All the Fells: Causey Pike

Causey Pike – The North Western Fells 2,035′ (20)

Date: 9 October 1984/1 July 1995

From: Stoneycroft/Stoneycroft

I’d read the Wainwrights over and over, more often than my favourite books, dreaming of places my family would never consider going. I read them so often that my family ceased to be surprised at my ability to identify photographs of places I’d never been. Some fells stood out: it’s never difficult to pick out the places for which Wainwright has a soft spot. Causey Pike was one of these, his descriptions making the fell very attractive. Not until I started holidaying on my own was I free to consider all these other places. The North Western Fells was the last of the seven books I used, and Causey Fell my first objective. From where I parked my car it looked towering, and my legs felt heavy to begin with. Wainwright described the direct assault, via Rowling End, as the sporting route, and though I was in my late twenties, I still felt very much a novice in the fells. But I was determined, however nervously, to tackle the best route. I turned off to the ridge, rising steep and narrow, taking things carefully, but it was an inspiring walk, with a sense of exhilaration about my successful ascent. However, when I reached the final stage, I didn’t have the bottle then for the direct scramble and, somewhat shamefully, I broke off to the right to join the northern ridge and attain the summit from the side. The lovely top thrilled me, Wainwright’s sea-serpent being the best description. Obviously, even if I hadn’t intended Causey as just the first, I’d have to walk that ridge, and I did. Causey, on its own, convinced me that this wedge of land Wainwright had singled out was somewhere I would love to walk and so it was, for whilst the North Western Fells was the last Wainwright I opened for a day’s walking, it would be the first to be closed, all tops collected. Over a decade later, all the 214 behind me, I returned to Causey Pike, on a beautiful Saturday morning, for a different and slightly artificial round. I took the same route – why waste time on something inferior? – except that this time I did that final scramble, the one my younger self should have tackled, the wimp, and loved it.


Due South: s01 e12 – A Hawk and a Handsaw

Due South

If, like me, you are not a devotee of the works of William Shakespeare, you might have been puzzled by the title of this episode, which was explained in one of a number of poignant scenes about two-thirds of the way in. I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw. It was a perfect choice for a tale that demonstrated the classic Due South story arc of rising seriousness starting from a purely comic base.

That comic base originated in a psychiatric hospital and one of Ray Vecchio and Benton Fraser’s now classic conversations. Ray’s there for his two-yearly psych evaluation, about which he’s intensely worried (after three months of partnering with a mountie, I cannot find it in my heart to blame him). He’s trying to rehearse his answers to the word association bit when the pair are interrupted by a jumper having got out on the ledge. Benton goes out there to talk him in.

The would-be jumper is a man known only as John Doe, a superb performance by Michael Riley. We will foind out that his real name is Walter Sparks, and that he is here because, one day five years ago, he was late getting home from work because he caught the wrong bus, and that by being late he was a few minutes from preventing his younger brother Ty from committing suicide, by jumping from a fifth storey ledge.

What’s triggered this episode is that, despite John/Walter’s own doubts about it – he was committed as delusional – he has seen another person get out on the ledge and jump. His memories are shook up. He’s trying to find Ty, to stop him doing what he’s going to do. He wants to get to Mike’s House. To keep him from jumping before Ray can catch him, Bennie lies, saying he’s seen Ty inside. For his own self-expiation, almost as much as his sense that John/Walter needs help, he commits to finding Ty.

Except that he can’t, because Ty is dead. We’re still in the realm of comedy here, as Bennie’s detection follows the same oblique and indirect path that, this time, echoed for me the methods of Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. Via the recollections of a sympathetic former bus driver, who turned Walter in to the cops (a minor part but a gentle and genuine one by Tyrone Benskin, who deserves mention) to ‘Mike’s House’, or rather St Michael’s Church and a project by an Irish sounding Catholic priest, Father Behan (Shay Duffin) to help save the youth from a criminal life, we came to Bennie’s conclusion that John/Walter had seen another patient suicide, and that there was something requiring investigation. From the inside.

Indeed there is. Under the auspices of Hospital Administrator Dr Martins (Graham McPherson – not that one) and Dr Farmer (Terri Hanauer), the hospirtal has spent five years developing and testing a new drug that does wonders for manic depressives. Unfortunately, it has a side-effect, being prone to cause depression. From a test group of fifty patients, five have committed suicide, the most recent being a man named Winston, who jumped from the ledge. The hospital is covering up the deaths, dumping Winston naked in the river, bleaching the blood from the concrete where he landed, brainwashing John/Walter into thinking it was a delusion. Martins is growing scared though. But Farmer is callous: the drug will do a lot of good, not least for her company, which is dependent upon it to survive, and which cannot wait five years if it has to go back to the beginning. Hence the cover-up.

The only way to find out what’s going on is from the inside. Bennie gets admitted as a patient by the simple expedient of telling the truth about who he is, where he’s from and how he comes to be in Chicago (it’s a doozie the way Paul Gross does it). From there, he can talk to the patients, who are the usual bunch of obsessives and frightened folk you always get in mental hospitals on film or TV, yet who are treated sympathetically.

Knowing who John/Walter is, and seeing that he is close to coming back to himself, Bennie introduces the episode’s title by talking about how his father reacted when his wife died when Bennie was very young. It was a moving moment – another thing Paul Gross and the show does very well are these little vignettes, when Bennie tells a story to someone who listens silently. His father didn’t cry, he kjust stopped living. Day after day, his beard growing longer, doing nothing. Until one day Bennie woke up to find his Dad clean-shaven, a breakfast prepared and ready, and finally his Dad could cry. “He just woke up and the wind was from the south. And he found he still knew the difference between a hawk and a handsaw.”

But Bennie’s investigations draw attention and when he reports what he’s discovered to Ray, as a visitor, both are seized and locked into a padded cell. Bennie being as impossibly well-prepared as Batman, he gets himself out of his straitjacket, locates the ventilator, rips down the padding – he keeps his hat’s belt buckle sharpened just in case – and breaks the computer password just from having listened to Nurse Unger type it, and prints off the evidence before the hospital can delete it. Unfortunately, that’s where the villains catch up with them, burn the print-outs (arousing Nurse Unger’s suspicions – she’s not in on it and promptly calls the Police).

They’re going to haul Bennie and Ray off and kill them. John/Walter confronts them but is told he’s having a delusion, this is not happening, does he want to be here the rest of his life? He steps aside, despite Bennie’s appeal to him to trust his eyes, and then, as we were confident he would, but with the wonderful rush of eucatastrophe, he jumps the ordely, allowing Bennie and Ray to get free.

In an example of wonderfully circular plotting, Martins ends up on the ledge, determined to kill himself rather than face justice, and this time it’s Ray who has to go out there to talk him down. He doesn’t quite do that: Martins falls, but Bennie crashes through the window and grabs his legs. Martin will pay for what he’s done and not escape justice. We don’t see Farmer’s arrest but I personally would have stuck her out on the ledge and left her to it.

From comedy to a deeply serious story, without a single note out of place, and the show pulled off an ending that brought a tear to the eye. Walter has been released. He’s gone to St Michael’s and Father Behan, where he’s cleaning things. He’s shaved off his beard. Ty is more in his thoughts than he’s been this last five years. Walter misses him, misses him badly, but that itself is a good thing: better to miss him than to forget him. It’s the last line, a perfect choice.

I don’t rate things on a 1 to 10 scale. I stopped doing that when I found I had to rate Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch eleven out of ten, to play fair with his other books. If I still did that, I’d give this episode 10 any day.

The Infinite Jukebox: Madness’ ‘One Step Beyond…’

When I lived and worked in Nottingham, I had a good mate called Simon. We had nothing in common musically, in fact I’m not even sure what sort of music he was into, except that it didn’t match mine. Punk, new wave, ska was all in bloom and it excited me, it felt like winds of freshness after a near decade of progressive music and other stodge.
In the second half of our Articles, we worked under different partners on different floors. One lunchtime, in the late summer of 1979, I popped up with my sandwiches for a chat. We got onto music, onto last night’s Top of the Pops. There’d been this band on that he thought were rubbish, they didn’t even know how to play their instruments: I’d have liked them.
Amused at this characterisation, we tried to work out who he’d meant, and it was Madness, with ‘The Prince’. They’d never get anywhere, he predicted. But he was right, I did like them, and I went on liking them for a very long time, even unto the Twenty-First century.
In later years, back in Manchester, I got to see the band live, once for each of the last three albums before they split up. Sooner or later, all band histories end that way. The sad part is when they get back together, often with only one or maybe two of the original members, to relive the past on the nostalgia circus. I have never gone to see a band just to hear them produce not quite there approximations of their old glories.
Madness, of course, did it differently. When they got together again, it was the whole lot, the Magnificent Seven, Suggs and Chas Smash, Chrissy Boy, Bedders, Monsieur Barso, Kix and Woody, the first Madstock Festival, to play the old songs they way they’d always been played.
I was envious. They’d set it all up at Finsbury Park, which was in London, which was natural because Madness were a London band, and I was in Manchester. And it was obviously good, because the crowd stomped so enthusiastically, they registered on the Richter scale. But the band obviously still enjoyed playing still, and a Xmas tour followed that included Manchester on the Sunday before the Day, at the big exhibition hall that used to be Central Railway Station and was then the G-Mex Centre (the Nineties, eh? What could you do with them?)
I scored me a ticket, of course. I didn’t go to see nostalgia bands. I also didn’t do hypocrisy. However, in both cases I was prepared to make an exception.
But there was a bit of a logistical problem. There was one remaining friend from my days in Nottingham with whom I remained in touch, and with whom I was in the habit of visiting each Xmas. Unfortunately, the only day we could fit that in was the day of the Madness gig, so there I was, up and off early, through Nottingham on beyond to where she lived in Bingham, and back again, eager to be back to Manchester in good time.
No worries on that score: I was parked up for 7.00pm with the doors not due to open until 7.30pm. I meant to be in on time: the G-Mex was a wide open space, no seats. I was going to have to stand all through the concert and I wanted somewhere not too far from the stage, where I could see the band but not get crushed or anything like that. Besides, I had already made one poor choice: it was December, it was bloody cold and I had chosen to remove my pullover and wear my coat. Which, inside the great hall, filling up, was too hot to wear and bloody awkward to carry. It was a heavy coat and I had to hug it in my arms to keep from losing it.
Everything was in place, especially me. It was over a decade since I’d seen Madness live, and then the Barson-less sextet. What would they start with? I turned it over in my mind, clicking mentally through all my favourite tracks. What would be the best one? What would be the prefect opener.
I still hadn’t come to an answer by the time the band hit the big stage. The applause, the cheers, the whistles, the roar, the stamping. And Chas Smash, Carl Smith, for we were all grown up now, but not for the next ninety minutes we weren’t going to be, and then it boomed out; Don’t watch that, watch this! And this great, stupid, goofy grin spread all across my face, and I rose into that elevated heaven that you might have called the House of Fun, even as this mocking voice in my head shouted, You bloody idiot! What else were they going to be starting with?

All the Fells: Caudale Moor

Caudale Moor – The Far Eastern Fells 2,502′ (184)

Date: 3 October 1993

From: Low Hartsop

Caudale Moor is a big, sprawling, relatively shapeless fell, covering a lot of ground immediately to the east of Kirkstone Fell. Because of the nature of the fell, it came fairly late in the list as I worked out which route was the best or, given the likelihood of the walk being somewhat tedious, the least worse. I chose the approach from the tiny village of Low Hartsop, and I chose well. This approach introduced me to the valley of Thresthwaite, which, for all its size, felt like a secret, almost like a portal to another dimension in how its mouth was visible only from a short stretch of the Hartsop valley. As I parked by the village, a fell race was just setting off. I went in the other direction, found my way into Threshthwaite and enjoyed personal solitude and a sense of distance from the world. The valley rose gently, the real climbing concentrated into the scaling of the wall-like valley end to reach Threshthwaite Mouth. I planned a breather there but in fact I arrived just as the fell-runners were hurtling down off Thornthwaite Crag and preceding me towards Caudale Moor. I smiled and stepped aside until I was no longer in their way, then followed them uphill, enjoying the tough scramble. All the hard walking packed into the middle of the ascent. The summit, Stoney Cove Pike, was big and wide and grassy, making me feel very open and almost exposed. Ideally I should have wandered over to add the alternate top of John Bell’s Banner, but distance was exaggerated on this spacious summit, I was on a day out from Manchester and it was the wrong direction. So I strolled north, preparing to descend to Hartsop Dodd. Where the fell-runners had gone I had no idea.

Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga: 5 – Some Summer Lands

JG - Summer

In one sense, and one sense only, Some Summer Lands stands in the same relationship to the Atlan Saga as The Urth of the New Sun does to The Book of the New Sun. Even then, the comparison is tenuous, consisting of the fact that both are later one volume epilogues to completed four volume stories. This link begs the question, firstly, of whether the Atlan Saga was ever actually finished in any conventional sense, and secondly, as to how far removed the later book is from its parent volumes.
Because whilst The Urth of the New Sun takes place both ten full years after Wolfe’s original tetraology, and almost immediately after its final page, Some Summer Lands is a more direct continuation of the Saga, commencing an unspecified number of months after The City finished. How many is not given: my initial impression is six months but internal evidence means it can’t be much more than two months, if that.
Anyhow, the biggest difference is that whereas Wolfe’s sequel continues to be narrated by Severian, Gaskell has done with Cija as diarist. We now get to see her externally, in the words of her daughter, Seka.
Another difference is that Seka is not writing these ongoing episodes on the run, so to speak, but many years later, when she is adult and has had access to her mother’s diaries (in the Tandem books set?) How old she is when the book begins is just as impossible to tell as anything concrete in the entire series, leaving the reader to try to make a reasoned deduction. My impression is that Seka is seven, though she could be a year older, or even nine at a pinch, but it’s hardly credible that she could be as much as ten.
Whatever age she is, Seka is very difficult to fathom. From her adulthood, she draws out her own memories as if she was then fully grown and highly intelligent, a precise judge of human nature. But, and this is where the book starts creepy, and will go on to be both creepy and disturbing for all its length, Seka is already an almost fully-sexualised human being.
Not in terms of participation. But in terms of understanding her mother and grandmother’s sometimes quite crude conversations about sex, and she is already (already!) experienced at giving herself orgasms of a kind, by holding a door between her thighs and rubbing herself on it.
Ladies, I confess that I have never had occasion to discuss that particular form of masturbation with anyone I was intimate with, so could anyone confirm to me , or otherwise, if that is a practical practice?
By the time that comes up, we are about three pages into a 358 page long book: three pages. And it’s not the first time sex has come up. Nor the second.
I haven’t even got onto the story yet, but there is more of this stuff at every turn. Seka is none too impressed with her mother’s body, and especially not by how small her tits are, though she’s quick to notice when Cija pulls down the top of her dress and starts rubbing her own breasts, or her thighs. When the pair are briefly taken in by Sedili, Seka not only compares her sexual appeal favourably to Cija’s but seems to spend all her time looking up Sedili’s skirt, where a boy is painting her thighs purple.
In fact, Seka’s whole attitude to her mother is one of quasi-amused contempt for her silliness, her hopelessness, her haplessness, her indecisiveness, indeed everything. It’s nothing that I haven’t said about Cija when reviewing the first four books, but it begs the question of just how much Gaskell regards her own heroine as a basic waste of space. It’s not even fifty pages into the book and already Seka is deciding that she has to find someone competent to get her off her hands, so that she – this seven year old, still-mute girl – doesn’t have to do it for the rest of her life.
I must admit to having a sliver of sympathy for Cija when the book begins. She’s back where she began, in the Tower, wanting nothing more than to be left alone to have her ape-baby and not to be re-united with her is-he-isn’t-he-still-husband Zerd. Her mother isn’t listening: Cija is still just a useful political tool to her and anything else is dismissed. She’s pregnant: get to his bed tonight and ‘conceive’ it. It’s an ape: abort it. Cija is rigidly determined to have her hairy baby, as a reminder of the only lover who treated her nicely. Not that she can have her way and she’s pretty immediately kidnapped by her half-brother Smahil, father of her first child, Nal, who may or may not be dead.
Smahil is still the perfect example of the Twenty-first Century stalker, convinced that he and only he knows what is good for Cija, not that he’ll touch her with his cock whilst she’s carrying anybody else’s child (other people’s babies are just a waste of his emissions, he says, if that makes any sense) so he has the best back-street abortionist scrape out the ape-baby: so much for that. Seka gets her mother out, only to be captured by Sedili, but then Zerd’s subordinate Clor appears, for the first time since The Dragon, to return Cija to her mother. Zerd himself is not far behind.


The Dictatress wants to send her daughter and granddaughter to accompany the General on his march north. Cija has no intention of going but is manipulated into doing so. She’s not just in his party, she’s in his bed, though Seka doesn’t tell us too much about that. No, Seka becomes an object of fascination for the Atlan bandit chief, Ael. In fact, it’s more a mutual fascination. First she watches him wank himself off in the saddle. Then he fiddles with her parts at a banquet. And then she wanks him off, twice, and lets his come dry on her belly.
Remember, this is a child, age unknown but very much pre-puberty. What I’ve said before about a twisted psychosexuality running through the Saga should now be discarded: how this book didn’t fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act can only be down to its obscurity.
Eventually, my patience with this overall story just snapped. Cija and Seka are separated from Zerd’s Army during… during what? A battle, a skirmish, a victory, a defeat. Sedili’s tried to poison Cija again, but instead she gives birth, telling Seka only now that the abortion was botched. She names her ape-girl Despair, but she winds up in a cheap and nasty peasant area, full of mud, shit, chauvinism, cruelty and subhumanity, at which point I was dragging myself to read any more.
It was just more disaster after disaster, without rhyme or reason. Others have suggested that Seka’s contemptuous attitude to her mother indicates that Gaskell has lost patience with and interest in Cija, and the way she mechanically piles crap after crap on her supports this notion. If the writer only keeps a character around to heap shit on her at implausibly short intervals, why should I have any interest in her? Or in her mute little snotty cow of a daughter?
Apart from my personal response, the mud-and-shit sequence is allowed to go on too long, without progress or development. The debased humanity of the peasant community rapidly gets very wearying: they deny and defy anything remotely describable as good in people. Cija is ‘courted’ by and marries a peddler who ends up using his dying breath to have Seka emphasise to her mother that he doesn’t love her, he never did, he just did it to save her, he knew what was best for her.
Shades of Smahil, and of course he pops back up. Cija and her children have finally moved on, just when it looked as if they were stuck there for good, the book doomed to die but keep on going forever. This is thanks to the unnamed officer that Seka only calls Beautiful or The Saint, who has quite frankly gone off his head and become a religious revivalist of more than usual stupidity. He moves the peasants as his ‘army’ to the Northern capital, Northstrong, which inevitably draws out Smahil.
He hasn’t changed. He still knows what is best for Cija. Nevertheless, she refuses to come and live with him, so he visits practically every day and semi-rapes her. It revives Seka’s interest in the subject after a long period in which she seems to have forgotten about even masturbating.
The book, and the series, moves into its end-game with the reappearance of Juzd, the former Regent of Atlan, a man from whom golden light emanates, and who is some kind of spiritually superior person. He is able to deflect Smahil, indeed override his worst instincts. Cija and Seka go with Juzd, into the Palace, where they become captives of the Northern King, but Juzd leads them clear in the midst of an attack by Zerd.
And things change out of all recognition over the last sixty pages, as Gaskell turns away from everything she’s done before now, leading her Saga towards, what else, but the Fall of Atlan, Atlantis. This is accompanied by much quasi-spiritual philosophising, conducted primarily in heavy and undigestable platitudes, as Juzd takes Cija and her daughter – who discovers her voice en route – back to the island continent, to an all-too-brief non-reunion with Cija’s oldest child, Nal, and to the destruction of the land by an earthquake, caused by Juzd ‘pulling the plug’. It appears that the world was not ready yet for Atlan, that the world is not the world God planned but a precursor and…
But all this is unstructured and incoherent. Gaskell is trying for a heavy ending, some sort of overarching significance to a story that has never really risen above that of a travelogue. She is insufficiently clear as to the ideas she is trying to express as to cast doubt upon any honest belief in them, or belief greater than is necessary to suggest significance. The ending fails. Seka continues to express her love for her mother by analysing her manifold failings. We are given some skeletal hints as to the long future ahead, at least insofar as they affect the little family of Cija, Zerd and Seka, but to be honest it’s all about counting off pages until the book stops.
Some Summer Lands is, make no bones about it, a bad book, and bad in a way that makes it different from the original Saga, which at least offers a semi-comprehensible, though pointless, fantasy of a prehistoric world through which the ineffectual Cija moves, even if that’s only from rape to rape. Even if you were to excise the disgusting episodes of pre-pubescent sex, which disappear about halfway though, alone, unmourned and unloved, this tail-end book fails on that basic level.
So thank you, but no thank you. By the time you read this fifth post, I shall know whether the set is sellable on eBay*, or whether I shall just have to sneak into a Charity Shop and run away before they stop me leaving these books there.

*They sold, for 1p less than I paid for them: hoorah!

Marvels and Miracles Gone: Garry Leach R.I.P.

It was over forty years ago that I bought the first issue of this new, unheralded and unusual magazine called Warrior, back in Odyssey 7, when it udsed to operate from the University Precinct. I discovered so much in that, most notably the existence of Alan Moore, and V for Vendetta, which I’ve treasured ever since. I still have my complete set of all 26 issues, with autographs of several creators on the strips they contributed. One of them was Garry Leach, who drew that fantastic first chapter of Marvelman, written by Moore. Now I learn that he’s died aged 67, only a year older than me. So many of these people, gone, irreplaceable. There never seem to be any equivalents of them to fill in the gaps. If you had a God, Garry, I hope he cherishes you as we of those times did on Earth.

All the Fells: Catstycam

Catstycam – The Eastern Fells 2,197′ (199)

Date: 23 July 1994

From: Birkhouse Moor

Originally, I designed two Patterdale-based walks involving Helvellyn, collecting the surrounding fells in different easy combinations. Unfortunately, low cloud truncated the so-called Outer Circle meaning some inelegant route manipulations to combine the Inner Circle with the missing fells from before. I’ve already described my ascent of Birkhouse Moor, my Test Match Special cap radio, and the gentleman who was interested in England avoiding the follow-on. I let him and his companion get ahead before returning to the Hole in the Wall and setting off across the flatlands immediately below Red Tarn. Over the next hour, our paths crossed and I kept him up to date with the score. I gained the ridge below Swirrall Edge and turned up towards Catstycam (also known as Catchedicam, which was the name Arthur Ransome used in Swallowdale), not far in their wake. About fifty feet below the summit a gust of wind tore my cap off my head, and down the north flank, and I had to scramble rapidly down an unnervingly steep slope to grab it before it tumbled too far out of reach. We parted on Catstycam’s very narrow shoulder, me for Helvellyn and them for the valley. The gentleman asking what I was doing that day and I vaguely explained I was ‘collecting’. ‘2,000’ers?” he enquired eagerly, which got me wondering. ‘Wainwrights’ I said, and before he could reprove, his companion said, ‘Oh dear’ and giggled. Was it who I suspected it was? A fortnight later, in Monday’s Guardian ‘Country Diary’, A Harry Griffin described his Saturday on the Helvellyns, and the young man (young!) whose cap blew off…

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e23 – The Brain-Killer Affair


I have mixed feelings about ‘The Brain-Killer Affair’, which is highly regarded among Man from U.N.C.L.E. fans, but which didn’t impress me to quite the same degree. The story was built upon the idea of Mr Waverley being poisoned by THRUSH in order to subject him to a brain operation, using a fantastic machine invented by Dr Agnes Dabree that will impair his mental functions, leading him his making stupid errors that will bring U.N.C.L.E. down from within.

An interesting idea, let down slightly by the ease with which Waverley, one of the most important figures in maintaining the security of the World, gets poisoned in a posh club, drinking cognac and playing chess, by a waiter in the pay of THRUSH. Admittedly, he’s got our man Solo sat less than twenty feet away, reading the Saturday Evening Post (a real copy, apparently) but this is security?

And Waverley promptly gets rushed to the Hobart Clinic, which happens to be staffed by Drs Dabree and Elment, Nurse Flostone and all manner of big, hulking orderlies and pretty nurse/receptionists, all of whom are agents of THRUSH, not that U.N.C.L.E. knows anything of this. And though they flood the place with their own security, I would have thought that in a crisis situation like this, so big it has its own code (Situation 20A), I’d have thought that would mean more than two Agents, plus Ilya popping in and out.

But what interested me most was the number of connections I made from outside the episode, via the guest players.

The only one to make it into the credit sequence as a Guest Star was Dr Dabree, who was played by Elsa Lanchester, yes, the Elsa Lanchester, the Bride of Frankenstein himself. For a moment I was astonished, until I remembered that this episode was first broadcast in 1965, making it a matter of a mere thirty years since Lanchester’s classic starring role. In terms of an actress’s life, it’s nothing unusual, yet it also made me think of the distance from the early Frankenstein films with their simple yet Gothic horror, to the sophistication and slickness of 1965. Lanchester’s acting demonstrated that: she was all OTT melodrama, creepy and cracked, as if she had never left Frankenstein’s castle in the first place. Not very Sixties.

The spur towards solving the matter was Waverley’s last conscious words after being poisoned: three names, Farmington, Nikos Korzos and Nils Bergstrom, and what’s initially believed to be ‘Have dead’ but which is actually half-dead. Farmington is the career diplomat Waverley was playing chess with, who’s made a series of terrible blunders, Korzos is a shipping magnate who’s business has utterly collapsed due to a series of terrible blunders, leading to his committing suicide, and Bergstrom…

Bergstrom doesn’t fit the pattern. He’s a near catatonic of four years’ standing, who occasionally likes to bash simeone over the head with a sledgehammer, who’s being looked after by his younger sister Cecille, an attractive girl with shoulder-length black hair who supports them making $4 an hour refurbishing mannequins. I liked Cecille a great deal, even though she was played a bit too much as the sparky yet annoying kid sister who hasn’t grown up yet. Because I’m not used to seeing the lady with her hair down like that, it took me until the closer, when she’s got her hair up, dancing with Napoleon at a fancy restaurant, to recognise her as Yvonne Craig, she of Batgirl fame only a couple of years later.

And then there was Mr Gabhail Samoy. Mr Samoy is another member of Section 1, based in U.N.C.L.E.’s Eastern Division, the leaders, directors, policy-makers, brought to New York to replace Waverley. He’s a philsophical Indian, turbaned and confined to a wheelchair, browned up. This time I needed the credits to recognise him as Abraham Sofaer, the Judge and Surgeon from one of my favourite ever films, A Matter of Life and Death.

And that was not the end of it, though the fourth connection was one I did not know of until after. One of Waverley’s two protectors at the hospital, was a very tall, very solid black Agent named Jason. He was played by Roosevelt ‘Rosey’ Grice, football player turned actor and singer. He would be the man who wrestled the gun from the hand of Sirhan Sirhan in 1968, the assassin of Bobby Kennedy. Sobering thought. Thank God we cannot see what is to come to us.

Oddly enough, though this episode didn’t go out until very late in the series, according to imdb it was actually only the third to actually be filmed, and the second to feature Ilya, who’s in serious, steamy and sinister mode throughout, long before the series really worked out how to play him.

There are a lot of ins and outs before Waverley gets saved. Dr Dabree short-sightedly falls down an elevator shaft, Dr Elmont has his brain softened when Cecille, despite being bound and gagged and her blouse straining mightily to keep her intact, hops across the room and pushes the button with her cute nose, and the names and addresses spilt by Waverley under hypnotic duress turn out to be fakes he’s been pre-programmed to give out if ever this happens (damn clever these Red Chinese – I’m sorry, U.N.C.L.E.) so all’s well that ends well.

Except… Dr Dabree was not found at the bottom of her liftshaft, nor was the beauteous Nurse Flostone. No, she’s spirited the fanatical Doctor saway, have first splinted and bandaged all the broken bits. Lanchester is still in full flow, promising Flostone that she will seek revenge on Napoleon Solo for her, she will not rest…

But though she kept acting until 1980, by when she was in her late seventies, neither Elsa Lanchester nor Dr Dabree, nor Nurse Flostone, made good on that threat, as it was clearly decided that, THRUSH itself as an umbrella organisation excepted, the series would not deal in recurring villains. Pity.

Overall, a good and solid episode. I wouldn’t call it a classic myself, but it did keep stupidity to a minimum, it kept its momentum up, it threw a lot at the wall, pretty much all of which stuck and I have never found it a burden to look at Yvonne Craig for forty-five minutes. I’d have preferred her to be in colour, though.

All The Fells: Catbells


Catbells – The North Western Fells 1,481′ (149)

Date: 16 May 1992/

From: Newlands/Maiden Moor

After taking my girlfriend up Angletarn Pikes, I promised that our next walk would be Catbells. But several years passed before that became possible, due to a combination of things, but mostly the increasing volatility of our relationship. In the end, it took four years during which I kept the faith, refusing to climb Catbells alone, even as the end of the Wainwrights drew ever nearer. Eventually, she agreed to go on a day’s outing to the Lakes, our first visit together since. Even though I didn’t bring it up, she remembered about Catbells, and said she might agree to go for that walk, but not if I badgered her about it. I didn’t say a word. After a pleasant lunch at the Oddfellows Arms, and in a slightly disgruntled manner, she said we’d do it, so I drove round into Newlands, turned my head whilst she slipped out of her skirt and into more appropriate walking clothes, and led her towards the fell. Catbells isn’t very high or very far but we took our time, stopped often and finally reached the ridge, at which point she suddenly became much more enthusiastic, perhaps because of the views. The summit was crowded, as you’d expect on a May Saturday afternoon. To find a resting place, we had to drop down about twenty feet on the Derwentwater side, and settle ourselves into a recumbent posture, side by side, arms touching. Pleasant things ensued. We descended to the north and doubled round into Newlands, having had a brilliant day, which extended itself to an overnight stay, though with a Jazz Festival on in Keswick that weekend, we had to go to Braithwaite to find a room for the night. Years later, after the last Wainwright, I planned a walk from Grange, using the old miner’s route to reach the ridge by Dale Head and return along the Western Wall of Borrowdale, going on to Catbells full of memories, and then down the other flank from Hause Gate to Grange and the car. Happy recollections.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Moody Blues’ ‘Nights in White Satin’

As you know, my initial grasp and understanding of the music of the Sixties came from Radio 1’s Golden Oldies policies in the Seventies. But, as I’ve also observed, this could be seriously misleading.
Ironically enough, my first exposure to The Moody Blues, Birmingham’s ‘Cosmic Rockers’, had nothing to do with any kind of oldie, but was their 1970 single, ‘Question’, which was their second biggest success in the UK charts, reaching no 2. It’s an odd song, beginning with a rapidly strummed, long acoustic guitar intro before blasting into sound courtesy of the band’s characteristic instrument, the Mellotron. And then it goes off into a long middle section of serious slowness, that I can only now characterise as overblown and sententious, before shooting off on another one at full speed and bombast.
Not really the kind of song to really trigger the sympathies of a young teenager struggling to understand pop and rock music.
But we’re not here to talk about ‘Question’. We’re here to talk about an older song. When it came to Oldies, there were just the two Radio 1 played, the original R’n’B Band’s number 1 from 1964, ‘Go Now’, and the rather more characteristic example of the latter-day band’s sound, the one song synonymous with the Moodies for all time, ‘Nights in White Satin’.
The number of times it was played, you’d have thought, like Honeybus’ ‘(Do I Figure) In Your Life’, that we were talking massive hit, top three at the minimum. But no. Though I still didn’t know that when the song was re-issued as a single at the end of 1972. That’s another thing that’s gone by the wayside these decades later, the songs that would be re-issued. The Xmas resurgence of Xmas songs is the last vestige of that, but there’s no comparison. These returning hits are based on the public’s own desire to rehear the familiar and the beloved. When records had to have a physical existence, had to be manufactured, only the most successful were kept permanently available.
So record companies held the key to what you could buy, and if they decided there was no more profit in keeping a record around, it was deleted and then all you could do was to haunt record stalls. The hours I spent pawing through singles racks on Shudehill.
But Deram decided to re-issue ‘Nights in White Satin’ in the run up to Xmas. And because most of the Radio DJs loved it, it got airplay. And because I now heard it daily, and often several times daily, I fell in love with it, like them, and watched and enthused as the song returned to the Top Thirty, and climbed, slowly, but steadily, until it reached no. 9.
‘Nights in White Satin’ was extraordinarily effective on me. Within fourteen months I had all the Moodies’ classic seven albums, starting with the current Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, going back to On the Threshold of a Dream, and only then letting my basic, logical characteristic shine through and adding the others in strict chronological order. And, at the end of September 1973, as my University career began, The Moody Blues became my first concert as well as being, ironically, their last, last that is for the classic line-up: they would take a break for the next five years, pursue solo projects that undermined my love for the band, and reform without Mike Pinder.
By which time I had sold all seven of those albums, leaving the Moody Blues the only one of my favourites from time to time whose music for which I do not have at least a sentimental recollection of when they enthralled me.
Where does that leave ‘Nights in White Satin’? Where does that leave a song that, for several years, I would have put at, or very close to the top spot in any list of my favourite songs ever?
When I listen to it again, I hear the traces of the magic that drew me into it in 1972. It’s a love song, to the extent that its chorus repeats the lines I love you, and I love you, oh how I love you, as deep and meaningful as any of McCartney’s sentimental little nothings like ‘ And I love her’. What is meant to be deep and meaningful are the verses. Moody Blues fans regard these as philosophical and maybe I did too, once. Nights in White Satin, never reaching the end, letters I’ve written never meaning to send. Or, gazing at people, some hand in hand, some try to tell me, thoughts they cannot defend.
I’m afraid I can only call such lyrics pretentious, pretending to deep internal meaning when in truth they have nothing of substance, sixth form poetry, lacking in both knowledge and understanding, and what’s more, irrelevant to that returning chorus. And I love you (repeat until meaningless).
What does remain is the shadow of the music. Justin Hayward was not an original Moody but from 1967 onwards he was their recognised leader, and by some margin their best songwriter. And he had a decent characteristic sound on the guitar, though none of that’s on display here. The intro doesn’t as much begin as appear, as if someone’s entered your aural area already playing, but Hayward’s sound is acoustic, establishing more of a rhythm whilst his voice defines the melody, and bassist John Lodge plays a melodic line above it.
No, as with most Moody Blues’ tracks, it’s Mike Pinder’s mellotron that carries most of the song, and if you were to listen to the ‘extended’ version from the album, where the London Festival Orchestra conducted by Peter Knight decorate the introduction and last part of the song with real strings, the limitations of the instrument – a keyboard playing pre-recorded tapes rather than notes – become most apparent (the mellotron rapidly dropped out of favour from the early Eighties when it was wholly superceded by the much more versatile emulator).
Though the flute solo in the middle, played with cool beauty by Ray Thomas, is still the best part of the song.
Much later after 1972, I discovered that, on its original release, this famous song, this favourite of oldies, had only reached no 19, ten places lower, and at almost the same time of year.
It would be a hit a third time, in 1979, this time peaking at no. 14, exactly halfway between its two prior listings.
And the days of the Moody Blues being one of my favourite bands are long gone and unlamented. Not even ‘Nights in White Satin’ makes my heart flutter any more.