'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

If you've come here looking for pictures of a camp Roman soldier - click on this link

Friday, May 26, 2006

Bank Holiday Webcams

Yes, it's a Bank Holiday weekend, and people are flocking in their thousands to the Lake District. For those of you unable to be here in person, News From Beyond The North Wind is providing a very special service - a roundup of Cumbrian webcams. Perhaps you wish you were taking the ferry across Windermere? Maybe you'd like to spend the weekend watching the Bassenthwaite ospreys? If you'd rather be hiking up Sca Fell, climbing Great Gable, or scrambling on Pavey Ark, just click on one of these links and you've got the Lake District streaming onto your desktop this weekend. And if you feel exhausted after that, why not drop into a well-known Keswick outdoors shop, and admire the view of Skiddaw?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Les Bicyclettes De Borrowdale

Welcome, cyclists, to the Lake District. Now that it's wet enough to mean summer's here, I can understand why you're so keen to cycle through our wonderful scenery, up hills and over passes, freewheeling down to the lakeside. It's a fabulous way to spend a summer's day.
Just one thing.
Your fashion sense.
Your black lycra cycling shorts, yellow jerseys and sponsor-emblazoned caps. Why the obsession with tat? When I drive through the Lakes, you may be surprised to hear, I don't wear a fireproof balaclava, crash helmet and a bright red jumpsuit with the name 'Schumacher' embroidered on the chest that I've been saving for just the right occasion. You may imagine you're leading the peloton in relentless pursuit of le maillot jaune. Maybe in your more excited moments you permit yourself the harmless fantasy you're Eddy Merckx or Greg Lemond? But pause for some gentle self-examination. If you had that full-on amphetamine-wracked oblivious vacancy perfected by Tommy Simpson on Mont Ventoux I'd be impressed. But you all look as if you've been poured into your lycra after a morning in Bryson's Cake Shop. Remember: Honister Pass is NOT Alpe d'Huez, Kirkstone is NOT Mont Ventoux. Is that clear? Good. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Da Vinci Code Film 'Not Very Good' Shocker

For all two of you who've not yet been told what your opinion of the film of that particularly turgid book ought to be - I'm doing my regular monthly film chat on Radio Cumbria (sadly without The Cineaste, who is indisposed) at about 1200 BST (1100 GMT) tomorrow Wednesday 24th May. Just click on this link to listen. (RealPlayer required).

The Girl On The Half-Shell

En route to St Bees yesterday to cook dinner for La V on her birthday, on an afternoon of pewter sky and cold rain. Just past Distington a rich, pellucid voice cuts through the radio air: Joan Baez's Diamonds And Rust, unheard for 16 years. Well I'll be damned.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

If . . .

To St Bees with La V & her daughters to enjoy Speech Day at my former place of detention. Sadly, there were no smoke bombs during the speeches, and I scanned the chapel roof in vain for the sight of a leather-jacketed Malcolm McDowell letting rip with his sten gun (all things eagerly anticipated yet never actually experienced back in the 1970s). As with all rituals of public display, this was a wonderful chance to decode and understand the values of an institution en fete. Back then, the boys and parents were subjected to a long harangue about academic standards by the possibly bonkers headmaster, an authoritarian classicist whose ruling obsession was his fear that the Red Army, arriving in St Bees with snow on their boots, would force us all to learn Russian and, crucially, change the street names to 'October Revolution Boulevard' &c; the prizes were given out by a peer of the realm with tenuous local connections whose day-job involved running the publicly-owned coal industry (West Cumbria, in those distant days being a mining district). Now, pupils & parents are reassured about academic standards by the clearly lucid headmaster, the head of school makes a short speech about how she will take the values she learned at St Bees back to life in her native China, and the prizes are handed out by a peer of the realm with tenuous local connnections who lives in a grace-and-favour theme park actually owned by the National Trust. It's not my intention to sound mean: some of the differences were cloying, some shocking. The 'leaving statements' read by selected pupils were replete with the assumption that the dominant American sentimental narrative of personal development - the overcoming of adversity leading to fulfillment of dreams - is the highest goal of education. But to find a prize being offered in memory of a brilliant contemporary who died cruelly young was viscerally disturbing (a year after his death I went up to the same college to read the same subject). Overall, it was notable that the insistence, 30 years ago, upon the virtues of team spirit and the elision of individuality for the greater good (against which I kicked furiously) had been replaced by an ideal of individual fulfillment and personal entitlement. For this I suppose we must thank that low-down and despicable decade of third-rate delusions the 1980s. Some things were notable for their persistence: the board of governors, alas no longer graced by the late Willy Whitelaw, was almost as male pale and stale as its predecessor. The headmaster's speech still had the air of the report of a chief executive to his small shareholders - the parents. He was notably at pains to record the exceptionally high level of 'A' level passes & A* grades achieved by the school. A sound investment in rising standards. Of course, when such statistics are rehearsed in the state sector, they are seen as incontrovertible evidence of falling standards and easier examinations. Pass the sten gun Malcolm.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Grumpy Old Gits in ‘ow much for a cup of tea?’ incident at motorway services

Grumpy Old Gits in ‘ow much for a cup of tea?’ incident at motorway services.

Mrs R and me are on our way to visit the grandchildren. We stopped at Trowell services for a nice cup of tea. It’s an unfortunate name for a coffee shop – Costa! 2 cups of tea and £3.86 later I concluded that the price must include the cost of the cups because there was little value added in terms of service or ambience. Mrs R talked me out of slipping them in her handbag.
I have resolved never ever to stop at Motorway Services for anything other than the toilet.
There are some things that I find to be incredibly cheap though for the moment I cannot bring any of them to mind. …… £1.93 … £1.93…… £1.93 one cup of tea???? I am blogging from the road.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Japanese God Jesus Robots Telling Teenage Fortunes

En route to Manchester on another of the Grinning Pullover's Pendolinos. Outside the early May morning of the Eden Valley is assembling itself: soft sunshine cuts across the fields; limestone walls a maze on the valley floor; back east the Ullswater Fells rise and turn slowly like a pod of whales blowing off in the distant ocean. Behind me, a girl's walkman rattles out tinny sounds from the 1980s that suddenly stop and hit a different beat. I realise that she's listening to Elvis Costello's Tokyo Storm Warning, a vituperative catalogue of global misery that's impossible to reconcile with the scene outside.

Sharp Edge

A hot afternoon on Blencathra, one of the most exciting mountains in Cumbria - its distinctive ridge, seen from the A66 gives it its English name of 'Saddleback'. Its north side is a succession of easy grassy walks, each savagely cut off by the sharp corries and ridges of the south side which give the hill an altogether more fearsome aspect and some fine scrambling. Best of all is Sharp Edge, a cruelly short knife-like arete above Scales Tarn, a tiny corrie on the eastern flank. On a hot, dry day the rock is such a pleasure: worn smooth by thousands of feet, scratched and scored by glacial ice, it sometimes seems like old hardwood, ribbed, burred and boled but planed to perfection by the craft of ages. The crampon marks of winter were everywhere to be seen: scratches and tiny gouges on the rock where feet had trodden on sharp January and February days. The scramble up to the back of the saddle is over far too quickly, but for 20 minutes, on a hot day with no-one else around, you can feel ecstasy at the sole possession of the most beautiful part of creation.

The E-mathics Of Mr Branson's Bacon Roll

On the way to Manchester yesterday, I forced my body to endure the metabolic insult of one of the Grinning Pullover's 'Premium Bacon Rolls'. In an entirely unscientific enquiry, I scanned the ingredients list & had my worst prejudices confirmed: there were more E numbers than Von Neuman, Fermat & Pythagoras could handle, even if they were working together & allowed to use slide rules. To be precise:
  • Emulsifier - E481
  • Emulsifier - E471
  • Preservative - E282
  • Treatment Agent - E300
  • Preservative - E250
  • Preservative - E252
  • Antioxidant - E316
  • Antioxidant - E316
  • Preservative - E250

That makes, by my calculations, a grand total of E 2,918. Is this a snack record?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cumbria In May

Further compensations in the life of a rural IT consultant: yesterday I was down in Ambleside to train some customers in the use of a recently-designed website. The training took place at St Martin's College's Kelswick House, a former school halfway up the side of Wansfell above the town. The building's huge, a slate-built monolith solid as the fellside out of which it seems to grow geologically. At lunchtime I walked round to the front of the house and looked out across the town towards the Langdales. A soft haze half-obscured the peaks, but Crinkle Crags, Pike O'Blisco and Bow Fell stood out on the horizon. Closer in, the lower flanks of Loughrigg were covered in sudden greenery, while up above the bracken and the heather were still in autumn russet. Cumbria in May is an unregarded paradise, a place the world does not see: the tourists have not yet arrived (most wait till the wet months of July & August) and the heat of late spring makes walking in the hills the most exquisite pleasure. Which is how I'll be spending the next few days . . .

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Romantic Cumbria's Dead And Gone

This blog has occasionally drawn attention to the richly varied and mostly un-English cultural heritage available to Cumbrians. Like most questions of cultural identity this is a matter of personal choice, and I'm personally less fascinated by our Viking heritage than by the elided Romano-British. Which means that any hint of Cumbria's Celtic past always draws some attention in these pages. But the recent festival of Celtic Cumbria seems to have got it horribly wrong. Inventing a past for yourself is one thing. This one seems to be grounded in the consumer-oriented ersatz Oirishry that's been a central part of our cultural heritage since . . oh, the 1980s . . .

I'm Not Tolerating This Abuse Much Longer

The aquatic mammalia of the Irish Sea must be seriously short of entertainment. How else to explain this compulsive desire to be the target of beer bottles and abuse? Another explanation suggests itself: the most intelligent sentient beings on the planet have tricked the inhabitants of my hometown into becoming the unwitting subjects in a vast but sinister behavioural experiment . . . .

Friday, May 05, 2006

We Are All Dupes And Poltroons

Shocking news - the Intrepid Mountaineer, who clearly has nothing better to do than hang around Penrith railway station at lunchtime, has mounted a daring expedition to find the exact site of this hilarious photograph -

Unfortunately, he reports it doesn't exist - at least not on Penrith Station. A Photoshop-fuelled jolly jape, we wondered? More likely a bitingly satirical piece of detournement by a local artist, now removed by the humourless henchmen of the Grinning Pullover. A shame, we say. More people ought to be sucked off in Penrith. It would liven the place up . . .

Nella Citta Rossa

In the Red City yesterday on business I was accosted by four exhausted middle-aged backpackers. They were Italian, from Genoa, and had spent the previous five days walking westwards from Newcastle along Hadrian's Wall. I made the same trip, opposite direction, with Franklin & Eleanor two years ago & can vouch for the sheer excellence of the experience. We managed to communicate (their English far better than my survival Italian) and I directed their search for a good B&B towards the TI office in the town square. Entirely appropriate, I guess, that walking along the ancient international frontier is now an international holiday of choice. Their next expedition, apparently, is to be from Seville to Santiago. More mountains, different food, and a whole lot hotter . . . .

Les Delices De Cumbria - Part X

There's just a whiff of Scottish Cultural Imperialism about a place calling itself The Laird's Larder, especially when it's in a town occupied by Highlanders as recently as the 18th Century. But we think the Red City's best deli ought to be encouraged. They have fabulous pasta in a range of shapes, sizes and colours. Pates to die for. Olive oil of the finest quality. High class confectionery. And exceedingly good cheese. The pecorino with chilli gets our vote. If you're anywhere near Fisher Street, go and find out for yourself . . .

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day May Day

Switching on the radio this morning and tuning in to radio Cumbria (yes I know I’m getting to be a bit of a local radio bore) I heard that there had been a speed boat crash on Derwent Water in the early hours. Sounds dodgy and probably Bank Holiday high jinx on the lake – I can see the headlines now –‘8 booze fuelled Geordies/Scousers in speedboat meant for 4 brings new meaning to ‘on the rocks’’. I’m maybe being a bit harsh, as one of them is ‘serious’ in hospital.
What did catch my ear though was the fact that Search & Rescue for the Lakes is handled by the Liverpool Coast Guard. Now how does that work? Is this another case of cheapest competitive tender or just Liverpool looking after their own? I am presuming that the speedsters are scousers otherwise the Newcastle Coast Guard would have been called out. If it turns out that it was just 8 local farmers making their way back from a charity event on Derwent Island - confused by the holiday makers camping lights on the shore, I offer my apologies, in advance, to the citizens of Liverpool and Newcastle for this foul slur.