THE weather girl said an arm of rain would sweep across the country and disappear from the North-East at about midday, leaving the Pennines saturated beneath patchy cloud and intermittent sunshine. I’m thinking about this “arm of rain” as I slosh around Cow Green reservoir and over the dam, because I’ve never seen an arm of rain before. I’m also questioning my rather flippant and automatic use of the term “weather girl” to describe a professional and probably highly-qualified meteorologist, when I would never dream of referring to her male equivalent as a “weather boy” . . .
This is the sort of stuff that fills your head when you walk alone. I should be dwelling, really, on what I’m going to write about High Cup – my destination – and the geological forces that gouged this uniquely spectacular valley out of the Pennines and left it girdled with crags that resemble the interlocking basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway. That’s what I should be thinking about. But as the rain ceases and a fresh wind lifts the clouds above the Teesdale heather, something hugely more interesting arrests my attention.
At the side of the track to Birkdale Farm is a Belfast sink, placed there in the days when livestock sought supplementary refreshment. I utter an exclamation of joy. The weather girl and her arm of rain are immediately forgotten. Because the Belfast sink marks a turning point in the development of mankind.
The Belfast sink was our zenith. When people ripped them out of their kitchens in the 1960s and 1970s, evolution ebbed away like a low tide from a mudflat. Let me tell you about Belfast sinks and the anomaly that Darwin missed because he died too soon.
Eight years ago we had a Belfast sink installed in the kitchen because it seemed like a good idea. And it was. You can’t imagine what you can do in a Belfast sink. Want to wash a bucket of potatoes, a garden spade and an unruly grand-daughter? Chuck them in the Belfast sink at the same time. Worktops clogged up with all those pots and pans after the Sunday roast? Chuck them in the Belfast sink. Twenty stained wine bottles to wash out for the home-brew? No bother, soak them in the Belfast sink. Tread the grapes in there as well if you like.
Hey. I remember being bathed in a Belfast sink by my mother. You had to stand up to get your legs scrubbed. I had two old aunties and an uncle who lived in a house in Walker Street, Askam-in-Furness, and their Belfast sink was the only indication that a sanitary system existed – except for the loo at the bottom of the yard. There was a zinc bath hanging from a nail in the wash-house, but it was never used because all functions were performed at the sink.
And that was the way of the world. We arrived at that point of human development with a perfectly acceptable, fully functioning, completely practical, utterly simple and thoroughly hygienic item of kitchen equipment that fulfilled our requirements. But along came consumerism, DIY (the modern curse of the working classes) and Barry Bucknell, the man who showed the nation how to modernise their homes by covering architectural features (banisters, panelled doors, pianos) with hardboard and removing everything that’s useful.
Belfast sinks were ripped out and smashed. An entire nation’s housing stock was refitted with sinks that were just big enough to hold a plastic washing up bowl. What’s the point of that? If your bloody sink’s the size of a washing up bowl, why do you need a washing up bowl? Where’s the logic? Don’t tell me I’m alone on this.
And then. And then they sold us the sink unit that had a little oval baby sink at the side of the main sink – but the cumulative volume was still not as great as the Belfast sink. And to this day I still don’t know what the little oval baby sink is used for. Is it for cleaning billy cans after a weekend in the hills when your wife’s filled the main sink with ladies’ things? Or dipping your innertube in to find a puncture when your bike chain is soaking in degreaser in the washing up bowl? Does anybody out there know the purpose of the little oval baby sinks? Any weather girls reading this?
So here at the side of the track to what is reputedly England’s highest farm is the pinnacle of mankind’s domestic advancement, now brimming with rainwater and looking a bit sorry for itself. In more ways than one this sink is the equivalent of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird, or the ill-fated Blue Streak rocket a few miles to the north at RAF Spadeadam. It represents British achievements that were left by the wayside instead of being held aloft and borne into the future. Belfast sinks are up there with the bouncing bomb, Marmite, ring-pull beer cans, the internet, Rolls-Royce cars and the invention of silage. Belfast sinks R us.
Jesus Christ. I plod on across the moor fuming. That Bloody Barry Bucknell. He’s got a lot to answer for.
The track from Birkdale Farm to High Cup, which forms part of the Pennine Way, passes through the spoil-heaps of an old mine called Moss Shop. Red flags are flying on the moor away to the south. Occasionally I hear bursts of heavy machine-guns. That’s the Army training youngsters to fight the Taliban so we can sit safely in front of our flat-screen televisions and dream up new ways to improve our homes. Don’t get me started on uPVC doors and windows for Christ’s sake. That rant about sinks has worn me out.
As I reach High Cup Nick a terrific gust of wind whips the bandana off my head and skims it over the edge. Bugger. I lost one in Spain. I’m not sacrificing another to the sodding Pennines. So I pick my way down through the crags, retrieve the bandana, pick my way up again, and munch my sandwiches while watching a waterfall being blown into the air and back over the crag from whence it sprang. That’s pretty impressive.
The wind drops and the sun comes out to allow me to take loads of pictures, which cheers me up a bit. The weather girl got it right after all. The arm of rain has passed like a royal wave in a Pathé newsreel. Then all that remains is a long plod back to Cow Green reservoir across six miles of sloshing peaty moors and rough muddy tracks.
Might have to dip the boots in the Belfast sink when I get home. Can’t remember if I took those muddy bike wheels out before I left the house this morning. Hope the wife doesn’t get home first.
- I can’t find much on the geology of High Cup, but this short account is probably all that’s needed.
- According to his entry on Wikipedia, besides being Britain’s first DIY television presenter Barry Bucknell was a Labour councillor on St Pancras council. His greatest achievement, though, was the reinvention of New Labour from a prototype knocked up out of plywood and panel pins at the behest of Tony Blair. Sorry, I made that up.
AND FINALLY, I’LL LEAVE YOU WITH THIS . . .