A Buttermere Expedition: Part 3


All the evidence seems to be that I’m the only football fan in England not over the moon or given to any other cliches about England reaching the Euro 2020 Final last night, which is odd when you consider how much I ranted at our blowing the last semi-final we reached three years ago. But I watched the game last night in slowly growing disinterest, some of it in reaction to the fact that ITV’s coverage is absolute crap, and in the years since I last had a television the standard of adverts has crashed through every floor you could possible imagine, some of it because pointless passing, where X passes the ball to Y who instantly passes it back to X, and so on ad nauseam, still annoys me intensely, and some of it because the commentary never made even the slightest pretense of neutrality and, by extra time, wouldn’t even have recognised it with an electron microscope. Just imagine: I’ve waited 55 years for something like this to come around again, and I can hardly be bothered.

The main factor is that I’d already had the nearly best day possible and by that token football was an intrusion, not to mention a reminder of why I haven’t had a television this past dozen years. But today’s the day for going back. I slept only fitfully, being too exhausted to sleep properly, and it’s grey skies above and for some way down too, so I definitely had the luck for it yesterday.

I’m still achey and intent on taking it slowly. My train out of Windermere isn’t due until 13.07 and I hadn’t planned on getting the bus until 10.30, which leaves a lot of morning to kill, carrying a heavy bag around, before I finally relinquish the Lakes on this visit. So I walk slow and stop frequently, just like yesterday. It’s Market Day in the Square but I was more convcerned about finding somewhere to buy drinks, which I end up doing at Booths.

All my instincts are to buy a book for the trsain home but all the books in Keswick offer me nothing: it used to be so easy. Once upon a time I never visited the New Bookshop in Cockermouth without buying three, some of whoich I still have.

But shortness of energy has its concomitant in shortness of temper. From the bus station onwards I am halfway back into the real world, and in the real world people are iritating. The bus driver who wanders off into Booths and doesn’t return until after the bus should have departed. The people who stand at the top of the stairs and peer hopefully into the distance, as if a free seat with suddenly, magically, slide towards them.

It’s grey all round now, with cloud on everything, not just Skiddaw. Nothing to look at. Yesterday was such a briliant day, the only thing that could have improved it was someomne to share it with and the bus would be a hundredfold better with someone to talk to and break social distancing with. I wonder what it would be like to kiss through twqo facemasks?

At Windermere, I take a break in the cafe, a bakewell slice and a flat white. There’s still an hour till my train and I can’t catch an earlier one (if there is one) because I’m on a specfic single for economy. And that’s when the day runs into a brick wall, as my train is abruptly cancelled. The next one’s not until 1.58 and that’s only to Oxenholme. I’m all right, or so I think at that point, but people with connections to make are milling around, panicking. But the delay is enormous and I’m sore and bored long before we even get away on a packed train on which the very idea of social distancing is ditched. Not by yours truly, mind. I make sure with my bags that no-one sits next to me.

It’s the start of a journey from hell. At Oxenholme I transfer to the Euston train, but that’s going through Wigan and Warrington, not Manchester, so I hop off at Preston. By now it’s a beautiful afternoon, much like yesterday, but I’m free-associating Bilbo Baggins, except it’s ‘The day Goes Ever On and On’. There are ten stops to Piccadilly and I count them all, and when I finally get off the train I think it’s nearly over, but it’s not. The bus journey is torture. I’m broiling, and panting, not breathing, and my stress levels are would up so high that when I finally get in, ready to brain someone, anyone, with a tire-iron, I am literally shaking and it takes nearly an hour to return to normal.

So, ok, it wasn’t the usual tedious return journey, the one with nothing to write about, but in the other hand, I could have done without it. It was as bad as yesterday was good, but it doesn’t balance out like that. Wednesday was still the best day I’ve had in a god’s age whilst shitty ones turn up pretty much every week. I look forward to sleeping.

A Buttermere Expedition: Part 2


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I’m awake from early on and it looks as if I’ve been sold a bill of goods. Instead of overcast skies, rain or even the threat of occasional showers, it’s bloody gorgeous, deep blue skies, whisks of white cloud and everything as sharp and clear as could be, except for Skiddaw of course, insisting on donning a fringe of cloud for its top.

There are two breakfast servings and I’m on the first, at 8.00am, orange juice, toast and jam, most of a Full English (I have declined the fried tomato and the black pudding), which is nicely filling but could have been better. A half hour of preparation, mainly paring down what I need to the minimum, includes jamming a sweatshirt into my bag, in case the day doesnt stay suited to a short-sleeved polo shirt.

Once outside I almost immediately come to a contretemps with a local lady, who notices my facemask looped under my chin like hers, but who tells me gleefully that she’s looking forward to getting rid of her ‘beard’. I tell her I’m still going to be wearing mine. She interprets this as this as a challenge, because it is, and starts going on about how she hates it (do you think we’re having a barrel of laughs with these things on all the time?) but I cut her off with the plain statement that I’m going to keep wearing mine to avoid any risk of passing any symptoms I might have to other people. I wish this fucking Government and its sycophantic fucking rich man’s right wing press would point out even once that that is why we’re wearing them.

I’m in no hurry so I stroll through the town, picking up sandwiches and liquids at Greggs (my, how unimaginative), but there’s a Buttermere bus boarding when I get to the bus station, so I board it. It’s a single-decker, as is absolutely necessary for something going over Honister Pass, but that means it’s also full. There’s none of this stuff about social distancing or not sitting next to anyone you’re not already intimate with in one way or another, though we all wear masks. I haven’t had this experience for sixteen months and I’m lucky to get the only seat, back row, right hand side, where a one seat space exists. It’s an old bus and when it’s standing still it judders worse than a 405-line black and white television.

Despite it saying Honister Pass on the front, the bus leaves through north Keswick, as if bound for Cockermouth or Carlisle. But it turns off through Portinscale, towards Newlands and Grange, down twisting leafy lanes. There is Hindscarth, prominent, and how long is it since I saw that? Sudenly it hits me: It isn’t just Buttermere that’s the prize for today, but everything. Everywhere about me. It’s all an old land that I have not revisited in way too long. There are no memories in these tree-shrouded ways, all the memories associate with tops and ridges, but all about me the fells rise, their names as familiar as well-loved lyrics and as easy to recite. Hindscarth and Robinson. Red Pike over Newlands Hause. The back of Catbells. Swinging towards Grange and approaching via the high road, west of Derwentwater, looking down and across spectacularly. Grange Fell in its two parts, Castle Crag, Rosthwaite Fell, Glaramara. Crossing the Stonethwaite Valley and peering to Eagle Crag. The Seathwaite Valley and Great End.

The worst bit is that we’re going up Honister the ‘wrong way’, from Seatoller. I’ve only ever driven it from the other side, after horror stories about the steep descents here. The only time I went this way, I walked it. My stomach is still listening to old family tales, despite the awareness that these buses go up here half a dozen times a day. Can’t convince me. I’m not too good in a bus on the steep bit down off the top either.

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But as the bus descends, the view opens out. Red Pike, High Stile – why couldn’t I have had a day like this when I climbed that ? – Mellbreak. Is that Hen Comb over the Scale Force gap? High Crag, and looking back to Haystacks. A brief glimpse of Crummock Water as we descend to Buttermere Village and I prepare to disembark. It’s scorching. I get a drink at the cafe and write up my draft thus far, disturbed by a bird shitting on my right wrist.

Let’s go walking.

Not, sadly, up any of these wonderful mountains, but across the fields and round to the foot of the Lake, and the people sitting around just as if this were Bowness Bay without the ice creams, and then the shore path along the southern side of Buttermere, under the high ridges of the High Stile Range.

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I have time, lots of time, and well I need it, for I am slow, slow slow slow slow slow. I’ve no more reached the lakeshore path than I’m sitting down on a handy rock, joking with a passing pair that I am so far out of condition that you can’t see Condition from Jodrell Bank. Only I wish it was a joke.

It’s a busy path with parties passing by in opposite directions all the time. There’s a young couple with a very young child and a black dog that can’t get enough of the lake, racing forward and hurling itself down to the water-line at every opportunity. Our paths criss-cross and they see me with my notepad a couple of times, sat on one rock or another. Eventually, they ask me if I’m sketching (I would if I could), so I explain about the notes for this post. They’re intrigued and ask for the blog-name, so I give it them (never miss the chance of a new reader), so if they’ve found this and are reading it, hi there, and hope the rest of your day went well.

Apart from the crunch of boots and shoes and trainers from behind or ahead, which is not continuous I’m pleased to say, there’s a welcome stillness to things, broken sometimes by birdsong, by the breeze whispering the trees, the music of little gills rippling into the lake and the disruptive drone of what sounds like a helicopter at the head of the lake, though I can’t see one in the sky.

I’m stopping at every stop where there’s something I can sit upon, not just because I am genuinely tired but in order to spin this walk out. There’s not much to do in Buttermere if you’re not walking, or eating/drinking and I don’t want to be back at Keswick too soon. Besides, as I may have mentioned already, it’s bloody lovely everywhere.

For some reason, after my chat with the interested couple, I develop a second wind stronger than the first, and plough on semi-relentlessly until beneath High Crag, towering like a buttress concealing beyond the sky-line the kind of stronghold common to fantasy fiction.

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I’m close enough now to the head of the lake to see that blasted helicopter, which seems to be whirling about aimlessly in Warnscale, or heading up to skim the face of Haystacks’ crags. As I got nearer, I could see something globular and black dangling from it. To cut a long story short, it was a National Trust helicopter relaying supplies of stone to path-layers up on Scarth Gap, though the pilot was giving a damned good impression of not knowing where the hell he was headed and the noise was only getting more irritating.

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When I finally get to Gatesgarth, glad to lose the uneven stones underfoot, it’s 1.15pm. There’s the delightful sight of trestle tables which usually indicates the presence of some establishment ready to sell you food and drink to rest on such things but which, on this occasion, lets me down comprehensively. There’s a portable ice-cream shop all right, but it’s shut.

I’ve got those Greggs sandwiches, crusty baguettes, rather, but it’s too damned hot to eat, especially anything crusty, so I have a good long sit down until the next bus comes. There are more clouds in the air now, but they’re still only Joni Mitchell ice cream castles, and they don’t stay that way for long. I’m sat where I can see the bus coming down Honister Bottom in easy time to cross to the stop. I bought myself an All-Day Rider ticket: if I’m back in time, shouldn’t that cover me to pop to Cockermouth and back?

It’s not very often that I get to sit in the sun, breathing fresh air, and contentedly let my head fill with nothing. The bus isn’t due till 2.15pm so I’ve got ample time in which to do it. Damn that bloody helicopter, though.

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I apparently can’t help it. There are still seven minutes before the bus is due, and it’s nearly ten minutes late but I am compelled to go over to the stop now. When it arrives there’s only one other passenger on it, until it fills up at Buttermere that is, so I get my choice of seats on the left. I also discover that somehow or other my All Day-Rider ticket has vanished from my wallet, but the bus driver’s a decent sort and lets me on anyway.

The views from this side, over Buttermere to High Stile and Burtness Comb, are phenomenal but incapable of capture from a moving bus with a digital camera, as will be the vista over the Vale of Lorton and the back of the high fells when we turn for Whinlatter Pass some time later. At least I get to enjoy the sparkle of Crummock Water, under the sun, although no matter how high the road rises I cannot squeeze out the merest glimpse of Loweswater, in its grassy bay.

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Unlike Portsinscale and Newlands there are memories in these lanes, though not necessarily happy ones. Down off a high, hot day in the fells, I found myself called upon to play Samaritan to an older couple from Essex: he’d had a heart attack, she was lost and I raced them as fast as the roads allowed to High Lorton, where there was a police station (to no avail: he didn’t survive). Below Whiteside, again after a high, hot day in the fells, I went over badly on my ankle, on level grass a hundred yards from the car, ruining the rest of that holiday, and the chances of my ever playing squash again.

Whinlatter Pass, at least, is a more pleasant recollection. There was the day following the northern ridge of Aiken Beck where I started my favourite novel out of almost nothing. The kids having a winderful time, playing at the Visitor Centre, late one Sunday afternoon, and following them through the human-sized badger sett that had too many convolutions inside for how big it was outside.

But Whinlatter is like a private possession, a Pass I chanced on my own that my family would never have dreamed of driving, only me, my own turf, so easy to drive, unlike Honister, or Newlands Hause.

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By the time we were back at Keswick, my legs were aching to buggery. I wanted an ice cream, but it seems that these are next to impossible to find in Keswick, no newsagents with freezers full of lollies and ices. So I called in the Oddfellows again, this time just for a pint, for which I was put out in the beergarden at the back. Nice to see people still being sane. The very nice short-haired blonde shows me, to my surprise, that my debit card is also a contactless card: all this time and I never knew, fancy that.

I take my time then wander wearily back. I still want that ice cream so if the only place you can buy them is a back street Spar… There’s a United Utilities van in the back-street, ‘helping make things flow easily’ by blocking the way so I have to clamber over someone’s rockery…

It’s been a long day and I think you can tell it’s been a fantastic one. All the photos are my own. The break has been brief but rewarding, and once I’ve finished preparing this, I shall rock back and watch England’s Euro 2020 semi-final.

No interruptions, please.

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A Buttermere Expedition: Part 1


Due to the eccentricities of my employers of the last decade in having their holiday year run from 1 July to 30 June, I’ve formed the habit of taking the first full week in July off as a by-then much needed break. Usually I do nothing, just stodge about relaxing, but this time I decided to take the opportunity to get away for a couple of days. Based on the evidence of my Portsmouth trip, which now seems so long ago, it doesnt kill my bank balance to stay two nights, travelling up on Tuesday and back on Thursday. The full day in the middle could let me get somewhere I haven’t been in a long time, like since before the year 2000. Such as the Buttermere Valley. Given the weather this morning, and what is forecast for the next couple of days, I suspect I might not get everything out of it that I’d hoped.

I’ve spent the last 24 hours fretting over what it is I’ve forgotten. I’m convinced it’s something critical but if it is I’m not going to find out what until I need it and it isn’t there.

I’m in Piccadilly Station for 11.04am which, given that my train leaves at 11.47, is cutting things preilously close for me. One thing I haven’t got on me is a big, thick book, to be read comfortably, without distractions, and th\at’s because I haven’t got anything which qualifies and that I haven’t already read. My alternative of choice is my Kindle, which contains a number of part-read books, some of them for a long time.

The train’s on time and I leap to the front of the front carriage to claim a table-seat on the side where the views will come, if there are any. The clouds are gunmetal grey and darker: we hit rain before Wigan, and though blue is mixed in, it’s mostly westwards, towards the sea.

Oxenholme offered me the first dim outlines of what might be fells. We crawl into the station with the screen of trees preventing further enlightenment. No doubt about it, it’s going to be grim today.

A Kindle is a lot harder to concentrate in sustainedly than a book, so I broke off to do some writing. My current novel is in an odd place. I finally caught up to a long-foreseen section in which two characters were to be killed off (no, it’s not a thriller). This went like a rocket, thousands of words in a flow, that is, until I hit an awkward spot. Sometimes I write at work, in quiet times between calls, and I now have the knack of building things up in individual paragraphs, or even lines, depending on what time I get, but this was a point n eeding concentration and continued composition and I didn’t have the time to give it the time it needed.

In the meantime I had been doing what I do, loking ahead, running scenarios and lines in my head, shaping and reshaping, until I came up with some unforseen twists and thought I’d beter write them down. One thing led to another and it poured out again, taking the book in directions I’d never foreseen and giving it a spine. Some notes? There’s easily two chapters here, maybe three, and pathways forward from there. It wouldn’t stop coming. But now I needed to bridge that gap, or at any rate start to, though wrirting with pen and notepad on a train racketing along and swaying all over the place is not the easiest thing to do.

At Windermere, things didn’t look as bad as I feared. Most of the major fells, including Bowfell, were visible, even if only as charcoal outlines. I visited Booths to relieve myself. The last time I found a copy of Lakeland Walker with an article by my fellow-blogger and all-round good guy Alan McFadyen who, sadly, I have to conclude is no longer with us. I leaf through the current isue and what do my wondering should appear? An article by my fellow-blogger and all-round good guy George Kitching who, thankfully, still is. I shall read that this evening.

I’m supposed to have a three quarter hour wait for the Keswick bus but one is there already so I hop aboard. Travelling north along the Lake, the sun has come out over the Conistons and the Langdales, turning the mountains and fells three-dimensional again. It’s an old view, but it never gets old.

With the exception of naturally, Skiddaw, all rthe fells north are clear and visible. Descending into the Vale of Keswick, I peer round at all the fells I can see. There isn’t one you could point to that I haven’t climbed, and several more than once, and for a few moments the knowledge that I will never see the summit of any of them again cuts through me, like a whaler flensing blubber, and I have to hold myself steady.

My guesthouse is down the other end of a very busy town, and it’s a long trek with my Dad’s old canvas bag dangling from my hand. There’s no problem about my checking in early in these COVID times and I take half an hour out to relax and draft the first part of this post before going for a wander.

I needed the break. I did a lot of walking yesterday and it’s going to catch up with me before I get back. I stroll down to the Market Square (no Market), having decided to take a chance on leaving my coat bnehind, which looks to have come off. First stop, the Oddfellows Arms, my favourite eating place in Keswick. It’s not yet 5.00pm so that’s early, but they’re shutting at 7.00pm and taking last orders at 5.45pm, so I decide to drop in straight away. I order my traditional Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding which is as gorgeous as ever, even if the Yorkshire is about the tenth of the size of the plate-sized ones they used to serve.

I also have a pint of lager and lime, and it’s one hell of a long time since I had one of them. So many things are a long time ago and drinking in pubs is one of them. Maybe the last one was in Portsmouth, down by the dockyards, it could easily have been so. And that too was wonderful.

When eventually I emerge it’s to walk up to the bookshop, see if I can justify getng a real book into my hands, but there’s nothing I particularly want to read once, let alone twice so, as I am now gettng very creaky, I walk back, Partly because I want a coke, and partly because it’s a legitimate reason to follow in the footsteps of a cornflower blonde, I divert into a back-street Spar where I decide that an ice cream would go down well. They haven’t much of a choice but I find myself eating an ice cream Mars Bar and that too was a very long time ago: I wasn’t even sure they still made them.

Now I’m back at the Guest House, relaxing, listening to my mp3 player on headphones and watching the first Euros 2020 semi-final on the little TV. I never expected, when I booked these two days away, that I could be watching England play…

So that’s part 1. Tune in tomorrow night to find out just what I got up to in the Buttermere Valley.

Keswick

Sunday Watch: The Class of ’92


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I think it’s safe to say that this is more one for me than most of you. The Class of ’92 is a 2013 documentary focussing on the remarkable – oh, soddit, let’s not go all profesional and neutral here, let’s say incredible – sextet of youth team players who almost simultaneously became first team players for Manchester United in the years 1995/6 and who were the heart of the team that won the unique Treble of League, Cup and Champions League in the same season in 1999. This is another of those DVDs that I bought quite some time ago but which I’ve never found the right time to watch. It’s the extended edition too, running nearly two hours instead of the original ninety minutes, with no inkling whatsoever where the additional material has been interpolated.

It’s about, in alphabetical order, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and, my favoiurite player of all time, the Giger Genius, Paul Scholes. It’s about what made them stand out amongst a generation of young footballers that included players as good as and better than them, but who lacked the drive, the determination, the internal discipline to be footballers, to play for the club they all grew up supporting, and for their country. It’s about the common, utterly working class backgrounds of each boy, the East Londoner Beckham a product of Leytonstone and Chingford but no different in his formation from the five Mancunians, who came from working class districts in Manchester: Salford, Bury, Middleton and Gorton.

It’s about their experiences in breaking through and the wonderful, natural, cohesive respect, affection and admiration each of the six has for the others, both their abilities and their personalities. Gary and Phil Neville are brothers, but all six are ‘brothers’ to one another. It’s about male bonding, in a shared, mutually desired enterprise, an easy, non-toxic appreciation for one another.

And it’s about the years they shared together in the red and white of Manchester United, their parts in the Double Double on 1996 and the film is structured around the Treble year of 1999 – Ryan Giggs’ incredible goal in the semi-final replay against Arsenal that took ten seconds to make him immortal, Gary Neville’s ‘left-foot-hoick’ that set up the goal that won the League, Paul Scholes’ pass and goal that won the FA Cup, and finally David Beckham’s two corners that won the Champions League in Barcelona, my first visit to a foreign country and my last as an active United fan going to games (how could it get any better?).

It’s about United’s part in the changing times, the culture of the Nineties, the shift of emphasis from Liverpool to our city, not just in football but in our musical culture – Madchester, the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, Oasis – the overthrow of the dead hand of Tory Government, the Manchester Bomb and the beginnings of a wholesale regeneration of Manchester, all by our own hand, without the aid of Tory Government, indeed, one suspects, against its wishes.

And it’s about me, though I appear nowhere in the story, except in those big three games at the end of the 1999 season, one in the mass of United fans at, successively, Old Trafford, Wembley and the Nou Camp, but it’s about the time when I was an Old Trafford faithful, a True Red. It’s about seeing all of these six players making their home debuts and watching them turn into a phenomenon, a phenomenon that Gary Neville, sadly, can never happen again. Six working class kids, products of tough areas, brought up by tough but fair parents to understand hardship, coming together at the club all support and dream of playing for, and coming through together. I think he’s right, and if he is we’ve lost something we could do with.

The story is a mass of memory. Choosing it to watch today was, largely subconsciously, a badly-needed corrective to the events of the last seven days. A week ago, the news broke of the proposed and utterly despicable European Super League, with Manchester United one of the leading lights. It collapsed with almost comic speed, though punishment has yet to be visited on the participants, and that should be strong punishment, a righteous kicking. My relationship with the club I’ve supported for 42 years is now fractured, though my instant reaction to the news was that it was broken, completely. Where it goes from here, nobody yet knows, because you can bet your bottom dollar the bastards haven’t given up for one second.

But I needed to be reminded, and on a visceral level, of just what United in the Nineties were and meant, and not just to me only. The Champions League Final is one of the three most intense events of my life (the top two are more personal). The Class of ’92 contains all those memories but, in its intimate and honest discussions among the players brought it back to me at the same level of my near-simultaneous enthusiasm with Droylsden, where the football wasn’t in the same elevated plane, but you could sit and talk with the players in the bar afterwards, and travel to away matches on the team coach, and everyone was much closer for it.

As Steely Dan once put it, those days are gone forever, over a long time ago. Woe, yeah.

We gotta get out of this place



The relaxation of lockdown conditions opens up a number of possibilities for the stir-crazy, including the ability to get on a train and go somewhere for no more reason than to come back again. I have been having a play on British Rail’s Journey Planner, looking at prices and timetables and things that are clearly affordable.
Days out to places like Stafford or Lancaster. I could do York for just over £30 or London for £94… well, maybe not that. Then there’s the obvious destinations: Windermere for £16.20 on two singles, Penrith on the same basis for only £18.60 if I set off from Piccadilly at 06.26am (and £25.40 if I wait till 8.00am).
To put it plainly, I have options. In the past fourteen months I have only once gone further than Manchester City Centre. Anywhere that is not Manchester City Centre, or more confiningly Stockport, suddenly takes on a massive appeal. Just to be somewhere else, see something else. Especially if it happens to be a Lake, and mountains.
Naturally, the major question is, should !? I haven’t gone through the past year in complete safety without being sensible from day zero. Before I take off to look at the grass on the other side of the fence, I should wait and see the impact of the new conditions. Knowing the lot out there, stupidity is going to play an important part in the reaction to even limited relaxation of the rules. I’m expecting infections to go up again.
And given that I have my second COVID-19 vaccination booked for Saturday coming, it’s going to be the 24th before I could even consider going anywhere. Time enough…

Our Esteemed Lieutenant: Yaphet Kotto R.I.P.


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It never ends, does it? There’s always another one, taking away another piece of all those things you welcomed, those highlights that mark the different stages of your life. Between 1991 and 1997, Yaphet Kotto played Gee, Lieutenant Al Giardello, in Homicide: Life on the Street, one of the very best television series ever made. Gee was the Shift Commander for Detectives like Frank Pembleton and Tim Baylis, John Munch and Stan ‘the Big Man’ Bolander, Mike Kellerman, Meldrick Lewis, Kay Howard and Laura Ballard, big, thoughtful, smilimg, effortlesly in chaege of one of the most difficult jobs you can play. And he was superb, just as they all of them were superb.

And now he too has passed, aged 81. The firmament dims yet again. Where are the people coming from to stand beside him? Not replace him, or surpass him. But stand on the level that Yaphet Kotto stood, to make the memories for the future.

Night falls far too fast these days

Peter Lorimer R.I.P.


He was one of the players of my time, and even though he was one of the enemies, a Leeds United player through and through, I honour the passing of Peter Lorimer, the man officially recorded as having the hardest shot in football. Isn’t it ironic though that the thing I remember most from his career was a shot that was saved? A miracle moment in the 1973 Cup Final, Second Division underdogs Sunderland leading the mighty Leeds, holders and powerhouses, one of the very first teams to take the field with a tream consisting of eleven Internationals: Bremner loops the ball to the far post, Trevor Cherry hurtles in with a spectacular diving header, Montgomery twists back his body, dives to produce a two-handed parry that drops at the feet of Lorimer… and Montgomery comes up from the ground to block the ball, diverting it against the bar and out. As one, the entire Cup Final watching population awards the Cup to Sunderland, because if Leeds didn’t score there, never would they score. And so it was.

If it seems harsh to rememvber Lorimer for a miss, that only a Manchester United fan would think that right, don’t take it that way. Peter Lorimer did nothing wrong. It’s just that in that split second of getting it all right, he can up against a player who got it all better than right.

That save will last forever. Peter Lorimer is an imtrinsic part of it. Like Malcom Nash, his name will live on. Immortality doesn’t come the same way every time. And he had enough in the rest of his life to be honoured. Another good man gone. Even if he was Leeds.

One Sunny Afternoon in Old Trafford


I’ve just spent the last thirty or so minutes on YouTube, reliving something I’d all but forgotten that happened thirty years ago.

It was, I think, a Sunday afternoon, bright, sunny, Old Trafford packed to its then much smaller rafters. It could have been a League match for which this was a prelude, but the more I think on it, the more I’nm convinced that there was to be a full Testimonial Match for our beloved Sir Matt Busby.

It was prefaced by a seven-a-side game, United versus City, but a veterans game, played on a section of the ground, from eighteen yard line to eighteen yard line, about half the width of the pitch. United turned out Alex Stepney, Paddy Crerand, Billy Foulkes, Nobby Stiles, David Saddler, Brian Kidd… and the legend, George Best. Seven of the immortal eleven from that night at Wembley in 1968.

Of course it was slow, leisurely, without any of the intensity of a Derby game of that era, except perhaps for Mike Summerbee, on City’s side (thank God they didn’t select Mike Doyle). The skills were there, but not the energy levels, nor the accuracy of daily practice. But we in the crowd took it seriously, enough to boo every touch from a City player. And of course, whilst there were only two fouls in the game, they were jokes in their way, and both were from Nobby. Who else?

It was all done according to what was proper. City went 2-0 up, United stormed back to take a 3-2 lead, City equalised with the last kick. Honours even.

I remembered none of it, only that it had happened, and that I was there, and that it was the only time I saw George Best play, in the flesh. He was full-bearded and getting stout around the waist, and he had none of that pace you can see in those other clips, the young Irishman, El Beatle. But by God he was still George Best! I never got to see any other of the European Cup-winning team play in the flesh, not even Bobby Charlton, nor yet Denis Law. But even if he was only a flicker of himself, I saw George Best play and counted myself lucky.

As I am today, for finding that clip of a forgotten afternoon in Old Trafford.

Not just heroes, or legends…