We’ve come on holiday by mistake.
Past the old toll house on the right. Past the caravan park where they used to have big steam engines.
Winding through the back roads until we hook left on the dual carriageway heading to the more obscure coast, the countryside ever spectacular.
Finally, with the sandy estuary on our left, we turn right onto the narrow roads and we are tantalisingly close.
The most exciting moment is the first glimpse of the lake.
We are heading to my favourite place on earth. I’ve been coming here since I was 6. Every year, I try and make it at least once, and camp at the same campsite, sit at the same table, at the same pub and walk up the same mountain.
We’re in our old van. When I say old, I mean old. It was built in 1965. It’s a VW split screen. Despite its age, it’s a perfection, a pinnacle, of functional design. These vehicles appeal to people like me who are enslaved to our aesthetic sensibilities – beauty in utter functionality – a terminal design. Having said that, they are high maintenance in every respect. There are more modern T5 & 6 VWs all along the route and many of them wave and give us the thumbs up.
I’ve recently serviced ours and the difference is remarkable. In particular, I’ve re-jetted the carbs and the engine is much quieter. Over the years, I’ve made a number of subtle modifications, such that we can comfortably cruise in modern traffic – both motorway and winding hilly roads.
My intention was to slope off quietly on my own just for a couple of nights. I am suddenly weary. Of everything. The pandemic. The ranch. Scouring through the murky, swirling waters, trying to tease out the truth. I need to get away for some distance and head space.
I prefer to come in spring, when I can hear the cuckoo in the forest across the lake, but time flew and I realised that despite the rainy forecast, if I didn’t come now, I wouldn’t make it this year.
I mentioned it to Elias and Sam and they ended up coming, so it’s the three of us. As always, we stop at the posh supermarket near the big bridge and stock up on the finest wines, ales, cheeses and gentlemanly requisites known to humanity. Choosing the wine is easy. French section. Top shelf. Mis en bouteille au chateau. The cost is irrelevant. This is our annual holiday.
The campsite is busier than we’ve ever seen it. That’s a symptom of the pandemic. People are staying at home and holidaying locally. There’s a national shed shortage and more worryingly an international timber shortage.
The van comes into its own when camping. It is just so. Those little patio doors. The little kitchen in the back. The front bench seat that opens into my bed. The rear bench seat as my settee. The dinky little table in the middle and the square camouflage tarpaulin that goes on top, preventing water dripping in the windows and doors.
‘Glamping.’ I say in a post. ‘That’s not glamping, it’s camping.’ Retorts a colleague. She’s right of course, but for a peasant like me, it’s abject luxury. If I had a choice between this and a five star hotel, I would still choose this.
I like the fact that this is one of the last campsites that still allows large groups of frisky boisterous youths. Large family groups come too. There’s always plenty of opportunity for people watching.
As forecast, it rains, then it rains some more. We walk into the village, repairing to the usual hostelry, where we have our annual fish and chips. Back at camp, Elias is in his German mountain tent and Sam is in the same old A-frame that we’ve had for over twenty years and they both stay dry during the lashing-rain night. We all sleep badly. Sam’s camp bed hilariously collapses.
In the morning, I’m up early as usual. It’s raining and I’m already homesick. Elias points out that I have the same programmed miserable streak as Marvin The Paranoid Android.
My misery evaporates as the morning develops. We sit in the van and simply do nothing. It takes a full three hours to slowly work up to breakfast – brie and Jarlsberg on toast, topped with my own home-grown tomatoes. The build up is unprecedentedly lubricated with slow sips of Medoc, which mellow the morn no end. This is definitely glamping.
We work up to a stroll into the village. Elias and I buy new waterproof coats, in anticipation of a wet mountain ascent and Sam gets an umbrella and an inflatable mattress. Tired by our endeavours, we’re ready for a sit down. ‘It’s too early for the pub.’ I say. They beg to differ, and once again, we are seated in our favourite tavern. Teas and coffees are available but then so is the finest bitter known to man, crafted in the adjoining brewery. There is the exciting possibility that Tyler might join us later.
We take the disused railway route back to the campsite, and once again, we are in need of a sit down, coincidentally chancing upon another ale-house.
Tyler phones. He’s here hare here! He picks us up and we drive back to the campsite. Like many of the recent Friday nights during the pandemic, it’s the four of us again. Not only the pandemic Fridays, but the last ten years of gigs and festivals in our rickety old van.
I cook a supper of sausages, beans and toast and we reminisce and plan the forthcoming album and launch gig. It’s sixteen tracks, half-recorded in 2011, before Tyler went off to uni and finished a couple of months ago. Matt put his guitar parts on a few years ago – he too had moved to the vile capital.
They are now both safely returned and settled in the homeland, in the town of my birth. The album is a raw testament to a splendid post-punk legacy. We’re going to package it with the 7” single also recorded in the back room.
I read all three volumes of Lord of the Rings to Elias and Sam when they were little. The films coincidentally came out around the same time and the tales are steeped into our collective consciousness.
Tyler is an intellectual LOTR scholar, and the stories and back-stories from The Silmarillion and beyond pepper our discussions.
Saturday morning. It’s raining even more. I explain to them how cold and dangerous it can be in the wet on top of a mountain. They’re un-phased. I make sandwiches and we tog up appropriately. I’m wearing my brand new waterproof, my swimming shorts and my new stout waterproof walking shoes. Louise has lent me a little rucksack into which I pack a change of clothes. We call at the garage and buy chocolate for sustenance.
There are brief dry spells, but by and large it’s sustained rain. We go the back way, past the youth hostel and once again, at the half-way land mark, I warn them how cold it will get up there. They’re still undaunted and we plod on.
My brand new waterproof transpires to be spectacularly unwaterproof and my stout shoes are squelchy boats. Never before in my life have I been so spectacularly and panoramically soaked to the skin. I’m cold too. My Marvin voice screams woe: ‘What if I get hypothermia? I have to keep moving.’ The rest of me finds it quite invigorating.
The last bit is the hardest, but we make it and we’re all pleased that we made the effort. The scenery is actually eerily spectacular, shrouded in mist with only twenty yards visibility – the tarn half way up is particularly stunning. Generally, during our trip, we swing between WithnailandIness and LordofTheRingsness. The mountain is definitely the latter, whilst tavern assessments are clearly more King Henry and Mother Black Cap than Prancing Pony.
The descent is much easier and before we know it, we reach a hostelry – the one that Elias and I stayed at when he was 12 and the chef never turned up to make breakfast.
I change into my dry clothes in the toilets, except they’re almost as wet as my mountain-wear – some buffoon forgot to put them in a plastic bag. The evening is pleasant, punctuated by a pub lunch.
We talk to a Welsh couple and the bloke is familiar with the Massey Ferguson 35. We converse in depth and after 5 minutes, his wife bails out and sits with the lads.
On Sunday morning, the journey home is straightforward. I comment to Sam how well the van is running and how comfortably it handles the steep windy roads. At the next hill, it inexplicably loses power and begins to overheat, then recovers minutes later. That’s it with old vehicles – there’s always something that can go wrong and you’re for ever on edge. It’s a lovely thing, but I’m ready to trade up.
As soon as we’re back, I’m straight up there, fearful that the greenhouse will have dried out. It’s OK – it hasn’t.
Walking up, the town seems grey and grim and the streets are paved with dog shit. Even 3 days away gives a different perspective. I was hoping for some clear guidance on the decisions ahead, but there wasn’t. Nevertheless, every day is a school day.
Each year, when I walk up the mountain, I nervously think ‘Will I still be able to do it?’ Tyler is a speedy, lithe mountain goat and I could keep up with him no trouble. I can’t be 28 for ever though. The lesson is to strive to be the best of myself and the rest will follow. Some of the baggage has to go. You can get the ship ship-shape, but you can’t control the sea. I’m trying to get back into regularly doing the back-saving exercise routine and meditation. What with all those cheeses and chips, I’ve managed to put on another kg, having pared a couple off over the last few weeks.
The ranch too seems a bit grey and grim. I pick two carrier bags of produce including loads of errant giant courgettes, and 2kg of tomatoes from the greenhouse.
The plum tree is laden, but when I look more closely every one is damaged with puncture marks – there are hordes of pesky wasps quaffing them. I walk back the top way and see a red deer in a field.
I call at Helen and Graham’s on the way back and fob them off with yet more f-ing courgettes and tomatoes. Along with their two teenagers, they’ve been helping out regularly on The Ranch. Graham is a fellow muso and we talk at length about speakers and guitars.
The other Ranch:
… is struggling. Everyone who works in Emergency medicine at some point talks about how desperately busy and overwhelmed it is. It’s been going on for decades.
This is different. I come on for an early shift and everywhere, including the corridors is full and patients are waiting over 12 hours to be seen. It’s not even winter.
When I’m next door on the ward round King Richard and I talk about the importance of work, life balance and the lure of retirement.
We have an excellent relationship with the Acute Physicians and I enjoy going into their office to refer patients and have a bit of banter. They’re always interested in the farmlet. They always say something along the lines of Have you not thought of growing something more lucrative? Celia is a fellow allotmenteer and Bushra would like her own farmlet. I’m pleased to be able to advise MelMel on a guitar for her son – she chooses an SG – good choice.
I wish I could convey how desperately hard medical people are working to try and make things better. It upsets me when so-called experts with no front-line medical experience make matter-of-fact clinical pronouncements without any ability to research or know what’s really happening in healthcare. It’s not helpful.
A lot of people are really struggling. It’s sometimes very difficult to try and find peace of mind when others, including loved ones are suffering so terribly – it’s a big theme in Buddhism.
It’s so sad to see the NHS being sold off day by day by those vile Etonians and their sycophants.
We’re still seeing lots of Covid, with a lot of patients double-jabbed. This is exactly as expected. If for example a population of 1000 is 80% vaccinated, there will be 800 jabbed with a range of ages and co-morbidities. With an 80% effective vaccine, 160 (20% of 800) could catch C19, of which a proportion may need hospitalisation and ICU. Some will die. If you apply the same maths to the remaining unvaccinated 200, then the actual numbers needing hospitalisation will inevitably be less than those in the vaccinated group – numbers on their own mean nothing – it’s the proportions that are significant.
Divisions continue to deepen. It’s not about the vaccinated and unvaccinated. It’s about accepting the govt/pharma utter pack of lies hook, line and sinker or seeing it for what it is and daring to challenge it. The thing that really matters is how to achieve the best robust population immunity.
Often the science is difficult, and open to misinterpretation by both sides – especially in the veritable minefield of the internet and its swathes of convincingly crafted misinformation and bias-confirming algorithms. Sometimes though, it’s crystal clear. Critical thinking and impartial evaluation are imperative.
What’s emerging now, is that vaccination does not prevent infection or transmission and that infection acquired/natural immunity can be as effective as vaccinated immunity (some people have both, which is much more difficult to research). This therefore shows that the notion of vaccine passports is utter scientific nonsense. Forcing it worldwide is therefore a political issue – NOT a medical or scientific one.
Sneaking out last week, under the Olympic smoke-screen, was the vaccination of 16 to 17 year olds which sickens me. The propaganda is insidious. ‘Ah well, they’re nearly grown up and they want to set the same example as their mummys and daddies.
They cannot possibly know the long-term risks of being jabbed. The difference with children is that their immune systems are developing, which might cause problems in later life. It’s true that there are more children catching Covid, but it’s generally mild and again, it’s seeming likely that the immunity afforded by having had the illness can be broader than that provided by the jabs.
The risk of Antibody Dependent Enhancement when exposed to new variants is also unknown. This is when an immune system, vaccinated against a specific strain, mounts a catastrophic response when later exposed to a different strain. An example of this is when up to 600 children died in the Philippines after receiving the Sanofi-pasteur Dengvaxia in 2016 & 17. ADE only occurs in vaccinated people who have not had the disease, so it could easily be attributed to the disease itelf. I’m convinced that this is happening with some Covid cases, but it’s very difficult to research or quantify.
There are around a million children in the 16 to 17 age group and it’s highly probable that some of them will get very sick as a result of the vaccine and deaths are possible. If this happens, it will simply be medical manslaughter, because the risks are predictable. That’s just my opinion, but more and more doctors are saying the same. Above all, do no harm.
Rock & Roll
… is good. We are quietly rehearsing for our forthcoming gigs. Tickets for the Strange album launch are selling well – get them here. Our first gig is at Preston Pop Festival next Saturday which is sold out.
When I wrote Painting Snails, my promotional idea was to do a string of gigs which included talking about the book. It worked on a modest level and gained its own quiet momentum, with one gig somehow leading to another.
My old friend Chris Coates has written a book about his experiences of community living. Back in the post-punk days, when I was 21, I rented a house in Burnley Wood where Chris and several like-minded people had a few houses as part of a co-operative. I was organising gigs and doing a fanzine and they somehow got involved. They were a bit folky-hippy to a young post-punk snob like me, eating lots of fart-inducing vegan stews, which Louise and I were often invited round to share. Nevertheless, we had a lot in common. In fact, they called themselves People in Common and Chris’s book is titled A life in Common. We went to quite a few folk nights with them and remember them singing an exquisite acapella version of I Don’t Want Your Red Red Red Roses Any More.
I’m in the book. Boff is in my book. I’m in Boff’s book (he has a new one out soon). It’s sweet that there are a number of us documenting the story of our incredible understated radical heritage and it all inextricably overlaps (thread of serendipity innit). Likewise the wonderful Mid Pennine Arts (no hyphen) have their Pendle Radicals project, which is helping to take it all to a wider audience.
Chris came to visit on Wednesday to look at the ranch as a potential venue for his book launch, which is most flattering – we decided against in the end, because he’s planning it for early evening on Sat 25th Sept – it will be dark then and access up the steep track could be a problem. He once wanted to be an architect but they wouldn’t let him, so he went and masterminded a 41 dwelling eco-village at the site of Halton Mill, Lancaster. The village has organically developed into a music/arts venue and we did a lovely gig there a couple of years ago with Commoners Choir.
The ranch sits above the narrow ordinary streets where it all began and the view of Pendle is second to none. My vision has always been to slowly build a place that can be a haven for like-minded people – where it’s possible to learn about growing food and medicines and also to have a multi-functional space that can be a music venue, bar, school, disco, eatery and so on. It’s coming together nicely.
I ask him lots of questions about self-sufficiency etc. They have solar panels and share the local hydro-electric project, generating about 80% of their own electricity.
Emergency medicine is for people who accept every shade of humanity without judgement. I confess though that I have no time for those who choose employment that causes suffering for other people – hence wheel-clampers and traffic wardens have always been fair game for my vitriol. Like that time when I challenged the park keeper for putting a parking ticket on a car at the bottom of the street. I was once wheel-clamped in a hospital car park where I was doing a locum and I vowed I would never work at that hospital again. I eventually did, but would probably have gone back a lot sooner if it hadn’t been for that incident. Even then, I got a parking ticket for trying to park in the car park that I was paying 35 quid a month for. I got it overturned by writing to the local council, but what a ball-ache. Recently I had a rant at a car park official – I’m stressed and over-sensitive to car parking threats. There are desperate medical staff shortages and it’s karmic aptness that car parking bureaucracy increases the number by one.
Meanwhile I hear that Sam has been doing a pisstake song that includes a few of my twatty stock phrases: threads of serendipity; cubic centimetre of chance; as above, so below; up the ladder and down again.
We’re weaving and winding against the tide.