September 2022

We have had dry weather again this month. The reservoirs around home are running low, with old buildings and bridges beginning to appear from the depths. Thankfully there has not been the fires of previous years so hopefully the message, about BBQ’s particularly, is getting through. The water company is planning for a new reservoir, high up, or low down in the valley or expanding existing capacity with all the costs and environmental damage it will bring, because we have a growing need for water. Meanwhile, down the road a pipe has been leaking from before the start of the month, and despite my best efforts still awaits repair.

I wanted to join a couple of walking groups early in the month, as a way of getting out, and to expand my social circle. One group focussed on mental health, something that has become an important personal issue for me. The other group a formal rambling club with a mix of weekly walks. Both would not allow me to take Scout, saying their group members would not like a dog present, so I declined. It’s something that saddens me that well trained and behaved dogs are viewed in such light. I posted on social media about it. It’s an interesting issue, because what is a well behaved, very sociable dog to the owner, may not be seen that way to someone wary of dogs. And vice versa, a nervous person responding negatively to a dog does not mean the dog is at fault. It seems as always; education and responsibility of owners are key where dogs are concerned. The discussion on social media did lead to a conversation with a friend that resulted in their walking group revisiting their own dog policy and on the next walk well controlled dogs were included. It really made me happy and shows that we can all enjoy the outdoors together and that difficult issues can be approached collectively for a positive resolution.

I love walking with Scout, he really is an excellent companion. Being well trained, and importantly stock trained, means I don’t have to worry about him near animals or birds. As always, he is on the lead when necessary. Nor do I worry when he is exploring the crag tops, standing on the edge looking out over the valley or down at climbers below. This month we walked along the gritstone edges. Ignoring lots of grouse, he tootled along the very edge where he got waylaid and came to tell me he’d had a find. The place he took me to looked out over the valley with a vertical drop off the end of his paws, and no people. I thought he’d caught scent of a dropped glove. I asked him to show me, and he stuck his nose down a wide crack and sure enough there was a very embarrassed climber well and truly stuck in a squeeze. Fortunately, their friend arrived just after we did and, with the suggestion from me to get Mountain Rescue out always a sure way to get someone shifting, the crack fast climber suddenly popped out. As usual, Scout now in retirement had done a fine job and got a just reward.

Last winter a neighbour had a big tree lopped (I really need to up my game on tree identification). It has shaded several gardens backing on to each other from Edwardian times. I liked the tree, it marked the seasons, and was home to our resident owl. At night I’d lay listening to him as he quartered his triangle of urbania, plotting his position by the strength and direction of his calls. He moved out when they lopped the tree and that saddened me. Then, at the beginning of September I was wakened by terrific caterwauling. He was back and had found another owl wandering around his domain. Not happy, he set to banishing the incomer, great cries of dudgeon filled the night keeping me enthralled and rooting for our resident. Our boy was victorious and quickly settled into his remodelled home. Each night I wait for his calling before nodding off.

Sat at my desk with a view out the window I get to see lots going on. Sparrows have been in great abundance this year, flocks of a dozen or more dancing in and out of the hedges, communal bathing in the dishes Alison sets out for them. These last few decades they have been rare, and in my childhood so ubiquitous that they really didn’t qualify as special. It fills me with hope to see them back. My window faces the road and a telegraph pole opposite. The wires, pole, and rooftops are a magnet for the Magpies, hopefully at least two for joy. The clacking sound they make always attracts me first, then I lose a few minutes watching their antics as they hop from wire, to aerial, to chimney. And, at this time of year I will see the Geese on their migration, the honking drawing my eye to their formation.

I work in my small study at home, writing, editing, reading. I like a clean, clutter free environment, and peace and quiet that is sometimes difficult to get living in a terraced house in a city. I’d read about colour noise, and in a search online I found The Longplayer, a piece of music that is playing for one thousand years at the Lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharfe in London. It fits with the teachings and meditations I am learning in Buddhism. And it works, producing a calm environment that is not obtrusive, but is meditative. This has influenced the writing, the words gathering a rhythm and cadence that they had not had before.

I write in long hand for all but the final submission version. I like the feel of the nib moving across a page, seeing the words appear. Handwriting slows me down, gives my mind time to think of the right words and phrasing, where to place the emphasis of a sentence or paragraph. A final page of words, say three hundred, may take me a week or two and up to forty sides of A4 to achieve something I am happy with, almost.

I walked across town to the hospital late one morning for news I expected. A diagnosis of Asbestosis and a prognosis of 10 years. I was glad of the plain speaking from my consultant, and the walk back home to give me processing time. I went to my AA meeting and shared how it was and realised the asbestos and my alcoholism were connected in time. It’s a big plus of sharing, letting the words show me the truth of it all. I started work as a pipefitter in the steelworks 1976. That’s when the two became uninvited guests to the party. The alcoholism being the nice friend at first, then wrecking the room and upsetting people, before being thrown out to sit at the curb brooding. The Asbestosis sitting quietly in the corner by the records, biding its time, knowing that all it had to do was wait. It’s been 34 1/2 years since I last touched alcohol and recovery has given me a good life. And forty-six years since I first touched asbestos. There’s a saying in AA, ‘Live and Let Live’. It’s an instruction to live life fully, engage enthusiastically, let people breathe, and don’t be afraid.

I needed something to take my mind off things and the 36km Nine Edges Fell Race seemed just the answer (the utter madness of that thought). I walked it with Scout and don’t mind saying I was nervous, unsure whether I could complete it. We did, and with time to spare, Scout being the first dog to complete the whole course that day. It was lovely to see people at the check points, have a chat, grab a few Jelly Babies, walk all those edges in great weather. I paid for it the following week, exhaustion staying with me until the following Friday, that’s what it’s like these days. In all the walk my mind never wandered from the route, the views, the people, it stayed in the moment and with Scout, and that’s a very pleasing way to spend a day.

Alison and I try to get out for a breakfast walk each weekend. We walked a local route from the old church, a wedding just starting and a local lad sat on a gravestone with his small flock of sheep, then across the pastures and up the old sled-way leading to the gritstone edge.

We sat in blazing sunshine savouring both the view across the Peak District, and the fried egg and marmite sandwiches Alison had made. On the way back Scout went to investigate his favourite sett. He’s never met a badger, but the scent coming from underground fascinates him.

We found a large patch of field mushrooms sprayed out in a line and chose some to take home for pizza. As we worked our way back through the churchyard the happy couple were just coming out into the bright sunshine, the ringing bells, and a new life. The young shepherd sat quietly with his flock in the shade of a wall, looking on.

We do most of our cooking from fresh ingredients, we have never owned a freezer. Foraging for wild food is always a happy time. This year the blackberries have been excellent again, as have the mushrooms.

Alison makes her own pizza dough and had left it slowly rising overnight to guarantee a crisp base. Being vegetarian, Alison had a Buffalo Mozzarella and mushroom pizza, me the same but with anchovies and prosciutto added. They were a real triumph and reminded me of the slices I used to get in Italy, a crisp base, good deep filling full of layers of taste that dripped down fingers and cheeks, the anchovy giving that umami saltiness I love, while the tomato sauce Alison made giving that unguent sweetness. We sat savouring each mouthful, smiling to each other, and eating in happy quietness.

Alison has been studying Buddhism for quite a while now. I’ve seen the positive effect it has had on her life and how she lives in the world based on the principles of the teaching. It’s an example of talking and walking life that I have always found powerful. I wanted to know more, and as I had the time, in January began to attend and study at my local Buddhist centre. I like the philosophy that underpins the teachings, and the respect that all people and living things are shown. It’s a path I’ve just started to walk down and one I think I will continue on.

In September I took part in my first Buddhist Puja. It’s a ceremony that involves chanting, ritual, and reflection. Taken in the Great Hall, the chanting reverberated through the space and deep into my own body. I made a small offering, asking to be free of mind, and joined in the circling throng. This is a powerful moment of time that begins with an individual and gradually draws people in, becoming one, a whole. At the end was a deep silence, heavy, and dense. A time that called me to dwell. After, I collected my offering, and it now hangs by me as I work.

We visited Northumberland the final week. A house right on the beach, Scout racing down to the sea every morning. He loves swimming, sea or river, I think it’s the feeling of total freedom, the weightlessness, feeling the smooth water. He does a full breaststroke. A few years back he taught himself to surf, waiting for the wave then riding the crest to the shore, a wide smile on his face.

We spent the days walking, making simple meals, reading, and visiting Barter Books for more stock for my already full bookshelves. On the Sunday hundreds gathered to swim naked at dawn in the sea at Druridge Bay, in aid of MIND, the mental health charity. It was a cold sea, made special by a golden morning.

As always, I bring a small piece of ancient times back with me. The beach is famous for its sea coal, a high temperature burning piece of carbon from the seams off the north-east coast used primarily for steam trains and ships. A small operation still exists of locals collecting the coal for sale. I found a lovely hand sized lump, smooth and light, its shiny surface not marking my hands. It will go with the rest on my shelf, the oldest is a piece of Lewisian Gneiss from Durness.

This month I’ve read Annie Proulx (Close Range), Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (The Mushroom at the end of the World), Robert Caro (Working), Warren Ellis (Nina Simone’s Gum), Roland Barthes (Mythologies), David Lintern (Thunder Road).

My two favourites being Nina Simone’s Gum, about a piece of gum she chewed at her last UK concert and saved for posterity by Warren Ellis. It tells of a world I have no experience of, music, Nick Cave, other places, people of such skill that they are known throughout the industry, but little heard of outside. It has an interesting twist that illuminates how we as a society place a value on the seemingly least valuable things. And why should a piece of gum not be worth a lot of money? After all, the cost of the materials for Number 17 by Jackson Pollack in no way equated to the price it auctioned for.

And, Thunder Road. This is a lovely book recording the Cape Wrath Trail. The trail has risen to the top of many bucket lists in the last few years, and particularly through the pandemic. It’s a hard walk from Fort William to Cape Wrath across some unforgiving but beautifully wild land. David Lintern walked it in 2021 recording images and stories of people along the trail. The title comes from the 1958 film about illicit booze running in the south of the US. The pages are beautifully done and left me thinking of the depression era dust bowl migrations in the US or the workers marches in Britain in the same period. The trail seemed to fulfil a deep need for people to have a little control and perhaps, some small victory in those terrible days. David Lintern is a wonderful writer and excellent photographer who catches the truth of a moment in word and image. He’s also a nice man who understands that need can be served by acts of kindness. The proceeds from the sale of each book will go to the Disasters and Emergency Committee to distribute as needed in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

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