'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Les Delices De Cumbria - Part XXII

New horizons in post-Euclidean geometry over lunch with the Intrepid Mountaineer at The Glasshouse in sophisticated downtown Wigton. Intrigued by a menu item we asked the waitress for advice.
"This ciabatta rustic triangle. What is it exactly?"
"Well, it's sort of square-shaped like . . ."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Road Rage County

Getting beaten up in public is always a rather embarrassing experience, and I'm pleased to say I managed to avoid such inconvenience in Sainsbury's car park on Saturday morning.
The facts of the case are as follows, constable:
Stuck behind a tractor en route to Cockermouth, I was tailgated by a silver Volvo. The lad in the tractor had his girlfriend in the cab and a phone in his hand so I hung back, awaiting developments. The Volvo overtook both of us on a blind bend. Gestures followed as he sped off. A few minutes later on Gote Brow the Volvo was parked on the curb. As I passed him he pulled out and carefully followed me into Sainsbury's carpark. Tattoos and muscles got out and walked over to me.
"Have you got a problem with my driving marra?"
Clearly this was a tabloid headline waiting to happen, so I gently encouraged him to get back in his car and drive away. He did so, after a few soothing words, but was obviously very upset that I hadn't given him the opportunity to use his fists.
I then went and did a spot of shopping.
Postscript: a straw poll later in the day suggests that what I should have done was drive further down mainstreet, turn left into Cockermouth police station and park in the bay marked 'Staff'. Let's hope I don't ever need to.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"You're Not Normal"

That's what my physiotherapist said this morning while dealing with the wreckage from the dorsal catastrophe in Stac Pollaidh car park. I think she was refering to my lumbar muscles, but the last time I consulted her she told me I was 'clinically short'. (Trust me honey, that's not what the other girls say). After half an hour of pressing and pummelling my back now definitely feels worse than it did when I got out of bed. So it must be working.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Purple Haze

Driving home so-late-it-was-early I noticed the sky above Moota Hill was already lightening behind the traces of rain-clouds. About to descend towards Parsonby I caught a glimpse of something astonishing. A lens of purple light stretched the length of the Solway from Cardurnock to Robin Rigg. It seemed to be floating in the middle air, weaving between the red-lanterned transmission towers of Anthorn, wreathing the shore light at Southerness before dissolving around the offshore wind turbines in mid-channel. The effect was jolting and hallucinatory, not so much a trick of the light as a shameless piece of effrontery. A moment's thought suggested that a shoal of cold night-air above the Solway was condensing mist and then refracting what little pre-dawn light was streaming over my shoulder from above Skiddaw and the north-eastern fells. The sight was a small bit of nocturnal conjuring to which I was very probably the sole witness. All it lacked was a distant Brockenspectre, a ghostly car projected upon the lens of light.
Two minutes later, in the lane at by Arkleby Toll a hare appeared in my headlights and ran off just ahead of my wheels before vanishing into a dark hedgerow.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nine Feet Over The Tarmac

Here's a salutary tale of serendipity and confusion from that half-derelict palace of memories the Electrical Intertubes.
'Improved Sound Limited' were a 1970s Krautrock band of quite outstanding obscurity. In the twilight of their career they contributed four tunes and a song to the soundtrack of Wim Wenders' 1976 Cannes prize-winner Im Lauf Der Zeit. Unavailable on DVD and rarely watched even by Wenders afficionados, the film's a long, slow-moving meditation on (among much else)friendship and the passing of time. But it's shot in serenely elegiac black and white and if you watch it in the right rhythm, is an utterly compelling experience. The music, all airy country blues, willowy pedal steel and echoing drums, matches the images with quiet perfection and suggests that songwriter Axel Lindstadt had been listening to a lot of Harvest-era Neil Young. It also has some sumptuous saxophone riffs (OK, you can see where this is going). The music made an enormous impression on me when I first saw the film. From time to time, I tried to track down a copy of the soundtrack - even going to the trouble of collaring Wenders at a film festival in the '80s and asking him about it. (He was evasive).
One evening last week I was surfing Youtube when I came across a series of short films made by a middle-aged Frenchman calling himself 'radiateur93'. Montages of family photographs and home-movies, they were deeply personal works, watching them felt impolite. But 'radiateur93' had spliced them to the Improved Sound Limited Im Lauf Der Zeit soundtrack. A brief traverse led me to the band's own surviving videos and promos. The bad news: their other music really is quite mind-bogglingly dull. The good news: a compilation CD 'Road Trax' exists, and it includes all five soundtrack pieces. In an instant, thirty years of searching were rewarded. I surfed off and ordered the CD from an obscure Berlin music shop.

Just after this transaction completed I finally found my way to Wenders' own website rather than the cybersquatters selling DVDs of his films and discovered that it offers free mp3 downloads of the same songs. It was the work of five minutes to download them, burn a CD and walk over to the car.
So I spent part of a bright summer evening driving down that boulevard of broken dreams the A66 to the tune of some achingly familiar music on Thursday. I suppose the Road Trax CD is on its way from Berlin.
Coda: for those still wondering what the fuss is about, I also discovered that Youtube has an old 70s trailer of Im Lauf Der Zeit which almost completely fails to convey the hypnotically serene beauty of this film.

WARNING: Contains scenes of existential Volkswagen driving. Do not attempt this at home. Or on the open road.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Kylesku Bridge

At Kylesku, deep in Sutherland, the high road leaps across Loch a'Chairn Bhain on an elegant, spritely concrete bridge that curves extravagently between two rock promontories. At the far end is a stone memorial to the British submariners and 'human torpedoes' of World War II who trained in these waters. The list of their dead is long: the description of their operations, manoeuvring two-man subs sat astride explosive-stuffed cylinders onto the keels of enemy warships in dark, muddy, freezing waters, terrifyingly claustrophobic. Tonight, in the upper world of Sutherland the light of the midsummer evening gives an intensity to the blues of the loch, the greens of the hillside that is a kind of wildly expansive luxury. Above me the green hillsides sweep upwards to 800 feet of sheer cliff: the sandstone buttresses of Sail Gharbh, north-eastern spur of Quinag, loom like a dreadnought's prow. The mountain seems painted by the wild vision of one imagining some otherworld. For a moment it is not of this earth. I pause and wonder what thoughts and sensations this hill engendered in the human torpedoes of Kylesku when they turned their eyes away from the deep.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Book Of Emigrations

As the dizzy blonde disappeared up a pinnacle, there cycled into the car-park a geography teacher from Largs and all his worldly possessions. He had, he informed me, spent the last ten years touring the world on two wheels and was now cycling to Iceland. Apparently it was preferable to life in Largs. Essential information for anyone who needs to get out of Reykjavik in a hurry: a one-way ferry ticket to Bergen costs £160. A one-way ferry-ticket to Thurso via Bergen costs £79. Perhaps Bergen has a congestion charge?

Great Mountaineering Disasters Of Our Time - # 375

Stac Pollaidh, the car-park. Intent on ending the perfect day in Assynt with an evening of scrambling across the sandstone pinnacles of Scotland's most photogenic mountain, I put on my boots and bent down to tie the laces. That was the moment at which my lumbar vertebrae decided that I might think I was going scrambling but they had other plans. Pop! The pain was excruciating and made standing up a real challenge. Twenty minutes of gentle hobbling and some stretching exercises brought things under control but meant that agile scrambling was out of the question. Then a dizzy new age blonde in a camper-van turned up and informed me that bodily injuries were a result of bad thoughts and negative feelings. Was she by any chance a physiotherapist, I enquired. Sadly no, and after some analgesic banter she headed off up the hill she claimed to be 'strangely drawn to'. Then I remembered the presence of an effective pain-killer in the boot of the car. I don't recommend drinking malt whisky from the bottle while semi-recumbent in the driver's seat at a major tourist destination. "It's for my bad back you understand," starts to sound a little unconvincing after a while.
Dear Readers, whatever you're doing I hope it's less painful and involves more vigorously expressive movements of the pelvis.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The High Road To The Deep North

I'm sitting in a quayside bar in Ullapool at the cocktail hour - the 80/- hour, I suppose - recovering from exertions on the fells. Once again the long-planned assault on The Matterhorn Of The North has been postponed - this time on account of a bizarre series of orthopaedic disasters brought on by an embarrassing incident in the car-park at Stac Pollaidh. So while the air pulsates to the odour of Calmac diesel mixed with an aerial suspension of sub-flashpoint lard from the BBC Radio 4 Chippy Of The Year 2004, I'm enjoying the prospect of Loch Broom, the green lushness of Inverlael and the distant snow-patches atop the Fannaichs. Sheer heaven.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Lamb Shank

Spotted lying in the street outside The Caley Inn, Ullapool: the skeleton, just about picked clean, of the hind-quarters of a sheep. At least I think it was a sheep. Read the menu with care . . .

A Gneiss Day Out

Ride the high road to the deep north beyond Ullapool and you'll come to Inchnadamph Lodge, a tranquil 19th century farmhouse B&B in leafy shade by a quiet loch. It's miles from anywhere but evening meals can be had in the hotel down the road, a branded monster of a hostelry that's undergone several extensions since the 1950s, none of them sympathetic.
A few miles up a rough track from here the western face of Connival, all dilapidated butresses and crumbling strata, broods above the glen. A stiff pull and some elementary scrambling takes you up to its ridge: then the gneiss sets in. Crisp rocks and volcanic boulders that crunch beneath your boots in a tone suggesting they're much smaller and lighter than they actually are. Fifty metres up the slope and you realise they're the best business an orthopaedic surgeon could wish for. Ankles turn, knees ache, hips scream across this volcanic minefield. At Connival summit the ridge to Ben More beckons: a half-mile switch-back of slabs boulders and shillies of the same gneiss that bludgeons your cartilege into unconditional surrender. But the view is a reward beyond price: the line of the Assynt mountains from Cul Beag to Quinag, enticingly distant, and linking them on the far horizon a blue line between heaven and earth that is the Outer Isles.