All the Fells: Swirl How

Swirl How – The Southern Fells 2,630′ (15)

Date: 14 May 1984/13 September 1996

From: Wetherlam/Wetherlam

Though I’d already climbed Helm Crag and Binsey in a few days away, in 1983, my real adventures in fellwalking began twelve months later. The first fell of that long and life-defining interest was Wetherlam, but Swirl How was the end of my first ever ridge-walk. Until I reached its summit, the true geographical centre of the Coniston Range, and only a couple of feet lower than the Old Man, I had only ever, en famille or solo, climbed one fell, one day, at a time. But I was on Wetherlam’s top quite early, and my strength was barely tested, and Swirl How was both in sight and in reach… And so I descended by the stony path from Wetherlam’s top, down to Lever’s Hause, with its square-shaped tarn glittering down the valley. In front of me was the Prison Band. Which to do? The scramble up the Band itself, with its succession of rocky towers, or the safer, easier territory of the path snaking up beside it, right of the exciting route. I might have been 28, but I was new to all this, unsure, untested, unused to having to take full responsibility for myself in the fells. So I bottled it, got up the easy path and so got myself onto the summit. My first ridge route ever. The highest I had been when on my own. Unplanned: I had only set out to ascend Wetherlam. And Great Carrs so close, almost demanding to turn two into three. I had to revisit Swirl How coming back from there, and then to devise a route back to my car at Tilberthwaite without repeating all my steps. It was a very different thing when I returned. I was confident, experienced, set on doing the whole Coniston Range in one day, one walk. Since I was travelling anti-clockwise, I would be approaching Swirl How from Wetherlam again, but this time there would be no question of it, I was going up the Prison Band, and it was a brilliant scramble and I wanted to go back in time and kick myself for not having the verve to do this then. I’d have been a bit nervous but I’d have loved it, and who’s to say how far the achievement might have advanced my gaining in self-belief. That I can’t ever know.

Some Books: A P Herbert’s ‘Made for Man’


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.
Unlike recent books in this category, Made for Man was indeed something I experienced from Didsbury Library. I borrowed it then, and wanted to re-read it now, because it’s a sequel of sorts to Number Nine, though only in the sense that it features the same characters as the earlier book. Or at least Admiral of the Fleet the Earl of Carraway and Stoke and his shy spinster daughter Lady Primrose.
If anything, the book is more of a sequel to Herbert’s 1934 novel, Holy Deadlock, in that it too is an attack on the ghastly and inhumane Divorce Laws of the Thirties, which remained practically unamended by the late Fifties, and for another decade yet.
The topic is clearly a controversial one, and I don’t think I’m displaying an unjustified prejudice in suggesting that it won’t be too long before the influence of the religious Right on Governments on both sides of the Atlantic, will see a focus on making Divorce much harder to achieve, and no doubt looking to drag it back to next-to-impossible.
APH was a lifelong campaigner for the easing of the Divorce Laws, to make them less cruel and less revolting to human nature. In Holy Deadlock his target was that insidious provision that, since the only ground for Divorce was adultery, there had to be an innocent party: if both spouses had transgressed, instead of this being doubly grounds for ending a marriage bringing no content to either party, it was instead grounds for relieving neither: the marriage must endure.
What’s more, the innocent party who procured their divorce had to remain innocent for six months after after the Decree Nisi (which means ‘unless’) and there was a Government Official, the King’s Proctor, whose sole purpose was to try to find evidence that the Petitioner had succumbed to his or her love for the person they intended to marry the day their Decree was to be made Absolute: if so, then the whole Divorce, no matter how merited, was rescinded. Like I say, inhumane.
Made for Man concerns itself with another cruel provision of the Church of England in relation to marriage. It’s a vastly different book from Number Nine, being wholly serious, lacking entirely of farce, and being as much a polemic as it is a novel, in fact more. Despite that, and despite some sagging in its final fifty pages, it is a much better book than I remember it being, and indeed much better than APH’s first appearance of the Admiral.
The story concerns the Admiral’s family, but as a secondary or shadow setting. Lady Primrose, that shy, malleable, virginal maid of the first book, has fallen in love and wishes to get married. Her intended, Cyril Sale, is a writer of a completely different background to the Anchors, but he loves her just as firmly. Indeed, Lady Primrose is, if anything, the more passionate of the two, unwilling to delay their sexual union any longer than need be.
The problem is that she is a deeply Christian woman, involved in and with her local Church all her life, and only marriage within the Church counts as marriage. Herein the problem that the book was written to illustrate. Cyril was married before. His wife abandoned him, ran off to America with another man. He is undoubtedly the innocent party. But whilst the Laws of the land paint him as innocent and support unequivocally his right to marry again, and whilst Lady Primrose’s Vicar, Mr Richards, is perfectly willing, he is not permitted to do so by the Church of England. Which has set its face against divorce and will refuse to marry any person who has a spouse still living.
This book was written in 1958, and is set in 1960. Incredibly, until 2002, the Church maintained its refusal to marry a divorcee. APH’s book is about challenging that stricture, and about making the point that marriage is made for Man (generically), not Man for marriage, just as in Holy Deadlock. When I first read it, the same heartless rules applied. I am enraged to learn now that it took so long. And to think that when I married in 2000, we chose marriage by Registrar’s Licence, but that if we had wanted to be married in Church, we would have been barred from doing so because my wife was divorced.
That’s a digression: returning to the story, as I’ve said, Lady Primrose and Cecil is a shadow story, whose only serious intrusion upon the book comes when the determined Lady Primrose gives her father an ultimatum, that if she cannot have her Church wedding within seven days, she will go off and live with Cyril. The words ‘in sin’ are not used but they don’t need to be. The depth of her determination though, in her person, in that time, in her family, is extraordinary.
No, there is another story, the same story, a pair of true and innocent lovers who are similarly debarred from marriage, even though she is the Duchess of Clowes and the god-daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury and he is a popular and talented and blameless Naval Flag Lieutenant (shades of Princess Margaret and Group-Captain Peter Townsend, a real-life version of this tragedy that, if not forbidden, might well have meant a not just happier but far better life for the Queen’s younger sister: look it up).
We see this potentially blighted relationship from a remove, and that remove is Dame Marion Horne, star of light musical comedy, a popular entertainer, and Lieutenant Daniel Drew’s first wife, who was divorced by him after she cheated on him.
Marion’s the impediment. The moment she realises that, she induces the Archbishop to attend on her so that she can make crystal clear that Dan is wholly innocent, but he is implacable. It can’t be done. It mustn’t be done. It won’t be done. The Church operates on God’s Laws and they are ’till death us do part’. Of course, he also throws in the mealy-mouthed bit about the Church can never really know who’s innocent or not, and if that doesn’t set you against the bastards…
We don’t know how old Marion is. Dan’s just under thirty but the impression is that she’s older than him, quite a bit older. She’s got a nasty little persistent cough that might be cancer (but isn’t) and she’s just come off a disastrous First Night in which everything has gone wrong, the critics have been savage and, worst of all, she cannot escape the word from the Gods of ‘You should have played the Mum, ducky’. It’s the death knell to her career as a leading lady. These things are set up there for us to see them, and to attribute to them at least part of the reason for her decision that will form the story of this book. She is the impediment to Dan, who she has wronged. She is keeping him from the love he deserves, and which he should be able to share with his lady. He cannot marry whilst she is still alive. Very well, she will cease to be alive. She will commit suicide.
That impulse is the heart of the novel. Its second string is how to avoid the ‘necessity’ for this to happen to enable two people to be happy together. This is the polemic aspect. To conduct it, APH introduces, well, basically, himself.
Named Sir Ewen Harker for the novel (APH was actually Sir Alan Patrick Herbert), he’s summoned into the story by the Admiral, who needs a co-conspirator for the task of enabling his daughter to marry as she wishes and deserves. Sir Ewen is a writer, a waterman, once an Independent MP, and a highly intelligent man who will espouse causes that expose the illogic of the world, with a particular interest in reforming the divorce laws to make them, and I say it again, more humane. In every aspect of Sir Ewen’s career as explained to us, he is APH, very effectively.
Because it’s Sir Ewen that has to expound to us, at great length, what the law is as it stands in 1960, and how it came to be, from the first institution of Civil Divorce Courts in 1857 to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937 – the one sponsored by APH – and how the Church responded to its proposals and, eventually, cheated Parliament, as Sir Ewen puts it.
I doubt this would go down well with any modern reader. It is, of course, greatly outdated, it’s conducted at a length that would try most contemporary readers’ patience and it is dry, as befits the seriousness of the subject. I would normally have expected to get bored with it myself, and indeed, towards the end of the book, when a Bill to reform the Laws is debated from all sides in the House of Lords, it does get tedious, yet APH manages to present this material in a readable manner, without tarting it up with funny distractions. That’s good writing for you.
That is the approach Sir Ewen and the Admiral want to take: a short Bill, introduced by the Admiral into the House of Lords, to clarify the Law as it was not clarified in 1937, and to remove the impediment upon divorcees being barred from remarriage in Church. And, as a back-up, they introduce a second, much shorter Bill, taking the Church’s logic to its natural end, by barring everyone from being able to re-marry under any circumstances. It’s not even that much of a reductio ad absurdism though it’s clearly meant to be.
It is of course the sensible approach. It’s drawbacks however are two: that it may well not work, and that if it does it will take ages. Too long for Lady Primrose and her now burgeoning desire for Cyril. Too long for Dan and Di, the Lieutenant and the Duchess. And thus far too long for Dame Marion Horne.
She’s failed to persuade the Archbishop, who presents the Church’s case in these pages with great energy and conviction, and she fails to convince him of how serious she is about doing away with herself to clear Dan’s path. The pair like each other as people: Dr Brayne almost falls in love with her. They are kind and courteous to one another, which is more that you can say for the Admiral and Sir Ewen’s dealings with him.
This pair are also made privy to Dame Marion’s intentions – the Admiral is an old friend. They persuade her against suicide, and instead concoct a plan where she will merely appear to have committed suicide, by jumping into the Thames off Lambeth Bridge and being picked up by the waiting Sir Ewen. Dame Marion will ‘die’, but in truth she will become her twin sister, who has lived in America for a couple of decades and whose fortuitous death has been announced, by telegram, early in the book.
It’s a complicated con, worked out in precise detail, but at the last the Dame withdraws from it. She’s set herself up as her own sister, Mildred, established the latter as a presence and a personality, but decides she can’t go through with it.
But that’s a lie, and it leads to the book’s best sequence. Sir Ewen is disturbed by Dame Marion’s apparent withdrawal, after he’s seen her determination. Suspecting, he takes his craft to Lambeth Bridge at the appointed time. Because Marion has decided to really go through with it. They have plotted for her the perfect death by suicide, and so she will use that plan to kill herself. For real. The anxious sequence that leads to her being unwillingly saved, by both Sir Alan and his wife, Lady Frances, whose previous objection to the whole thing does not affect her commitment to saving the day, is utterly compelling.
So we enter the endgame. A telegram arrives from America, regretting to inform Cyril of the death of his former wife enables Mr Richards to go ahead with Lady Primrose’s wedding (a telegram from his former wife wishing him every happiness arrives at the reception and is promptly destroyed by the Admiral, oh yes, we were properly suspicious). The Bill passes. The Commander and the Duchess are married in Westminster Abbey, the Archbishop performing the ceremony. Mildred Horne settles into a quiet life. Of course she can’t sing, not like her late sister, but she can play small parts in serious plays, leading to a career as a serious actress.
The one thing she can’t do, now and forever, is be Dame Marion. For the rest of her life she has to be an actress, twenty-four hours a day. No-one, not even her closest friends, recognise her. That’s not quite true. Hugh Creek, her Solicitor and her lover, who cannot be put in a position where he ‘knows’, recognises her. And so does one other person, from her voice when she privately sings a line from one of her recordings, and this is Doctor Brayne.
After he has been, in so many ways, the villain of the book, the evil that thinks it is merely being right, APH is generous with the Archbishop. Dr Brayne’s first thought on his discovery is, “Thank God she’s alive.” Moreover, despite her having perpetuated a wicked deception upon him, causing him much loss of face and personal scorn, he decides to keep her secret. And APH dips into the future, confirming that by his death, ten years hence, he was a pillar of the Church and its great reformation under his leadership, making it a kinder gentler, more humane church, in fact, more Christian.
So, this was Made for Man, the ‘sequel’ to Number Nine. Anthony, Viscount Anchor is present but not the hero in any way. His wife, Peach, plays a larger role: they already have two children. The Admiral’s made the Estate over to them and is determined to hang on for the statutory five years to defeat the Tax collectors’ ability to claw a lot of in back in Death Duties (only five? In my professional career it was seven). Only the Admiral is a real point of continuity, bluff and naval and reactionary as Hell, but you’d still automatically line up behind him, the mad old buffer. You may not agree with where his head is, and the book allows him many lectures to the young Moderns Peach gathers, including Cyril, but his heart is always with people, and that’s where it always should be.
A forgotten book, but still a worthwhile one.

Was it worth it? The ‘Last’ Comics Series: Batman/Catwoman


It’s several weeks now since I acquired the final issue of Batman/Catwoman by Tom King and, mostly, Clay Mann and, for the supposed last comic of a lifetime collecting, it’s been something of a damp squib. I haven’t really known what to make of it. And when I don’t really know what to make of something, the best way to find out is to work it out in writing. Bear with me whilst I do so.

The place to start is where I first took notice of Tom King. I knew the name but had read nothing of his work until I read a review of Batman Annual 2, coupled with reference to the contemporary issue of the ongoing series, no 38. I’d heard of his having had Batman propose to Catwoman but paid no attention, but the reviews sounded too good to miss. I bought the issues and loved them. They were completely uncharacteristic: sweet, romantic, funny. I started buying Batman, for the first time in longer than I could remember, and filled in the gaps of what had gone before via the Rebirth Deluxe Editions.

Not since the briefer spell of Steve Engelhart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin as long ago as 1977, had I come across a Batman I responded to so whole-heartedly. I followed King’s series to its end in issue 85.

That wasn’t the original plan. King’s run had supposed to have been 100 issues. Then, when a crossover intervened, it became 105 issues, wih something long-lasting and land-marking happening over that last twenty issues that were suddenly flung into doubt when it was announced King would leave after issue 85. For ‘leave’ read ‘was sacked’. His work was controversial. I thought it brilliant but others, at editorial level, hated it. This landmark step required signing off at the highest level because it was going to be a genuine change that would affect the character for a generation, for twenty years.

But King had shot himself in the foot. A long series of slow, abstract, hallucinatory issues that even I found hard to follow, and which certainly went on too long saw sales dip and set him up for replacement, and for his work to be undermined. That cancelled twenty issues would, however, appear, but it would appear as the Batman/Catwoman twelve issue series, a Black Label title that would not necessarily be in continuity.

Not only would the validity of the series as ‘real’ be undermined from the start, but it took over a year for it even to begin, and then it took forever to come out. Not all of this was the series’ fault: there was the pandemic, the massive hit the industry took in supplies, the practical restrictions. But it hit the series fatally.

Several factors came together. I’d gone straight into loving King’s work and I started buying anything else that he wrote, expecting the same high level of psychological insight, of innovative approaches. I looked forward immensely to Heroes in Crisis but found it to be an immense bore, slow, repetitive and static. I collected Strange Adventures but only lasted to the end because I’d never have resold an incomplete set on eBay: it was a horrific degradation of a long-standing and upstanding character.

As quickly as I’d come to enthuse over King’s writing, I was losing faith in it.

Batman/Catwoman displays the best and the worst of his writing, not least in King’s obsession with achronological structure. It told three stories simultaneously, in three different time periods, cutting from one to another abruptly and disjointedly in a way that maximised obscuring the tale. There are two eras of the past, one where the Bat and the Cat are falling in love and Selina is very doubtful of the viability of the relationship, given her characteristic independence and the hitherto unrevealed fact that she’s close friends with, of all people, The Joker, and hinted at being more involved in his particular crimes than anyone who loves Batman should ever be, another more recent era which covers the reappearance of the second Phantasm, Bruce’s ex-girl friend Andrea, which sees a final wedge driven between Selina and the Clown Prince, and the last in the future, after Bruce’s death of cancer, which was also foretold in that Annual I first bought, in which Selina immediately kills the old man Joker has become and finds herself hunted by a very familiar superhero figure for the crime.

The constant intercutting weakens all three strands by denying each of them focus. There are plenty of well-observed emotional encounters, especially in the future, but each strand moves too slowly for any of the stories to take on a clear shape. And I’m deeply unhappy at how much Catwoman is an accessory to the Joker’s antics in the oldest strand. Anthony Trollope always went on at least once a book about how ‘one cannot touch pitch without oneself being defiled’, and the Joker is the most defiling pitch there is.

In the end, in the final issue, King gets to write that landmark change he wanted and which DC bottled out of: serious changes not allowed. Superman could do it and what a fantastic success that was, but Batman can’t get married, not really, not seriously. But in the end, Bruce and Selina do wed, legally, officially, with their best friends, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, as Best Man and Bridesmaid and witnesses, and it is good, but it’s Black Label. If it had taken place two years earlier, as Batman 105, it would have been different. It would have meant something. Here, it’s a sop.

And in between not only has the story gotten stale for waiting, as Batman carries on being deliberately written away from King’s work and especially the relationship with Catwoman, but Tom King has displayed his weaknesses all too frequently.

Still, I have the whole of that Batman run, but DC managed to fuck that up too. After five Deluxe Edition collections, wanting only one more to complete the run, they cancelled the Deluxe Edition programme so I was stuck with one paperback and two hardback much slimmer Graphic Novels.

So it was all a letdown in the end. King wasn’t as good as he seemed to be. In less than a decade he’s turned into a formula writer. All that fun I had collecting Batman and someday I expect I’ll put the run on eBay, because things once seen cannot be unseen. And that’s what I thought about the last comic book series, or so I found out.

All the Fells: Stybarrow Dodd

Stybarrow Dodd – The Eastern Fells 2,720′ (153)

Date: 16 August 1992

From: Legburthwaite

For fells reaching the elevated heights of 2,800′, the Dodds Range north of Sticks Pass is peculiarly easy walking, as evidenced by my getting through all three on a Sunday from Manchester with the kind of early departure for home needed to get past the end of the Blackpool Motorway without queuing for ten miles just to reach it. Stybarrow Dodd lies immediately north of Sticks Pass, which was my key to gaining the ridge. There was nothing to it but straightforward uphill walking, the slope steep in places but offering no difficulties. I could have gone straight up when the path started to veer to the right, into the channel of Sticks Gill West, but despite Wainwright’s indication of a possible route, forty years on there was still no trace of walkers following in his footsteps and leaving a permanent indication of their footsteps. Either insufficient numbers had taken up the challenge, which was exactly what I wasn’t going to do, or else the grass on both sides of the mountain was too thick to take the markings and form a path. Either way, this was quite unusual: I was long since used to finding paths all over the Lake District where the Blessed had only indicated a way. Anyway, I had a second motive, which was that I had never been to the summit of Sticks Pass, which I think was by then the only Official Lakeland Pass I’d never visited. So on I went, the easy way, to the wide green channel across the ridge that is the highest Pass in regular use as a Pass (Esk Hause is, of course, higher, but is rarely used as a route between Eskdale and Borrowdale). Stybarrow Dodd was up a gentle slope on the left, though the path made a bee-line for Watson’s Dodd and a diversion was required to reach it’s lonely summit. Yes, very easy for its height, but hardly inspiring a return visit in the hope of finding features that weren’t immediately apparent.

Sherlock: s04 e02 – The Lying Detective


When you’ve already written a pretty comprehensive blog-piece on a television episode, it’s difficult to repeat the exercise. Unless your opinion has changed in a substantial degree, a second response has the task of not falling between the twin stools of simply repeating your previous points and being different for no good reason.

I’m adding a link to my original comments, which I’ve avoided re-reading so I can try to approach what is, after all the penultimate episode of the series (I think we can take it as a given that there will never be a series 5). It’s a complex story, written by Steven Moffat, and laid out in a familiar manner of fast-paced dialogue, short, almost fragmentary scenes, inverted chronologies, deliberate concealment of salient points and, at the end of the day, a complex, and possibly over-complex overarching story that convinced uttterly whilst the episode was on but which, considered objectively afterwards, was stretching probability out of shape.

We’re in the aftermath of last week’s tragedy. John Watson is in therapy for his loss. He has a new therapist with a French accent, with whom he’s talking cynically, and deliberately concealing the fact that he is hallucinating his dead wife, holding conversations with her even though she constantly reminds him that she is not a ghost but a figment of his imagination. She stands for everything he’s lost.

As for Sherlock, lacking the anchor that his friend represented, he’s going off his head as well, in more ways than one, on the smack, unable to control his intelligence, his utter loneliness in a world that runs unbearably slowly when compared to his speed of analysis.

It’s a set-up, all of it. The drugs are real but it’s all a dangerous game, prompted by that DVD Mary Watson made, the bits we saw and the bits withheld until this week. The clue is in that brief post-credits scene last week and Mary’s words, ‘Go to Hell, Sherlock’. TThe Great Detective is doing just that.

What the story is is the rescue and redemption of John Watson, at the instigation of his late wife. John Watson, she says, in a previously unseen section of her DVD that John himself now gets to witness, is a man who cannot be helped, will not let himself be helped but who will not – cannot – refuse to help. To save him, Sherlock has to put himself into a death trap, go up against a big, powerful, undefeatable bad guy. Which he is doing. Only then will John step in.

That big bad is Toby Jones, playing entrepreneur and philanthropist Culverton Smith, a role with more than a few shades of Jimmy Saville, especially as the climax involved a hospital that Smith had the run of. Some kudos are due the BBC for letting such a story be told on their channel.

That, if anything, was paradoxically the biggest flaw in the episode. I’d not previously encountered Jones but he was absolutely stunning as Smith. He was so good that he was too good, dominating the episode even when he was not onscreen, so when he was you couldn’t think of anything else. Jones, who applied a Yorkshire accent that was even more pointed towards his examplar, was a monster, a monster of absolute power, a rich, powerful, popular, public figure used to getting his own way in every little thing, owning people. He was also a serial killer, because he enjoyed that power, just one more expression of his sense of utter entitlement. He was fascinating because he was a monster, hiding in plain sight, defying all the little people to take his ‘jokes’ at the face value they truly were. And he was fascinating because he was so real, so plausible. In the more than five years since this episode was first broadcast, we have become so much more familiar with the real thing, in the higher echelons of government, satisfying their own desires with not an atom of concern for the ‘little people’.

Culverton Smith was a monster besides whom the classic monsters, Frankenstein, Dracula, all the others, paled into insignificance, because they were just symbols and he was real. It made him overwhelm the episode, pushing its other strands out to a periphery that they didn’t deserve. Other thanks were happening. Sherlock was being ultra-clever to an extent that rational analysis explained internally but which rested on a fragile bed of conveniences. More hints weere dropped as to a third and substantially more dangerous Holmes brother, an admission forced out of Mycroft by John Watson, catching detection. Lady Smallwood gave her card to Mycroft in a subtle yet blatant invitation to visit the still very attractive widow in private. There was a very full coda.

But before that there was a mystery. An off his tits Sherlock (never did like that phrase) was visited in Baker Street by Culverton Smith’s daughter, Faith, a decently attractive and desperate woman dependent upon a cane, who had heard her father confess to intending to murder before deleting hers and others’ memory of the confession. But Faith had made notes, and remembered part of it. She was in Baker Street and spent half the night walking round London with Sherlock (in a very juvenile joke that the show should have done without), before disappearing utterly. And when Smith introduced his daughter Faith, she was a similar but different woman. Was fake Faith real, or was she a drugs hallucination?

The end of the case was strangely perfunctory. John stops Smith from suffocating Sherlock who’s recorded the man’s confession (a brilliant, laugh out loud line: when Smith oleaginously explains that his clothing had been checked and three recording devices removed Sherlock quietly comment that three is such a reassuring number, and how people tend to stop when they reach it…) No matter that the recording is inadmissable, Smith wants to confess enthusiastically at such an extent that Greg Lestrade can’t listen to so much in a single session.

And so to that coda. John has come back to his senses. He has accepted that Sherlock didn’t kill Mary, that she gave her life for his at entirely her own volition. It’s not ok, it never will be ok, but it wasn’t Sherlock’s fault (though it was in part as we remember). Then, to his best friend and his last illusion of his wife, he confesses his text affair, denying to both of them and himself that he is the man Mary decribed, the parfait, gentil knight. He’s not who she built him up to be. And she smilingly tells him to get on with becoming that. Tears come, and not just onscreen.

There was a sense, throughout that coda, of things being settled, of the series collecting itself, acknowledging a turning point and preparing for closure. Until John Watson attends on his French therapist again and she mentions a third Holmes sibling, something he hasn’t told her. Meanwhile, Sherlock discovers the note brought by fake Faith and realises she was real. But who was she? Under black light, the note reveals a hidden message: Miss Me? The whole Moriarty thing since the end of series 3 was just a gigantic fake-out.

Because the woman at the heart of this wasn’t fake Faith with the Yorkshire accent. She’s not the therapist with the French accent either. Nor was she Elizabeth with the red hair on the bus. She was all of these but she’s none of them. She’s the third Holmes brother. Or rather she’s the missing sister. She is Eurus, the East Wind. John Watson is making a funny face, and bigod so would you. She thinks she’ll put a hole in it. And she fires the gun she’s holding, though it doesn’t make a gun sound so yar, boo, sucks to certain reviewers who said that if Watson wasn’t dead the following week the series would have no cedibility, not that it had any anyway because nobody should ever again put in ghosts that are psychological expressions and do things ‘Mary Watson’ didn’t do (I carry grudges, check the link above).

And then there was one. I’m looking forward to watching it again.

A Manchester Metrolink Expedition: The Manchester Airport Line


Properly, the Manchester Airport Line was the final part of Phase 3, added during the second stage, as a spur from the East Didsbury Line from St Werburgh’s Road in Chorlton. It was one of the most obvious lines to be added and needed, giving passengers incoming from flights access to the City Centre without the expense of taxis or hire cars or leaving their own vehicles in long-term parking for a week or longer.

I haven’t been out to the Airport for a flight in nearly fifteen years now but I have had one trip on the Airport Line, coming back, in 2015, having gone out there very early one midweek morning to help as part of a Welcoming Committee for the American-based founder of an Internet Forum on which I was then active. I wasn’t really needed: another Manchester-based member was meeting her and her son, collecting bags and giving them accomodation, but I thought it rude not to make the effort, seeing that I was on the spot, so to speak.

Once we’d got them over to H’s car, and everything stowed away, they drove off and I was left to make my own way back. What puzzled me is how I got there in the first place, without a lift of some sort myself, because it wasn’t until I turned to go, at something like 9.00am on a beautiful summer morning of spotless skies, that I had the bright idea of taking the Metro for my return.

So that’s my only experience of the Airport Line before today.

I’m reverting to standard approach today, no one-way trips but the full two-way monte, there and back.

It was a cold, greyish day, with rain an obvious threat: typical Bank Holiday Monday, then (hey, professional writers aren’t the only ones with access to the Cliche Drawer). Bank Holiday Monday means Bank Holiday timetables so it looks like slow going. On the other hand, stops for passengers were well down, but it still took forever to get to Piccadilly Gardens. For the final third of the run I was sat opposite a man desperately clutching to his chest an unwrapped bundle of two framed paintings and three hardback books, all about Football. That two of rhem were about Kevin Keegan and the other about Manchester United made for a puzzling mixture.

There’s no direct service from Pccadilly Gardens to the Airport so I hopped on an Altrincham tram intending to change at St Peter’s Square for the East Didsbury line, imagining this would have to be a two-change ride. But a chance glance led to me spotting a direct Airport tram coming from the same direction I had. Of course: it runs from Victoria, via Market Street. I live and learn.

From there to St Werburgh’s Road, the route was familiar, not just from last week but, in earlier sections multiple expeditions. Here was where the new ground begab, spinning away right towards Barlow Moor Road and almost immediately running down the central reservation along Mauldeth Road West.

This was another part of the old Manchester I used to be able to access freely, but it wasn’t long before I was trying to work out just where the hell I was. We crossed the M60, the Manchester orbital motorway, though I was already so confused I thought it was the M56. Not until later, much later.

Originally, the Airport line was planned to be extended by the Wythenshawe Loop, giving access to Manchester’s most notorious sink estate but escalating costs put paid to that, and to an extension to the Manchester Airport High Speed Train Station. Both are still on the table as ‘aspirational’ but unfunded. The HS Station is the more likely as the cheaper to construct but there’s tremendous public support for the Wythenshawe Loop, especially as this will include a station serving the somewhat remote Wythenshawe Hospital, which is only easy to get to if you have a car. Roll it on.

Despite all that, there was a lot of track and a lot of stops that seemed to be making for, and working their way through Wythenshawe, including a stop in its Town Centre. Though not until the way back did I see the Forum Theatre, where I went on my only previous visit to Wythenshawe itself, instead of the Hospital. Thety were showing a Mike Harding play, set in a vasectomy clinic, which was notorious for the male lead doing a long monologue whilst walking stark bollock (literally) naked. This being Wythenshawe, I’d gone to the Saturday afternoon matinee so that it would still be light when the play was over, and I could jump into my car and shoot off before anyone nicked it, or vandalised it, or made off with the wheels…

After that, we crossed the M56 but I still had no idea where the train was. The line was sharing small streets and alternating with off-road verges, there seemed to be no end of stops, and the line was edging round more 90 degree bends than any other line I’ve yet used. On the ground, the route must look like a sea serpent with its back broken in several places.

But at last, at Shadowmoss, they announced that the next station stop was the Airport, at which I heaved a sigh of relief, both at arrival and at the need to stand up and relieve my numb bum. This was where things got strange. I could have sworn that, on my previous visit, I’d hopped onto a tram at a typical stop, light, bright, freshly painted and in the open air, but here was the terminal, a dark, dingy, third class hole-in-a-corner wedged in beside the Railway station.

Nothing looked remotely recognisable, except for the Skylink, a long, wide, glass-sided tube crossing the Airport at second floor level. Streams of people, mostly trailing luggage on travelators that were switched off, flowed both ways. I remember this from our honeymoon, using it to check in on the Sunday night as part of our package, and then get to the Terminal in plenty good time on Monday morning for the flight to Madeira.

Looking for somewhere to explore, I descended a level to Terminal 1 Arrivals: no, not in the least bit recognisable. Exploring consisted of buying some lunch in a Spar Local, looking at books in a W H Smith, discovering that there was nothing else there to look at except more food suppliers and endless streams of people arriving home and wanting to get out. Logically, there must have been planes landing just to get them there but I’m hanged if I could see any of them! When Dad first brought us here, after tea one midweek evening in 1967 or 1968, there were Observation windows from which you could see the planes take off and land. If they have equivalents in 2022, I had no idea where they could be found so, dispirited, I decide to head back.

This meant that I spent a long time gazing at the Radisson Blu Hotel, where we slept the night after our wedding, ready for our honeymoon. Memories.

I needed to top up my water bottle so I stopped off in a smaller W H Smith branch on the way. The woman serving was bored, chatty and from Blackburn, but I didn’t hold that against her. Once I’d told her why i was there, she urged me on visiting Clitheroe, very enthusiastically. There’s only one Metro like to explore after today, but I’ve a short list of short distance train Expeditions to follow, and I’ll add Clitheroe to that.

The return to Manchester was uneventful. I descended at Market Street to join the obstacle course that is Manchester in late afternoon, and arrived at the 203 stop just as one pulled out: of course.

Needing to also top up my Electricity, I stayed on the bus two extra stops to get to ASDA. This was where things went wrong. Their Pay Point Machine was broken again. |The woman at the counter pointed me towards an R S McColl where I could get the top up but neglected to tell me how far it was to walk there. Twenty-five minutes later, all of which spent getting further away from home, I found it at a very familiar road junction near to Stockport Road. I refused to walk back and headed for the nearby bus stop, even though it would take two buses from there.

After ten minutes of no buses – there would have been one, the last of the day, ten minutes later, if it was on time – I decided to walk over to Stockport Road. It was still two buses from there but at least I could see them passing with some frequency, and besides I could sit down at that stop.

Not that I needed to for long. A 192 arrived within ninety seconds and took me to Mersey Square without any halts and, after a walk across the Town Centre, I got onto a waiting 203 that pulled out immediately. What’s more, at the next stop, on got one of my old colleagues from Sky, still doing well there, and we had a brief chat until I finally reached to my stop. All told, it had taken me over two hours to get back from Manchester and I was knackered both mentally and physically, which is why this post is coming so later.

Still, seven down, one to go.

All the Fells: Stone Arthur

Stone Arthur

Stone Arthur – The Eastern Fells 1,652′ (86)

Date: 11 September 1988

From: Grasmere

There are fells in the Wainwrights that aren’t really fells, but which the Blessed includes as they are distinctive and worthy of consideration as destinations, whatever their geographical shortcomings. I tend to agree with the old boy: Pavey Ark is much more interesting than Thunacar Knott. Though Mungrisedale Common is a thousand times inferior to Blencathra. The only place where I would seriously quibble with his designation is Stone Arthur, an outcrop on a hillside, prominent above Grasmere, but hardly a fell. When the description of the amount of climbing required on the only ridge route to it, from Great Rigg, is ‘Downhill all the way!’, questions have to be asked. Nevertheless, it is there and it must be climbed by anybody set upon the full 214. For me it was one of those leg-stretching walks, tackled on the afternoon of arrival, but it was a leg-stretcher with a difference. I arrived in Ambleside in need of not just accommodation but walking boots! My inspection of my existing pair, in the week before going away, revealed that the welting was split, and I needed replacements. I didn’t know where to buy boots in Manchester on such short notice, but Ambleside was full of climbers’ shops so, as soon as I had booked in, I went to the one my family had most often attended, at the top of the road, on the corner towards Bridge House, where I tried and bought a new pair and was in them and using them within thirty minutes. I was more than a bit worried: I was only rarely affected by blisters, and then only once in the fells, but going out in brand new boots, stiff and inflexible, was just inviting trouble. The walk itself was unexceptionable, but whilst chatting to a lady walker and mentioning my predicament, I got some unexpected advice, which was to fill a new pair of boots with Sunlight Soapflakes (did they even still exist in the Eighties?) go for a walk in the rain, ignore the way your feet were bubbling, and let the boots be not only softened but moulded to the shape of your feet, for everlasting comfort. Needless to say, having got up and down without problems, and way too prone to embarrassment at the thought of foaming feet, I ignored the lady’s advice. I never had any problems with those boots, which served me for years, and miles upon miles, As for Stone Arthur, I was very dissatisfied with its top, which was a rock outcrop on a fellside, exactly as it looked from below, with the slope going straight on above it without even a token dip. That’s not what I call a summit. I dropped back to Grasmere by the same route of ascent, which even then I disliked intensely.

The Infinite Jukebox: Tucky Buzzard’s ‘Gold Medallions’

Some songs hold their place in the Infinite Jukebox solely on the basis that I heard them and loved them. They don’t need to be significant, in any way, except the sole factor that I listened to them over and over, and nearly fifty years later I’m still prepared to listen to them with the same enthusiasm that I had in 1973.
That factor does gain an additional depth when, as with this single, the record is something everyone else ignored. The only people I have ever met who know of this record are those few mates who, fifty years ago, had to put up with me playing it at them. None of them liked it, and certainly not with any of the fervour I felt for it: say rather that they put up with it and probably privately determined never to listen to anything else by Tucky Buzzard.
That’s alright: with the exception of a token play of the b-side, and a couple of spins of the album version, which I didn’t like anything as much, neither did I.
Tucky Buzzard are classed as a hard rock band in Wikipedia. To some extent they were proteges of Bill Wyman, who produced all five of their albums, and lead guitarist Terry Taylor, co-writer of most of the band’s output with lead singer Jimmy Henderson, still plays as part of Wyman’s live band. Still, not on the surface the kind of band I’d go for, rather a workmanlike outfit.
Except for the singles version of ‘Gold Medallions’. It’s sound is dominated by an acoustic guitar, well to the forefront, strumming a brash, midtempo rhythm that runs unchanged throughout the song, and through which the rest of the band filter, almost subliminally. Taylor also lays down a beautifully fluid electric guitar line, an electric piano holds much of the melody and the drums provide a jerky alternative to the acoustic guitar’s pace-setting patterns.
Henderson’s voice isn’t all that expressive, but it fits the air of melancholy expressed in the lyrics. It gives off the air of being about a relationship that’s dying, another love lost song that I was so obsessed with long before I had any experience of loss and heartbreak, as if I was laying up expectations before the reality ever drew near. Many nights lay thinking here about you, he begins, verses that were used to draw me near, though I know I’ve got to be without you, the thought of losing you I just can’t bear.
Isn’t that clear enough? Doesn’t that spell out that things are coming to an end? And is it not further reinforced by another four lines: Talked about all our past romances, the memory of it all don’t seem too clear. Don’t think much to all of my last chances, but with you around there’s nothing left to fear…
And Henderson holds on that last word, and it is the last word for there are no more verses after this, as he waits for his bandmates to provide an aural backing to the long chorus that will hereafter dominate the song, will be the song.
Don’t think much about games, or mystery rides on out-of-town trains, going places I ain’t been, don’t seem much to me to be, applauded when I’m around, champagne toasts when I’m out on the town, gold medallions hanging down, my empty bedroom wall.
Taylor then delivers another, searing guitar solo, before Henderson returns to lead a repeat, and then a repeat of that chorus, a melody that, measured against that acoustic guitar, is one that I could sing over and over with them, and indeed did, listening in my bedroom when no-one else was in the house.
But what does that chorus actually say? It seems to represent two completely different mental situations, the first half that of the lover who has lost their love and for whom all of life becomes futile and pointless, the second half a shameless rejection of that state and a fantasy of being the centre of everybody’s attention, the most popular guy in town.
Of course, that’s not entirely incompatible, is it? They hadn’t defined the Five Stages of Grief back then, but this chorus could be read as stages four and five, depression followed by acceptance – except that those gold medallions, a few years before Disco, Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta and The Bee Gees, suddenly explode those few lines as a fantasy, as they are not hanging round Henderson’s neck, attracting the chicks, they’re hanging down his empty bedroom wall, the one he’s staring at because he don’t think much about games…
And that’s what draws me in. Though not many will perhaps agree, that chorus not only captures a time and a place, and a mental dismay that has still not left me now, but the music hypnotises me and wishing to hear it over and again. My mates suffered from it in 1973 and after. You may suffer from it now, especially as none of the YouTube recordings are of a good standard. Listen hard, though, and you may hear what I hear.

All the Fells: Steeple

Steeple – The Western Fells 2,687′ (133)

Date: 2 May 1991

From: Scoat Fell

Steeple was always there in my head, paired with Pillar, just as Green Gable was paired with Great Gable. This came from hearing the names mentioned, before I had any real understanding of what they were talking about. My grandparents had built me a small sandpit on a square of concrete in their back garden, and I used to build mountains in it, always the same four in sequence: Steeple, Pillar, Green Gable, Great. Build the mountain, shape it, pat it down hard, then dig a tunnel through, from one side to the other. This would always be used to collapse the ‘mountain’ which I would then rebuild under the next name, but ‘Great Gable’ would always end the game by being big enough and strong enough to bear the tunnel and not collapse. So I looked forward to Steeple, though I rejected at an early stage the better and more respectful climb from Ennerdale, not because of its steepness, but because of the long walk in and out of Ennerdale, through its gloomy trees, far too long to contemplate at both the beginning and the end of the day. It was always going to be part of a Mosedale Horseshoe, when at last I got to do that, even though strictly speaking it tags onto the back of the round, outside any classical Horseshoe. That mean never really seeing the best of it, just the short ridge, down-and-up from Scoat Fell’s flat stop to Steeple’s tiny peak above the forests. And I didn’t really get the best of that for I had developed a stinking headache which dominated my mind on top of Steeple, and I never carried Ibuprofen or Paracetamol with me in my rucksack, which sounds foolish, but I never got headaches in the fells, they weren’t a place where headaches could exist, except on certain very rare occasions like this. The scramble back up to Scoat Fell was more tedious, especially with my head like that, but thanks to the guy I bumped into on Red Pike, who accompanied me all the way to Dore Head, it went away as if it had never existed.

Sunday Watch: Extras – s01 e01-03: Ross Kemp/Ben Stiller/Kate Winslet


The question, back in 2005, was not so much could Ricky Gervais top The Office, nor even could he equal it, but rather could he come up with something that wasn’t a dismal disappointment when placed in comparison with it? Opinions differ upon the subject, not that I’ve yet heard anyone say that Extras was better. But I would definitely say that the sitcom was not that much inferior to Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s classic so as to be an embarrassment. That was reserved for every other sitcom Gervais starred in following this.

How to follow something like The Office is a terrible fate to wish upon anyone. Some people might say that it’s a luxury of a dilemma, but to a creative mind it’s an awful situation to be in. You’re bound to be compared to your big hit. You don’t want to play safe and produce a virtual copy, but then again you don’t want to swing too far away that you are not playing to your strengths. How to be different, without being that different. Very much a balancing act.

In Extras, Ricky Gervais plays Andy Millman. Andy is an extra but he thinks he’s an actor, without ever having had a speaking part to prove it. He used to work in a bank but quit five years ago to pursue a dream that, on exposure to him in the first three episodes, he’s never going to realise. He’s ambitious, self-centred, insensitive and pretentious. He’s not that far removed from David Brent, the primary difference being that Brent was in a position of power that he managed terribly, but Andy is a nobody, a nobody who’s aware he’s a nobody but who is striving thick-headedly to gain some ground, imagining that that first stepping stone will be on an inevitable ladder.

Supporting him are Stephen Merchant, playing Darren Lamb, his useless agent, Sean Williamson playing himdself as Berry from EastEnders, but most of all Ashley Jensen, a superb find as Andy’s fellow extra, Maggie Jacobs. Maggie is a delight. She isn’t smart and she knows it. She’s an airhead living in a constant state of bemusement, reacting without the kind of protective thought that keeps the rest of us from saying the first thing that comes into our head, constantly in search of romance and good sex but too nervous about herself to ever really be able to manage a long-term relationship and, worst of all, she has Andy for a best friend, a man who, consciously or unconsciously, will tear her down with mildly cruel condescension just to make himself feel superior to someone. Jensen is brilliant at keeping Maggie from becoming too dumb for words, at incarnating her acceptance of her position, free from ambition, and yet so needy and fearful. You want to protect her, to comfort her and yes, though she’s no classic beauty, you want to take her to bed and make her feel happy.

These two are the constants in these three episodes, riding that fine line that is always the key to Comedy of Embarrassment, the razor line between embarrassing the characters and embarrassing the audience, and in some scenes cutting it exceeding fine, but the series’ true inspiration lies in finding a high-power, very familiar figure to not only appear as the star of whatever project Andy and Maggie are in the background of, but their generosity in allowing themselves to be ragged unmercifully, playing massively against type and playing up without a sense of caricature to the twisted character Gervais and Merchant have invented for them.

There’s a minor curiosity here. On the DVD collection of the first series, the opening episode is Ross Kemp, aka Grant Mitchell in EastEnders, whose image is that of the hard man. He’s playing a rather burly and decidedly two-eyed, two-armed Horatio, Lord Nelson and, off-stage, boasting about how hard he is, how he appeared with the SAS and was trained by them,and about how he can take anyone apart. Filming on the next stage over is Vinnie Jones, footballer turned actor, also with a reputation as a hard man, not that Kemp respects him that way: he’s harder.

What comes is obvious. Jones hears about Kemp slagging him off and storms over to confront him. Kemp cowers like a boy being shouted at by his headmaster and after Jones storms off, confesses to Andy that he’s not hard at all, and he wasn’t traned by the SAS at all. The worst, or best moment comes when Andy identifies the SAS as the Special Air Services and Kemp corrects him. That’s not what it stands for, he knows what it really stands for, several of the fellers told him, and he almost whispers ‘Super Army Soldiers’. It’s a crushingly funny line and you’ve got to admire Kemp for agreeing to undermine himself like that.

The thing is, that’s episode 1 on the DVD but according to imdb it was shown second, and the series started with the one starring Ben Stiller. That’s not as good an episode, certainly not the best example of the series, at which the Ross Kemp episode serves much better. Instead of appearing in the film, Stiller is directing it. The joke is that this is a wholly serious, gritty and downbeat film, based on a true story, that of Goran (Boris Boscovic), a Serbian whose wife and son were slaughtered in the wars of the Nineties, and here is Stiller, star of some of the biggest-grossing (and mostly crap) films of the era, directing it. And being an insensitive arsehole whose intensity is way OTT in the process, not to mention his constant references to his commercial success stemming from insecurity as to his new role.

The problem is that Stiller can’t really get any humour out of his role, and that’s not helped by the subject, which is serious, of a kind that is near impossible to make fun out of, as emphasised by the presence of Goran, for whom it was no story. He’s running uphill through ankle-deep mud from the start and not helped by being a distant figure, with no interactions with Andy or Maggie until the very end, where he goes off on one, a rant that, according to Gervais, was largely improvised, making it impressive but still not very funny. No, this is not an opening episode.

The third episode, starring Kate Winslet, was much better, though I’m not sure I can apply that word to an extended scene of toe-curling embarrassment that had me hiding my eyes behind my hands or arms more than once. Winslet spends the entire episode in a nun’s habit, because that’s the role she’s playing in a WW2-set film that’s all sensitivity. Which leads into her playing against type, cynically claiming that shr’s doing a Holocaust film because that guarantees an Oscar (oddly enough, she won her first Oscar for years later for such a film).

But he real tour de force is when she overhears Maggie talking about how her boyfriend of three weeks, a props man, wants her to talk dirty on the phone and she’s embarrassed because not only is it dirty but she doesn’t know how to. At which point Windlet, still dressed as a nun, starts coaching her with some ridiculously OTT lines and bizarre euphemisms that had me nearly rolling on the floor with laughter.

Needless to say, it all backfires, but once again it’s a case of the guest star being a tremendously good sport in not just agreeing to do this but doing it so wonderfully well.

At this stage, Extras is a frequently very funny, frequently horribly embarrassing but essentially plotless affair. It’s different enough from The Office, and faintly incestuous being about acting, but Andy Millman has several shared character points with David Brent. Overall, it will follow the pattern of it’s predecessor in using the first series for set-up of a second with a more direct story, concluding with a Special. We will see how that develops.