…oh please, let this be true.
Month: September 2022
Some Outlying Fells: Walna Scar
Walna Scar – The Outlying Fells 2,035′
Date: 16 May 1998
From: The Walna Scar Road
Appropriately enough for the very last fell in this series, this was the last of my expeditions into the Outlying Fells. It’s the only 2,000’er in that book, lying just on the wrong side of Wainwright’s line: it took me about two minutes from the top of Walna Scar Pass to the summit of the fell. The whole thing was actually a diversion from something I wanted to avoid. I was, and still am, an avid FA Cup fan. I love the competition. I watched my first full Final in 1968 and with only two exceptions, had seen every Final since, a few times even in Wembley. But 1998 was different. The Finalists were Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger (who I hated) and Newcastle United, under Kenny Dalgleish (who I’d hated for even longer). It was constitutionally impossible for me to watch the Cup Final without choosing a team to back, but I couldn’t do that this year. In fact, I couldn’t stomach seeing either of the two b******s lift the trophy. So I had to go out for the day and avoid it completely, not even know the result until Sunday morning’s paper. In this I was completely successful. The walk itself was interesting. I parked at Fell Gate and set off along the Walna Scar Road, passing the path to Goatswater, then Cove Bridge and reaching the top of the Pass for the third time. Somewhere along the line, disaster struck. I wore contact lenses for sports and outdoor events in the Nineties. I’d put them in in the car but suddenly my left lens dried out, and I mean dried out completely. I didn’t have my glasses. I didn’t have the little cases to pop a dehydrated lens into. I had to carefully manoeuvre it into a slot in my wallet and hope but meanwhile I was up on the ridge with perfect eyesight in one eye and extremely limited sight in the other. Eek! But I refused to turn round and go back. It was one hundred feet up a straight grass slope and half a dozen steps to the top. My plans were ambitious. I made my way down and westward to White Pike, which Wainwright excludes for some reason, then back and east to White Maiden, which is at least on his map, and which possesses a superb view down to the forested upper Lickle Valley. From there I scrambled down past Dropping Crag to the little ravine of Red Gill, and on by Ash Gill Beck, all on my own within a short distance of the Walna Scar Road. A level walk brought me back out on the old familiar path from Torver, just above Banishead Quarry. I couldn’t resist dropping down to see it again for the first time in a very long time. It was one of our favourite sights. I was now back in the land of the overpopulated paths. Fortunately, Wainwright had identified a path running parallel to the Road which I could use in solitude, smugly ignoring the masses running parallel a quarter mile distant, all the way back to Fell Gate. Where I decanted my dessicated contact lens into the solution in its case which revived it so well you’d never have thought there’d been a thing wrong with it. And that really is the end of this series.
Valerian et Laureline: 22 – The Order of the Stones
…is part 2.
I didn’t want to stop and think about this story, or write this post. I wanted to leap immediately to the final part, the last story. Which is in itself a measure of how much ‘The Order of the Stones’ turned things up to eleven, intensifying the expectations for the end, setting in place a future to be avoided yet which cannot be resisted, and opening a door to that million-to-one chance that comes up nine times out of ten.
There’s no stopping to remind us how we’ve got here, just straight into the action, in the darkness and emptiness of the Great Void. A skiff leaves Captain Roog’a’s ship, piloted by the Captain herself, crewed by a motley band. At the bottom of the opening page there is a panel centred on Valerian and Laureline, into which Mezieres puts one of the most important moments of the entire saga. The panel hits you in the face, depicting the importance of what the two Terrans are doing without once showing any amateurish excess: you understand just how important this is to both of them.
It’s a big and full episode, despite being no longer than other stories. Even the opening sequence, in which various members of the expedition speculate not so much on what they expect to find but the ideal fantasy of what they wish to find, which for Laureline is a famous Impressionist painting, an open air cafe on the banks of the Marne, where she wears a white dress and a pretty hat.
These idyllic portraits create an atmosphere which is quickly dispelled when the skiff lands on the planet that the mothership has identified. It’s a dark, barren place, of dirt and dust, empty of everything, until a gigantic stone materialises in their way. Nothing can get them past it. More appear, caging them. These stones are the same as those the Triumvirs of Rubanis met before, so it’s no surprise when they part to allow the expedition to move forward, and meet the Triumvirs. Who order them to go back, to stop poaching.
The Triumvirs are still working for the Wolochs, but the Wolochs are the stones, and the Order of the Stones. They are the future of the Universe. They are not and will not create a civilisation but all civilisations will have to be cleared to make room for them. They do not do or think or feel: they just are. The Triumvirs are agents for them, they and others: there are always creatures willing to do evil without qualms.
For Captain Roog’a, a hint is dropped, that somewhere in the Void exists a planet or planets with enough ultralum to replenish the nearly-exhausted deposits controlled by the Serene Caliph, or Ephebe pearls enough to control the economy of the Universe. But they also recognise the two young people at the back, and sneer at their hunt to find their lost planet.
Roog’a refuses to back off. A toppling Woloch crushes half her crew, another her skiff. They are stranded, except that Laureline still has her ever-useful Tracer-Tsheung, which flies back to the mothership to bring rescue.
Meanwhile, back on that unnamed planet on the edge of the Great Void, young Ky-Gai’s factory is going great guns and her now almost-completely business-minded Schniarfer is in his element, but she’s still worried about Miss Laureline and Mr Valerian, and is prepared to neglect her business as she senses they’re in trouble.
Indeed they are. The Rubanis Triumvirs deliberately let slip that bit about ultralum and ephebe pearls to tempt Captain Roog’a. Her ship trips from planet to planet before finding, on the 27th attempt, a place that corresponds to the vision of paradise dreamed of by the sadly-crushed Rott Otto. It has the pearls, but sadly for the vision aspect, which Laureline shares, it also has the ultralum: exit paradise, enter heavy machinery.
The Triumvirs are in an awkward position. They’re assisting the Wolochs for their own advantage, but that advantage isn’t going to last, not given that the Wolochs’ ultimate and soon-to-be-initiated plans involve sweeping them away with all the rest. Once Roog’a’s led them to the sources of unimaginable wealth, they’ll have them destroyed by the Wolochs and seize the booty.
But they also plan to betray the Wolochs. There is only one thing that the Order of the Stones fears. It’s a fabulous and ancient device, called The Time-Opener. If wielded by sufficient strength of mind, it can change the past. It could be used to return the Wolochs to the dust and miasma of unstructured creation. The Triumvirs plan to use it for that very purpose, tailored to their own personal proclivities. To avoid the risk, they’re going to use Valerian and Laureline to find it, under close supervision, so that, like the ultralum and the pearls, they can take it away from them once the danger is passed. So they start a rumour from the Labyrinth Prison that Val and Laureline are in the Void to hunt for it.
And once Captain Roog’a’s ship has been destroyed by the Wolochs, and she and Cortes left to suffocate in space, that’s if T’Locq’s troops haven’t shown them the ‘mercy’ of a swift death, S’treks will make a cowboy run on our heroes’ peddler ship and casually let slip about the Time Opener to them.
As for the Time Opener, it was an artefact of a once-great civilisation, now vanished into poverty and anonymity. And in all the planets there were, only one was able to wield it. Not Rubanis. Not Hypsis, with its ‘false gods’. Not Syrte, the richest planet, where Val and Laureline have left their spatiotemporal craft under the care of Jal, and where the length of their absence is causing concern. No, the only planet who could bring together the strength of mind to carry out the change that is needed was… Earth.
At the end of the tunnel, a light appears.
But the Triumvirs have miscalculated. Ky-Gai is concerned about her friends. She hears the rumour. She trades with the stinking ragmen, the Limboz. And it is they who have the Time-Opener. Ky-Gai uses it to transport all of them to where Valerian and Laureline are, crashed on a kind of soft cheese moon, and stuck. Ky-Gai unbinds the Schniarfer to burn away the cloying stuff holding Val and their peddler truck, but not S’treks. She becomes the one who tells Laureline about the Time Opener. Laureline asks it to show her Earth. It does. But that’s all she has the strength for.
Ky-Gail releases the Schniarfer back to Val to control again. She’s whispering to Laureline. They head on their way to meet allies. The girls giggle together. Val accepts being kept in the dark. Until part 3, and the last story…
Some Outlying Fells: Stickle Pike
Stickle Pike – The Outlying Fells 1,231′
From: The Broughton Mills Road
I’m actually almost embarrassed to include this as an ascent. When you reach a summit in about five minutes, in trainers, it doesn’t seem fair, or right, or proper, or any other associated words to be found in a Thesaurus. The thing is that there is a narrow fell road from Broughton Mills, the tiny hamlet in the bottom of the Lickle Valley, following the narrow Dunnerdale Valley and crossing the ridge to descend to Seathwaite-in-Dunnerdale (obviously not the same Dunnerdale). The profusion of fell roads crossing the ridges in the south-west of the Lake District used to fascinate me but the only one my father or uncle would drive was the Birker Moor Road, and then, late on, Corney Fell a couple of times and what we called the Broughton Mills Road once (with me having to get out to open and shut the gates, which was only fair). In my own car it was different, and I would use these and others as the whim took me. One time, crossing on this road with the intention of combining it with Birker Moor as a short route to Eskdale or Wasdale, a thought struck me. I pulled up on the wide verge at the top of the road, followed a wide green path west and south, until I reached the isolated little peak that is Stickle Pike, worked carefully up a wide and steep ride of slightly slippery grass and emerged just behind the top. Five minutes enjoying the view, which was excellent down to the Estuary, then repeated my steps back to the car and went on. Money for old rope, and definitely too easy.
Due South: s02 e17 – Red, White or Blue
I had high hopes – no, I had high expectations of this episode, because it was a direct sequel to my favourite episode, just three weeks ago, ‘All the Queen’s Horses’. Screenplay once again by Paul Gross, the return of Kenneth Welsh, another substantial role for Camilla Scott as Inspector Thatcher (even if Gross couldn’t wangle himself a kiss this time). And I had another reason for wanting this to be a good one because it’s a swansong.
In the end, it didn’t match up to the first story, for two main reasons. One was that the circumstances didn’t allow for the same level of absurdist comedy, forcing the episode ino a more serious vein throughout, and the other, which was a consequence of that, being that Kenneth Welsh’s repeat performance as Randall K Bolt, terrorist, was altogether too far over the top. When you’ve got absurdity on both sides, such a performance took on credibility from the overall tenor of the episode. Without that, Welsh was just chewing the scenery and you just wanted him to stop acting like such a dickhead and shut his face.
The basic story was that Bolt’s trial on multiple counts was coming up but his brother Francis (Raye Birke), a mathematician and meticulous planner, planned to help him escape by taking over the courthouse by the means of Constable Benton Fraser and Detective Ray Vecchio and a pair of matching home-made bombs, with red, white and blue wiring. Which proved to be awkward given that at that point, Ray had decided that he hated Bennie and was not talking to him.
It was of such things that the humour in the episode was derived. We started with Bennie at the Consulate being trained to respond to the eager Press by the Mounties’ PR Lady. He’s either too reticent or he’s about to go into great detail as to what happened when he and Inspector Thatcher were on top of the train when the latter suggests that was irrelevant.
Fraser agrees. In fact he advises her that in accordance with his duty he has striven to strike all memory of it from his mind. Only, it’s not worked, an admission that brings no small degree of satisfaction to the lovely Inspector, which we understand by the way she gives no sign of it.
The problem is that Ray played no less a part and no less an important part in that win yet all the Press want from him is, ‘What’s the Mountie like?’ It gets on Ray’s wick and exacerbates all the tensions between these two totally different characters. They’re talking about how hard Benny is to work with because of his ‘perfections’ except they’re each at home arguing rhetorically with the absent other and so well-tuned that these twin monologues for a perfect conversation without it feeling too contrived to the viewer.
That’s when they’re taken. Which leads into the other double act, which is our fair dark-haired Inspector, who is by no means stupid, and the recurring role of FBI Agent and all round cocky bastard/wanker, Agent Ford (Alex Carter). Ford rolls in, Mr Superior, his show, Doing everything by his book, which must contain only one story in it and that dumb as a mud fence. Ford patronises Thatcher, both for being Canadian and most especially for being a woman, which is not sensible, and you’re ready and waiting for when the Inspector and the Constable are semaphoring to each other from opposite buildings – which is hilarious in itself – and he, his nose out of joint, interferes, demanding to know what she’s saying and grabbing her, at which point she delivers a swift fist to the face which literally puts his nose out of joint.
But there’s more to this than meets the eye, or rather less. Bennie susses it first, realising from the timings that the getaway helicopter is a diversion, but it’s Thatcher’s own intelligence that sees the other half of the story. One of the other trials on that day was a theft case, $30 billion in bearer bonds, here in evidence. Francis Bolt is stealing them under cover of his brother’s ravings.
So, as we knew they would, Ray and Bennie start working together to beat the baddies, with one gorgeously ingenious and casual little move by Ray demonstrating that he’s not just the exciteable one.
The day is won, and the Press flock to interview the hero of the case – Diefenbaker – and all that’s left is one final semaphore exchange between uniformed officer and constable, sending the latter back to duty, but not before he can deliver a private message: Red suits you.
So that was that. A good strong episode and a worthy one for where it was placed in the series overall. Because this was the last proper episode for David Marciano. You know that I try to avoid advance information about any episode I watch and review, but that’s not always possible when going into imdb, so I know next week’s episode is a flat letdown, a cheap series ender. And I know from first time round that David Marciano isn’t coming back after the second season, so this was his swansong and he went out on a high, for which I was grateful.
The Infinite Jukebox: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Ghosts’
This is the sound of Bruce Springsteen in the year 2020, the blue-collar Jersey rock’n’roller turned superstar and multi-millionaire. This is the sound of Bruce Springsteen, aged 71. But it is also the sound of Bruce Springsteen of almost any age or year since Born to Run. This is Springsteen in his own archetype, the Springsteen that is, was and ever will be until the strongest of winds comes and takes him away and you just know that when he’s in whatever heaven veteran rockers end up, he’ll strap on that guitar, call out ‘1-2-3-4’ and the drums will crash and he’ll go on being the sound of this, rock’n’roll’s energy and flare and its call to excitement, joy and all the things that are what make you alive.
Who is the Ghost? Is it someone loved and gone, their ghost the memory that is left of them? Is Springsteen feeling the years, harking back to better times? That’s one interpretation, and a truthful one, but it’s not entirely so. The Ghost is Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen himself, what he once was, that in his own eyes he is no more.
I hear the sound of your guitar, he growls, his voice as hoarse as it always was, comin’ from the mystic far. Not just the guitar but the stone and the gravel in your voice, and he calls it to his dreams so that he can rejoice.
It’s your ghost moving through the night, he proclaims, your spirit filled with life, Bruce needs ‘you’ by his side, your love and I’m alive. And the E Street Band crank up like it’s 1974 again and they’re about to record ‘Born to Run’, which for a moment makes you wonder if the ghost is not actually Clarence Clemons, the Big Man on the sax, no longer here to blow that sound and honk and wail through the sound. It could be, because who says this ghost is one and only one thing?
Indeed, as other songs on the album make plain, the ghost is not just the Big Man, it’s everyone who was part of the music, who played with Springsteen, who has gone on ahead and will never share that stage again, and yet is still alive in the music, in which they none of them will ever die.
Bruce is singing it loud, about what it once was, pretending to be calling up the shade of Times Past, yet all the while, as he and the gang run through the old chops, they’re subtly reinforcing that those days are not gone, never did go, because Bruce and the boys can still do it, are doing it, even as they raise their mythology about themselves. He and they can feel the blood shiver in their bones, I’m alive and I’m out here on my own, I’m alive and I’m coming home.
Build the image, the buckskin jacket, the boots and the spurs, the Fender whose dial is still, always, turned up to ten, count the band in, then kick into overdrive… And they drop the beat to let that old defiance roar: By the end of the set we leave no one alive!
They don’t intend on any survivors now. They are the survivors, wheeling out for one more grand slam, one more show to set their ears a-bleeding, the drums pounding, the guitars ringing. Bruce is not just singing the rock’n’roll of his and his forefathers, not just reminding him and us that this isn’t going away, no matter what the young trends demand, but that he’s doing this in homage, and dedication to all those who have been before.
For a moment, let the passion subside, let us catch our breath, let the piano balance things out, as Bruce gathers everyone into him
I shoulder your Les Paul and finger that fretboard.
I make my vows to those who’ve come before.
I turn up the volume, let the spirits be my guide.
Meet you, brother and sister, on the other side.
Yes, he’s alive, as the band crash back in with that old life’s spirit, he’s alive and he’s coming home, and the song bursts into a la-la-la chant that you can just hear fifty thousand voices taking up, like they do to the coda of ‘Born to Run’. No, it never went away, but sometimes we need the clarion, to call back the ghosts that went ahead, that we want so much to see strutting that stage still, whipping up the frenzy like once happen so automatically, but now sometimes has to be cajoled out before us.
Count the band in and kick into overdrive, by the end of the set we leave no-one alive. But in this song we are alive forever, and so is the music. Not like this will anything die.
A Halifax Expedition
Originally, this should have followed directly on from the Metrolink series of Expeditions, but it had to be postponed one week and then two by the death and funeral of a Queen, and then one day and two for personal reasons I’m still digesting. But it’s a lovely day, bright, blue and cool and I’m not going to hang around any longer.
I’ve only been to Halifax twice before, the first time with long-term girlfriend Mary on one of our frequent Saturdays of going off in the car to somewhere and anywhere. We found the Piece Hall and went round that, and I came back with an R.E.M. fanclub Xmas single that was never commercially released, which tells you a little about the specialist and individual shops that now fill the floors of what was once a Merchant ‘s Trading Centre for cloth and fabric, centuries ago. It wouldn’t surprise me to suddenly remember that that was why Mary wanted to go there in the first place.
More than a decade later, married with stepchildren, we were on our way back from somewhere else Yorkshire way, and on the way back I diverted us into Halifax, intent on introducing them to the Piece Hall. But we never got out of the car, nor even rolled the windows down, hot as it was, because from end to end the Town Centre stunk to high Heaven, of drains and sewerage, and the kids would never hear of going anywhere near it again.
But all things eventually roll around again and that’s where I’m going, thirty years later. I do not go lightly into Yorkshire. Indeed, it’s difficult to remember when I last went anywhere on Yorkshire, as opposed to across it to visit two internet friends in Newcastle, but it’s not that far back, not too long before the Pandemic, going to Sheffield and The Old Magazine Shop, place of so many wonderful purchases of Keith Watson Dan Dare era Eagles.
Travelling in from Stockport I repress most of my usual concerns – such a nicer word than paranoia – about travelling, even though I’ve come out ten minutes later than planned and missed a bus at the stop. It’s bus and tram to Victoria station, where the automatic ticket machines are incomprehensible and the guy ahead of me at the ticket counter is taking ages to leave after getting his ticket, but I am on the 11.55 Leeds via Halifax with minutes to spare.
The day and the ride are brilliant, especially once we’re clear of Manchester and headed into open country, alleviated by old stone roads, houses and building, heading towards the sunlit hummocks of the grassy Pennines, overtopped by a bright, white windfarm, arms wheeling. It just gets better and better as we pass through narrow cuts, tracing the routes of canals, through Todmorden and Hedben Bridge and smaller places, crammed into deep valleys, that I can’t take in until the ride back. The journey alone is worth the expedition, and I wish that I was travelling it by canal boat rather than train, so that time would cease to run and I could just look up and around. It might be bloody Yorkshire, but it’s still bloody lovely.
I’m reminded of another day out with Mary, even further back, when we must have come this way on not so sunny a day. It was when there was talk of closing the Settle-Carlisle line, that runs across the great Ribblehead Viaduct, the scenic gem. So whilst we still could, and as it was my birthday week, we made a day of it, a great triangle, Manchester to Leeds to Carlisle and back by the West Coast Main Line, and the irony being that it was a November Saturday and the weathey shitty so we saw nothing. Perhaps one day soon?
The latter half of the route is elevated above the valley bottoms. We slide into Halifax exactly on time, and with me in great need of satisfying matters of the flesh. Signposting to the Piece Hall is confusing, focussing more on getting you to where you can park than the landmark itself, but it is literally only three or four minutes walk away. I wouldn’t normally do this, and I wouldn’t do this now if there were any visible alternatives but, in need of food, drink and the loo, I enter Burger King. I order a ‘Whopper’, fries and a diet coke that appear unnaturally quickly. The burger is eatable but doesn’t score many points for individual taste, and it’s slathered with so much gunk it’s no better than lukewarm by the time I’ve finished it. The fries stay hot and the coke cold however.
For most of my time in there, a young and chubby couple are immersed in each other in the next booth but what. Not in any romantic way. One has his head buried against the chest and shoulder of the other, crouching immobile, like someone in devastating emotional pain who can no longer summon up any more tears, the other consumed in holding them, hand on their hair, equally still, as if separation will induce a fatal attack. The joys of youth.
The Piece Hall, when I enter it at its eastern, lowest gate is immediately familiar and instantrly recogisable. The structure, with its golden stone is exactly as it was before but the exapansive central courtyard has had its slanting cobbles removed and replaced with silver grey stone flags and banks of low steps, chosen to complement not contrast. Another lovely place for the eyes. Tables and chairs for the various bars around the lowest level are given ample space.
Where to start? Anti-clockwise, obviously, just as in Lake District Horseshoe walks. This brings me first to a crystals and stone shop. I got to be very familiar with such places via my ex-. The funny thing was that, in those long ages of waiting for her, I who am sceptical, material and unbelieving, would more than once turn over little boxes of polished stones, each with their own properties and several times, to my own surprise, find that a particular stone felt ‘right’. It wasn’t as if it spoke to me in any way, but I would feel a connection to it. Suggestibility? Perhaps. Even now, I looked at different stones, picking them up, smoothing over them with my fingers, and I came away with one, Labradorite, which sounds like a made-up word but isn’t. In the shop it said it stood for transformation, but according to Google, it is a Fire Mountain Gem:
In the metaphysical world, labradorite is considered one of the most powerful protectors. The gemstone creates a shield for auras and protects against negativity of the world. Labradorite is said to temper the negativity within ourselves as well.
Sounds just up my street. I’d better get it out of my bag.
Next door to that was The Book Corner, extending over at least three units. I rarely visit bookshops now, but this was utterly fascinating, filled with practically nothing I would normally consider reading but so much that was intriguing and which drew me. I told the youngish woman at the till at one end that ‘If I had the money, if I had the space to put them and the time to read them, I could go through this place like the traditional dose of salts!’, a compliment that seemed to please her at least as much as a sale would have done.
Stairs at the corner gave access to the upper rooms but I wasn’t even half way round yet. I discovered The Traders Room, a replica of its original style, a tiny place used to conduct negotiations between traders and merchants. In its original form the Piece Hall had 315 rooms like this.
Of course, some shops just had to remind you, rudely, that you were in Yorkshire. especially the one selling little wall plaques rubbishing other towns in the County. Typical Yorkshireman: if he can’t find anyone else to be bloody rude to, he turns on his countymen.
I wandered round totally unhurried, well aware that if I should have happened to be accompanied by my ex-, it would have taken us three, four, five times as long, for she would have loved the place and been in and out of nearly every shop rather than the mere handful I entered. It would still have been me who led us into the Comics shop, the first I’ve been into in a good two years now. Nostalgia urged me to pick up something, but sense knew it would have been buying for the sake of buying.
With time and enough, I exited through the opposite gate to see what else there was. Almost immediately I was passing through the Westgate Arcade, which had a vinyl-dominated record shop, and round a few old streets in the Town Centre, always maintaining my mental com[pass needle pointing back at the Piece Hall. There seemed to be an absolute shortage of places selling cans of Diet Coke, though I finally found a Greggs and a bench to sit on and temporarily rest my shoulder, aching from the bag slung over it. There was a CEX in sight, but the DVDs were upstairs and there weren’t any to attract me.
I could see a direct way to re-enter the Piece Hall via the north gate, which brought me out near The Book Corner. I couldn’t just praise them so I went in and bought a book. The young woman recognised me – my bright yellow sweatshirt is a dead giveaway, it was much admired at Sky when I used to work there, especially by the ladies, though I would much rather they admired the sweatshirt’s contents and told them so often, not that anyone took the hint – and I told her I couldn’t just praise them and not buy anything. This is their website: if you buy anything there’s no point mentioning my name as they won’t know who I am.
After a few more minutes in the sun, I strolled back to the Station, finding there was a Chester via Manchester Victoria train due within five minutes. I want the other side for going back and there’s a face forward table seat near to the door I use but a woman charges down the carriage and grabs it, forcing me to sit facing backwards. All so she can put her copy of Closer on the table.
It’s much less fun coming back. It akways is, but this is compounded by the views on this side of the track being more confined, the accumulating grey cloud building up behind us and the fact that views you have already passed are briefer and less rewarding than those you are literally looking forward to.
Disembarking at Victoria, I am horrified that, just as at Halifax, their tiolets are out of commission. I don’t rally want to have to hold on all the way back home but it looks likely until I forget that the tram I’m on is to Altrincham and doesn’t visit Piccadilly Gardens, so I hop out at St Peter’s Square and dive into Central Reference Library’s basement. Ahh.
Whilst I am here, there is something else I really ought to get my act in gear about. I visit the Archive section to refresh my memory about researching old newspapers on microfilm, this time on one of the viewers you can use to take photocopies from. That’s 20p a time, which is not too bad if spread out. I have an old enthusiasm, upon which I became the internet expert, to return to. Keep your eyes peeled.
But it’s time to get home. Metro to Piccadilly Station, a 203 back, fits and starts up Hyde Road and down Reddisah Lane, in the rush hour, irritation levels steadily on the rise, as Warren Zevon described the rate of (emotional) attrition in ‘Nobody’s in Love This Year’. I should know better. But for a day like that it’s a small price to pay. I have three more Expeditions planned: can I get them all in before the weather and the clock goes, not to mention the economy?
Some Outlying Fells: Muncaster Fell
Muncaster Fell – The Outlying Fells 751′
Date: May 1971
From: Muncaster Castle
This was the last of my family walks in The Outlying Fells and, like that of Boat How, done several years before the book was announced, let alone published. The circumstances were unique. It was a lovely, sunny, indeed quite hot Wednesday in the middle of our first holiday that year, our first full holiday without Dad. It would have been great to spend our time, and indeed take our time, out on the fells, but we had been somewhat dragooned into a duty call, upon Uncle Alf and Aunty Marion (Great-Uncle and -Aunt to my sister and I) who lived in Bootle. We were due there for lunch so walking time was severely truncated. With that limitation, we opted to ascend Muncaster Fell, parking the car just below the Castle entrance and leaving the road at a gate on a sharp bend. A long, straight uphill walk amongst trees, between stone walls got us going. It ended just short of a private tarn, with access denied by a locked farmgate. I wanted to take a picture, but between the gate and the gloom under the trees that hemmed it, it wouldn’t have come out. Once out onto the open fell, it wasn’t much further to the highest point, at Hooker Crag. Behind us, the estuary opened out into a gorgeous, wide and bright seascape. It looked stunning. I wanted to take a photo of that but too much of the sun would have been in the lens and that wouldn’t have come out. I only have the memory of it, but I’ve retained that over fifty years. Wainwright, when his book appeared, would have recommended following the ridge onwards, with its views towards Eskdale and Scafell, before descending to Muncaster Head farm and following the lane back to the main road, which passed the memorial tower I used to look for as we passed., where they told me a medieval King of England had been captured (but not which one) (Henry VI, actually). It would have made for a better day but even had we known of it then we would have lacked the time to walk it and still be at our relations, properly spruced up. Uncle Alf was Grandad’s immediately older brother but Aunty Marion was a Parkinson, an altogether superior form of being than Crookalls. My sister and I were big on chewing gum then, and both were rhythmically munching, but only she was looked down upon with disdain: not lady-like, you see.
*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge – My 40 Favourite Movies: 34 – Stalker
34: STALKER: 1979. Director: Andrei Tarkovsky. USSR. Science fiction. [Russian with sub-titles]. Aleksandr Kaidanovsky. Anatoly Solonitsin. Nikolai Grinko. Alisa Freindlikh.
Loosely adapted from the 1972 science fiction novel Roadside Picnic by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, script by Andrei Tarkovsky with the Strugatsky brothers. Cinematography by Alexander Knyaztinsky. Edited by Lyudmila Feiginova. Music by Eduard Artemyev. Producer: Mosfilm. Distributor: Goskino. Screen-time 161/163 minutes. Budget 1million SUR. 4.3million tickets sold. Filming began in 1976, but was fraught with problems, including improper development of the film negative that prompted Tarkovsky replacing the original cinematographer, and Tarkovsky himself suffering a heart attack in 1978. It was completed in 1979 and shown at the Cannes Film Festuval. Locations were in and around Tallinn, Estonia, then still part of the USSR – at a “half-functioning hydro-electric station” on the River Jagala; the Rotermann salt storage (now the Museum of Estonia Architecture); the Tallin Power Plant (now the Tallinn Creative Hub – a memorial plaque commemorating the film was put up in 2008); the gates to the ‘Zone’ was at Lasnamäe, next to Punane Street, Tallinn; the Narva highway bridge over the Pirita Rover; and near the Flora chemical plant, from which genuine poisonous liquids were drifting downstream. At the time this had an adverse effect on health; the women in the film crew having allergic reactions to their faces, but ultimately may have contributed to Tarkovsky’s own early death.
Kim Newman, in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, has a full description: “Like Andrei Tarkovsky’s earlier Solaris (1972), Stalker is adapted from a popular Eastern bloc science-fiction novel (The Roadside Picnic, by Arkadi and Boris Strugstsky) and uses genre trappings – again a mysterious, possibly alien phenomenon that debatably materializes the innermost wishes of flawed investigators – to ask fundamental questions about humanity, memory, desire, and desolation. In an unnamed small country (the book is set in America), a Zone has appeared, perhaps as the result of meteorite hit or a visitation from outer space, where the laws of physics and geography are suspended. Though the authorities police the borders of the Zone for the ‘protection’ of the unwary, the title character (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky) is one of a small group of wounded sensitives who smuggle people past the barriers and guide them through the treacherous but magical space. Against the wishes of his wife (Alisa Frejndlikh), who has to care for their physically challenged but psychically gifted daughter, the Stalker takes two men – a writer in search of inspiration (Anatoli Solonitsyn), and a scientist with a covert mission (Nikolai Grinko) – into the Zone, past the rusting remains of a former military expedition, through perilous and often-changeable pathways, to ‘the room’, where wishes may come true. It is not unthinkable that the Strugstskys’ original novel could be remade one day as an action movie, but Tarkovsky’s version might more properly be tagged a reflection film: in the Zone, forward movement as often as not means doubling back, and we far more frequently see the travellers at rest, the camera at a respectful distance, long periods of speechlessness, marked by haunting music and a natural soundscape, are punctuated by intense, challenging, possibly futile debate amongst the characters. The Zone is one of the cinema’s great magical places: damp green and sylvan above-ground giving way to watery, muddy, uninhibited recent ruins as the party near the perhaps mythical Room. Like MGM’s Oz, the Zone is coloured amid drab, monochrome reality, though the Stalker’s daughter – allegedly malformed by her father’s exposure to the Zone – has her own color, notably in a breath-taking final shot that conveys her telekinetic powers with a simplicity as affecting in its own way as the bloody shocks of Brian De Palma in Carrie (1976) and The Fury (1978).”
And here is Chris Peachment, writing a subsequent review for Time Out Film Guide: “Against the fractural density of Mirror, Stalker sets a form of absolute linear simplicity. The Stalker leads two men, the Writer and the Professor, across the Zone – a forbidden territory deep inside a police state – towards the Room, which can lay bare the devices and desires of your heart. However, let no one persuade you that this is sci-fi or common allegory. The ragged, shaven-headed men are familiar from Solzhenitsyn, and the Zone may be a sentient landscape of hallucinatory power, but its deadly litter of industrial detritus is all too recognisable. The wettest, grimiest trek ever seen on film leads to its nihilistic impasse – huddled in dirt, the discovery of faith seems impossible, and without faith, life outside the Zone is impossible. But hang on in to the ending, where a plain declaration of love and a vision of pure magic at least point the way to redemption. As always, Tarkovsky conjures images like you’ve never seen before, and as a journey to the heart of darkness, it’s a good deal more persuasive than Coppola’s.” Mirror (Zarkalo), was a previous Tarkovsky movie from 1974, described as a “history of his country in this [20th] century seen in terms of the personal”, while the Francis Coppola reference is to his Apocalypse Now, also released in 1979.
In popular fiction then, the Zone has certainly similarities to the 1927 H.P. Lovecraft story The Colour Out of Space, which also features some kind of “meteorite hit or visitation” that affects the surrounding landscape – but in the Lovecraft short story with deadly consequences. In the real world there was the 1908 Tunguska blast or impact event, probably a meteoroid, which devastated a remote forest area. But closer to our time, in 1986 (the year Tarkovsky died), there was the Chernobyl nuclear accident, in what is now independent Ukraine, just across the border from Belarus, resulting in a real live ‘exclusion zone some 30 kilometres across, and still radio-active – estimates vary, from 300 years to tens of thousands of years. It was the Strugstsky brothers/Tarkovsky vision come true – an entire town abandoned almost overnight, returned to wilderness, visited under strict supervision, with random, but deadly, pockets of intense radiation. In the movie, eventually no one actually enters the Room. The scientist had planned to set off a bomb to destroy it, but changes his mind. The Stalker and Writer, reflecting on the fate of the Stalker’s former companion (known as ‘Porcupine’), who had committed suicide soon after gaining ingress to the Room, also abandon the venture. The implication is that which of us really knows our most secret desires? Perhaps it is better not to find out.
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986), Soviet film and theatre director, writer and film theorist, is now – belatedly – regarded as one of the greatest Russian film-makers ever. In 1990 he was posthumously awarded the Lenin Prize. At the time, however, in the 1970s and 80s, he suffered years of creative conflict with the Soviet authorities, and eventually left the USSR, first for Italy, then Sweden. He only made seven films, between 1962 and 1986, starting with Ivan’s Childhood (1962). His great classic, Andrei Rublev, about the 15th century icon painter, followed in 1965, but there existed several versions due to cuts imposed, and it was only released for general distribution in 1971. His next best film, Solaris, adapted from the science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, was in 1972, followed by Mirror, 1974, autobiographical, and said to be unconventionally structured. This was subject to a ‘Third Category’ rating, which greatly restricting where and how it could be shown. Even aside from language and culture, Tarkovsky is something of an acquired taste, requiring great “patience from the audience”. I’ve seen three of his movies – Andrei Rublev, Solaris (which was remade in 2002, with producer James Cameron and director Steven Soderbergh, starring George Clooney – quite different in mood and tempo, but equally faithful to the original 1961 Lem novel), and finally Stalker, of the three my favourite. They are all visual feasts, but much too slow and long-drawn out for Western cinema audiences. Russians are more appreciative of classical literature or art, but perhaps another factor was that cinema especially could afford escapism from the often dull, dreary realism outside. Tarkovsky’s films are visually impressive, sweeping panoramas; you are sucked in. Another factor with Solaris and Stalker was the popularity of science fiction in the USSR, where it had less genre snobbery than in Britain or the USA. The Marxist utopia was always just around the next corner, and ideas about the future, or new inventions, held great appeal. At the same time science fiction could imply alternative societies – on other planets or in the distant future – without the censor getting upset. Western book or film critics – especially British or American – need to bear this in mind. Tarkovsky was not just another film director, working only in the (comparatively mild) restraints of the Hollywood Code, finance or the diktat of a studio boss. There were penalties, but also alternative opportunities. By contrast, Soviet film-makers or writers always had to tread wearily of the official communist party dogma. There was the constant threat of censorship, their work suppressed, or potentially having your film or publication being denied seeing the light of day, your career ruined, even the possibility of prison. Exile was ultimately the only option for artistic freedom, but exile for a Russian is no easy thing, especially if one is as passionate and patriotic about his country and its history and culture was Tarkovsky was. Outside the USSR, he was to make only two more films – Nostalgia (1983), and The Sacrifice (1986) – before dying of lung cancer in Paris, at age 54. He was buried at the Russian Cemetery of Sainte-Genevière-des-Bois. Some speculated if he was secretly assassinated by the KGB, but the actor Anatoly Solonitsyn (1934-1982, who played the Writer) had also died of lung cancer, as later did Tarkovsky’s wife, Larisa Tarovskaya (1933-1998), also in Paris. However, Vladimir Sharun, who was the sound designer on Stalker, believed the cause was long-term poison from the Soviet-era Estonian chemical plant. Nikolai Grinko (1920-1989) played the Scientist; Kaidanovsky (1946-1995) played the Stalker.
Ingmar Bergman – who Tarkovsky admired – said “Tarkovsky invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, as a dream.” Geoff Dyer, in The Guardian, wrote that the film was “synonymous both with cinema’s claims to high art and a test of the viewer’s ability to appreciate it as such.” The Rotten Tomatoes review says “Stalker is a complex, oblique parable that draws unforgettable images and philosophical musings from its sci-fi thriller setting.”
More recently the basic concept of the movie has been morphed into an action-packed video game, rather as was suggested above. No philosophical reflections there.
My comments as at: 11/11/1990
Stalker is a long rambling Russian film (160 minutes) with lots of long rambling dialogue (sub-titled in English), but a visual feast. A great idea, spooky and eerie, the images and ideas behind the ‘zone’ (the mysterious area effected by a strange extra-terrestrial meteorite), brilliant photography of the derelict industrial outside, the overgrown and abandoned zone interior, its buildings in ruins, tanks and cars overgrown and rusting, empty of people. The film is a middle way between the rather slow ponderous Russian style (like the other Tarkovsky film Solaris – a similar idea with its mysterious living ocean) and the brash car-chase razzamatazz of American films. The dialogue could have been edited and the zone made more mysterious without becoming a horror movie or losing subtlety.
Some Outlying Fells: Howes & Nabs Moor
Howes – The Outlying Fells 1,930′
Date: 14 September 1994
From: Selside Pike
The most easterly of my limited outings into the Outlying Fells, Howes was not a destination in itself but rather a more interesting way back from my primary target, the fell that brought me into lovely, old-world Swindale in the first place (and the last time before all road traffic except residents was barred from the valley). I was racing somewhat – to try to get the last of the Wainwrights in before the year was out, and to be back at my car in time to drive home and watch United in the Champions League. So rather than reverse my steps back to the Mosedale Corpse Road, I swung round in a wide loop south round to east, skirting the head of Hobgrumble Gill on pathless grass. Howes doesn’t stand out in any way: it’s a spur rather than a peak of any kind and from there I swung further round to head north, over the lower point of Nabs Moor, which did at least have some crags blocking a direct descent, and thence down to Mosedale Beck, within sound but not sight of its falls. The actual head of the valley was occupied by moraines, and was weirdly lower than the ground beyond it, which was an odd end to the walk. But I was back for 3.00pm, as promised to the farmer who’d graciously consented to me parking in his yard, and in good time for the match, which we won 4-2. Those were the days.