I HAVE a plan. Tomorrow is my day off because I worked Sunday. I’ll drive across the icy Pennines to the Lake District, abandon the car on a rough piece of land at a charming cross-roads above Dockray, climb Birkett Fell and continue along the ridge to Stybarrow Dodd, Watson’s Dodd, Great Dodd and Calfhow Pike. The best bit I’ll save to the end: Clough Head – a Lakeland peak that holds happy memories – followed by a satisfying trudge back along the old coach road from Keswick.
And I have a theme for my blog post: it will be a tribute to Ben Gazzara, the American actor who died earlier this week. Gazzara’s big TV hit of the 1960s was the series Run For Your Life, in which he played lawyer Paul Bryan – a man who has been given a maximum of 18 months to live.
Bryan embarks on a tour of the States – his life becomes a road movie. Every week the series opens with a car being driven across the Utah salt flats. We see the road from the driver’s perspective – the endless miles before us disappearing into the vanishing point. It’s an iconic image that has stayed with me since childhood. We are on a journey into infinity. And that journey, unlike Bryan’s, will never end.
This is what I’ll do. When I’m up on the ridge in the freezing snow I’ll draw a comparison between the Lakeland hills stretching to the horizon and Gazzara’s never-ending road crossing the salt flats. And into this I’ll introduce the concept that life is about travelling; it’s a journey on which we all embark – it’s a walk into a sunset. Sounds to me like a good idea.
The car has been filled with petrol. My sack is packed. My boots have been waxed. The only obstacle is an evening shift to get out of the way before I rise before dawn and head into the west.
So I drive to Darlington and walk into the office at 3pm – and, curiously, people turn to stare at me like I’m from Pluto or I’ve grown two heads. Strange. My boss, with a startled expression on his face, says: “What are you doing here? It’s your day off. You’re not due back until tomorrow.”
As the realisation dawns that I’ve got my days mixed up – and that I’m not due another break until a week on Friday – I collapse on the floor and someone has to bring me strong coffee while my boss wafts a copy of this morning’s paper in my face. There’s talk of calling the first aid man, but when they realise the first aid man is me they just keep wafting and filling me with coffee.
So here’s to Ben Gazzara. May his road go on for ever. And here’s the iconic opening sequence to Run For Your Life – which, in one way or another, is probably what we’re all doing.