Monday, 26 December 2016

It's Xmas 1963.

It's 1963. Well, imagine it is. My parents have been in the habit of taking us en famille to a Methodist chapel in Newent, Glos. My sister and I are bored almost to tears by the Sunday school, but sometimes in summer the family cycles from our home in Highleadon to and from the chapel on two tandems. This very much brightens my day. My parents have soon made friends most of all with a family who live in a modern house on a dairy farm near May Hill. (Being a get-up-early farmer, it seemed acceptable for the farmer to snore during sermons. Tolerance, you see).

We have been invited to lunch with the family on xmas day, but when we arrive the mother seems to be consumed by an entirely unexpected grumpiness caused by... Her sons and... The Beatles! Waking that morning the mother had started Handel's Messiah on the family's record player, but her sons, 16 and 18, quickly swapped it for With The Beatles, the brand new album, a present that very morning from their grandfather, himself a retired Methodist minister! Incensed by their disrespectful attitude the mother returns all her sons' presents to a hiding place then hands them one quickly wrapped. Opening it, the sons, tall, confident, Mod-styled young men, both of whom went on to become doctors, find... a dead beetle in a matchbox. A few days later our family goes to visit Eric, my grandfather's brother, a lovely man, and Gracie, his cantankerous, skin and bone, rheumatism-riddled wife in their mock-Tudor house in Hereford. The adults' conversation turns to The Beatles - they were very big news at the the time - and suddenly Gracie pins me with a steely stare from the watery eyes in her skully old head, "All that yeah, yeah, yeah... You don't like them, do you!" It isn't a question, but it is an opportunity, and some force, far bigger than I was, makes me take it. "Yes, yes, I do!". It was quite untrue, I'd been surrounded by classical music only, and had no understanding of pop, but from that early age the thrill of taking a contrary standpoint has never left me, with the result that I habitually still look for alternative viewpoints at almost every turn.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

1,000 Light Years from Lonesome

Once upon a time about one thousand years ago I didn't know much at all about The Rolling Stones music, but my good friend Keith... no-o-o-o-oh, not that Keith, lent me the newly released Sticky Fingers, then several other Stones' albums, and I became, like him, a fanatic. In 1973 we persuaded Karen to take us to see the Stones in Manchester. It was my first ever gig by any well known band, and I'm not sure I've ever been to a better one. (Karen became their greatest fan for two days, then reverted to being a fan of Roxy Music. Tsk, I say). On leaving school I went to college in the Lake District and Keith went to London and became a builder. Three decades went by before we met one Boxing Day in The George in Brecon. We found we'd both been disappointed by the Stones' music ever since Mick Taylor had left (late in 1974), and had finally stopped collecting Rolling Stones' albums round about Steel Wheels, which I won in a music mag's competition. By that time (1989), we already owned about 28 each. Again we fell out of contact, but since a school reunion in August this year have stayed in touch. Exchanging seasonal greetings today we were much amused to find we'd both been given The Rolling Stones' new Blue and Lonesome album. And we like it.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Prepping and Trialling.

Today my nurse (Joanne), went to work while I stayed at home and went xmassy as I made two nut roasts (one for Will, who's not keen on cooking), and our xmas cake.

This afternoon I cycled into the little city of Lancaster, Lancashire, met Joanne and Abigail - unplanned, and Jonny and Gail - unplanned, bought a few xmas cards and presleys - undetected, and cycled home, alongside the canal, of course.

Not long afterwards Jonny arrived - planned, and for about 90mins we nattered in the cold shed, conversationally almost tripping over ourselves, as folks do when they've made only a little time to discuss adventures shared and unshared, past, historic, prehistoric, and projected.

The nut roast was good, I say modestly - really it was very good - and it was followed by baked plums in spiced red grape juice. I'm finding that as more and more people jump on board the good ship Vegan Bandwagon, the greater the need there is to tweak newly published recipes. And that's what I did today because I'd rather mess up a book with my scrawled alterations, than mess up a meal. And I'd rather fill a day in early December with food trials, than produce a duff meal on the big day. Whenever we decide that might be.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Windy Welsh

Standing three long days of hard walking away from the Welsh border at the Dee estuary, Pen-y-Ghent serves to remind us that once upon a time everybody in Britain was Welsh (except that back then there was no Welsh border, and folks had the good sense not to be bothered by nationality). Today our Welsh-est people are almost certainly descendants of those short dark Britons who placed themselves where they were most able to avoid the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Norse, the Normans, etc.
Some people say that Ghent does mean border, but I'm siding with "windy" from the Welsh gwynt, i.e. windy peak, or Windy Mountain (or indeed Mont Ventoux), but for all my ponderings and conjecture I still fail to understand why yesterday the Welsh should have been so fucking stupid as to vote seven UKIPpers into their Assembly.
"Croeso i No-one", is it, boyos?

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Sunrisings in May

Over a period of what seems like no time at all, the rising sun has leapt around to the back of our house. It must have been at the side for a short while, but being in a terrace we seem to have no sides, and anyway wasn't it only a few days ago that on the last early morning I looked for it the sunrise was definitely at the front? Well, it's definitely at the back now, and I'm wondering what distracted me, how I could drop so far out of contact with daylight's realities? I thought I appreciated every single day, every twist of the seasons, and our whimsical weathers, and that I'd notice the changes of the circling year as they were happening. But I missed this change, and because of its suddenness I am wishing with the fervency of a religious fanatic that the year... would... slow... right... down. To gallop so fast down the steepening slope towards midsummer is to risk missing far too much of what is happening all around.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Get your Kicks on the A66.

Get your Kicks on the A66. (It's all in the topography).
A few days ago I finally, though too hurriedly, visited Thornborough Henges, huge earthworks in the relatively rock-free flatlands of North Yorkshire.

Then I drove north towards the biggest "hill" fort in Britain, Stanwick Iron Age fortifications. To reach the middle of the site I still had more than a mile to drive when I stopped to ask a young couple what a line of ancient-looking earthworks might be. I was very surprised to be told it was all part of the same huge site. I drove around, then I walked around, and I came to an excavated section of wall so wide, so high, and so well built that, oh, the shame of it, I assumed I'd made a mistake and it was Roman. But it isn't - it's proper Iron Age British!

As I drove away I was letting the sat nav do the thinking, so I wasn't expecting to be driving on the A66, the central and western sections of which I know quite well. But soon there came a heavy clunk as the insightful penny dropped and I realised I was travelling along what I'd read about but hadn't got to grips with - the prehistoric east-west trade route across the northern Pennines. Over Stainmore Summit I went (and at Brough turned away south towards Tebay), but had I continued I would have been on more familiar territory.

Close by (the A6 and), the A66 at Eamont Bridge are two mighty henges, and further west, in different geology but still close to the A66, is Castlerigg's wonderful stone circle. (There's no need to dig huge ditches and banks when you've plenty of good quality rock for your civil engineering projects).

I suggest that, saving your energy as best you can, you now turn your prehistoric footsteps south, over Dunmail Raise, perhaps over Red Bank at Grasmere, into Langdale, home of some fabulous rock art and a very famous stone axe factory. Imagine your backpack soon loaded with stone axes, perhaps as yet rough cut, unpolished, and you've promised to take them to EastYorkshire. Trundle down Langdale to Ambleside, where you could turn back north to Castlerigg, or take the southerly route out of the Lake District and then east on past the hill fort at Ingleborough, but you head east up The Struggle. At the north-south Kirkstone Pass ignore the rock art down in the Ullswater Valley and climb east across the north-south High Street, down Mardale and eventually to Shap by which time you'll be crossing another major north-south route and be almost completely surrounded by stone circles, rows, avenues, and burial cairns.

Less than 20 more miles to the east you'll be back on the A66..
Whence. You. Came.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016


I've had a good hardworking day today. I drove up to Yealand Storth where I was surprised to see people clearing south-facing scrub woodland and wondered who'd convinced them that it was necessary. And why.
Anyway (<< it doesn't mean anything, but you can say it), their chainsaws were making such a racket that when I walked into "my" woodland (I wish it was), the deer must've been relaxed thinking they were safe from those noisy saw-wielding people down the hill, and I was able to get a long clear view of three dotty-spotty female fallow deer jostling along a limestone ledge like over-anxious schoolgirls in a busy corridor.
Using my own noisy chainsaw, a very well behaved, small, Chinese-Swedish Husqvarna, I felled a few thigh-thickness sycamore hoping they'd still be there in 12mths time, and cut some bigger fallen trunks of ash. Ash is wonder-wood. As usual I cut them longer and therefore heavier than I should've and carried each log, sometimes two at a time, up the awkward slope to the road. The soil in this top left hand corner of Lancashire is generally poor, thin, wet and slippery with limestone pavement bursting out wherever it damn well feels like it, so the carrying wasn't easy.
Just before I left I noticed a bird, tinier than a wren, dodge-scuttling through the saplings by the roadside. It was a goldcrest, its gold not very bright, and the species not unusual, but I think they're rather special.
Tomorrow at home I'll lift each log for the fifth time, cut it to 12" length or less, and split every one down to about 3x2". My biceps are already pumped up like those of a weirdo who goes to a gym - you'll hardly recognise me by the time it's all split and stacked.