All the Fells: Silver How


Silver How – The Central Fells 1,292′ (24)

Date: 30 April 1985/18 June 1995

From: Grasmere/Blea Rigg

Silver How was part of an unusual double, when I climbed the same two fells in widely separated expeditions but in different directions. Silver How was definitely the destination. This was the holiday where I’d lost two Keswick-based days to wet weather, and it didn’t look any better when I checked out to try my luck in Ambleside. But, crossing Dunmail Raise, I was surprised to find a great hole in the clouds roughly the size of the Vale of Grasmere, so I put my foot down, checked in and raced back. It was still there. I was still limited as to the height I could reach, but Silver How was an elegant and attractive sight across the Lake so I focussed on that. This meant a start towards the Red Bank road, though only until past the lakehead, then onto a wooded path that crossed the ridge onto Great Langdale. It was easy walking, gradually growing steeper, which was good because this was my first walk since the previous year. So I was feeling pretty loose by the time it came to turn off, along the prominent gulley, and come round to the little round top from behind. Of course, having come that far so simply, I could extend myself to follow the sprawling ridge towards the Langdale Pikes and Blea Rigg. A long time later, I did the walk in the opposite direction, from Easedale to Blea Rigg and then a long, lonely walk, following the path down to Silver How again, a delightful terminus with better views in better conditions. But rather than completely reverse the original walk, I came back down and descended towards Wray Gill, and had myself a fun and sporting scramble down the gill, moving agilely down the enclosed channel, before emerging in the centre of Grasmere Village, having had a wonderful time. I should have done a few more scrambles than I did, thanks to my issues with self-confidence: they were so much fun.

Due South: s02 e11 – Starman


Due South

For the first time on Due South I’ve watched an episode that completely failed. Neither funny nor clever, nor serious nor convincing, the very premise upon which it was based was a washout from start to finish, or rather non-finish because the ‘story’, by its very nature, could not be given a concrete ending.

The premise was simple: let’s bring back compulsive liar Ian MacDonald, once again played by Rino Romano, to annoy Ray Vecchio again and cause problems from him and Benton Fraser. Judging by the episode as a whole, that was the only point, as if MacDonald alone was enough for the episode. Certainly what they came up with for him to do had had very little consideration.

The episode began with a misleading open. Ian’s in bed in a Motel room, fingering an impressive engagement ring and talking to Audrey McKenna, who’s in the shower and who emerges with wet hair and the traditional man’s shirt that only just covers her private area which, as she is Amanda Tapping, later to be a prominent element of the Stargate franchise in all its parts, is no hardship. Ian’s proposing. Audrey looks shocked, as well she might do, having only met Ian in a bar late last night and hooked up with him for healthy life-enhancing sex. But before she can resist his slipping the ring on her finger, the door is kicked in, a bright light envelops the room, making things all Close Encounters, and the long-legged Audrey is dragged away, protesting she needs more time. How intriguing. More time for what? Is she a spy? A double agent? Getting a pair of jeans on? Is Ian under surveillance? What sinister thing are we watching?

In fact, thirty five minutes later, we learn that what we are watching is a prominent technician on an Army base being dragged back to her duties in a ridiculously OTT fashion, without rational justification, and that the ‘more time’ she needed was no more than one or other of handing the ring back or just shagging him again.

But this was what the episode was about, setting up a fake drama and then scrabbling to fill in time. Ian heads straight to Chicago to seek the assistance of Bennie and Ray to solve the question of his fiancee being abducted by aliens, presumably because Bennie is the only person under the sun gullible enough to listen to him. Ray won’t have anything to do with him – Ian’s previous appearance, in season 1’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Little’ was the episode in which Ray’s beloved Buick got turned into a fireball – but gets sucked deeper and deeper into a quagmire, the way he so often does. What the episode fails to persuade us at any time, unlike the usual formula, is that Bennie is right to pursue the matter.

The motel is in the Illinois town of Roswell, yes, the one with that secret base. There’s even an easter egg where we see Hangar 57. Ian has a travel firm, running UFO tours. Like every word that comes out of his mouth it’s an egregious lie, and Ian lies relentlessly, spinning out fantasies and delusions of grandeur way beyond the point of rationality, and when we see his passengers are all OAPs being conned, it does not improve his character. He’s meant to be funny but instead he’s everything Ray thinks of him, which does not work in favour of the story.

Anyway, to get to the point, Audrey works at the base where, as we near the end, we see she has a senior position in a lab that, it is strongly implied, is working on alien contact, but of course that can’t be more than implied and then dropped as if it is red-hot. To try to get to the bottom of this, Ian invades the base in his silly rocket-topped bus not once but twice, supported by Fraser who, understanding that for once Ian is being extremely serious about loving Audrey. Once is plausible, twice is ludicrous.

Strictly speaking, the number of crimes the trio have committed would result in at least thirty years imprisonment, providing the military don’t charge them with sedition, which involves large amounts of electricity. Improbably, given how utterly stupid Bennie and Ray have been to get themselves into this situation, the Canadian Government and the Chicago PD plead for leniency (admittedly on the grounds of Diminished Mental Capacity) and they’re let off. This is a proper Deep Space Nine moment where something has happened that is so monumentally game-changing that the series has to be transformed out of all recognition as an inevitable consequence of it – realistically, the show is dead, because no-one will allow Fraser or Vecchio to carry on after a boner of this size – but will be completely ignored next week.

There are two endings. Audrey comes to talk to Ian. She wants to return the ring but he wants her to keep it. She shyly admits he was nothing more to her than a cute shag and they make a date that night for another fuck, notwithstanding that her boss, the Colonel, has told Ian that if he so much as sees him within five miles of the base, he will shoot him between the eyes with the biggest ordnance the military are developing: ahh, romance.

The other was more problematic. The pensioners are played as half-dotty. Amongst them is a husband and wife. She keeps referring to their son, who is a pilot, who she has not seen in years and misses. It will come out that he was killed in action, though she believes he has gone to the stars. The show unwisely includes a scene where lights are used to imply that a UFO has landed and contacted the pensioners, and as ‘it’ rises to leave, the old lady whispers ‘Goodbye, son’. It’s not a bad scene in itself but it is out of place in context. It would have been a genuinely touching moment in a much better episode, in which that kind of hedging of bets would have been a grace note but here, no.

So we have had an absolute flop of an episode. It’s very disappointing, especially after last week. Let’s see what comes next before making too much of a judgement.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’


Motown’s first breakthrough in Britain was with Mary Wells and ‘My Guy’, which I remember hearing, over and over, on the Light Programme on BBC Radio, whilst Mam did the housekeeping and I played with battalions of toy plastic soldiers, shooting them down mercilessly via a cannon that fired spent matches, the only good thing that came from two parents who smoked and who both died of cancer. I heard it enough times to be as familiar with it as I was any little kid’s song that was more of my metier then.
But ‘My Guy’ was one thing, smooth and pure, delicate and dedicated, but when I got to know it later I realised that it couldn’t hold a candle to Smokey Robinson’s answer to himself, ‘My Girl’.
The debate will last forever, for this is a quarrel in which neither side can be wrong, as to whether the best version of ‘My Girl’ was sung by The Temptations or by Otis Redding. You need only look to the head of this piece to see which way my vote swings, but that’s a choice made by fortune and familiarity. Had I heard Otis first, had I been more familiar with Stax soul instead of Tamla Motown, the choice would almost certainly gone the other way.
But Motown is Motown, and especially so in the Sixties, when it was like every damned thing they did was pure gold, and the Temps were the kings of the vocal groups, the smoothest, the sweetest, the sharpest dressed, the sharpest movers. It’s in everything they touched and in ‘My Girl’ it begins with that mounting bass-line that starts the song, that gets your hips twitching before that guitar begins piecing together the melody, those strings sweep into the sound, and they have not yet sung a note, not even a single ‘Hey, hey, hey’, in that unison that no-one else, not even across the whole of Berry Gordy’s operation, could equal.
The song was David Ruffin’s first lead vocal with the Temps, and Smokey wrote the words about his wife and fellow Miracle but he wrote it to be sung by Ruffin, because his voice had that combination of gruff and sweet that bent to the heartbreaking urgency of the words and yet could belt things out with power to supplement the aching heart. As love songs go, this has few peers and even fewer superiors.
And in the studio, Robinson had the wisdom to let the Temps themselves set and arrange the backing vocals, because there were none greater at such a thing, the ooh-oohs, the hey, hey, heys were theirs, and who could deny that this is a transport into a world that exists in love.
Which is perhaps where Otis Redding, for all his energy, for all the deep commitment and conviction of that voice, for all the deeper, purer soul of his sound, can’t compete. Redding injects more fire, more emotion into the words, but he can’t balance it with the sweetness of Ruffin, nor the interplay with the sounds of Eddie Kendrick, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin and Paul Williams. He can’t inject the pop formality that the Temptations bring to a song that can’t be contained by soul. And brilliant and heartfelt though his version is, in the end it’s that layer of formality, that underlying tone of coolness, that ability to sing these words with the head and the mind, and not just the heart, that carries the group that little bit further into the Universe’s heart.
No-one disputes that ‘My Girl’ is Smokey Robinson’s signature song. Across the whole of the Earth, among peoples who don’t understand the words in English, they come together at the first sounds of that bass introduction, and they dance, and from David Ruffin’s voice they understand all they need to understand, and they know very well what is being said here, because when love is poured into a song, its language is universal.
Creatures from beyond the orbit of Arcturus will one day hear this song for the first time, and whatever they have for hips will begin to move and whatever they have for hearts will take this in as we did all those many years ago. And they will intuit The Temptations and their smoothest moves from just the sound of James Jamerson’s bass, and Robert White’s guitar and Smokey Robinson’s finest moment will go ever outwards, uniting us all.

Walking Coast to Coast


In 1972, Alfred Wainwright, who had had little enjoyment out of walking and mapping the Pennine Way, published a book about a long distance walk he had devised himself, taking advantage of public rights of way to walk and map a route from the west coast of England to the east, crossing three National Parlks en route.

Known simply as A Coast to Coast Walk, linking St Bees Head on the Irish Sea with Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea, the route became an immediate favourite and has remained immensely popular ever since, supporting the economies of all the places en route. Which was not what Wainwright wanted, since he never asked for people to walk his routes, and indeed part of his intention in producing such a personal and unofficial routes was not encourage people to follow his example, not his footsteps, and devise their own long distance walks, using their imagination, not his.

Some people have done so, but none have been remotely as popular, nor been walked so many, as Wainwright’s route.

Which makes it particularly pleasant, if contrary to the Blessed’s every instinct, to read that in its fiftieth year the Coast to Coast Walk is to be adopted as a National Footpath, with similar status to the Pennine Way. He’d never have seen it that way, but what a fitting tribute to the man who saw what was possible so long ago.

Coast

All the Fells: Shipman Knotts


Shipman Knotts – The Far Eastern Fells 1,926′ (26)

Date: 1 May 1985/16 August 1997

From: Kentmere/Kentmere

I think I climbed Shipman Knotts as early as I did simply because I could. Getting my own car, being able to go on holiday to the Lakes on my own, and simply decide where I wanted to go without being told, without even any concern for anyone else, was incredibly liberating. I’d read and re-read, and re-re-re-read all of the Wainwrights so many times that my family just had to get used to me identifying, at a glance, photos of places I’d never even been near. So now I could go everywhere. And it was the south east that drew me, because all of the Lakes it was the bit I’d hardly ever seen. So I took myself off to Kentmere, and found the track that goes over the ridge to Longsleddale that’s basically a continuation of Garburn Pass, though it holds no official status as a Pass. I climbed up to the ridge, looked south to the flat and wild, but still uninteresting Skeggles Water, then followed the wall through dell, hollow and bluff before reaching the unassuming summit. That wasn’t the end: I went onwards to Kentmere Pike, before turning and heading back, technically reclimbing the fell as I retraced my steps. That occasion carried with it a sense of achievement, to reach a summit so isolated and afar from anywhere my relatives would even go to look, there and back perhaps, but there and back without anyone around. I came back many years later, bent on the ambitious, climbing Shipman Knotts by the same route again as just the very beginning of the Kentmere Horseshoe, which just didn’t come off. And I found very little familiar when I did, especially the summit, which seemed to be just a negligible point on the ridge, barely separate from Kentmere Pike when, a dozen years earlier, it had been so clearly a fell of its own. Weird.

Some Books: Kenneth Grahame’s ‘First Whisper of The Wind in the Willows’


Willows

This irregular series began as a conscious decision to re-read certain books I had enjoyed many years ago when borrowed from Didsbury Library in South Manchester, and to consider how well, or otherwise, they stood up to my recollection of them. Since then, it’s expanded beyond the confines of the Library.
Though I’ve clearly read it several times before, it was only on my most recent re-reading of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien that I properly paid attention to a reference, in one short extract, to his wish to obtain a copy of First Whisper of The Wind in the Willows, a book of Kenneth Grahame’s writing published several years posthumously by his widow. Tolkien describes the book as not being notes and drafts but rather new stories featuring the creatures of the Riverbank, taken from letters from the author to his son.
It’s some months since I read that beloved book for the first time in decades, but its effect on me hasn’t dissipated. The Wind in the Willows has had numerous sequels, both authorised and unauthorised, particularly since it finally fell out of copyright. There is the pleasant but lightweight Dixon Scott Fresh Wind… and the heavier but horribly misguided trio by William Horwood starting with The Willows in Winter, which I tried reading from the Library, but threw away in disgust after only one chapter, enough to see by just how far Horwood was off-beam.
But more tales of Toad, and Ratty, and Mole and Badger, from the only mind that could create them in their natural glory? It seemed irresistible and, to my amazement, a book published in 1947, that has vanished into total obscurity and never been republished was not only easily available through eBay, but at less than £5, including postage.
I have it now, and have read it. I won’t say that it is a disappointment, though Professor Tolkien has misled me badly. First Whisper contains nothing really new of the companions of the Riverbank. It is a very slim volume, only 83 pages, of which slightly more than half is taken up by a long preface by Elspeth Grahame, dealing with her husband and his character, his popularity and his talent for prose. It’s hagiography of the highest class, but it’s plain that she misses him very deeply, left as she was on her own, with not only her husband but their only son, for whom his greatest book was first told, in the nursery and by the advertised letters, having predeceased her.
Though it’s of its time in its writing style, more than a bit overwritten, and concealing more of private tragedy than it reveals, it is nevertheless fascinating. The hagiography extends, understandably to the little boy, Alistair, known as ‘Mouse’, born blind in one eye and suffering from poor health throughout his life, for whom bedside stories were concocted, later to be continued by letter when the child was sent on holiday.
Having found out more via Wikipedia, it’s evident these absences were for his health, and whilst there is passing reference to Alistair dying as an undergraduate, there is no mention that this was by suicide, though for his father’s sake officially recorded as Misadventure.
The second section of the book is a short story entitled ‘Bertie’s Escapade’. It’s a pre-Willows anthropomorphic fantasy, spinning out of a real incident in which the Grahames’ domestic pig, Bertie, managed to jump the fence of his pen. It’s very much a bedtime story, short and limited in scope but ideal for the imagination of a little boy.
Only the final section is to do with The Wind in the Willows. Mouse did not want to go on holiday since it meant an interruption to his father’s nightly stories of Toad, whose high-spirits and antics were based on Mouse’s own, so Grahame wrote these as letters, which the nurse returned to Elspeth, knowing she would preserve these where their author wouldn’t.
The story takes up with Toad’s escape from prison and conveys the narrative of his adventures until the end of the book. The familiar story is there in all respects, truncated and brief, without the breadth of expression and event we are familiar with. There is none of the lyrical rhapsody in nature that followed. It’s not unfair to describe it as thin gruel in comparison, but this is the first draft, the First Whisper of that Wind, and to anyone enthralled by that magic it is its own magic.
So no, not the book I thought I was buying, but one worth having anyway, for its insight into the creation of a work of art. A book to retain.

All the Fells: Sheffield Pike


Sheffield Pike – The Eastern Fells 2,232′ (168)

Date: 28 April 1993/10 April 1997

From: Glencoyne/Glenridding Dodd

I’d seen something of Sheffield Pike’s quasi-notorious south-east ridge from Glenridding Dodd, the beginnings of its narrow rock-rib before it disappeared into the lowest fringe of the cloud. Several years later, I decided to make its ascent part of a circuit of Glencoyne, despite Wainwright offering no ‘authorised’ ridge route from here to Hart Side. This meant making a start from Glencoyne itself, proceeding through the woods and passing the old miner’s cottages known as Seldom Seen, most notable in the Nineties for its name. There followed a more spacious approach to the Glenridding Dodd col, the woods thinning out and a fresh brightness in the air, which I left to head up towards the infamous ridge nearer to its end. Once here, I was truly in the open for, despite its relatively minimal height, Sheffield Pike’s mostly trackless, tilted plateau top seemed a long way from the neighbouring fells, in glorious isolation. All I needed do to continue was to head down to Nick Head and curve right, but I came out at the foot of a green slope with a path going forward that I knew would lead me to Stybarrow Dodd. It tempted me, despite the miles on that approach, all further away, and I had to resist to turn round and keep to my original plan. My return, four years later, is confusing in its memories. My primitive record of my movements shows I climbed it from Glenridding Dodd, which meant I tackled the south east ridge, and found it great fun and nothing like so fearsome as Wainwright had made it out to be, but I have a clear recollection of crossing its summit heading eastwards, at the end of a walk, enjoying the views over Glenridding, which doesn’t fit. Did I really return by the same route? Was I heading home at the end of some other, unrecorded walk in which Sheffield Pike was an unanticipated bonus? I know I didn’t go on to Nick Head and descend to Sticks Mine because I only visited Nick Head once. I can picture it in my head, as clear as any other memory of sights in the Lakes. But then I have other clear memories that provable facts contradict. A mystery.

Sherlock: Xmas Special – The Abominable Bride


she

With Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s reputations soaring, it was getting increasingly harder to find the time in their respective diaries to make further episodes of Sherlock. It was impossible to film a full three episode series but there was time to get them together for a single special, for broadcast on New Year’s Day 2016. Here‘s what I said about it then.

There’s not a word of that I would withdraw now which leaves me with the task of what I might say today that isn’t merely repeating myself. Re-watching the episode now, I had the advantage/disadvantage of knowing what was coming, in breadth if not detail, which gave me leisure to contemplate the construction of the story.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The very idea of translating the modern interpretation of Holmes and Watson back into the original Conan Doyle creations without fracturing them was ingenious and worth ninety minutes all on its own, and though this time it didn’t makle me laugh as it did before, I relished it immensely. I just wish it hadn’t been pressed into service as a drug-induced fantasy to operate as what was an over-extended bridge between series 3 and 4.

The whole episode is a metafiction. Knowing this now, I was able to see how early the clues were implanted. Mrs Hudson acting out criticism of her role in the Strand stories. Holmes and Watson perfectly aware of the double level of their existence, the Strand version and their real life, a shadow symbol of the entire basis of Sherlock itself. The slightly self-conscious repetition of motifs and incidents from the ongoing continuity. Mycroft as an enormously fat man, sat immovably in a chair, as in the original stories but it was also impossible not to notice that Mark Gatiss’s fat suit basically anchored him down, leaving him barely able to reach forward to grab another plum pudding.

And then the metafictional aspects start flying at you thick and fast and suddenly (yes, it was an hour in, I checked this time and my internal assessment was correct) we wake up and it was all a dream. It’s Sherlock, high as a kite, playing in his Mind Palace, attempting to understand how Moriarty could have risen from the dead by reconstructing an actual unsolved case from the original holmes period, that of Emelia Ricotti, who committed suicide in public yet ‘rose from the grave’ to murder her widower husband six hours later.

The ‘and he woke up and it was all a dream’ ending has rightly had a bad press for at least a century, but we still had half an hour to go, divided between the contemporary Sherlock being regarded with concern by John and Mary, not to mention Mycroft, over his undetailed but obviously horrifying drug consumption whilst he struggles to go back to sleep and return to his Mind Palace, and the ongoing events therein. Now that Gatiss and Moffat have told us it’s all a dream, the Victorian story can be steered off the rails, its internal reality and consistency abandoned and it can start to get silly. The blatant and unsubtle appeal to feminism comes over this time as perfunctory, button pushing, and the knowing and cynical Reichenbach Falls ending as classic in-joke territory: aren’t we so fucking clever? Though I relish Andrew Acott as Jim Moriarty as much as ever: the biggest mistake the series made was to kill him off.

The last half hour, though it still has its merits, is conspicuously inferior to the first hour, for the very simple reason that infects the entire run: it’s clever, very clever, but it’s too damned in love with its own cleverness. Telling a story has become a distant second with proving to Gatiss and Moffat how clever they are. It’s symbolised in the knowingly clever but completely unnecessary CGI tricks played in this episode.

That the show is clever has been obvious from the start but, as I have said several times before, unless it is very rigorously controlled, cleverness’ inherent weakness is that it desires to get cleverer and cleverer all the time, outdoing itself continually until topping itself becomes the focus instead of the added extra ingredient. Watching ‘The Abominable Bride’ a second time, for all that I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but notice the clever bits, the ‘look at us’ moments.

It’s going to be interesting re-watching series 4.

A Manchester Metro Expedition: The Ashton Line


Ashton

There’s a change of procedure today, to comply with a change of priorities.

As some of you will remember, today is the Anniversary of my Dad’s death, fifty-two years ago, when I was fourteen. With the exception of the two years I lived in Nottingham, and was unavailable, I have visited Dukinfield Crematorium every year since. Today will mark my 50th visit.

Today’s Expedition will see me travelling on the Ashton Line, officially the East Manchester Line. Dukinfield is a townlet up the hill from Ashton-under-Lyne, on the way to Hyde. It’s not out of the question to do my usual there-and-back routine, with a there-and-back on the bus in between, but I have more important things on which to focus today and no patience for that kind of faffing around.

So I will get to the Crematorium the way I usually go, by bus (the 330) from Stockport, crossing beneath Werneth Low and enjoying the wide views, throiugh Hyde and getting off at Dukinfield Town Hall for the uphill walk that gets steeper and longer every year. Then down again for the bus into Ashton and, in due course, the East Manchester Line into Manchester for a wide, wide loop home.

It’s a milder day than of late, enough for me to put on a jacket, but there’s still a heaviness in the air that’s playing its part in my low-energy state. Just the walk to the bus stop has me wishing there was a seat there. On the way down Lancashire Hill, the electric noticeboard that usually alerts to roadworks and traffic jams is warning of thunderstorms today. Yes please, but not now.

It’s a long journey on the 330, with some widespread views along the way so this is one of the services on which I head upstairs. It’s even more stuffy, so I slip my jacket off, and carry it around all the rest of the day. It was an uneventful journey apart from the suicide pigeon we clumped over before leaving Stockport, so uneventful that we passed nine stops before we had to let a passenger off and twelve before one got on, by which time we were in Woodley.

Beyond that we started to climb, along the fringes of Werneth Low Country Park, lovely open countryside. Views start to open up on the left, across Hyde to the hills beyond Ashton, marking the Saddleworth Valley, that I will see at much closer range from the Crematorium.

When I got off outside Dukinfield Town Hall, I was just as slow-moving as before and wishing the road up the hill wasn’t so long or so high, but once through the gates I forget such things. Though the inscription Mam chose for Dad for the Book of Remembrance celebrates him as the devoted family man he was, I cannot come here without thinking of the one chosen for Dad’s elder brother: I shall lift up mine eyes to the hills. So simple yet so perfect for both. I lift up mine eyes to the hills as I walk to the Plot.

Occasions such as this develop their own rituals. Mine is to clear my head of all thoughts about the day and what it means until I reach Dad’s plot. There I just say whatever comes into my head. Afterwards, I enter the Chapel of Remembrance but can’t stay more than a few minutes before my eyes start to fill. I am now older than my mother and more than half as old again as my father. It feels so wrong that I have had so much and he so little.

I was so dry by now that, walking back down the hill, I bought not only a diet coke but a water to refill my water bottle. Thankfully, there was a seat at the stop for the bus down into Ashton because I had to wait nearly ten minutes for a ride.

I let the bus take me all the way into the Bus Station where there was a Sandwich Pound, like the one I used to get lunch from in Stockport when working at Sky. Refreshed and surprisingly re-energised, if not for all that long, I headed for the Town Centre through the Arcades Mall. There was an impressive YMCA charity shop just inside, and another within two hundred yards, with a stunning offer to mix DVDs, CDs and Books at six for £1. It was too good not to take advantage of but I could only find two I wanted, and none I was interested in trying out. It turned out the offer was ‘up to 6 items’ so I bought them.

Once I emerged into the open it had started raining. One young woman from an outdoor cafe was dancing and singing about it but it was only the fine, powdery rain that takes ten minutes to get you wet. Then I spotted yet another CEX, where I was able to find the Borgen Trilogy boxset for only £3. And I highly recommended the Person of Interest box set to the pair behind the counter.

Of all the destinations on the Metrolink Network, Ashton is by far the one with which I am most familiar. I have been coming here, on and off for sixty years or so. As often as Mam would take me out shopping in Manchester, we would catch the 218 or 219 the other way, up the Old Road to Ashton. It was standing at a bus stop on Stamford Street to come home that she first realised I was short-sighted’ “This one is our bus,” she said, and I looked at her in surprise and said, “You mean you can see the number that far away?” She was shocked that I couldn’t, and within a week I was having my eyes tested.

And Dad used to work here too. He’d started out as a draughtsman but I’m not sure of his then-role at a company called Industrial Models Ltd, whose premises were on a narrow street parallel to Stamford Street, the main road through Ashton, but what I remember as being fifty feet or more lower. After he’d got his first car, if we were late enough leaving, Mam would take me down there and I’d look around in wonder at what my Dad did, and the cheerful, noisy men he worked with, and he’d drive us home if it wasn’t one of the nights he did overtime and got home so late that I was already in bed and didn’t get to see him.

I remember Mam saying once, after his death, that he’d built up a division within the firm, called Industrial Mimics & Electronics, very successfully, and then they’d taken it off him, devastatingly.

Not long after we moved from East Manchester to South Manchester, the firm moved premises, to Oldham, a longer drive for him and a more stressful one, having tp drive across the moors: one extra-snowy day he was back home about 10.00am, the moors impassable, cars getting stuck and he’d eventually managed to get the car turned round and come back. He hadn’t agreed with the decision, which was apparently made on the basis that the Oldham premises had great offices when, as far as Dad was concerned, offices were secondary to the factory facilities.

I have other memories of Ashton, of things and places and streets long since vanished, demolished and destroyed. If we came into Ashton for a couple of hours from a Saturday afternoon in Droylsden, we would always go round the Market, up and down and side to side between the stalls. There was a record stall that consisted on 7″ singles scattered higgledy-piggeldy in heaps, with no thought for scratches. Late one Saturday afternoon, my mother let me linger there despite being eager to get back for a warming cup of tea. She asked me if there was any record in particular that I was after, so I mentioned my then favourite song, a complete flop the previous year, Thunderclap Newman’s ‘The Reason’ (which I thought was titled ‘There’s a Reason’, from its lyrics.) So she went up the other end of the stall and came back about three minutes later, holding a single in the wrong record label’s sleeve and asked, “Is this the one?” and bloody hell it was! It’s the only copy of the single I’ve ever seen and I have it still.

But Ashton Market has other connotations of which I wasn’t aware but which I’m sure my parents knew, because this had been a favourite place of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s, from where they had taken at least two of their child victims. The age I was meant that I was a couple of years younger than their youngest abductees, but I doubt that my parents made that kind of distinction and, by the time they were tried and convicted I would have been very much in the frame.

What Ashton reminds me of most strongly is long gone, like my football boots. I used to get football boots for school here, insisting stubbornly on proper old-fashioned toecaps. Two pair lasted me two years each, the third one year, and we’d had to try every sports shop in the town, not to mention a lot of my mother’s patience, never infinite, to get toecapped boots that time. A year later they were consigned to the sportsbag of history and bloody good riddance to them. I was very uncertain of my new boots, at first. But where, in five years of my previous boots, I had scored a grand total of four goals, two of them flukes, with my modern pair I scored 33 goals in 32 games.

All of which means that the old Ashton is still much more familiar to me than the new one, despite forty years of coming here since those days. The new Outdoor Market mayb be better built but it’s only a quarter occupied and it was far too stuffy inside the Indoor Market for more than a cursory walk round.

Before I gave up and headed for the Metro, I strolled across to Stamford Street, to see what it looks like today. This took me past silent side streets that used to be thronged with shops but which now offer only closed shutters. The story of Tory England. There used to be a decent comics shop here, but the Arcade of which it was part is now for private businesses only.

I arrived at the Metrolink terminus as a MetroCity tram was sliding in and secured my favourite seat. I’ve ridden this service ponce before, from the first station stop, Ashton West, when FC United of Manchester were sharing Curzon Ashton’s ground and I came out of an evening game in the run-up to promotion at risk of missing the last 330 back to Stockport, and played it safe by going the long way round I’m doing today.

After leaving the streets and the cars, the tram picks up speed alongside sprawling trading Estates with acres of car parking space. Ahead lies Ashton Moss. Once this was a long buffer between Ashton and East Manchester, and even now there’s still lots of space, but you can see which way development is trending, insofar as there is still any development in the current economic climate. We can make good time all along here until The Snipe, where the Manchester-bound road did and does divide into Ashton Old Road and Ashton New Road. The Mtero goes with the latter, and has to slow down a fair bit because its tracks run down the centre of the road, dividing the traffic.

That’s as far as Droylsden, which was where Phase 1 of this line initially terminated, and after that we pull over into the left hand lane which we share with the road traffic. This is very much old home country for me, with my grandparents living here until 1982 and all my visits to play Squash at Carriages disco and squash club, and to watch Droylsden play. The names of the stations resonate: Cemetery Road, Edge Lane, the latter with its little parade of shops and my vivid memory the comics I bought in the newsagents, fifty two years and two days ago.

At Clayton Hall, reminding me of the infamous Clayton Anilene that had you hilding your breath driving down this section, tyhe tram swings away from the main road preparatory to crossing it and passing beside the Bitters’ stadium. I would prefer not to look at it, but even with my head turned, my peripheral vision still worked too well. But then the line descends, thrugh a tunnel, and then along deep channels where little can be seen and all sense of place on the surface was lost. Holt Town and New Islington mean mothing to me, just stops on the way into Piccadilly Station from the back.

From nowhere another memory jumped out. Early in our marriage we had some documents to sign which meant a joint trip to offices somewhere out along the Altrincham line. I had to take half a day off work to make it. The plan was to meet there. I got into Piccadilly on the train from Bolrton, she and her kids would catch the train from the local station. I came down the stairs to the Metro platform to find a tram boarding. The people boarding it at that very moment were my wife and her kids. These were the days when even an unexpected extra ten minutes in each other’s company was sheer delight.

The rest of it was the bus back down Hyde Road, which ran smoothly because I was ahead of the rush hour. I was stuck at the back, in a corner opposite a three year old girl and someone who I first thought must be her fourteen year old sister but, given just how big a tattoo she had on her right arm, was clearly her mother instead. Certainly she was concerned that the little girl, who was wearing a dress, kept half sitting on her seat, legs akimbo, and exposing her knickers, continually telling her to sit straight or pull her dress down, whilst I had to focus my eyeline at a level high enough not to see anything.

That’s now five lines explored, even if this week’s was only one-way. I’ll be doing the samev next Monday, though for a different reason.

All the Fells: Sergeant’s Crag


Sergeant's Crag

Sergeant’s Crag – The Central Fells 1,873′ (179)

Date: 14 September 1993

From: Eagle Crag

Sergeant’s Crag comes as a matching pair with Eagle Crag, both of them small but rugged, solid peaks forming the abrupt end of a long spur from High Raise. Of course I was going to do both as part of the same walk. Though it’s actually higher, Sergeant’s Crag suffers in comparison, by being a part of the ridge and thus not having the same kind of terminal architecture that its colleague boasts. By the time I’d reached the top of Eagle Crag, the weather was deteriorating, and it came on to rain before I’d gone as much as two hundred yards. At the bottom of an awkward step, I tucked myself into a corner of the rock to pull on my waterproofs before carrying on. The path ran behind the ridge crest and Sergeant’s Crag was far from obvious from this angle, but I got it right and stood on its top. What now? The original plan had been to carry on to Stake Pass and return to and walk Langstrath from there, but from here I could see the long spur curling up to hidden High Raise. It was a lonely place with no guarantees that the already low cloudline wouldn’t descend further, enveloping me in country with no features. It was clear the rain had set in for the day. So I decided on a direct descent. The slopes were grassy, broken up by rocks. I chose a line and started down, cautiously, constantly monitoring the slope for places where it looked to get too steep for continued progress, and veering away from any such. It was still raining steadily, the grass was slippery underfoot, the valley seemed to be getting no nearer. But it was not as hairy as my descent off Brim Fell, and a slip would (probably) not have been so dangerous. Besides, I was a decade more experienced: I could do this. I reached the bottom safely, and without draining myself. It left me a long trudge along a glacial valley, under low cloud, between widespread, uninteresting slopes as far up as I could see them. At Blackmer Pot, I got across the beck, partly for the variation of the route, but mostly because it was a shorter route on that side, curving through the wood. I’d long since taken off my glasses so that I could at least see something and, in the wood, something was a flash of red, squirting along a tree branch that disappeared before I could get my glasses on to verify, but which was almost certainly my first, useless sight of a red squirrel. Back in Keswick, I hung my sodden waterproofs over the shower curtain rail to drain, a process that took well into my night’s sleep.