All the Fells: Little Hart Crag

Little Hart Crag

Little Hart Crag – The Eastern Fells

Date: 10 May 1989 2,091′ (113)

From: High Hartsop Dodd

I say that I remember something about every fell I ever climbed, but that isn’t entirely true. Here and there are a couple of fells where I reached the summit but nothing remains of the experience. Little Hart Crag is one of these. I climbed it in the course of a circular walk around the narrow valley of Caiston Beck, Caiston being the alternative name for Scandale Head Pass. I ascended the western ridge, over High Hartsop Dodd, to Little Hart Crags, which I know from Wainwright has two substantial outcrops on its otherwise level summit, and from there descended to Scandale Head in order to tackle Red Screes from the back and descend over Middle Dodd. Four fells in a none too strenuous day, after getting up High Hartsop Dodd of course, but where three of them impressed themselves in different ways upon my memory, all I remember of Little Hart Crag was that I climbed it.

The Infinite Jukebox: Tim Rose’s ‘Come Away Melinda’

This isn’t the first time I’ve said this but sometimes you can hear a song many times over, be familiar with it throughout many a year, more than half a lifetime. You can be familiar with it, and know what it is about, at least in your head. Yes, I know, that’s what it means, it’s easy to understand. Then, one day, for no apparent reason, you will hear it again and it will split you apart.
I must have heard ‘Come Away Melinda’ sometime in the early part of the Seventies, and it would most likely have been in the melodramatic version recorded in 1967 by deep, dark-voiced singer-songwriter Tim Rose. Rose hadn’t written the song. It’s composers were Fred Hellerman and Fran Minkoff, and it was first recorded in 1963 by Harry Belafonte, yes, he who is best remembered now for ‘The Banana Boat Song’.
It’s an anti-War song, that much is self-evident from even the most cursory scan of the lyrics. It’s a two-sided song, the accumulating verses being in the voice of a little girl, excited at discovering something she had never seen before, the choruses in the voice of her father, who knows very well what it is she has found, and who is trying to get her to leave it alone, and come inside, and forget what she has seen, because it is something that he has buried, not just that she should not see it, but that he should never have to see it again, himself.
Belafonte was the first to sing this, and I can imagine how he would have done so, laidback, calm, a style that with my sudden vision of the song I can’t imagine being the least bit suitable. Many others have followed, including Heavy Metal band UFO, which I certainly don’t want to ever hear. But only a few weeks ago as I write this, on a bus travelling through the Lake District, headphones on, it came on my mp3 player in a form recorded by a band called Cats Eyes, in 1970, in an arrangement closely following Tim Rose’s version.
And for the first time I ‘heard’ the words, and it took everything I had not to begin crying, because suddenly I understood exactly what it was all about, and I understood the levels of emotion that the song comprised, the innocence and the excitement of the little girl, and the unbearable pain of the father, seeking hopelessly to protect both his daughter and himself, in what little is left to the pair of them. He knows what they have both lost, and as the little girl asks her innocent questions, wishing to understand more of her finding, he is losing more of himself in the knowledge that he cannot protect her from what she might have been better off not knowing, that will not do her any good whatsoever, and which can only re-activate his anguish at what both have lost, for him a what-was, for her a what-never-will-be.
Because there has been a War. We don’t get any details but then we can imagine all that we need from the little we are told. The War was nuclear, the Bomb was dropped. He survives with his little daughter, a girl of maybe five or six, underground, inside, behind a door he needs to keep closed, to give both of them the maximum time to live. There isn’t a future out there, not any more. Melinda will never have time to grow to understand what it is she will not have.
But today she’s got out. She’s gone a bit of a way away, and she’s found something. Melinda has found a picture book, a picture book that she knows comes from before the War. Daddy knows it too. He is the one who threw it out, buried it. It contains pictures he cannot bear to see any more. He tries to minimise the significance of what Melinda sees, but he cannot be anything but honest to her.
As the verses climb on top of one another she sees more and she wants to know more about what she sees, like children must always know. The picture book enthrals her. She wants him to come and see it, look at it with her, explain it. Why, there are four or five little Melinda-girls in this book. And her father, who will never look at those pictures again, admits to her that there were lots of little girls like her, before they had the War.
And then there’s the one that is truly unbearable, look, there’s someone in a pretty dress, and she’s ‘all grown-up like you’. Broken, in vain he pleads with her to come away, come in and close the door, seal them off from everything outside, for that woman was your mommy, you had before the War. It’s all coming back, everything he’s tried to hide from her, everything he’s tried to hide from, himself, all those thoughts and feelings and emotions that the world has no room for because the world now is Daddy and Melinda and the impossibility of giving her more than a shadow of what she should have had.
But his little Melinda-girl is asking the one question he can’t answer. Her eyes have been opened too wide. Can he explain it to her, explain it if he can, why can’t it be the way it was, before the War began?
Come away, Melinda, come in and close the door. The answer lies in yesterday, which is to say nowhere, because there isn’t a yesterday any longer, it’s all burned up and gone, before they had the War.
I listened and it took me by the heart, the unutterable loss, the feeling of failure, the man who could protect neither the woman he loved nor the daughter they birthed, to whom only the briefest shadow could ever be given, and that will not last much longer, for the memories have escaped and they will complete the job of destruction.
It’s as if the song has suddenly taken on three dimensions for me, where until now it has only had two. I lived the larger part of my life in the shadow of that War, and though it’s threat may have receded, the life we have may still be taken away from us. Perhaps not so violently, so abruptly as Melinda and her Daddy, but just as surely and just as permanently.
Come in, and close the door.

All the Fells: Lingmoor Fell

Lingmoor Fell – The Southern Fells 1,530′ (173)

Date: 15 August 1993

From: Little Langdale

Some fells, through time and circumstance, place and position, turn out to be less than important. Lingmoor Fell occupies the southern side of Great Langdale, dividing it from its lesser and more secluded sister valley, Little Langdale. It’s more or less the only fell on that side of Langdale and, whilst it’s not without its merits, anything facing the Langdale Pikes is on a hiding to nothing. Nor does it aid Lingmoor Fell’s case that, as well as being the least visually appealing fell surrounding the head of Great Langdale, it is well-separated from its nearest neighbour, Pike O’Blisco, by the deep gap holding Blea Tarn, with a more prominent subsidiary point in Side Pike in between. As a family, we once climbed the latter, from the Blea Tarn road, following the ridge and carefully negotiating our way to its small top: big enough for four of us but not many more. I remember the sense of exposure all round, and a long, lazy stay under an August sun, with no intention of going any further. To ascend Lingmoor Fell itself, I had to make a separate expedition of my own, twenty years later, there and back from home on a Sunday. And a Sunday that was a special day to me, the Anniversary of my Dad’s death, meaning a visit to the Crematorium before I even set off. Lingmoor Fell was ideal for such things: long motorway journeys there and back, music from the cassette player blasting, and a single fell to collect and be done. If I were going to do this, I decided to do it from Little Langdale, partly from the rarety – novelty, almost – of a walk from a valley I normally ignored, but also because it would be a more compact walk, to gain the ridge from Little Langdale by a path across the ridge, then to follow a bit of a switchback trail to a summit biased to this end of the fell. It was a day of low clouds above Langdale, mostly not low enough to bother Lingmoor Fell, but a couple of patches on my course. The views were restricted and the chance of an alternate route of return non-existent, but though the walking wasn’t all that exciting, I recall the fell as being an excellent option for a half day when time is not an issue and higher fells all about smile down unpatronisingly.

Sunday Watch: I Dream of Jeannie: s01 e07-09 – Anybody Here Seen Jeannie?/The Americanisation of Jeannie/The Moving Finger


Perhaps it was just the particular combination of episodes but I was less than entertained by this latest tryptich of I Dream of Jeannie. What was worse was that it was the basic premise of the series, not the individual stories, that left me feeling disturbed.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Barbara Eden plays Jeannie, 2,000 year old Genie, devoted to her ‘Master’, Captain Tony Nelson, serious and dedicated astronaut, played by Larry Hagman, a long time before Dallas. It’s a similar principle as Bewitched, psychosexually healthier in that, unlike Darrin Stephens, Tony doesn’t spend all his time ordering Jeannie not to do any magic, but in these episodes especially, it’s humour comes from a more juvenile sense of mischief and disruption. Jeannie’s heart is in the right place, but her head is still operating twenty centuries back, and where the world of 1965 differs, it is in the wrong.

This came over most strongly in ‘Anybody Here Seen Jeannie?’ Tony will shortly be leading a three man mission into space, where he will become the first American to walk in space. We’re still four years away from the actual Moon Landing, so this is a serious moment. Perhaps that’s why I reacted so badly against the story? Because the moment Jeannie hears her Master is to go extra-vehicular, she determines to stop him because of the danger.

It’s perfectly in character. Jeannie loves Tony, and is desperate to protect him, notwithstanding that this is his life’s ambition and work and that he is adamant he’s doing it. So what she does is, when the sceptical Dr Bellows calls Tony in for another set of tests, Jeannie attends to manipulate tests and results in a crazy manner.

What got me was her girlish glee, and constant giggling, at every effect she produces. I couldn’t find it funny, it was little-kid japes in a context where they were not only uncalled-for but also dangerous, and simultaneously nonsensical and ineffectual. And counterproductive.

In order to get Tony out of the hole she’d dug for him, Jeannie had to play a similar series of pranks on Bellows, with the same childishness, glee and laclk of understanding. It was a mess on any level, insufficiently absurd enough to create its own logic whilst being too stupid to function in any realistic setting.

And the episode ended in similar form, with the astronauts launched, in the capsule, and Tony floating in spsce. Only to be confronted with Jeannie doing the same, in her genie outfit, with the absurdly long pink scarf wrapped round her concealing the evidence of Barbara Eden beng pregnant not every successfully. it was only to be expected, which was a good reason not to have done it, but it failed to have the comedic effect, being too far removed from the seriousness of the occasion. Or is that me, the child of the Sixties, the worshipper of Dan Dare, applying my own attitude to the Space Programme too seriously?

We were on a surer tack with ‘The Americanisation of Jeannie’, episode 8, except that much of its humour was again based in Jeannie’s lack of understanding of the modern world, in a manner that was faintly demeaning. That aspect was exacerbated by time. Jeannie reads a magazine article about being a modern American woman, independent, attractive, respected and desired, and ries to become one. We’re still pre-Feminism, so whilst Tony is generally supportive – imagine how useful it would be to him if Jeannie were to behave like a modern woman, whilst being utterly destructive to the series – but he still maintains a chauvinit set of assumptions, especially when Jeannie doesn’t do the housework or the cooking!

Again, it’s interesting to consider the set-up. Here is a healthy American male, physically fit and attractive, who is sharing his home with a woman who looks like Barbara Eden who spends 90% of her time wandering around the equivalent of half-dressed, who has made it very plain in a thousand ways, not many of them all that subtle, that she wants her Master to pull down her harem pants every night and he wants to treat her as a housekeeper. You can’t keep reminding yourself that this is a 1965 primetime sitcom forever without wondering just who’s kidding who?

The episode functions as an excuse to get Barbara Eden into various different modern day clothes, not to mention hairstyles – all of them doing her no justice whatsoever and I don’t just mean the curlers – but essentially the writers don’t have the wit to put her into a contemporary setting without humiliating her and presenting the whole thing as a defeat for Jeannie: you will never see that happening to Elizabeth Montgomery.

The last of these three episodes, ‘The Moving Finger’, was much more successful. Yes, it maintained the fish-out-of-water scenarion for Jeannie, emphasising her ignorance of the modern world and her jealous possessiveness about Tony Nelson, but this time Jeannie was allowed both dignity and empathy, with her defeat coming not from her ignorance of where she was, but rather an innate and inescapable aspect of her being that she could not control.

Basically, this was a change of setting episode, dispensing with the supporting cast. Tony’s detailed for a 10 day mission to Hollywood to act as technical advisor on an astronaut film (whose basic story is a very close riff on Fantastic Voyage). He’s trying to get away without Jeannie, who decides to accompany him whether he will or no, to protect him from the inevitable dangers that will assail him: principally film star Rita Mitchell (Nancy Kovack), who’s had six husbands and is looking for no. 7…

In Hollywood, Jeannie manifests as Tony’s secretary, Jeannie Jeannie. Being a beautiful woman, and one whom more males than Tony are prepared to recognise, and they wouldn’t be anything like so reticent about her harem pants, Jeannie attracts attention. But Tony’s still enjoying Rita’s attentions so, in order to get him away, Jeannie decides to become a film star too. Which she does, however improbably, by reciting The Rubayait of Omar Khayyam, spellbindingly, and I for one could have done with hearing a lot more of that than we did, because Barbara Eden was terrific.

It gets her a screentest, the results of which are to be shown to the Director at lunch, when Tony is on his date with Rita. But there’s a cruel moment coming: the test is a disaster. Jeannie is invisible to film. The Director blusters, the star apologises, and Jeannie sits there, silent. And Tony, who’s been watching from the back of the box, comes forward to commiserate with his friend, offering nothing but sympsthy and kindness and no snark about her dreams whatsoever. It’s a loving gesture much needed, and worth the wait, and it redeemed the morning quite happily.

So, there we have it. Next time I visit this boxset, I shall be looking to see if any lessons have been learned from that episode. Which, incidentally, was the first to abandon the overlong and didactic introduction that repeated the pilot at unnecessary length, and substitute the more familiar, and shorter, animated credits, though I’m still waiting for the classic theme music to appear.

All the Fells: Lingmell

Lingmell – The Southern Fells 2,649′ (2)

Date: 21 May 1969/6 August 1994

From: Wasdale Head/The Corridor Route

Lingmell is an important place to me. My father and his elder brother led us onto the fells and, even if it were only that my father had his family, and Uncle Arthur was a lifelong bachelor, I have always seen him as the greater driving force in our walking. Before the cancer that was to kill him struck, we only climbed three fells. Middle Fell was the first, Haystacks the last, but Lingmell was the highest. It was where he came closest to the highest of them all, Scafell Pike. By rights, he should have had a fair crack at the walking life I had, a fair crack at the days when he and I would have gone off to take advantage of clear skies and bright air. There was no sense at all of this when we climbed Lingmell. Not that I was in the habit of being consulted or anything like that, but I don’t recall any suggestion, when we parked at Wasdale Head and set off towards the familiar path to Sty Head, of any fell-climbing at all. As far as I remember, we were going to explore the walk to the Valley Approach, revealed in Wainwright’s Southern Fells, the Great End chapter. It was one of those occasional weeks when we were on our own, no Uncle Arthur. We got to the bottom of Piers Ghyll, that fearsome dogleg ravine that, from the north, appears like a vicious razor slash across Lingmell’s face. Dad proposed exploring up that flank instead, and Mam agreed. Actually, we were a five strong party, because an Alsatian dog had attached itself to us by the Wasdale Head Hotel and stayed with us a very long way. So we started uphill to see what it was like, and Dad kept suggesting we went on a bit further, until this little spur-of-the-moment ascent turned into a committed climb to reach the top without any formal agreement. Looking back, I love the whole thing, but at the time I was nervous about proceeding in case we ran into something sterner than our abilities could handle: I mean, my little sister was not yet seven and Mam was very protective of her. But the steep, narrow section at the elbow of the Ghyll wasn’t too narrow or steep for us to get past unscathed. The worst part came when Dad wanted to take a photo of us. There wasn’t enough room for him to get the perspective he wanted as a camera buff so, in order to create this, he stepped over the edge, standing on a ledge out of sight. If I could once again find that photo I would examine the fixed smile on my face for how convincing it was, because I was terrified through every second that his footing might not be secure, that whatever he was stood on might break, and him suddenly disappear out of sight. It never happened, thank the God I still believed in at that tender age, but I wasn’t satisfied until he’d climbed back onto the same level ground we were sat on, and we moved on. Not until we reached the upper stage, when the rocks spread away to either side, and the slope was nothing but grass and everything was totally safe, did I relax, and my sister and I virtually ran uphill until we found level ground at the end of the Corridor Route. Of course there was no question of returning by that route, so it was over Lingmell Col and down that side, but whilst it was there, we’d climb Lingmell. In passing, or was that Dad’s intention all along? It was the most serious of our family walks: my sister especially, but also me restricted the limits of what we could do, so climbing alongside Piers Ghyll was Dad’s biggest adventure out walking, and knowing all the things he could have done, when my sister and I were older, I am so glad he got that in at least. As for Lingmell’s summit, this was long after the spire-like cairn Wainwright had illustrated was first demolished by clowns and fuckwits, but it had been rebuilt. Not quite as expert, broader in the beam, especially at mid-height, but done with honour to the original. When I came back, a quarter of a century later, I don’t know how many columns had been demolished and rebuilt, but the struggle had been abandoned: a massive pyramid stood there, loose and unconstructed, impressive in its own way but no substitute. The day was meant to climb Scafell Pike via Sty Head and the Corridor Route, returning by Great End – the only new summit – Esk Hause and Grains Gill, but for both me and Dad, I couldn’t come to Lingmell Col and not return to Dad’s highest point. Lingmell is an important, and a special place for me.

All the Fells: Ling Fell

Ling Fell – The North Western Fells 1,224′ (69)

Date: 1 May 1988

From: Wythop

What can you say about a fell that Wainwright describes as being the shape of an upturned Xmas Pudding? How about: you have to climb it one day? The description is not all that appropriate any more, not through any improvement in Long Fell’s appearance or appeal, but rather because Twenty-First Century Xmas Puddings are not made that fully-rounded shape any more. Anyway, I hate Xmas Puddings: give me jam sponge, with custard, any time. But Ling Fell had to be climbed at some point, and it and its fellow ‘Sentinel of Wythop’, Sale Fell, were perfectly positioned and the perfect height for a Sunday afternoon ‘training walk’, a get-the-legs-in-gear stroll in time for more taxing and exciting expeditions throughout the week. The biggest difficulty looked as it it was going to be the complete absence of anything resembling a ‘ridge’ route between the fells, but in practice, as far as Ling Fell was concerned, it was the total absence of any parking in the village. I had to carry on, up the hill, in the eventual direction of Cockermouth before striking the upper farm road towards the Wythop Valley’s unique head, with off road parking at hand, not much more than a couple of car lengths along. I changed into my boots, followed the farm road onwards and gained access to the fellside, doubling back on an easy path that spirals around the fell until disappearing, presumably out of sheer apathy. From there, there was really no point in doing anything but go straight up until I reached the top. The slope wasn’t even worth zig-zagging across to make it easier and, apart from the curiosity of the limited views inwards, including the dreary Wythop Moss, there was nothing except counting off the summit to provide a reason for doing this at all. If it were to be done, then best it be done fast: I just headed straight downhill until I struck the path, regained the road and began working out how best to get over the valley to tackle Sale Fell next.

Valerian et Laureline: 8 – Ambassador of the Shadows


In which we finally come to the beginning, or at least my beginning, for it was ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’ that was my introduction to Valerian and Laureline, and the most enjoyable of the four volumes then translated by Fantagraphics.
It’s also one of the prominent contributories to the 2017 Luc Besson film, as we’ll see.
City of a Thousand Planets takes two of its central ideas from the beginning and the end of this story, these being the impossibly sprawling structure that accommodates more alien lifeforms than you could possibly imagine (you, but not Christin and Mezieres), and the hidden, internal elysian world of the Shadows.
The creators devote almost six pages of build up to the creation of Point Central, an enormous, unstructured, impossible to grasp creation that began as a tiny meeting place between lifeforms and which expanded to incorporate a piece and a peace for everyone. Christin and de Mezieres start in philosophical form, mythologising the urge of every lifeform there ever is to look outward, to go outward, where there is more, drawing the strands together to introduce Point Central and some of its disparate lifeforms. Does some of this look in any way familiar? Hold that thought.
In the meantime, in the final panel of page 6, there’s the white silhouette of a very familiar spatiotemporal ship. Enter Valerian and Laureline, a more than usual study in contrasting attitudes. They’re escorting an Ambassador from Galaxity, heading for Point Central, where our native planet is to head up the Council – the only body even approximating to Order and Government in this incredible mishmash – for the first time.
The Ambassador is basically a jerk, a far-up-himself dictatorial type who’s got Val and Laureline as bodyguards whilst he’s here. He’s planning to lay down the Law, show these alien dimwits what’s what, and even before we learn that he’s got 10,000 Terran spaceships trailing him to take over the place, he’s going on about how Earth’s superiority has to be recognised, Point Central governed and how many of the aliens there are already unconsciously crying out for firm governance.
It’s outright bullshit, and very contemporary bullshit too in how it sounds like Vladimir Putin’s claims about how Ukraine wanted him to invade.
You can just picture our pair of Agent’s reactions. Laureline has already started acting to orders before she hears anything of this, and is plainly disgusted, whilst Val, the straight shooter, the inflexible lummox conscious of his duty, isn’t exactly happy but is determined to accommodate his duty. Even more than having to be a bodyguard to such an out-and-out arsehole, our favourite redhead is equally disgusted at being made carrier for their financial resources, the Grumpy Bluxte Transmuter, looking like a diamond-shelled armadillo, which can provide any currency you want. Admirably, we very quickly learn that it shits it out. No further comment.
This far, we’re still building up, but we’re now very near to the bit where the story really kicks-off. The Ambassador descends to the Terran section, his bodyguards five paces behind, making a grand and dignified entrance befitting his position. Only to get no more than two words into his speech before the wall is blown in, everyone is hit by paralysing cocoons, the Ambassador is kidnapped and Val goes after him, but not before ensuring Laureline has her helmet on and is protected, an instinct to save his partner for which he will receive absolutely no thanks whatsoever.
And this is where the story really begins. Because ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’ is really a Laureline solo. Determined to save Val, deliberately and cross-temperedly binding herself to her own orders to take no personal initiatives and with only the Grumpy and a weak-kneed bureaucrat whose forte is protocol to assist her, our little redhead sets out to go wherever in, on or around Point Central she has to go in search of her partner, oh, and the Ambassador as well. If she has to.
Which is the excuse Christin and Mezieres want to conduct a picaresque tale, which can last as long or as short as they wish, throwing in alien cultures one after another, taking Laureline on a wandering trip as she keeps pursuing Val’s trail. There are plenty of scenes in here that Besson mined for his film, and one scene in particular, set in a cantina, that someone not a million miles from the planet Tatooine mined without giving credit where it was due.
If I were minded to be critical, then I would put an emphasis on the absence of any story-progression. It’s just a long sequence of one-thing-leading-to-another, with little or no actual development of an on-going story-line.
Such approaches have to be handled very carefully, precisely because they’re not a story but a succession of scenes, being presented for their own sake, without even the actual development between levels of a video game. But what makes this work so well in ‘Ambassador’ is the sheer quality of the creators’ imagination. Every section is an amazement in itself, sustaining the interest.
And Laureline herself, whether acting alone or displaying her contempt for the ineffectual, scared and hopeless ‘Colonel Protocol’ (actually, Diol) as he trails in her wake, provides the thread to bind all these scenes together, growing increasingly frustrated at not catching up with her partner.
Along the way we meet those walking vulturine information-traders, the Shingouz, for the first but not last time. Laureline finds herself translated into a comfortable, clingy short shift for a visit to a paradisial Greek island full of handsome, well-muscled young men, queuing up to snog her passionately. And eventually she finds her way to where Val and the Ambassador have been taken, Point Central’s first unit, constructed by its original race.
Who have taken the Ambassador because they are very well aware of his plan, and the spaceship fleet. They live in what could only be defined as another dimension, removed from the reality of Point Central. They have removed themselves from the drive to power, they do not want to run Point Central. But they will not allow anyone else to do so.
It makes a great impression on the Ambassador, though not as deep as it ought to. He goes from there to the Council Chamber, calling himself the Ambassador of the Shadows, intent on bringing the message he’s had delivered within that ideal place, but still set on enforcing it with Earth’s fleet, under Earth’s name and pre-eminence. They never learn, do they? All it gets him is expulsion, not just him and his fleet, but everyone from Earth, banned from Point Central for a hundred years.
But what, we may ask, of Laureline and Val? It’s the long-awaited reunion and it goes as you might expect. She’s delighted and relieved and runs into his arms, kissing him. He’s delighted, and condescends to her how she needn’t have worried, her Valerian comes out on top. Then he starts wondering why she turns and stalks away. On second thoughts, maybe Dane DeHaan was right for Val in the film.
Having spent all her time obeying orders in her own unique fashion, Laureline finally announces she’s going to use her own initiative. This means using the suddenly-redundant spacefleet to transport everyone and everything off Point Central, for the long retreat to Galaxity, with the Ambassador of the Shadows still unable to understand why he, in all his dignity as a Terran, has been treated like this. Some people never learn, and Christin and Mezieres knew exactly who these were.
The energy and invention of this story, not to mention Laureline in the leading role, made this my favourite story forty years ago, and my favourite story of reading the entire saga. That doesn’t make this the last great story, however, not by a long way.

All the Fells: Latrigg

Latrigg – The Northern Fells 1,203′ (47)

Date: 9 September 1986/31 October 1989/14 June 1992/24 August 2003

From: The Latrigg Road End

Latrigg is easy. It’s so easy that the view from its grave little summit can make you feel guilty that you haven’t had to try harder, sweat some more, or even at all, to get here and be rewarded by it. Of course, you can, if you choose, make it a much longer and harder expedition by starting the ascent from Keswick itself, but I’ve never been inclined to make it that hard, though a former friend to whom I’d described the superb view, went up once with her then-husband and two children, and showed me some videotape of their heading uphill amongst trees, doing just that. Actually, I have a bit of an excuse for not ascending the fell that way for all but the first of my four visits. The first was just a knock-off, a quiet day, not wanting anything too strenuous, so I navigated my way up by the Underskiddaw road, and then straight up the back of Latrigg, doing as I had done on Binsey, to save the spectacular view until the very last minute. This was a scene of great embarrassment: I had brought my Dad’s binoculars with me, for once intent on using them to examine the vista in more detail, except that to bring them to my eyes, to home in on some distant sector of the view, brought on instant and unmanageable vertigo. I tried again, this time stood behind the crest: same result. I even tried lying full-length on my stomach, my body uphill, my elbows on the crest and it made no difference. The moment I took away the foreground, I felt as if I was falling – not just falling but dream-falling, which is worse – through the binoculars, into that far below scene. It was ghastly, and made more ghastly by happening on Latrigg, which is almost as low as you can get. The second was during an impromptu, late-October holiday, with the skies dark and drained, too cold and late for higher fells, and I nipped up and down Latrigg again, because I could do so easily, before driving off to Matterdale and doing both Mell Fells, in lieu of anything better. It was a happier and more pleasant occasion on my next visit. I had no thought of Latrigg, I was there to climb Skiddaw by the Tourist Route, and return over Little Man and Lonscale Fell, but it was not much more than four o’clock when I got back to the car, and I wasn’t exhausted by any means and the sun would go on for a long time yet. I’d happened to park at the bottom of the Road End, from where I could see a gate, and a broad, well-made path descending to curve around the flank of Latrigg. Intrigued, notwithstanding the fact I still had to drive back to Manchester that evening, I followed it, round and out of sight, before doubling back on a zig-zag grassy ride, to a path across the flank, rising eventually to a park bench, beautifully positioned to overlook Derwent Water. Unfortunately, it was occupied, so I turned left to follow the escarpment up onto Latrigg’s top, before taking the straight line descent back to the Road End. That one, late-in-the-day visit convinced me that the direct ascent is only good as a speedy descent. It has no walking appeal, being no more than an uphill trudge, and you feel very shut in, between Latrigg before and Skiddaw behind, whereas the flank route is delightful underfoot and very easy. Years later, married with stepchildren, I brought my wife and her two sons by that way, easy, trainer-walking stuff. They loved every minute of it, and so did I, especially as the park bench was free, so we got to sit down, arm around shoulders, and drink in the delights of a perfect stroll.

Due South: s02 e03 – The Witness

Due South

We’re still teasing the threads of continuity as we move forward into season 2, but this week’s RCMP Constable Benton Fraser’s status at the Chicago Canadian Consulate moves into the backgriund to stay just that: a continuity of no relevance to this week’s story. Which sees both Bennie and Ray Vecchio sent to prison, only one of them deliberately.

To deal with continuity first, Fraser’s new commanding officer, Inspector Thatcher (who will eventually become Meg as opposed to Margaret) still wants him out. Firing him comes with bureaucratic complications, paperwork, much senior approvals so it will be so much easier, not to mention quicker, if he just requests a transfer: her (male) secretary hands Fraser the form as he leaves. Fraser’s father (whose ghost, for all newbies, is a regular revenant, approves: he’d like a change of scene). By the end, Fraser is, in his stilted fashion, explainging that he would prefer to stay. The sceptical Inspector, whose smile is very pleasant but should not necessarily be relied upon, simply says ‘Dismissed’, but it has the feel of acceptance to it, though that might just be my being beguiled, despite my warning, by the smile on Camilla Scott’s face.

Of more import is the trail, for armed robbery and first degree murder, of Robert Kruger (Aiden Devine), lead Detective giving very professional and calm testimony in Court being Vecchio, R. It’s all open and shut until the lead witness, Mrs Rosanna Torres (Pauline Abarca) not only recants the tesimony she gave voluntarily but accuses Ray of coercing her into giving it in the first place. Cue consternation.

Kruger’s Counsel, who could give the most saintly of lawyers (there are some) a bad name, demands dismissal, threatens the judge with misconduct and demands charges against Vecchio. DA Louise St. Laurent (Lee Purcell, who will recur a clearly insufficient number of times for a woman with such gloriously red hair as her) clearly doesn’t regard Vecchio as a whited sepulchre. It’s clear to all and sundry, except the three lawyers, that Mrs Torres’ recantation is down to her being threatened. In due order, the following things happen: Ray, with his customary calm and patience, gets himself committed to prison for contempt, Fraser, picking up the threads unofficially, discovers that Mrs Torres’ husband Eddie is actually in prison – alongside Kruger – and is thus the unseen but obvious lever, and lastly, in order to protect both Eddie and his buddy, gets himself arrested and committed to prison for shoplifting (the scene where Fraser, in front of Detectives Huey and Gardino, literally cannot force himself to steal a box of Milk Duds is absolutely hilarious).

The rest of the episode, more or less, is set inside. Time is telescoped: Fraser goes from arrest to conviction to arrival, a perfectly naive if slightly OTT self-introduction to his fellow inmates (Thank you, kindly) and appointment as book-monitor with the privilege of going anywhere in the prison faster than Frodo goes from Gandalf’s return to setting off for Bree in the film of The Fellowship of the Ring. Kruger has, of course, made him, just as he’s made Vecchio. From there to the climax, a near riot aimed solely at the two ‘pigs’ is just a matter of time, but the unexpected conclusion, revealing an improbable philosophical bent from the prison’s resident man-in-the-shape-of-a-grunting-mountain, undercuts the tension with another moment of delighted laughter.

After that, it’s just a brief coda, with Vecchio apologising for his contempt with overwhelming humility at having been right all along, Ms St. Laurent warning him that things don’t end here (oh I do so hope not!), the aforementioned ‘Dismissed’ and just enough space to mention that Lt Walsh gets to deliver a heartfelt soliloquy about halfway through that is spectacularly out of left-field until we get a brief explicatory but memorable glimpse of Sherry Miller, playing his boss, Commander Sherry O’Neill who, like Lee Purcell, will recur far too few times.

It’s going to be interesting to see what threads will still be playing out next week.

The Infinite Jukebox: Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’

In my enforced detachment from pop music of nearly all kinds, my only contact with the charts was the weekly Top 10 printed in small type in the Daily Express, taken by my grandparents in Droylsden and read en masse by me once a week, mostly for the strips. I didn’t go searching for it, and didn’t miss it on weeks where it was either left out or I failed to spot it.
One week, in early 1969, I happened to notice one particular entry, either at or somewhere very close to Number 1. It was called ‘Albatross’, and was by some band called Fleetwood Mac. The title intrigued me. I actually wanted to hear it, and find out what a song called ‘Albatross’ could be about.
However, without it being requested on Ed Stewart’s Junior Choice one weekend, I didn’t know how to do that. Maybe it was requested: I do know that at some point I heard it, it was pre-announced, and I listened with eager ears for the words.
They seemed to be a long time in coming, which was because I was listening not to a song but an instrumental, though I didn’t seem able to grasp the concept of that, even though I was reasonably familiar with things like ‘Stranger on the Shore’ and ‘Telstar’.
The question became moot because I didn’t hear it played again, the band never turned up to play it on Crackerjack (Crackerjack!), and I forgot about it.
Just a little over four years later, ‘Albatross’ was re-released. Radio 1 took it up, it re-entered the Top Thirty. If I hadn’t already been familiar with the track by then, I soon got to grips with it. It was cool, it was smooth, it was relaxing. It was a walking blues, though I couldn’t have defined it as such then. I loved hearing it. It climbed the charts in the slow, regular fashion of Seventies hits. It neared Number 1 again. I was wishing it on but, in the end, it didn’t quite get there, it peaked at Number 2, behind 10cc’s ‘Rubber Bullets’ (so at least not a travesty).
Apart from being a walking blues, a reference I take to be to its slow, smooth, unhurried pace, what is ‘Albatross’? Tony Blackburn hated it, thought it boring, which was definitely a plus point in 1969, and again in 1973. Given his preference in music, about which he is greatly knowledgeable, it’s no surprise that Blackburn should not take to this track. I disagree profoundly, though I don’t hold it against him.
Even for 1969, ‘Albatross’ was an unusual number 1, an instrumental but also a blues instrumental, played by three guitarists, each offering different slow melodies as the track weaves its way unhurriedly from beginning to end.
Peter Green leads the way, rolling out slow, deep notes as the rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood providing a slow, even, basic pulse, creating the effect of ocean waves, ceaseless and unheeding of all that is life, over which Green’s imagined Albatross flies, riding air currents on great, wide wings, silent and unconcerned. Jeremy Bentham and Danny Kirwan add airier grace notes to complement Green’s sweet tones, stilling the world until all that exists is this calm sound, a bird in flight. It’s the sound of soaring, of being so far above and beyond, existing in lines of melody of differing weights, and a rhythm that keeps it from evaporating into mere sound.
For those not in tune, yes, it could be called boring. For those who, like myself, respond to the peace inherent in this sound, ‘Albatross’ could have been extended to an hour or more, drifting in contentment, alone with what passes for thoughts.
Fleetwood Mac went on to be massively successful and a long way from their roots in the blues. For a time I was one of the acolytes of the early Buckingham-Nicks era, a proud possessor of Rumours. But time and maturity directed me to the earthier, bluesier sounds with which they began, to that extraordinary run of singles between 1968 and 1971, of which ‘Albatross’ was the unexpected, and pure highlight. ‘Man of the World’, ‘Oh Well’, ‘The Green Manalishi’, even the unsuccessful post-Green track, ‘Dragonfly’ followed in its serene wake, but nothing ever captured that same sense of remoteness and unconcern.
Nor can any words, except Albatross.