'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

The War Of Dogs

I'm dog-sitting again. Sad to relate, strife has broken out among the canine elements of the Renaissance Couple's household. The Princess of Darkness, suddenly overcome with the first flush of adolescent hormones, felt compelled to dispute the title of Top Bitch In House with Cass the Alsatian. Now Cass is something of a grande dame d'un certain age, who's essentially docile, (recreations: sleeping & eating), but not the sort to stand any nonsense from adolescent slappers. The result has been scenes of dreadful carnage, skin & hair flying, visits to the vet, stitches & antibiotics. Cry Havoc indeed.
So a De-Militarized Zone has been declared. Cass is exiled to the cottage, while the Princess continues to frolic darkly in the house. Each is clearly convinced she's now the sole legitimate representative of bitchdom hereabouts, a sort of China & Taiwan of the western canine world. Alas, each is living in her own private fool's paradise - and I'm enjoying the regular entertainment of walks, feeds & treats. This cannot, of course, be allowed to go on. A safe haven is being arranged for one of the combatants. Deportation looms . . . . but for which bitch?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

And Did Those Sheep In Ancient Time?

Oh dear. Another doomed tourism initiative has come our way. And this one's Cumbria-wide. Those geniuses at the Cumbria Tourist Board have decided to, like, get hip and happening with the young people. Yes, what Cumbria needs is its own mobile-phone ringtone.
Except this one's a cut-up of sheep over a drum machine baaing William Blake's 'Jerusalem'. Go on, go and download it yourself. The Women's Institute probably thinks this is dangerously edgy, radical stuff. We think it doesn't quite match the Geordie Tourist Board's Hadrian's Wall Gay Shopping Experience (sadly unavailable online), but then we're really quite jaded here in News-land.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rum, Sodomy & The Lash

Last weekend the replica HMS Bounty finally made it into Maryport harbour on a high tide, so along with many hundreds of other sensation-seekers I went down to Senhouse Dock to see whether the re-enactors were upholding the traditions of the Royal Navy.
It was an exceptionally hot, humid day up here in the News-room, but down on the coast a sea-breeze had brought fog ashore: the air was ten degrees cooler, the town wreathed in mist and the ship's cross-trees looked faint and ghost-like across the rooftops of Ismay Wharf as I approached the harbour.
Contrary to all expectations, the experience turned out to be great fun: the boat doing duty as the Bounty was actually a fulltime re-enactment vessel called The Grand Turk, re-branded and sailing under false colours for the occasion. It's a 20-gun frigate, straight out of the pages of Patrick O'Brian (with some anachronisms like modern emergency equipment and climbing harnesses for skylarkers) and a crew of professional sailors and volunteers whose enthusiasm is impossible to resist.
I should confess that I'm no fan of historical re-enactment - it generally strikes me as naff and counter-imaginative, an unhappy symptom of the nation's obsession with heritage at the expense of history. How many of the Ermine Street Guard, for instance, leave their beta-blockers and insulin behind when they re-create Roman Britain? And wouldn't the experience of members of the Sealed Knot be altogether more authentic if half of them knew they'd be ending their days in 30 minutes with a Roundhead's pike in their guts?
But The Grand Turk (or whatever you wish to call it) had a certain splendour that transcended my unease. I had a palpable sense of the ship as a gigantic machine of the pre-industrial age, beautifully adorned, but fearsomely well-designed and skilfully wrought, both a comforting protection and an engine of death.
The mutiny re-enactment was brief and to the point. The warning cannon-shot attracted the attention of the local fire-brigade, but Captain Bligh was successfully arrested and relieved of his command. Mercifully, the chap playing Mr Christian did not attempt to impersonate Marlon Brando's infamous version of a Cumbrian accent. I don't suppose for a moment that this visit really marks the dawn of my hometown's tourism-led renaissance. But I was left with the distinct impression that my grandfather, a Maryport seaman who in extreme youth sailed alongside men who had themselves crewed the great tea-clipper races, would have approved of the occasion.

Crosby Stills and Nash - Edinburgh Playhouse 23 June 2005

Mrs R and I had a great night in Edinburgh - CSN in concert. Three heroes, a tight band and nearly three hours of pure musical nostalgia. The theatre was extremely hot but I can't say that I noticed that much. Stephen Still's voice is now one of THE blues voices. He could double for Ray Charles... voice only. He hasn't aged well. He must have had a few bad paper rounds as a child. His guitar playing was phenomenal. Nash and Crosby are the voice of CSN. Their soaring harmonies are incredible; when they did Guinevere with Crosby's open tuned guitar and two voices it was mesmerising. David Crosby's clear tenor for the most part is dominant but they swop harmonies and at times there seems to be at least two other notes. Graham Nash's tenor has a reed with it making it sound like a tenor/soprano sax (if only the Hollies could have kept him?). At the end of Guinevere Nash said that they've done it a 1000 times and 'each time Crosby does it different'. Crosby said that wasn't true - 'Nash doesn't listen'. Whatever way, the ability to listen and sing relative close harmony apparently without effort is ... well.... hyperbole fails me.
The old songs were there with a smattering of the new stuff - all excellent and lyrically sound (Don't Dig Here is well worth a listen): Chicago, Love the One You're with, Almost Cut My Hair, Deja Vu.... The rumour in the gents was that Joni Mitchell would be joining them for the Woodstock encore. She didn't. But it was Woodstock with the whole audience standing and rocking followed by Teach Your Children. I could have stood another hour or so but they needed to rest. Stills limped off, Nash stepped high and barefoot, Crosby sauntered away like an ancient gnome out of the limelight.
When I return I want to sing like Crosby, play guitar like Stills, harmonise like Nash. I wonder how they'll manage when they lose their looks. And stay forever Young.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Grasmoor End

Dr John, an old friend from university days (see the 'No conferring' part of the sidepanel) came to Cumbria last weekend with an entourage of medics & financiers on their annual walking expedition. So something rather special was called for. We met at Lanthwaite Green where the massive pyramid of Grasmoor End towers over Crummock Water. The steep ascent, up scree and rocky outcrops, is a real joy: it has the virtue of getting you to the top of the hill by a direct, sharp route, and the upper levels provide many choices for straightforward scrambling. The summit and the surrounding hills - Eel Crag, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head - are twenty-five square miles of easy walking, with fabulous views north and east to Skiddaw, Blencathra and the Helvellyn range.
We stopped for lunch on Eel Crag, overlooking the ruined mine-workings of Coledale Hause. The levels and drifts, which used to yield barites, cover the dalehead in a cradle of spoilheaps paths and roadways. They're a healthy reminder that the National Park, for all its being a playground for tourists or a source of marginal income for hill-farmers, is essentially a post-industrial landscape. Mining went on here for centuries, quarrying still does. If the land were to be dedicated to recreation today, there would probably be much time and money spent on remediating the mines, erasing them from the landscape's memory. Society likes its wildernesses, even the moderately domesticated and intimate ones like the Lake District, to be neatly manicured and made safe. Those sheds would have to go, and the ventilation shafts would be a danger to the sheep of litigious shepherds. Health and Safety will, eventually, suburbanise the country.
But the walk back along the ridge of Whiteside gave gorgeous views of Dove Crag in the unvisited corrie on the north side of Grasmoor, and below us the miniature aretes of Gasgale Crags - probably good scrambling territory if anyone ever cared to explore it.
We arrived back after six hours of walking feeling in need of what Dr John assured me was Biologically Engineered Enteric Rehydration. It's an acronym apparently, very popular with the medical profession.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Why Does The Writer in Res get all the good gigs. I get Barrow In Furness

Yesterday I went to Barrow In Furness (BIF). Technically in Cumbria, but with an LA postcode. Is there something they haven't told us. Joy of Joy they are moving it to America!! Anyway- yesterday I went to BIF. I went via Keswick, Ambleside, Newby Bridge, Ulverston and came back via 'the coast road'. 62 miles and 2hrs 26 mins to get back. I think I died at one point. I have friends and family in BIF but I cannot see for the life of me why anybody would want to live there. I was visiting Furness Internet and their subsidiary icontrol who provide Shepley with our web-based management system; the server for which is based in BIF. This is fine 'cos the web makes everywhere in the world equally accessible and equally attractive. There must be parts of BIF worth a visit, but the Town Centre is not one of them.
I was early for the meeting so I had a wander into town with the thought of having a haircut and possibly a light lunch in one of the many brasseries. The first problem is that the hairdressers close on Mondays and the second problem was I couldn't bring myself to enter any of the eateries. My aversion to so many pound shops, nail bars, amusement arcades (free coffee to all who enter), furniture shops complete with protective weldmesh over the windows, tattoo parlours, replica weapons (I kid you not - and what the hell is a fantasy knife?), left me more than a little depressed. So picking my way through a traffic jam of motorised wheelchairs trying to escape a sea of chewing gum I beat a retreat. My tinitus had reached a level which I thought was audible to one of the many mongrels on extendable leads outside the Fu_ness Pound Sh_p ('we cash cheques') when I spotted the word Tinitus on the window of a Chinese Herbalist shoe-horned between a sandwich bar and a sports trophy shop. Thirty minutes and 80 later I was the possessor of a month's supply of Fu Fang and Suanzagarentang Wan.
It is now Tuesday I am back at home the tinitus is no worse and no better. I resolve to buy future supplies via t'internet.
A little known fact: Barrow is the home of Kate's Skates the biggest online inline skates emporium in Britain. I'm told that the online shop sells 3 times more than the huge shop in Dalkieth Road. Sounds like our skaters have decided it's easier by the internet.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Les Delices De Cumbria - Part V

If you happen to visit the Kirkstile Inn in Loweswater (worth it for their own micro-brewed beer), be sure to eat there too, and be sure to try the house black pudding. Two slices, deep fried. Yes, I know it sounds on the revolting side of unlikely, I know you're not supposed to do this kind of thing any longer, and there's a joke about Mars bars struggling to get out, but the dish is absolutely sensational. Batter light as a feather, blood sausage deeply textured, sauce intense and delicious. Food of the gods.

Night Of The Living Rednecks

I know that, back in the 17th Century, Cumbria exported some of its finest citizens to the Carolinas (how else would all those Nixons, Agnews, Grahams, Jeffersons & Jacksons have got there?). And I know that in this American century we're swamped with transatlantic culture. But do you think we could be a little more discriminating about just which aspects of Americana we choose to take back over here?
Yesterday morning on the A595 I was passed by an enormous brand-new pick-up truck which sported five (count 'em) headlamps on its roof and a Stars & Bars flag draped across the windscreen. I was too astonished to spot whether it had a 'Governor Wallace For President' bumper-sticker.
More charmingly, as I drove back in the evening from a day on the hill (see forthcoming post) I took the Cockermouth backroad along the Derwent valley between Isel and Moota, a secret part of le Cumbria profond that few enough locals seem to frequent, let alone tourists. A group of lads had pulled their cars over to the side of the road and were hot-rodding go-karts on the long straight stretch north of the Hay. We stared at each other with incredulity, both parties surprised beyond words.
Summer's here & the time is right to go racing in the street . . .

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Mutiny On The Bounty

My hometown's latest attempt to promote itself as a tourist attraction based on its maritime heritage has gone horribly wrong
- and for a reason straight out of the British Rail Book Of Excuses. They had the wrong sort of tide.
(Historical background - Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian was a Cockermouth man who may have learnt his seamanship in Maryport - though Workington & Whitehaven are just as likely). Last week the local tourist office decided to bring a replica of HMS Bounty, crewed by a troup of dedicated re-enactors, to the town. Unfortunately, the tide they chose to bring the ship in on over the harbour's notoriously sand-banked entrance was too low for the boat's draft. Cue much recrimination. Loud cries of 'I told you so' have been echoing around harbourside pubs all week. Meanwhile, the ship & the re-enactors diverted up the coast to Silloth, where they spent the week merrily re-enacting the mutiny, giving their unexpected hosts a tourism bonanza paid for by Maryport.
One can only deplore the low standards of initiative shown all round. If they'd been at all authentic the mutineers would have forced Captain Bligh into the longboat and made him row back to Liverpool. The actor playing Fletcher Christian could then have run the ship aground in Maryport harbour, swum ashore, broached the grog and gone on the razzle with the native wenches.
Maryport's other claim to maritime fame is as the hometown of the man who built the SS Titanic. We eagerly await the re-enactment . . .

Friday, June 17, 2005

Life Imitates Fantasy

Last winter, over an exceedingly convivial Danish lunch-party in northern Scotland (think lots of different varieties of herring, even more varieties of aquavit), the Northern Professor, someone I shall only refer to as 'Anarchic Uncle Alan' & myself hit upon the pleasingly deranged fantasy of reviving the Cumbrian whisky industry. The what? I hear you ask.
Like much else about my native county there's a lot that is apocryphal or at least delusory about Cumbrian distilling. But Alan had discovered that there were at least three whisky distilleries in England in the 19th century and concluded they must have been Cumbrian. Investigations in Whitehaven confirmed the existence of at least two - one of them in Senhouse Street. But it seems these distilled rum from cargos of molasses shipped over from Antigua, a Cumbrian oddity that probably deserves a post of its own. The whisky trail had gone cold: if Cumbrian malt ever existed, it had left no trace of its passing.
However, it seems that someone called Andrew Currie has been inspired, or mad enough, to attempt what we had only dreamed.
The only criticism I have of this wonderful enterprise is that we'll have to wait three or four years to find out how the stuff tastes.
Anticipation is already mounting.
Does anyone know the Cumbric for 'Cheers'?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Yan Tyan Tethera

Workington Regeneration have advertised for a dialect poet to help them add some art to the experience of their redevelopment of the town's shopping centre. This is obviously A Good Thing, but I won't be applying - not just because I was perversely fond of the neo-brutalism of the old St John's Precinct, but there are much better-qualified people - particularly a sometime Cumbrian bloggist - for that gig. (Perhaps Workington's due a psychogeographical excursion, to be reported on in this blog? Anyone care to join me?)
The notable feature of the successful poet's brief is that s/he is supposed to explore the roots of Cumbrian dialect in Scandinavian languages. And they trot out the interesting-if-true chestnut about 15% of Cumbrian men having genetic markers in common with Norwegian men. (Stories that Cumbrian dialect can be understood in Iceland are amazingly persistent - helped by a well-known local author's broadcasts on Radio 4 - but I've never entirely believed them & certainly never met anyone who's actually tried it & had a sensible conversation). I'm fascinated by but wary of the Viking element of our Cumbrian background - it strikes me as being a useful shorthand, adopted by the rest of Britain, to explain and characterise the distinct otherness of Cumbrians and Cumbria - a debatable land neither Scottish nor English. (Cumbria is the only part of modern England that was never a part of one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms). And the genetic statistic above rather leaves one wondering about the other 85% of Cumbrian men (& the women too).
So I hope the poet remembers that the one piece of Cumbrian dialect that people outside the county recognise - Yan Tyan Tethera the old shepherds' tally for counting sheep - isn't Scandinavian at all, but Cumbric. Yes, Cumbric. Cumbric? What's that? Cumbric's one of the great lost languages of the British Isles, spoken from Lancashire to Strathclyde in the 6th century, and for 600 years afterwards - it apparently survived in the Eden Valley until the 1300s. It was never written down, so it probably died with its last speakers; all we have today are odd words as glosses in manuscripts of Medieval Welsh (its southern sister-language), placenames - Blencathra, Pelutho, Blencogo, Derwent - and echoes in the dialect. And of course Cumbria - 'the land of our fellow-countrymen'.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

An experiment in posting pictures

Derwent - Skiddaw Posted by Hello

THE Trail Hound - naming conventions

I sit here, with the Princess of Darkness on my knee, pondering the previous blog. Our rescued hound 'bendigo, actually trailed under the racename of Toffee Boy. This seems to have no link to tradition or contemporary naming convention. Back in the 50's/60's there were a whole series of dogs again with no contemporary link - Signal Box, Signal Major, Lady Pat, Dairyman, Lady Lou, Lofty, Lonning Lass, Lonning Lad. I remember walking one of the 'Signal..' dogs for the owner when I was 11 or so. This Cockermouth chap who was as lean and as long legged as his hounds went under the name of Lanty. I have a distinct feeling that the nicknames of owners will be as obtuse as the names of their dogs. Another point of interest is that in most cases the names are very un-doglike/unrelated to the act of trailing or running at speed. For example: Rodney Charm; Advertiser; Judy; Torch Singer; Wayne..... I must widen my research into say greyhounds, race horses..........uurmmm.......... or maybe get a real job.

You Ain't Nothing But A Japanese Haute Couture Designer

Browsing through the annual of The Hound Trailing Association is an instructive & illuminating experience. In particular, the lists of annual produce (puppies). Like horse-racing, breeding and bloodlines loom large here. I have no idea what constitutes a desirable pedigree in this world, but the hounds' names are evocative, quintessentially Cumbrian. Not just long-established names like Lady Dido, or Bendigo. But Green Ghyll Sally, Fell Mist, Belrigg, Lingbeck Thunder . . . they're names suffuse with a landscape and a tongue found nowhere else. So it comes as a minor shock to find puppies being named 'Calzaghe'* or 'Kewell' - the all-colonising cultural influence of the Premiere League has reached the world of hound-trailing. It must make for interesting scenes at the finishing post when owners line up with feed-tins and leashes and scream for their dogs from the depths of their lungs.
But what on earth does one make of a puppy named Issey Miyake? Presumably there are some extremely chic farmers' wives out there in the fells . . .
*Boxer of the Year 2001. Not a footballer at all, in fact. Null points on the starter, Sidney Sussex.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Trailhounds By Moonlight

I've just returned from the neighbouring village, walking across the fields late in the evening, past herds of somnolent cows, through the churchyard, and along the lane to the house where the Renaissance Couple live. Even at 11.00pm the eye could pick out colours: there was a sickle moon low in the sky, Venus, and a great band of orange and yellow above Criffel and the Mull of Galloway. And over my head an enormous sky arched into an ever deeper blue.
Something stirred in the lane: Ben the trailhound on one of his nightly jaunts. I called him into the yard and soon heard another voice echoing my own. The Renaissance Man was out searching for his hound. So we took a brief stroll together in his garden. Far off across the fields we could hear the sounds of dogs cavorting, and someone still making hay. We agreed, a propos of his 'TOGO' post, that on an evening like this, Cumbria at its very best, you really could almost live here . . .

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Taking An Teallach By Strategy - Day 3

Extravagent mountains demand extravagent approaches. The 24-hour weather forecast said that Saturday morning would be clear, pressure rising, and a light north-east wind. Perfect conditions. I rose at 4.00am and drove the 66 miles from Torridon to Corrie Hallie. Northern Scotland is an extraordinary place at the beginning of its lengthened summer days: clear light, deep skies, mountains jumping out from the horizon, columns of mist rising from lochs and burns. You first see An Teallach 20 miles off, and your heart leaps: the distant corrugations of its ridges are clear against the sky. This will be one of the great days. At 6.15am I was on the hill.
For those who don't know it, An Teallach is made up of four peaks - Sail Liath, Stob Cadha Gobhlach, Sgurr Fiona and Bidein a Ghlas Thuill - whose massive quartzite spurs enclose two deep corries. The central section is a spectacular sandstone traverse called Corrag Bhuidhe: the ascent and descent do not have the thrill and agony of those parts of Liathach, but that scramble up to Sgurr Fiona is incomparably exhilirating.
The Torridonian sandstone blocks look like Daliesque marshmallows left too long on a summer barbecue - you feel they will yield squishily to the touch. But grasp it and this rock is rough on the hands, stuffed with billion-year-old pebbles, it rasps across your palms. Scrambling across Corrag Bhuidhe is an hour's demanding exercise for mind and body that makes the skin of your hands sting and glow with life. Stepping up into a narrow corner it seems impossible that the crampon-marks before your eyes could be where your feet must rest, but stretch your hand above the top of a column, jam your foot in tight, move, and suddenly that odd angle is the only place that your right foot can possibly stand. The pinnacles have a logic that only reveals itself up close, the most unlikely lines emerge when you approach each buttress. Lord Berkeley's Seat, a crazy lozenge of rock jammed between Corrag Bhuidhe and Sgurr Fiona that seems to be permanently tipping over into the lochan, is the last obstacle. I don't know who Lord Berkeley was, or why he spent so much time sitting there (NB - if you know, please comment, I fear an allusion to the Clearances), but I applaud his choice of outlook.
Looking back from Sgurr Fiona, the truth of An Teallach's architecture is revealed. Imagine a pocket Grand Canyon into which plaster of Paris has been poured, set and shaken out of the mould. Turn the result upright and you have a succession of towers, buttresses, curtains and terraces, spreading out and downwards to the banks of scree below, but whose pinnacles are wreathed in a constantly changing cloud that makes them tantalising and capricious with each minute. An Teallach is a Grand Canyon of the sky, and deserves to be memorialised just as much as its Arizonan counterpart.
That's my mountain: I did not achieve the traverse direttissima of my dreams - I blew that on the first buttress of Corrag Bhuidhe where I got lost and spent half an hour trying 3 or 4 lines all of which were more or less uncomfortable before I regained the ridge. But I have sat astride Lord Berkeley's Seat, and heard the songs of finches echo across the crags of Toll an Lochan.
And I have discovered something else - the view from Sgurr Fiona looks back across the peaks of Fisherfield and Letterewe. Beinn Dearg, A'Mhaighdean and Beinn a'Claidheimh - strung out in a great wilderness of sandstone between Dundonnell & Loch Maree. Now that looks like a project to savour . . . .

Friday, June 03, 2005

Taking An Teallach By Strategy - Day 2

More rain, horizontal. More wind. More mist.
I drove east towards Inverness and just beyond Garve found marginally less rain, vertical, less wind, less mist. So I turned into the carpark at the foot of Bwen Wyvis, determined to get in shape for An Teallach. Some committee of aspirant Munroists must have rounded up The Usual Suspects. Two portly, middle-aged bearded Yorkshiremen puffing cigarettes were struggling into state-of-the-art waterproof clothing. If anybody had thought of marketing a Goretex cigarette holder, they'd have bought it.
"It's getting a bit crowded here," one of them bellowed in response to my greeting. I looked around. Apart from us, the carpark was deserted.
"Didn't you know," he went on. "There's rain forecast. Coming in from the south. At ten o'clock."
"Splendid," I replied. "I've arrived just in time."
He scowled and sucked on his cigarette as I walked past.
The next four hours were that salutary thing that everybody should experience at least once a year - a thoroughly bad time on a wet day in the Highlands. I'm sure the moss-carpeted, dotterel-nested ridge of Ben Wyvis, all two miles of it, is a splendid thing in bright sunshine, the perfect lookout for viewing the peaks of the Fannaichs, and An Teallach itself, to the west. But the hill needs galeforce winds, temperatures of 5C and visibility of 10 metres to give it a certain character. Which is not something you could accuse An Teallach of lacking in any conditions.
When I returned to the car I realised that every single item of waterproof clothing, at the wrong end of 7 or 8 years of gleeful abuse, had failed to do what it said on the label. So that's the equipment tested.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Taking An Teallach By Strategy - Day 1

There are mountains - and then there are mountains. An Teallach, the great multi-corried ridge of Torridonian sandstone on the western shore of Little Loch Broom has ravished my heart ever since my dalliance with Liathach was consummated a couple of years ago. Really good mountains are never there for the taking, they require patience, planning, care and luck. In 2002 I'd laboured up Sail Liath, at the south-eastern end of the ridge, in a 50mph wind, horizontal rain, and 5-metre visibility. Above Cadha Gobhlach I'd turned back, my disappointment tempered by the knowledge of gratification postponed, that this was a hill far more rewarding for being kept for a sunny day.
So this will be the year of An Teallach, by strategy.
Day 1: Torridon is pouring with rain, low cloud across the loch, high winds, a grey curtain of water further up the glen. My route is clear: I execute a daring traverse to the Loch Torridon Country House Hotel & follow a line of masterful inactivity amidst the Gothic splendour of that establishment's whisky bar.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

TOGO or not TOGO

Here I go. Once or twice a month I leave West Cumbria (WCUK) and visit one of the sites where Shepley work (Shepley Engineers is the company I run (anagram of RUIN I note)) or go to head office(s) in Leeds or London. I do a sort of round Britain tour. I dislike being ‘out of county’, I mean - don’t get me wrong, I have spent quite a bit of time OOC and I can appreciate the rest of the world and have a deep attachment and a place of residence in the other WC- the Western Cape of South Africa (WCSA). Mind you I have been told that WCSA is like WCUK but with sunshine. I’m starting to digress off digressions aaargh.
Back to the point .."Once or twice a month I leave West Cumbria (WCUK) and visit one of the sites where Shepley work (Shepley Engineers is the company I run (anagram of ruin I note)) or go to head office(s) in Leeds or London. I do a sort of round Britain tour. I dislike being ‘out of county’" I honestly believe that there’s nowhere else like WCUK and where we live. I can sit in our garden and have a view 20+ miles east beyond Skiddaw, 20+ miles West over Criffel, 20+ miles to the North to Gretna and beyond and 20+miles South to St Bees and leftish to the Isle of Man. Where else?? Oh - and Bouch’s and the Co-op in Aspatria.
So what’s wrong with the world outside WCUK? Nowt much I’m afraid. They have culture: Crosby, Stills and Nash in Edinburgh on 23 June; Bath; St Pauls Cathedral; Skye; Glasgow; Santander’s cafés; Florence; The Bowes Museum; The British Library; Currently all of our children (but they will be back!); Fearon Fallowe’s grave(WCSA); Bigger mountains; Deeper lakes; Dylan not performing at ArkFest again this year; ....... and so on. Read into that what you will. I could list on for at least a minute.
Once when (in my late 20s… 1978ish) disenchanted with THE CAREER, I spotted, in the Sunday Times.. “ pissed off… crisis.......depressed….. boss a shite….spare a day… and £200".. I took the train to London for some career counselling. The advice was ‘decide where you want to live then find a job’. As I approach retirement and don’t need a job – what do I do now??

Torridon Sandstone

Some time after you turn north from Strath Carron you realise that the landscape into which you are moving is like no other that you have ever experienced. It's no gradual impression: you know it the first time you see Fuar Tholl and the distant light of the western evening splits the buttresses of Beinn Bhan, burning the air with the luminescence of a message from God. Then you descend towards Shieldaig and a distant flash of blue, crushed by dark islands rocks and pine trees, obscures the sunset.
The sandstone of Torridon's mountains is over one thousand million years old: the place is a geological anomaly, tacked on to the west coast of Scotland, a landscape with which it has nothing in common. Imagine Monument Valley's older and more experienced cousin, and you will have some idea of the deep harmonies of light, perspective, distance and colour when you're lucky enough to approach it late on a clear summer's evening, as I was on Monday.
But none of this prepares you for the moment when you swing right from Shieldaig and begin to drive along upper Loch Torridon and you see the glen itself for the first time. Three mountains adorn its north side: Beinn Alligin, Liathach, and Beinn Eighe, a trio of great dilapidatory piles of sandstone topped with cones of grey quartzite. Liathach's pinnacles were wreathed by clouds that burnt pewter and pink in the sunest, giving them an air of dangerous grandeur. This is where I'll be spending the next six days, scrambling and walking. A place like nowhere else in Britain, nowhere else on earth.

The End Of The World News

We spent Sunday at the World's End, a polished archipelago of wave-washed granite rocks beyond Tonsberg, with views across the Skagerrak, skuas nesting in rock clefts, and blue jellyfish making a stately, puffing progress among the tidal pools.
At the little kiosk by the carpark we came upon an obviously professional photographer taking pictures of a newstand full of copies of the Norwegian equivalent of the FT, adorned with bundles of cucumbers. We were baffled.
"Shall we try to tell them we're from Cucumberland?" someone asked.
"Aah divvent knaa aboot that, man," the photographer replied. He was from Jarrow, and his mission was indeed to photograph the local Pink 'Un on a bed of cucumbers. The reason, he patiently explained to us, was that the Norwegian expression for a slow news day in the silly season was 'cucumber news'. I reflected that years ago the West Cumberland Times & Star (see the sidebar of this blog) was known as 'The WC News' because of the predictability of the public nuisance offenses for which local badlads found themselves up before the Bench, in those days the only form of free entertainment locally available.
But at least we learned some colloquial Norwegian from a jovial Geordie . . .