Feet First 2010

AUGUST 13, 2010: The Inglorious 12th (Keep your head down)

KEEP your heads down and watch your backsides. It was the Glorious 12th yesterday and there are dangerous people walking the moors, most of them armed to the teeth and looking for blood. At this time of year it’s very important not to make clucking noises – even in fun. And steer clear of wearing Unite, RMT or Che Guevara T-shirts. Willie Whitelaw was the thin end of a very unpleasant wedge, and some of these people have grown cocky of late and are bursting for a fight. If the grouse don’t fall in sufficient numbers they’ll be rounding up airport baggage handlers, local government officers, bolshie single mothers and anyone on incapacity benefit, and making them run across an upland pasture towards a row of shooting butts.

Do not, for one minute, think this is an exaggeration. Those suppressed Norman genes have resurfaced. These crumbs from the upper crust are dismantling the bricks of our society and riding roughshod over our sensibilities. The old and the infirm are to be driven from their council houses. Ius primae noctis is to be reintroduced for coalition politicians and Tory council leaders. It’s true.

So. Grouse and the shooting of them. Soft-palmed people with gun oil on their cuffs. Lead zinging through upland wind. None of this is compatible with a pleasant ramble through the heather. That’s why when someone writes about grouse shooting in its defence, it’s always interesting to have a shufty. And the latest well-fed baron to lift his head, shoulders and ample rear above the parapet is Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid Sussex. That’s right. Nicholas Soames – the lawbreaker who received a two-month road ban for driving his quad bike with no insurance. In the 19th Century, a member of the working classes would have been transported for less. This is what he says in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph:

Say it who dares, grouse moors are no longer exclusive nature reserves for the wealthy. People can and are enjoying the hills like never before. I bridled strongly when Labour introduced their Right to Roam, fearing that it would be misused by the hard Left to stir up unnecessary trouble in the countryside.

This man can be forgiven because he lives in another country. It’s the country where money doesn’t matter, education is provided by direct debit and health care is ordered on the end of a telephone. My trouble is, these people have invaded my country and started dismantling it to raise money for a big bill that we didn’t ring up.

What’s revealing about this comment, though, is that people like Soames still fear the less-affluent classes below. They actually fretted over the idea that flying columns of activists would invade their moorlands and create anarchy. They could not comprehend, despite their expensive education, the fact that all people wanted was justice – the right to roam over land that was originally theirs, land that their forefathers defended and died for, land that is part and parcel of their native island.

When the grouse season’s over I’ll be back on the tops in my Che Guevara base layer. But for now I’ll keep my head down – and I’d advise you to do the same. And if you’ve got a teenage daughter, keep an eye on the legislation being rushed through Parliament. Ius primae noctis. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

 

JULY 22, 2010: Bring on the dancing girls

DEBENHAM’S has developed a range of fashion clothing based on the apparel of Lake District guidebook author Alfred Wainwright and called Wainwright Chic.

Apparently flat caps, boots, chunky sweaters and mufflers are selling like meat pies at a football match having “made the leap from the crag edge to the catwalk”. The young and the beautiful are clomping around the nation’s nightspots looking, for all the world, like they are about to scale Nape’s Needle. It’s the in thing.

This sorts out an age-old problem for those of us who seek the high life in more ways than one. Gone are the days when you return from the hill to a damp tent and root through your binbag of clothes for something dry and uncrumpled you can pull on to go to the pub.

You know the problem because you’ve been there so many times. You’re cold, dirty, sweaty and wet, and you want to hit the town, but your only pair of clean jeans look like a dog’s been sleeping in them.

Hey: Wainwright Chic. It’s here and it’s the answer. And the beautiful thing about it is that YOU’RE ALREADY DRESSED.

Just knock the mud from your boots, flatten your windswept hair with a bit of spit, scrape the peat from under your fingernails with a handy tin-opener – and bring on the bright lights, bottles of Bud and girls in tight T-shirts.

Thank you Debenhams. It’s been a long, hard haul – but at last my time has come.

(For another take on Wainwright Chic click here)

 

JUNE 14, 2010: Doggy dilemma

I’M on the West Highland Railway heading north after leaving the car at Bridge of Orchy. The carriage is full and noisy. I am lucky to have found a seat. In front of me are some of those double seats with tables, occupied by a party of eight from Glasgow playing one of those games where you write something on a piece of paper then pass it to the person next to you, who adds something. They’re drinking beer and wine and having a right good laugh.

Behind me is a middle-aged woman with a big dog. The dog is left to its own devices and wanders up and down the carriage while the woman messes with her mobile phone. This really annoys me.

The dog gets its head in a carrier bag belonging to one of the Glaswegian party, and a big bloke who looks like Brian Cox shoos it away and tells the woman to keep it under control. The owner calls it back, but only half-heartedly, and the dog wanders down the other end of the carriage to where my rucksack is standing against a bulkhead near the door. The dog sniffs my rolled up karimat.

I am on the edge of my seat, glaring down the carriage. It is the kind of doggy sniff that precedes the lifting of a rear leg and the unleashing of urine. I am like a coiled steel spring ready to pounce and give the animal a taste of a size-ten Meindl should any one of those four paws leave the carriage floor. That’s all I need – a weekend in a tent that reeks of dog pee. The owner, unconcerned, continues to click her mobile phone.

While the dog is sniffing, the train pulls in at Rannoch Halt. The doors open and the dog – as bold as brass, or perhaps as thick as pig shit – jumps off and trots away along the platform. The owner hasn’t seen this. She’s too busy click-clicking.

Dilemma. What do I do? Should I tell the woman her dog has jumped off the train, so she can call it back to stick its nose into someone else’s sandwiches and pee on someone else’s rucksack, someone who’s not quite as alert as me? Or should I just keep quiet? The seconds are ticking away. I have to make a decision. Do I do the decent thing – or do I abandon the dog to its fate in the wilds of Rannoch Moor?

At this point the big Glaswegian bloke, who happens to be glancing out of the window, shouts: “Hey missis. Yer dug’s awa oot the train an aff doon the platform.”

Saved. Me I mean. Not the bloody dog.

 

MAY 16, 2010: Ewe must be joking

I’M sitting in this cafe in Fort William reading an old newspaper and there’s an article about farmers breeding a new type of sheep that shears itself. It doesn’t actually plug in a pair of shears and give itself a short-back-and-sides. It just has a type of wool that gets to a certain length and then falls out.

The breed is called the Exlana. The sheep grows its wool in the winter, then when the weather gets warmer, it just drops out in the field, saving the hard-done-by farmer a great deal of time and expense.

Pretty soon, farmers will be breeding sheep that cut themselves up into joints and throw themselves down our throats. Then the guardians of the countryside will have even more time to drive round in their Japanese four-by-fours and dismantle the thousands of Vote Conservative signs the pillocks erected the length and breadth of rural England.

 

JANUARY 18, 2010: Time Please

THE Daily Express has a story today about the decline of the traditional family dinner. Evidently we are all too busy these days to sit down together to eat a proper meal. Stories like this really get my back up.

Like, when were we ever not busy? Was it in our grandparents’ time when people worked a six-day week and laboured more than eight hours a shift without paid tea breaks?

Was it in the days when we didn’t get paid holidays – and got fewer of them?

Was it in the days before supermarkets when all the shopping had to be done by catching a bus, trawling for hours around numerous crowded shops, then lugging it all home on another bus?

Was it in the days when what little spare time people had was largely spent on the allotment or in the garden growing their own food?

Was it in the days when all the housework was done by hand with brushes, shovels, mops, dolly tubs, wringers, clothes lines, ironing boards?

Was it in the days when all the cooking was done by washing, peeling, skinning, gutting, chopping, mashing, baking, roasting?

What sort of people compile these surveys? They didn’t grow up in the 1970s like me, when you got on a train at 6.30am, started work at 7.30am in a shipyard, finished work at 4.30pm, had a bag of chips (no family dinner) then went to an apprenticeship night class until 9pm, got the 9.45pm train home and slumped in the back door as the ITN newsreader was saying: “And finally. . .”

So who compiled this survey? Evidently, a study of 3,000 Britons was carried out by that world-renowned and august academic body Spam Chopped Pork and Ham. No leaping on the old publicity bandwagon there, then.

Working class people have never had much spare time on their hands, but they have more nowadays than they had 30, 40, and 50 years ago. A lot more.

But obviously not as much as those in the socio-economic bracket that provides market researchers for Spam Chopped Pork and Ham.

PS: Sorry, but there were absolutely no references to mountains in this piece. I just didn’t have time.

 

JANUARY 14, 2010: Madness – it certainly helps

CRASHING through the slush and the ice and the crusty snow in a pair of Inov8 Mudclaw fell-running shoes. The Pennines lurk to the west beneath banks of heavy grey cloud, the North York Moors to the east. All around is a smudgy landscape of tired snow.

The A66 is blocked. No traffic has been allowed over Stainmore for several days. And yesterday I had to drive from Darlington to Barrow-in-Furness on family business. The one-and-three-quarter hour journey took three hours and twenty minutes. Up to Newcastle, across to a peculiarly snowless Carlisle, then down the M6 with magical Lakeland fells on my right and snow-choked Pennines and Howgills on my left.

But there was no time for fell-walking. And the fells looked fantastic – all pure and white and flawless.

Then it was back the same way with the A66 and Hartside still closed beneath several feet of snow – and brave chaps up there in the darkness in growling gritters trying their damnedest to get things moving again.

And here I am a day later. Crunch, crunch, crunch. The golden shoes chewing up the slush and ice with their dog-toothed soles. Like me, they would rather be clawing their way up Great Pinseat and over to Gunnerside than sloshing and sliding along dismal country lanes. It’s hard work is running in snow. It’s like running in sand only colder.

Then out in this great wide whiteness, I see a woman running towards me. Not only is she running, she is carrying a bag of shopping.

“I thought it was only me that was mad,” she says as she passes.

“You have to be mad,” I reply.

And for the final mile I muse over that hackneyed saying that people always use in situations like this: “You don’t have to be mad, but it helps.”

And I think, yeh. You have to be mad. It’s essential.

 

JANUARY 4, 2010Unhappy Feet

STANDING in the queue for the Sunderland park-and-ride bus after watching Barrow get whupped 3-0 by the Black Cats in the third round of the FA Cup. It’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s snowing.

It’s like that scene from March of the Penguins, where the male birds are in the midst of an Antarctic wasteland sitting on eggs, the females having departed to gorge themselves at the seaside. Storms blast across the snowscape, and the male penguins huddle there, unmoving, their heads bowed as the blizzard sweeps over them.

We queue with our heads bowed like the penguins, wind whipping snow off the North Sea, the pavements all sheet ice and frozen slush beneath our feet, the blizzard swirling rather eerily in the glow above the Stadium of Light.

And I notice that everyone else in the queue – almost every man, woman and child – is wearing trainers. Soggy, half-frozen trainers.

It’s the middle of winter, the North-East has been virtually snowbound for 16 days, the latest blizzards engulfing the region only this morning and snow still falling – and these people are wearing trainers.

I feel a bit self-conscious in my big boots and Brasher socks. I feel a bit over-dressed.

Perhaps it’s just as well that every time it snows, the weathermen and women issue warnings about fell-top conditions, and about wearing the correct clothing and carrying essential equipment when in the mountains.

If Sunderland had met Barrow half-way between the two and played on top of Helvellyn, 25,000 people would have climbed Striding Edge in trainers. I just know that. 

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