'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Radio On

Film-buffs among the readership may care to know that the Cineaste & I will be popping up on Radio Cumbria at about 09:40 tomorrow morning (Thursday) to talk about forthcoming movies on Val Armstrong's excellent mid-morning show. Those of you outside Cumbria can listen by clicking on this link (RealPlayer required) at about 0840 GMT or local equivalent. There'll be reviews of some exciting new films - and a little quiz with highly desirable prizes . . .

At Last - Les Delices de SA. 5 Star Sign Wars

Our local village in WCSA boasts 'the only 5 star restaurant' in the Western Cape. Or so it says on three of the biggest road-side signs adorning the 20k's of country road from the main N2 to Greyton. Beautifully made signs they may be. However they are totally uneccesary and unwanted. For a start Herman, the german proprietor of the Greyt-on-Main (getit?) Restaurant & Rooms thinks that signs should be fullsome in their praise of his establishment. I assume he wrote the copy himself. To read everything on the sign requires a stop of 5 minutes or so a) to read and b) to understand the meaning. There's even a super text on a flyboard above the main board proclaiming the establishment to be ' The 3 A's broker for Accomodation, Activity and .... " another A which I can't remember 'cos I was going to fast at the first sign, missed the second sign and ran out of interest at the third. Oh! and what does 0% commission mean? I think it's an in-joke dig at the many estate agents in the town. The erection of the signs has caused a whole load of comment and downturn in his business I believe. The locals have decided that such boasting and the spoiling of the views wins Herman no friends. In fact there is now unwelcome interest in 'who was the awarding body for the 5 stars?' I am told that the food is very good but not 5star good... it's a german restaurant in South African for godsake. Unless he got the stars for 5 ways with eisbein and cabbage. All agree that it is a mystery.
Last night though war broke out. There had been talk and letters in the press calling for Herman to remove the signs. He said he would respond on his return from Namibia (on a pig knuckle buying trip?). It seems that Persons Against Uneccasry Signage and Eisbein (PAUSE) decided to take the signs down and destroy them. The village is happy... no-one has owned up.... Herman will be furious, unless of course it was he who did the deed in an attempt win back customers. I for one would not have eaten there until the offending signage had been removed.
Tonight we return to WCUK so a review of das eisbein vil hev to vait until after Christmas.

Days Of Heaven

To Keswick this morning. I drove along the unimproved switchback of an A-road on the east side of Bassenthwaite. On my left the Ullock Pike ridge of Skiddaw was wreathed in a haze of siena and blue. Over the lake the air was baking and the Lorton fells vanished into a series of receding bluffs and ridges, each one shimmering more gently than the last. There was an air of stillness and plenitude without a hint of dog-day heaviness.
I turned on the radio: Junior Walker & the All Stars were singing 'Roadrunner' -

'Cos I live like I love
And I'm gonna love like I live

Then the great piano-chords and the drums announced that saxophone break - and for a moment my mind was ravished by the sheer perfection of the world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

The family of tyto alba refered to in an earlier post make their nest fifteen feet up in the hollowed-out bole of a tree just across from my bedroom window. Besides allowing wonderful owl-watching opportunities this also means that my slumbers are serenaded by the birds' crepuscular shriekings. At first this was slightly disturbing - 'eldritch' is the obvious, if unsettling, choice of adjective. But this nightly chorus of long, low, rasping, drawn out screeching has become a kind of serenade, enlivened by the occasional sight of a white wing flashing through the greenery above the wall. Two nights ago, in the middle of our August gales, I was lullabied by the insistent counterpoint of the south-west winds moving through the trees of the garden in the evening, their threshings hitting the beat of the owls' shrieks just often enough to lull me into a profound and restful sleep . . .

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Glacier & The White Stag

Scotland's only glacier - which is what the marketing people call it - comprises a few sheets of ice and snow in the magnificent Garbh Choire Mor between Braeriach and the wonderfully named Sgor An Lochain Uaine (the Peak of the Angels) in the Cairngorms. Every nation, I suppose, should have its own glacier but given that this one is a good 12 miles hard walking from the nearest carpark I don't suppose it'll pull the tourists in quite the way the marketing men hope. On the other hand if it contributes even slightly to a small nation's sense of grievance at the climate changes induced by the petro-economy of the United States, I'm sure it'll make up for all that . . . errmm . . . crude oil that was stolen by the bastard English.
I was lucky enough to inspect the nation's glacier myself in the course of an epic walk from Rothiemurchus through the granite-block obstacle course of the Chalamain Gap and the huge valley of the Lairig Ghru, before walking up the great northern shoulder of Braeriach and circling the peak's southern corries as far as Carn Toul. The high plateau of the Cairngorms is a fascinating place - mostly above 4000 feet, a desert of rock, sand and scrub inhabited by snow-buntings, ptarmigan and herds of reindeer. At one point, fording the Falls of Dee, I came upon a herd of these beasts, which surprisingly allowed me to approach them. A single white stag watched from the skyline. The plateau can be a dangerous place even in high summer, conditions can change rapidly, hail replacing sunshine, 100mph winds and zero visibility. We had none of that on this occasion, but any expedition to the interior requires a certain competence in navigation and hillcraft. The rewards are immeasurable: the finest high mountain landscape in the UK. But it's also a place that sells itself agressively to tourists. Yet I met hardly any other walkers that day. Everyone else, I later discovered, was down by Loch Morlich at the visitors' centre having their extreme sports experience, a subject I'll return to in another post.

Les Delices De SA part 2

Les Delices - NO.
Amidst the sophistication of the Western Cape in SA there's the Venster Cafe in the car park of The Wildflower Garden, Caledon. The wildlife garden is superb: "The second major asset of Caledon is the world-renowned wild flower garden and reserve. The 56 ha garden is notable for its wonderful variety of indigenous flowers, superb examples of one of the richest flora in the world. Explore the Garden famed for its splendid displays wildflowerers - Namaqualand daisies, gazanias, the beautiful Caledon bluebell, about 135 species of protea and much else. Here you will find charming pathways and wooden bridges, lawns, picnic spots, an ornamental lake, handsome indigenous trees, shrubs, a prolific birdlife and of course the flowers. At the top of the mountain, you will see a fascinating rock formation called The Window. The gardens tea room provides refreshments and visitors can buy plants from the nursery. The garden is open daily from 07h30 to 17h00.Caledon is also well-known for its wheat fields, barley, onions and wool. Southern Associated Maltsters have in the town the largest malt-producing plant in the Southern Hemisphere. The malting factory processes 140 000 tonnes of barley annually. A wild flower show is held every September and a Beer and Bread Festival in March." The beer and bread festival also features 'bad sausage' - but that will be a separate blog. We (SAS, The Minder, Mrs RM and mesel) really enjoyed the garden and the reserve and inasort of way enjoyed the Vensters Cafe experience. It was 2pm we had wandered the reserve, admiring the plants, picking our way (risk assessmentment though not risk free) over boulders, broken bridges and slippery when wet signage and had got to the hunger stage. For charming pathways and wooden bridges - read: bloody dangerous rotting metal bridges. We retired to the cafe - strangely busy for a Monday afternoon. Seated in the non-smoking section of the establishment we admired the plastic tablecloths, the 'can't be bothered curtains, lampshades in some exotic plant theme and plastic floral arrangements. The 56 hectare garden cannot provide decorative flora .... aaargghhhh! The menu was mainly burger and chips. SAS and I chose the Eisbein. Only two left. These are traditional Bavarian fodder. I believe "Pig Knuckle". In the depths of SA you question? Will they take long to cook? They are cooked from fresh we are told. Oh my God says SAS.. and... How how long does that take? 2 minutes on high in microwave says our waitron. Despite two returns to the chef - mine remains 'off cold'. SAS manages the whole of his without comment. I do not want to appear a wingeing pom. I pick at the hot bits and cover the remains with the plate of Mrs RW's burger. However - I do manage to knock back all of the chips plus 2 cokes.
This is the way to live!? I will endeavour to describe a good eaterie in SA before we leave SA.


This blog has a rule about meta-posts - we don't blog about blogging or post posts about posts. Unfortunately an outbreak of comment-spam this evening has led me to break this rule for this post only. I've implemented the Blogger 'Word Verification' feature to discourage spambots from leaving their deeply boring automated comments. Real readers are positively encouraged to continue commenting, albeit at the trouble of copying the letters that now appear in the Comment dialogue-box. Message to spambots: thank you for your kind comments re how much you're enjoying this blog. Now bugger off.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Up The Pole

I've just returned from the Highlands to find a 30-foot flagpole adorning the yard - unfortunately horizontal, not vertical, but it still looks jolly impressive. The gale-force winds lashing West Cumbria this Bank Holiday weekend mean that any attempt to get it into an upright position single-handed is probably doomed. So - Yes, you can now add to the Comments any jokes about 'not being able to get it up on his own' that you've been saving for just the right occasion. The Management will be back from South Africa later in the week so presumably we can look forward to an Erection Night Party . . .

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Delivering Tomorrow's Weather Today

This is not, as you might think, the Met Office's new mission statement (hat-tip - Janey & Peter) but the happy circumstances I find obtaining in Aberdeenshire. What were supposed to be the torrential rains of today happened yesterday - leaving today bright and dry and perfectly conditioned for the Cairngorms, the mountains of my youthful summers, where I will be spending the next few days. So it's farewell the Tarkovskian experience of walking rain-puddled farm lanes with black dogs in attendance while the barley of August dances across the horizon: the rest of the week will be spent up in the floating islands of sub-Arctic tundra between Aviemore and Braemar. Which means no blogging for a while - you'll have to imagine me striding down the Lairig Ghru. Full report in due course.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Semiotic Detectives At The Aspatria Co-op

At lunchtime to Aspatria, birthplace of the great Sheila Fell - and an extraordinary apparition in the Co-op carpark. I parked next to a Vauxhall estate whose rear door was adorned with two enigmatic signs, one to each side of the number-plate:

Regular readers will know of this blog's enthusiasm for covert signs of allegiance, secret writings and unreadable messages. But it struck me that this rather took the biscuit. What did it mean? On the way back from the shop I had my chance: the car's owner was about to drive off. What, I asked him, was it all about?
Runes, he replied.
Had them on my car for twenty years. Protects me and brings me luck.
I looked at him closely. He seemed at ease with the world and, so far as I could judge, unharmed by major road accidents.
I wondered if this was further evidence of West Cumbrians' atavistic obsession with their Viking roots. But the god Odin, with his dodgy eyesight, is not the deity I'd sacrifice to in earnest of road safety.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Other West Cumbria? In SA - estate agents are a cult.

We are back in the Western Cape.
Been here 2 weeks now.

Greyton is a lot like Lorton. However, Greyton has more donkeys and cows on the streets and probably more infrastructure. There may be more telephone numbers - approx 400 ( total capacity of 999 with a format -021 2549-XXX) and definitely more Estate Agents - 7 at the last count. Thats 1 for every 60 houses!

In SA the Estate Agent is king/queen. The local papers - instead of showing a photo of the house (pronounced Hars) to be sold; they show a younger picture of the estate agent. (see Pam Golding).
This is pic of Pam and her children taken approx 15 years ago .. and still in regular use.

They also do the same when selling cars.

clip of car sales personnel in local paper .. offering money back (I think)

Why oh why would anybody buy a car/house from these persons? (persons is also South African for people)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gillercombe Buttress (Severe)

We were driving down Borrowdale towards Seatoller, the Bearded Lexicographer, the Actor-Manager & I, when we spotted the first of the open-top buses. Yes, an open-top bus plying for tourists in what is officially the wettest place in England. We then found ourselves behind a more-than-usually slow coach all the way up Honister Pass. Our objective: Gillercombe Crag beneath Grey Knotts in the spectacular hanging valley above upper Borrowdale. The Lexicographer had promised an ascent of Gillercombe Buttress, a particularly fine route at a grade I'd not encountered in years. Luckily my companions were far more experienced - both in severity and recency. We walked in from the slate mine atop Honister, making a long, gentle traverse into the combe, watching clouds gather over both Green Gable before us and Glaramara beyond Base Brown. The day was supposed to be fine, but the air was cold with a ghostly damp hanging about the rowan trees that split the crags.
Gillercombe Buttress is a beautifully contrived route, a grand, open series of pitches that reward positive movements without ever relying upon the sheer upper body strength which has always eluded me. The Buttress is split by a deep vegetative gully and the route follows the arete on the gully's right hand side, occasionally swinging out over the gully wall to turn a block, then snaking back across the buttress's face in bold zig-zags. In between there are a couple of quiet pitches of easy-angled slabs, but the line always returns to the edge of the gully, taking you up then forcing you out onto the nose to turn an overhang then returning to a narrow ramp that takes you back across the face. The Lexicographer was positively salivating with anticipation. The Actor-Manager, who concealed considerable experience beneath his protestations of 'only getting out on the crag about once a year' maintained an enigmatic silence about climbing and regaled us with tales of walking across Morecambe Bay. Terribly flat, Morecambe Bay.
The Lexicographer led off up the first slabs and around the corner at the gully side. Then the cry of 'Safe' came down and after a few minutes I followed him, as the weakest member of the party, on the end of two ropes and trailing a third, under strict instructions to unpick selected running belays from blue and green and clip the trailing red into those that would then protect the Actor-Manager. Soon I turned the corner, swung out over the gully side and found myself face to face with a grinning Lexicographer who was sitting on a wide ramp fifteen feet above, securely belayed. Soon the Actor-Manager joined us and we turned our attention to the first of the zig-zags, a thrilling pitch that traversed right and left up the buttress face. This was the point that the Actor-Manager and I ran into a little local difficulty on the rope-management front and spent a merry ten minutes disentangling ourselves before it was safe to proceed. Further up on the fourth pitch we encountered what for me was the highlight of the day, a nice little 20-foot chimney with enormous holds that positively encouraged ambition and speed. Things were going better than I'd dared hope.
But Gillercombe Buttress has a most piquant sting concealed in its tail. The sixth pitch, just after an easy scramble up big and beautifully striated slabs, takes you out onto the lip of the gully again. A step left from a big flake leads onto a difficult groove that disappears upwards into a corner. The Lexicographer gallantly offered this last lead to the Actor-Manager who racked up with gear in an insouciant manner, hauled himself up onto the groove, scuttled upwards and disappeared. Time passed. The clouds began to move off Green Gable. Wind blew across the buttress. The Lexicographer and I made conversation, thought better of it, fell silent and then began to trade opinions about the weather. Cloud enveloped the crag. Moisture appeared in the groove. The rock was darkening. Suddenly, the groove and the corner above it looked far more intimidating than I had judged. Getting up and onto a reliable handhold in the first ten feet was going to require some skill. After twenty minutes or so a shout came down and the rope was taken in. I stepped onto the flake and started to climb.
Apart from an early instant of sheer terror achieving that first hold, I scampered up to the corner and turned it with an ease that surprised even me. I had no intention of hanging around psyching myself up for a move by getting colder and damper than I already was. When I pulled myself over I saw the reason for the delay: the Actor-Manager had very considerately set runners over a hundred feet or so of slabs above me and was sitting on a grassy bank just below the top of the crag looking terribly nonchalant. I soon joined him.
And that was Gillercombe Buttress, a beautiful climb I'd strongly recommend. I'd also recommend the Tag Lag Ale and Haystacks Beer from Hesket Newmarket Brewery with which we celebrated down in Borrowdale an hour or so later.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Life, The Universe & Everything

A late dash to the Kirkgate Centre in nearby Cockermouth this evening - after a sensational day's climbing in Borrowdale, which will be blogged in due course. The entertainment was The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and I confess I walked out after twenty minutes - something I have only rarely done. This was not, I must stress, due to my being an Adams purist - though the radio series & the books are among my keenest pleasures. (I was delighted to note that my ticket was numbered '41', clearly a misprint). The problem was the Kirkgate's truly abysmal presentation standards. Note to the projectionist: an in-focus film often delights the audience. Audible sound helps. Consistently audible sound is frequently regarded as a desirable part of the film-going experience. If all else fails, keep on banging the spools together guys . . .

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Wild West Coast of South Africa Part Three

The Wild West Coast of South Africa
Don’t get me wrong but we actually enjoyed our 4 days break up the coast. South Africa isn’t like the rest of Africa and The West Coast is probably nearer to real Africa than South Africa is. Come to think of it the West Coast is probably nearer to the West Coast of Scotland e.g. Largs, or maybe even West Cumbria’s beloved Silloth, in the 50’s. If you factor on top of that what you can imagine the boere (Afrikaner farmer) thinks of as being hip and stylish then you have it. A few examples:
Day 1 We take the dirt road from Elands Bay to Lamberts Bay. The dirt road is a Toll Road. 20 Rand (£1.80) is required to make the 50 kilometre dash alongside the railway line dicing death at crossings with 2 mile long iron ore trains. We cannot pay the coloured lady on the toll bar! Coloured is not a derogatory term. There are blacks, whites, asians and coloureds in SA; coloured being ‘mixed race’, usually Afrikaner with the Khoi San Bushmen people (well before Apartheid). Scouse African Steve (SAS) points out that ‘this is new’. It turns out that ‘in the new SA’ the general paranoia is that the ‘coloured girl’ will become a target for craam (crime). Her takings from 40 cars a day (approx £70) will become too much of a temptation for her or her friends. No wonder she looked pissed off as she stood there in the middle of nowhere. The southwester helmet and the driving rain might have had a bit to do with it too.
So we make our way to the Elands Bay Hotel (next to the fish factory).
(note the 'old boat' in restaurant and neat curtains and nice TV to watch whilst you eat)

The smell of stale lager, fags, floor polish, dripping rain… overwhelms the fish factory. A white Afrikaans speaking chap in shorts of indeterminate age and skin like one of those new grapefruit things directs me beyond the drip catching buckets, through some sliding doors which have long since stopped sliding (but have a nice appliquéd dolphin on them to indicate the sea theme nature of the establishment) to the sandlopper bar. It is 9.30 in the morning but the dimly lit bar is already in business. The barman, a dead spit for the lead singer with Dr Hook, except he has 2 eyes (both equally blood shot).. oh and 3 teeth, laboriously writes me a receipt for the toll in quadruplicate. I get 1 copy, he files 1 copy and he puts 2 in the overflowing ash tray. I thank him in Afrikans - ‘baiie dankie’ (pronounced Buy a Donkey) and make my way back through this colander of an hotel to SAS and Mrs RM and The Minder. At the other end of the dirt road and many stops for viewings of flamingo, plovers, heron, seals, iron ore trains we show our ticket to a younger version of the chap in shorts and a few clicks later we arrive at Lamberts Bay.
Lamberts Bay is a lot like Elands Bay with a much bigger fish factory and a very large colony of Cape Gannets and a very large pile of Gannet Guano.
The viewing of 1000’s of gannets, jack-ass penguins, seals, dolphins and whales took us 2 days to do interspersed with our usual culture tours. Brunch at the Lambert’s Bay Hotel was uneventful apart from my 2 mile hike to the guest toilet. There was a detour to pick up a key from the chap in shorts again. Whilst I struggled with the local currency and the divide by 2 stuff to pay for the 128 Rands worth of coffee, toasties, and chips (pronounced chups), SAS had found ‘Nanas’!! How I wish this woman had a web site. Nana is a local Afrikaans speaking….. cross between a biker’s short moll and a American west coast hippy. She had a fixed expression and painted on eyebrows. Nana’s is a Gift and Curio Shop, Hairdressers, Pet Grooming and… Taxidermist. Actually novelty taxidermy. What had attracted SAS’s attention was the stuffed Blue Crane (the national bird of SA) on the front step of the shop, held upright by a dowel of wood through the eye sockets and strung from the ceiling. The stuff inside was much more gruesome. Apart from most of the endangered birds of SA, she exhibited fantasy animals made up from the assorted pieces of other animals. Duck feet, porcupine body, antelope head with the teeth of the Dr Hook guy at Elands Bay. Yes she does dentistry too. There was no getting away for SAS as she explained to him in a dead pan how she made each of the items in her exhibition. His scouse irony was lost on her.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to buy anything?’ We locked the car doors and floored the accelerator. As I looked back she was fondling a door knocker made from a Springbok’s scrotum. ‘Viree poplar wuth the faarmers waarvs’

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hang Out More Flags

We are now the proud possessers of a rather large Cumbrian flag, ordered and obtained from the wonderful Turtle & Pearce Ltd. (And no, we can't work out what the blonde babe on the website has to do with flags, but the world of bunting & flag-poles does seem to be a bit of a boy thing). The flag's a very fetching navy blue ground quartered with a white cross. Regular readers will be relieved to hear that I resisted the temptation to wrap it around my shoulders and perform a lap of honour round the garden. We still have no idea where the design originated, but we feel that it is hereby established de facto as Cumbrian. Now all we need is a pole up which to hoist it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Wild West Coast SA Part Two – Les Delices De SA Part I

As far as we were able to tell from our brief stay there was only one place for dinner – The Front Beech Restaurant (Voorstrandt Restaurant) Patternoster

view from the Paternoster Restaurant

..... and one for breakfast
– ‘Spill The Beans’ Lamberts Bay.

Lamberts Bay is worth a blog all of it's own. Food wise though - It was desperate!
We were reduced to eating at ‘The Spur’ Vredenberg on most nights. Actually ‘The Spur’ is really quite good. It’s formula eating – steaks, burgers, hake, curries, chips, salad bar but exceptionally good quality and value. Regional cuisine it is not. It’s also a weird themed experience. All ‘The Spur’ restaurants are themed on North American Indians. Pictures and models of Red Indians abound plus tomahawks and dream catchers and weirdest of all - Tiffany stained glass lampshades based on feather head dresses. Your average North American Indian Teepee is evidently keen on the Tiffany Lamp. I can only think that the idea must have come from the States, along with Coca Cola, Macdonalds, and KFC - also in abundance in SA. (All school signs are sponsored by Coca Cola). It’s still odd though: a North American Native themed restaurant selling non North American Native food in a distinctly non North American Native location. Thursday night was also Matriculation night at Vredenberg High School. Only this could happen in SA. The Spur had organised a fund raising event for the school. All the prefects were shadowing a member of the Spur Staff for the evening. These 18 year old, polite, respectful students (both sexes and all races) in their immaculate prefect’s uniforms took orders, served the salad, cooked the steaks under the supervision of the uniformed polite and knowledgeable staff of a similar age. It would never happen in the UK! We got the Head Girl to serve up our chops. Where else?

Just been told the SPUR is a South Afican Company - first started in Cape Town in 1967

Monday, August 08, 2005

Truth 24 Times A Second

To the Red City on a Monday morning & the studios of Radio Cumbria, there to rendez-vous with my friend The Cineaste. We'd been invited along to the mid-morning show to talk about our shared love of cinema and specifically the Keswick Film Club, with which we're both involved. It was a jolt to be back in a studio after all this time - those with a long acquaintance may recall the heady days of WDAV-FM - but it went off well & it looks as if we're in some danger of being invited back.
In the course of the talk, The Cineaste talked eloquently about the way in which the experience of a certain film indelibly marks itself upon your memories of a particular time and place, how it defines the way you think and feel about the world at a particular age. This set me to thinking about my own personal cinematic landmarks. In no particular order of significance, I'd nominate:

The Seventh Seal - Adolescent religious mania some time in autumn 1973

Alphaville - BBC2's World Cinema slot on a Friday night changed the way I saw the world

Celine et Julie Vont en Bateau - Rivette's labyrinthine fable defined the confusion of student days

Im Lauf Der Zeit - Are we not men? We are itinerant cinema repair operatives!

Wings of Desire - I discovered heaven on the Berlin Wall . . .

Heaven knows what the listeners to Radio Cumbria will make of all this, but I need hardly add that readers are encouraged to share their own favourites in the comments . . .

Not The Ennerdale Round

It's been a minor ambition, for some time past, to complete the Ennerdale Round, a long hill-walk beginning and ending at the western end of the lake, taking you up over Herdus & Starling Dodd, along the north side of the valley to Great Gable and returning via Kirk Fell and the peaks of the southern side. No minor excursion, about 24 miles in all, requiring a long cool dry day at the height of summer.
Sunday turned out not to be the time for such excess, but the hills beckoned and I spent the day walking along the tops of the southern side of the lake, from Grike, past Steeple, to Pillar and as far as Black Sail, before dropping off into the head of the valley at Black Sail hut and walking back long the forestry road towards Bowness. Altogether a gorgeous, exhausting, spectacular way to spend the day. The hillsides were shot through with green and purple, I looked down onto Pillar Rock and watched enthusiasts scrambling up Slab & Notch, the sky was cloudless, and for the first few hours, in the open grassy country to the west of Steeple, I saw no other person.
I drove away seriously worried that if my legs cramped then it would be impossible to drive safely. I arrived home to find a line of cars pulled over at the roadside opposite the house. Thinking an accident had occurred I parked and walked over, asking if I could assist. Oh yes, I certainly could. They were a convoy of local enthusiasts out on a film-themed treasure hunt around the byways of North Cumbria. They were looking for The Yellow Brick Road, having already positively identified The Tin Man (the Renaissance Couple's garden is graced by some rather fetching African statuary). I then had the greatest difficulty convincing them that I was not in fact the Wizard Of Oz. It's a testament to the indomitable optimism of the human spirit that they persisted in this belief long after any rational person would have accepted the evidence of their own eyes. Eventually they departed, casting longing glances backward, in search of some other wizard. I do hope they found him.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Further Vexillations

For those of you who have been enquiring about the design of the Cumbrian flag bumper sticker: herewith an image -

I could personally do without the block title in the middle - though even hereabouts it's debatable whether anyone would recognise it without.
Perhaps if there are any vexillographers among our readership they could explain exactly how it should be described and what it means?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Nature versus Nurture: The West Coast of South Africa Part One

For the last 4 days mesel and RW and our mates Scouse African Steve (SAS) and his Minder Jane (MJ) have been touring the West Coast of South Africa in search of ‘the Daisy’. When I say ‘Daisy’ I actually mean millions and millions of daisies. For a few weeks at this time of the year, after the first rains of the Cape Spring the desert blooms. Wordsworth would have had problems writing Daffodils if he’d seen this lot first. The first hurdle was that we were perhaps a couple of weeks early and second they’d had the wrong sort of rain. In addition the infrastructure is not good: few towns, few roads (quite a lot of them sand or dirt) and to be fair the locals make little attempt to exploit the ‘wild flowers’. You can actually drive past what appears to be a ‘sand expanse’ or a huge field full of ‘a crop’ without realising that the crop is actually miles and miles of wild flowers.

The wild west coast of SA- a strip approx 700 miles long by 150 miles is sparsely populated and badly developed. Interesting sentence? … wild west….badly. I was going to change badly to poorly but … the natural beauty of the place: beaches, deserts, mountains, sunrises, sunsets…. Happily overawes what man has done and sort of makes you blind to the pylons, fish-factories, steelworks and cement plant. OK there may be only one steelworks … but it’s a big one, somehow in a threatened sandveld bio-diversity park. Although it looks a little like the Taj Mahal – it isn’t!

The Scouse African Steve and Minder Jane were determined to pay us back for the use of our house and the trip to the Wild West was the answer and we had to pack in everything on offer for the 4 days we could get at their time share at the Port Owen development at Veldsdrift (population 8432) .. fish factory… 1 hotel…. 3 very bad fish restaurants….. the Cerebos Salt factory and a coffee bar. SAS organised a bird watching river trip with Jonnijester, a coloured guy who spoke impeccable English and sported a fake gold Rolex. His employee - ‘Skipper’ was a white Afrikaaner (yes this is the new South Africa) spoke no English and had no fingers on his left hand… probably lost stopping that fan thing at the back of the boat ..suggested SAS. Skipper Andy's one contribution to the trip was, to sort of wave his stump in the direction of about a 1000 obvious flamingos.

There's more - Les Delices of the SA West Coast - there are none! and 'Nana' .... just wait while I draw breath.

Vexillatious Natives

To Keswick this morning, which was crawling with tourists, and the slow-motion comedy of finding a parking space at Booths. On the way home I stopped at a filling station on the edge of town and found - to my great delight - that they sell the Cumbrian flag bumper-stickers previously mentioned in this blog. My back bumper is now adorned by a white cross on a blue ground, the word 'Cumbria' within. Heaven knows what the College of Heralds would make of this - frankly, I'm not much bothered by their opinion. A question still remains - who dreamt up this piece of vexillagraphic fantasy? Does the white and blue mean anything? Answers in the Comments please. And if you want to get one yourself, just drive down to High Hill Garage, Crosthwaite Road, Keswick.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bowderstone Pinnacle (Diff)

A morning of light project management was just coming to a satisfactory end when the phone rang. It was the Bearded Lexicographer. 'What are you doing this afternoon?' he barked. 'Ermm. . . '. 'I'm climbing Bowderstone Buttress. You're coming. 1:30pm. And it's time you got some proper shoes.'
So it was I found myself driving to Keswick yesterday afternoon: destination, a hard-core climbing equipment shop. There I finally succumbed to the guilty pleasure of consumer fetishism & indulged myself with a pair of proper rock-shoes. I say 'indulged' but given the role played by these things on the crag, 'protected' is the more appropriate word. For those unfamiliar with climbing gear: rock shoes are a highly refined combination of footwear form and function, comparable to ballet pumps. They look like sprinter's spikes, with the spikes removed. Low-heeled, lightweight and weltless, the sole wraps up and around the upper and is made of some nameless artificial hydrocarbon with extreme properties of adhesion. The whole is fastened by a couple of velcro straps and absolutely moulds itself to your feet. The result is that, in theory, you can jam your feet into the most minimal of cracks, feel the slightest nuances of rugosity beneath, and they'll stay there until you decide it's time to move them again. Feeling pleased with this purchase I then tried to buy a decent modern climbing harness only to find that today's standard sizes are designed strictly for those with slim and boyish figures. I sighed, humiliated - another afternoon borrowing the Heritage Collection Whillans Harness that the Bearded Lexicographer had thoughtfully brought with him.
Bowderstone Buttress stands halfway down Borrowdale a few hundred feet above the eponymous Stone (a huge glacial erratic with a tiny gap on its underside through which it is possible for two people to shake hands). We walked up to the foot of the crag, enclosed in greenery, and looked up. The route he'd chosen was graded Difficult (i.e. very easy) and seemed straightforward: a diagonal traverse to the left, then out onto an arete and upwards to . . . well, we weren't quite sure what. The Lexicographer got roped up, I fiddled incompetently with the belay-plate, and then he was off.
When I began climbing the first steps up to the traverse were straightforward. Then, on the edge of the arete there was a move that required some confidence: I stepped wide to the left and found, to my pleasure and relief, that the rock shoes were doing exactly what it said on the box. They stuck to the rock. Unlike Vibram soles, where even dry rock will slip slightly on contact, these stayed precisely where I put them. Suddenly, everything was transformed, it was possible to move with confidence and precision, and after a few more steps I found myself snuggled into a narrow stance where the Lexicographer prepared to lead the second pitch.
This was a slightly more serious proposal, and the clouds were beginning to threaten rain, so I contented myself with the superb views of the crags of Maiden Moor across the valley, and watched the mists begin to gather on the face of Great End a few miles to the south.
Then it was my turn to climb. I climbed up the slab on my right, balanced on the block on my left, and stepped out onto the sharp edge of the arete. To my surprise, the 50 or 60 feet of fresh air beneath my feet seemed nugatory. My feet were secure and solid where I placed them. After a style-free lurch sideways and upwards I found myself confidently moving to the left of a holly tree that grew horizontally out of the crack. Unfortunately, the rope was moving to its right. A brief step down onto the arete and then once more upwards. I unpicked a running belay the Lexicographer had placed on a dead stump and suddenly I felt like Moira Shearer. Sadly the pitch was about to end and just above me the Lexicographer was sitting grinning by his belay. We agreed that this had been a highly satisfactory outing.
On the way down we scouted a few more routes on neighbouring crags and agreed a further expedition into the realms of Severe was required. The the pub beckoned with pints of Helvellyn Gold . . . .

A Woodstock Of The Debatable Lands

We've received a press release, of sorts. This is a first for the News, so I should tell you that if, like me, you failed to catch the towering genius of Richard Thompson at this year's Brampton Live event, those crazy people at Huntingtons Wine-Bar have thoughtfully put some photos on their website so that you can see what you missed. I'll be booking my ticket for next year. I can't speak from personal experience of Huntingtons but I think it entirely likely that Brampton's cafe society will be receiving a mystery visit from a member of the Delices de Cumbria - tendence gastronomique faction of this blog . . .

A Touch Of Xanadu On The Quai Gustave-Ador

We were sitting at a lakeside bar on Sunday afternoon, Methodist Jim, the Property Magnate & myself, watching le toute Geneve pass by when our reveries were disturbed by a shocking apparition. Roller-skating by was a one-man style disaster who had clearly never got over coming third from last in the Radio Geneva Xanadu contest in 1981. He was not young and not slim, but he sported a greying coup sauvage and a leopardskin leotard. Sun-glasses stolen from the corpse of Roy Orbison. Unfeasibly large headphones. He executed a series of alarming manoeuvres in front of us and headed north along the quai. I couldn't be certain, but from the rhythm of his twirls and movement of his arms he was probably dancing to something like Night Fever.
Note to Genevan readers: if you see this man, do not attempt to approach him. Call the style police. This is a job for professionals.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Dead Drunks' Society

On Saturday afternoon, pre-party chilling, I walked down the footpath from the chateau across the fields to the nearby village of Celigny. Beyond a stream I found the municipal cemetery, entered through an imposing arch above which the words Ici, Egalite were carved, though whether as theological truth or satirical thrust at the French Republic a few kilometres up the hill was unclear.
On the way back I found my way to the Old Cemetery a few hundred yards beyond. This was an altogether more neglected spot, uncared-for graves and moss-covered crosses leaning at alarming angles. To my surprise just inside the gate there was a well-kept and monumental headstone. The inscription read 'Richard Burton'. Ten yards away against the opposite wall was the only other cared-for grave. The name on its headstone was 'Alastair Maclean'.
I paused for a moment and wondered what chance had brought two heroic drinkers of the Celtic diaspora so close together in death. Presumably in the 1960s Switzerland was the tax-exile of choice, and working class boys who had made the bigtime were more likely to flee on the basis that they were never sure how long their good fortune would last nor how quickly the money might dry up. None of which explains their decisions to invest so much of it in the export division of the Scotch whisky industry . . .