To die on Nanga Parbat

The bodies of British climber Tom Ballard and his partner Daniele Nardi have been found on Nanga Parbat – “Killer Mountain” – in Pakistan, a fortnight after they went missing. That they had died was obvious days ago, but the search for the bodies went on, as it should. The bodies will be hard to recover, but recovered they will be. The poignancy about Ballard’s death is that his mother, Alison Hargeaves, also died in the great mountains, descending K2 in 1991.

There was controversy then about Hargeaves’ death, about whether, as a mother, she had the right to risk herself, and there will be controversy about Ballard, for risking being the second of his family to lose his life this way.

I am no climber, norwere my parents, exccept in a very limited, scrambling fashion. But I am the son of parents who looked to the high hills, who read avidly the books of mountaineers, and though I never read more than a fraction of their books, I know something of how climbers and mountaineers think.

And much as I regret the tragedy, and the misery of these two men’s families, they died doing what they lived for. All walking and climbing is, in greater or lesser part, a test of yourself. Can I do this? Am I strong enough, agile enough, athletic enough, to go where only a fraction of people even want to? Am I fit to stand in the high places, the steep places, the places that only will and effort can take you to?

Alison Hargeaves and Tom Ballard stand a million miles above me, but in my small and personal way I am still a part of their world, and I mourn and celebrate them, and I say, do not ever tell them they should not have done that. Not now, not in the future, not to anyone who goes out there. Never say never to them. Only ourselves can say that Never, and for ourselves alone.


Re-Planning a Lakeland Expedition

Maybe (again)

Yesterday, a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius was recorded in Britain, in winter, for the first time ever.

Today, that record has been broken.

The skies are an unbroken blue, albeit with a tinge of white haze around the horizons. I was hot coming in to work and since my shift started I have been sitting here in a short-sleeved polo shirt, and about five minutes ago I was feeling unconfortably stuffy.

This is Britain in 2019: everything is broken.

Of course, I’m not complaining in the short term. This is nice weather and I’m happy to revel in it. On Sunday, one of my neighbours was out in shorts, sunbathing outside his front door. People continue to deny there’s something wrong with the Earth’s climate.

And the weather, if it can be relied upon and there isn’t a backlash in the immediate future, is tempting me to a day out. And when I say day out, I usually mean a Lake District Expedition: is Patterdale possible yet on current steamer schedules?

The answer is yes: depart Pooley Bridge 12.50, return 15.35, with thirty five minutes stopover at Glenridding. Not great, but feasible. But I can get a bus from Penrith at 11.20 outside the Rail Station, arriving Pooley Bridge 11.50. There’s a much bigger delay on the return, with the only bus leaving Pooley at 17.25 and returning to Penrith Rail Station for 18.09.

And I can do the train journey as two singles (08.47 from Manchester Piccadilly, 18.50 from Penrith), total £27.80 this Saturday coming. I can save £1 by going on Saturday week, but if I book for four weeks in advance, I can reduce the train fares to £21.00, by taking a slightly later train from Penrith.

Hmm. This is doable.

The problem is daylight: it’s starting to be light after 5.00pm now, but it still makes any outing at this time of year a bit too like a Birthday week trip. And if the skies are going to be this clear, and bright, I want all the access to daylight I can get. Nevertheless, with a, say 5.30pm cut-off point for daylight, I’d just about be on the bus at Pooley Bridge when the views vanish.

I wonder if the weather’s going to last…

Peter Tork R.I.P.

Oh dear, this is happening again.

I didn’t get to watch The Monkees when I was a kid, so I saw the shows when they were being repeated years later, and I was in to more serious and worthy bands. I found the antics comic, up to a point, and some of the music attracted me, mainly Mike Nesmith’s stuff.

But I never lost my appreciation for the well-made, well-played pop song, and I don’t care about anyone else’s opinion any more, and about eighteen months ago I bought The Monkees’ contribution to the Original Album Series, the first five albums on unadorned CDs, but glory be they’re the extended versions, with demos and alternate arrangements.

Peter Tork was the dummy onscreen, the bass player and, according to a recent piece I read on the Monkees, was the best musician in the band, or at least a better guitarist than Nesmith. But he was the other one who pushed to be allowed to play on their own records, and to choose their own music.

It needed all four Monkees to be Monkees and it wouldn’t have been the same without any one of them. It isn’t going to be the same without this one now.

Claude Goretta R.I.P.

I have only ever watched one film directed by Claude Goretta, who has died aged 89.

That film was La Dentelliere, aka The Lacemaker, that brought Isabelle Huppert to international stardom, and to my notice.

One such thing in a lifetime is sufficient for immortality.

A Man to be Respected: John Stalker R.I.P.

We of Manchester perceive very quickly that, despite it taking place over fifty years ago, the shadow of the Moors Murders hangs  over our city. You don’t have to have been born then to understand it, you just have to be Mancunian.

Back then, there was an implicit trust in the Police that for many of us has failed to survive the never-ending stream of revelations about their actions, large and small. Some Police Officers, however, transcend that suspicion.

John Stalker worked on the Moors Murders case as a Detective Sergeant, and has commented thaat no other case disturbed him so deeply. I, on the other hand,  remember him not for an investigation that took place when I lived in an area that might one day have made me a victim, though I was still younger than all the victtims. I remember Stalker as the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester who had to balance out the mad religious fanatic, James Anderton, and as the man who investigated Police actions in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, only to be removed from his post in controversial circumstances that suggested he was dismissed for finding out things that people didn’t want found.

I bought his memoirs in hardback. It was the first thing I ever bought on my credit card, and I ordered it to be signed to ‘Martin and Mary’, our first joint signature. When we broke up, years later, I let her retain it: maybe she still has it?

Stalker was someone you trusted, someone you saw as straight: both honest and straightforward. No-one ever got to the bottom of his dismissal from Northern Ireland, but though it meant a failure, and ultimately led to the end of his Police career, it was a mark of honour.

Now he’s passed, aged 79. It’s been a bad week for losing the kind of people of whom there are already far too few in this world, and in this poor, insane country. I don’t see where the future John Stalkers are coming from. I wish I believed they’re still possible.

The Man Who… R.I.P. Eric Harrison

Youth team coaches are rarely famous outside the specislist interest of football club fans. Eric Harrison, who has died aged 81, was the glorious exception. He was the youth team coach at Manchester United from 1981 to 1999, and that makes him the man who brought through the Famous Five, the Class of ’92, the Can’t-Win-Anything-With Kids. Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes. And, let’s not forget, their slightly senior team-mate Ryan Wilson, who then took his Mum’s surname, of Giggs.

Any one of these would be worth an entire career, but all of them? And at once?

Oh yes, United, and we, and Eric were all blessed that this quintet/sextet came along at the same time, that they had both the talent and the application to makewhere others of their generation, equally and in some cases reportedly better talented, never broke through for one reason or another. But Eric Harrison was the one who coached them, developed them, directed and enabled those talents to the extent we all saw and we all rejoiced in.

We owe you, Eric Harrison, and I owe you all those times I marvelled and shouted and jumped up and roared, and for the magic that was the ginger genius, the small, asthmatic who might not have made it, I owe you the memory of Paul Scholes, and I thank you and I promise you that yours is one of the names that will always be legends in our club’s story. Thanl you, and may whatever gods you believed in grant you peace and happiness.

The Saver of the Century: Gordon Banks R.I.P.

He said it himself: when people talk about Gordon Banks, probably England’s best ever goalkeeper, the first thing they think of isn’t that he was one of the legendary Boys of ’66, the World Cup Winners on that hot July day. Instead, they think of four years later, and of THAT save.

You can watch it here, but you can probably find a dozen or more clips on YouTube. That perfect ball down the line, Jairzinho cutting across Terry Cooper, to the line like the perfect old-fashioned winger, ligfting the ball with pace and accuracy towards Pele, the great Pele, in the orthodix number 10 position, leaaping high to get to the ball, get above, direct a hard, fast header down, aimed just inside the near post, aimed to bounce about two yards from the line, to complicate the angles.

And Banksy, in his loose blue shirt, having moved to the near post to cover that, having to turn, to sprint three-quarters of the width across the goal from facing in the opposite direction, to instantly judge the angle from which the ball left Pele’s forehead and the probable angle at which it would rise off the turf, the velocity of the header and tthe probable amount of pace that the ground would take off it, and dive, at full-length.

He got it right. Banksy got both hands to it, and what’s more those hands were powerful enough to deflect the ball up in the air, so high that the parry looped over the bar and behind for a corner, instead of being deflected into the roof of the net.

Watch it again. Pele couldn’t believe he didn’t score. He couldn’t believe it for the rest of his life. We live in that most mprobable of Multiversal universes, the one in which Banksy saved it. How many millions are there where it was a goal?

And I saw it. The World Cup, 1970, Mexico, one Sunday night, watching with my Dad in the last month of his life. I wasn’t there, not in Mexico, but in the lounge at 942 Burnage Lane, Burnage. I don’t need to rely upon YouTube videos, I’m old enough to have been there, to gape in amazement.

Gordon Banks has now died at the age of 81. Incredibly, he’s only the fourth member of that legendary team to leave us: seven World Cup Winners share our planet still, 53 years on. He will live forever in memory for that, but above everything else, for THAT save, he is immortal.