The seasons seem to be slipping and sliding past one another this month. November began with wonderful cold misty mornings, and soft rain that clung to leaf then poured down on passing heads in a shocking stream, the sound of all this decanting playing like a water feature punctuated by high-pitched screams as yet another icy trickle ran down warm skin. By the middle of the month, it was coats off, mid layers off, and basking in a short Indian summer sat by limestone walls picking out the ancient rings of tree on the far horizon, and long forgotten trackways highlighted by a low sun, the shadows showing what was once important and now sleeps. The birds have been quieter this month, but the squirrels have been active, darting across paths in search of windfall, running through their high-level tree routes to get from one cache to another. The month ended as it had begun, cold misty days, a dampness moving into old bones, small floating worlds of gold leaf collecting in crooks of old trees.
I like how words and phrases sound with different people, the way that we use language and how that identifies and informs people of place and background. I find the north has the richest wordplay, a language that adds colour and music to a day whilst meaning exactly what is meant. I first came across the richness of spoken language in Oldham, visiting engineers and draughtsmen. At some point in the conversation, they would say ‘do you not think’ instead of ‘do you think’ or ‘I don’t think’ or ‘that’s not right’. It always struck me as a lovelier way of questioning someone’s idea or stance, it had a gentle, non-threatening challenge about it whilst getting right to the heart of the matter, and always said in love. Love is another word that is very northern, well to my mind. I call everyone love, men and women, ‘’scuse me love, can I just get past?’, ‘yes love, what can I do for you?’, ‘look love, this isn’t going to work, is it?’. I’ve never been challenged by its use, but I have had strange looks from people in the south, a common response being, ‘you’re not from around here, are you?’
How people pronounce words is a vast subject. I’m not talking about misunderstanding words, trying to make a word fit in to our experience. I knew a man in the 70s who talked about the Citroen Dyane pronouncing it ‘Citro-en D-Y-Ain’ his experience of language and the world making a stab at the pronunciation. It’s how we say words that is interesting. A person’s speech is called ‘idiolect’, something we all have, formed of place and background and people, and to a degree education. The north has a strong idiolect, still largely intact. It can often give rise to assumptions made about people because they use and pronounce words differently. Once, walking down from a callout on Midhope Moors we passed by Pike Lowe and someone asked me about it, me explaining there was a bronze age burial cairn there. I pronounced ‘burial’ as ‘berrial’ to rhyme with ‘berry’, giving rise to a comment from a midland born team member and scientist who said the word should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘Bury’.
Our northern language is in part a product of the landscape and the changes the north has been through, invasion, agriculture, monasteries, industrial revolution, to name a few. The north produces some wonderfully ethereal names that often make the modern tongue stumble and twist to get the correct pronunciation. How do people pronounce ‘clough’ to rhyme with ‘cuff’ or ‘cow’? It’s old English, deriving from ‘cloh’ to describe a ravine with water. And what about ‘sough’? How about ‘Grinah Stones’ is that as in ‘grin’ or ‘minor’? I’ve always gone ‘Grin’ but a friend says it would need two ‘n’s’ so it should be pronounced as in ‘minor’.
Words, dialect, idiolect make life richer, the conversation more musical, the tapestry of life a colourful woven cloth. What we call places and things, are our ancestors reaching out, telling us they were here.
The middle of the month brought a birthday, mine. Sixty-three and I have no idea how it happened, it seems only yesterday that I was walking into the steel works, a sixteen-year-old boy, clutching a toolbox full of new engineers tools that was way too heavy for the thin little arms.
As a treat we visited David Mellor in Hathersage for a lunch and some Christmas shopping. If you haven’t been it is well worth a visit, you can tour the cutlery works to see how all the knife, forks, and spoons are made, eat fantastic food (I had a Persian dish), and buy something special for home. We had a lovely meal, sat by some of David Mellor’s work, his traffic lights and street furniture. At the back, rows of gleaming cutlery sat with his work for Eclipse Tools, and Moore and Wright, both hand tool makers in Sheffield, who had commissioned him to design a whole range of engineer’s equipment. My toolbox all those years ago held a good selection of his work, handsaws, steel rulers, scribes, punches. I had no clue back then that what I held in my hand as I sawed through a block of steel, was a design icon. But they were. These days, I always think about David Mellor and how great Sheffield was back in the day when I press the button on a pelican crossing and wait for the man to change to green. The design and the care taken showed a respect for people, that functional objects can be beautiful works of art used every day.
The following weekend we had a lovely walk around Longstone in the White Peak. I’d invited friends along, and their dogs, and family, for a gentle birthday amble. It was nice seeing people mix and chat, people from all walks of life, some that I have worked with, some from Mountain Rescue, some from social media. The day was glorious, treating us to some excellent views across the limestone plateau, the field walls telling the story of Inclosure. Alison had baked savouries and sweets so I needed to find a spot to stop and eat, but for the life of me couldn’t think where? As we crossed Longstone Edge, the rain started and we all headed into a beech woodland, where fallen trees provided seating, the leaf gave protection from the wind and rain, and people could sit and chat, drink and eat pastries. The sun came out after and bathed us in golden rays as we crossed Longstone Moor and gave some wonderful photo opportunities up into the Dark Peak, we must have been able to see for miles from our limestone rooftop vantage point. The day ended, by popular request, at the chippy in Stoney Middleton, everyone tucking into fish and chips, the dogs each had a sausage from Trish (Trish had also gifted me a present of Turkish Delight that I consumed in one sitting the following evening, they were delicious) and no doubt the odd chip or three. The day wasn’t an epic, no great summits were reached, no long distances walked, no fastest known times recorded. It was a group of people come together to have a happy walk and enjoy the beauty of the countryside and each other’s company.
I’ve been divesting myself of winter gear used in high places, Scotland and Wales, and the tops of the high moorlands. It’s gear I’m never going to use again, and good quality products too, no rubbish here, so to get it out of the back of the cupboard and into the hands of someone who will use it was a good use of my time. Some went into collections for charity and re-use, some got ebayed (mainly camera gear). I like the idea of re-using and re-purposing. We’ve been thinking seriously about how and why we consume stuff. Did I really need three Gore-tex jackets, five rucksacks? The car will be next to go. It sits on the road now, little used as there are no callouts to rush to, and I do like using the train, Scout does too, becoming very popular with the train staff. It’s part of the new slower richer life we are building for ourselves, with good people, nice well-chosen possessions, and time well spent.
A day in Manchester, it was raining as always, took me to lunch with my friend and teacher Kathryn Aalto. I had attended one of Kathryn’s writing courses and found it incredibly useful in my next work. Kathryn is a New York Times Bestseller and has a deep knowledge and experience of the written word. So, what better place to have lunch than The Portico. This is stepping back in time, literally to the early 1800s. The café in the library is surrounded by old tomes, works of northern writers, works about northern life, classics. For food we chose a Lancashire Hotpot, as one must when over that way, not perhaps the best of choices, and maybe even less so for a girl from the west coast of America. Still, when in Rome as they say. It was nice to talk, Kathryn pushing me about the next book, me hoping my answers were the right ones, and as these conversations often go coming to the realisation of how the book ends.
The last day of November saw Scout and I heading up to Hob Hurst’s House, the ancient burial site above Chatsworth. I did have an ulterior motive, a sausage sandwich cooked on the Trangia and a nice cup of tea. We found a spot just inside the woodlands above Chatsworth House. It was close to the path, and I worried a little at what people would think. The smell of pork and apple sausages soon answered that question, walkers asking if I took orders. At one point we were invaded by a posse of small dogs, Scout taking up position, blocking the way, protecting his food, those lips curling up, the small dogs running between his legs to steal a breadcake, Scout spinning around trying to catch the little scamps. When they had gone, we settled back down Scout fully focussed on the frying pan, I’m sure he can count, as he gave me such a look when I gave him two sausages, saving four for me, I had to relent and cut one sausage in half so that we had equal amounts. It was nice to spend time with him, just walking at our pace. He’s got into the new life now and appreciates the slower walks, giving him more time to seek out all those smells. He waits for me a lot, the shooting off has abated as he has chosen to keep an eye on me, laying in the centre of the path waiting for me to catch up, making sure I’m ok. I love him for that.
This month I have read W. H. Auden & Louis MacNeice (Letters from Iceland), William Boyd (Sweet Caress), Naomi Alderman (The Power), Will Storr (The Science of Storytelling), T. H. White (The Goshawk), Innes Keighren & Joanne Norcup (Landscapes of Detectorists), G. H. Hardy (A Mathematicians Apology), H. G. Wells (The War of the Worlds), Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Anthony (Vahni) Capildeo (A Happiness), Terri Mullholland (Weather / Patterns)
Quite a lot of reading this month. I really enjoyed Letters from Iceland, a pre-war record of several months in Iceland, the food (often horrendous), the people, the landscape, society, the interactions between the writers. It sounds grim at times, and utterly transfixing at others. Without doubt in my mind a unique travel book, giving an unvarnished record of a country now long gone.
I did like Sweet Caress and the writing about the Scottish Highland interlaced with war in Europe, Vietnam, and a female photographer. It is a fiction, but the writing by William Boyd is so good that I found myself googling the main protagonists to see if she was actually real and this was a biography.
The other surprise was Landscapes of Detectorists. I have had this for some years and finally got around to reading it. Four essays on place and people, and how they interact with each other. Perfect for me. I learned so much from this small book. It sits well with my own experiences of how a landscape can resonate with people long gone, and how that can inform our actions today.