'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Le Blogging Mondial A L'Institut Oecumenique

Our bloggists are scattered to the winds. This post is being written amidst the elegant tranquillity of a 14th century chateau on the shores of Lac Leman. From the lawn I can see the great fountain of Geneva in the distance, and across the lake the Alps look enticingly jagged and clear. Behind me thunderclouds are massing above the Jura mountains.
I'm here to help celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of my friends the Defrocked Priest & the Double Duchess. If this sounds to you like a collision between Ben Travers and The News Of The World you'd not be entirely wrong. The chateau - an ecumenical college run by the World Council Of Churches - is where they met many years ago, and they have reunited an exotic collection of friends for the weekend. One of the unexpected pleasures of such company is that everybody naturally assumes that a tall, slightly imposing-looking middle-aged man must be a bishop at the very least. I was extremely reluctant to disabuse anybody of this notion until last night when I bumped into the real thing. The Bishop of Minnesota is slight, very chic & in her late 40s. She graciously declined my offer to kiss her ring, to the visible relief of onlookers.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tyto Alba

Among the regular animal inhabitants hereabouts is a family of barn-owls who nest in one of the trees by the wall next to the cottage. Ideally situated for viewing this year's chicks, and if the technology permits we may yet have a News owl-cam gracing this blog. Looking out over the fields across the valley towards Prospect I can often see one of the adult birds flying back with food in its beak, swooping past the big windows in a great curve as it heads for the tree. But what I saw last night suprassed all expectations. Walking around the front of the house, mid-evening, I saw one of the owls flying about fifteen feet above the ground, just below the lowermost branches of the trees, plumb straight along the road. For a moment its wings seemed to fill the breadth of the highway - then, in a blur of brown and white, it was gone.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Re-Positioning Hadrian's Wall

A few posts back I alluded to something called 'the Hadrian's Wall Gay Shopping Experience', lamenting that it was unavailable online. Since then we've been inundated with requests regarding this strange marketing initiative. So I'm pleased to announce that with the help of the Renaissance Man's scanner, we can bring you evidence of the latest from the Hadrian's Wall Tourism Partnership, who are reponsible for these things.
Heaven knows what brief they gave their creatives, but in past years Hadrian's Wall has tended to be aimed at bearded middle-aged men in sandals and Goretex. Now all this has changed. Someone's told the marketeers that most family holiday-destinations are decided on by women - and that what women want is an aspirational shopping experience & a strapping young hunk. How else to explain this:

I'm not entirely sure why our happy shopper is bidding such a fond farewell to the man from the chemist's shop. The whole thing is as camp as a line of military fortifications. Clearly someone at the creative agency is having a laugh. Equally clearly no-one at the Tourism Partnership has got the joke.

Les Delices De Cumbria - Part VII

Last night the Renaissance Man went on what the tabloids would describe as a Last Minute Mercy Dash to my hometown. On a whim he'd decided to have a fish supper - so there was of course only one place to go. Cueto's in Crosby Street have been frying exceedingly fine fish and chips since - I think - the 1920s, when matriarch Emily brought her family over from Bilbao. My family have been enthusiastic customers for four generations. And they're still at it, having lost none of their flair. So we sat down to fish, chips and mushy peas, the batter crisp, the fish firm & moist, the peas sweet but firmly textured. We agreed it was something of a guilty pleasure - but one you have got to experience when you come to Cumbria.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Right Way To Walk

To the Red City, on the business of education. In the course of a coffee-break just off Castle St, I found myself talking to a volunteer National Park Warden who leads guided walks for tourists. The very same walking groups, it turned out, who famously had their funding removed last year because they 'only attracted middle-aged middle-class white people'. I'd thought at first that this story was a slow-motion train-wreck, a collision of tabloid values with the pernicious Blairite agenda of performance targets. My chance aquaintance confirmed that the guided walks money had indeed been cut - and local firm Hawkshead Clothing had stepped in to fund them.
So, I asked him, what sort of people do you get on these walks? Oh, they're white & middle-aged & middle-class, he confirmed. So, I went on, what can you do to make them more inclusive?
His response was genuinely astonishing. Asians, he assured me, didn't want to come to the Lake District. He'd met some in Leicester - he'd sat down and had supper with them - and they preferred to visit Dubai, after all it was only 3 hours away. (This seemed odd - when I worked for A Very Big Airline, I'm reasonably sure that our most modern jets took at least twice that time to get there). So what about minority communities in Oldham or Burnley, I asked, couldn't we attract them to the Lakes? No point, he assured me - most people who visit the Lakes are day-trippers and aren't interested in walking. I wondered how this accounted for the thousands of Lancastrians who followed the lead of Alfred Wainwright and came to the hills. By the time he assured me that Hawkshead had done the right thing because it meant that women - who might feel vulnerable walking alone - were able to enjoy the Lakes, the words 'Passive Agression' were virtually pulsating across his forehead.
Even by local standards this was jaw-droppingly crass. One of the very few disappointing aspects of returning here has been the surprising level of casually expressed racism. And not with the redneck element of my fellow-countrymen: I've encountered it among the degree-toting professional classes, some of whom seem to be still at the 'Enoch Was Right' stage of evolution.
Suddenly, I could see DEFRA's point of view. And I was wondering whether Hawkshead Clothing haven't taken leave of their senses.


Sheep-Fighting Man, who farms the big field next door, has been making hay. This happens with military precision, great energy & despatch, in three phases.
Phase 1: Cutting grass. A tractor appeared the other afternoon, dragging huge mowers astern, and literally ran rings around the local wildlife. Three or four days later, after the hay had a nominal chance to dry (the rains came), Phase 2: S-FM returned with a sort of rotovator affair attached to his best blue tractor and zoomed around the field, turning the cut grass to give it air. This was almost immediately followed by Phase 3: S-FM returned with a harvester & two of his mates driving high-sided open-topped trucks. The harvester hoovered up the grass and spurted it from the spout sticking out over its off-side. Mate #1 drove his truck carefully alongside, followed at a respectful distance by Mate #2. As soon as the first truck was bursting at the seams he sped off and the second accelerated into position to take on the stream of hay. The whole operation took less than thirty minutes - the field must be 2 or 3 acres. I was hugely impressed by the efficiency of the process.
The field is now a bright yellow of cut-back stubble, temporary home to a herd of skinhead sheep who don't have the energy to crop the stalks. Instead they sit around by the top gate, clearly believing that the world owes them a living, or at least more frequent fresher hay on which to gorge themselves placid.
As soon as the grass was lifted, seagulls descended upon the field in search of suddenly exposed pickings. They soon cleared off. Yesterday the first of the swifts arrived, flying fast and low across the stubble, hunting the small life and insects of the lower air. Then by early evening they were gone too. But I can't imagine they've done with such a banquet so soon . . .
(Updated for authenticity - hat-tip: Dr John)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Other WC

I am currently working unsupervised. Higher management (Mrs RM/MsRW) has gone to the Western Cape, South Africa (WCSA) for the summer leaving me here in West Cumbria UK (WCUK) for a couple of weeks before joining her for August. She threatens to blog from there but so far has resisted. The village and surroundings of Greyton in WCSA are not unlike WCUK - some weather exceptions maybe - although at this time of year their early spring is a lot like our high summer - but with less rain. Today though Cumbria is glorious.
I was going to embark upon the Health Service Rant... but all is well with me and the world as it affects me today so - I'm going to leave it.
Greyton in Winter & The Western Fells from Cockermouth - choose?

Les Delices De Cumbria - Part VI

Possibly the finest bruschetta available to humanity - or at least the portion of it fortunate enough to live between the River Lune & the Roman Wall - is to be found in Cockermouth at Merienda, an intimate, relaxed little cafe-bar on Station Street. We were there to listen to jazz-singer La Stupenda & cheer her on to her inevitable triumph.
Outside the jeunesse doree of Cockermouth were on the razzle, lads trying to look so hard, lasses trying to escape from their strictly minimalist ball-gowns, and security staff looking as if they'd been unaccountably left behind in the evolutionary rush. From time to time the natural exuberance of La Stupenda's audience spilled out onto the streets & the youth stared in at us, wild surmises all round. I won't swear to it but it's just possible that a passing bouncer may have smiled.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Hills Were Much Steeper Then

I spent the morning searching through an old bound volume of The Illustrated London News for an out-of-copyright image to use in an article. But progress was slowed by the sheer richness of the material I found when I opened the book. It's from the mid 1850s, the absolute zenith of the Victorian summer, and is suffuse with unquestioned imperial confidence. Images of the Crystal Palace sit next to lavish engravings of the 'new' Houses Of Parliament. But there's darker stuff too - the Crimean War is in full swing, and reports from Sebastopol, Inkerman and Cronstadt fill its pages.
One column-filler caught my attention more than the war-stories: an image of the Cumbrian Mountains. And Swirrel Edge, holiday destination of choice for the intrepid Victorian paterfamilias -

Swirrel Edge is one of the two high paths from Pattadale to Helvellyn-top. The ascent of Helvellyn from Wythburn is easy enough - long grassy slopes and shoulders up which the most timid father might take his little family.
But towards Ullswater, Helvellyn presents a fine precipice, with Red Tarn lying below it; and on either side of Red Tarn the two great buttresses of Swirrel Edge and Striding Edge: concerning the former of which and its dangerous character, so many letters have of late appeared in The Times. It is perhaps not very dangerous to anyone with good nerves and sure feet: but certainly it is very steep and rugged, and the path narrow - in one part so narrow that you look down a precipice of some hundreds of feet on each side of you, and could drop a stone down from each side at once. When the clouds are rolling over the Edge the place looks sufficiently awful: and the traveller might almost think he had but to climb the sharp edge to some high point, standing up like a needle in the mist. Very little mist will hide the mountain. Let no tourist with courage miss these edges, there is nothing finer in the whole mountain district.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"You'll Never Be A Cumbrian"

At least that's what I was told Sunday lunchtime by one of Renman's friends. We were sunning ourselves in the distinctly chi-chi surroundings of the courtyard bar of a well-known Cockermouth hotel. My accuser was himself an incomer, and I believe had no idea that I was brought up seven miles from where we were sitting. But it wasn't this that made me pause. A few years ago I'd have regarded these words as a compliment, a welcome recognition that I'd so elided my origins from my accent manners and appearance that I was cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world, an everywhere & nowhere man - and that I certainly didn't belong to a place that I'd abandoned many years ago.
When I first began to spend time back in Cumbria, I felt a real frisson at the clandestine nature of my being there: nobody who knew me from childhood knew I was there; those who knew I was there thought me an incoming southerner. It was thrilling to return and re-occupy the place of memories and experience without any assumptions or weight of expectations. Then there would be the surprise of recognition: "How did you know that? Do you mean that you're . . . . ?". So becoming a Cumbrian again was something that I made up as I went along, with a genuine spirit of adventure and originality. Now, I've long since given up bothering to explain to people that I grew up hereabouts, moved away, lived in America and the south of England and then returned. But I was troubled by his words, even moderately offended. What do you mean I'm not Cumbrian? I'm still recovering from the mild shock of this, something I never imagined I would feel.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Norwegian Wood

Another new northern blog has come hurtling over the web - Mr & Mrs Viking Longship have committed themselves to cyberspace with Norwegian Wood. Tales of bizarre animal rescues, 3-legged dogs, Landrover fetishism & the husbandry of a Norwegian small-holding are all to be found within its pages. I commend it to the readership . . .

Sunday, July 17, 2005


In general, we try to fill this blog with firsthand experience rather than reviews of films & books (see the sidebar for what's currently being watched & read) but I managed to get in to see the UK Premiere of one of the autumn's big blockbusters in Cambridge this week, so I thought it worth scooping the mainstream media.
Nightwatch (Nochnoi Dozor) is a big-budget CGI-laden spectacular with a difference - it's made in Russia, though with American money, and it'll be all over your screens papers and web-pages in October.
A spectre is haunting Moscow - a Manichean struggle between the forces of darkness & light which has been going on since Byzantine times. Now it's coming to a head as the uneasy truce between Nightwatch (the good guys, approximately) & Daywatch (the not-so-good vampires), held in check by a bizarre & never-explained bureaucracy of licensed blood-sucking, begins to unravel. Nightwatchman Anton Gorodetsky, a human sensitive to the shadow-world of the conflict, is searching for a lost child abducted by Daywatch renegades: meanwhile, elsewhere in Moscow a creature powerful enough to bring on the apocalypse is about to be incarnated. Very fast, very stylish, delivering an assault to both the senses & the intellect, Nightwatch throws together Highlander, Ghostbusters, Buffy, Videodrome, The Hunger, Philip Pullman, Russian history, Marxist dialectic, casual references to 9/11 and a dozen other suspects into a massive hodgepodge of a quest that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go.
Fox's goonsquad were on the door on Thursday night confiscating mobile phones, cameras and ipods, so they obviously think their property is well worth protecting to ensure its success. I thought it was 20 minutes too long and derivative tosh, so I'm sure it'll be an enormous hit. You have been warned.

Broughton Moor Dumped - now this really is a rant

For 4 years the utropia team have attempted to become the development partner with the local authority (Allerdale/?) for the Broughton Moor ex naval weapons 'dump' in West Cumbria. This week the plans were turned down for the second time by West Lakes Renaissance a government funded agency dedicated, like the other 26 agencies in West Cumbria to the generation of funding for their own existence. The utropia team have produced an inclusive integrated model for the development of the total site which included a sensitive cost effective remediation plan, education, sport, hotels, entertainment and the arts, housing, transport, infrastructure, business, trade, commerce, agriculture, energy and waste management with massive buy-in from the local population. It's actually an excellent model for West Cumbria as a whole. It is not an environmental theme park (as wrongly described by the WC Times) although everything done at the site would comply with the utropian principles, which are very much based on environment and humanity. Most importantly it is not a single trick plan - for example sports academy or hotel or god forbid a paintball park. The remediation of the site is seen as part of utropia and would be the starting point for the whole project. Strangely - the low impact approach to the remediation advocated by utropia has been adopted by West Lakes Renaissance, but without acknowledgment.
The 'shadow board' put in place by Allerdale to manage their 'Derwent Forest Park' scheme (incidentally just another cost for West Lakes renaissance to raise funds for) have called at different times for expressions of interest. The first time was pre-shadow-body the second time was in a bit of a hurry with an hour given for presentations of a complex nature. The first time was to a fairly complex scope but to be based on an expression of interest only. The second time was just an invite. Neither presentation was ideal or timely and on both occasions failed to answer the question that was not asked. This seems to be the catch 22 of most agencies. They don't ask you a question which in consequence is not answered and so the submission fails. Agency can thus not make a decision having lashed out £50k or so to consultants who tell them that to do nothing carries the least risk. I wonder what the risk is that consultants might not be employed by Allerdale.
Despite the West Lakes Renaissance letter of refusal - the future vision for Broughton Moor has already been shaped and set by utropia. To not accept the utropia model and partnership however can only mean that whatever happens will be watered down; have a high environmental impact; give the worst possible result and not maximise the benefit to the local economy in the construction and operation (take a look at Workington Town Centre Development - how many locals there!).
Already the remediation is being done by an out of county contractor. I have met the guys and they seem well intentioned, but why oh why could Allerdale not find a local company? How come I know of Cumbrian companies good enough to restore parts of London, Glasgow, Paris, Dublin but somehow not good enough for Workington?
I am more convinced that the best thing for the economy is the extinction of the DTI and all of it's agencies. Competition, European Rules, Innovation .... all conspire to give the worst possible solution for most projects... a micro costing approach... littered with project and company failures and out-of-county solicitors, accountants and consultants raking off 15 to 20% of the cost of a potential project often before it starts.
I do despair. At Broughton Moor with utropia there was an opportunity to make a difference to Cumbria. The politicians and their servants (the agencies and sub agencies) could have partnered with a local development team to add real value to Cumbria. Utropia is a long term vision. It could be done without public money. The remediation could generate value. People would want it to succeed. My Cumbrian vision now is that the remediation will be done badly; we will have a succession of amateur uses for the site; all standalone - some displacing and weakening existing business and trade - and whatabout a good outdoor clothing shop? - that's a good idea as there's 20 or so in Keswick all doing very well I believe. The utropia team (and as you have probably guessed I am one of them) understand what it is to live and work and play in Cumbria our intent is plain we have no self agenda. The local authorities, their agencies, their boards and servants with a few exceptions do not have the nerve to make any decision - never mind a good one. The fear of the auditor puts pay to that. I'm also a director of one of the agencies so I now declare an interest. Not for much longer though, as on reflection I now see that I have been unable to make any difference to the operation or success of the agency by attending 4 meetings a year....It made sod all difference. The head of one of the agencies (not one that I am involved with) does not live, actually work, or play in Cumbria... so how the hell can they make any judgment on what is good for us.
A couple more points before I shut up:
1) Our newly elected Copeland MP Jamie Reed (born and bred - young bright socialist I hope) said that if he hadn't have been in Whitehaven at the time of the London bombs he would have been in London - narrow escape. Hey Jamie I think I know what you mean but I think that was the case for most of us. Say nowt please!
2) The 3 year old grand daughter of my best mate told me tonight that she saw Live Aid 8 and that she cried when she saw the pictures of the starving children in hot Africa, but it was OK because Bob Gandolf was looking after them. I rest a previous blog case.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Sessions Of Sweet Silent Films

I returned to Cambridge this week, to watch some movies at the 25th Cambridge Film Festival. (In another life, I'd worked at editions 8,9,10 & 11 of this institution in the days when it was based at the legendary Arts Cinema in Market Passage). These days the festival graces the much grander premises of the Arts Picturehouse in Regent Street, where 3 screens make it impossible to see every film programmed over the 10 days of the event. Everything here is on a grander scale: I was lucky enough to be invited up to the projection box by Roger-The-Projectionist, an affable techy who could go on as Gandalf without rehearsal. The box is an absolute Aladdin's Cave of technical wizardry - 3 pairs of 35mm projectors, one set able to handle 70mm, Beta & VHS carts, a huge black-box state-of-the-art digital projector, racks of servers, Dolby systems, quite the biggest trainset a boy could wish to play with. As we stood on the bridge, squinting through the glasses to our left and right, we watched light change to art before our eyes. It was one of those rare moments when the hoariest of cliches - the magic of the cinema - absolutely came to life in all its technological grandeur. Roger pointed out something I'd never considered before - that the system of ratchetting celluloid through a gate 24 times a second by means of a maltese cross engaging with sprockets is a technology essentially unchanged since the Lumiere Brothers invented it in the 1890s, but it still provides us with the sweetest of our shared dreams in the 21st century.

Ironic Desserts

To dinner in Cambridge with the Herr Doktor Professor & his lady the Nutritional Goddess. The Nutritional Goddess has clearly not entirely cast off her days of 1970s decadence because she announced she'd be serving an old-fashioned dessert - with an ironic touch. To the company's delight she duly produced a genuine Baked Alaska, something I'd not tasted in 30 years. The ice-cream within was cryogenically preserved, the meringue light and beautifully baked. This magnificent confection led the Herr Doktor Professor to suggest that the next time Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham-Fiennes Fuchs off to the Arctic to have his bits frozen off he ought to first achieve thermostasis by having himself dipped in whipped egg-whites and lightly toasted with a blow-torch.
Let's hope the polar bears don't have a sweet tooth . . . .

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bloggers Block

The pressure is on. WIR seems able to knock out a blog at the drop of a hat whilst I, on the other hand, struggle with finding anything in my work/task related existence. A few times (like now when I should be doing next years budget) I've used it as work avoidance ... actually must dust the top of the lights sometime today.... and other times I've started and it's turned into one of those Christmas round robin things you get from someone you haven't seen for 30 years, whose youngest child's a bowel surgeon with a ferrari whilst she does good works in Nottingham town centre. I must dig that one out and post it to the web 'cos I can feel that you don't believe me. Just noticed that the 'virgin' version of the blogger spell check doesn't recognise the word 'blog'. So............it's just stopped raining..... I'm sat at home working out the implications of consolidating the accounts........ thinking about trying to find the words and music for Steve Still's 'Love the One You're With' (hey that should fill in an hour).... trying to get my head round the new VOIP technology...... can anybody help with what the hell is a SIP-Exchange?...... must do last year's home accounts... ah the cooker hood has still to be sourced or Ren Woman will giving me a supervisory appraisal........ oh and there's the export of the dog Cass to SA to finalise..... wills to sign... must send note to RW reminding her that she's forgotten to sign.... now then I need a subject for this blog.

Tea and tinnitus pills then maybe pop out for that carpet shampooer from top Bouch. You have to live in Aspatria to understand that last bit.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Darwin Awards For Geese

Hurtling towards London yesterday, intent on a rendez-vous at the National Archives, I was alarmed to see the vehicles ahead of me begin to sway and skid wildly across the road. A second's terror was succeeded by relief and then hilarity: they'd been swerving to avoid a goose and her six goslings who were just then clearing unscathed the last of six lanes of traffic in their quest for the gravel-pits of Thorpe Park.
Or so I thought: looking in my rear-view mirror five seconds later I saw mother goose waddle round and begin to lead her brood back across the carriageway.
Clearly they'd been misinformed about the attractions of Thorpe Park. Wherever they were heading next, I hope they got there safely.

Cam Crag (Grade 2)

A hot Sunday morning, I was summoned by the Bearded Lexicographer. Cam Crag, he announced: no gear, no helmets, no rope - we were going scrambling. So we drove down to Keswick and headed into the jaws of Borrowdale. Langstrath, at its south-eatern extremity, is another of those unregarded delights of the Cumbrian landscape, a place whose very unvisitedness increases its allure. Beyond Seathwaite we passed campsites and rock-pools full of frolicing hikers then, quite suddenly, the landscape changed: before us was a deserted glacial valley of eskers and moraines, at its head the Great Slab and formidable buttresses of Bow Fell. In this intimate wilderness you're never more than 30 minutes from habitation, but Langstrath is one of the very few places within it where you can walk for hours sustained by the illusion that mountains stretch for miles without a trace of human presence.
We ascended the valley side and came to the foot of Cam Crag, a tumble of massive boulders and slabs below an outlying knoll which leads to a series of walls and terraces. It's an intensely enjoyable series of short sharp challenges - a sheer step followed by easy holds and blocks, then another sill, and a wall of volcanic rock that seems to lean back from the grass in a succession of terraces before bringing you back to reality with a sheer bulge at the top (the Chicken Variation on the left was not unwelcome). We took it easily, savouring the landscape, revelling in the solitude, cursing the heat and finally enjoying lunch and several litres of water just below Glaramara, where the breezes of afternoon calmed us and views of Great Gable, Lingmell , Pillar and Fleetwith Pike perpetutated the illusion of unpopulated wilderness.
The descent to Seathwaite was quite unusually unpleasant, every hundred feet adding degrees to temperature and humidity until we were wading through a sweet-perfumed sea of bracken and moisture, as if afloat in a green furnace. We regained the valley and drank pints of exceptionally welcome Sca Fell Blonde.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Buy This Man A Pint!

Fellow Cumbrian Bloggist Paul Johnson has stumbled upon a remarkable discovery which has hitherto eluded the rest of us. Go and visit his site Buy Me A Pint. Clearly this is what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind when he invented the internet.

London & Cumbria

When I first moved to London I soon found the city was colonising my dreams. Each night I travelled around a city that was recognisably London, but a London warped by the mass of its own historical subconscious: buildings, streets and landmarks were rearranged, but rearranged consistently, so that my dream-London took on a logic and sense of place all its own. Curiously, I spent much time in the dream-London's Underground where stations, platforms, trains and lines all ran in a consistently different manner to those of waking life. Becoming a Londoner was a 24-hour task, something that my sub-conscious worked hard at while my mind recovered from the assault of everyday experience in the city. Frequently, I would be woken by the sound of the IRA blowing up the railway lines across from the back of my flat.

By malign coincidence, Thursday's bombings took place at locations which have intensely felt and experienced associations for me. I remember travelling from a friend's flat at Edgware Road on a gorgeous spring day to a first date with a Brixton girl at the start of a relationship that was intensely thrilling & catastrophically destructive. Outside Russell Square I shook the hand of a dear friend, a Truffaut-buff and amateur film-maker, with whom I later passionately fell out. At Liverpool Street, by Broadgate Circus, I spent a Sunday making a short film with a group of friends whose talents commitment and enthusiasm over-burnished my own inarticulate script and stuttering directions. I walked through Tavistock Sqaure one evening, arm in arm with a lover.
Cities accumulate memories and experiences and knit them into their fabric, just as they transmit to us the unmanageable richness of their historical realities.
Today, those places of love, creativity, friendship and serenity have been overlaid with the experience of violence, the horror of death in narrow places, isolated and alone, without loved ones or familiar faces.
When I moved back to Cumbria, I found that my dreams were colonised by the landscape too: Derwentwater, Scafell and Whiteless Pike rearranged themselves into an unexpected geography of the mind. This afternoon I looked up to the hills and felt their bulk, their immovableness, their solidity. They were, truly, less reassuring than I would have wished. But I was left with the feeling that however warped by the weight of suffering, our surroundings carry the gifts of what we love best with them, a shared identity, a commonality of feeling, experience and understanding that cannot be destroyed.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The World's Local Bank. Not.

It's a hot Friday afternoon in rural Cumbria. At 3:15 I step up to the cashpoint at HSBC in Aspatria - a branch that's open two afternoons a week and, for all I know, spends the rest of its time being a trendy winebar (if such a thing could exist in Aspatria). The machine takes my card - and promptly decides to re-boot itself. By the time it's wandered back from the middle-distance of clearing its cache & registering with whatever DNS it required, it's forgotten that my card is trapped somewhere in its intestines.

Two hours and several phone calls later, someone in Bombay has assured me that he's cancelled my card and a new one will be with me in five working days. When I point out to him that I am penniless on a Friday afternoon and intending to drive to London on business first thing Monday morning, he's at a loss to suggest how I might be reunited with the money which I foolishly entrusted to his incompetent employer.

I'd strongly recommend that any readers holding an account with this bank close it immediately & move to one that actually has a Saturday morning counter-service. Better still, try to find one that doesn't run its ATMs on OS/2 WARP, a computer operating system abandoned some time in Late Antiquity by corporations whose IT departments didn't want to be laughing stocks. Better still, go and bank with one of those posh outfits that actually still aspire to face-to-face service. That way, when this sort of thing happens you will at least have the satisfaction of taking the poltroons and periwigged flunkeys they employ and horsewhipping them the length of Pall Mall.

Note to HSBC's Customer Service Training Dept: it's not a good idea to tell your staff to use the words 'But I've just explained to you . . .' when addressing valued customers.

Living In A (Maryport) Gangsta's Paradise

Before I returned to my native county one of the more charmless aspects of life in London was the location, just round the corner from my flat, of South London's main stretch-limo agency. It was practically impossible to set foot outside or drive towards Clapham without encountering one of the monsters, usually packed to the rafters with blinged-up members of Sarf Lunnon's wannabe gangsta posse.
Evidently, this kind of thing is now quite passe in the capital, because someone's just unloaded his surplus vehicles onto a local entrepreneur. This afternoon Cockermouth was crawling with the things, packed to the rafters with what looked & sounded like blinged-up members of my hometown's junior chav fraternity.
I shall be spending the weekend scouring the local hardware shops for one of those terribly useful 'stinger' devices you see on the reality TV shows the traffic cops kindly produce for our entertainment.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My Continuing Live Aid 8 rant... and on drums .....

Ok I may have missed the point. I watched it for a bit and my conscience feels a lot better. Presumably I don't have to do anything else now to help Africa.. except depose Mugabe on my next trip. But the point seems to have moved to 'should the bands (who didn't get paid to appear) profit from increased sales of their records'. No talk of Africa then. For a start... how would we know? What if sales went down? Could there be a claim against Sir Bob for damages due to appearing?
So many questions... so few answers.

Hey those 8 middle aged white guys in Gleneagles wouldn't look out of place in Pink Floyd. ......and on drums Jacques Chirac; and on stacked heels and vibes welcome little Vladi Putin... lead vocals well now there's a dilemna.

Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum

A new blog has appeared in the west. Extreme gardening, urbane foxes, unfeasibly large numbers of parakeets - all are to be found on the mean streets of Ealing & within the pages of Lampy's Way Out West.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

So what did happen to Live Aid 2,3,4,5,6,7?

I am not one of the world's great compassionate thinkers but the 10 hours of rock concert didn't engage me at all in the Africa thing. I can claim to knowing a bit about Africa and the complex issues posed - oh and I'm also middle-aged, white and in a rock band but, yesterday left me cold. Sorry chaps but I'll carry on doing my bit without fanfare and in a way that makes sure that the most amount of help arrives for the cost. I wonder how much that little lot cost to put together and how much people remembered - other than 'they finished with 'hey jude''.
I rarely watch Songs of Praise but today I caught most of it and it was from South Africa. Now this was moving - 'The Soweto Gospel Choir', Alexandra Youth Choir, Soweto BuskAid - fantastic violin by kids who sleep on shack floors, inspirational commentary, Desmond Tutu at his giggling best and the ubiquitous Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I don't know if the Beeb have the technology to let us watch Songs of Praise again - but try. Now that made me feel optimistic for Africa. Find time to sing.
Alexandra Renewal Programme
Professional Dance Academy
Soweto Gospel Choir - some clips
Art Throb (Dinkies Sithole)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo - learn some zulu

Call Me Man-Cub

A few nights ago I visited another lost domain of le Cumbria profond. The occasion, which need not trouble us, was an arts project with which I'm involved. So I drove north of the A66 into the unvisited landscape between Carrock Fell and the Eden Valley, and soon found myself approaching a place with a name that resonates with meaning for the followers of a certain strand of cinema, TV and pop culture. When you enter Greystoke you feel that the village is a place apart, as if the writ of the early 21st century does not run here so large as it should. There's a crossroads, a village pub, and flower-decked sandstone cottages looking just a bit too Cotswoldy for their own good. And opposite the pub, a gateway that leads to Greystoke Castle. I drove through it and across the parkland, caught a glimpse of a massive Gothic pile at a turn in the drive, and made my way round to the estate buildings beyond. The rendez-vous was a Puginesque apartment in a converted stable-block, walls three feet thick, arches everywhere. "So - are we in Edgar Rice Burroughs territory?" I asked my elegant hostess after the guided tour. She confirmed that we were - and added that Burroughs himself never visited Greystoke, having only heard about the place second-hand from an American couple he met in France who were effusive in their memories of a sojourn there. The family, she added, had ticked the box marked 'No Publicity'. It was only then that my slow brain made a connection which, really, it should have managed much earlier -
Tarzan Of The Apes was a Cumbrian!
Those of you familiar with the demonstrative chest-beating presentation behaviour that is Cockermouth Main Street at chucking-out time on a Friday night may be forgiven for thinking that this is a role-model the Cumbrian male does not need. But I was enchanted by the notion: the greatest of the pulp heroes, one of the most compelling imaginative figures of my childhood, and he was a local boy all along. Perhaps the thought appealed because of the way that Tarzan dramatises the ambiguity of the relationship with your true origins, the feeling of passion for, and the need to distance yourself from, your unmanageable native place. But perhaps only a Cumbrian who has left the county and returned, and found it quite different from the place he remembered and imagined, can read Tarzan in this way . . .

Projectile Vomit - The Feline Perspective

The animal element of the Renaissance Household would not be complete without Chance, the three-legged cat. He's a singularly needy and demanding creature, a trait we ascribe to kittenhood trauma exacerbated by a chronic stomach complaint. The other morning, more in need of companionship than usual, he came to visit the cottage, where Cass the Alsatian was snoozing while I worked. An hour or so later the telltale sounds of imminent gastric problems started. I picked up Chance and hurried towards the door. At this point two things conspired to bring on disaster. Cass took a sudden interest in my mission of mercy and got under my feet; Chance, always a clinging cat, decided that he was sticking to me and made with the claws. As I stumbled towards the stairs and swung round, the inevitable eruption took place, velocity increased by torque. Net result: direct hits on the carpet - three; direct hits on the kitchen wall - two; direct hits on my left sock - one. All neatly grouped into a tight impact pattern. Clearly USAF Bomber Command could learn a thing or two from Chance.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Dumbing Down of Call Centres

Yesterday I was the subject of a cold call regarding, I believe, insurance for a credit card I do not have anymore. MBNA are a company to avoid. The caller asked if I had 10 minutes to spare to take a survey. No.... could she call tomorrow at say 10?.... No...... and .... could she just .....as a matter of security check some details Mr Dawes .... a bit of confusion concerning your first name ... is it Brain or is it Brian? Dumbfounded I say that I often get it spelt incorrectly but nobody has ever pronounced it incorrectly. So she says - which one then - Brain or Brian? Brain I say. I hang up and stare at the wall for a few minutes.