aquarium during a dinner party at home and threatening to have her killed. Does episode 8 have anything in it to redeem this brainless shit?

Well, yes, for a given value of redeem, that is. We’re starting to build up to the denouement, so everything starts to fall inwards, towards the centre. Nicky signs his Dubai business over to Lala whilst still keeping him on a string. Lala promises Anna to maintain the discipline under which things have been run to date, and then she goes and loses all discipline, spending money like it’s water: a flash sports car for Soren, a spa away day at a luxury hotel, complete with vintage champagne: we’re blowing it, aren’t we?

That little splurge suddenly goes hollow. Alf and Moeller have been to see pretty Nete at home and despite Anna’s warning, her nervousness betrays her. She offers up her Branch Manager’s linkto Anna’s computer. Anna, feeling randy, slips back to their room to prepare for some high-intensity, middle-aged, resurgent love fucking only to find the hapless Jaewar there, dobbing some surveillance around. Cue panic attack, sudden regrets aboout ever starting this and heart-warming support from formerly crusty husband.

The real precipitating factor for the endgame comes when Brodersen’s plan blows up in everybody’s face: Wasim is killed on the golf course by having a few tee shots taken to his head. Brodersen sticks his head in the sand, no change of plans, though Alf knows that an uncontrollable war is about to start. When Stine won’t accept his apologies, he returns Task Force Norrebro back onto Nicky and Marco. When Brodersen finds out, he immediately sets up a 30% budget cut, including sacking Commander Storm, preparatory to dissolving the team.

Alf explains to Storm how they can save theTask Force by acceding to Brodersen, but his boss reacts badly: he will not compromise an investigation to save his own ass (good man), and Alf has until the day after tomorrow to come up with evidence, or his ass is out the door.

A prolonged re-review of what they’ve got enables Inscrutable Alf to make the missing connection. He identifies Marco. Marco is Nicky. Unfortunately for Nicky, Lala has reached the same conclusion by a different route, and stabs Nicky in the stomach. Bleeding profusely, Nicky drives to Sahar’s apartment and collapses on her floor…

Very Collected Thoughts: Avengers – Endgame

I’ve been avoiding spoilers for this film practically from the moment that Avengers: Infinity War ended its last post-credits scene. No news items, no casting decisions, no set photos, no trailers, not even any fan-theories. I went into that cinema this afternoon as unaware as if I had spent the entire time blindfolded and with cotton wool superglued into my ears.

So I’m not going to start giving away spoilers to anyone who hasn’t yet seen this film. Except for this.

There ain’t one damned thing wrong with it.

Film 2019: Sliding Doors

Another late addition to the first phase of 2019, you can blame this film on a sudden eruption of the ‘sliding doors’ trope in the press I was reading, triggering memories, triggering memories of the film (but not that it was over twenty years ago that I went to see it for the only previous occasion), added to the instant availability of the DVD dirt cheap via eBay.

Sliding Doors has a very simple premise that is fascinating to me because it illustrates a major theme in much of my thinking, with particular reference to my Tempus Trilogy (three novels, also available individually). Gwyneth Paltrow, about whom much has been said but who here was in the fullest flight of her acting career, and also looked realistically gorgeous throughout, plays Helen Quilley, a PR person, living with the sponging would-be novellist Gerry (John Lynch) who, unbeknownst to Helen, is carrying on an affair with his American ex-girlfriend Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn).

Lydia gets fired from her job and sets off home. Rushing into a Tube station, she just misses the train: a little girl who wants to walk her dolly up the handrail steps into her path, forcing Helen to check and go round her: the doors slide shut in her face. There is a flash, and time and the film unreel for ten seconds, taking Helen back to the top of the stairs. The little girl turns towards the handrail, but her mother pulls her away. Helen’s path is not impeded, she grabs the door as it is closing, steps in.

The film now splits into two parallel and different time-tracks, the narrative bouncing between the two in often very brief scenes. One Helen finds herself being pestered on the Tube by James Hammerton (John Hannah), who has already had a brief acquaintance with her – her earring fell off in the lift as she was leaving her ex-company’s building and he picked it up – which he uses to chat to her. He’s fast-talking, with an antic sense of humour, and barely seems able to say a serious thing, enough so that whilst she really doesn’t want to be bothered by anyone, he does make something of an impression on her. He jokes about her situation, referencing Monty Python – “You mean, always look on the bright side of life?” “No, nobody expects the Spanish Inqisition!”

This Helen arrives home unexpectedly early, finds Lydia on top of Gerry, walks out, gets drunk, bumps into James again in the bar and, when her best friend Anna (Zara Thornton) collects her to take her back to her place, James offers them both a lift in his taxi.

The other Helen takes longer to get home: a serious Tube delay is announced, she leaves to find a taxi, someone attempts to steal her bag, she falls and hits her head, requires stitches, and doesn’t get back until late afternoon, her taxi passing Lydia’s car as it pulls in. Gerry is all alone. He takes her out to get drunk, to the same bar other Helen goes (there is some potentially confusing but expertly timed cutting from one time-track to the other around the constancy of the bar, and James and his mate stood talking at it). In order to keep the money coming in, there being no PR jobs going, Helen takes on two part-time jobs, sandwich deliverer and waitress.

In order that we should not be confused as to which track we are on, Director and writer Peter Howitt distingusishes between the two Helens, first by the strip of tape over the head-wound of one, and the red dress this version has changed into and then, on a longer term basis, by having Anna persuade the Helen who’s found out into a change of image, hair cut short, dyed blonde, whilst the oblivious Helen retains her shoulder-length light-brown hair, thus enabling me to distinguish between Blonde Helen and Brunette Helen.

It’s obvious that the two tracks, represented by light and dark hair respectively, are meant to be seen as positive and negative experiences. Blonde Helen, at first still emotionally tied to Gerry, finds herself pursued by James, accepting him as a friend who makes her laugh, introduces her to nice people, gives her good times, encourages her to set up her own PR film and finds her her first client. All of this is done at arm’s length, as friends: she is too aware of rebounds and things being too soon, although it is her who kisses him first and that leads to sex. Up and up.

Brunette Helen’s life is the opposite. She’s working two exhausting, demanding jobs, neither of which have any hope of advancement, Gerry – a moral morass with the spine of a snake and much of its trustworthiness – is still cheating on her, she demoralised, despairing and edging into suspicion that she’s being undermined.

Oh, and she’s pregnant by him although, what with one thing and another, he doesn’t give her chance to tell him.

Blonde Helen also suffers a setback. Gerry, trying to get her back, turns up at her first successful launch. he kisses her, which James sees. Next thing, James disappears on a business trip to Newcastle, and his secretary’s not being helpful. Helen makes a final break with Gerry, when she finds he’s not, after all, finished it with Lydia, but she’s now afraid that she’s blown it with James, who she realises she loves. Oh, and Blonde Helen is also pregnant. By James.

The endgame approaches. Brunette Helen is growing more and more suspicious but she has a job interview, for PR, at this CEO’s flat. The CEO is Lydia. It’s to force Gerry into a decision, because Lydia is also pregnant by him.

Blonde Helen catches up with James but they’re awfully awkward. Then she finds out he’s married. When he discovers she knows, he frantically chases all over, looking for her, finds her on a London Bridge in deep rain. The truth is awkward: technically James is married, but they separated amicably six months ago and are getting divorced. Claudia maintains the pretence in front of James’ very ill mother, as a favour to him.

Blonde Helen learns the truth outside in the rain. She is happy. And then she’s knocked down by a car. Brunette Helen learns the truth inside, on a landing. She is devastated. She runs away and falls down the stairs. Twin ambulances take two Helens to one hospital. Both lose their babies. Both are in comas. One dies.

This is where I find fault with the film, for lacking the imagination to find another ending. The ending is that one time-track disappears, leaving only the other. The concluded time-track is inevitably tarred as the ‘not-real’ one, as it leaves no trace of its existence. It becomes, by default, the fantasy, the immaterial in every respect, though the film then tries to have its cake and eat it in the final shot. I understand all the thinking behind this, and on a critical level I applaud the decision to make Blonde Helen’s life the fantasy: the romance, the positivism, the joy and the attendant heartbreak that it is she who flatlines, in James’ arms.

But to choose to ultimately make one time-track unreal, the film undercuts its own concept (even if that concept is borrowed, at cousinly remove, from It’s a Wonderful Life‘s Pottersville sequence). It reduces the film by giving it a romantic comedy, and a very effective one, at it’s heart and then dismissing it as a fantasy. The film should have found a way to make both stories real, because in our real lives, we are constantly subjected to Sliding Doors moments, not only to major effect. The film scores highly by turning things upon so random and minor a point: it’s an exploration of Chaos Theory, the Butterfly Effect. But it only works as long as both halves had equal weight. Not to find a way to maintain that is the film’s cop-out.

And it doesn’t help itself by trying to borrow back it’s fake life. Blonde Helen dies, Brunette Helen lives. Gerry’s all apologetic over his behaviour, will do anything she says. In cold, impersonal tones she invites him to stand up, go out, shut the door and never come back. James emerges from his mother’s room in the same Hospital. She’s getting better, just as Blonde Helen predicted.

Brunette Helen gather her things and walks towards the lifts. They slide shut in her face. Time does not re-run. The next lift arrives. As she gets in, she loses an earring. The man in the lift picks it up for her. It is, of course, James. He mentions what Monty Python says. Automatically, Helen replies, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” As they turn to look at each other in surprise, the camera freezes. The audience’s expectations leap ahead.

Part of me, that wants merely to be entertained emotionally, approves. The rest of me, that doesn’t like being manipulated, sucks in his teeth.  We’re supposed to believe that Blonde Helen’s story is about to roll out in ‘real life’, whilst the Director is hurriedly blowing smoke in our eyes in the hope that we’ll forget what the whole film is about. Helen and James aren’t meeting on a tube train, she isn’t living with a cheating bastard, she’s not only just been fired. If a sliding door moment of such triviality has produced two disconnected lives that differed so much, then on what basis can Helen and James’ meeting at a very different time, under radically different circumstances lead to a direct copy of their romantic odyssey?

Answer: it can’t. Which is why the film rushes off into the distance, blinding us with a blur that might well work on those who don’t write about time travel and parallel worlds and fractal micro-dimensions.

Still, I really do love the film, and if Helen Quilley doesn’t want James Hammerton, I’d buy her a drink. This really was twenty years ago, you know. I’m still kidding myself that she’d accept, mind you.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver’s ‘Arms of Mary’

One little-commented upon aspect of my belated discovery of pop and rock music ten days before the end of the Sixties is that, excepting those who continued strong between decades, such as the Who, I only knew the bands and artists of the Seventies in their guises of that year. It was as if they all sprang into existence on January 1st 1970, without any kind of past.
Whereas a great many of them had had a prior existence on the Sixties, some with success, others with no commercial track record. Only slowly, and more often than not by accident and with a fascinated surprise, would I discover where and how these people had been in the Sixties. For instance, though I never heard their music, I often saw the name Gentle Giant in the NME, without connecting them for a second to Simon Dupree and The Big Sound, hitmakers with ‘Kites’. But these were the same band.
It still happens today, fifty years on. Links emerge, connections between known and unknowns, the more so as I continue to indulge my fascination with the obscure, the rare, the bright and overlooked pop of the late Sixties.
Just this week, I’ve had one of those songs doing earworm duty in my head, just the chorus, but that includes the title, ‘Sadie and her Magic Mr Galahad’. With the majority of these things, I know the song title far better than the artist, and I couldn’t remember who was responsible for this.
Eventually, I cracked and googled the title, identifying the artist as A New Generation (of whom I have at least one further track), who later underwent a minor name change to The New Generation. But what caught my eye on one of the links was the song’s writer: Iain Sutherland. Not the Sutherland Brothers Iain Sutherland? Oh yes, and the other member of the band was naturally younger brother Gavin. Well, well, well.
I’d forgotten that I’d been well into the Sutherland Brothers in that part of the Seventies that got obliterated by the advent of punk, which turned my musical world over. There was ‘The Pie’, recorded as The Sutherland Brothers Band, displaying the brothers’ folk-oriented roots, with its gentle, almost plodding melody: I ended up with the album later, and its other, much-less played single, Gavin’s ‘Sailing’, that I knew and preferred when Rod Stewart, still in the penumbra of musical credibility, took it to no. 1
But it was the team-up with Quiver (songwriters without a band meet band without songs) that was the start of things. There was the 1973, debut, the kicker single, “(I don’t want to love you but) You Got Me Anyway”, with its beautifully paced acoustic intro and its solid yet delicate sound supporting a chorus of tremendous yearning power, 1974’s ebullient and indecently effervescent “Dream Kid”, title track of its own album, 1975’s laidback, cool, midtempo “Saviour in the Rain” that didn’t get the same love as its predecessors except from me.
All great songs. All great singles, perfect, full-bodied pop/rock, bright and illegally good, and ignored completely. In the Seventies, the Great British Record Buying Public needed a severe dose of taste, the number of great singles they ignored.
In 1975, the band switched from Island Records to CBS, apparently because Island wouldn’t release their singles in the US (though “You Got Me Anyway” had done far better there than in Britain). The outcome was their one and only big hit, Iain’s “Arms of Mary”.
I loved it then and I love it still, though it rarely leaks out of my memory. I remember Johnnie Walker, then doing the Radio 1 lunchtime slot, 12.00 till 2.00, falling in love with this song and plugging it. I remember the week it stalled at 31 in the chart, four weeks in the Top 50 already, and Walker – the anomalous daytime DJ, the one who was in it for the music, God forbid, who got saddled with the new Top 30 rundown every Tuesday – suggesting that if we all went around being nice to each other for a week, the song might make the Thirty, and the following week it was the highest new entry, at 19, and his cheerful words on announcing it, “You must have been good to be around.”
“Arms of Mary” peaked at no 5. It’s follow up, “When the Train Comes”, an uptempo, blasting rocker, did nothing. And 1977 came along and songwriters like the Sutherlands were just blasted away, and much as I’d liked them, much as I’d bought most of the albums (I would never own Reach for the Sky, the one that contained “Arms of Mary”), the truth was that for me at any rate, the Sutherlands were on the wrong side of a gigantic and necessary musical shift. Still, I’d been to see them, in late1976, at (I think) the Palace Theatre, and had a good time.
But though the move to CBS brought the band a measure of deserved success, and though “Arms of Mary”’s gentleness and wistfulness, fondly looking back to a boy’s first sexual experience (not that Top of the Pops seemed to notice), made it a restful and sweet sound on the radio in a year where so much music had descended into sterility, the band’s true strength, it’s solidity, was fatally undermined. The producers wished on the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver created a sound that even now astonishes me. It’s airless and suffocating for one thing, but what drove me crazy then and still is how weak, tinny and feeble the sound is. I had the evidence of Dream Kid and Beat of the Streets for how SB&Q could sound, full, rounded, purposeful, bright, glowing, rich, and here they were made to sound paper-thin, empty, hollow. It’s there in “Arms of Mary”, but it’s far worse on “When The Train Comes”, a classic rocker with the impact of a 97-pound weakling.
It was the same for their final SB&Q album, Slipstream, a Xmas present from a mate from whom I couldn’t quite conceal my disappointment, and which I played more out of duty than love.
This is a lovely song, but even as I loved it, and eagerly turned to the radio every time it was played, loving every moment of one of ‘my’ songs convincing everybody else, I could never hear it without knowing how much better it could have been at the hands of a Producer who could have let the band be what I already knew they could be.
Time, I think, for a bit of a re-appraisal of the Sutherlands and Quiver. Not of A or The New Generation, delightful as those failed singles are, but of that early Seventies period that may need to come out of the shadow of 1977. Beginning with another play of this. Lying in the arms of Mary. Oh yes.


The Silence of the Uldales

The Uldales from a distance

Once upon a time, I set out to collect a bunch of summits, the Uldale Fells, that form one half of that green and nebulous country known as ‘Back o’Skidda”. There’s nothing out there that’s exciting, just a group of five fells that require a little bit of back-and-forthing to include in a single walk, and which required no especial effort or skill to collect. The walk took four hours from start to finish at Longlands Farm.

Yet I enjoyed my little grassland odyssey enough that, in those few post-Wainright years, I repeated the exact same walk, and took the exact same four hours, from Longlands Farm and back. And whilst there were some other walkers out those days, on some or other parts of the fells, we were never close enough to exchange words, not even the conventional greetings in passing.

Which endeared the walk(s) to me.

Longlands Farm lies on the road round the back of the Skiddaw/ Blencathra massifs. One day when low cloud put the fells out of reach, I drove this road, starting from the Penrith end, through Mungrisedale towards Caldbeck. The cloud was so low that, for the major length of it, from just after Hesket Newmarket until the serious descent to cross the foot of the Dash Valley, I drove invisibly, foglamp on, in a grey corridor of silence and solitude. It felt as if I was crossing a high moor, on a raised causeway.

I came back through Longlands Farm, though I can’t remember whether it was visible to me then. Certainly, I didn’t recognise it for what it was, and I only came back, from the Keswick end, when I wanted to take this route. The Farm lies in a steep dip, where a nameless beck crosses the road, and I had to be abrupt in pulling up for the available parking, on the fell side of the road, is just before the bridge, flattish land that can accommodate three to four cars but which is hardly ever likely to turn anyone away.

Be warned that this is not an exciting walk, nor a demanding one, and there is precious little rock to be seen and almost none to be put underfoot. The path takes a narrow, reedy course alongside the beck for the first couple of hundred yards before emerging into the open and starting to veer towards the right, across a very low ridge separating the beck from the valley of the infant River Ellen.

This is the first vista of the day and the low line of fells above the valley are almost all of those that will be crossed in the next few hours. The Ellen crosses the way ahead at a diagonal, from left to right, and the way is a broad way, declining at a gentle angle to cross the river, and rising beyond, across the lowest flanks of Great Cockup, to enter the day’s first, and primary highlight, the ravine of Trusmadoor.

This early in the walk, I found it impossible to saunter, and there was nothing to hinder me from striding out, except perhaps for the slow rise towards the entrance to Trusmadoor, which was set at that tedious angle that lies half way between level and interesting.

Once Trusmadoor is reached, the walk (except for exercise) really begins. Wainwright describes this, accurately, as a great natural railway cutting, and it’s a deep, steep-sided channel through the hills that catches the eye and the imagination, but which suffers from being completely unnecessary: it lies between two insignificant hills and leads from nowhere to nowhere. Uproot, it, stick it in the Scafells, and it would  be magnificent. It’s magnificent as it is, but with an overlooked, in-a-corner grandeur that receives only a fraction of the visitors it deserves.

Trusmadoor from afar

I say Trusmadoor is the real highlight of the walk and most people would agree, but I have a soft spot for the lawns below, fringing Burntod Gill just before it narrows to progress through its long, serpentine ravine. This comes from a completely different walk carried out between these two rounds, when I set out to collect Knott and Great Calva, and found myself scrambling up the ravine of Burntod Gill, beside the rushing beck, and having a glorious time of it. This had been an impromptu variation on my planned route and I wasn’t completely oriented to where I would emerge until I got there, and if I hadn’t a long way to go, I’d have stretched out for a long relaxing stop here.

The lawns lie off the line of ascent but demand a visit anyway, before returning to the near lip of Trusmadoor and starting the first serious climbing of the day.

Great Cockup, a name that makes 93 percent of adult male walkers snigger, is a low and unlovely lump forming the western wall of Trusmadoor, which is accessed along the stony, narrow ridge on the edge of the channel that is its best feature. The top is mostly grassy and the cairn is quite a distance from the corner at which the ridge debouches. When you get there, it offers no spectacular views over the North Cumberland plain, and there is nothing to do but to walk back the way you came.

At the bottom, it was only necessary to walk straight across and start up a similar narrow ridge on the opposite side, which was the key to the ascent of Meal Fell, which has one of the tiniest geographical footprints of the whole Wainwright guides.

There is a big difference between the two ribs: that on Meal Fell doesn’t rise to the summit, but instead levels out to contour across the back of the fell. I abandoned the path once this became plain, and worked my way up onto the summit, which has three individual ridges, elevated like causeways, one after another, with a near ninety degree zig-zag between each one, at the end of which the summit cairn arrives.

Meal Fell to Great Sca Fell

This offers an informative view of the ridge from here to Great Sca Fell, the highest point of this walk, a grassy ridge of increasing elevation to a summit hidden by the top itself, with Burntod Gill offering an interesting line in parallel, suggesting another route of approach, albeit with what looked like a very wearing ascent out of the upper Gill.

I descended the east ridge of Meal Fell onto that easy and broad grassy route towards Great Sca Fell, marching out unrestrictedly. The slope up to the invisible summit was straightforward, but being on grass it was not very interesting and was more tiring than a route on rock at the same angle or even steeper would have been. I settled at the cairn to eat my lunch, facing north, for there was nothing but higher fells and mountains crowding the near skyline in every other direction.

The first time I was here, I set off walking northwards, over the broad edge of the summit, and down across the sprawling Little Sca Fell (nothing around here is remotely reminiscent of any other Scafells). I’d got down about a hundred feet when I realised I’d left my camera behind and had to go charging back: there was no-one about and I found it at the foot of the cairn, where I’d left it.

The two remaining fells of the day lie north of Great Sca Fell, but at the end of different ridges. I’d chosen the furthest first, Brae Fell, alone at the end of a long, placid grassy ridge in a grassy nowhere devoid of people. The path, which surprised by being even one person wide, led directly to its little summit, overlooking the plain and distant Carlisle.

There was little to stay for, and nowhere to sit except on the grass. I turned on my heel and headed back into the grassy plain. On neither of my visits was there any sign of a track in this emptiness, other than the one underfoot, so I relied upon my judgement as to when to start veering over toward the half-concealed but surprisingly fast-running Longlands Gill. I was looking for somewhere to cross safely that didn’t involve me going too far back out of my way because as soon as I was across the beck, I was turning back north again, on a distinct path along the base of the ridge.

Oddly enough, it was in this widespread grassy bowl that I have one of my most vivid mental images, from that second round, when the weather was a little warmer and the skies a little brighter. I was heading inwards again, towards the fells, and there was a silence in the long grasses, and where there had been no markings all those years before there were faint tracks that suggested people came here, but not today, and the surrounding fells were grassy hills only and I might have been anywhere, but I was in tried, tested and true country of which I felt a part. I was alone but not lonely, and relaxed on my own two legs.

The first time round, I stayed by the beck until turning up onto the col behind Longlands Fell, but second time I was marginally more adventurous, and gained the ridge at its first col, going up and over the rather broad-beamed Lowthwaite Fell, which is higher than Longlands but doesn’t count as an independent summit for Wainwright.

Longlands Fell looking back

I crossed it nonchalantly, re-ascended Longlands and then carried on down its long ridge to gain the low country less than a quarter mile from Longlands Farm. There was nothing but a short stroll, and I was back at the car in pretty much exactly four hours on both occasions.

It was peaceful and quiet, and the walking was unstrenuous except in very short sections around Trusmadoor, and although the scenery deteriorates rapidly once you leave it and the lawns around Burntod Gill, that silent grassy plain at the back of Brae Fell, with its sense of exposure and its lonely country made an impression I’ll be long in forgetting.

And all to be had in half a day without even working up a sweat. Now I’m old, and arthritic, I could probably still get round the whole walk, and I wouldn’t like to bet that it would take me significantly longer than it did in my prime. It’s that sort of place, and I’ll bet it would still be empty like twice upon a time.

Heroes in Crisis 8

This, as the Stone Roses once memorably put it, is the One. The Revelation. The scene in the Library without the Library and without the villain being amongst the listeners because, to reference Agatha Christie for a moment longer, this is the Roger Ackroyd moment. The narrator dunnit. And, as has been forecast with increasing confidence over the past few months, the Sanctuary Killer is Wally West.

I don’t like it. That has nothing to do with critical responses and everything to do with Wally being my Flash, the one I used to buy, month-in, month-out, during Mark Waid’s tenure, with and without Brian Augustyn. I can’t like Wally West as the madman killer, nor the cold, calculating plotter, nor the suicide he already is in a time paradox that undermines the credibility of the time paradox.

I’ve never liked Heroes in Crisis. To me, it hasn’t for one moment or one panel lived up to the potential I imagined for it when first I learned of the series. Wally’s soliloquy here, taking up the entire issue, explaining every twist and turn, detail and deliberation, also undermines the entire concept of Sanctuary in the first place. It failed on Wally, and by extension, when you remember all those hero’s concerns, expressed in dozens of Watchmen pages, it failed all of them. All we ever saw were deep-rooted traumas, traumas specific to the conditions of a superhero universe, but we never saw any cures. We saw problems but not solutions. These were problems that had no solutions, but we didn’t even see healings, neither permanent nor sticking plaster.

The story is that wally has been committed to Sanctuary because he’s failing to cope with the simultaneous issue of having lost the woman who meant everything to him and the children they had together, in short everything that made his life what he wanted it to be, and being seen as the symbol of Hope, since it was his re-emergence three years ago, in DC Universe Rebirth that kick-started DC’s current phase (the one that will never end because it will all be explained in Doomsday Clock and that will never finish).

Wally comes to the delusion that Sanctuary has been set up for him alone, that nobody else is undergoing pain equivalent to him but that they’re saying so to humour him. So if all the data is being destroyed by being broken down into billions of scattered bytes, the Fastest Man Alive can re-assemble them in seconds. And seeing everybody else’s traumas broke Wally mentally, set off alarms and caused him to lose control of the Speed Force momentarily, killing everyone at Sanctuary, except Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, because they were a bit slow coming outside (seriously?)

So far, so disappointing. A man suffering from PTSD goes crazy and becomes a mass-murderer? Lovely message, so positive and life-affirming, people suffering from any kind of mental health issue will empathise immediately. I know I do (no, I’m lying). But it’s the aftermath that drops a leaden weight onto the scales and sends the pan for Absolute Fucking Disaster crashing to the ground, because Wally West, the bright spark, the kid who did it all, the sidekick who grew up to become the man himself, who’s just caused deaths in a second of lost control… starts plotting a superspeed cover-up that puts the frame on two completely innocent people, not to mention re-programmes the entire place, re-sites ALL the bodies and creates all manner of clues, red herrings and mindfucks just to fool his CSI Uncle and The Batman. No. Not in a million years can this be accepted. Not just because it’s Wally West and I have a soft spot for him. Not just because there isn’t a hair of continuity between any version of Wally West that ever existed before and who the hell this person is, and not even because it’s a kick in the face for all the readers who bought into Wally’s return at the beginning of Rebirth. Because it’s bullshit. Because it’s crude. Because it’s lame.

And it falls apart. You see, Wally, this Wally who’s been relating this confession, has also gone into the future, by five days, and found his five days in the future self, all to buy himself the time to do something good to make up for this doing bad. Wally-Now catches up with Wally +5, in the company of some green-skinned woman I can’t recognise, and after Wally +5 gives him the last piece, the rose in the river, Wally-Now kills him, by strangling him. Kills himself. Suicide. So Wally’s now dead for real.

Or is he? I’ve already read one theory that everything, the whole story, is actually a fantastically sophisticated VR construct by Sanctuary, curing Wally. It’s elegant, I grant you, and there is still one issue to go, and go it shall, but from this point, any attempt to undercut this, to explain it away as a Hoax, a Dream or an Imaginary Story, will be twice as hollow as this episode.

But there were rumours in 2018, before Heroes in Crisis first appeared, that Brian Azzarello would be launching a new Suicide Squad series, with Wally West as a lead character, not that anything has been confirmed. Other rumours current at the same time have come to fruition, not that that proves anything.

It doesn’t really matter. To be honest, no matter how Emerald Twilight this gets, I have never been able to believe in the story, and once the final issue is out and I’ve said about that what demands to be said about it, not only will I be selling theseries on eBay, as I’ve threatened, but I will be deleting it from my personal version of DC Universe Continuity. Should Never Have Happened will become simply Never Happened, as far as I’m concerned.