All the Fells: Harter Fell (Mardale)

Harter Fell – The Far Eastern Fells 2,539′ (10)

Date: 20 August 1975/12 June 1994/16 August 1997

From: Mardale Head/ Mardale Ill Bell/ Kentmere Pike

Like the Eskdale Harter Fell, my first visit to its Mardale namesake was with my family. In 1975, I had still never been to Mardale nor seen Haweswater, not even in a distant view, though I had suggested a number of walks that would at least give me a chance to see it. But it was an unspoken bargain that if the family were to take a holiday at Ullswater, we would finally visit Haweswater since it would no longer be too far to drive. We headed over there on the Wednesday, a long, roundabout route that was outside and then back in. My Uncle stopped the car by the dam to let me get a good look at it and a photo, then it was down to the head of the Lake and into out walking gear. It was a cool, blustery day. I don’t remember having any input into what we were going to do, and the Mardale Harter was actually a bit higher than the normal run of fells we would tackle in that half-decade, but the approach was straightforward and simple, and on grass all the way. This was out of the parking area and turn left to head for Gatescarth Pass. It may have been grass every step of the way, but I drunk all of it in, because I’d never seen any of this before. There was no path from the top of the Pass to Harter so, with me as bookholder and guide, we followed the wire fence uphill to the lowly hillock of Adam a Seat, then followed the fence as it angled across the flank until it reached the summit ridge at the north end of the long top. The classic full-length view of Haweswater from the third cairn was mere yards away and I was allowed to divert to it for a photo if I promised to be ultra-careful of the wind and the nearby cliff-top. As if I, with my vertigo, was going to get near enough to it to go over in the face of the wind! We then walked back to the actual summit, which was second in height only to Lingmell amongst those ascents we’d completed thus far. I expected us to reverse our steps back towards Gatescarth but I was in for a surprise. With the excuse of wanting to see down into Kentmere, where the Reservoir was a bright spot under increasingly dark and threatening clouds, gather overhead, we crossed the top until it was visible. Then, to my shock, we went down that way, towards Nan Bield Pass. It was only the second time, and the first with my Uncle, that we had not descended by the exact same route as our ascent. Well-wrapped up, we got to Nan Bield and that classic view to Haweswater over Small Water, and wound our way down the other Pass to the car. I was to come back to Harter, unexpectedly, before the end, a Sunday there-and-back to Mardale and as close to the valley head as I could. This was another of those half dozen days that, at the drop of a hat (or, more practically, twenty-five years) I would repeat enthusiastically. High Street by Rough Edge and Long Crag, Mardale Ill Bell, the previously unclimbed purpose of the day and, back at Nan Bield with time to spare and plenty of walking yet in my legs, the impromptu decision to go back over Harter, straight up and over, trailing in the wake of a lady walker whose black stretch pants were so stretched that it was less a case of VPL (Visible Pantie Line) as VPC (Visible Pantie Colour). I descended via the third cairn along a brand new path direct to Gatescarth top, that had been walked not only into existence but into erosion in the less than two decades since I had been here before. And there was one more visit, though not an especially successful one, post-Wainwrights. I wanted to do the Kentmere Horseshoe, from Shipman Knotts to Harter Fell in the morning, and returning from Thornthwaite Fell to Yoke, but with walking days becoming fewer, my stamina was ebbing away. and it was a hot day and I ran out of water before descending to Nan Bield, leaving me no option but a very long, very slow and very dry retreat down the valley until, almost back at the village, I knocked on a door and had my water bottle half-filled with cold tapwater that I guzzled eagerly, but which was not enough to stave off a sun-induced headache that I tried to medicate with paracetamol back at the main road, one of which I promptly brought up in the road.

Film 2022: House of Flying Daggers


After my experience with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I was more than a bit trepidatious about approaching this thing but I needn’t have worried on that score: more than just being visible throughout, even in the night-time scenes, House of Flying Daggers was a visual riot throughout, light, bright, clean, vivid and rich in colours.

It’s a film with a glowing reputation, received with tremendous praise when it was released in 2004 and apparently having given Channel 4 it’s biggest ever audience when shown three years later. Yet though it was ebxcellent on the terms it set out for itself – one might say flawless – it ended up not quite disappointing me but rather failing to fully impress me the way I was looking for it to do.

The story is set during the decline of the Tang Dynasty, against a background of corrupt government and revolutionary factions, one of which is the Robin Hood-like titular House of Flying Daggers. Two Captains, Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who have already assassinated the old leader, are ordered to identify and kill the new leader within ten days. Believing that Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a blind dancer working in a nearby brothel, is a member of the House, they contrive to arrest her then have Jin free her, intending that she will lead them to the House.

The story was set within a particular period of Chinese history, but I never got the feeling that this historical specificity was more than the traditoional Hitchcockian McGuffin. In part this may be been down to my lack of understanding of Chinese history, and the mnative audience may have derived a greater importance from that, but I doubt it was that great a factor. This was a martial arts film, a thing of action, perfectly choreographed movement, not just in combat but in an extraordinary dance scene early on, beautifully filmed, without CGI, with contained and controlled slow-motion – no Zack Snyder excesses here – and intent on dazzling the eyes.

But the problem inherent in this film was that it was an action spectacular. It dazzled the eyes, but that was really the only one of the senses it sought to dazzle. The period was an excuse to host a story that, in its first half, was not much more than an extended, episodic chase-and-fight scene. I couldn’t help, from an early stage onwards, wondering how the film differed, in that respect from any CGI-laden superhero film.

Once the film reached its halfway point, more or less, its nature transmuted almost abruptly, not abandoning the martial arts spectacle but instead leavening it with multiplre revelations, betrayals and other plot twists on the way to diverting it into a love story, based on the eternal triangle.

The first revelation I had seen coming, not with certainty but with a high degree of suspicion. Zhang Ziyi as the blind Mei was astonishingly convincing (before filming, she spent two months living with a blind girl, observing her). We knew the actress wasn’t blind but there wasn’t the least flicker of a suggestion that the character wasn’t. Yet, if only because my relative naivete about martial arts films wouldn’t let me belkieve a blind woman could do all that, I doubted all along, and I was right to do so.

Because Leo and Jin’s conspiracy to use Mei was part of a larger conspiracy masterminded by the House of Flying Dagger’s new leader, Nai, to draw out an open military force for a confrontation. Though as presented, the House of Flying Daggers onscreen were all female, Captain Leo was a mole, planted three years earlier, to set this plot in motion. And Leo was in love with Mei, and she with him (in Wikipedia it has them as betrothed but this wasn’t stated in any of the sub-titles), but in the three days she had been on the run with him, Mei had fallen in love with Jin.

Complications arose. Mei was supposed to kill Jin so he could not reveal Leo was a double agent, but she couldn’t. Instead, she released him, but refused to go with him. Except that, after a scene that stretched things out a bit too long, heralding an ending that got out of hand, she changed her mind and rode after him, only to be intercepted by the jealous Leo, hurling a flying dagger to, literally, her breast, and fatally wounding her.

Sadly, I thought the ending excessive and in some respects ridiculous. After waiting for her to catch up, an unnecessary chauvinistic touch that presupposed that the little woman had no choice in the matter, Jin comes back and finds Mei’s dead body. He and Leo fight, furiously, giving each other many wounds. Out of nothing, an amazing snowstorm appears, symbolic but unconvincing. The General’s troops surreptitiously approach the House of Flying Daggers but we’ve gone beyond the outcome of that. Finally, the fight ends the only way it could, with jin and Leo simultaneously giving each other fatal wounds.

Only they’re not fatal, any more than Mei’s dagger has been. Leo prepares to kill Jin with a Flying Dagger. Mei threatens to kill him with the dagger dragged out of her breast. Jin drops his sword, pleading with her not to do so, the dagger is the only thing preserving her life from her blood pouring out (I so could not avoid flashing back to John Cleese’s The Strange Case of the End of Civilisation As We Know It). He limps towards Leo so he’s too near: if Leo throws his dagger Jin will be dead before Mei can retaliate. Jin throws his dagger. Mei drags her out and throws it. Not to kill Jin but to intercept his dagger. Only he’s faked throwing it, to get her to kill him, he’s only launched a globule of blood. Mei dies. The two ‘fatally wounded’ Captains live. Jin cries over Mei’s body, Leo stumbles off into the trees, and thankfully it ends there, the over-developed melodrama having quite ruined the film’s cohesion.

I was gratified to see that amongst the general praise for the film, plenty of critics did agree that it is about spectacle and overwhelming the audience to carry it over the weak story, so for once it wasn’t just me with the contrary opinion. Though I can understand the appeal to the film-msakers of the trapdoors thrugh which they wanted to send their viewers, in the end for me it derailed the film and led to an incompatible ending that failed to ever really make the emotions it depicted properly convincing. I shall retain the DVD, for now at least but, except for Zhang Ziyi’s grace and beauty, I doubt I’ll have much of a reason to watch it again. Curse of the Golden Flower is still, for me, the best movie to come out of China.

All the Fells: Harter Fell (Eskdale)

Harter Fell – The Southern Fells 2,140′ (5)

Date: 24 August 1973/23 April 1974/6 May 1995

From: Penny Hill, Eskdale/ Penny Hill, Eskdale/Hard Knott foot

There are two Harter Fells in the Lake Districts, in two different areas: differently sized and shaped fells, of different heights, that share a name but nothing else. Apart from both making for great days out walking. I saw and walked the Eskdale Harter long before even seeing the Mardale version, as was implicit in having a family that didn’t want to venture out of the Ambleside/Wasdale arc of the Lake District. Whether I registered it then or not, I will have seen Harter on my first ride on the Ratty, and that before I ever suffered the horror of having boots put on my feet and propped upright to walk. We didn’t attempt it until after Dad had passed on, on a hot and muggy afternoon, from Dalegarth. We followed the path in from Doctor Bridge via Penny Hill, worked our way up onto the gap that led through to the Duddon Valley, then set off uphill on an everlasting and tiring slope. My mother was actually so hot that she undid the bottom of her tartan walking shirt and tucked it up to let the air get onto her stomach, that is until we passed some descending walkers, whereupon she covered up again. The biggest bugbear was literally the bugs: the fell was plagued with flying insects, leaving us in no peace, constantly swatting at them, trying to brush them away from our heads, though when I said I could swear at them I was curtly advised not to. According to the notes pencilled on the title page of Harter’s chapter in the Southern Fells, we did the walk again only eight months later, but I have no memories of climbing Harter twice so early, nor even if the day of the persistent flies was our first or second visit. The full Wainwright round took twenty-six years allowing for slow initial progress and eight years self-exile, but once I had reached Seatallan, I wanted to go back to old places I hadn’t visited in a quarter century, and one of these was Harter. Since I’d decided to use the ridge to Hard Knott Pass for an exploratory descent, I chose a route from the foot of the Pass, slanting across the face of Harter until I joined the path up from the Duddon Valley gap. There were no flies, and this time I (cautiously) scrambled up to the rocky high point. The ridge to Hard Knott was as tedious and unattractive as everyone keeps saying and, in the way of all such things, seemed to be half again as long as it actually was on the ground. I determined never to actually try ascending by that way, though in the end the question never arose.

All the Fells: Hart Side

Hart Side – The Eastern Fells 2,481′ (169)

Date: 28 April 1993

From: Sheffield Pike

Hart Side is a long, shapeless, grassy ridge protruding out of the back of the Dodds range, where it is linked to Stybarrow Dodd. It doesn’t have much by way of intrinsic appeal, except for one big and one small feature, only one of which I saw on my only visit. Knowing I had to collect Hart Side, I’d decided to combine it with Sheffield Pike as a circuit of Glencoyne, ascending by the former and reaching the head of the valley in green isolation where a path towards Stybarrow Dodd looked appealing (I had yet to climb that though the omission was repaired later that year). Instead, I followed this well-made and very distinct path along the flank of Hart Side, back towards Patterdale on a highish level, until, getting close to the summit position, I stepped off the path into trackless grass and headed up to the ridge itself. Off to the north east, in a direction not conducive to my return to my car, an undistinguished subsidiary fell, not thought by Wainwright to constitute a separate summit, is now named Birkett Fell, after the Lord of the same name, who did so much to preserve the Lake District from the depredations of the Manchester Water Companies in the late Fifties. Before then, this outcrop was nameless, and it’s still the only Lake District ‘peak’ to have a nameplate built into its cairn bearing its name. The other, more attractive feature, was on my way home, if I could find my way down off the ridge, without paths on grass, on a very steep fellside. In the end, with the slope getting steeper, I forced myself to ignore my vertigo and gently let myself down to the relief of a good, sturdy path. This led me to Hart Side’s one great feature, the view from the path corner under the Brown Hills. It is a mid-level, awesome view along Ullswater’s middle and upper reaches, the only drawback to which being that it is impossible to capture the full view in a single camera image. Walkers grateful for being alive to see things like this have to content themselves with swivelling their head from side to side like a Centre Court watcher at Wimbledon but with far more to see. Painful as it is, the scene will have to be left at some point. The path itself descends slowly, eventually coming to earth at Park Brow, where the road emerges from the Matterdale valley. This meant a considerable walk back along the road to where my car was parked near Glencoyne, which I didn’t fancy, so I slipped over the wall and, with concerns as to whether I might be trespassing, headed straight downhill in the company of a wall until I scrambled out onto the road with less than a quarter mile to follow to where I had parked.

Valerian et Laureline: 3 – Earth in Flames

‘Earth in Flames’ picks up where ‘The City of Shifting Waters’ ended, with the arrival of Valerian, Laureline and Sun Rae at Xombul’s base in and under Yellowstone Park, Americana at its finest. There we are quickly introduced to Schroder, a brilliant scientist and the only one on Earth of our era associated with Xombul, grateful for the opportunity to run wild on his inventing whilst never mistaking his situation as anything other than that of prisoner. Schroder, incidentally, does not have a mop of blond hair and a tendency to sit at toy pianos but instead looks like Jerry Lewis at his goofiest.
We’re still in the series’ early days yet, so it’s no surprise, however disappointing, to see it take a chauvinist turn. Valerian’s the hero, he’s brave and resourceful, and Laureline is the spunky girl sidekick, so when Xombul wants to enforce Valerian being his right hand man, he does so by submitting our favourite redhead to a shrinking ray, intent keeping her in his pocket, literally, whilst Val follows orders.
But Schroder wants out and, as soon as he disables the robots, big brave Val breaks loose, tackles and captures Xombul, only too late to keep a furious Laureline from being shrunk to about six inches tall. Laureline is angry at her treatment, putting the blame where it truly lies, on her creators – this always happens to the girls! – as a metafictional warning that if they don’t sharpen up pretty quickly, she’s going to take action about it.
However, for now it’s everyone back to the spatiotemporal craft to return the renegade Dictator to Galaxity, whilst Val does his best not to cause his colleague to fall off his shoulder. Sun Rae’s going to stay behind and take over the base, and Schroder’s going to stay behind because he belongs to Sun Rae now, until he breaks out himself. Unfortunately, not all the robots have been disabled and, in the shooting, Val drops Xombul, but not Laureline, who starts growing of her own accord as if Christin and Mezieres have worked out they’ve done a dumb thing.
Naturally, she grows faster than her clothes, though the proprieties are decently observed.
The story opens out in its middle section, as the runaways decide to put distance between themselves and Xombul. This takes us out into America the Big Country, the wild open, a favourite real-life setting for Mezieres, and the ever-increasing effects of the series of disasters that will, so soon, shut Earth down in its Modern Dark Age. Heat and flames, fleeing and despair. Civilisation has already broken down, and only the old-timer, the phlegmatic westerner, the self-reliant self-image of America’s psyche, knows how to live in these times. He provides Laureline with clothes that suit their environment (and which cover more than about 30% of her) and kits out Val likewise. They ride off to look for America.
What they find is the land breaking down as fast as the country. The old-timer stays, in his element, the Old West rising to help the people, like the troubleshooter of old, only not with guns but skills, skills to gather and hold tight a herd that will feed people for at least a time. It’s an apocalyptic time treated in a determinedly non-apocalyptian manner for which Christin and Mezieres are to be praised.
We return to the plot with a deft jab at America and its exceptionalism in a more contemporary context as the agents find a military base, abandoned by all but its Commander, and he’s abandoned it too metaphorically, choosing drinks, smokes and burgers over his duty, and easy prey for a practical Laureline to slap around. Once loaded up with weaponry, it’s back to Yellowstone, and Xombul to be dealt with finally.
Once they arrive, Xombul’s defences are raised to greet them, It’s a two-point attack, Laureline laying down covering fire to distract from Val’s heavy-artillery attack with a bazooka – when a grand moose can be got from immediately in front of the sights. These are the touches I love, the moment of comedy slipped in in a quasi-bathetic manner which reflects the non-fictional natural obstructiveness of the Universe (like Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder Gang as opposed to his Parker hard-boiled crime stories).
But then the creators let things slip back a little as Val goes in alone after Xombul, leaving Laureline behind. However, the Dictator has fled, using the President’s personal rocket ship to relocate to a secret satellite in Earth orbit, from where he plans to rebuild. How can Val and Laureline follow him now? By Schroder’s space/time ship of course, if it worked, that is.
Which is where future and past turn in upon themselves and meet. Val’s knowledge of spatiotemporal principles and mechanics, with Laureline’s assistance, enables him to bypass Schroder’s lack of comprehension, his misguidances and lack of material to produce Earth’s first, ramshackle, unsleek, held-together-by-spit-and-baling-wire Spatiotemporal machine, and undertake that first ever flight.
To the space station, and to Valerian’s final confrontation with Xombul. Who’s built himself a space/time machine from twentieth century plans that he doesn’t understand will not work, because it cannot work. And instead of jumping into time, Xombul is destroyed, his component atoms spread far beyond recovery.
Killing Xombul off this soon was a very sensible idea: the series is still a little rough and ready, and relies too much on foursquare Hard SF, for all that there are moments when the picture painted hangs at an angle. The last thing it needed was a perpetual enemy. Without Xombul, the series had time to grow, to cultivate a sense of the alien, the infinite possibilities of the Universe. Without a recurring foe, it could stop and look around, and it would.
Cannily, our principal pair knock out Schroder and Sun Rae whilst assisting them to escape from the destruction of the Yellowstone base. And they dismantle the space/time ship and retrofit Schroder’s inaccurate workings so he can’t retro-engineer such a ship prematurely. And then it really is back home, but with a side-trip first. After all, no matter when they get back, Valerian and Laureline will be sent on a new mission inside an hour…

All the Fells: Hart Crag

Hart Crag – The Eastern Fells 2,698′ (80)

Date: 5 May 1988/1 July 1995

From: Dove Crag/ Dove Crag

Hart Crag is part of the Fairfield Horseshoe, and as part of it – the fourth fell in an anti-clockwise round, starting directly from Ambleside – I have crossed it twice on two rounds. I hesitate to say that I have climbed it since all I have done is to follow the ridge round from Dove Crag to Fairfield itself on both occasions, a simple uphill stroll on one side to a substantial if sloppy cairn just off the track, whilst on the other side it’s much the same, except for the narrowing of the ridge at the head of ‘Ryedale’ when for a few short yards and a scramble up onto Fairfield’s rounded top, the ridge is indeed a ridge. This route shows nothing of the features of the mountain, which are all on the outside of the Horseshoe, overlooking Patterdale and the deep valleys cut into the side of the range from the east.

Due South: s01 e19 – Heaven and Earth

Due South

It’s late at night, distorted picture, distorted movements, two young girls, walking, talking and laughing. Constable Fraser, reaching out an arm, calling desperately. The girls split up. One gets spooked. |She’s attacked, grabbed by the throat. Her heart-shaped gold locket snaps its chain, falls unnoticed to the ground. She’s thrown into a trunk. Is she dead? A balding man, with sad eyes and a fringe beard, looks terrified.

It’s an unusually brief open for Due South, leading into a tense and mostly serious episode. The girl is a missing person, kidnapped for ransom. By a curious coincidence, she’s being played by Karyn Dwyer, as recently seen in Better than Chocolate. Detective Vecchio’s got the case, has been working it three days solid, getting nowhere. He is not interested in his buddy Bennie working towards trying to cler his conscience without actually telling. until, that is, Bennie mentions that it’s about Francesca. You know, Ray’s sister, Ramona Milano, turned up late two episodes back in some underwear…

That’s the main comedic role in the episode, which also featured a return engagement by our two FBI nudnicks, Agents Ford and Deeter, still the same self-important clowns, taking over Vecchio’s case and getting everybody’s back up, with the exception of Detectives Huey and Louie, who relish anything that gets in Vecchio’s way. They don’t want Ray or Bennie anywhere near the case, except that we know that isn’t going to happen, not when the need to get this young girl back alive is so important.

Key to this is the bearded man. He is a homeless guy called Garret, played by Jonathan Banks (he was instantly familiar: I would swear I’ve seen him before, in a role that stood out, but a review of his career turns up no likely candidates, unless I’m remembering this role from the first time). Garret sees visions. He doesn’t want to, he wants nothing more than to be left alone. It’s not his responsibility. But Bennie takes him seriously, against everybody else’s dismissal, and in the end not only will Garret lead them to where the girl is being kept, in a pit whose unstable bounds are disintegrating and gradually threatening her with burial alive, but he will leap in to haul her up far enough to be rescued.

Did Fraser sleep with Francesca? That’s the $64 question, and our Mountie is too chivalrous of a lady’s reputation, any lady’s, least of all his best friend’s sister, to confirm or deny (myself, I don’t think he did, but I also recognise that, given his basic politeness, he may not have found it possible to humiliate her by turning her down). Francesca ain’t talking either, least of all to her big brother, though she does acknowledge that he’s looking out for her, and she accepts that someone like Bennie isn’t going to marry her anyway.

So we’ll never know that. It was a useful theme to have for the comic element as the main story did not lend itself to the patented Due South absurdism. Despite that, it was a good, solid episode, if lacking somewhat in twists and turns, and Banks was excellent in his part. Next week, another two-parter.

The Infinite Jukebox: Curved Air’s ‘Back Street Luv’

If I were to sit down with a pencil and paper, and a copy of the Guinness Book of Top 40 Charts, bookmarked open to the pages that cover 1971, and the task of providing a rational analysis of the singles that were hits during that twelve months that would explain things incontrovertibly to the music enthusiasts of the present day, I would throw up my hands in utter despair. I mean, Hell’s bells, I lived through that year and I can’t even describe it in a way that makes sense to me!
One of the biggest surprises that year was Curved Air. Curved Air were a progressive band who’d appeared on the scene the year before, combining a number of elements musically, not least the interests of violinist Darryl Way, who drove the band in the direction of complex, stretched tracks that eschewed standard song lengths and melodies.
On the other hand, lead singer Sonja Kristina came from a folk-oriented background, but had a powerful, seductive voice that could drill home an aggressive song.
It wasn’t that the band couldn’t play what I, in 1971, would have recognised as pop-influenced songs. They had already recorded a stormer of a song called ‘It Happened Today’ that, despite the fluttering and skittering violin line contributed by Way, was a solid stormer of a rock song.
Listening to it alongside ‘Back Street Luv’, it’s obvious which is the more commercial song, but it placed no higher than no 52 earlier that year. Though I was listening to Radio 1 practically all day throughout the week, I don’t remember hearing ‘Back Street Luv’ until it entered the Top 30, and even then I couldn’t understand or appreciate it.
The slow started with the growl of a synthesizer that resembled no music notes I had yet heard, growing into a slow, chugging sound, still using those low notes. It’s a long time since I’ve been used to the sound of synthesizers, which became more or less obsolete as soon as they invented the emulator, enabling any keyboard sound to be produced on a keyboard, but from my memory of the sounds, I’d be confident about this being a Moog synthesizer as opposed to an ARP. Moogs used to produced electronic sounds that conventional music instruments couldn’t and that’s what ‘Back Street Luv’ was about.
There’s neither conventional rhythm nor conventional melody here. The song is a rumble, a slow-moving object filling the highway, alternating between the combination of synthesizer and guitar, and a subdued, near-minimalistic melody played out on electric piano.
In complete contrast, Sonja Kristina’s clear, sometimes throaty vocals, seem to exist in another dimension to the rest of the band. Kristina came from a folk background, and adding an acoustic element to the music, overlaying the tension between the rock pressure and Darryl Way’s classical leanings as expressed through his violin.
Kristina didn’t dress up glamorously, nor expose much flesh beyond face and hands (sometimes, a strip of belly might show, as she moved). Like any self-respecting woman in the Underground, she eschewed the sexy image, dressing in long sleeved tops and bell-bottomed trousers, and in 1971 there was still an element of puppy-fat to her face, even if she was 22, but even to my delayed adolescent 15-year-old self she was sex on legs.
Which was fitting in a way because, as the perceptive among you might already have surmised from the title, ‘Back Street Luv’ was about a street prostitute. There was nothing blatant about the words, with the chorus of ‘when she gives love, she tries to find love, when she finds love was it real love?’ more or less as explicit as it got.
But this was a song whose underlying sympathy was with the back street girl whose life this formed, and the fact that a song about a prostitute got to no. 4, was on the Radio 1 playlist and was featured on Top of the Pops at least twice if not three times probably suggests that the BBC’s management hadn’t the least clue as to what it was about.
Like I said, 1971, the inexplicable year.
A follow-up single, that I didn’t hear until the YouTube era, flopped completely. In fact, it was so badly represented that unless you asked for it in the shops it wasn’t possible to determine if it was ‘Farah’s Concern’ or ‘Sarah’s Concern’ (it was the latter). The lyrics to that are harder to determine but it seemed to be on the same subject so maybe the Controllers wised up a little belatedly.
Curved Air never got anywhere near another Top 30 hit, or even being played on daytime Radio 1. Any year but that year, they’d never have stood a chance. But in 1971, anything could happen. Fifty years later, I still don’t understand it, but I’m glad I lived through it, and this is just one of many reasons why.

All the Fells: Harrison Stickle

Harrison Stickle – The Central Fells 2,403′ (44)

Date: 8 September 1986/10 September 1996

From: Thunacar Knott/Pike O’Stickle

A long time ago, on a day that I remember as being both scorching hot and very cloudy, the family set out to climb the Langdale Pikes. Or rather, as we did only one fell at a time in those early days, the highest pike, Harrison Stickle. Dad and his brother had had a long discussion about the best of the four routes from the New Hotel, and despite their attraction to the ‘pure’ route, via Pike How, decided to ascend via Mill Gill (the now re-named Stickle Ghyll) to Stickle Tarn, and cross over to the more direct route. This was so long ago that our approach was by the west side of the Gill and its extremely narrow path that, the next time we came here, had been fenced off due to erosion, and has never been re-opened. The sun, I remember, was scorching, and the ascent steep and draining, and we soon abandoned that to cross over to the Pike How route because it wasn’t as bad. I hated it, every step, the steepness, the heat. At Pike How, we paused. My mother and sister sat it out, my Dad and Uncle went to investigate the latter’s tiny top. I went along with them, but refused their invite to go to the cairn, which my memory insists on recalling as out on some kind of narrow overhang that scared the living daylights out of me. But despite my memory of the sun and the heat, by the time we reached the base of the summit, the cloud was down to that level. My sister was scared, and we huddled there for half an hour, watching waves of cloud sweep towards us from Windermere, one after another, with no prospect of their lifting, despite our patience, until we gave up and went down. We never returned as a family, or at least with me. Two ascents of Mill Gill foundered on my developing massive headaches and nausea, the one on the day my O-level results were out back in Manchester and the other, two years later, the week after my A-level results, on the day of the O-level results. They did reach Harrison Stickle after I’d declared myself out, but I wasn’t to get there until a decade later, a long day’s sweeping walk collecting all the Langdale Pikes in one walk. I started with Mill Gill and Pavey Ark, walked dully northwards to Thunacar Knott and back to Harrison, approaching it from its low back, under another hot sun, but one that was dusty and heavy rather than scorching. In the post-Wainwright years, on another of those expeditions that took place almost a decade to the day after, I set myself a reverse repeat, starting from Mickleden and Stake Pass, to Pike O’Stickle, Loft Crag, Thorn Crag and back to Harrison from a more interesting direction. I did not bother with the long diversion to Thunacar Knott this time, just crossing to Pavey Ark then returning to take the easy descent to Stickle Tarn and the Gill back to the car park.


*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge – My 40 Favourite Movies: 24 – Alfie


24: ALFIE: 1966. Director: Lewis Gilbert. UK. Romantic comedy drama. Michael Caine. Millicent Martin. Julie Foster. Jane Asher. Shirley-Anne Field. Vivien Merchant. Eleanor Bron. Shelley Winters. Alfie Bass.
Adapted by Irish-born Bill Naughton (1910-1992) from his 1963 play (itself originally a BBC Third Programme radio play). There was also a 1966 novel, which was slightly different from the movie – the character Frank, for instance. Budget was $800,000. Box office was $18.87million. Made at Twickenham Studios, St. Margarets, West London. Music by Sonny Rollins (jazz saxophonist); title song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David – sung by Millicent Martin (UK distribution), and Cher (US). It was a major UK pop song hit for Cilla Black. Initially a number of actors were considered for the role of Alfie – Richard Harris (1930-2002); Laurence Harvey (1928-1973); James Booth (1927-2005), and Anthony Newley (1931-1999). Eventually Terence Stamp (born 1938), who was playing the role on Broadway, recommended his friend Michael Caine. As well as both being fellow Cockneys, the two had acted together and became good friends in Willis Hall’s play The Long and the Short and the Tall. Although I always first associated Caine with Alfie, he had, by then, already appeared in Zulu (1964) and The Ipcress File (1965) – in fact Alfie was his sixth film. Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite in 1933, at Rotherhithe, so technically not an East End Cockney, as this is South-East London, across the Thames, in the Borough of Southwark. His father was Anglo-Irish, by profession a fish porter (I’m assuming at Billingsgate Market), his mother a cook and charwoman. Young Maurice served in the army (National Service, 1952-54) and saw action in Korea – an experience which coloured his subsequent politics, British nationalism against communism, mostly Tory supporter. He initially took on the stage name of, first Michael White, then Michael Scott, in about 1953, but changed it to Michael Caine in 1954, apparently taking the surname from the Humphrey Bogart movie The Caine Mutiny. However, bizarrely, he didn’t officially change his name – on his passport, for instance – until 2016, over 60 years later, then because of getting stopped at airport security with his ‘Micklewhite’ name. Although married only twice – to actress Patricia Haines (1932-1977) from 1955 to 1962, and Skakira Baksh from 1973 – in between he had a number of high-profile girlfriends, from Edino Rong (1961-64), Natalie Wood (1965-66). Bianca Jagger (1968-70), and Jill St John (1971). As an actor, I’ve enjoyed quite a few of his films over the years, and several, as well as Alfie, number amongst my favourite. He was knighted in 2000, at a time when knighthoods were being given out like confetti. I disagree with them on principle. Actors get other rewards.
The cast were: Michael Caine as Alfie Elkins; Shelley Winters (American actress, 1920-2006) as Ruby; Millicent Martin (actress/singer born 1934) as Siddie; Vivian Merchant (1929-1982, married to Harold Pinter from 1956 to 1980) as Lily Clamacroft; Alfie Bass (1916-1987) as Lily’s husband Harry; Jane Asher (born 1946, girlfriend to Paul McCartney 1963-71, later married cartoonist Gerald Scarfe) as Annie; Julia Foster (born 1943) as Gilda; Shirley Anne Field (born 1936) as Carla; Eleanor Bron (actress and author, born 1938) as the Doctor; Graham Stark (1922-2013) as Humphrey; Murrey Melvin (born 1932) as Nat; and Sydney Tafler (1916-1979) as Frank. Shirley Bassey was uncredited as a bodybuilder’s student girlfriend.
The film follows the adventures of the title character, a young, womanising, Cockney Casanova, working in London as a chauffeur; totally self-centred, enjoying sexual favours with married and single women, young or old, but often treating them with disrespect, referring to them as ‘it’. He is a anti-hero, everyman, immoral, roguish, a working-class jack-the-lad-type, pilfering petrol and money from his employer, encouraging his girlfriends to do the same. He is not always intentionally malicious or cruel, just lacking in any empathy, but at the same time Naughton the writer, and Caine the actor, manage to make the character sympathetic, showing his inner vulnerability, denied being able to see his son, using sex as a substitute for meaning or purpose to life, eventually finding pain and loneliness, especially after the abortion sequence with married Lily, when he comes face to face with the consequences of his casual carnal actions. So, this is no fun and frolics sex romp, or juvenile fantasy, but an emotional rollercoaster, made more personal in that Alfie breaks the fourth wall, talking to us, the audience, attempting to justify his actions. In the end, with himself being dumped by the girlfriends he had grown fond off, he can only turn to us, and ask “What’s it all about?”
The idea of breaking the fourth wall would later be used by another likeable rogue, antique dealer Lovejoy (the wonderful Ian McShane) in the 1986-94 UK television series of the same name.
Geoff Andrew, writing a later critique for the Time Out Film Guide, is a little sniffy: “Given the full swinging London mod movie treatment of the day, Bill Naughton’s funny and rather moving play emerges as a terribly dated (and one might add terribly misogynistic) account of a Cockney lecher’s selfish seduction and abuse of a series of compliant females. Of course he gets his comeuppance, in the ending that has all the moral weight and sincerity of a DeMille sex ’n’ sawdust spectacular.”
To say the movie is “terribly dated” seemed rather a silly criticism – it was made in 1966. Of course it is dated. Michael Keaton’s version of Batman would be ‘dated’ compared to the mindless, CGI adaptions since, but does that make them better? I think not. All movies are ‘dated’ eventually, in that they reflect the time and place of their making. While ‘lecher’ is a bit strong – it rather implies some old pervert chasing schoolgirls, not an oversexed young man working his way through his address-book of ladies – so I would equally question ‘misogynistic’. The dictionary definition is the hatred of women. Alfie is egocentric and rather selfish, and he might lack respect or much feeling, but he doesn’t actually hate women – quite the opposite, he wants to sleep with them, and he just can’t stay faithful to anyone for long. In that he reflects the typical alpha-male of that time – or since!
There was a UK-made sequel, in 1975, entitled Alfie Darling, with singer/musician Alan Price (he of O Lucky Man!) in the Alfie role. It did at least make a profit – budget at £500,000, box office receipts coming it at £2.5million. On the other hand, who remembers it today? Time Out Film Review concluded “the film look[ed] increasingly like a advert with no product to sell.” Not seen it – don’t want to see it!
Yet again – as with Psycho or Breathless – the original Alfie suffered the indignity of a totally needless remake in 2004, with Jude Law, who was seemingly going through a phase of Michael Caine worship – a few years later, in 2007, he starred in a remake of Sleuth, him playing Michael Caine’s original 1972 role, and Caine playing the Lawrence Olivier role. Alfie was now in Manhattan – ugh! – although some filming was also done in Liverpool, Manchester and Tilbury standing in for New York. It bombed, and perhaps deservedly so – costing $60million, with a box office return of just $36.2million. Lesson learned? Apparently not. Hollywood remain obsessed by sequels and remakes.