Friday 29 July 2016

Loughrigg Mon Amour

The Author at Loughrigg's summit
By the time you will find this, I shall be long gone. Why have I left? I will try to explain.

We all have some sort of sexual awakening, the first stirrings of something deep that we do not comprehend, yet form the foundation for our tastes and pleasures for the rest of our days. Unlike many, I was very fortunate indeed. When young, I felt no closeness to the other children, couldn’t take their noise, the busyness, their unpredictable nature. I was a quiet, shy kid, insecure and uncertain.

That changed one day as a young teen. My school had been sent into the country for a holiday, whether we wanted one or not. I managed to find myself a little freedom by wandering around the fields behind the farm outbuildings we were barracked in. One afternoon I went a little further down a winding country track over a rise and then I saw an iridescent field of hay. I didn’t think such a magical place could exist. With some trepidation I walked toward the gate, overwhelmed by the sight, then from nowhere, I found the courage to climb over the gate and jumped down.

Enveloped in a light sandy colour, turning honey brown, with the wind making it look alive, rippling and shimmering, I walked among the stalks, overcome by the sweet dry bakery smell, breathing in deeply, letting my lungs feel alive with the aroma. I fell to my knees and put my fingers in the rich soil. I ran around, crawled on the ground, rolled around, feeling like I was in a dream. Time stopped and I felt utterly magical. It must have been hours later that I noticed that the air had cooled. I remembered that I had to get back to the farm so I composed myself, walked slowly back, dazed and confused by what had happened.

I had fallen in love for the first time. Like all first loves, the intoxication damned the affair, as did a return to school, but I’ll always remember that field even though, to my shame, I never knew its name. I’d go back and visit, but it wouldn’t be the same; there’s probably a housing estate there now.

Since then, I’ve accepted that I’m not drawn to the sins of the flesh but the lure of the land. The only exception has been a drunken fumble with Windermere Train Station that left me feeling dirty. I’m ashamed of the incident, neither the station nor myself come out of it well.

I wandered round the Lakeland fells searching for love. Nothing quite satisfied. The Scafells looked jaded, Helvellyn too edgy, Wastwater too awkward, but when I set my sights lower, love came pounding after me. I shiver with delight and fright at her name now; Loughrigg. What a lovely bit of topography, with the higher mountains voyeuristically looking over her, this fell became my great love.

How I caressed her, stroked her and whispered sweet nothings into her bracken, her valleys and mounds. I explored her completely, every little track and trail. No hollow unexamined, no hillock unmounted. The richness of her boggy patches, the warm beauty of her lichen-pocked walls, their graceful lines and the stiles, oh my God, the stiles...

One Summer evening after a light rain shower, I could resist no more, overcome by the feel of her moss and lichen, the peaty aroma of her graceful, tiny streams, I climbed to her summit cairn, then shaking with nerves, walked straight down to Rydal Cave, where I went undressed, dived in the pool in her deepest, most secret place I surrendered my heart, body and soul and took her with passion and abandon.

After that, I began to spend more time with her, often sleeping rough on her yielding plateau, clutching her tightly when it rained, stroking her gently when the sun shone. I got to know her in all her moods and spent many nights talking, telling her my hopes, my dreams.

In Autumn I soothed her, in Winter I warmed her and promised that Spring would soon come, but by the next Summer it was very different. I slowly noticed that she became less responsive, less tender. Our sex life began to dwindle. I grew envious of all the others walking all over her, carelessly kicking her gentle ground, laughing as they treated her with disrespect, dirtying her with their poured out drinks on her hummocks, placing their crisp packets in her clefts, their incessant photography.

Sitting one evening on Todd Crag, watching the sunset, I noticed that she was paying more attention to Lake Windermere, laid out below us and I understood that she loved the lake, that I was only a substitute. It became more painful every day, until I could take it no longer, until one evening I found myself kneeling by Lily Tarn, unburdening my broken heart and told her it was over between us.

Since then I have had my flings, desperate short lived romances. Many a felltop campsite was chosen for sordid pleasures, my interest in mountain tarn swimming was not as pure as the waters, and my ghyll scrambling in a wetsuit was perverse, even by my standards. But I was always searching for that special place to settle down with. I almost eloped with Dungeon Ghyll but that was just lust and my guilt ruined our relationship. There was a long weekend with Ennerdale, but it wasn’t meant to last. My shameless promiscuity was the sign of someone lost, who needed a place to love and be loved.

There was only one option; internet dating. After many lonely nights with Google Earth, I found an isle that could be compatible with my needs, wants and desires. She’s a small uninhabited island in the Pacific. I’m going to protect her identity as I am a gentleman, but she’s the reason I’ve been taking sailing lessons and bought the yacht I’ve been restoring. I’ve got enough experience to have a good chance of making the voyage, supplies to keep me going and equipment to help me land on her sweet, virgin sod.

As you know by now, I’ve set sail. We all just want a place to put our hearts, that’s all. Wish me luck and fair winds if you can.

Sunday 26 June 2016

50 ways to leave your lover

It's all about Article 50, until that happens we are as in as we ever were. Stop messing about with the red herring of a second referendum - the refuge of a spoilt loser. The big game of politics is a more complex and subtle beast and things are going on at a very high altitude. Officially, the EU is split on should Article 50 be initiated now or some time later. It is highly possible that this is being done to put on just enough pressure on the next Tory leader. Cameron's refusal to initiate Article 50 is him saying to Boris, 'you broke it, you fix it'. and as is becoming more obvious to all, we are so tied into Europe that Remain weren't exaggerating, there will be massive damage at all levels. Potential damage includes a permanent shrinkage of the UK by losing Scotland, probably losing Gibraltar and even Northern Ireland. The sight of Ian Paisley jr saying constituents should grab an Irish passport is one of the most remarkable ever seen in politics. The alternative is to put in a hard border. This proved impossible when only one side of the divide wanted one, when neither side does, well, who would want to stand on that thin green line? The economy has had a very expensive but survivable crash, but Article 50 would signal a freefall. Who wants to start their premiership with that? Boris, who was never a believer in Brexit has to put up or shut up. Pull the trigger and shoot the economy in the head or have his bluff called by not invoking Article 50. He richly deserves to be in this position. Never have the victors been so silent. you can also bet that the US and others will have been on the phone regarding the many billions wiped off their economy by the uncertainty. Perhaps this is why the leading Brexiters have been looking like they've just found a horse's head in their bed. Never have the victors seemed so depressed. Even the deranged Dan Hannan's taking a break from his little echo chamber on Twitter, perhaps he's simply overcome by the fumes of victory. The way out? General election with Labour and Conservatives pledging to stay in Europe. By, say November the leavers will realise they were conned, the brightest already do and the Brexiters discredited. Sure UKIP might pick up some votes, but disaster will be averted. The big question for the Tory leadership campaign is "If elected will you invoke Article 50 and, if so, when?" Democracy? Since when did democracy trump pragmatism?

Friday 24 June 2016

EU Referendum verdict, some initial thoughts

The nation has voted to leave something they know absolutely nothing about. I've only met one person who knows the difference between the Council and Commission in the last year. Now comes the reckoning. Will the sky fall in as Remain argued? Will the NHS be 350m a week better off as Leave pledged? And that's the problem. An electorate that is deeply suspicious of politicians - which has increased greatly since 2008 - is about to find out that Remain were exaggerating, Leave lying. What happens when you whip up anger and resentment and people find they've been conned? The official Remain campaign was a disgrace, let's hope we never see Project Fear again. Le's hope we hear nothing more about Mandelson, Will Straw and the rest of them. They were almost a parody of the Leave's parody of Europe; with a dictatorial our way only approach, turning away people with other ideas regardless of experience. The other guilty party is the EU. Their communications are abysmal, yet the practitioners and the pet PR agencies think they're simply wonderful, Darling. I've long taken them to task for their, not just inability to connect with citizens, but their disinterest in doing so. I've rages against their wasting of hundreds of millions of euros every year on stupid ideas. Yet they continue. If they carry on as usual more nations will have referendums, more will leave - essentially because of this disconnect. Until a few months before the last European elections, Commission officials were happily dismissing concern over the pathetic turnout at the elections, arguing that it showed people were happy with the EU. They aren't. It's no longer a question of turnout, it's a question of winning hearts and minds and all my experience says the EU will be unable to do this. It's not euroscepticism that's killing the EU; it's their own hubris.

Friday 17 June 2016

Race to the gutter

Compare to the photo below, same idea, different times
There are several reasons why immigration is a difficult subject for mainstream politicians to openly discuss. It's bottled up on the top shelf, next to one marked Race'.

The main reason these issues are rarely addressed directly is that there's something about race that speaks to the reptilian brain, the place of primitive instinct and wild ego. This is why it is so hard to have the issues discussed rationally by the public. The psychological reasons for this are easily understood, but it often appeals to those who are under achievers who want to blame others for their own inadequacies and failures.

In the heat of the EU referendum, those deeply opposed to the EU have reached up and opened those bottles, being the perfect opportunity to blame the 'EU' for absolutely everything. The same folk who decry it as being an attempt to impose fascism can also describe it as a communist plot. While many nations that have lived under both dictatorships regard the EU as a way out of the wreckage caused by totalitarian fantasies and have been eager for membership.

Not every person voting to leave the EU is racist, but every racist is voting to leave.

If Hitler were alive, he could sue UKip for plagiarism
UKIP, once claimed to be a party dedicated to reforming politics, bringing in more accountability and so on, have slowly turned away from that and fallen further each year into the racist gutter.

Remember when 25 million Romanians and Bulgarians were supposed to flood into the UK on 1 January 2014, when restrictions were lifted? It didn't happen, but the rhetoric never changed. Now they are claiming that Turkey is about to send countless millions to despoil dear Albion's sacred soil. As before, it won't happen, but the fear of an invading foreigner continues.

These are minority views, held by a hundred tiny insular circle-jerk groups, from the aggressive - usually to each other - openly neo-Nazis, such as the various National Alliance groups, to those with just enough brainpower to realise this could rebound on them PR wise. These groups usually have a leader enriching themselves at the expense of the groups, these would include the EDL in its various guises.

Then there's those playing at politics, such as the now virtually defunct BNP, Britain First and other proto-parties.

These people know that, no matter what they do, people just refuse to join in their fantasy world. It's an echo of the other side of the coin, the Al Qaeda and similar. The Islamic extremists thought the world's Muslims would rise up after each terror attack exactly as the far-right bomber David Copeland did when he put bombs around London.

What happens though, is that the racist genie is let out of the bottle, praying on our most primal fears and it allows an atmosphere where violence slowly rises. It's like boiling a frog, we don't see much of it, beyond occasional brief items in the press, but every now and then it bursts out.

So, where are we today? A man - like many on the extremes - with mental health issues, murdered a MP while shouting - according to two witnesses - "Britain first".

On the day that Nigel Farage exhibited an anti-immigration poster - 'Breaking Point' that was a facsimile of Nazi propaganda.

On the day that England fans in France mocked and threw coins at refugee children.

In the final week of a referendum campaign that disgraced the idea of public debate.

One of the main cries of the sordid campaign was 'we want our country back'. If this is the country you want back, take it. Take it away from reasonable folk. Put it in a bottle on the top shelf and never open it again.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Whatever the result of the EU referendum, trouble lies ahead

'Won't someone think of the children?' Photo A Carling
Way before the referendum was announced, I said that Out won't win, but In could lose it. This is what is happening.
I also said that a way to win would be to look at the SNP's Independence campaign and follow that as an example, by building up grass roots groups, holding lots of public meetings everywhere etc. Remain decided to repeat the 'Better Together' campaign strategy, concentrating on ramping up the fear and concentrating on the economy. And nothing else. Only those sworn to be on message were allowed on board, people with different ideas were cast away.
The result has been to confuse and alienate those likely to support them. I know several waverers, all are reasonable people, none conform to the stereotype of the frothing at the mouth hyper-Ukipper.
In the last few days, several of them have said the same thing: They don't believe the claims by either side and ,crucially that they have been waiting to hear the positive case for EU membership and, not hearing it are wondering if there is one. Out of these, those voting to stay in the EU will be doing do *despite* the remain campaign, not because of it.
According to Remain, the EU is so scary we can't leave, because they would come after us, humiliate and punish us for wanting to leave. If a woman came to you, as has happened to me, and said they were thinking about leaving their partner but were terrified about what he might do if they did walk out, would you advise her to stay, grin and bear it or to get out and as quickly as they could? Exactly.
The Remain strategy has horrible echoes of this for me, advocating that we remain in an abusive relationship, rather being part of something positive and good.
David Cameron is not believed by the voters, in or out and his claim the Remain campaign was “hugely optimistic and positive” is the cry of a man adrift from reality.
Like the Better Together campaign, Gordon Brown has to come to the rescue it's too early to say if it will make a difference.
However, there are some grave problems for the future. By using fear it has failed to build any support for the idea of Europe and, if the vote is narrow, the Out team will be as dead as the SNP following their referendum and the positive case for membership will still have to be made. One can only hope that this will not be put in the same hands as the Remain camp was. In fact, many hope the entire Team Remain are never heard of again.
If Out win, well, we shall see just how many of the threatened horsemen of the apocalypse turn up, but also how the promises of the Out are achieved, such as the extra £350m a week on the NHS, immigration cut to a fraction etc. Many of the Out claims seemed to be those of a government in waiting not those of a temporary, single issue campaign, unable to set policy, write legislation - a point that eluded Remain, but an indication of the fantasy world all campaigners seemed to inhabit.
Expect turbulence as the lacklustre Corbyn and the hapless Cameron are either ditched or mortally wounded, in place only to await the pre-election kill.
The referendum campaigns have meant that not one of the problems facing Britain have been lessened and larger, graver ones have been conjured up by this squalid campaign.
It's not quite over yet, but no side deserves to win and the nation will definitely be the loser in this. All of us. We deserved better, neither side was capable of giving us the standard of debate we deserve. I fear for the future.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

The Big Man and the Little Girl

Short fiction published in The Carrot  issue 2

I've been having dreams each night on my fears and failures. Each night a different one. It took me a while before I realised what was going on as though there was some sort of spring cleaning of the soul. It's been as interesting as it has been unusual, sometimes sad, but never too uncomfortable or troubling. Until last night. Last night the girl was in them. I've not forgotten her, how could I? But I've hidden her away and now she stands in front of me while I feel, what do I feel? Shame? Guilt? I've no idea.

She’ll be what, forty now, if she’s still alive. I met her when she was about ten when I was working near a church and hospital in a central African nation. It was suggested that I lodge in the Mission house, which accommodated the various priests and parish workers, where I was told there was plenty of good food and drink for a visitor.

The house was grand by local standards and dark, surrounded by trees. Inside it was furnished in the austere colonial style and I met the staff, but they seemed strangely formal and a little stiff, even nervous compared to the relaxed welcome I’d found from the villagers I was to be working with.

I was wondering how to leave politely when there was a buzz in the air, people started bustling faster, looking even more grave. “Father Matthew is coming,” said a voice in my ear as everyone stiffened. Seconds later, in he came wearing a huge white cassock, looking like an African Don Corleone, with the mafioso’s sense of entitlement, the dismissive air of a man who knows he is not just the most important person present but the only person of any merit.

He briefly touched my shoulder, said a word of welcome whilst looking angrily at the empty table, which suddenly began to be filled with huge bowls of food, rice and beans - the staple diet of the region. He gestured for us to sit with him and a large plate of beef was placed in front of him. He said grace as an afterthought and then the food was served by nuns, who gave Matthew a portion twice the size of anyone else. Beer appeared and kept reappearing.

Conversation was brief and perfunctory, he had other things on his mind. I answered the many queries about my faith, marital status and how I was enjoying my visit with the bland platitudes of someone not wishing to commit a social error.

Bowls of water were passed round us to wash off the debris of the meal and suddenly it was over. As I got up, I noticed the girl standing by a side door. She was holding some towels, eyes on the ground, completely still. I’d guess she was trying to look invisible, hoping nobody would notice her, but I could sense the fear and the lack of hope of a prisoner. Father Matthew put his hand on her head and they both quietly left the room.

It seemed so normal that I could have ignored the subtle change in atmosphere as everyone mentally looked away. We were quickly ushered out as though nobody had noticed anything. I didn't know what had happened, but I didn't want to return.

Over the next few weeks, I settled in by the local school, where I saw the kids pass every day, the untapped wealth of the continent. They were full of personality and energy. Some were shy, some introverted, some overly respectful, but they all responded to a smile. None were like the girl, frozen inside herself.

When asked about Father Matthew, I was slightly hesitant, non-committal and these were the clues that I was troubled and people responded by passing me small pieces of the truth. They seemed to talk to me as a sign of their anger, the insult to their values. He had many lovers and fathered several children. People could name each of the children, but they were less sure about the mothers, there were a couple in the nearest large town, they said, but the fate of many was unknown, being ushered out of their villages in various stages of disgrace.

His technique was well known; he would tell his victim that he was God’s servant and it was their job to look after him, so he could do God’s work and they would be rewarded in Heaven. He appeared to be protected by the local Bishop, who was said to be on two bottles of whisky a day.

Matthew had made one innovation to church dogma, the introduction of altar girls instead of the traditional altar boys, but this was not seen as a sign of female empowerment, but because the AIDS epidemic had led to a belief that young virgins were the only safe women to sleep with.

Eventually, the Bishop was persuaded to resign just months before he drank himself to death. He had a drunken vision that led him to spend five years building cathedral the size of St Peter’s Basilica in the bush. I visited it once, half built with bare cement walls, as ruined as the cleric’s liver, that sucked out the wealth of the desperately poor communities for miles around.

With the Bishop gone and the Altar girls too blatant for the clerical authorities to ignore, Matthew was quickly packed off to a seminary to meditate on his faith for several years, there being much to reconsider. The girls vanished.

Decades later, I still don’t know how I feel about it. Certainly it was the moment when my mask of first-world innocence cracked, but there’s more. Is it shame because I couldn't help? Was it guilt that my silence made me feel like an accomplice? But there was nothing that could be done, everyone had put in a word of warning at the highest levels they could. The word was passed and the sins of the father were well known, but it seemed nothing could be done.

So the girl hid behind her placid mask of invisibility, the priest behind his holy robes and I, and I hid behind my cowardice. Yes, that’s it. It’s cowardice, because even now I hide the truth.

You see, I've called this tale fiction, but it isn't. It isn't at all.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Two English gardens that changed how we look at nature

Where the formal meets the romantic
Andy Carling
The Formal Garden at Rydal Hall
The British are known for their love of gardening and there will be a unique opportunity to learn more about how gardens have been part of English culture as well as home life. Two great English country gardens are opening for a special joint tour this Summer in the most beautiful part of the land, the English Lake District.
Rydal Hall and Rydal Mount are in a picture perfect setting, backed by the dramatic Fairfield Horseshoe, one of Lakeland’s most scenic walks and in woodland pasture, where sheep graze among ancient trees.
Rydal Hall, one of the most magnificent buildings in the Lakes now used as a conference and retreat centre for the diocese of Carlisle, the formal Edwardian gardens were designed by landscape architect and town planner Thomas Hayton Mawson in 1911. The Italianate terracing includes herbaceous borders and lawns set against the imposing architecture of the Hall.
Wordsworth's Garden at Rydal Mount
Mawson was concerned with beauty and harmonising the home and garden. In addition to writing key references of garden design he was also a visionary town planner. He is also known for designing the Peace Gardens at The Hague, the home of international justice.

Nearby Rydal Mount was the home of the poet William Wordsworth who began the work of landscaping the grounds in the natural way advocated by the Romantic movement. His designs and plans are used by the gardeners there today, to recreate what the poet intended. The poet was a keen landscape gardener and designed the garden which contains fell-side terraces, including Dora's Terrace (named after his sister), rock pools and the poet’s outdoor  ‘Writing Hut’ where he composed works that still shape Britain and Europe’s culture.
Wordsworth was also a visit to Rydal Mount and it’s famed ‘Grot’ a small stone building by a waterfall pool, built in 1669 as a ‘viewing station’ for visitors to see a particular scene as an example of nature at its most sublime. The little building featured in one of his poems and has also enticed other writers and painters to Rydal.
The monthly tours are led by Rydal Hall’s Head Gardener, Kate Jackson and Rydal Mount’s Curator, Peter Elkington. The tour is their joint initiative.
“There is probably nowhere else in the country where you can see two different approaches to garden design than here at Rydal,” says Peter Elkington, “this is a unique opportunity.”
“We are great admirers of each other’s gardens and it seemed obvious that a joint tour could provide something really special for garden lovers. We’re really excited about the tour,” says Kate Jackson.
Visitors will be guided around gardens central to the work of the Romantic poets and the bringing together of architecture and outdoor spaces. The two neighbours are showing how gardens reflected their owner’s belief in the connection between people and nature; gardens and home.
Both gardens have been beautifully cared for and kept as a historical record of two very different styles of garden design and this first combined tour will enable visitors to look at both gardens as companions and, of course, neighbours.
Tours will begin in May, once a month, and booking must be made by calling Rydal Mount 0n +44 (0) 15394 33002.
Rydal is a small hamlet near Ambleside at the northern tip of Lake Windermere in the English Lake District National Park.
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